Is War Ever Justified?

This is the latest in a series of posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today we’re looking at the start of chapter 11, which deals with Defence Policy. Grudem begins with a brief overview of Christian views on the issue of war. He doesn’t discuss the medieval view that Christians could wage holy wars (crusades) in the name of Christianity. This is probably because nobody holds such a view today. He does, however, discuss the two major views on the issue that are held today: Just War theory and Pacifism.

Pacifism

Pacifism is the view that war is always wrong, and a pacifist is somebody who refuses to fight. Grudem rejects this view. He begins by briefly dismissal one pacifist view that’s related to the idea that all government is demonic, which he dealt with back at the start of the book. He then goes on to discuss some of the other arguments that Christians should be pacifists. Whilst he dismisses them all, the case for pacifism is stronger than he believes.

Turn the other cheek

This argument is, basically, that Jesus’s commandment to turn the other cheek in Matthew 5:39 means that his followers cannot be involved (at least actively) in military combat. Grudem’s response is to say that Romans 13:4 commands government to “bear the sword”, implying that it is not always wrong for government to wage war. He also points out that, in Luke 22:36, Jesus told his followers to carry a sword. On the first point, it can be argued that the passage in Romans refers to crime and punishment, rather than war. On the second, it is worth noting that there is a lot of debate about how Jesus intended that sentence to be taken.

Love your Neighbour

This argument is that loving our neighbour is incompatible with waging war against them. Grudem responds by saying that loving our neighbour may mean waging war to protect them from aggressors. He also points out that this command was also found in Leviticus 19:18, and yet it did not prevent God from commanding Israel to wage war a number of times in the Old Testament.

Waging war means failing to trust God

Grudem begins his response to this one by saying that God has authorised governments to use deadly force against evil (Romans 13:1-4 again), and so that this argument is akin to trusting God to provide food whilst ignoring the command to work for a living. He mentions that Jim Wallis (in his book God’s Politics) has suggested that America’s military-focused approach to terrorism is based primarily on fear. Grudem rejects that, saying that it is possible to trust that God will use the military to protect us from terrorism. This response is more avoiding the specific charge than properly responding to it.

He also dismisses Wallis’s suggestion that things like a world court, international law, and global police forces would be more effective ways for nations to protect themselves. Grudem’s counter-arguments are that world government has never existed (although Wallis isn’t proposing anything more than tweaks to existing international institutions), that it would be anti-American because that’s how the world is currently made up (suggesting that – given the choice – Grudem would put national-self influence above the common good), and that it would require nations to give up their individual sovereignty (not realising that current international agreements, such at the World Trade Organisation, already require their members to surrender a lot of their national sovereignty).

Violence begets violence

This argument is that using force to deal with force is a viscous cycle -responding to military and terrorist attacks with force will simply lead to violent retaliation after violent retaliation. Grudem’s response sidesteps the charge. He firstly says that “violence” refers to two different things – the morally good use of force to stop evildoers, and the morally wrong use of force to attack innocent people. He then says that arguments along the lines of “we could have stopped Saddam Hussein by non-military means” are wishful thinking – amounting to “if things had happened differently, they would support my case”.

Grudem’s arguments do not acknowledge that wars are often morally ambiguous. Even in a relatively uncontroversial war like World War Two, you can find examples of force being used by the “good guys” to hurt innocents (e.g. Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki). He doesn’t acknowledge that there are many examples of the cycle of violence that pacifists talk about (Northern Ireland and Israel being perhaps the most well-known examples). It even happens to some degree with conventional wars – often in history, grievances from one war are part of the reason or justification for starting the next (e.g. World War One and World War Two).

Just War

Grudem puts forward a number of arguments why governments should, in some circumstances, use military force. He also outlines the historical view of what makes a war a “Just War” (i.e. one that is justified)

Bearing the sword

Grudem cites 1 Peter 2:14 and Romans 13:4, where God allows government to punish evildoers. The verse in Romans uses the phrase “bear the sword”. Grudem says that this principle must also apply to defending a nation against foreign armies who would kill, conquer, and subjugate a nation. He cites a number of examples in the Old Testament, where the nation of Israel had to do just that, and a couple of times where God commanded the war. He also points out that the sixth commandment in Exodus 20:13 (traditionally rendered as “thou shalt not kill”) would be better translated as “you shall not murder”, and so does not rule out fighting a war.

Just War Criteria

In pretty much the only part of the book where Grudem engages with historical theology (i.e. what Christians have believed throughout history), Grudem outlines the criteria that are often used to determine whether fighting a particular war is just or not. He borrows a passage from the essays in the back of the ESV study bible. I’ll just outline the points in a list.

Reasons for going to war

  1. Just cause (is the reason morally right – e.g. to defend a nation)
  2. Competent authority (essentially, has it been declared by the rightful government or not)
  3. Comparative justice (is it clear that your side is in the right and the enemy is in the wrong)
  4. Right intention (is the purpose to protect justice & righteousness, or to rob, pillage, and destroy)
  5. Last resort (have all reasonable alternatives been exhausted?)
  6. Probability of success (can the war be won?)
  7. Proportionality of projected results (will the good results of winning be better than the harm and loss caused by the fight?)
  8. Right spirit (is it undertaken with great reluctance and sorrow at the harm that will come, rather than with a delight in war?)

Conduct during a war

  1. Proportionality in the use of force (no greater destruction should be used than that necessary to win)
  2. Discrimination between combatants and non-combatants (are you doing the best to ensure that civilians and neutral parties are not being harmed?)
  3. Avoidance of evil means (are you treating prisoners of war with justice and compassion?)
  4. Good faith (are you genuinely seeking to restore the peace and eventually live in harmony with the attacking nation?)

