Paradoxical Vision: A Public Theology for the Twenty-first Century


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Preview — Paradoxical Vision by Robert Benne. Paradoxical Vision by Robert Benne. Robert Benne elaborates a basic theological-ethical framework for engaging the Christian vision with its surrounding public environment-political, ethical, cultural, and intellectual. He assesses the nature and challenge of Christian public policy at the dawn of the twenty-first century, defines his paradoxical vision and its legacy in modern America, and then describes pr Robert Benne elaborates a basic theological-ethical framework for engaging the Christian vision with its surrounding public environment-political, ethical, cultural, and intellectual.

He assesses the nature and challenge of Christian public policy at the dawn of the twenty-first century, defines his paradoxical vision and its legacy in modern America, and then describes practical ways in which religious traditions do, in fact, engage the public environment. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. More Details Original Title. Other Editions 1. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

To ask other readers questions about Paradoxical Vision , please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. All Languages. More filters. Blake MacDonald. The role of Christian faith in public moral discourse : a comparison of selected works from H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. McCormick Andrew William Getz. Rhetoric or reality: An exploratory study of the culture of Queensland Lutheran Schools. The most important contrary indicator is that the sequence is the reverse of what the theory would predict. Almost all of the approximately 0.

If the rising co 2 was responsible for the rising average temperature, the reverse should have been the case. In addition, roughly two-thirds of the overall increase is attributable to natural, not manmade, causes primarily changes in solar energy output. Highly speculative computer climate models drove the great fears of global warming that arose in the s and endured through the s. Early versions of those models predicted that a doubling of atmospheric co 2 would cause global average temperature to increase by 5 o C or more nearly 10 o F. As the models have been refined through the years, however, their warming predictions have moderated considerably.

In , the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ipcc predicted, on the basis of the computer models, global average temperature increase of 3. Even that latest prediction is likely to turn out much too high, for it still is based on models that, had they been applied to the past century, would have predicted twice as much warming as actually occurred. As Roy W. All measurement systems agree that was the warmest year on record. These discrepancies were reported in a study prepared by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences and published in January After correcting the surface data for a variety of contaminating factors, a team of researchers produced new estimates of surface temperatures that yielded apparent decadal trends that were 0.

The differences, however, are still highly significant, since the corrected surface data trends are still percent to percent higher than the satellite-recorded lower troposphere trends. But the data—to the extent that both sets are to be trusted—now show the opposite to be true. The significance of this is that the computer models clearly remain far from accurate enough in their depiction of atmospheric temperatures, which suggests that policy makers should be very slow to base their decisions on model predictions.

Not only is the actual global warming that is to be expected far from what the ipcc and other climate modelers originally predicted, but it is also questionable whether global warming is likely to bring many harmful effects. There are several reasons for this. Most important, increasingly refined models now indicate—and empirical observation has confirmed—that the majority of the warming will occur in the winter, at night, and in polar latitudes.

Instead, nighttime warming during the winter, to the extent that it affects populated areas at all, should result in a slight decrease in energy consumption for heating and, therefore, some reduction in future emissions and a slight lengthening of the growing season in spring and autumn. Further, whatever rise in global average temperature occurs will likely result not in expanding but in contracting deserts, and not in contracting but in expanding polar ice caps. More water evaporates in warmer temperatures. But air circulates over all of it.

But the enhanced precipitation at the poles is likely to enlarge polar ice caps, offsetting a long-term natural rise in sea level. As environmental scientist S. Fred Singer points out in reviewing a variety of studies of sea level trends,. Global sea level sl has undergone a rising trend for at least a century; its cause is believed to be unrelated to climate change [1]. We observe, however, that fluctuations anomalies from a linear sl rise show a pronounced anti-correlation with global average temperature—and even more so with tropical average sea surface temperature.

These findings suggest that—under current conditions—evaporation from the ocean with subsequent deposition on the ice caps, principally in the Antarctic, is more important in determining sea-level changes than the melting of glaciers and thermal expansion of ocean water.

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It also suggests that any future moderate warming, from whatever cause, will slow down the ongoing sea-level rise, rather than speed it up. Support for this conclusion comes from theoretical studies of precipitation increases [2] and from results of General Circulation Models gcms [3,4]. Further support comes from the albeit limited record of annual ice accumulation in polar ice sheets [5]. While only mild harm is to be anticipated from the small temperature increases that are most likely to come, some benefit is to be expected—indeed, has already occurred—because of enhanced atmospheric co 2.

