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[NOTE: This transcript has been edited only for typos and for breaks in the conversation.]
BILL MOYERS: When you describe yourself as an evangelical, what are you saying about yourself?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, historically, an evangelical person is a person who is committed to the gospel, particularly as it's been understood coming out of the Reformation. A gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone rather than by our doing good works, which are, instead, the response of gratitude to God for the saving work of Jesus Christ.
BILL MOYERS: So it's a matter of faith.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Of belief.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: A personal experience?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Certainly it should be. But we would distinguish between subjective faith "I believe such and such" and objective faith, the content of what is believed that is shared by all who subscribe to a given creed. And, evangelical faith ought to be a subjective embrace of an objective content, an objective body of beliefs.
BILL MOYERS: When did you become an evangelical?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Oh. In my high school years I suppose. Wasn't even aware that there were such terms as evangelical at that time. But I did become a very committed Christian. I began telling others about Jesus Christ and his work. And ran into people who had objections to it and headed for libraries and began reading books. And little by little, as I began to read more and more widely, I began realizing, "Oh, I'm an evangelical is what this means."
BILL MOYERS: In practical terms, what has it meant to your life to be an evangelical?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Oh. More than anything else means to my life. Certainly one of the most important things would be the knowledge for certain that if I were to die today, I would go to heaven, not to hell. The Bible tells us these things have been written to you who believe in the name of the son of God so that you can know that you have eternal life.
And I think that that's important. I would rather know it than wonder about it. But there are plenty of other things, too. Obviously, it has to do with your conscience. You know that there is an absolute standard, that there's an unvarying standard of behavior that is pretty rigorous.
You know, Jesus takes the Ten Commandments that in an outward form seem to address largely our outward behavior, and he makes them very internal. And he tells us, you know, you've heard that it's been said you shall not commit murder. But I tell you if you're even angry at your brother without cause, you're in danger of hellfire.
And, that means that one always is going around with the realization that he's on display. He is on display not just to his neighbors, to his fellow man, but on display to God.
BILL MOYERS: So there's an ethical matter, too.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah, yeah. There's an ethical aspect to being an evangelical.
BILL MOYERS: How do you explain the fact that there are many evangelicals but they all worship the same God, serve the same redeemer, read the same Bible, and yet they can disagree on something like the environment.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Oh, my goodness. They disagree on far more than things just the environment. And it's not a surprise at all. I explain it in that we read different data in different ways. We interpret data differently. I am quite sure that various evangelicals who have different perspectives on anything from global warming to species extinction to deforestation to ozone depletion to, you know, particulate matter in the atmosphere and things of that sort may have all sorts of different perspectives on those.
But we do, as you said, we share the same fundamental world view. We share the same basic theological commitments. We share the same ethical commitments. But obviously if non-evangelicals can look at empirical data and differ over them, there's no reason why evangelicals shouldn't be able to do the same thing.
BILL MOYERS: So you read science differently.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Right.
BILL MOYERS: You read history differently.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: You read the newspapers differently.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Sure. Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: I'm sure you've read this.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Oh, yes, yes. Right. That's the first time I've seen the nice published version of it.
BILL MOYERS: "Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action." It's the Evangelical Climate Initiative. I actually just got this last week myself. I had the black and white, but I hadn't seen the color. Let me read something it says here. And you tell me what you think about this.
The Evangelical Climate Initiative is a group of senior evangelical leaders in the United States who are convinced it is time for our country to help solve the problem of global warming. We seek to do so in a way that creates jobs, cleans up our environment, and enhances national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil; thereby, creating a safe and healthy future for our children." Would you say "amen" to that?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I would say "amen" to the motivation that stands behind it. One of the things that they emphasize in that document is that they see the poor as the most vulnerable to the kinds of catastrophic changes that they think are going to come about because of global warming. I could say "amen" to the motivation. I can't say "amen" to the empirical claims as to what is going to happen because of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.
BILL MOYERS: Carbon dioxide.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: And therefore, right, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is a greenhouse gas, no question about that. And some people think that it's going to cause some catastrophic global warming. I'm not persuaded of that.
And, in fact, the data of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does not support a catastrophic forecast as to what's coming from rising CO2 in the atmosphere. So I embrace their motive, but I disagree with their reading of the science and, to some extent, also the economics. I think that the costs of pursuing the emissions reductions that they want are going to fall heavily on those who are most dependent on inexpensive energy. And those are the poor. So actually--
BILL MOYERS: They say that--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: --for the very reason that they give as their motivation, I pursue a different policy.
BILL MOYERS: They say that global warming will hit the poor most heavily.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes. And, quite understandable reasons for saying that. They think that, for instance, global warming will drive sea level increase. And that will threaten low-lying areas such as Bangladesh, where there are high percentages of poor people. That's very understandable.
The problem is that I don't think that the science substantiates that sea level increase is being driven by human-induced global warming. Sea level has been increasing for a couple of hundred years at least. And there doesn't seem to be any statistically significant correlation between that and patterns of global average temperature, which means that it's probably driven by a natural cause, not by a human-induced cause. I--
BILL MOYERS: But the first claim in their document is, "Claim Number One: Human-induced climate change is real."
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Oh, and I don't contest that human-induced climate change is I'd say at least probably real. The question is: What proportion of climate change is human induced? And is it a proportion that is big enough that whatever we can do to reduce CO2 emissions is going to make a significant impact on the climate change that actually does happen?
And I think that it is-- I think that human contribution to climate change is very small. And I think that, in fact, even the IPCC's data indicate that, even if we could achieve the goals of, for example, the Kyoto Protocol for CO2 reductions, we would achieve at most a 0.2 degree Fahrenheit reduction in global average temperature from a hypothetical doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere, which might or might not occur in this century. And that's just simply too small to avert the kinds of dangers that they predict.
BILL MOYERS: What troubles you most about this call to action?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I think really, Bill, what troubles me more than anything about it is something that as a theologian, as a churchman, has troubled me about many different issues where- religious leaders speak out on political hot topics. And that is the importation of religious moral authority into something where the speaker doesn't have specific expertise in that, all right?
I've gone down the list of all the 86 signers of the ECI. And I can't identify any who have expertise in the science of global warming or in the economics of energy policy. And I embrace their motives. But I do not think that they have the technical knowledge to be able to speak knowledgeably on this.
BILL MOYERS: Isn't that something they might likely say of you?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, I think they certainly could. In fact, I got an email the day after the NEW YORK TIMES quoted me in criticism of the ECI. I got an email from an evangelical, who is the head of a department of biology and ecology at a state university, telling me that I was utterly irresponsible for speaking out on these things.
And the very same day, I got a phone call from Neil Frank, who is the former director of the National Hurricane Center and the chief meteorologist of a network affiliate in Houston, saying, "I want to commend you for what you've said. You're right. And don't let anybody intimidate you from saying these things."
I replied eventually to the fellow who sent me the email and said, "Imagine my surprise when I get the email from you on the same day that I get a phone call from Neil Frank. You're a biologist and ecologist with no special expertise in global warming." I listed eight books on global warming by climatologists that I've read in their entirety. And then I said, "And I get this phone call from him. Why should I trust your judgment of my ability to have an opinion about this more than I do Neil Frank's?"
BILL MOYERS: You did sign a letter to the National Association of Evangelicals--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: --asking that they not adopt any official position on global warming. Why?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Right. Because the NAE speaks as a consensus voice for the roughly 30 million members of its member denominations and organizations. And, in my judgment, consensus simply doesn't exist.
BILL MOYERS: If they had done the same thing this is just a hypothetical question. If they'd done the same thing on, say abortion, opposition to abortion, or family values or gay marriage, would they have been speaking--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: They have done the same thing on those. And--
BILL MOYERS: But nobody challenged them.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Right. Because I think among evangelicals, there is strong consensus on those very issues.