Conclusion

Grudem obviously thinks that the Just War approach is far superior to Pacifism. Whilst I agree that there are too many times in the Bible where God approves of particular wars to say that Christians should be pacifists, I think that several of the arguments for pacifism are strong. My view is that Christian politicians should probably try to argue for pacifist approaches to most situations, whilst acknowledging that there can be such a thing as a Just War. If individual Christians are called upon to fight, it should be a matter of individual conscience.

Climate Change: The Politics and Theology

This is the latest in a series of posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today, we’re finishing up the chapter on the Environment, looking at what he says about climate change and a couple of other issues. In the previous post, we examined the science of climate change. Grudem claims that the scientific evidence shows that it isn’t happening, but we pointed out that the actual evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of the view that it is happening, and is mostly our fault. Today, we’re looking at the implications of climate change for our theology and politics, as well as dealing with his arguments about fuel economy for motor vehicles and cap and trade.

Grudem prefaces his look at the science with some theological points that he believes point to the idea that climate change is not happening. This gives the impression that he is letting his interpretation of the theology dictate his understanding of the science. He follows the section on the science with two points about the political impact. We’ll be looking at each of these points in light of the scientific evidence, and working out the implications.

The Theology

Is the Earth resilient?

Grudem claims that the idea that human activity could cause dangerous climate change portrays God as a dodgy builder, rather than somebody who made everything good. Because of this, he believes that the planet is fundamentally self-regulating and self-correcting, and that temperature changes in the planet’s past are evidence of this.

Whilst this view makes sense, it is not the only one a Christian can take. There are several flaws in it. Firstly, it assumes that creation is still as good as God made it. But the result of the fall in Genesis 3 is that creation was cursed, and is no longer the entirely good thing it was before. Secondly, there’s the question of how we understand humanity’s stewardship of creation. In Genesis 1:28, God put us in charge of creation. If we cannot do anything that would actually damage it, then this is a calling that carries no real responsibility. Which, in turn, calls into question how much we are made in God’s image. Thirdly, there are a number of passages in the law of Moses that we now understand as being, at least in part, about ensuring that human activity does not unduly damage the local environment. The implication there is that if we can damage the environment at one scale, then we can do so at another.

Finally, of course, there’s the question of whether our theology matches reality. Climate change isn’t the only example of human activity damaging the environment on a global scale. In the 1980s, it became clear that human emissions of gasses called CFCs had been responsible for damaging the ozone layer (part of the atmosphere that protects us from harmful radiation). This damage caused a large hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic. CFCs are now banned across the planet, and ozone levels have begun to slowly recover. There are no scientists who would seriously dispute that CFCs were the main reason for the damage to the ozone layer. Yet Grudem’s theology would say that they could not have been.

Are seasons stable?

Grudem also mentions God’s promise to Noah, that the seasons would remain in place, and that there would never again be a flood to destroy the earth. He also brings up Jeremiah 5:22, which talks about God establishing a barrier that the sea cannot cross. Such promises are, of course, of fairly little relevance to the climate change debate. Nobody says that climate change will destroy seasons, though it might make bad seasons more common than they once were. Nobody says that climate change will destroy the earth. As for the passage about the sea having barriers, there are documented examples of the sea advancing inland in some places (e.g. the village of Dunwich in Suffolk is now mostly underwater), so we cannot understand such a passage to mean that the coastline will always stay constant.

Is God in control?

Grudem cites Jeremiah 5:23-25, which rebukes the nation of Israel for turning away from God, and mentions that He controls the weather. Grudem says that this passage rebukes them specifically for not believing that God controls the weather, which seems to be stretching the meaning a bit – their specific sin is not fearing the Lord who controls the weather. Grudem then goes on to claim that fears about climate change are rooted in rejecting God, and for much of the environmental movement about being devoted to “Mother Earth” rather than God.

Now, there is some element of truth in these accusations – the environmental movement has a lot of people who are not Christians, and who, therefore, do reject God and hold the planet in higher regard than its creator. But this is a completely irrelevant point. There are plenty of God-fearing Christians who are active environmentalists, and plenty of non-Christians who say climate change is not happening, for reasons that are not God-centred. I believe that the scientists are correct when they talk about climate change being mostly our fault, and I also believe that God is ultimately in control of the planet, its climate, and its weather. The evidence shows that God is allowing human carbon emissions to warm the planet. Believing this to be true is in no way a rejection of God.

Did God design a destructible planet?

Grudem refers to Genesis 1:28, where God tells humanity to “fill the earth and subdue it”, and claims that this would make no sense if God designed the planet so that we could “destroy” it by using resources such as fossil fuels, and speculates that there could be a number of feedback mechanisms that would prevent climate change from getting too far out of hand. He also claims that “global warming alarmists” are saying that there is no safe level of fossil fuel use.

His portrayal of the arguments on climate change in this section is, of course, completely misrepresentative. Nobody is saying that climate change will destroy the planet. Or even that it will wipe out the human race. What is being said is that it will have severe consequences for us. I’ve yet to see a worst-case scenario that directly kills off a higher proportion of human beings than the black
death on Eurasia, or Smallpox in the Americas. These were plagues that were spread by human beings. For our theology to be credible, we must acknowledge that God allows that level of devastation to happen in a fallen world. Which leaves the onus is on those on Grudem’s side of the argument to explain why God would allow such plagues but not catastrophic climate change (assuming that we don’t get our act together in time to prevent it).

Does climate change conflict with thanking God?

Grudem cites Genesis 1:31, Psalm 24:1, and 1 Timothy 4:4 as evidence that Christians should thank and praise God for the excellence of creation. He then claims that the belief that man-made climate change is happening removes the motivation to thank God for creation, because of feeling guilty about using fossil fuels.