Carbon dioxide is crucial to plant growth, and recent studies show that a doubling of atmospheric co 2 results in an average 35 percent increase in plant growth efficiency. Some people have asserted that global warming poses a serious threat to human health through increased incidence of tropical diseases and heat-related ailments.

However, not only must such anticipated effects be carefully justified and quantified in themselves, but they must also be studied in balance with anticipated benefits. For example, the reduction in hunger and malnutrition attributable to rising agricultural yields from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, however difficult to quantify, must certainly be considered.

Thomas Gale Moore concluded his careful evaluation of various studies of anticipated health effects of global warming by writing, "… a warmer climate should improve health and extend life, at least for Americans and probably for Europeans, the Japanese, and people living in high latitudes. High death rates in the tropics appear to be more a function of poverty than of climate. Thus global warming is likely to prove positive for human health. Despite all this, some people still want to greatly curtail fossil fuel use to reduce co 2 emissions.

They are promoting a number of measures to do so, such as the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to force reductions in energy consumption. But since every form of economic production requires energy, reducing energy use entails reducing economic production. Some will reply that the losses in production can be offset by improved energy efficiency.

To some extent they might be, but it is very unlikely that the reductions in emissions could be achieved through government-mandated efficiency measures alone; almost certainly, some actual loss of production would result. Because individuals seek to reduce their cost of living and businesses seek to maximize their profits in a free and competitive economy, they have a natural incentive to minimize waste, that is, to eliminate inefficient behavior and adopt the most economically efficient technologies they can though these are not always the most technically efficient.

The apparent need for government to mandate further emission reductions therefore suggests that these reductions must cause a net loss in production and, ultimately, diminish human welfare. Another economic forecasting firm, Charles River Associates, projects lower costs—about 2. Whether higher or lower, these economic costs translate into very human costs. But the United States is a rich country, far better able to cope with the costs of Kyoto than the vast majority of the world.

The lost economic growth in any developing countries that are forced to comply with Kyoto emission restrictions spells added decades of suffering and premature deaths for their people, for whom the affordability of basic water and sewage sanitation, health care, and safe transportation will be long postponed. Thus, says Frederic Seitz, past president of the National Academy of Sciences, in a letter accompanying a petition against the treaty signed by over seventeen thousand scientists, This treaty is, in our opinion, based upon flawed ideas.

Research data on climate change do not show that human use of hydrocarbons is harmful. To the contrary, there is good evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is environmentally helpful. The proposed agreement would have very negative effects upon the technology of nations throughout the world, especially those that are currently attempting to lift from poverty and provide opportunities to the over 4 billion people in technologically underdeveloped countries.

Even assuming that the popular global warming scenario were true, what benefit would come from all the costs—not just in the United States but all over the world—of complying with the Kyoto accords? Proponents of the accords estimate that without the Kyoto limits, hydrocarbon emissions will increase at about 0.

The Kyoto Protocol calls for reduction of emissions to 7 percent below levels during the years to and no increase thereafter, with effective carbon dioxide concentration in of ppm. How much warming would be prevented by then? About 0. Such a price is too much to pay for so small and doubtful a benefit. It is tempting to say that we must not politicize this or any other environmental issue, and we do not intend to do so; our focus is on sound science rooted in a value structure that emphasizes honesty and openness to debate and evidence.

But the issue has already been heavily politicized. Starting in the early s, advocates of the Kyoto Protocol frequently spoke of a "scientific consensus" about global warming and derided the motives of scientists and others who questioned that conclusion. More recently, Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, went so far as to say that belief in global warming and support for the Kyoto Protocol should be "a litmus test for the faith community. Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorology professor Richard Lindzen, one of the leading researchers in greenhouse effect and climate change science, pointed out in the early s that "the existence of large cadres of professional planners looking for work, the existence of advocacy groups looking for profitable causes, the existence of agendas in search of saleable rationales, and the ability of many industries to profit from regulation, coupled with an effective neutralization of opposition" have undermined the quality of debate over both science and public policy, and that.

That becomes especially true when the benefits of additional knowledge are rejected and when it is forgotten that improved technology and increased societal wealth are what allow society to deal with environmental threats most effectively. The control of societal instability [brought on by the politicization of science in the global warming debate] may very well be the real challenge facing us.

Contrary to earlier claims, it turned out that there was no consensus in favor of the popular global warming scenario.

