He could have moved the Bird

I was reading recently that a senior American politician from the Climate sceptic camp seriously suggested that anthropogenic Climate Change couldn’t possibly exist because God wouldn’t permit anything as trivial as human GHG emissions to interfere with His world http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/climate_desk/2013/12/creationists_and_climate_change_political_union_of_science_critics.html .

I understand that there is a real debate especially within the Evangelical Christian movement as to whether we live in an age of miracles or whether miracles are just a feature of biblical times. I recently asked pretty seriously whether Eric Pickles, an Evangelical Christian, was expecting a miracle to solve the Climate Change problem given his attitude to wind farm planning applications.

My attitude to miracles is that He could have moved the bird! What do I mean? Well let’s take a fictional but typical example of a “miracle”. A plane is taking off from an international airport with 150 people on board. It strikes a bird and, because it is so close to the ground, the resulting damage is enough to cause the plane to crash before the pilot can react. 149 people die horribly in the flaming wreckage but one small baby is thrown clear and survives albeit as an orphan with nasty burns. The baby comes from one particular faith group who hail this as a miracle (“Praise the Lord!”) If challenged they say something like “What were the chances of the baby surviving it must be a miracle!” Arguing over the probabilities isn’t my objection to the notion of this sort of event as a miracle. I reject this sort of thing as a miracle because God could have just moved the bird 100m to the right or left so that the accident didn’t happen at all and no negative outcome would have resulted except one slightly disorientated bird who would quickly work out where he was and carry on with his life as before. It seems to me that there are only two possible explanations for this. The first is that it was no miracle. It was just that when you live in a world so surrounded by bad stuff, then eventually, however unlikely, a few good things come along. The second is that God is so obnoxious that, when faced with the choice of two miracles involving very similar tweaks to the laws of physics, one that will save one life and one that will save 151 lives, He will pick option A because option B doesn’t give Him the same publicity.

Some may think this is either a silly point or one disrespectful of God and/or peoples’ faith but remember we are talking about the politics of the American religious right who are simultaneously driving both the climate change denial agenda and such things as the campaigns to force schools to teach creationism alongside or even instead of evolution. They are driving those agendas remarkably successfully. When we consider the possible outcomes of climate change some of the worst case scenarios seem too terrible to contemplate even if we don’t believe that God would step in to help us. We say “What are the chances of catastrophic anthropogenic Global Warming? Surly that isn’t likely.” By the way you know that you are reaching the last bastion of climate change denial when the sceptic starts talking not about “Global Warming” or “Anthropogenic Global Warming” but about “Catastrophic, Anthropogenic Global Warming” or CAGW. It is true that we cannot be certain when or if CAGW will kick in due to tipping points and the range of possible sensitivities of the system to CO2 concentration, but we can be certain that there is a probability that it will occur, that that probability is significant and that it is far higher than the probability that no further Anthropogenic Global Warming will occur if we continue with business as usual. I suggest that, with due respect, if God was going to get us out of this fix he would have done so quietly and subtly long before now and we wouldn’t be having this debate. We need to act now not waste time arguing about the exact probabilities!