I strongly disagree with his conclusions on this point. One of the reasons I care about reducing my carbon emissions is because I appreciate the world God has given us, and want to demonstrate that appreciation by taking good care of it. Those Christians who are involved in some form of environmental activity – whether it be conservation in their area or political campaigning tend to be more aware of just how awesome creation is than Christians who aren’t. So concern about climate change might actually have the effect of making us more thankful.

The Politics

Does fighting climate change mean we lose our freedom?

Grudem’s first political point about climate change is to claim that allowing the government to control energy use would lead to an unacceptable loss of human freedom. This point depends on his views on human freedom, which was shown to be somewhat lacking earlier in this series. In this section, he basically claims that climate change is a massive conspiracy by left-wingers to seize control over most aspects of peoples’ lives. Which is, of course, utterly ridiculous, and deserves the same response as the people who claim that Barack Obama is secretly a Kenyan-born Muslim who hates America.

Will reducing our use of fossil fuels cost too much?

Grudem claims that fossil fuels and nuclear energy are the most abundant and affordable sources of energy available (which contradicts what he wrote about solar power earlier in the chapter), says that because humans already live in a range of climates we can easily adapt even if the climate changes, and says that reducing our use of fossil fuels will hurt the poor hardest, because prices for everything would rise.

In response to his first point, it is worth noting that nuclear power is more expensive than renewables, that wind power is now cheaper than coal, and that the cost of renewable energy is going down, whilst peak oil means that the cost of fossil fuels is going up. Since Grudem wrote his book, we have seen significant global inflation driven mostly by increasing oil prices (plus some crop failures – possibly linked to climate change), despite the fact that the global economy has not been growing since about 2008.

In response to the second, yes we could adapt to climate change, but it would be very expensive and disruptive. Opinions differ on the cost/benefit analysis of preventing climate change vs mitigating its symptoms, but doing nothing now on the basis that we can adapt later is to abandon the principle of stewardship.

Finally, reducing fossil fuel use will actually affect the global rich more than the global poor, whose lifestyles are not totally dependent on burning oil, coal, or gas. The rural poor will barely be affected at all. The urban poor might be affected by increasing food prices, especially if it means their country exports more of its food. Climate change, however, will affect the poor more than the rich – as they will not have the resources to easily adapt or to mitigate the effects. There is a good reason why all the major international development agencies have been pressing for action on climate change.

Fuel Economy

Grudem spends some time arguing against a set of American Federal laws called CAFE, which require motor vehicles to reach certain standards of fuel economy. I won’t go into the details of the law, but Grudem says that, as a result of fuel economy standards, cars are now smaller and lighter, less comfortable, and more expensive than they used to be, and provide less protection in the event of a crash.

The cost argument can, of course, be dismissed out of hand – even if the upfront cost of more fuel-efficient cars is greater, the lifetime savings from lower fuel bills will more than balance this out. And, of course, lighter cars mean that governments do not need to spend as much on maintaining the roads. The argument about the number of deaths is rather more difficult to prove either way. Smaller cars will, of course, reduce the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed in road accidents. And the general long-term trend in developed countries is that fewer people are dying in road accidents. But it might be that Grudem’s preference for bigger and heavier cars would reduce the number of deaths even faster.

He also argues that building smaller and lighter cars is bad for the American economy because Americans like to drive big cars, and so will import them. Assuming that the law Grudem objects to only covers cars made in the US, rather than those sold in the US (which would make it extremely badly thought-out), making only those kinds of cars would leave the US trailing the rest of the world. Like it or not, fuel economy is increasingly necessary in order to sell to foreign markets. If the US wants a thriving car-building industry, then it is better served by keeping pace with fuel economy standards in other countries so that it can compete in the export market.

Cap and Trade

The final thing that Grudem mentions (albeit only in two paragraphs) is cap and trade. Also known as carbon trading, this is a system where a government issues licenses to businesses to emit carbon dioxide. If a company creates carbon emissions above its license, it will be punished. If it does not use all of its allowances, it can sell the license on to another company. The theory is that, by gradually reducing the number/size of licenses, carbon emissions can be reduced. Grudem worries that cap and trade will penalise productive companies and reward unproductive ones, thus damaging the economy.

For what it’s worth, I agree with Grudem’s conclusion that cap and trade is a bad idea, but I do so for entirely opposite reasons. In practice cap and trade does not work, and actually allows polluters to profit from their pollution. Whilst it could be made to work if the allowances were a lot smaller than at present, the initial cost of licenses was a lot higher, and the penalties for emitting without a license were very severe, current cap and trade schemes do not. Economists from a wide variety of economic schools seem to agree that a carbon tax would be the most effective way of reducing emissions, and this is the approach I favour.

Climate Change: The Evidence

This is the latest in a series of posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today, we’re in the middle of the chapter on the Environment, looking at what he says about climate change. Grudem claims that it isn’t happening. In this post, we’ll be looking at the evidence he presents. The next post in the series will examine the political and theological implications of climate change.

Grudem begins with a brief introduction to the issue of climate. He explains the greenhouse effect, and the fact that there are other things that affect climate. He then talks about carbon dioxide. He mentions that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from about 270ppm to about 385ppm, but disputes that this is the result of human activity, though he does not mention any other possible source. He then claims that predictions about the dangers of an increase in the average global temperature are solely the result of computer models and the assumption that other factors will increase the impact of carbon emissions in raising the temperature. He argues that the climate has a low sensitivity to increases in carbon levels (i.e. that temperature rises will be at the lower end of the predictions).

He then makes several claims that the scientific evidence does not back up the claims that are being made about climate change. Addressing this fully would take an entire series of posts, so we’ll only really skim the surface, though each section contains links to more detailed information.

Is computer modelling reliable?

