Were Afghanistan and Iraq “Just Wars”?

This is the latest in our series critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today we’re finishing up the chapter on Defence policy, covering his arguments that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were just wars. We had a brief look at the criteria used to assess this situation in a Previous Post, so let’s just get down to how Grudem justifies this.

Did the wars have a just cause?

Grudem says that the aim of the Afghan and Iraq wars was to defend the United States against Islamic terrorists, who had attacked them on 9/11. He says that the Taliban and Al Qaeda were controlling Afghanistan and that Saddam Hussein was providing terrorist training grounds and paying money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Grudem says that a second just cause is that Saddam was continuing to prevent site visits to verify that he had no nuclear weapons. He claims that the Iraqi regime might have had chemical and biological weapons, and smuggled them into Syria. Grudem also says that an additional justification was that, by introducing (i.e. forcing) a democratic system of government on the two countries, it would provide “a more effective long-term antidote to Islamic terrorism”. He claims that this is because “countries that are governed by open democratic processes do not launch wars of conquest against other nations”.

On the first point, Afghanistan was controlled by the Taliban, but it was not controlled by Al Qaeda. However, the Taliban were sheltering Bin Laden from the US. Whether this justified an invasion is open to question. Iraq, on the other hand, had no links with Al Qaeda. Yes, they had supported some terrorist groups who were attacking Israel, Turkey, and Iran. But Saddam supported secular terrorist groups, rather than Islamic ones. Saddam was a pan-Arab secularist, and the only common ground between him and Al Qaeda was that they had both made enemies of the United States and its allies.

As for the question of Weapons of Mass Destruction, the evidence that Iraq still possessed them looked decidedly shaky back in 2003, and looks even more so now that we know there was no trace of them anywhere in Iraq. Whether Iraq’s occasional obstruction of the weapons inspectors was a violation of the UN resolutions or the 1993 surrender agreement is a more complicated question. But it’s certainly possible to argue that it constituted a grounds for war, albeit a fairly weak one.

Finally, “bringing democracy” as an antidote to terrorism is not a justification for war. Firstly, invading in order to bring democracy means that we are using war to force our idea of social good on these two nations (something which Grudem rejected elsewhere in the chapter). Secondly, as a result of the invasion of Iraq, terrorist groups like Al Qaeda have established a presence there where they didn’t have one before. Thirdly, Grudem’s claim that no democratic nation has ever launched a war of conquest is historically ignorant. The British Empire conquered a quarter of the world’s land surface, and had a democratic government (although only men could vote). Fourthly, even if that was true, terrorist attacks are not wars of conquest, making the point irrelevant.

Were they declared by a competent authority?

Grudem says that both wars were declared by the American President and Congress. Which is not the whole story – the Iraq war involved a number of different countries, whose declarations of war were made by their own government. Both wars pass this one – although given the cause of the Iraq war, a UN resolution should really have been part of the declaration process.

Was there comparative justice?

This one basically means “is it clear that your side was in the right and theirs in the wrong”. Grudem claims that the “great evil propagated by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq” makes this a clear pass. I don’t think that this one is quite as clear-cut as he makes out.

The war in Afghanistan was triggered because the Taliban refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden to the US. From what was reported in the media at the time, my understanding was that the US had given very little evidence that Bin Laden (or, indeed, Al Qaeda) were responsible for 9/11. If Bin Laden had been living in the UK, then based on the evidence that was public at the time, it is unlikely that there would have been enough evidence to extradite him. Yes, the Taliban was a particularly nasty regime, and were in cahoots with Al Qaeda, but it’s nowhere near as clear cut as Grudem seems to think.

In Iraq, the justification was that Saddam had broken United Nations sanctions and still possessed weapons of mass destruction. Given that it was not clear whether he did or not, the question of who was in the right is far more ambiguous.

Was war the last resort?

Grudem says that it was, because other negotiations and diplomacy had gone on for years without any significant change. In the case of Afghanistan, this is somewhat odd. The invasion happened less than a year after the event it was a response to. It’s not clear that all other options had been exhausted. In the case of Iraq, yes there were years of negotiations and diplomacy, but the UN weapons inspectors were very close to completing their report – declaring war before it was finished definitely seems premature.