BILL MOYERS: Because they are moral issues or social issues? Or-- what's the difference between--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: They're-- they're--
BILL MOYERS: --those issues and the environment?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I think it's much easier to have a biblically-rooted position on, for example, abortion than it is on global warming. Because global warming depends on all sorts of very detailed, intricate scientific questions about the feedback mechanisms and positive and negative of clouds, low altitude clouds and high altitude clouds, of aerosols, sulphates, things like that, where, frankly, even the professional climatologists are still saying to us, "We really don't understand this very well."
BILL MOYERS: What is the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: It's a very loose-knit, information sharing network among evangelicals Roman Catholics, Jews, people of other faiths who are united around a biblical world view but not necessarily around a particular sectarian or denominational position who want to promote a stewardship of this planet that is responsible, that is compassionate, that looks after every aspect of the planet, and frankly, puts a priority on human beings.
We think that a lot of environmental activity tends to underestimate the impact of certain policies on human beings. And we want to put human beings at the forefront, especially those who are the most vulnerable, the poor.
BILL MOYERS: Your letter says, "Global warming is not a consensus issue. And our love for the creator and respect for his creation does not require us to take a position."
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah. And, I would say the same thing still, because so much of the science--
BILL MOYERS: They claim that--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: --is still out.
BILL MOYERS: But they claim that it's a moral obligation that Christians have to take a position.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah. And I would just simply disagree there. I think any one of us is certainly free to take a position. But I don't think that we're obligated. And as a matter of fact, I think where I do not know the facts, I am obligated not to take a position.
BILL MOYERS: We asked several of the co-signers of this letter for an interview, and they said they didn't want to. They wanted us to come and talk to you. Every one of them sent us to talk to you. Now, what-- how did you become their spokesman?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I don't know. I had been, as I told you earlier and when we were speaking, I began teaching at Knox Theological Seminary about six years ago and took on a course load of things that I had never taught before. And so for about five years, it was just a matter of, you know, let's get adjusted in all of these.
And then last summer I came to the point where I thought, "Okay, I've taught all of these courses at least once, some of them twice or three times. I'm ready to go back to some of my earlier interests." And environmental ethics, environmental stewardship has been a research and writing interest of mine for about-- almost 20 years.
BILL MOYERS: Ethics is one of your--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes. Right. And so I began to look into it again and just got in touch with some of the folks that I had hobnobbed with about these things in the past in the 1990s. And-- we talked and thought, "Well, let's try to provide some sort of a network for the sharing of ideas on this again."
BILL MOYERS: Now, here's a question that weighs heavily on a lot of people with whom I've been talking and on me, too, I have to say. There is an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that the world is getting warmer--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: --and that we human beings are the cause. In 2004--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Not absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: Okay. In 2004 the journal SCIENCE surveyed 928 papers on climate change that were published in peer-reviewed scientific publications and found that, quote I'm not making this up "none of the papers disagreed with the consensus." That's pretty convincing, don't you think?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I don't find it convincing. I don't find it convincing partly because many papers that have implications for the global climate debate are not published under titles or even with abstracts that make those implications clear. Papers can be published regarding the study of Antarctic ice cores, for instance.
But that's part of the problem. I would question the statistical relevance, the representivity of the sample of papers chosen. But second, there are a number of very well-qualified climatologists such as the ISA's own Roy Spencer, who is the senior research scientist in climatology at the University of Alabama; his colleague, John Christy, who is actually also a contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia; Fred Singer, emeritus professor of climatology at Virginia and now also at George Mason University; Frederick Seitz, past president of the National Academy of Science; Robert C. Balling at the Arizona State University we could go on.
But there are plenty who are saying, "No. The consensus among scientists is not there." When Neil Frank, the former head of the National Hurricane Center, PhD climatologist, called me that day, he told me that among meteorologists, there are thousands who reject the consensus view or the conventional wisdom, the catastrophic view on global warming, but who do not speak out, in part, because of public intimidation. But in part, too, because their very contracts in the places where they work forbid them to speak out on policy issues.
BILL MOYERS: So you're saying there are a lot of scientists who would speak out, but they are afraid to?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes. In fact Roy Spencer left the Goddard Institute for Space Studies specifically because his contract there forbade him to speak out on matters that were policy-related. And he wanted the freedom to do so. So he dropped his position there and went full-- you know, went-- undivided at the University of Alabama so that he could do that.
BILL MOYERS: Well, what would it take to convince you that global warming is serious enough that we need to take collective action to deal with it?
BILL MOYERS: I mean, there are plenty of scientists--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: It would take--
BILL MOYERS: --Christian and non-Christian, who think the data is pretty convincing.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah. It would take the development of climate models, global climate models, that could retrodict accurately what has happened over the last century and a half to two centuries. And at this point, they can't come close to doing that without lots and lots of ad hoc parameterizations that, frankly, show, by the very fact that they have to be done, the weakness of the models.
BILL MOYERS: But if your doctor diagnosed cancer and you went to a second and even third opinion and they said, "Yes, you've got cancer," wouldn't you take that diagnosis fairly seriously?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes, I would. And that's why I have spent the amount of time that I have reading, at this point now, probably about nine full books by climatologists on this subject and hundreds of articles, refereed and non-refereed. That's why I've spent the time that I have.
But I'm not persuaded that (a) it's going to be catastrophic, and (b) that human activity is a major cause of the climate trends that we have seen. The fact, for instance, that most of the warming that has occurred over the past century and a half occurred before 1940, before there was a significant increase in CO2 at concentrations in the atmosphere, is indicative of some questions about the actual direction of the causal relationship between CO2 and global warming. The work of Robert Essenhigh at it's Ohio State University on paleoclimate indicates that, generally, CO2 is a lagging factor behind temperature change, not a preceding factor.
BILL MOYERS: Therefore?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Therefore, CO2 is not the cause of warming. It is a result or rather rising CO2 is not the cause of warming; it is the result of warming.
BILL MOYERS: But you are speaking, by your own admission, as a layman, not as a scientist.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes, yes.
BILL MOYERS: Does the Bible say anything about global warming?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Does the Bible say anything about global warming?
BILL MOYERS: That's your field, theology, Christian history.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: One would not find global warming in a concordance an exhaustive concordance of the Bible. No, it certainly doesn't in any direct way. And that's part of why I insist this is not an issue where evangelicals are morally obligated to take a position on it.
BILL MOYERS: Because?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Because the Bible--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: --does not speak to it.
BILL MOYERS: But then you set aside the Bible, don't you, to address the world as a citizen, as a human being who takes empirical data every day on other subjects. You have to make up your own mind.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah. Yeah. You don't set aside the Bible completely. The Bible requires such things as honesty. It requires such things as humility and the like. One of the principles that I try to bring to my analysis of very, very complex empirical systems is one that was actually worked out in part by the late Friedrich Hayek, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, who insisted on our taking into account the limitations of human knowledge, and that many things, even in the empirical world, just simply go beyond our ability to consider all the data.
And I think that the very fact that we are putting so much trust in the climate models, the computerized models about the future of global climate, when those models cannot accurately retrodict indicates that we are not adequately humble about our own understanding of the climate. Empirical work does not support the kinds of forecasts that are being made on the basis of the models.
BILL MOYERS: You wrote this paper: "Biblical Principles for Environmental Stewardship." And you can see that I have highlighted it paragraph after paragraph. But there's one thing in particular that strikes me as you speak. You say, "It is thus imperative that the Christian community make sure of its biblical moorings before venturing too far in the endorsement of specific policies."
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: "Particularly when the policies can have serious consequences for human life and well-being."
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes, I think so.