Grudem says that climate change theory is based on computer models, that these models are hypotheses, and are not based on empirical observations of the real world. In actual fact, before any computer model is accepted as a potential prediction of the future, it is tested against empirical measurements of the past – the modellers take a starting point in the past, put in the data from that and see if the model correctly predicts climate trends from that date up until the present. If a model cannot predict the past correctly, then it is rejected out of hand. And many of the older climate models have continued to be correct for decades after they were first created. (more info)

Are scientists “strongly divided” on the issue?

Grudem claims that more scientists reject the existence of man-made climate change than embrace it. He cites a list compiled by a US senate panel of more than 700 scientists who have published rejections of the whole, or significant parts, of the global warming hypothesis. However, it turns out that fewer than 10% of the people cited are climate scientists, only 15% had had anything published in journals related in any way to climate science, around 80% had no published scientific papers at all, and about 4% had no disagreements with the consensus view that climate change is happening and is man-made. Furthermore, some of the people cited were basically just weathermen. (debunking here).

He also cites a petition of 31,000 people with science degrees claiming that climate change is not happening. There are a number of problems with this. Firstly, only 0.1% (39) of the people signing are said to have any background in climatology, though another 0.4% have a background in Atmospheric Science. Secondly, there is no way to check the claimed scientific credentials of the people on the list. Thirdly, the wording of the petition actually specifies “catastrophic” heating of the Earth’s atmosphere, wording which could be considered consistent with current climate change theory. So it’s a few thousand people with no particular expertise signing to a petition say that there is no evidence that “catastrophic” climate change is happening. Hardly convincing evidence of a scientific split. (debunking here and here).

He also cites a book called The Deniers by Lawrence Solomon which claims that many of the top experts reject the climate change consensus. The problem with this claim is that the scientists cited in the book all accept said hypothesis, and Solomon’s book actually admits the fact. (debunking here and here)

Finally, Grudem claims that scientific literature is divided on the issue. In actual fact, 97% of climate scientists and climate science articles support the consensus. Grudem claims that a 2004 study by Naomi Oreskes showing the consensus was flawed, citing a refutation by Benny Peiser. But Peiser has withdrawn his initial criticism, and agrees that Oreskes’ data was correct. (debunking here).

Has the Earth’s temperature fallen or remained steady?

Grudem claims that the temperature has fallen or remained steady for the last 15 years (up to his publication date of 2010). To examine that, let’s look at the list of the ten warmest years on record. They are (up to my publication date partway through 2013), in order:

2010
2005
1998
2003
2002
2006
2009
2007
2004
2012

The earliest year in that list is 1998. If the planet was not warming over the long term, the list should be dominated by years from the 20th century (since we’ve only had global direct measurements since 1880). Instead, it’s almost entirely years from the 21st Century. Given that a number of these years were in the cool (La Niña) years of the El Niño/La Niña cycle (a natural cycle that significantly increases or decreases the global average temperature), it is pretty clear evidence that the planet is warming over the longer term, and strongly suggests that it has warmed even in the shorter period since 1995. Also, earlier in the chapter Grudem stressed the importance of relying on long-term trends over short-term, local evidence – which pretty much undercuts his use of this argument.

Grudem also claims that temperature changes might be a result of the “urban heat island” effect – where the growth of urban areas causes the local area near a weather station to increase. The problem with this theory is that urban and rural temperature monitoring stations show the exact same warming trend. (evidence).

He also says that ocean currents and solar flares might produce alternative explanations for any warming trend. The argument for it being ocean currents requires either that the oceans are cooling, or that the laws of thermodynamics (which are the most fundamental part of physics) are wrong. But as the oceans are warming, the argument is clearly wrong (evidence). When it comes to solar flares, the trend over the last 35 years has been that temperature has been increasing whilst solar flares have been flatlining or declining. (evidence)

Can the scientists be trusted?

Grudem points out that the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is considered the world’s most authoritative body on climate change. Grudem begins by claiming that the IPCC summary for policymakers exaggerates the scientific conclusions. His citation for this points out one dissenting scientist and one “expert reviewer” (which means somebody who asked to see the report and commented on it) who has no climate change credentials. And claims that some more sceptical language was omitted. In response to this, it is worth noting that there is reason to believe that the IPCC reports are overly cautious.

Grudem also claims that the IPCC are highly politicised, and biased because they are expected to study human, rather than natural causes of climate change. However, there is evidence that there is significant political pressure being put on them to underestimate the evidence for climate change..

Finally, he mentions Climategate. This was something that happened whilst Grudem wrote his book. Basically, some climate change deniers hacked into the computers of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, stole all their files and emails, and posted them on the internet. A number of charges were levelled at the climate scientists at the CRU by various climate change sceptics/deniers regarding the way they used the evidence. Grudem claimed that the charges completely undermined confidence in their research. As I am writing this quite some time after the events, I know (which Grudem couldn’t have) that there have been eight separate enquiries into the CRU and the allegations, all of which have found no evidence of wrongdoing. The accusations against the CRU were basically people taking comments in the emails out of context. To date, the criminal or criminals who hacked into the computers have not been caught.

Glaciers and Sea Ice

Grudem claims that, contrary to claims about climate change melting glaciers, glacier coverage has been expanding. However, the evidence suggests that such claims rely on cherry-picking.. He also claims that sea levels are, at worst, only going to rise by a tiny amount. In fact, the evidence shows that sea levels are rising, and the rate of change is accelerating. They may only rise by a tiny amount, but the trend is not looking good.

Is severe weather increasing?

Grudem points out that climate change is predicted to increase the number and severity of severe weather events such as hurricanes, droughts, and floods. He claims that there is no evidence that they have increased. Whilst the jury is still out on whether the number of tropical storms such as hurricanes have increased (there has been an increase, but it could be due to increased monitoring), there is reason to believe that they have increased in intensity. As for severe weather events in general, this is a subject that has not been looked into as much as other areas of climatology. The studies are beginning to be done, but the jury is still out.

