Oil Companies, Global Warming, and Hurricanes: How Does Real Science Analyze Cause and Effect?


The prophet Jeremiah once vigorously argued with Jewish men and women who insisted that their troubles were caused by a failure to worship the queen of heaven.1 People today might sneer at such irrational idolatry, but is modern society immune from illogical and superstitious thinking? Perhaps we can learn a lesson in logic by comparing Jeremiah's situation to a bizarre lawsuit over damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

A Bizarre Series of Events

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Louisiana coastline, wreaking havoc in several southern states. In the aftermath, a number of people who had lost or suffered damage to their homes sued certain oil companies, based on a "scientific" theory that the companies' "greenhouse gas" emissions contributed to global warming, which led to greater devastation by the hurricane. Since the oil companies were to blame for the gas emissions that supposedly led to this result, it was argued that they should pay for the damage.

Although the case was dismissed by the trial judge, a federal appellate court three-judge panel reversed that decision and authorized the homeowners to sue the oil companies. The panel specifically ruled that the plaintiffs should be allowed to prove that the oil companies' "greenhouse gas" emissions (which supposedly caused global warming) increased Hurricane Katrina's ferocity, which led to the destruction of the plaintiffs' homes.

Sounds like a Hollywood movie promoting the standard global warming propaganda, right? In a bizarre twist of events, this real class action case was decided recently by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.2 Other judges on that appellate court elected to reconsider the three judges' decision to reverse the case's dismissal. But because of conflicts of interest and other factors, only nine judges could rule on this. And after they vacated the panel's decision, but before they could provide an alternate ruling to the reversal, one judge recused himself, leaving the court without a quorum and effectively placing the case in a legal black hole--where it will remain unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise.

Indeed, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction! The court rulings illustrate something that the Institute for Creation Research has been emphasizing for years: empirical science (the science of observing effects in the present) is not equivalent to forensic science (the science of recognizing causes in the past, such as the origins of earth, animals, and humans).

In other words, observing things in the present is not the same as reconstructing cause-and-effect histories of the past.

Cause and Effect Fallacies

So, are the oil companies to blame for Hurricane Katrina's destructiveness? To answer that question using insights from Scripture, consider how cause-and-effect event relationships involve more than just sequencing events on a timeline. The phrase post hoc fallacy (i.e., occurring later, therefore occurring because of) is used to describe the assumption that if one event precedes another, the first event must have caused the second event. This may be illustrated from Jeremiah 44:18 as follows:

Event 1: "We left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her."

Event 2: Since then, "we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine."

Conclusion, relying on a post hoc assumption: Our failure "to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her" must be the cause of the bad consequences we are presently experiencing--namely, "we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine."

This same post hoc argument is extended in Jeremiah 44:19, where the women argue that: a) when they burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings and worshipped her, they had their men (i.e., the Babylonians had not captured or killed the men of their families); but b) now that the queen of heaven is not being worshipped in this way (which is necessarily implied by the preceding verse), they are missing many of their men--implying that the failure to worship the queen of heaven must be the cause of their now-missing men. (Actually, the real cause was quite different.3)

Consider the same logic in the federal lawsuit mentioned above. Note the assumed sequence of events:

  1. Oil/energy companies operate.
  2. Massive "greenhouse gas" emissions result.
  3. Global warming occurs.
  4. Hurricane Katrina's fury increases.
  5. Plaintiffs' homes and properties are destroyed.

The post hoc argument concludes that event one substantially caused event five. Therefore, the defendant oil/energy companies are to blame for the hurricane damage, so those companies should pay millions of dollars to the class action plaintiffs!4

The events in question were observed by eyewitnesses. Those observations were "present observations" at the time those events occurred (and were documented by photographs taken by eyewitnesses). At least four of the alleged events can be documented as a matter of empirical (i.e., observation-based) science.5

But what about those causation conclusions? How do we know that event one caused event two? Or that (alleged) event three caused event four? The causation analysis involved a lot more than simple eyewitness observations. Many assumptions were involved, including some assumptions about universal physical laws, as well as some (supposedly) logic-based conclusions about specific events historically causing specific effects.