BILL MOYERS: Isn't the reverse true? That Christians should make sure of their biblical moorings before venturing too far in opposing specific policies? Particularly those that will have consequences for human life?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes. I think so. I think we must do both. And what that means is that sometimes we're going to face a situation where one of us is convinced that the empirical data or the economic analysis forces us to a particular conclusion. And another of us, as an evangelical committed to scripture, is convinced that the empirical data, the economic analysis, forces us to an opposite conclusion. And when that happens, we can still be brothers in Christ. We can still respect each other. We can still love each other. And we can try to debate the issue. And we can perfectly, with good conscience, with good integrity, we can try to persuade decision-makers about that.
BILL MOYERS: So are you differing with your brothers and sisters, as you say, as a Christian or as a citizen?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: On the issue of how we interpret the science and the economics of global climate change and global climate change policy, I'm differing primarily as a citizen and as a lay reader of science and economics. On some other issues which I've discussed in my book, WHERE GARDEN MEETS WILDERNESS, I would question some of their interpretations of certain passages of scripture.
BILL MOYERS: You write in this paper, that quote, "A truly biblical ethic of creation simply can not ignore the biblical mandate for a man to fill, subdue and rule the earth." Let me just read you from the first chapter of Genesis, the 28th version, which is one of the most celebrated and controversial texts in this whole debate. Quote, "Then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" What do you make of that?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I make a good deal of it. You know, from having read some of my writings, that I've written many pages just off that one specific verse. But to mention just a couple of things. For one thing, the very fact that it begins, "God bless them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply', indicates that human multiplication should seen not as a curse, but as a blessing.
And, unfortunately, many people in the anti-population growth movement, see human multiplication as a curse. I don't think that that's a biblical understanding. This is because a couple of verses earlier, we read that God made man in his own image and after his likeness. Male and female, he made them and he gave them the image of God. Which, I see biblically as revealing to us that man is made to be creative, as God is creative.
If you were just starting out reading the bible for the first time you would have read the first 25 verses of Genesis, and there you would have seen all about God's tremendous creativity. So there's creativity, there's wisdom involved, and there is holiness or righteousness involved. These three aspects of the image of God, I think, are very important. Those things are at the heart of what it is to be human. To be a man or a woman called to continue God's creative activity. So, I would see those things as the very beginnings of our understanding of Genesis.
BILL MOYERS: What about subdue and have dominion?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah, the word, subdue, actually, in the Hebrew, carries a fairly forceful idea behind it. And it implies to us that there are things out there, in this earth, as God made it, even before the fall, that were not optimal, that were not as as good as they could become. You know, at the end of the creation account, in Genesis one, we have, "God saw that he had made and behold, it was very good."
And we can all say, that whatever God does is perfect. But perfect for what ends? In part, I think that the earth was made to be the arena of man's expressing the image of God, which includes creativity, and going out and making what God has made, even more abundant, even more fruitful than it previously was.
BILL MOYERS: Could this text be read to mean that we can fill the earth with toxic chemicals, and we can pollute the air and water? That we can clear cut our mountains and knock the mountains off and--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: No--
BILL MOYERS: --subdue and have dominion-- conquer?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Another way to put it would be can it be read as an excuse for raping the earth? You know, to use a very anthropopathic term. And, no it certainly can't be used to excuse that.
We do have to recognize, though, that human beings like all other life forms on the earth consume certain things and we emit certain things. Every time we take a breath, we're emitting carbon dioxide. And, pollution is a natural part of reality.
You don't have life with out it. Pollution is a natural part of lifecycles, all right? The question is, how much pollution, how thoroughly can we minimize pollution? I think that's a very important thing for us to be pursuing-- that we do? What are the costs and benefits of the polluting activity, versus the pollution itself? Those are all questions that we have to approach.
BILL MOYERS: You write in the paper, that-- I'll quote you, you believe that Genesis 1:28 has been misinterpreted by some of these evangelicals? And you write, "In their understandable resolve to blunt the charge of secular and new age environmentalists, that Christians have used this passage as a license for vicious, careless, denomination of the earth, they, some of these evangelicals, have gone toward the opposite extreme, robbing the passage of the all mandate for forceful rule."
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Help me understand what you mean by, forceful rule?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, first let me give a little bit of background for that. Because where that comes out of, is the tendency among a number of evangelical writers on environmental ethics, to interpret Genesis 1:28, by Genesis 2:15. And, in Genesis 2:15-- God places Adam in the garden, and he tells Adam to cultivate and guard the garden. And some interpreters have used, "cultivate and guard" as if somehow they were synonymous with, rule, with, "subdue and rule". As if 2:15 interpreted 1:28. And, I don't think that that's exegetically legitimate. The contexts differ, the Hebrew words differ. And so, my comment stems out of that.
Now, what about forceful rule? Well, quite frankly, if you are going to mine for precious medals, for fossil fuels, for anything else, you don't do that with a feather brush. You know? You don't do it by quietly blowing a breath on something, as you would to blow out a candle. It takes a different sort of a process to mine for things.
Now, are we not permitted to mine at all? I don't think that's the case. I think the scriptures actually tell us about the wonderful things that we can do with metals. We're told of gold and silver and other such things. Those things require mining and, "force" is simply a scientific term for the application of energy to physical objects to bring about change.
BILL MOYERS: We have been filming in West Virginia, we're we see example after example of forceful rule--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah. Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: --as you say. So much so, that the mountaintops are being blasted off and many people out there, including some Christians we interviewed, have to drink contaminated water because of that forceful rule.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah, and I think that's a problem. It is certainly a problem. And it's a problem where we need to take steps to clean it up.
And we don't necessarily have to strip mine. We don't have to put heavy metals into the water supply. We need to reduce the amount of that that is done. My simple point about Genesis 1:28 is that we cannot escape the force involved in the Hebrew word behind subdue. Right?
BILL MOYERS: Do we have a moral obligation to clean up the consequences of that force?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: As far as we're able to. And, always, we also have a moral obligation to do rational, cost benefit analysis. If I should just--
BILL MOYERS: Right, you did do economics training, right? I mean, and you are a free marketer in this--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Right.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah. Free marketer, by which I mean, responsible freedom with in the limits of God's moral law. I mean, free market economics, for me, does not mean that there is a place for Murder Incorporated, or something like that. You know, you can not use fraud, theft and violence.
You can not force the externalities, the pollution-- effects of your economic activity, on others in a way that is injurious to them or to their property. And I think the best solution to that kind of thing, is through tort law, rather than through bureaucratic regulation. But yes, I approach these things from an economist's perspective as well.
And I think an economist, is always wanting to say, "Lets carefully measure costs versus benefits of the various different alternatives that we have." If trying to solve problem X , is going to cost more statistical lives than not trying to solve problem X, granted the technologies that are presently available to us, than I think we have a responsibility not to try to solve problem X granted the technology presently available. You know, it doesn't mean that we don't go looking for new technologies that will allow us to try and solve problem X at the cost of fewer lives than letting it continue.
BILL MOYERS: Assuming that problem X is global warming, are you saying that, you're not sure that it's worth what it would take to solve it?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes. That's part of my reason for being opposed to the calls for mandatory emissions reductions. Various different studies have been done, partly by the US Energy Agency but other groups as well, on what would be the cost to the global economy of attempting to fulfill the Kyoto Protocol's provisions. And, a ballpark figure, and that's all we can really deal with in such things, but a ballpark figure is something around a trillion dollars a year to the global economy. That's a whole lot of money.
And, for less than a fifth that cost, we could instead provide pure drinking water and sewage sanitation to all of the roughly two billion people in the developing world right now, who do not have those. The lack of those two things, already is costing somewhere in the neighborhood of two million lives a year, mostly to very poor people in developing countries, mostly women and children. And if we spend that money trying to fight global warming, it is more difficult for us to spend that money solving those concrete, well understood, clearly solvable problems.
