“The Church Believes In Science.” And That Global Warming Is Akin To Slavery?

Picture from Der Spiegel
Picture from Der Spiegel

Der Spiegel conducted an interview with the President of the Pontifical Science Academy Bischop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo. It’s worth going over a few of the questions (I used Google translate).

His Excellency doesn’t think Pope Francis will attend the Paris climate conference, but claims the rumored environmental encyclical will arrive in June or July. Now to the meat.

Bishop S. says the Pope was “disappointed” by the last climate festival in Peru. Because, he says, or says the Pope says, “There was a lack of courage, the participants have stopped at the decisive point.” This is false. There was lots of courage, but no will; because, as is not surprising, not all countries wanted to be saddled by yet another bureaucracy or to pay enormous sums to be used in ways nobody was quite clear about.

The good Bishop went on to say these curious words:

[H]umanity, created in the image of God, should be the guardian of creation. But climate change has had to bear adverse effects on the poorest two thirds of humanity who have no access to fossil fuels, but the consequences of consumption. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, patriarch of Constantinople, Opel, compared to climate change at the conference of religious leaders in December with modern slavery.

Man should be the guardian of creation. But from that dictum very little follows. Does guardianship imply a mandatory global carbon tax? Or the empowering of a group of pests to oversee the daily activity of citizens? Obviously not.

It is false that man-caused climate change bore “adverse effects on the poorest two thirds of humanity”. It is true that a lot of folks still do not have ready access to fossil fuels. Solution? Provide the access, which consists mainly in removing the impediments to access. It’s fossil fuels, a.k.a. cheap energy, that also accounts for the availability of inexpensive sustenance. We can fix (real) poverty with oil. Given, of course, we first fix political will. Nobody has figured that out.

And so the mouthful Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople says climate change is equivalent to slavery. Ah, yes. I myself had my hat nearly blown off my head by a strong breeze the other day. I felt so degraded. And the government did nothing to stop it! What I most want to know is from whom do I demand reparations?

Is it helpful or harmful to hoist hyperbolic metaphors into service?

Anyway, Bishop Sorondo is sure that Paris will result in an increase in worldly government. I doubt it, but he might be right.

Der Spiegel asked, “Why the Church is committed at once so strong for the environment?” And the Bish answered, “Because they believe in the science” (“Weil sie an die Wissenschaft glaubt”). Note that this is the science and not just science as was summarized in the Der Spiegel headline. Naughty editor, there.

But it isn’t true. What is true is that Bishop Sorondo believes in some but not all of climatological science. The part he is apparently unaware of is the old-fashioned science rule that theories which make consistently rotten wrong unskillfull predictions must be wrong. As must be the theories that drive climate models. Because they stink.

If you say you believe in science, you cannot pick and choose just those parts most pleasing to you. It’s all or nothing.

Amusingly, Der Spiegel, shocked that the Church agrees with any kind of science, brought up the old Galileo fairy tale, which His Excellency modestly countered. But the reporter was confused and asked (the tortuous grammar is from the automatic translation), “Even with current scientific topics, the Church is often against the expertise of researchers, so really believes them to the results?” The interaction continued:

Sánchez Sorondo: To believe in the science does not mean so that the church could not make moral judgments.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: contradictions of scientific expertise, such as the subject of birth control, AIDS, cloning or the search for extraterrestrial life, are moral judgments?

Sánchez Sorondo: The Church is against birth control, because it believes it is a contradiction to the laws of nature. The Church is against the use of embryonic stem cells, because it also keeps the embryo in the earliest stage of human beings. To clone we do not have any official position. But in the search for extraterrestrials, the church is very open. The church has also always believed in angels, so it has no problems with it, to imagine another life, which has also been endowed with reason. But we need to find just now!

The reporter’s confusion is common, the result of a culture swimming in scientism. This is the fallacy that all questions eventually are answered, “Science!

But what’s this about the Church not having a position on cloning? That doesn’t seem to be the case.

We’ll have to talk more about the PAS soon.


  1. John B()

    Wouldn’t cloning come under:

    Reproductive technologies
    Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral.

  2. Curious. I wonder if the Bishop asked those without the access to fossil fuels if they wanted everyone poor as they are or if they wanted fossil fuels. My guess is no and he won’t either. He’s deciding poverty is the proper way of life, though not for him, obviously. There’s a word for that.

