The Pope’s HMS Beagle


Reactions to the leaked environmental Papal Encyclical show dangerous misreadings of both the Bible and Darwin.

Natural Selection is not about individuals or groups fighting to the death to rule the world (“this depends, not on a struggle for existence”). It is more of a struggle with Nature (including human nature) to secure a better life for our descendants.

There is an echo of this in the Abrahamic religions. God’s covenant is not to make Abraham ruler of the world but to make a better world for his children.

Put another way, you are not here to become king or queen. You are here to become more just, in order that the next generations will more justly govern a more just nation.

Whether you deny God or deny man-made climate change, Science and Religion are in consensus here. And that consensus has consequences cutting both ways in the climate/environment debate.

It’s possible that in the long term, technology and natural events will absorb and overcome most the negative effects of a changing climate. Just as its possible that the nations of the world will absorb and overcome the horrific violence of groups like ISIS or a potential lethal exchange between NATO and Russia. But lots of people could suffer and die, and we could be worse off for it.

It’s also possible that climate change will be one environmental nudge too many, precipitating global disruptions of food, potable water and/or breathable air. We see what any of these disruptions do on a small scale, or even the *perception* of these disruptions. Occurring simultaneously worldwide, you’d have Hell on Earth.

So you’d want to address this. And you’d want to research every option, not just the ones your creed endorses. Self-imposed limits on consumption of meat and fossil fuels. Increased use of nuclear energy and geoengineering.

In response to the Pope’s comments, Jeb Bush pontificated that the “political realm” is divorced from “making us better as people” (i.e. ethics).

Darwin and Jesus would both disagree. Evolutionary biology shows that humans are empowered by God and Nature, a highly “adaptive” species able to make the best of any situation.

Even if you don’t see civilization on a collision course with a Malthusian apocalypse, you can want to make improvements. A more enriching environment for all of us: better diets, better behavior, better bodies, better minds.

In the language of Thomas Jefferson, isn’t the American experiment about pursuing Life, Liberty and Happiness? It’d be a crooked pursuit if we didn’t think about that in terms of our food, air and water — let alone our mental and spiritual wellbeing.

Jeb’s is a common and depressing statement. Or should I say “depressed”, because it shows such a cynical and hope-deficient worldview.

A downwards-looking view.

We should instead be looking up. Up towards Heaven. Up towards the sky, the face of the atmosphere that sustains us. Up towards the universe that inspires us.

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