So, I think as a matter of priorities, if we're really talking about trying to help out the poor, we need to go where the expenditures will do the most good, first. Doesn't mean that we utterly ignore all other things. You know, we're human beings and different ones of us have different priorities. And so we'll try a different mix. But I think we need to put our investment where it will bring about the greatest return as far as helping people.
BILL MOYERS: But some would say that you're ignoring the fact that as THE ECONOMIST, the pro-business, pro-capitalist magazine said just the other day, once those ice caps are gone, they're gone. You don't get-- you don't get 'em back.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Bill, none of the climatologists, including those who are the most alarmists on this issue, are saying that we're going to completely lose the ice caps. None of them is saying that.
BILL MOYERS: But they are saying that their--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: And that kind of language, Bill, is really what gives the alarmists about this-- a lack of credibility in the American people's eyes.
BILL MOYERS: But they are saying that the ice caps, Greenland in particular, melting so fast, that they are warming the waters of the oceans. And that warmer water in the Gulf of Mexico, creating more hurricanes, more violent hurricanes--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Actually, the melting of icecaps would cool the waters of the oceans. It's the warming of the water of the oceans, that--
BILL MOYERS: Right.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: --supposedly will met the icecaps. And, all other things being equal, certainly it would. But, interestingly, Bill, couple of months ago a science magazine published an article claiming that the calving of ice off of the edges of the Greenland glacier was going at a faster rate than at any time before, or at least in what we can measure before. And this caused great alarm.
What was not noticed, was that in November, it had published another article based on satellite measurements of the thickness of the Greenland icecap, indicating that because of greater rainfall, the icecap was thickening at the higher altitudes and the net result of losses at the edges and gains in the middle, was a slight gain in total mass of ice in Greenland. Now, those two articles were published within a few months of each other, in the same journal. The America media, picked up heavy on the second one and it utterly ignored the first one.
BILL MOYERS: Have you and your seven children seen, MARCH OF THE PENGUINS?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I haven't seen it yet.
BILL MOYERS: Okay, than I won't go there there was an interesting point on that. I want to make sure I understand something that I think you are saying in this long article of yours that's been widely quoted. You seem to be saying that God, not man, devastates the earth in response to human sin. I could read this and conclude that you believe that our environmental problems are the result of the curse God put on the earth after Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. Have I interpreted you correctly?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: The way you just stated it, would make it exclusive. And that would be incorrect. But, for me to think that, yes, God has a hand in bringing about both improvements and- harm to our environment, yes I think so.
And that's God's activity, man's activity is there as well. I see it as a mix of the two.
BILL MOYERS: But talk about the curse.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Certainly, if we talk about the flood, in Noah's day. I am a biblical literalist on that. I think that the flood was universal. Many of my evangelical friends would agree with me, some of them would disagree with me about that.
But, no matter how you cut it, whether it was universal or regional, it did an enormous amount of environmental damage. Now, anyone who believes, with the Bible, that God is in control of what happens on this earth believes that a volcanic eruption is under God's control. Mt. St. Helens flattened millions of acres of forests in seconds. Unlike anything that we've every done.
BILL MOYERS: So you're saying it was God's will, God's action?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Absolutely. I have no question that that is God's will. Because as a reformed Presbyterian theologian, I believe that God controls all things.
BILL MOYERS: Hurricane Katrina.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: God's will.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes. Yeah, and I'm shocked at those Christians who would say otherwise. You know, was it God's will--
BILL MOYERS: Well, I'm one of them. I mean I just find it hard to believe-- I find it hard to believe that God would--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Was it God's will or was God, you know, up there going, "Oh, gee, I wish I could stop Katrina, but I just can't do it?"
BILL MOYERS: But he could have if he's omnipotent.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: That's right. He is omnipotent. Either he intended to stop it, or he didn't. If he didn't, than it was his will.
BILL MOYERS: Even--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: If he intended to stop it, than either he was able or he was not. If he was not, he's not the God of the Bible.
BILL MOYERS: See, if you were if Beisner in Noah's family, you would have been saved, perhaps, because Noah took seriously the problem of the rising flood, the rising water.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: But if Noah were your here with you today, he'd go with you when the global warming--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Of course, Noah had a slightly different authority on which to-- on which to take the warning of the rising waters. The very voice of God. I don't think of the IPCC as the voice of God.
BILL MOYERS: Well--
BILL MOYERS: But, let me follow this a little closer. Because, I appreciate--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Okay.
BILL MOYERS: --your honesty and your candor on this. Are you saying, then, that global warming be the result of God's will?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I am saying that global warming and global cooling, as they appear as they occur, cyclically throughout geologic history are indeed the expression of God's will. Yes, and I don't see any reason why any Christian theologian would think otherwise.
BILL MOYERS: But then we wouldn't do anything about it. That would help me understand your position.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Oh, no, no, no, no. Now you're into Camus and why shouldn't we fight the plague, right? No, the fact is that God gives us challenges of various sorts and we can respond to them. Now the fact that--
BILL MOYERS: But we can't change God's mind, can we?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Now when I think-- when I believe that no, I don't believe that we can change God's mind. But when I
BILL MOYERS: But, God wills Katrina, God wills global--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: When I diagnosed with a bacterial disease-- I can go and use antibiotics to fight those bacteria. I don't take the diagnosis with bacterial disease as a sentence that God has decided, "You're going to die next week of this bacterial disease." I take it instead as a warning for me to go and do something about it. And I do in a rational way.
BILL MOYERS: I don't want people to think you're a fundamentalist, because you're not a fundamentalist. In--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: In-- historically, no.
BILL MOYERS: No, not historically. But, I don't want people to get the wrong impression when I just let it hang there that you say Katrina is God's will. That those people suffered there, 1600 more people died there because of God's will. I want you to explain that a little more for me.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, I would say that God has his good purposes for all of the things that happen in history. Whether they are things on which we would stand up and cheer or things about which we would weep and cry. And, most importantly, as one who does believe that there is judgment to come and that this life is just the most infinitesimally small speck, compared with the eternity that is given to everyone of our souls, I would say that when we encounter great tragedy, what we are seeing is what the theologian, Meredith Kline calls, "Intrusion Ethic."
That is the intrusion of some judgment to come, into the present as a warning to us. There is this and worse to come if you do not repent and trust in Jesus Christ. Who has given his life to pay the penalty for your sins, so that you don't have to suffer that.
BILL MOYERS: It is a knock on some Christians that they expect life to be so good--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Oh yes.
BILL MOYERS: --in heaven, that they simply don't concern themselves, excessively, with what's happening to this earth.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah, and many of them, also, expect life to be so good here on earth. That they're shocked when they run into some problems here on earth. No, the expectation of paradise to come, is no motivation for complacence about difficulties in this life.
BILL MOYERS: I mean, should the government had made sure that the levees in New Orleans were strong, knowing that God had a will that was going to unfold there?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes, I think the government should have taken much better care of those. And the fact that the levees broke because of the weight of the water behind them is a good pointer at the failure of the government to deal with that adequately. Now, let us pray, we learned the lesson, and we do deal with it adequately in the future.
BILL MOYERS: But isn't-- does-- if we learned a lesson, won't we take the action that your evangelical brothers and sisters are calling for, for government, business, all of us, to act as if global warming is serious?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well again, we have to analyze the science, we have to analyze the economics on every different issue that arises, to the best of our ability, and we're all fallible. And then we need to make our decisions. I'm persuaded, from the science that I've read so far, from the economics that I've read so far, I'm persuaded that on the global warming issue, we are going to incur a greater weight of costs than weight of benefits from attempting to reduce future global warming by any reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. All right, I'm just not persuaded that it's a good trade off. And other people are persuaded that it is.