Are carbon emissions actually a good thing?

Grudem makes two final claims about the science. Firstly, he says that that carbon emissions could be beneficial. He says that carbon dioxide helps plants to grow, and that previous geological eras with high levels of carbon dioxide had abundant plant life. He also says that the evidence suggests that previous naturally occurring periods of global warming were caused by other factors – and that there was little correlation between carbon dioxide levels and temperatures in previous warming periods.

The second claim is, of course, utterly irrelevant. The fact that a previous instance of global warming was not caused by industrial carbon emissions does not mean that global warming cannot be triggered by carbon emissions. As to the first claim, carbon dioxide is not the only thing that plants need to grow – if carbon dioxide causes increased plant growth, those plants will use other nutrients faster, degrading soil quality. Secondly, experiments on plant growth in an atmosphere with more carbon dioxide have mostly been done in isolation. There is some evidence that these plants might be more vulnerable to insects. And, of course, climate change driven by the increased levels of carbon dioxide is likely to increase the amount of desert, and decrease the amount of arable land for plants to grow in. (more info here)

In Conclusion

Grudem claims that the scientific evidence is strongly against the idea that human activity is causing the planet to warm up and, therefore, changing the climate. As we have seen, his claims do not stand up to scrutiny, and the scientific evidence is robust (and rather stronger than we’ve shown here, because we’ve just been rebutting Grudem’s claims).

In the next post, looking at the theology and politics, we’ll see that Grudem has a theological framework that rules out the possibility that human beings could affect the climate in any significant way. Given the weakness of his scientific arguments, I am left with the impression that this theology gave him a strong confirmation bias* on the issue, making him think that the claims of the climate change denial lobby are a lot stronger than in reality. The fact that this lobby is closely connected to the political party he supports would only have reinforced that.

*confirmation bias is when our minds subconsciously give more credibility to evidence that supports our existing opinions, and finds ways to discount evidence that contradicts them. Psychologists have proven that confirmation bias is pretty universal amongst human beings.

How much energy is out there?

This is the latest in a series of posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today, we’re in the middle of the chapter on the Environment, looking at what he says about energy. Grudem doesn’t deal with the closely-related issue of Climate Change in this section, so we’ll be leaving that for another post. Grudem’s aim in this section is to claim that humanity is not running out of energy, and that almost all sources of energy are incredibly abundant. Let’s look at each energy source in turn:

Wind

Grudem points out that wind power capacity has been rapidly growing. However, he repeats some rather misleading myths about wind energy. Firstly, he says that wind capacity is not a good measure because wind is not reliable. Then he claims that wind power is not dependable because the wind does not blow all the time.Then he says that wind power will never produce a large proportion of our energy, because you need lots of wind turbines over a large area in order to produce a significant amount, and that destroys the beauty of the landscape.

In response to the first two claims, no source of energy operates 100% of the time – every power plant spends some of its time offline. It should also be noted that, whilst the wind is variable over a small area, wind turbines across a larger area tend to average out. Given that the German states of Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein, and Mecklenburg-Vorpommem all managed to generate over 46% of their energy from wind turbines in 2011, it’s quite clear that wind can be a very large source of energy in at least some parts of the world.

As for Grudem’s claim that wind turbines destroy the beauty of the landscape, that completely contradicts the principles he set out at the start of the chapter – where he argued that human need should trump environmental concerns pretty much every time. Furthermore, it fails to acknowledge that most landscapes have already been shaped by humanity. The English countryside as we know it today is a creation of the Enclosure Acts of the 18th and 19th Centuries. There is evidence to suggest that the Amazon rainforest was effectively a massive orchard for the people who lived there before the Europeans came. Similar stories could be told in almost every inhabited part of the world. And, of course, wind turbines are themselves rather elegant pieces of design.

Hydroelectric

Grudem simply notes that most of the world’s major rivers have been dammed, so there is little chance of a major increase in the world’s hydroelectric power generation. This does, of course, ignore the possibility of increasing the amount of micro-hydro power. Medieval England was powered by water wheels in rivers without the need for dams. Similar micro-generation could plausibly increase the world’s hydro-power generation, and would come without any of the negative effects associated with large dams.

Oil

Grudem begins by claiming that we will never run out of oil. Firstly, he points out that we have massive amounts of unused oil. Then he says that we keep finding new sources. Then he points out that things like tar sands and shale oil become more feasible when the oil price rises. He does believe that the US should try to reduce its dependence on foreign oil by developing more alternative sources of energy and developing its own supplies of oil. Though he doesn’t explain why he thinks that.

What Grudem has missed here (apart, of course, from climate change) is that the amount of oil we can use depends more on how easy it is to get out of the ground than on how much of it there is. Experts believe that production of oil from conventional sources has peaked. Yes, there is still a lot of oil in the ground. But we’ve already used most of the bits that are easy to get at. It will be increasingly difficult, and expensive, to keep production levels up. Yes, we can extract unconventional oil, like tar sands and shale oil. But it takes longer to do it, and costs more, than using conventional oil. Plus, ignoring oil spills, extracting unconventional oil damages the local environment far more than conventional oil production.

What he’s also missed is that there is reason to believe that our estimates of future oil production are over-optimistic.

Coal and Natural Gas

Grudem doesn’t really say much about either of these fossil fuels, except to say that coal is still very abundant and gas burns very cleanly. He doesn’t mention that coal causes significant air pollution (in addition to its carbon emissions), and is harmful to human health. Or that coal mining is a major cause of death. In 2007, Time Magazine estimated that, in China, 20,000 people die in coal mining accidents every year.

