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 previous issue                         issue #59,  posted 1 /17/ 2019                      archive of all  issues

How Belief in Evolution can Aid Monotheists and Win Sympathy for Climate Deniers 

in the news: As Theresa May's Brexit plan is defeated by a lopsided vote of Parliament, the US government shutdown over funding for a border wall continues. While Britain, many would say, faces a genuine national emergency over how (or whether) to leave the EU, many dispute Trump's characterization of the situation at the US-Mexico border as a national emergency.  Meanwhile environmental activists like Caro New see a global emergency.  In a Guardian guest op-ed published yesterday entitled "The Primacy of Climate Change",  she writes, "All discussion of Brexit or any other issue should be in the context of the need for government to enter emergency mode." Standing in the way of action on climate change—especially in the USA—are numerous climate change deniers.  Many of these folks also do not believe in the theory of evolution despite the overwhelming scientific acceptance of both the human role in climate change and the basic validity, and fundamental importance to biology, of evolutionary theory.   

commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, founder and manager, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org): The title to this blog issue may puzzle some. For starters, how can belief in evolution aid those who believe in "Monotheism" (worldview theme #8A)? The short answer is that evolution provides an easy way out of a big problem: "Why does a just, loving, merciful, omniscient, and all powerful God allow so much evil and suffering in the world?" The problem of evil—also known as theodicy—can be readily dispensed with by conceiving of God in deistic, not theistic terms. A theistic god is interested in, and for those who value Belief in a Personal God (worldview theme #8B), actively involved in, the outcome of His creation and human endeavors. In contrast, those who believe in a deism conceive of God as not according humans any special place in the universe and not intervening as it unfolds after Creation based on physical laws . And, in the words of authors Ajit Varki and Danny Brower in their 2013 book Denial: Self Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind, "you have your answer to theodicy: Evolution (set in motion by God) requires suffering in order to succeed." Reportedly the Catholic Church, guided by its Pontifical Academy of Sciences, accepts this position. Today's head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, also communicates urgency as to the need for humanity to address global climate change.   

How do those who sense a global climate emergency and feel that urgency go about attempting to change the minds of climate change deniers?  Clearly putting down those folks as ignorant, stubborn, narrow minded (contrast "Focused Vision" (worldview theme #3) with "Global Vision" (worldview theme #4)) fools is not a good starting point! Rather, I'd say that adopting a more sympathetic attitude (see "Attitudinal Fix" (worldview theme #47A)) toward them is called for. Here a relatively new take on the evolution of the human mind provided by Varki and Brower's book can help. The idea is that, to quote from the book's cover jacket, "It was not... a  biological leap that set humanity apart from other species, but a psychological one: namely the uniquely human ability to deny reality in the face of inarguable evidence—including the willful ignorance of our own inevitable deaths." While arguing that it is human nature to deceive ourselves and "deny any aspects of reality that are not to our liking" and pointing out "we smoke cigarettes, we eat unhealthy foods, and avoid exercise knowing these habits are a prescription for an early death," the book cautions us. "What has worked to establish our species could be our undoing if we continue to deny the consequences of unrealistic approaches to everything from personal health to financial risk-taking to climate change." With that caution however comes a recognition that reality denial has positive attributes—chiefly associated with promoting what can be a great asset: optimism! (see note #1 below) Certainly this account of the fundamental place of denying reality in human evolution and nature makes it easier for environmental activists to view climate change deniers sympathetically as the imperfect human creatures we all are! Maybe that orientation can lead to folks talking who otherwise might not—and to finding common ground? 


#1 But watch out for optimism bias potentially distorting reality and skewing decision-making! 

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