Wish I’d heard of Georgetown University Berkley Center’s “Symposium on Religion and Climate Change“ earlier. Perhaps Cornwall Alliance could have had someone there to offer a contrasting perspective—something most meetings seem rather loathe to entertain. Alas, I only learned of it about an hour before it was to begin.
Aside from the usual problem of such conferences having scientific blinders on, assiduously avoiding the need to interact with the serious scientific objections to climate alarmism, I was particularly interested to note that one of the main speakers is Mary Evelyn Tucker, identified as “co-founder and co-director with John Grim of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, where she is also a scholar and lecturer at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the Department of Religious Studies, and Yale Divinity School. Her publications include Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase (Open Court Press, 2003), Moral and Spiritual Cultivation in Japanese Neo-Confucianism (SUNY, 1989) and The Philosophy of Qi (Columbia University Press, 2007), and she has edited ten other books related to religion and the environment. Tucker helped draft the Earth Charter and sits on the Earth Charter International Council; she is also a member of the Interfaith Partnership for the Environment at the United Nations Environment Programme. Her degrees include B.A. Trinity College, M.A. SUNY Fredonia, M.A. Fordham University, and PhD Columbia University.”
In 2007 I was among about eighty participants from around the world—scientists, politicians, economists, religious leaders—in a conference on climate change sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican. During the shuttle trip from our meeting place in Vatican City to our hotel the first evening, I sat beside Tucker. During our conversation she challenged my opposition to the widespread belief in manmade, catastrophic global warming, saying I really had no right to promote any opinion about it since I’m not a climate scientist. Having learned that she was also not a climate scientist—her Ph.D. and an M.A. are both in the history of religions, her M.A. in English, and her B.A. in English and history—I then asked her why her judgment didn’t apply to herself. Ignoring the self-defeating nature of her criterion, she appealed to the overwhelming scientific consensus that manmade warming is real and sure to become catastrophic if not thwarted by drastic actions to cut carbon emissions.
I then asked her what books and articles she had read by bona fide climate scientists critical of that view. “There aren’t any!” she retorted, with a look of complete contempt.
“None?” I asked with some incredulity.
“No,” she said.
I replied that I was a little surprised to hear her say that, since I had myself read about fifteen (by now over 50) books by climate scientists critical of the theory, plus scores (now hundreds) of refereed and hundreds (now thousands) of non-refereed articles—as well as several (now many more) books and hundreds (now thousands) of articles by climate scientists who embraced her view. I averred that I thought it a little irresponsible and close-minded for her to refuse to read those who disagreed with her. One ought at least to understand the major arguments pro and con, I said.
Dr. Tucker’s face hardened. She looked out the window of the shuttle bus, and the conversation was over. Her mind was made up.
The next day I delivered my paper for the conference. Near the end, I spoke of how the debate is carried on. As a logic teacher, I said, I was regularly grieved by the illogic often apparent in alarmists’ arguments (e.g., non causa pro causa, correlation taken for causation, consensus rather than data and explanation in science, argumentum ad verecundiam, and argumentum ad hominem, etc.). I discussed the need for charity and mutual respect, the misuse of arguments from prudence by resting them on a petitio principii of the reality, magnitude, and negative impacts of manmade warming, and the sad tendency for people to reach conclusions before carefully examining counter-arguments—and then to ignore the counter-arguments or even to declare flatly that they don’t exist (which made me wonder who slipped me the drugs that caused all my hallucinations when I thought I was reading them).
I glanced across the room at Dr. Tucker as I finished that last observation—which I had added to the paper the night before with her specifically in mind (though it could describe many of the global warming alarmists with whom I have spoken through the years). She was livid and shortly got up and walked out.
Not being a specialist in the study of neo-paganism I had never encountered Mary Evelyn Tucker before. But just a few weeks later Dr. Peter Jones, founder and director of truthXchange, at the time still a professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California, and author of many books on the revival of paganism in contemporary Western culture, sent me the draft of a chapter on environmentalism for a book he was writing on neo-paganism. In that chapter he had extensive discussion of Tucker. I wrote to him, “She was at the Vatican-sponsored GW conference I attended in Rome April 26–27. Talking with her at length on the bus from conference to hotel Thursday night was one of my most memorable experiences. Her irrationality was such that what flooded in on me was that talking with her was just like talking with a Jehovah’s Witness. Evidence didn’t matter. Logic didn’t matter.”
Peter (who is also a Senior Fellow of the Cornwall Alliance) later e-mailed me saying, “How fascinating that you met Mary Evelyn Tucker. I am glad you saw through her. Most people do not for she is quite imposing and has an impressive resumé. She is an ardent pagan believer who occupies a very powerful place in the international field of ideological paganism.”
I replied that her “impressive resume” was irrelevant, that from her conversation with me it was clear that she was, on the issue we discussed, ignorant, arrogant, irrational, and given to trying to intimidate rather than persuade. I added, “She also gave me the strongest sense of someone demonized that I’ve had in many, many years.”
Peter replied, “Of all you said, this is the comment that I find most revealing: ‘She [Tucker] also gave me the strongest sense of someone demonized that I’ve had in many, many years.’ The reason is that my book tries to show that at the root of this intellectual construction of a pagan cosmology is an underlying spirituality which I can only describe as ‘shamanistic.’ Your comment confirms that.”
Peter’s chapter went on to explain that Tucker “proposes the ancient world view of Confucianism [including I Ching, the Book of Changes] as a perfect model for our times. She points out that the Confucian idea that matter and energy are spiritual processes is beginning to be recovered, and cites as proof the works of Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. She emphasizes the modern appeal of ancient Confucian monism, which provides ‘a rich metaphysical, ethical and empirical basis for a this-worldly spirituality remarkable for its holistic and comprehensive qualities.’ The notion of Ch’i (cosmic energy of the natural world) provides ‘a unified vision of reality … a non-dualistic cosmology for going beyond the conventional Western separations ….’ It so happens, she notes that this Confucian notion of ch’i is also found in the ‘earlier religious worldviews of indigenous traditions in their closeness to nature ….’ How interesting that modern liberal Protestants also share this insight in a monistic, ecological redefinition of the Spirit.”
Alas, one wonders whether most Christians have even the slightest remaining bit of spiritual discernment left, that they would feature her as a speaker for such a symposium.
Featured image, “Ark of Hope,” by Don Shall, Creative Commons.