Nuclear

Grudem really likes the idea of nuclear energy. He mentions the issue of nuclear waste, pointing out that the total amount of nuclear waste produced is (physically speaking) quite small. He doesn’t, however, mention that it will remain toxic and dangerous for millions of years – making it the longest-lasting pollutant that humanity has ever produced. He denounces opposition to nuclear power as “irrational”. He doesn’t mention that nuclear power is, once you strip out the subsidy, the most expensive form of energy generation currently in use. Or that it’s the only form of energy generation that always requires government support, because commercial insurers won’t insure against the possibility of a nuclear accident.

Solar

In this section, Grudem claims that wind and solar are still not competitive with fossil fuels in terms of cost , which is no longer true – Wind is now slightly cheaper than coal. He is enthusiastic about the potential for solar, pointing out that it is the most abundant source of energy, although obviously it cannot be generated at night.

Other energy sources

There are a variety of power sources that Grudem doesn’t mention. The most significant of these are geothermal (which gives Iceland 100% of its electricity), wave, and biomass. These three technologies have the potential to generate significant amounts of energy. Although the first two are limited by geography. Two and a half of them generate no carbon emissions (biomass via anerobic digestion and biomass by burning wood can both be made carbon neutral).

Conclusions

Grudem concludes that there are abundant sources of energy, and so energy efficiency measures are a waste of time, unless they are solely to save money. He claims that increasing our energy use decreases the amount of time we have to spend on travel or menial labour. This claim is somewhat dubious. Motorised transport has invented the daily commute, which uses up an enormous amount of our time. Together with air travel, it means that people are more likely to spend time away from home, whether they are travelling across the country or across the world. In addition, technological development based on increased energy use has transformed many skilled jobs into de facto menial labour. The effect of increased energy usage has had both positive and negative effects on our way of life.

He also claims that we have likely underestimated the scale of energy resources available and the ability of human ingenuity in getting more out of them. He claims that this is all more evidence that God has provided us with a planet with overabundant resources.

Looking at Grudem’s analysis of individual energy sources, he seems overly pessimistic about the prospects from renewables and overly optimistic about those from fossil fuel sources and nuclear. Looking at his conclusions, they are pretty much what you’d expect given his theology as stated in the opening to the chapter, and his view on climate change (which we’ll deal with in the next post in this series). He doesn’t really make any substantial points on politics or theology here, except to repeat the charges that advocates of nuclear power often throw at its opponents.

June round-up

After a couple of months where real life has been rather busy (including doing some very successful full-time electioneering back in May), I’m now back on the blog. So here are some things I spotted in that time.

Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been recorded at an historic high level, which is rather worrying.

Thanks to Kickstarter, there is now going to be an open source gaming console.

Also recently released is the world’s first fair-trade phone.

Frank Cranmer at Law and Religion UK (not to be confused with Tory blogger “Archbishop” Cranmer) asks are human rights “Christian”?

Adam Ramsey at Bright Green highlights how the justification for the government’s austerity economics has been completely destroyed, but that won’t change anything.

There has, of course, been a lot of comment on the bill to legalise same-sex marriage, much of it somewhat out of date by the time I’m posting this. Two of note are:

Brendan O’Neill, the editor of Spiked worries about the conformism behind the culture change on the issue.

Peter Ould points out how the Bishops are seeking to improve the bill, now that it is pretty much guaranteed to become law.

And, finally, this video is probably the best Disney parody ever:

March round-up

Here are a few interesting things I’ve spotted this month.

Gillan at God and Politics UK has a couple of very good pieces about the character of politicians and conducting debate

Make Wealth History points out some important facts about the actual impact of immigration

All That’s Left has some interesting thoughts about Westminster and sex scandals, and strikes out against political tribalism by pointing out that right-wingers can be nice people.

The Guardian has a piece that highlights a scandal in the benefits system that everybody should watch.

Sue Marsh points out that the Government is refusing to even talk to disabled people about the way it treats them.

The new Archbishop of Canterbury has waded into the benefits debate, and Gillan of God and Politics UK has some thoughts about how politicians can respond better to this sort of thing.

Finally, a recent poll suggested that a majority of people think the Green Party should be included in the Prime Ministerial debates for the 2015 election. If you agree, why not sign the e-petition, and increase the chances of a real range of views being presented to the electorate.

Have we filled the Earth?

This is the next in our series critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics according to the Bible. Today we’re looking at the second part of the chapter on the Environment, where Grudem does a stock-take of the planet’s resources. Before we look at this section, it’s worth noting that Grudem’s take on the economy (which was the previous chapter) depends on the conclusions he reaches here. Presumably he chose to put the issue he considers more important first, rather than putting the two chapters in their logical order.

The Theology

Grudem only spends a couple of paragraphs looking at the principles of this question. He believes that the command to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28 to fill the Earth and subdue it suggests that the Earth has abundant resources that can be developed and that the Earth would benefit from this development, rather than being destroyed by it.

I have two problems with this analysis. Firstly, the command to “fill the Earth” implicitly suggests that it is possible for humanity to do so. And when that happens the planet’s resources could be close to breaking point. Secondly, there’s the impact of sin. Back in chapter four, Grudem pointed out that Christianity rests on the belief that human beings are sinners. If sinful people attempt to use the Earth and its resources, then at least some of their efforts will, inevitably, be destructive. Human sin is key to Grudem’s politics in other areas, yet he discards the possibility of it doing damage to the environment here.

Flawed Data?

Grudem’s figures in this 25-page section come mostly from a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg. The book has been somewhat controversial. Grudem acknowledges the controversy, but just says that he is personally persuaded that Lomborg got the better of his critics. Since the accusations are very serious, I will list them here:

  • Fabrication of data
  • Selective citation (deliberately discarding data that doesn’t fit)
  • Deliberately misleading use of statistical methods
  • Deliberate misinterpretation of others’ results
  • Presenting data in a fraudulent way

Given the seriousness of the accusations, it’s probably wise to take the book’s numbers and conclusions with a pinch of salt. If Lomborg’s numbers are correct, then surely Grudem could simply have gone back to the original source and avoided the controversy. If they aren’t, then things are a lot less rosy than Grudem paints them.