BILL MOYERS: That's a very clear statement and I appreciate that. But let me come back to this business of the curse. What do you make of God's curse and it's contribution to environmental devastation?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, one of the things that I take out of that, is the lesson that it is not necessarily the case that nature is best untouched by human hands. And that tends to be a widely embraced idea in environmental circles. In fact-- the name of the fellow, escapes me Barry Commoner I think it was. Who listed that as one of his basic rules of environmentalism. That nature is best untouched, nature knows best.
BILL MOYERS: He never lived where there was skeeters?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah. Right, you grew up in--
BILL MOYERS: That's right.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: --East Texas. There are skeeters there. There are mosquitoes here in South Florida too. And you know, it just isn't the case that nature necessarily knows best.
We can make significant improvements by intervening rationally in what goes on in the natural world. I think for example, the prevalence of malaria in developing countries right now, is an example, is a case where we have an opportunity to make a big difference. Malaria used to be extremely prevalent in the southern United State, and we essentially wiped it out by careful pest control measures that largely eliminated the types of mosquitoes that carry malaria.
Unfortunately, through international agreements, those measures are not available, for the most part, for developing countries today. And we have an opportunity, right now, with for instance the Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now campaign, that's going on-- we have an opportunity to turn that around and to save millions of lives and to prevent many more millions of illnesses with lifelong-- debilitating consequences by doing that. I think that's something that we can do. And you know, when God put the curse on the earth, he said, "Thorns and thistles it will grow, by a sweat of your brow, you'll eat your bread." i.e., It's not gonna be easy.
BILL MOYERS: One of your-- one of your evangelical brothers who differs with you on global warming--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Uh-huh.
BILL MOYERS: --says you're a good man, a sincere man, an alerted man, but he says he hoists himself on his own petard when he wrote, quote, "Our most significant message is not pragmatic, not contour plowing, not reduced carbon dioxide emissions, not reduced dependence on fossil fuels, but ethical. Worship and obey God." And you can-- this fellow said, worship and obey God, and still suffer from the consequences of human behavior.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Oh, and I certainly believe that. But I also believe that the Bible gives us, we would call it a rule of thumb, so to speak. We see it especially repeated over and over again, in the book of Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy seven, Deuteronomy eight, Deuteronomy 11, Deuteronomy 27 and 28-- the rule of thumb in scripture is, that the more we obey God, the more we experience his blessing, including even physical blessing, in this life. And the more we disobey him, the more we experience his curse, including physical curse, in this life. That's the rule of thumb.
Then, of course, there's always Job, who was a very righteous man and who experienced great catastrophe, terrible tragedy. And, of course, we learn that getting to see it from our perspective, we get to find out, this was because Job was on display. He had a cosmic audience.
And, the question was, was he going to be faithful-- you know, to God, even if all those physical things were taken away? Did he really love God or did he just love his wealth? Or, like the people who ate the loaves and the fishes when Jesus multiplied them, did they really see the sign and did they want Jesus? Or did they just want the bread?
BILL MOYERS: But God doesn't say anything in the Bible about global warming, you've acknowledged that. So if we were to decide that the scientists are right and we want to cut emissions to stop global warming. we're not disobeying God, are we?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: No, no. Neither are we disobeying God, if, at this point, the science at least, as best I understand it would lead me to say, "No, we shouldn't be taking that action." I don't think either one of those, would be something that we can say, "That's disobedience to God."
BILL MOYERS: Let's stick with Noah for a moment. Just take Noah metaphorically for a moment. Noah got bad news, and he acted in anticipation of it. Now why shouldn't we do the same thing with global warming as he did with predictions of a flood?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: In Noah's case, it was God who told him. That's a pretty infallible source. I haven't found the IPCC to be infallible Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I always have trouble saying it.
BILL MOYERS: But why would you doubt scientists when they speak with their authority about nature the material world?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Because plenty of other scientists also speak on the same issues and say the opposite. And I think it's far more important not to count noses but to weigh the evidence as we're best able to do. And I'm a laymen, I'm fallible, I could be wrong, but I've tried to read both sides of this debate as extensively as I can, and granted, that this is an avocation and not my day job, but I tried to read both sides as extensively as I can and I'm just not persuaded.
BILL MOYERS: Many evangelicals that I've talked to on the other side say that they were persuaded, they were born again, so to speak, listening to Sir John Houghton of Britain, who had been chairman of the International Climate Commission. Have you met him?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I have not met him, but I've read the very same paper it refers to.
BILL MOYERS: Are you persuaded? Obviously you're not persuaded.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Right, and I'm not persuaded. I have not found that he answers the various arguments of critics like Roy Spencer, John Christy, Patrick Michaels and so onů
BILL MOYERS: You don't challenge his Christian faith, you just challenge his...
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Oh no! No! I certainly don't challenge his Christian faith. And I would recognize him as a brother in Christ and we would go out and enjoy a cup of coffee, if I liked coffee, or a glass of wine or beer together or something.
BILL MOYERS: I should say not a glass of wine.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: For me, as a faithful Presbyterian, no problem. As a Baptist, that would be a problem, perhaps.
BILL MOYERS: Tell me about it.
What about when you read something like this from THE ECONOMIST. A few weeks before you and I are talking, quote--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Which I've not read so --
BILL MOYERS: I'll quote it to you: "Every year's delay"-- THE ECONOMIST, as you know, is a pro-business, pro-capitalist, very successful, perhaps the most influential capitalist magazine in the world right now. "Every year's delay in doing something about climate change will take far more than a year to put right. Once the ice is gone, it will not come back. Once the permafrost melts, and the methane it contains, is released, it can not be recalled. And methane is a far more potent green house gas than carbon dioxide." I have to tell you, that's convincing to me.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Okay. Well I can't deny that it's convincing to you. I would need to know on what basis they made their claims about, for instance, the icecaps disappearing. They're not going to-- I don't know if any climatologist-- no matter how alarmist on this issue, says that the polar icecaps are going to disappear. And, in fact, although a small peninsula of Antarctica and jutting up towards South America, has seen slight warming, the Antarctic continent, as a whole, over the last 20 or 30 years, has actually seen a secular decline in average temperature.
We're seeing an expansion of the Antarctic icecap net, rather than a contraction of it. So, I would question some of the scientific claims there. But, again-- I'm a layman on this.
And I would urge people who want to know about this, to read the work of Roy Spencer, John Christy, Patrick Michaels, Robert Balling, and so on.
BILL MOYERS: In your book, WHERE GARDEN MEETS WILDERNESS, and in some of your other writings, you suggest that God is a good superintendent.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: That he will make right any harm we might do to the environment. That even as the grand designer--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I don't think I quite put it that he will make right any harm that we do.
BILL MOYERS: That he could.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: He certainly, could, yes, right.
BILL MOYERS: But didn't you say that, "The wise creator has built multiple self-protecting and self-correcting layers into the world."
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: And environmental damage can be quickly repaired.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, I wouldn't necessarily say, quickly, always. But then God has a different time scale in mind, perhaps from what we do. He's around for a lot longer.
But I also recognize that, quite frankly, this earth has recovered from what all of us would probably call environmental disasters, that far outweigh anything that human beings have achieved thus far. The ice ages. You know, when in the northern hemisphere, a sheet of ice something in the neighborhood of two miles thick covered the whole land mass down to a latitude about equal with say San Francisco.
There was nothing growing underneath there. And the earth has recovered. Now, am I saying that this is a reason to be cavalier? No. I'm simply saying that it is a reason not to buy comments like, "This is an irreversible catastrophe." Irreversible is a word that just doesn't fit in geologic history.
BILL MOYERS: My mind is affected every day on this when I get up and I go to computer and I look at the five pictures of my young grandchildren there. I see the future looking back at me. Now, you have seven children.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: For the sake of your seven children, and my five grand children, would we agree that we are consuming our natural resources at an alarming rate? That we're losing our-- top soil in dangerous amounts? That we're seeing a disappearance of our species rapidly every year? That we're not leaving your seven children and my five grand children as habitable a world as you and I inherited?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah. I think stated as a generalization like that, it's problematic. Because, it would accurately describe some places, and it would be entirely inaccurate in other places.