The Ultimate Example of Cause and Effect

Will the plaintiffs in the Hurricane Katrina case ultimately try and win their class action lawsuit, leading to a multi-million-dollar jury verdict against the oil companies?6 If so, there are a lot of causation/proof problems to be resolved along the way. Surely a sound prove-up of trial evidence, to justify the plaintiffs' causation theory, is a very tall order! However, as far-fetched and bizarre as the plaintiffs' "global warming" theory of hurricane destruction is, it is much more believable than the evolutionists' theory of how humans and animals originated on earth.

Consider the variety of animals we observe worldwide. Did a Darwinian process of "phylogenetic tree" (single ultimate ancestor) evolution cause the biodiversity we see in earth's animal kingdom? Impossible. Evolutionary proponents have yet to provide any scientific evidence demonstrating how life could begin from non-life, much less mutate into the many life forms we see today.

Genesis provides us with true information on how modern animals arrived on this planet: They are all descended from voyagers that disembarked the good ship Noah's Ark. The historical facts of the Flood (and the holy judgment they represent), of course, are willingly ignored by evolutionists with their uniformitarian assumptions. Yet such uniformitarian assumptions about earth history are just as irrational as other evolutionary "science" arguments promoted on televised nature shows--and endorsed even in federal courts--to rationalize "willing ignorance" of God's sovereign role as earth's Creator.

Meanwhile, at the personal level, the Christian apologist should clarify (to those "with ears to hear") the ultimate example of cause-and-effect analysis: Accept the truth (as Noah did) or pay the consequences, sooner or later. Everyone must make an eternal choice about God, but the consequences of that choice are locked into the choice selected.7 Unlike "global warming," there is no reasonable doubt about the underlying truth of God's redemption offer in His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased.

References

  1. Jeremiah 44, especially verses 15-29.
  2. Comer, et al., v. Murphy Oil USA, et al., 585 F.3d 855 (5th Cir. 2010). Like the plaintiffs' allegations, the case's procedural history is bizarre. Comer, et al., v. Murphy Oil USA, et al., 2007 WL 6942285 (S.D. Miss. 2007), reversed by 585 F.3d 855, 69 E.R.C. 1513 (5th Cir. 2010), vacated, automatically, due to a procedural rule, 598 F.3d 208 (5th Cir. [en banc] 2010), dismissed due to loss of en banc quorum, 2010 WL 2136658 (5th Cir. [en banc] 2010), potentially appealable to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  3. See Jeremiah 44:20-29.
  4. Class actions in federal court must dispute more than $5,000,000, excluding court costs and attorneys fees. Obviously, this one does. Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, 585 F.3d at 860.
  5. Global warming is a more complicated "event" in this analysis. Is the globe really warming? And if so, is that warming caused by humans producing CO2? Does CO2 cause global warming, or vice versa? See Larry Vardiman's articles analyzing these questions: New Evidence for Global Cooling, Acts & Facts, 39 (7):12-13 (July 2010); Does Carbon Dioxide Drive Global Warming?, Acts & Facts, 37 (10):10-12 (October 2008). The political aspect of global warming is further explored in ICR's Creationist Worldview online program, Module 5, Unit 6, Lesson 4 in "Government Expansion and Watermelon Politics." (The term watermelon politics means "green on the outside, red on the inside.")
  6. At the time of this writing, it would appear that the plaintiffs would need a successful certiorari-based appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is unlikely.
  7. See Psalm 2 and John 3.

* Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics at the Institute for Creation Research.

Cite this article: Johnson, J. J. S. 2010. Oil Companies, Global Warming, and Hurricanes. Acts & Facts. 39 (9): 8-9.