    You are very charitable in your descriptions of what the Ecumenical Patriarch said–I would have called it on outright lie and moved him to the False Prophet/False Teacher category immediately. No one who behaves like this should ever be allowed to stand as a “religious leader”. He is nothing of the sort.

    Like many others, it appears these opportunistic supposed men of God care only about that which pushes a political agenda, not the truth. My admiration for the Catholic church is fast evaporating and they were my last hope for a religious group that would not sell out to the highest bidder.

  3. James


    Let’s not be so hasty to throw out the whole Church. Her members are human, and will make mistakes like all of us. We must exercise prudence and separate what the Church has the rightful authority to speak on (such as faith and morals) and what it requires support to teach on (various scientific statements, for example).

    Human beings, in general, have a very hard time distinguishing the normative and the positive. Additionally, we have a hard time remembering to consider the ends and means distinction. Prelates are also not immune to these problems!

    There are two parts to this. The first is to consider the well-being of our fellow humans. We can do this without consideration of science at the start. Is it wrong to trash the planet and leave it worse off for our fellow man? I would say that this is obviously true. People who make pronouncements that include this statement should not be written off immediately.

    That’s the normative part. Now let’s think positively. We must discern how our actions are leaving the planet to see if the moral principle is being violated (or even applies). I’m not going to get into the weeds of that (that issue has been tackled on this site many times). We can complicate the situation by comparing the morality of eliminating the means for the poor to live in better material situations (through cheap energy) versus tanking all of our economies to reduce our CO2 output. Again, that’s not something I want to get into.

    I just want to point out that we’ll find, with great frequency, this normative and positive bundling occurring when they shouldn’t be. We should be charitable in separating the two, and also be understanding of those who have fallen into that error. I think we can also be intellectually rigorous/honest enough to admit that, if AGW alarmists were correct, then that would have some moral implications.

  4. James

    Leaving a church because it makes some pronouncements you don’t like says a lot about the person who leaves the church.

    The Catholic Church makes several claims. One of which is that it is the one, true Church, founded by Jesus. It also makes claims that all humans are fallen, and will make mistakes. People leaving for reasons within the latter claim should be honest enough to admit that they probably didn’t have all that much affinity for the Church to begin with. If something that really has nothing to do with the primary tenets of the church (and in fact is confirmatory of some of those tenets) causes you to leave, then the chances of that person believing in other parts of the faith are pretty low.

    Also, even if you transition from Catholic to one of the various flavors of Christianity, you can’t escape the whole fallen nature of mankind teaching. If the person really accepts that teaching, then they should probably be a bit more charitable. My hypothesis is that people leave for reasons that aren’t what they state (gasp!), but they will find convenient (politically, socially, or otherwise) reasons to use as a cover.

  5. John B()


    I can’t disagree; I just threw that about Gosselin out there.

    Gosselin got a lot of comments similar to yours.

    (I didn’t go through the comments so I can’t say if anybody called him on your final hypothesis.)

    My brother struggles with the Catholic Church on a spectrum opposite to Briggs. The diocese of MPLS/St. Paul went very public regarding the same-sex issue. But he holds on, despite that struggle. (He is married with children but he’s one of those “bleeding hearts and artists” empathic to the extreme.)

  6. James

    John B(),

    I hope I didn’t give an impression that I was criticizing you! It certainly wasn’t my intention.

  7. Okay, first I did not say to “leave the church”. I said the individual who made a statement tying climate change to slavery should be removed or at least demoted to some place they cannot damage the church further.

    James: IF IF IF. We are not dealing with IF. This is not a philosophy discussion. The fact is the Catholic church is more and more in with politics and political causes. There are numerous admonitions in the Bible concerning the very badness of this behaviour. Yet, here’s people seemingly defending the practice.

    “Charitable” is how we got gay marriage, fornication as the norm, the destruction of the nuclear family, etc. “Charitable” is a code word for “get rid of doctrine and replace it with accepting of all bad behaviours”. There was that incident in the Bible where Christ threw the money changers out of the temple. Yeah, did not ask them to politely leave or maybe suggest that they might want to go elsewhere but if not, then hey, it’s a-okay, you just keep doing what you’re doing. No, threw them out.

    As for leaving a church whose doctrine I disagree with, wouldn’t I be a complete and utter hypocrite for supporting false doctrine? Not to mention the fact that false doctrine is how people are lured into sin and bad behaviour. Why would I support that?