Take the top soil issue as an example. Year after year, obviously, with some ups and downs, but the general trend, over the long haul, in American farming, is that a higher and higher percentage of American farm land rates at the top quality of top soil, according to the US Soil Conservation Service. That means our top soil is improving in the United States, not getting worse. Now, if you go to sub-Saharan Africa, to places where people are using extremely low tech farming that is very, very hard on the natural elements of the soil, I think you're going to find the opposite.
Or where people are denuding the soil of their forest covers, because they're having to cut trees to use as fuel. And, therefore, they're baring soil that was not bare before. There are problems there. So, there are places where we're doing well and they're places where we're not doing so well.
BILL MOYERS: So would you say, overall, the glass is half full or half empty when it comes to--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: You know, I don't have enough data to be able to say an overall for the globe. But, what I can say is this and this is something that I worked on with-- the late Julian Simon I worked with him on his book, THE STATE OF HUMANITY. Simon was very good at pointing out how important it is to try to get as long term sequences of data as you could.
And when you look at the long term data on prices of various different extractive resources mineral, plant, animal that we take from this earth-- the long term price indexed by wages, for all of the different resources we take out of this earth, is sharply downward. Now, since price is a measure of scarcity, what that means is that long term, resources are becoming less scarce, not more scarce. Now, I look at those data-- which are not controversial amongst historians of economics, I look at those data and then I put on my theologian's cap and I say, "What causes that?
"You know, why is it, that though we use so many billions of barrels of oil every year, it seems that every year the total number of known reserves, barrels of oil, is higher than it was the year before?" And my answer is, that in part it's because God made us to be creative and productive as he is and to be able to actually make more resources than we consume. I would bet, that you expect that when you die, you will leave a larger inheritance to your children than your parents left to you when they died, and than their parents left to them when they died. And that's a very simple, small scale illustration of the fact that, in fact, we tend to produce more resources in our lifetime than we consume.
BILL MOYERS: But wealth can produced faster than the beach you walked on this morning. They aren't making any more of that.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: No, we're not making-- well, actually beaches are being made and unmade all over the globe all the time from sea action-- but--
BILL MOYERS: But you know what I mean.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah, I understand what you mean. But, what we find is that because of innovation, because of substitution, because of increased efficiency in our use of-- you know, resources and so on and I'll grant this is very counter intuitive, but the data are very strong on this. Because of all these things, all the different resources that we consume are less scarce today than they were 100 years ago.
BILL MOYERS: All right, take endangered species. Everyone agrees that we're losing species at a very rapid rate.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: No, everyone does not agree with that.
BILL MOYERS: Well, I haven't seen much disagreement-
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Have you read-- have you read the IUCN's-- book, TROPICAL DE-FORESTATION AND SPECIES EXTINCTION?
BILL MOYERS: No, no I haven't.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Okay- the claims of very rapid species extinction, have been around for about 40 years now. Purported especially by Norman Myers and Thomas Lovejoy and the like-- in the 70s and the early 80s. And when Julian Simon and Aaron Wildowsky challenged those and said, "Look, find us not just theoretical models, but give us solid empirical data from field studies."
The IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, took up the challenge and commissioned a multi-year, very expensive study around the world with field ecologists looking in situ for the evidence of the extinctions that they had anticipated because of their models of island bio-geography and so on. And they expected to find evidence of vast members of extinctions. You can read that book, as I've read, chapter after chapter after chapter, the field biologists will say, "We expected to find evidence of lots of extinctions, instead we found, not a few, none." Over and over.
Read Martin Holdgate's introduction to that book. And he says, "According to all our models-- according to all our theories, we should have found lots. We found none."
Now that's the field research. And it just doesn't support the claims of say a 100 species a day, a 1,000 species a year, 30,000 species a year. On, in Al Gore's, EARTH IN THE BALANCE, on page 24, you can find three different rate estimates that vary by hundreds of times on the same page.
BILL MOYERS: Have you seen Al Gore's presentation on global warming?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: No, I haven't seen that yet.
BILL MOYERS: It intrigues me. Because he's a Christian too. He's a Baptist as I am a Baptist. And he takes a totally different position--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: --from you, another Christian. I can see the headlines tomorrow, you know, Moyers finally finds an optimist.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Am I an optimist? I tend to be pretty optimistic in my personal outlook on life, yeah.
BILL MOYERS: What if you're wrong?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well I--
BILL MOYERS: On global warming. What if you're wrong on global warming?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: On this issue, I am certainly out voiced anyway.
BILL MOYERS: Right.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: So, I'm out voiced. There are far more people saying the opposite. If I'm wrong and the world takes my advice, which I don't expect it to do than we're going to have troubles.
And I will very sad about that. But I've been wrong about other things in my life. And it's not a great surprise to me.
BILL MOYERS: But as you said in the beginning of this interview, you're a saved man. Your heaven awaits you. Whatever happens here on earth.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, yes.
BILL MOYERS: How are we to make light of that? That's a deep belief.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: No, and I don't think we should make light of that. You know, I was just-- yesterday, I heard one of our seminary graduates give his first sermon in a church that has called him as its pastor. And you know, he preached on second-- on First Corinthians chapter five, verse two, where Paul says "I am determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."
And, obviously, Paul knew all sorts of other things. He knew things about ethics, he knew things about history, he knew all sorts of things, and he told the Corinthians about those things. So his language there was hyperbolic. The point was, nothing else begins to compare with the importance of Jesus Christ and him crucified. And so, yes, I would say on this issue of what's more important? Eternity or three score years and 10? It's clear to me.
BILL MOYERS: Well, for those who live the three score years and ten they're very important.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: And all of them are gonna live eternity as well.
BILL MOYERS: Let me shift as I come to a close here, a little bit. The evangelical community today, has a reputation for being conservative. I mean, politically I think 75 to 78 percent of the self-identified evangelicals, cast their votes for George W. Bush in 2004. Would you call yourself a conservative on issues like abortion and homosexuality and family values, gay marriage?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes, I would. And, I would do it because I think that the scriptures teach us pretty clearly on those moral issues, yes.
BILL MOYERS: I've talked to Richard Cizik, and he says he's a conservative on--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: --abortion, on family values, on marriage. So you would be a conservative like him, except when it comes to this issue of the environment.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Right. And it's because we disagree on our interpretation of the scientific data and our reading of the economic analysis of what are the consequences of various different alternative responses that we have available to us.
BILL MOYERS: As a Christian and a man deeply interested in the ethical and moral realities of life, do you think that politically, President Bush has done what he should have done as a Christian himself? On environmental issues?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I have to just tell you Bill, that I am so largely uninterested in current political news, political events and so on, that I don't even know what he's done. So, I wouldn't pretend to try to evaluate.
BILL MOYERS: So does that mean that what happened-- how does that influence the fact that the other evangelicals are calling for government action on global warming and you're taking the opposite position? It's not a political issue with you then?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, you know, all issues have political implications, of course. But I don't see it as an electioneering issue. Or at least I don't approach it that way. I certainly recognize that there are electioneering implications of it, that's not my focus. Some people want to make that their focus, well, fine, it's a free country and their welcome to do that.
BILL MOYERS: All the people who signed that letter that you signed, to ask the National Association of Evangelicals not to take a position on global warming, they're all strong supporters of President Bush. Do you think there's any-- is that a coincidence?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I really don't know. And, I would tell you, I am not a strong supporter of President Bush. Neither am I an opponent of President Bush. I really don't much care.
I am enough of an old-fashioned let's say Russell Kirk sort of conservative that-- that I would not consider George W. Bush to be a conservative.
BILL MOYERS: You would not.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: He would displease me very greatly in many of his policies. Much more big government oriented than I would be.
