One of the favorite rhetorical devices of those on the Far Right is to take a charge leveled against them by progressives, to co-opt the language used to articulate that charge, and then to reframe the debate with the co-opted language so that it seems that the logic of their position is not just credible but seemingly inescapable.
In actuality, the logic is usually more circular than anything else.
So, this past week, Steve King, the Far Right congressman from Iowa, said that those who have been trying to make the case that climate change is a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately and aggressively are guilty of making their cause “more of a religion than a science.”
King, of course, doesn’t know much at all about climate science. In fact, it’s pretty clear from the way that he has framed this most recent argument and similar arguments in the past that he doesn’t understand even the very basic difference between weather and climate.
But he is clearly aware that much of the resistance to the scientific warnings about climate change has come from people who have a fundamental religious belief in man’s dominion over the Earth that is as strong as their conviction that material prosperity is a sign of God’s favor and, therefore, anything that generates wealth, such as the production and burning of fossil fuels, must be a good thing.
So, King has taken the progressive charge that anti-scientific religious beliefs are being used to question the validity not just of climate science but of any science, and he has co-opted that language in framing the counter charge that scientists are guilty of approaching their scientific inquiries as if they were religious exercises.
For many of those in King’s audience who have similar religious beliefs, the clear implication of his comment is that if the science has become a religion, it cannot be the “true” religion because there is only one true religion. Therefore, the science is not only invalid, but it is also blasphemous—the attempt to promote a false religion at the expense of the one true religion.
Therefore, climate science must be attacked with not just something approaching religious fervor but with actual, intense, religious fervor because it is not simply a challenge to notions about how natural forces operate and combine to produce climate, but it is a challenge to core religious beliefs about the divine purpose of humanity.
At its core, this outlook is religious hubris—the absolute conviction that the divine plan has been specially revealed to only those individuals with certain beliefs—posing as spiritual humility.
I am not a skeptic about climate science, but I want to emphasize that my objective here is not to make a sort of default case for climate change. Rather, my objective is to emphasize that if a meaningful case is to be made against climate science, it has to be made by credible scientists using scientific methods—and not by demagogues like King, who believes that because snow still falls in the winter in Iowa, “global warming” must be a hoax.