Grudem is keen on using long-term worldwide trends, rather than short-term stories of disasters. He paints an overall picture that is incredibly positive. He believes that humanity will be able to live on the Earth enjoying ever-increasing prosperity, and never exhausting its resources even with a much bigger population than we have today.

He looks at statistics for world population, agricultural land, clean air, waste disposal, global forests, species loss, herbicides and pesticides, and life expectancy (I’ll deal with what he says about energy and fossil fuels in the next post in this series). I won’t be going into detail on each of these, but will highlight some of the issues arising from Grudem’s treatment.

Some problems are local

One thing Grudem gets right is to point out that some problems are localised. Even without desalination plants, there is unlikely to ever be a global shortage of fresh water. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be water shortages in some places. Water is expensive to transport long distances, and there are lots of places where people use more water than is available in their part of the world.

Quality of Resources

One thing he misses is that some resources are not equal. For example, when talking about growing food, he says that about 24% of the world’s non-ice surface is arable land, and that we only use about a third of it for growing crops. He claims that we could easily use the rest of it for doing just that. He doesn’t mention is that the land that is not being used is less fertile than the land that is, or that modern agricultural methods often do long-term damage to soil quality (which is why they need large amounts of fertiliser) and biodiversity. He also seems to place little or no value on other uses for arable land.

The Elephant in the Room

The biggest problem with this section, though, is that Grudem never talks about is consumption. There’s an oft-quoted statistic that if everybody lived a Western lifestyle we would need three planet Earths to support ourselves. Regardless of how accurate this is, it demonstrates that how much of the planet’s resources we use up depends at least as much on our lifestyle choices as it does on how many of us there are, or what technology can do. Discussing how many people the planet can support without talking about consumption is to completely miss the elephant in the room.

Conclusion

Grudem paints an incredibly rosy, but somewhat simplistic, view of the planet’s ability to support an ever-increasing and increasingly prosperous human population. This picture is pretty much a best-case scenario, and there are serious questions about the statistics it’s based on and some of the assumptions made. I don’t agree the Earth can support as many people, with as much consumption, as Grudem thinks. And I place more value on some of the things we would lose by doing so than Grudem does.

February round-up

Here are a few interesting things I’ve spotted recently.

The ever-insightful Paul Gillan of God and Politics UK has a piece on the impact of church social action projects

Those of us fascinated by elections will love the analysis of the Eastleigh By-Election on All That’s Left. In what’s probably the most interesting By-Election of this Parliament, they look at the numbers and the history of the seat. It looks like it’s going to come out to get-out the vote, and based on the numbers they’ve given, I think that has to mean the Lib Dems have the edge.

The new Archbishop of Canterbury talks about the culture of banking. (h/t Cranmer).

There’s a piece over at Bright Green which points out the danger of a court case brought by EDF Energy – apparently they’re suing people for causing no actual damage during a peaceful protest.

And DocRichard has some statistics on the effect of climate change. It turns out that extreme weather events are more frequent than they used to be.

Creation and Politics

With this post, I am now resuming the series critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. In case you’ve forgotten in the gap between posts, the book so far outlines a religious right view of politics. Today we are starting to look at the chapter on the Environment. Today we’re looking at the beginning of the chapter, where Grudem lays out a basic theology of creation. This introduction is, by far, the best bit of the chapter – most of it is quite similar to what I covered in my series on Creation and Environment a couple of years ago.

Beginning and End

Grudem starts by pointing out that God originally made everything good (Genesis 1), but that the fall resulted in a curse on creation, meaning that it is now less than perfect (Genesis 3). Whilst there is still plenty of good in it, there are also things that are not good. He goes on to mention the future of creation, when it will be set free from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21; Isaiah 11:6-9) and says that this redemption of creation need not completely wait until Christ’s return.

Grudem also expands on a verse that is often contentious – Genesis 1;28, in which God commands humanity to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” He points out that this means humanity has a mandate to use and develop the earth’s resources wisely, that God views humanity as having greater value than other parts of creation (see passages like Matthew 6:26), that we have a responsibility to avoid animal cruelty (Proverbs 12:10), and that we have a responsibility to use the earth and its resources in a way that is not wasteful or destructive (although Grudem does not use the term, this last point is the principle of stewardship).

The Strawman Environmentalist

The problem with this section of the book is not the basic theology on which a Christian understanding of the environment rests, but the way Grudem tries to contrast this point of view with that of what he calls the “radical environmentalist” view. Judging by the examples he uses about what “radical environmentalists” think, he appears to be taking aim at the most extreme fringes of environmentalism, rather than any mainstream view that would be relevant to discussing politics.

The first way he tries to draw a contrast is when it comes to the question of what the “natural” world is. He claims that the ideal driving much of the environmental movement is to restore the planet to its “untouched natural state”. He claims that, for many environmentalists, the idea of humans developing the natural world is somehow wrong. Whilst there are certainly some people who take that point of view, my experience of the environmental movement is most of us are driven by what’s good for human beings. There is a massive overlap between the kind of people who get involved with environmental groups like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth and those who get involved with anti-poverty ones like Oxfam or War on Want. Also, environmentalists are far more likely than the average person to be aware that what we think of as the “natural” environment is largely man-made. The only parts of the planet whose environment has not been shaped by human activity are the ones in which humans don’t live (e.g. Antarctica).

