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EEN President Hescox Attacks Cornwall’s Beisner Using Straw Man and Misunderstood Evidence

By E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D.

December 10, 2012

Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) President and CEO Rev. Mitch Hescox introduced a blog piece November 27, 2012, titled “My Meeting with Brother Cal,” by saying, “Christian leaders making misstatements to serve their own ends, attacking other believers for not agreeing with their worldview, and misusing science turn people away from the good news in Jesus.”

In logic and debate, that’s called “poisoning the well.”

After having done so, Rev. Hescox said that during a radio program on which he and I were guests I misused science by claiming, “There is no correlation between rising carbon dioxide levels and the increase in the earth [sic] temperature.” In response, he presented this graph from the National Academy of Sciences Climate Change website, which, he said, shows that “Carbon Dioxide levels and temperature track identically.”

Rev. Hescox has his facts wrong.

First, I didn’t say what he put in quotes as my words. What I actually said (at 39:00–39:36) was, “It is impossible to show a statistically significant correlation between CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and temperature trends. The much stronger correlations happen with solar energy output, solar magnetic wind output, and ocean current cycles …. Those show very strong correlations. Correlation doesn’t prove causation, but the absence of correlation pretty well proves lack of causation.” Lack of “statistically significant correlation” is not the same as “no correlation.” Indeed, my stating that the other correlations were “stronger” implied that (as I believe) there is “correlation between rising carbon dioxide levels and the increase in Earth’s temperature,” and indeed several times during the program I had explicitly said that increasing carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere should lead (other things being equal) to a (very small) increase in global average temperature (GAT).

Second, the graph Rev. Hescox presents doesn’t support his position. True enough, it shows a strong correlation between GAT and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration—though the two don’t “track identically,” as the first point below will explain. There are two problems with Rev. Hescox’s use of this graph:
  1. Although it’s not clear in the graph because the scale (800,000 years depicted over a few inches) is so small, focusing on much shorter periods within it shows that changes in GAT lead changes in carbon dioxide levels by 600 to 1,000 years—which is the reverse of the relationship Rev. Hescox needs to show.
  2. The graph is irrelevant to the discussion he and I were having on the radio program. We were talking not about GAT tracked over a period of 800,000 years according to standard geology—the period covered in the graph—but about, as program host Julie Roys put it leading into that part of the discussion, “the warming we’re experiencing,” that is, GAT over about the past 30 to 35 years, which is the period during which some scientists claim (while others deny) that human emissions of carbon dioxide have been the primary driver of global warming.
There is, in fact, a statistically very weak correlation between carbon dioxide concentration and GAT in the more recent period, but (a) it is much too weak (only about 22 percent—compared with about 80 percent for solar variability, not to mention ocean cycles) to justify the claim of causation, and (b) even in this more recent period, the temporal relationship is the reverse of what Rev. Hescox’s position requires. In the peer-reviewed journal article “The phase relation between atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperature” (Global and Planetary Change 100:51–69, summarized here), the authors find, “The maximum positive correlation between CO2 and temperature is found for CO2 lagging 11–12 months in relation to global sea surface temperature, 9.5–10 months to global surface air temperature, and about 9 months to global lower troposphere temperature.” I.e., even in this short recent period, temperature leads carbon dioxide, not vice versa.

Dr. David Legates, Professor of Climatology at the University of Delaware and a Cornwall Alliance Senior Fellow, refutes Rev. Hescox’s blog piece and presents convincing evidence of the facts stated above in his article “Carbon Dioxide and Air Temperature: Who Leads and Who Follows?” on Cornwall Alliance’s blog.

Rev. Hescox also claimed In his blog piece that “mounting studies and evidence … [show] that changes to our global system are happening faster than we could have imagined a decade ago,” a conclusion he represented as contrary to and thus refuting my belief. It is indeed contrary to my belief, but contradiction and refutation are not the same. The scientists (all manmade global warming believers) who keep surface temperature records at Britain’s Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and the Met Office’s Hadley Centre reported recently, as this graph illustrates, that their most sophisticated measure of global average surface temperature, HadCRUT4, shows that there’s been no statistically significant global warming for the past 16 years. There is plenty of room to debate the significance of this fact, but it is completely unexpected on the basis of the computer models that drive warmists’ alarms, which predicted steady temperature increase throughout the period, and certainly inconsistent with Rev. Hescox’s claim that at least this change (which is the one we were discussing on the radio program) to our global system is “happening faster than we could have imagined a decade ago.”

There are other mistakes in Rev. Hescox’s blog piece, like
  • the claim that “97 out of 100 climate experts think humans are changing global temperature,” which isn’t so much untrue as just irrelevant, since hardly any skeptics, including me, would deny that (a point I made during a panel discussion Rev. Hescox attended at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting twelve days before he published his blog post), and the surveys on which the claim is based were badly flawed; and
  • the claim that, according to me, “Real science … doesn't take place in consensus meetings, but in the work of skeptics”—a statement I neither believe nor have ever made, though I have pointed out, citing as I did during the radio program climatologist Dr. Judith Curry, Professor and Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, that while spontaneous consensus may be a valuable measure of what scientists believe, an intentionally manufactured consensus is not and instead, to quote Curry, has “the unintended consequence of introducing biases into the both the [sic] science and related decision making processes. The IPCC scientific consensus has become convoluted with consensus decision making through a ‘speaking consensus to power’ approach.”
But these examples will suffice to demonstrate that Rev. Hescox’s overall case fails. Sad to say, he returns to ad hominem attack (poisoning the well) in his conclusion, writing, “Christians aren't idiots, but misleading statements, or claims based on ideologies rather Biblically truth [sic] hurts [sic] the Church's efforts in sharing the gospel and living life as faithful stewards.” Medice, cura te ipsum (Luke 4:23).

As you can see, the need is great for sound scientific information to correct widespread falsehoods like those promoted by Rev. Hescox and the Evangelical Environmental Network. Please prayerfully consider a generous tax-deductible donation to the Cornwall Alliance. It would make a great Christmas gift—not just to us but to the many thousands of people who depend on us for reliable information about caring for God’s Earth.