  8. John B()


    No – I thought you were criticizing P. Gosselin. (And I wasn’t defending P. Gosselin at all.)

    I just mentioned my “Charitable” brother as someone who is sticking with the Church despite his “political” differences. I still don’t think he totally accepts my “skeptical” views on CAGW, although my other brother “helped” him to understand how worthless wind turbines are (at least it gave him pause, since much of what he understands scientifically comes from NPR and PBS).

    Myself, I was well on the (Damascus) road to “Scientism”. Today I call myself a “Once and Future Catholic”, because I have to acknowledge everything that the Catholic Church did for me in my formative years; however, I have dogmatic differences with Church teaching and understanding. Had I understood then what I understand now, I probably could have stayed with the church, but that would have been hypocritical because of my lack of conviction in the dogmatics. The Church insists that one holds all of their truths and not just the ones about God and Jesus Christ.

  9. James

    Sheri, my second comment was unrelated to your words (it was about the Gosselin person) . I’m not trying to accuse anyone here 🙂 All I said in regards to your comment was to not throw away the whole church, and was mostly a response to your evaporating admiration.

    The Church has always been involved with politics in some ways. For a period of history, it was the primary political institution! That didn’t go well in some cases. Yet the Church remains, and it will always be involved with politics because politics has a lot of to do with morality. We can’t expect a Church to never say anything about politics!

    If we consider outlawing abortion a ‘political’ cause, does that mean the Church can’t or shouldn’t speak on it? To be overly extreme, the Church has taught that killing innocent people is wrong. Is applying that teaching to the political domain through laws wrong? Of course not!

    I disagree with your description of “charitable”. Charity does not (and cannot) involve willful lying. The term might have been destroyed in recent history, but not by the Church. Like “tolerance”, it’s been twisted to mean something else. Charity is firstly about approaching God and others with love. We keep in mind that love requires the truth, but also motivates us to work in an uplifting manner.

    The situation with this prelate is not at all like fornication. Fornication is wrong regardless of circumstance. What the Bishop has said, however, is a moral pronouncement that is tied to the positive nature of reality. That’s why I went over the whole normative/positive thing. The norms are what they are, and we have to discern if the positive aspects of reality mean those norms apply.

    Another poor example: Suppose it is widely circulated that Person A has killed Person B. A prelate says “Person A has committed a grave act in murdering Person B”. They are correct, if the circulated information is true. If we later find out that the information was false, we do not go after the prelate for not knowing.

    It is much better (and truer), I believe, to say “We agree that it is wrong to destroy the earth and put others’ lives in danger through our actions. However, we do not see that our actions will cause these effects, and here is why.”

    As for leaving a church whose doctrine I disagree with, wouldn’t I be a complete and utter hypocrite for supporting false doctrine?

    This might be the source of our disagreement. The norms and morals are part of doctrines. Positive statements about nature are generally not part of doctrine (such as whether or not AGW is happening). I checked my catechism, and it has a lot to say about helping our fellow man, but nothing about climate change.

    The issue of AGW is non-doctrinal. If we assume that AGW is happening, then there are parts of moral doctrine that would need to be considered. This is why I think a charitable approach is necessary, because I don’t see any serious doctrinal issues here.

  10. John B()

    James – very well put.

    (That is one of the drawbacks in Blog commenting. When you are in the “comment area”, you don’t always get comment updates or in the order you might expect them.)

    Sometimes you get a comment on a comment you are not privy (or perhaps you haven’t notice when two or three comments get posted and the last “looks” like it refers to yours. I do it all the time and no one can see how red my face is.

    I read Briggs as much for the theology as for the CAGW.

    By the way James (regarding “charity” and lying), I’ve recently been in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and (paraphrasing to the extreme) while we should not be swayed “in a legal sense” people of importance and money; at the same time we should not assume that the poor “and downtrodden” are automatically deserving of “justice” without facts.

  11. John B()

    A new motto for Briggs:

    Come for the CAGW [skepticism], stay for the theology.

    Leaving out the bracketed would make it flow better.

  12. Scotian

    Another quote is fitting here I think.