Was there a great probability of success?

Grudem says there was. Whether he was right depends on precisely what the aim was. In Afghanistan, the probability of capturing or killing Bin Laden appears with hindsight to have been very low, though the probability of overthrowing the Taliban was relatively high. In Iraq, the probability of overthrowing Saddam’s regime was clearly very high. But given that nobody had thought about what to do next, the probability of any other goals were fairly low.

Was the proportionality of projected results in the US’s favour?

This one basically means “will the good of winning outweigh the harm of waging war?” Grudem says that it did, because Iraqi and Afghan terrorism was world-threatening, and because great good would come out of changing their governments. He claims that both nations have emerged as functioning democracies, and that oppressive regimes have been replaced with comparative freedom.

Grudem appears to be overstating the case here. Whilst both Iraq and Afghanistan are democracies, they may not be functioning democracies. In particular, there were serious problems with the 2009 Afghan elections – with widespread ballot stuffing, intimidation, and other electoral fraud (something in the region of a quarter of the votes were thrown out due to fraud). And there are definitely parts of Iraqi society who are less free and less secure than they were – Christians in particular.

Were the wars carried out in the right spirit?

Grudem says that the two wars were carried out with regret that the war was necessary, but but a determination to bring it to a successful conclusion. Whilst there are plenty of people who would dispute that, it’s reasonable to give the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Conclusion

Whilst both wars pass at least some of the Just War criteria, Grudem seems to be stretching when he says that they both pass all of them. Afghanistan seems to me to have rather more points in favour of it being (at least to start with) a Just War. Either way, this demonstrates that defining what is and isn’t a Just War is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Even World War Two has points where the case is weak (the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki were all rather disproportionate).

July Round-Up

Here are some interesting things I’ve spotted over the last month.

Despite growing up in the Church of England, I never really understood their theology of baptism. Anthony Smith has explained it in a way that I now understand.

There’s some evidence that giving prisoners the vote might help both rehabilitation and democracy.

After I posted my recent piece on whether Christians should be pacifists, I came across a discussion of pacifism in the early church

As is often the case, there have been some good things posted about disabilities and benefits. Firstly, there’s a heartfelt plea that we don’t judge people on benefits. Then there are five things the government doesn’t want you to know about the benefit cap. And finally, Sue Marsh has the disability statistics the government don’t want you to see.

The author of the Ballot Box and the Bible blog has unearthed some evidence that Labour weren’t ever that left-wing.

C Michael Patton points out that there is a huge difference between the evidence for Christianity and the evidence for other world religions.

Finally, TED Talks slays the climate change denial zombies:

Terrorism and Torture

This is the latest in our series critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today we’re looking at part of the chapter on Defence policy, specifically looking at what he says about torture and terrorism. We should note that Grudem only looks at Islamic terrorism – whilst other forms of terrorism (e.g. separatist groups) probably kill more people worldwide, his country is not really threatened by them.

What Motivates the Terrorists?

Grudem spends some time going into the history of Islamic terrorism, drawing on a book called The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, which he says is the most extensive and authoritative history of Islamic terrorism in recent times. The picture he paints is that its roots are a particular extremist version of Islam, rather than poverty, or a reaction to Western foreign policy. He says that their motivation is to establish Islamic rule over as much of the world as possible, and that they focus on the US because it is the only power capable of blocking the restoration of the ancient Caliphate (i.e. restoring a single religious government over the Islamic world).

Grudem dismisses any suggestion that American (and, by extension, Western) foreign policy is even partially a contributing factor. He rejects any suggestion that Western military action in the Islamic World is a cause of resentment. He thinks that the idea that successful military attacks on terrorists might help them is absurd, and that terrorist attacks will dry up once the terrorists realise that they will be defeated by superior military force.