BILL MOYERS: You know, I saw Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma on Pat Robinson's 700 Club, sometime ago, and he was going to the-- he's a Christian-- an Evangelical Christian, goes to church regularly, he's a chairman of the powerful-- environmental committee in the Senate. Very powerful position. He was using Roman's to suggest that the evangelicals like Richard Cizik and others who take a different position on global warming from Inhofe, that they had turned from worshipping the creator to worshiping the creation. What do you think about that?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I would have to differ very strongly with that. And, I have pointed out in my writings about the evangelical environmentalists, like the book, WHERE GARDEN MEETS WILDERNESS. And much of that book is critical, but I do say at the very beginning of it, that there are far more areas of agreement between us than there are of disagreement.
I'm just focusing on the places where I think there are some improvements needed. But one of the points that I make there, is that I think that the evangelicals who have become very active in environmental thought and action, have done a very good job of showing that it is possible to be committed to environmental stewardship without deifying the earth, without worshipping nature, without-- jeopardizing our creator, creature distinction. I think that's a very good contribution that many of them have made. And I don't have any criticisms of them along those lines.
BILL MOYERS: Richard Cizik tells me that he-- Richard Cizik suggested to me that he suspects that Senator Inhofe's position on global warming is more influenced by the fact that he gets lots of money from the oil and gas industry, than it is by his biblical beliefs.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah. As a professor of logic-- I teach my students that they always need to be very careful about fallacies like argument and ad hominem abusive and non causa or pro causa, that is confusing the cause with the effect. One could readily say, "Well, the oil and gas companies are giving him lots of money because he supports the position that is like theirs i.e., the causal direction may be the opposite of what Cizik's comment would assume.
And, I frankly don't know. I have no idea what the causal connection is there, if there is any at all.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: But what I would also-- say, is, you know, I just tell my students, character, you know, attacking the character instead of the arguments is shameful no matter who does it, no matter what the issue. You know, we need to-- we need to grapple with the with the evidence and the logic of the arguments, and not descend to the plain of attacking people's character.
BILL MOYERS: Obviously I did a lot of research to-- I wanted to familiarize myself with your views.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Uh-huh.
BILL MOYERS: I read passages of, WHERE GARDEN MEETS WILDERNESS. I looked at a lot of--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: You're probably one of the few.
BILL MOYERS: I believe you when you say that you don't pay all that attention much attention to politics, but just before the election in 2004, you wrote an article called, "Moralizing Environmentalist Dogma is Immoral." "With the presidential elections only days away, John Kerry is getting a free pass as the more environmentally friendly candidate. But voters need to take a much closer look at the credibility of organizations pushing that line, before accepting it at face value." What do you say there?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes, as we go on, Daniel Lapin and I, in that article we go on to point out that in many instances the organizations that have that were favoring Kerry at that time, were promoting policies, the economic consequences of which would be quite deleterious to the needs especially of poor people. Policies where we would curtail the use of various different resources, driving up the prices of the goods that depend on those resources for the production.
And when people live at the margin, when you drive up those prices, you deprive them of the consumption of those things. And, you know, our point in this article was that, to say just blanket, it is immoral not to embrace this policy, is itself immoral, because it's the very kind of thing over which prudential disagreement is to be expected.
BILL MOYERS: Were you trying to affect voters thoughts towards the election?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah, I would have been trying to do that at that time. I had a preference. I did vote for George W. Bush but it's not a major issue for me.
BILL MOYERS: How did you know Rabbi Lapin? He's the co-author with you, of this article.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: He was another of the signers of the Cornwall Declaration On Environmental Stewardship.
BILL MOYERS: Which is a conservative document conservative religious...
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes, evangelical document on environmental stewardship, yes. And, you know, we've had contact-- through that, since 1999 and 2000 when we were involved in that.
BILL MOYERS: I agree with you, by the way, that voters need to take a much closer look at the credibility of organizations pushing any line before accepting it at face value. Are you familiar with Lapin's organization?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: A little bit.
BILL MOYERS: Jack Abramoff was the chairman of the board. And Abramoff
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I didn't know that.
BILL MOYERS: --laundered money through Daniel Lapin's organization.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I don't know that.
BILL MOYERS: You didn't?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: No. And I certainly didn't at that time. I've also not followed the Jack Abramoff scandal. I don't much care about that. But--
BILL MOYERS: Some evangelicals on the other side, say that people like you, well meaning serious theologians--
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Uh-huh.
BILL MOYERS: --are making an unholy alliance with the political ride. And that you're either being used, or you know what you're doing.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well-- and that may very well--
BILL MOYERS: Cizik said it to me for example.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: That very well fit some folks. And I have talked with some others who have a similar view to my own, who want to say, "Of the people who signed the-- ECI-- the Evangelical Climate Initiative, that they are making an unholy alliance with the political left." I don't want to do that. Because I don't see it as this political right, left issue. I see it as people-- you know, those are honest men, I'm an honest man at least I try to be an honest man-- I'm also a sinner. But, we're honest people, doing our best to read the evidence, to understand the data and the arguments, and we're coming down to some different understandings of it-- different conclusions about it. And I'm not gonna attack their moral integrity. And I don't think it's appropriate for any of us to be attacking each other's moral integrity.
Now, in my case, I began my writing on this stuff back in 1989. And, was not at all connected and never have been connected with, you know, political movers and shakers or big money raisers, or anything like that. At least, not that I know of. And-- it's been my writings that have resulted in my being invited to speak for this or that and so on. Rather than, you know, the opposite direction of causal connection.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah. I notice on the book, that you are-- that the book is associated with the Acton Institute.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: What is that?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Acton Institute is an institute up in Grand Rapids founded by a Roman Catholic priest, Robert Sirico, to teach on to favor a free market perspective responsible freedom, freedom within the boundaries of God's moral law and the importance of recognizing human beings as made in God's image for the expression of creative and responsible freedom. And it has study in business, in economics, some development issues and the like.
BILL MOYERS: You're a resident scholar at the Acton Institute, right? You're an adjunct scholar-- you're an adjunct scholar at the Acton Institute, right.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Which essentially means that when they get questions related to my area of expertise from the media, they're free to refer them to me and say; 'Give him a call.'
BILL MOYERS: Are you aware that the Acton Institute for years has received steady support from Exxon-Mobil?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I became aware of that about oh, three or four weeks ago, I think, when I started seeing the various accusations coming out. I was Googling, and I saw it. But frankly, I don't find that troubling, because as a logics professors, I remind my students, argument Ad Hominem is a fallacy. Logicians have called it a fallacy for thousands of years. And it's--
BILL MOYERS: Explain that. You mean?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: It has nothing to do with the question of the truth or falsehood of a conclusion that someone reaches. Our focus has to be on the truth or falsehood of the premises. That is the quality of the evidence, and the validity of the inferences. Is it formally, proper reasoning? And when we, instead, begin to focus on the man. We attack his character or something like that, we've really done an end-run around the argument. And we need to focus on the argument instead.
BILL MOYERS: This very morning in THE NEW YORK TIMES, the liberal columnist Paul Krugman, writes that Exxon-Mobil has spread so much money around among the quote "skeptics of global warming," that they have made the company, a quote, "enemy of the planet."
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, of course that is another logical fallacy of petitio principii begging the question,, Which, by assuming that, in fact, the conventional wisdom is right. But besides that, you know, if Exxon-Mobil is putting money into these people, why? Is the causal connection Exxon-Mobil pays them the money, and then they begin saying these skeptical things? Or is it they're saying the skeptical things and Exxon-Mobil says; We want that voice heard. Now I think-- either one of those could be the case in various different instances. It's a historical question, and it's an interesting historical question. But, frankly, it doesn't have anything to do with the truth of the premises, or the validity of the inferences in the arguments. And that's where we have to focus. Is on the arguments.
