Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Does a Christian owe their first loyalty to the Pope, or to God? If your conscience tells you one thing, and the Pope tells you another, which path should you follow?
Galileo followed his conscience. Even when given a direct order by the highest authority in Christendom, to recant his opinion that the Earth is not the centre of the universe, he chose conscience over obedience, divinity over temporal authority – until he was threatened with unspeakable pain.
I am not saying the church is always wrong. Most of the time, the church is a force for good. The moral authority which is the Christian church helped to create the modern world. The concept of a single god, a god of love rather than hate, a universe of order, in which the forces of chaos were chained in the abyss, gave the philosopher monks the peace to pursue their research into the innermost workings of creation – and the faith to believe that creation was orderly enough to be explored.
However, a papal encyclical which demands action on climate change would be tantamount to an accusation that people who doubt the urgency of addressing climate change are evil – are cynically exploiting the doubts of others, for their own selfish ends. Yet surely true evil is condemning millions to live their lives in endless drudgery, by denying them the opportunities inexpensive energy and affordable food might bring, on the basis of the flimsiest of evidence – defective models and failed predictions.
I do not doubt the sincerity of the Pope. I don’t even doubt the sincerity of most alarmist climate scientists. But sometimes scientists get it wrong. There was once another group of people who thought they were right – that the world was on the brink of a catastrophe which only their statistical models could foresee, that mass cruelty was the only path to salvation. Their sincere blindness almost plunged the entire world into darkness. The one regime which embraced this dark vision, even after others finally rejected it, is now a byword for evil. Yet arguably, those who believed were simply accepting the scientific consensus of the day.
The lesson is, or should be, that if you demand the infliction of unspeakable cruelty on a vast number of people, as many climate scientists, green politicians and activists in my opinion demand, with their vehement opposition to affordable energy, you had better be sure of your facts. You better have more evidence that such an abomination is an inescapable necessity, than a set of models which fail, again and again, to demonstrate plausible predictive skill.
If you believe in a creator, one day you will face, not the pope, but your creator. On the day of judgement, the opinion of the pope will count for nothing. All that will matter is whether you lived a principled life, and stood up for what mattered. Even if this sometimes means disobeying the instructions of the Pope, just as Galileo once did.