This view is seems naïve in two respects. Firstly, there is lots of evidence that Western intervention in the Middle East (particularly Iraq) has increased sympathy for groups like Al Qaeda within sections of the Islamic world, and served as a very effective recruiting tool for them. Secondly, there are many examples of terrorist groups continuing to thrive for decades despite being faced with overwhelming military force (the IRA and various Palestinian groups being the first ones to come to mind). Grudem believes that, because there is nothing that can be negotiated, violence is the only way to beat these groups, even though military solutions have a very bad track record against terrorism – negotiation and tradtional counter-terrorism strategies (e.g. infiltrating the groups) have, historically speaking, been far more reliable.

Grudem also makes the point that it’s rather difficult to capture a suicide bomber after the crime.

Security vs Liberty

Grudem also looks at the issue of what the security services get up to. He refers to a story in the New York Times that revealed the US government was trying to trace terrorists through the banking system, claiming that it led the terrorists to change banks, which apparently prevented things from being traced. He thinks that the person who leaked the story should be prosecuted for endangering lives. Grudem seems to think that the main impact of the story was that the terrorists were now aware that they could be traced that way. However, that suggests that they had either very little common sense, or no real knowledge of how the banking system works (despite being perfectly capable of money laundering).

Grudem also brings up objections to “warrantless wiretapping” – the security services listening in to whatever phone calls they want. The objection is often raised that such surveillance should only be undertaken if a judge issues a court order allowing it – thus ensuring that there is some form of legal oversight. Grudem rejects this because he believes that you would have to get a court order for each phone call you tap, and that terrorists keep changing mobile phones in order to avoid the phone call being listened to. He doesn’t consider the possibility that wiretapping court orders could be issued against the person, rather than against their mobile phone. Concluding this point, Grudem rejects the idea that wiretapping should be subject to due process because the “small threat” of invasion of privacy is “insignificant” compared to the potential protection against terrorist attacks.

Grudem also has a section praising the CIA. He says that criticism of the CIA (or, by implication, any other part of a nation’s security services) is destructive to the nation, as it undermines the morale of their employees, makes it more difficult for them to recruit, and more difficult to carry on their work. He, therefore, considers that “opposition to the CIA as a general attitude of mind” is opposition to the United States itself. He does say that it is necessary for there to be some oversight of their activities, but laments that such oversight has sometimes led to damaging security leaks.

I find Grudem’s attitude on this whole issue slightly worrying, as he completely downplays the need for some kind of oversight of the security services. His answer to the old question of “who watches the watchmen?” is “as few people as possible, as little as possible”. Yes, we shouldn’t get hysterical about organisations like the CIA. But we do need to be aware that the kind of powers they have can easily be abused, and that the security services need to be held accountable to ensure that they do not abuse their powers. There is certainly a case to be made that the reaction to 9/11 has put all the pieces in place to turn several Western nations into police states.

Hearts and Minds

Whilst Grudem’s main theme on dealing with terrorists is to use military force, he does point out that we need to turn people away from terrorists. He says that it is important to get governments on board, because it is apparently hard for terrorist training camps and cells to remain for long in a nation without at least passive tolerance by national government. This is somewhat overstating the case – separatist terrorists don’t seem to have a problem keeping their cells going under a hostile government. But it is true that it is easier to fight terrorism if the relevant government is on your side, rather than the terrorists’.

He also says that we need to persuade people in Muslim nations to turn against the terrorists. This is where I would place the emphasis – persuading Muslims to reject the particular stream of Islam that the Islamicists depend on. Grudem says that doing this will require a strong US military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan for some time to come, in order to provide the neighbourhood security necessary for peace-making efforts. Whilst he is right that it will be difficult to win hearts and minds without some measure of security, he is wrong that it needs to be provided by the US. It could equally well be provided by the Iraqi and Afghan governments, or by an international (United Nations?) peacekeeping force. In fact, since Grudem wrote his book, British and American forces have begun withdrawing from both nations – leaving the security to the locals.