Even in the early s, when the National Research Council appointed a panel dominated by environmental advocates—a panel that included Stephen Schneider, who is an ardent proponent of the catastrophic hypothesis—the panel concluded that there was no scientific basis for any costly action. First, like a warning shot across the bow, came the Statement by Atmospheric Scientists on Greenhouse Warming, released February 27, Signed by forty-seven atmospheric scientists, many of whom specialized in global climate studies, it warned that plans to promote a carbon emissions reduction treaty to fight global warming at the upcoming Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June were "based on the unsupported assumption that catastrophic global warming follows from the burning of fossil fuels and requires immediate action," adding, "We do not agree.

Although it did not specifically name global warming, the Heidelberg Appeal warned against "the emergence of an irrational ideology which is opposed to scientific and industrial progress and impedes economic and social development. Three years later came the Leipzig Declaration on Global Climate Change, developed at the International Symposium on the Greenhouse Controversy held in Leipzig, Germany, in November , and revised and updated after a second symposium there in November Signed by eighty leading scientists in the field of global climate research and twenty-five meteorologists, the document declared "the scientific basis of the Global Climate Treaty to be flawed and its goal to be unrealistic," saying it was "based solely on unproven scientific theories, imperfect climate models—and the unsupported assumption that catastrophic global warming follows from an increase in greenhouse gases.

In fact, most climate specialists now agree that actual observations from both satellite and balloon-borne radiosondes show no current warming whatsoever—in direct contradiction to computer model results. For this reason, we consider the drastic emission control policies deriving from the Kyoto conference—lacking credible support from the underlying science—to be ill-advised and premature. But those early signs of consensus against the popular vision were dwarfed by the release in of a Global Warming Petition developed by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and accompanied by a thoroughly documented review monograph on global warming science.

The petition urged the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol "and any other similar proposals," saying boldly, "The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.

Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth. The consensus of scientists on global warming has turned out to be quite the opposite of what the apocalyptic vision proponents claimed. Species Extinction The Bible clearly indicates that God takes delight in his many creatures Job —; —; Ps.

This entails the importance of stewardship of life itself. However, in the spirit of 1 Thessalonians "Test all things; hold fast to what is good" , we can insist that claims of species extinction rates be tested empirically and that the significance of these numbers be carefully evaluated in the proper context. When the claims are tested, they are found to be highly dubious. In that volume, V. Heywood, former director of the scientific team that produced the Flora Europea, the definitive taxonomic compilation of European plants, and S.


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Stuart, executive officer of the Species Survival Commission at the iucn, wrote, "iucn, together with the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, has amassed large volumes of data from specialists around the world relating to species decline [worldwide], and it would seem sensible to compare these more empirical data with the global extinction estimates. In fact, these and other data indicate that the number of recorded extinctions for both plants and animals is very small. Known extinction rates [worldwide] are very low. Reasonably good data exist only for mammals and birds, and the current rate of extinction is about one species per year If other taxa were to exhibit the same liability to extinction as mammals and birds as some authors suggest, although others would dispute this , then, if the total number of species in the world is, say, 30 million, the annual rate of extinction would be some 2, species per year.

This is a very significant and disturbing number, but it is much less than most estimates given over the last decade. Note, however, that this hypothesis of 2, extinctions per year is not based on empirical evidence; it is instead derived from a theoretical model of extinctions as a percentage of total species and a high guess of total species. A more likely estimate of total species might be five to ten million, which, inserted into the model, would yield about to extinctions per year.

If those numbers still sound alarming, keep in mind, first, that they represent only about 0. Even at that rate, it would take over five hundred years to eliminate 4 percent of all species on earth. What is more, as already noted, the same book contains repeated admissions that the model predictions of high extinction rates were repeatedly falsified by field investigation. That is not surprising to those familiar with the serious weaknesses in the species-area curve and island biogeography theories from which the hypothetical extinction rates are derived.

Subjected to careful critique, they turn out to vastly overestimate real extinction rates. In part, this is because they fail to describe ecosystems as they really are, and they unrealistically attribute to large, connected regions e. In short, the lack of sound data to support claims of species extinction rates continues. A World Conservation Union report in found extinctions since to include animal species, insect species, and vascular plants—about 2. Of the first group of species listed in under the Endangered Species Act, today [] 44 are stable or improving, 20 are in decline, and only seven, including the ivory-billed woodpecker and dusky seaside sparrow, are gone.

This adds up to seven species lost over 20 years from the very group considered most sharply imperiled…. Under [conservation biologist E.

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Yet in the period only seven actual U. And the United States is the most carefully studied biosphere in the world, making U. If plants and insects are included in the calculation, 34 organisms fell extinct in the United States during the s, according to a study by the Department of the Interior. This is clearly worrisome, but at an average of 3. The significance even of these small numbers is open to debate because, while most people think of a species as genetically defined, the Endangered Species Act esa defines species very differently.

