Monday, November 26, 2018

Ignoring religion in politics is a mistake - II

In Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, George Marshall says that religious groups have not incorporated the issue of climate change into their world-view unlike previous social movements like those against slavery or apartheid. This is because environmental groups think science and religion are separate enterprises and thus avoid communicating in the language of faith. He says that this is a serious mistake because the number of religious people is far greater than those in environmental groups and communicating in rational, scientific language leaves many of them cold.

A professor of theology says about religious people that 'they have an experiential relationship with their faith that is special, and they would not say that climate change has that same personal luminous quality'. But there are climate scientists with strong religious faith like Katherine Hayhoe who is the director of the Climate Science Centre at Texas Tech University and is also an evangelical Christian who is married to a pastor. She says:
The facts are not enough. When we look at the planet, when we look at creation, whatever it is telling us is an expression of what God  has defined it to be. So instead of studying science, I feel like I'm studying what God was thinking when he set up our planet.
The language won't move people like me but there are a far greater number of people for whom what she says makes perfect sense. The brain can be conceptually divided into two parts: the rational and the emotional. These two parts are in constant conversation. In order for there to be any meaningful action, it is not enough to convince the rational part of the brain with data and graphs (in spite of what economists say) but the emotional part of the brain must also be convinced.

In Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, George Marshall says that both religion and climate science face the same cognitive difficulties. Both require people to believe something on the authority of the communicator; both manifest in events that are distant in time and place; they challenge our normal experience and assumptions about the world; and they require people to accept certain short-term costs in order to avoid uncertain long-term costs. The difference is that religion has these difficulties to a much greater degree. Marshall  writes:
As the Reverend Sally Bingham, an Episcopalian preacher and renewables advocate told me, 'We believe that Mary was a virgin, that Jesus rose from the dead, that we might go to heaven. So why is it that two thousand years later, we still believe this story? And how can we believe that and not believe what the world's most famous climate scientists are telling us?
. . . religions have found ways to build a strong belief in some extremely uncertain and unsubtantiated claims through the power of social proof and communicator trust. Few are less certain, or more successful, than Mormonism which has become the fastest growing religion in the United States.
Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, was the first Mormon - a ward bishop, no less - to run for the presidency. He was also the the first candidate to openly repudiate climate science. Which raises a very interesting question: What are the key differences that can lead a highly intelligent and worldly man to say, 'I am uncertain how much of global warming is attributable to man' and accept as certain that a transcription of tablets found buried in a hillside contains the word of God? I am not seeking to mock Mormons, just asking a legitimate question: What is it that makes one irrelevant and fraudulent and the other the rock of a man's life?
Maybe the question, then, is not whether climate change is too much like religion, but whether, in our determination to keep the two apart, we have ignored the most effective, tried, and tested models for overcoming disbelief and denial.
We must remind ourselves that for all its capacity for ignorance, religion might have some valuable lessons for secular thought and the two need not be regarded as opposites. In The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Richard Feynman writes: ‘I do not believe that science can disprove the existence of God; I think that is impossible. And if it is impossible, is not a belief in science and in a God — an ordinary God of religion — a consistent possibility?’

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