Whilst Grudem doesn’t acknowledge that Western intervention in the Muslim world helps terrorist propaganda , he says that American morality does. He says that because Americans (and, presumably, Westerners) have lax moral standards when it comes to things like alcohol, sex, drugs, gambling, pornography, and the like it is easy for the Islamicists to say that the world needs a strict implementation of Sharia law.

Torture

Grudem spends a lot of time talking about the issue of torture, though he insists that the word itself is useless – preferring to use terms such as “enhanced interrogation”. He begins with the Geneva convention – that prisoners of war should be treated with respect. He believes that this is because the aim of holding them should be to prevent them from rejoining the war. Grudem also believes that somebody who deliberately attacks civilians and fights out of uniform forfeits the right to any such protections, and thus some torture techniques are justified. He doesn’t explain why such people should not be treated like normal criminal suspects.

Grudem cites the “ticking time bomb” scenario – where we know for certain that the suspect is a terrorist, and that there is an imminent terrorist attack that they know the details of, and which we could prevent if we had that information – as a situation in which torture might be necessary or useful. He ignores the fact that such a scenario will almost never happen, as we cannot be certain we’ve got the right person. Also, if a terrorist cell has any brains, they would change their plans as soon as they realised that their colleague had been picked up by the security services.

What are the limits?

Grudem lists five things that should never be part of an interrogation.

  1. Inherently immoral actions (e.g. raping the prisoner)
  2. Denying medical treatment
  3. Sadistic humiliation (such as what happened at Abu Ghraib)
  4. Forcing a prisoner to violate religious convictions that pose no threat (e.g. giving a Muslim prisoner pork and alcohol)
  5. To carry out any actions that would “shock the conscience” of a US court, such as causing lasting physical damage

Grudem is in favour of allowing interrogators to inflict some level of physical pain on prisoners. He cites things like using pressure points on the body, using drugs like Sodium Pentathol (“truth serum”), and waterboarding.

Does it work?

Grudem rejects claims that torture doesn’t work, citing a handful of cases where it is said to have produced some useful intelligence. He doesn’t really do justice to the claims that it doesn’t work. Nobody is saying that torture never produces correct information. Instead, opponents of torture claim that it will often produce incorrect information – people will say what they think the torturers want to hear in order to get the pain to stop. This claim has been repeatedly made by intelligence agents with experience. (references here, here, here, and here

Defence Policy

This is the latest in a series of posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. On Tuesday, we started the chapter on Defence policy, looking at the question of whether Christians should be pacifists, or whether we could participate in a “Just War”. Today we’re looking at defence policy – Grudem talks just about the United States, but some of it applies more generally. His arguments depend on the view he previously argued that a just war is possible, and that governments have a duty to protect their nation from attacks. Here, he points out that no nation should use military power to conquer another, or to impose their ideas of social good on another nation (we may come back to this point in future posts).

Does Grudem advocate an arms race?

Grudem believes that, if a nation has the responsibility to protect itself from attack, then the United States should have enough military power to defeat any nation or combination of nations that has the potential to attack it. He says that some people might say that having so much military power is dangerous because it increases tension and instability. He dismisses this idea because he thinks that it assumes that the cause of evil is in some outside cause, rather than in human hearts.

However, his dismissal doesn’t actually deal with the objection. The existence of massive military forces has often been viewed as a threat by nations that do not have them. The arms race between Britain and Germany was one of the causes of World War One. During the Cold War, the military might of the USSR was viewed by Americans as evidence that the Soviets wanted to expand by conquest, and vice versa. If one nation has overwhelming military force, the sinful human heart is likely to fear that this is for sinister reasons.

I have one other problem with Grudem’s point of view – basically it justifies for an arms race. If the US should have enough military power to defeat any other nation, then – logically speaking – so should everybody else. If everybody acted on this, then it would only be a matter of time before the entire global economy existed solely to fuel the arms industry. Clearly, therefore, there have to be some limits on the build-up of military forces.

Where are the major threats to security?