BILL MOYERS: Is it conceivable that Richard Cizik is right when he says that Senator Inhofe, the chairman of the powerful Environmental Committee in the Senate, is more influenced by the money he gets from the oil and gas lobby than he is by his Biblical values?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, anything is conceivable except perhaps squeezing toothpaste back into the tube. But, you know I think it's more likely that Exxon-Mobil is giving money to Inhofe's campaign because it likes the positions that Inhofe has supported, than the opposite. I mean, I find it very difficult to imagine what it would be like to take a position, not because I've been persuaded by evidence. But because somebody said; "I'll give you, you know, so many grand of dollars, if you'll do this." I just can't imagine how you do that.
BILL MOYERS: You're not in politics.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, that's true.
BILL MOYERS: Does it concern you that whether it's the evangelicals on one side saying; "Well, they're getting too involved in politics, and they're being used by the Bush administration." Or it's the other evangelicals saying; "Well, you guys are going off with the tree-hugging liberal wackos on the environment." That the evangelical Biblical community is being caught up today in the polarizing politics of the 21st Century.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: I think I would distinguish between an attempt to say; Here is a consensus voice of evangelicals on this particular issue. Versus a small group of evangelicals saying; Look, we think such-and-such, right? The former, I believe, you really should only do that if there really is the consensus, which is why we asked the NAE not to do it. Because we don't believe that there is a consensus among evangelicals on global warming.
But I certainly have no objection to any group of evangelicals, speaking for themselves into the political process. You know we live in a country that is founded upon the concept of government by the consent of the governed. And there's no way that those who govern us can know what we consent to, unless we communicate it to them. And we means all of us, regardless of what our particular opinions are. We all have to welcome in the public arena to express those opinions. I have no problem with the-- the promoters of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, or with the NAE of it, doing what they do. I don't think that's a dangerous politicization at all. It's just responsible action as American citizens who live in a country of consent.
BILL MOYERS: But I gather you would not want them speaking for you as an evangelical.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Right. Right. See, that's why I opposed the NAE doing it. Because the NAE really has a history of intentionally speaking in terms of official policy, only on issues where it really has a convincing evidence that there is strong consensus among it's roughly 30 million members. And it just doesn't have it on this issue.
BILL MOYERS: [SHOULD I MOVE THIS UP????] Everywhere I read that we're facing a continuing loss of species. And you know all of the species were part of God's creation, as you would say. We talk about the wisdom of the imprint of God on creation that you write about. Are you not concerned about the loss of endangered species? Or is that just something we have to accept?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: In principle, I think it's a very important thing for us to be looking at, and to be studying carefully. I am not persuaded that species extension is happening at a rate that is without historical precedent. When Julian Simon and Aaron Wildowsky have challenged the widespread claims that we were seeing, perhaps, a million species a year going extinct. Or 35,000 a year going extinct or whatever. And they said; "Look, provide us not with theoretical models of how this ought to happen, as we habitat destroyed here, and there. But provide us with hard field data. Observational, empirical data. Do that, somebody. Right? Because we've tried to trace down all the different plans and we can't find any empirical data behind them."
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature took up the challenge and commissioned a worldwide study by field biologists. And you can read the resulting book; TROPICAL DEFORESTATION & SPECIES EXTINCTION. And in chapter, after chapter, you will find the field biologists from the various different locations around the world saying; We looked and we expected to find many extinctions in this locale because of this theoretical model. And what we found was, not a few, but none.
Read Martin Holdgate's introduction to the book. And he says again; All over the world we expected to find many and we found none. And what that indicates is, is that there are some problems with the theoretical models that drive the claims of vast extension rates. Which is not surprising, when on page 24 of Al Gore's, EARTH IN THE BALANCE, you can get three different claims of species extension rates on the very same page, and they differ by orders of magnitude. Not by a few percent.
BILL MOYERS: Is there no news about the environment that causes you to be concerned about the future for your seven children, when they grow up in this world?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Well, you know, frankly, for my seven children, because they live in this highly advanced economy, I'm really not much concerned about the environment in this area for them. But I'm terribly concerned about the environment in very low economic development places. Because those are the places where we are doing huge damage, because of very low-tech ways of meeting basic, human needs.
When people have to heat their homes by cutting down trees or collecting dried dung, and they burn that in their homes, that creates indoor air pollution that the World Health Organization estimates is killing perhaps a million to two million people a year. The deforestation that comes from that is putting soil at risk. And it's causing changes in local climate, not global, but local climate patterns.
There are problems of sewage treatment, or the lack thereof. Problems of pure drinking water in areas like that. And I think those problems are very sincere, serious rather. But the good news about them is, is that they are problems that we understand, technologically. And that we are capable of solving if we have the will to do it.
BILL MOYERS: So it seems to me, after I've talked to you, I've talked to Richard Cizik, I've talked to others. It seems to me that you all agree, essentially, on the Bible and the values that you take from life from the Bible. But you disagree on how you read science.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah, I think that's the case. And there are individual Bible passages here and there, where we might interpret them in different ways. But over all, on the whole, we share much more than we differ on.
BILL MOYERS: But the Cizik crowd says; There is a Biblical obligation to respond to the crisis of the earth. I'm paraphrasing that but Richard Cizik told me; We have a moral obligation to act now on global warming.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: If I agreed that the science says that human activity is driving what will be catastrophic global warming, then I would agree that we had a moral obligation to change that human activity in the attempt to prevent that. But I don't agree that the science tells us that.
[MOVE THIS TOO???]
BILL MOYERS: The signers of this letter to the National Association of Evangelicals, calling on them not to take a position on global warming. I mean, as I look at these signers, they're all strong, religious supporters and political supporters of President Bush.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: That may very well be. My own thinking is, I support President Bush for some reasons. For instance you know I very much appreciate his pro-life stance on abortion. I appreciate his support of faith-based organizations. Although I have serious worries about the problem of government money supporting religious organizations. Because he who pays the piper, eventually is going to call the tune. And I think it's risky for religious organizations to accept money that way.
Nonetheless, I appreciate what motivates him. He wants to try to level the playing field. And yet, also, there are things on which I would be very disappointed with President Bush. Basically, I'm an old-fashioned conservative. A Russell Kirk sort of conservative, who believes very much in small government. And that is clearly not George Bush's-- vision of government. He has expanded government greatly.
BILL MOYERS: Big government, big business. He's for big business.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah. Yeah. And I am not for big anything. I am for humane and preferably efficient whatever it is that we're doing. So, you know I-- I would appreciate some of the things that President Bush has done, and I am critical of some other things.
BILL MOYERS: I started doing this report because I saw a letter from a pastor in North Carolina. I've never met 'em but I saw his letter in an environmental magazine. And he said - that he was anguished over having cast his vote for George W. Bush in the 2004 election. The President's re-election. Because he said; His record on the environment is abysmal. But I respect his record on abortion. Family values. Homosexuality. So I would up casting my vote for 'em, even though it hurt to do so because of my concern for the environment.
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: Yeah, I think every one of us, you know, faces that, every time we go to the polling place. We're always voting for somebody with whom we agree about some things and disagree about other things. If that weren't the case it be only because we're the candidate.
BILL MOYERS: I would imagine that, as you say, an old-line conservative you would have some objection to the President's consistent support of big corporations. Big business, right?
DR. CALVIN BEISNER: If it is just simply a support of big business because it's big business, sure, yeah, I would have objections to that. I don't have either support or opposition because of the size of a business. I don't think that that's really morally relevant. What's morally relevant is, does the business treat it's employees, it's shareholders and it's the consumers and the general public in a just way. And that can be done by a big business, and it can be done by a small business. And the opposite can be done by both, too. A small business can do very unjust things. And so can a big business.
BILL MOYERS: Thank you.