    “To congratulate oneself on one’s warm commitment to the environment, or to peace, or to the oppressed, and think no more is a profound moral fault.”
    ? Robert Conquest, Reflections on a Ravaged Century

  13. One important point that has not been mentioned, I believe, in the comments is that the Pope is infallible only when speaking “Ex Cathedra”, i.e. from his chair. I don’t believe a papal letter to the bishops about AGW will fall in that category. We recall errors the Church made in the past when it intruded into science, namely the Galileo affair (for which John Paul II apologized). The scientific issues the Church should concern itself with are issues of life–abortion, euthanasia, etc.
    And, by the way, does anyone know of the Church position on genetic modification of human embryos–e.g. using three DNA contributors?

  14. cont. The only reference I have about genetic modification of humans is that of St. John Paul II–such modification if therapeutic, is admissible, if for improvement, is not. See
    Building supermensch by genetic modification opens up awful unintended consequences, many of which have been explored in a science-fiction trilogy by Nancy Kress, “Beggars in Spain”.

  15. My statement about someone being removed for lying was concerning the statement “Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople says climate change is equivalent to slavery.” Even if it were true that climate change is caused by humans, in no way, shape form or liberal mind-bending double-think can climate change be equated to slavery. Holding a huge portion of the world in poverty might be considered so, but the Ecumenical Patriarch is actually advocating we all live in poverty because we can’t use fossil fuels. If anyone can explain to me why the EP wants everyone in poverty and considers lifting people out of poverty wrong, I will reconsider. To me, he’s just an opportunist person hoping to forcibly take wealth from people. What happened to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”? Now it’s use the governments to forcibly redistribute money. To me, this is extremely poor behaviour for a church leader.

    To clarify, I was not happy with Bishop S’s words on climate change, but I do not consider those words to be sufficient to be considered lying and grounds for removal. As noted above, I do consider this type of statements annoying (doctrine or no), but not sufficient to warrant removal.

    James: I understand. I was not advocating throwing out the whole church just yet. I do reserve that option, however. I have always admired the Catholic church for sticking to Biblical rules rather than society’s desires. I hope they maintain that.

  16. amusing to see briggs bending over backwards without noticing the similarities between the church and climate dogma.

  17. Joe Born

    William Briggs: “Note that this is the science and not just science as was summarized in the Der Spiegel headline. Naughty editor, there.”

    Just a language question from a non-linguist. Doesn’t German sometimes use definite articles with some abstract nouns from which English omits them? E.g., wouldn’t we just say “war” rather than “the war” in the translation of: “Der Krieg ist eine bloße Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln”?

    Does any German speaker out there know the answer?

  18. Briggs

    Joe Born,

    No German expert I—I tend to side with Mark Twain on the state of that language—but notice the difference between the headline “Die Kirche glaubt an Wissenschaft” and the Bishop’s quoted words, “Weil sie an die Wissenschaft glaubt” which is very different.

  19. DAV

    “politics because politics has a lot of to do with morality”

    Not necessarily in a positive way.

  20. Joe Born

    Biggs: “Die Kirche glaubt an Wissenschaft”

    Good point; I read your post without reading the linked Spiegel piece. Unless that was headline speak (which in English is different from spoken English), it seems that they do sometimes use Wissenschaft without the article.

  21. nick

    @ Briggs, Joe Born
    German speaker here. “Die Kirche glaubt an Wissenschaft” is a typical headline speak, and the first “die” could have been left out as well: “Kirche glaubt an Wissenschaft”. In a normal sentence, however, I would place an article before “Wissenschaft”: “Weil sie an die Wissenschaft glaubt”. Without the “die” the sentence sounds incomplete to my ears, although the meaning in both cases is the same, the curch believes in science (as a method to gain knowledge etc.).

    Mark Twain was a hilarious read by the way 😉

  22. Joe Born

    Thanks, Nick.

    I had hoped a German speaker would happen along; when it comes to languages, I’m afflicted with that tragic coincidence of great interest with scant ability.

  23. Peter Czerna

    @nick @briggs @born

    Nick is right : nothing wrong with ‘die Wissenschaft’. It means ‘science’.**

    The solution for WMB is to become a Protestant, then you don’t have to kowtow to church authority or spend your free hours trying to reconcile its statements with rationality. Salvation by faith alone – way to go, Briggs!

    Bonus: you don’t have to keep messing about with Aquinas.

    ** Sorry, Thomistic appeal to authority, I know.

  24. Briggs

    Peter Czerna,

    Good idea. I’m thinking of the Episcopalians. They have gay “weddings” and female bishops and you don’t even have to believe Jesus is God (like St Thomas insisted)!

  25. Briggs: I recommend Unitarian. Can’t get much more open than that and still be called a religion.

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