Grudem lists a number of possible threats – nations he believes would invade and conquer another nation if they thought they could succeed. This list was compiled in early 2010. He lists North Korea (fair enough), and Iran (whose threat is almost certainly exaggerated), who might possibly launch a missile at US base or a US ally. He says that Russia could easily become a threat to both the US and to parts of Eastern Europe. He says that China is currently friendly to the US, thanks to trade, but could become a military threat in the future. He believes that Islamic terrorist groups from the Muslim world are the greatest current threat to US national security. He also briefly acknowledges that computer attacks are a part of the potential threat from China, but does not mention that such “cyber-terrorism” is widely considered one of the major security threats that will cause concern in the 21st century (alongside terrorism and climate change)

The most controversial part of his list concerns Latin America. He identifies Cuba (under Castro) and Venezuela (under Chavez) as “military dictatorships”. Whilst you could argue this in the case of Cuba, claiming that Chavez was a military dictator suggests that Grudem has been taking Fox News a bit too seriously. Chavez gained power via the ballot box, and maintained it by being re-elected. Even if you think that the elections in question were rigged, it’s clear that Chavez didn’t maintain power by military force (unless you count parts of the military helping to defeat a coup d’etat in 2002). Anyway, Grudem claims that these two nations have destabilised a number of governments in the region. He specifically mentions Columbia (with no sense of irony about the effect of American involvement in that country). Whilst it is laughable that any part of Latin America is on course to become a military threat to the US, Grudem is right that the growth of left-wing governments in the region means that many Latin American countries are more hostile to the US than they used to be.

Defending Others

Grudem says out that the US military has the most troops (actually, it has fewer than China) and spends the most on its armed forces of any nation in the world (the most recent figure I’ve seen is 39% of global spending) and says that, as a result, they carry a lot of the responsibility for maintaining world peace. He points out that the US is a part of NATO (a defensive alliance), said that the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 set a precedent for the US defending its allies (it actually said that the US would prevent European powers from attacking or colonising any nation in the Americas – ally or not), and adds that the US has a number of other military alliances. Grudem believes that such alliances are good, because they provide a deterrent for potential aggressors, and contribute to world peace. He does not acknowledge that there are circumstances where such alliances can make war more likely (the most prominent example being World War One, where the alliances between European powers enabled a relatively small dispute between Austria and Serbia to escalate into a continent-wide war).

Grudem says that a major goal of the American military should be to preserve the independence and freedom of democratic nations (which, presumably, means that he disapproves of much of what went on under the banner of the Cold War). He cites the US Declaration of Independence in support of this, rather than any Christian principle.

He spends some time attacking the views of Ron Paul, an American congressman who ran for President a couple of times. Ron Paul believes that the US should be non-interventionist – not getting involved in foreign wars, not stationing US troops abroad, and not even giving foreign aid. Ron Paul believes that such interventions are a threat to American liberty, and are at odds with the views of America’s founding fathers.

In response, Grudem points out that America’s the founding fathers might have been non-interventionists, they did not write it into the American constitution. He says that, in Obadiah 11, God condemned the nation of Edom for standing by when Israel was attacked and defeated. He also says that the US’s great power gives them a responsibility to help weak nations with whom they have allied (he doesn’t say anything about weak nations who have not allied with the US). He also lists a few circumstances where American intervention has probably made the world a better place. Though his summary of what would have happened without the first Iraq war is somewhat bizarre (apparently, Saddam Hussein would have conquered Saudi Arabia as well as Kuwait – even though he showed no signs of intending to. And he would have exported terrorism around the world, even though he was as much an enemy of groups like Al Quaeda as any Western government, and even though much of the Islamic extremism we see today has its roots in the types of radical Islam promoted in Saudi Arabia, rather than the secular Islam that Saddam favoured).

Is a strong US Military good for the world?

Grudem says that it is wise to think that superior military weaponry should be in the hands of a nation that protects freedom for itself and other countries. He says that defence cuts under President Obama are a tragic mistake for undermining that principle. He cites the cut in funds for the F22 fighter – which is apparently the most capable fighter ever built. He does not consider the possibility that fighter jets are not the most effective weapon for the threats of the 21st century, as threats become less about conventional armies and more about terrorism, computer hacking, and environmental issues.

