Environmentalist hysteria has put some strange combinations in bed together. Pope Francis is obviously a good man armed with good intentions, but, however worthy he may be as a leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, he’s in over his head as a scientific doomcrier trying to render global warming into something more theological than scientific.
The environmental extremists, who are rarely believers in God and the Gospel that is the usual domain of popes (and Protestant scholars of the Book), were agog with glee when Pope Francis sent an encyclical, or papal letter, to his bishops telling them of his views on the responsibility of man to act as custodian of the Earth. Such encyclicals usually instruct bishops that debate on a theological issue is finished, over, kaput. So get with the program. The pope, like the greenie claque, wants no more debate on global warming, or climate change, or whatever we’re calling it this month.
The letter to his bishops warns of “the unprecedented destruction” of the planet, and argues that “the attitudes that stand in the way of a solution, even among [religious] believers, range from the negation of the problem, to indifference, to convenient resignation or blind faith in technical solutions.”
Nobody wants the inconvenience of a destroyed planet, but if the pope were paying closer attention to the debate he would see there’s a growing body of perfectly respectable scientists who argue that science is never “settled” and righteous skepticism is what propels true science.
The pope dressed up his encyclical with a little poetry from St. Francis of Assisi, whom he regards as inspiration and mentor, and calls his encyclical “Laudato Si,” after St. Francis of Assisi’s hymn by that name. In it, St. Francis sang of the brothers Sun and Fire and their sister Moon, figuratively praising the wondrous creation of God. Poets, like philosophers and saints, rarely intend their words, however romantic and otherworldly, to be taken literally.
But the pope’s scientific adviser to the Vatican, an atheist and onetime quantum physicist named Hans Schellnhuber, takes his poetry straight. He’s a fan of the Gaia Principle, formulated 40 years ago by a chemist and a microbiologist, teaching that all life interacts with the Earth, and the Earth with all life, to form a giant, self-regulating, living system.
“In the Gaia Principle,” explains the author William M. Briggs in the lively website Stream.org, “Mother Earth is alive and even, some think, aware [of what’s going on] in some ill-defined, mystical way. The Earth knows man and his activities and frankly isn’t too happy with him.”
Some call this “scientific pantheism,” updated from the pagan belief that the universe is God and the Earth is divine, which sounds to most people like warmed-over street preaching in the Southern California of the previous century, when California was first affectionately called “the land of fruits and nuts.” It’s what made California, before it started taking itself seriously, such fun.
The pope’s scientific adviser calls “earth system” analysis the second Copernican revolution. In an article in 1999 in Nature magazine, the highly regarded scientific journal, Professor Schellnhuber wrote that ecosphere science is therefore coming of age, lending respectability to its romantic companion, Gaia theory.”
The pope can be as fallible as the next man, but it’s sad to see him fall in with bad company. A better scientific adviser might keep him from falling for bad science.