Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Will the planet survive?

As the climate talks in Copenhagen take place, public awareness of issues surrounding climate change is undoubtedly growing. Climate change is considered by some scientists to be the most important scientific and political issue of our time. Unfortunately the issue has been heavily politicized, resulting in partisan rhetoric rather than clear thinking in public discussion of the matter. Conservatives tend to doubt the science and liberals tend to believe everything they hear from Al Gore or other pop-science sources. Both parties could benefit from actually looking at the data.

For example, one commonly hears things like, "our planet is in peril," or, "if we don't act soon, we won't have a planet at all."

The history of our planet says otherwise. For example, the Earth was about 15 degrees C warmer than it is currently around 50 million years ago, during the Eocene. Our planet was very warm and largely ice-free, even at the poles. Yet it survived. Carbon dioxide levels have also been much higher in the past, perhaps even a dozen times higher in the deep past. What does this mean? It means our planet is not in peril; it has experienced much warmer temperatures than today, and even being ice-free does not somehow spell doom for planet Earth.

Climate change does threaten the specific species we have currently on Earth. In other words, some of the life on Earth is put in danger by climate change, not the Earth itself. Living things will have to adapt to a changing climate or diminish and possibly go extinct. The obvious example is the polar bear, as at least some polar bear populations are declining. If the Arctic ice does completely disappear, as some scientists are predicting, they will indeed have to adapt or perish.

So, while talk of the destruction of our planet may be rhetorically useful, it is inaccurate to say that the planet itself is somehow in danger, or to say that it will become uninhabitable. Rather, the planet itself will be fine, as will its ability to support life in general. For many species though climate change will be a growing threat, and if we desire preservation of our current ecosystems we will have to take the necessary steps to curb our influence.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bart Ehrman: God's Problem

I've started listening to Bart Ehrman's book God's Problem on cd on my way to work. His book explores the (in his view) inability of Christianity (and specifically, the Bible) to satisfactorily answer the question of why there is suffering in the world. It's an important and difficult question for Christians to face.

One interesting thing is the subtitle of the book: How the Bible fails to answer our most important question - why we suffer. While it is certainly an important question, it is not clear that this is the most important one; it is also not clear that the Bible's purpose is to answer this question. In this sense, I wonder if the whole premise of the book is slightly off. Usually it is the Christians who are accused of viewing humanity as all-important, but if Mr. Ehrman thinks the question of why humans suffer is the most important question there is, it would seem it is he who as an elevated view of humanity.

Another bizarre idea of Ehrman's is that he believes that to say the problem of suffering is beyond our ability to comprehend (i.e. a mystery) is the same as saying there is no answer to the problem of suffering. Just because humans may not know an answer does not mean there is no answer. It would seem that Ehrman is elevating humans to a level where if we cannot arrive at a solution to something or cannot comprehend it then it must not exist.

Still, I am interested in hearing him out. The books seems like it will be a passionate articulation of both a difficult intellectual problem and the reasons for Ehrman's loss of faith (he used to be an evangelical Christian).