One flaw with this particular philosophy is the apparent assumption that such military forces should be primarily under the control of the US. Whilst it may come as a surprise to many Americans, their country is considered an oppressor in many countries around the world. And even if the US is benevolent today, there is no guarantee that it will stay that way. It would not be wise for the world to be dependant on the US being and staying a benevolent world power.

However, the biggest flaw with this line of reasoning is that the US currently accounts for about 39% of global military spending (with just 4.46% of the population). The next biggest spenders are China (9.5% of spending, 19.08% of population), Russia (5.2%, 2.02%), the United Kingdom (3.5%, 0.89%), Japan (3.4%, 1.79%), and France (3.4%, 0.93%). If the US is spending more than twice as much on its armed forces as the next two nations combined (despite only having a fifth of the population), there’s probably quite a lot of room for reducing that budget without endangering anybody’s security. And since there are other democratic nations with very large defence budgets, it’s quite clear that the US doesn’t have to be the only nation playing global policeman.

Should we have nuclear weapons?

Grudem mentions the history of nuclear weapons, claims that the use of nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War Two saved more lives than they killed. He notes which nations have nuclear weapons, that Iran is trying to acquire them, and claims that Al Qaeda have attempted to obtain them. He believes that the threat of using nuclear weapons is what prevents nations which have them from using them, and that once a weapon is invented it is impossible to get rid of it – somebody, somewhere, will always ensure that they have it.

Grudem believes that there are two possible ways to prevent countries from using nuclear weapons. Firstly, the existence of a superior nuclear force (i.e. somebody with more nukes than you) and secondly by an anti-missile defence system that can prevent nukes from reaching their target. Grudem believes that the United States has the responsibility to develop both in order to protect both itself and its allies.

When it comes to the missile shield idea, Grudem says that the idea has been repeatedly proven to work, citing tests where one missile has hit another. He does not mention any tests against large numbers of incoming missiles, including decoys and countermeasures. As the tests are currently classified, we don’t know whether such a system would work in practice.

Grudem criticises a number of President Obama’s actions on the issue of both nuclear weapons and the proposed missile defence shield. He thinks that a mutal agreement with Russia to reduce the number of nuclear weapons both nations have will endanger American national security, as will not pursuing a new generation of nuclear weapons , and ratifying the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty (an international agreement to ban nuclear tests – almost every other nation that could test a nuke has already ratified it). He also criticises decisions to withdraw anti-missile defence stations in Eastern Europe. He claims that the systems would have protected Europe from possible Russian or Iranian nuclear attack (not true – the system as currently proposed would only protect the US). He says that Russia was delighted at this news because it would be easier for it to attack and regain control over Eastern Europe. In reality, Russia was probably more relieved than delighted. They still view the US as a potential aggressor, and if the US has a working missile defence shield, it means that Russia’s nukes will not be a deterrent.

Who should serve?

Another issue that Grudem brings up is the question of who should serve in the armed forces. He doesn’t address the question of whether the armed forces should be drafted or volunteer-based. But he does address two groups whose ability to serve in the military has been controversial.

Gays in the military

The question of whether gays and lesbians can serve in the armed forces has been the subject of intense debate in the US, but relatively uncontroversial in most other countries. Grudem states that it has always been the US policy not to let those with a known homosexual orientation to serve in the armed forces, and believes that biblical commands forbidding sexual activity with somebody of the same sex as yourself should make Christians support such a policy. He cites a number of military officers who believe that allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military would harm morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion. Since Grudem wrote this, the issue has become somewhat academic – the policy of not allowing gays and lesbians to serve has now been lifted, and an American federal appeals court has ruled that the previous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was illegal.

Women in combat

Grudem also briefly addresses the role of women within the armed forces. Whilst he has no problem with women being in the military, he does not agree that they should be in combat roles and is dubious about women serving as fighter pilots. He points out that, historically speaking, Christians have held the view that actual combat is a responsibility that should only fall to men, and that this is repeatedly assumed throughout the Bible.

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.