Grudem’s second line of attack on environmentalism is to protest that animal welfare should always come second to potential human benefit. He claims that the ideal of “untouched nature” is the motivation behind campaigns to save species from extinction, or opposition to things like animal testing. In fact, many people taking part in such campaigns are motivated by a desire to prevent animal cruelty and the need to be wise stewards of the earth’s resources.

His third attack against environmentalism is that it is based on fear that certain activities will damage the environment. Here, Grudem does have a point – if you campaign to protect the environment, you’re probably a little bit worried that whatever you’re campaigning against will damage the environment. However, the other side can also be driven by fear. For example, people who oppose efforts to reduce our carbon emissions are often afraid that this will force them to change their lifestyle. However, rather than acknowledging that sometimes environmentalists are right that the cost is greater than the benefit, Grudem dismisses pretty much every environmental concern out of hand. He writes as follows:

They are always emphasising the dangers (whether real or imagined) and never realistically evaluate an insignificant risk of danger in comparison to a certain promise of great benefit. (emphasis his)

Which suggests to me that he has pretty much abandoned the concept of stewardship when it comes to the environment. In applying this to the entire range of environmental concerns, he seems to be implying that, no matter how we treat the environment, we will never do so in a way that is wasteful or destructive. He has abandoned one of the principles he just laid out. And forgotten a fundamental principle of Christian belief – that human beings are sinners.

Finally, he goes and quotes a man called Paul Watson as an example of environmentalists who think the existence of human beings is the main problem with planet earth. However, it is somewhat disingenuous to cite a man who Greenpeace dismiss as a “violent extremist” as in any way representative of the environmental movement. In any grouping as large and diverse as the environmental movement, you will find some extremists who are not representative of the movement. Claiming that Watson is representative of environmentalists is like saying that Westborough Baptist Church (the people who picket funerals with “God hates fags” signs) are representative of Christians, or that Osama Bin Laden is representative of Muslims.

Grudem’s attempts to contrast a Christian worldview with an Environmentalist one are a blatant strawman. Earlier in the book, he said that the way Christians should engage with politics

does not mean angry, belligerent, intolerant, judgemental, red-faced, and hate-filled influence, but rather winsome, kind, thoughtful, loving, persuasive influence that is suitable to each circumstance and that always protects the other person’s right to disagree, but that is also uncompromising about the truthfulness and moral goodness of the teachings of God’s Word.

Quite frankly, the treatment he gives environmentalists in this chapter comes across as the complete opposite of this. You should be free to criticise the other side’s policies, positions, and beliefs. But if you are going to do so in a winsome, kind, thoughtful, loving, and persuasive way then you should at least try to represent their point of view fairly.

Hospital Chaplaincies

One of the things about having this blog is that I seem to have become the go-to person when anybody is looking for Christians within the Green Party. The most recent example of this is somebody who was curious about a motion on hospital chaplains that is being submitted to the party’s Spring Conference later this month. The motion is taken straight from the National Secular Society’s position on the issue of hospital chaplains, and reads:

C31. Hospital Chaplaincy Services
Proposed by Andy Chyba (**), Anthony Young, John Evans, Owen Clarke, + 2 others
Synopsis
A National Secular Society survey has shown that over £30m of NHS money was spent on hospital chaplaincy services in 2009/10 in England and Wales; services with no clinical benefit. That such services are publicly funded, ahead of services such as Macmillan Cancer Support and Air Ambulances services, is indefensible.
Motion
Insert into the PSS new section HE 371 For some patients, hospital chaplaincy services offer an important source of comfort and spiritual support. NHS Health boards should facilitate a chaplaincy service. Chaplaincy funding should not come from a fixed health budget. Alternative funding streams should be used.

We will therefore:

I. Divert the expenditure being spent each year on the English and Welsh chaplaincy services into front-line health services.

II. Work with the leaders of all religious denominations in England and Wales to establish charitable trusts to fund hospital chaplaincy services.

The motion will make it Green Party policy that chaplaincy services must be privately funded, and so makes it less likely that they will be available. The last time I was an in-patient, I found the chaplaincy service an immense encouragement, even though I only saw them a couple of times. They may not have made a difference to my clinical condition, but they certainly made a difference to my overall well-being.

Sadly, I can’t afford to go to Spring Conference this year. As I can’t be there to argue and vote against the motion in person, I feel obliged to argue against it here. The motion should be voted down for the following reasons (listed in no particular order):

  • This motion makes it Green Party policy to privatise a part of our health service.
  • As a party we are opposed to the Government’s austerity agenda, where government services are stopped for purely budgetary reasons, and it is left to charities (most often religious groups) to pick up the slack. The Green approach is to work out what government should be doing in principle and then making sure we find the money to pay for it. This motion assumes the austerity principle.
  • It goes against Green Party principles. Our health policy starts by saying “Health is the condition in which individuals and communities achieve their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potential”. This motion sends the message that clinical/physical health is the only part of our health that matters.
  • The supporting evidence is misleading. The call to privatise chaplaincy services is based on one study, which said that chaplaincy services provide no clinical benefit. But they aren’t there as a clinical service. Their role is to provide pastoral support for hospital patients. It’s an important service that no other part of the NHS provides. Healthcare professionals rarely have the time to focus on the patient as a person, whilst chaplains do nothing but that.
  • It paints the Green Party as an anti-religion party. We already have some policies that come across that way (one of our equalities policies would make it illegal to require that vicar be a Christian, though that was probably not the intent of the people who wrote it). We are a party that believes human beings have a spiritual dimension. The last thing we need is policies written by an anti-religion pressure group to advance an anti-religious agenda.

If you’re a party member and going to conference, I urge you to go to the workshop on this motion and argue against it, and to speak and vote against it if you’re in the relevant plenary session (which, as it’s at the bottom of the agenda, should be on the Monday). As the motion is at the bottom of the agenda, it might be dropped due to lack of time, or by the plenary not being quorate. But we can’t assume that.