This popular perception certainly lies behind the fear that "species" extinction forever removes elements from the global gene pool.


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But in reality, it may only mean that a given population segment of that genetically defined species is endangered; it is entirely possible that plenty of other specimens may thrive in other locations. Many citizens who support expensive policies to prevent species extinctions might reconsider if they knew that rather than preventing real extinctions, they were only preventing the removal of a geographically defined segment of an otherwise thriving species.

None of this means that there are not particular species that are, in fact, endangered and that can benefit from careful conservation efforts. But as field ecologist Rowan B. Martin points out, when monetary values are more fully aligned with other human values, the institutional arrangement allows for the maximization of both values:. Western scientists, activists, and agencies favor the creation of reserves in developing nations to preserve biological diversity.

However, this strategy is often an unworkable form of "eco-imperialism. An alternative strategy, which has had considerable success, is empowering local people to control the wildlife resources in their area. In many parts of Southern Africa, where full rights of access and control over wildlife have been granted to landholders of both private and communal land , biodiversity is better conserved in the areas surrounding national parks than in the parks themselves. Additionally, the areas surrounding the parks are economically more productive than the state-protected areas.

In Southern Africa and other parts of the world, conservation of biological resources would be a profitable activity and not a cost if the correct institutional arrangements were developed, including a stronger reliance on private property and communal tenure systems. Environmental Market Virtues 70 We have already argued that economic growth itself is an important step toward environmental protection.

It makes good stewardship affordable and technically possible. Nonetheless, economic growth by itself is not enough. Human initiative needs to take place within an institutional framework that promotes environmental stewardship. Therefore, we need to examine more closely what is institutionally necessary to help further the goal of environmental protection. While some concerns about the environment are overstated, others are quite real and need our attention. The fact that the world is not experiencing overpopulation or destructive, manmade global warming or rampant species loss does not mean that a change in policies or practices is not needed to address other issues.

Christians have every reason to embrace an appropriate environmental ethic, one that honors creation but distinguishes it from the Creator. However, simply recommending reformation of our worldview is not sufficient. Our ability to act responsibly toward nature has been hindered by our alienation from God. The original Fall and our continued rebellion mean that we act selfishly, that we have limited knowledge, and that we often fail to recognize the full potential in the created order.

In view of these failings, we must not rely on worldview alone to lead us to good decisions about creation but must also examine the other influences of decision making, namely, information and incentives. Environmental problems are traditionally seen as a result of market failure and as ample justification for the government to involve itself in the economy much more directly and forcefully to solve these problems.

But it is an error to assume that, just because the market does not presently solve certain problems, government can effectively intercede to do so. Information and incentives are very much affected by the institutional order of a society. The social institutions pertinent to environmental and resource issues are the rules that assign responsibility—that is, property rights that determine who can take what actions and who gets a hearing with regard to those actions. These rules are crucial determinants of what information is generated and what incentives the decision makers face.

Property rights generate appropriate information and incentives to the extent that they embody three characteristics: exclusivity, liability, and transferability. If exclusivity does not exist, a resource will be overused. For instance, on the American frontier there were no exclusive rights to North American buffalo. If a buffalo hunter decided to postpone the shooting of any particular animal, he had no assurance that he would have the option to exercise that right in the future. The only way he could be assured of an exclusive right to a buffalo was to shoot it.

Live buffalo were owned by everyone; dead ones belonged to the person who killed them. Is it any wonder that such a property rights system led to the near-extinction of the species? Liability forces a resource owner to bear the costs of actions that harm others. If property rights fully embody liability, costs are not imposed on others without their willing consent. For instance, if a person allows another person to impose harm on him—that is, to use up some of the grass on his cattle ranch to feed his livestock—that person must receive what he believes to be adequate compensation for the harm.

Pollution is a notable example of an incomplete property right, of liability not being present. Transferability encourages owners to look for ways of using property that benefit others, a central obligation of the Christian faith. The fact that a piece of property can be bought or sold means that a resource owner who ignores the wishes of other people does so at a cost to himself, a reduction of wealth.

If rights are not transferable, no such wealth loss is associated with ignoring the wishes of others. In other words, transferability encourages people to seek out and engage in the most mutually beneficial property arrangements possible. Thus, the attributes of exclusivity, liability, and transferability are essential for a well-functioning property rights system, one that fulfills the biblical mandate of holding individuals accountable for their decisions. If any one of those attributes is missing, people can act irresponsibly with regard to creation, at least in part because they do not have adequate information or appropriate incentives to make sound decisions.

The information available to a decision maker is very much a function of property rights because people, in the process of trading, generate indexes of value for various uses of property. For instance, a landowner who knows there is coal on his land can readily obtain information through the price system about how others in society value that coal. If that individual also holds rights to the coal, that same information contains incentives for the owner to take actions that satisfy other people, namely, to make coal available to them. Since part of the biblical mandate with regard to creation is to use it for humankind, it would seem to be appropriate to be aware of and respond to people who desire to use coal as a fuel source.

But is mining the coal the only use for that land? How does a price system take those desires into account? Will coal be mined while aesthetics are ignored? The price system does not adequately represent all desires, and its failure to do so is caused by a lack of appropriate property rights.

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If the landowner had exclusive control over view rights to her land, she could charge an appropriate fee, and the price system would communicate to her whether the land was more valuable left in its pristine state or mined for coal. The fact that property rights are sometimes not well defined and enforced is at the heart of environmental despoilment.

The lack of a full rights structure means decision makers do not have appropriate incentives and information. Therefore, it is not surprising that resource misuse occurs when property rights are incomplete. Of course, simply pointing out the lack of adequate property rights is not a solution to the environmental problem, but it provides some general guidance. We do not necessarily want to fully define rights to all resources; in some cases, the transaction costs of doing so are too high.

But many property rights problems are not intractable, and the property rights framework is a useful way of looking at environmental issues. For instance, air and water are the major resources suffering from pollution in certain places because they are usually treated as common property, that is, property where no one has exclusivity.

Any individual who uses a particular airshed or watershed to dispose of waste does not face the full cost of his action; instead, the costs are spread over all the potential users of that resource, resulting in what has been called the "tragedy of the commons. In others, the government must take positive steps to force decision makers to bear the full costs of their actions.

For instance, a tax per unit of air or water pollution increases the costs of using the air or water as a waste disposal mechanism. If the tax is set at the correct level if it accurately represents the cost of pollution—a difficult proposition when set outside of a market framework , the decision maker faces the correct incentive structure. He can continue to pollute if he is willing to pay the cost, and, if he does, the additional benefits to society from the polluting activity exceed the additional costs. In all likelihood, under such a tax the polluter will decide to reduce emissions—but not to zero.

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Another way of altering property rights in air is through "the bubble concept. Rights to the pollution would then be available to producers in the area. The rights could be either handed out on the basis of historical production or auctioned off to the highest bidder. An important element of such a system would be transferability; for the rights to result in the greatest production at the lowest cost, each pollution right would need to be fully transferable within the airshed.

Each of these proposals involves government action of some sort. Because the definition and the enforcement of property rights are at least, in part, a function of government, an alteration of those rights will probably involve government. However, one must carefully specify the type of action appropriate when suggesting that government is the answer to environmental problems. Seeing the problem as one of inadequate property rights gives positive guidance about how government can be most effective—through the clear specification of rights and the fuller defense of them.

Preaching between affirmation and anticipation: Contours of a paradoxical homiletic

For instance, in terms of air and water pollution, the common governmental response has been through a command-and-control approach. Under such a system, government specifies the amount of pollution that can occur from each source and, in many cases, also specifies the technology to be used in reducing emissions. Numerous studies have shown that for any goal achieved through command-and-control, a bubble concept with transferable rights could achieve the same level of pollution reduction much more cheaply.

The oft-repeated suggestion that government ownership and management of resources are solutions to environmental problems might seem to be appropriate when private property rights and markets have failed to lead to sound resource management. However, this suggestion ignores the fact that under government ownership, it is very difficult to construct property rights so that decision makers face appropriate incentives and receive correct information.

An excellent example of how governmental attempts at stewardship can create perverse incentives involves the Endangered Species Act esa. This legislation, rather than creating incentives for people to act as good stewards of their own land and of its plant and animal inhabitants, often has exactly the opposite effect by making people fearful of losing use of that land.

Richard Stroup, one of the originators of the New Resource Economics, describes the incentives of the esa in this way:. Furthermore, if the owner either harms the species or impairs its habitat, severe penalties are imposed.

Paradoxical Vision: A Public Theology for the Twenty-first Century Paradoxical Vision: A Public Theology for the Twenty-first Century
Paradoxical Vision: A Public Theology for the Twenty-first Century Paradoxical Vision: A Public Theology for the Twenty-first Century
Paradoxical Vision: A Public Theology for the Twenty-first Century Paradoxical Vision: A Public Theology for the Twenty-first Century
Paradoxical Vision: A Public Theology for the Twenty-first Century Paradoxical Vision: A Public Theology for the Twenty-first Century
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