Noam Chomsky states in a recent interview:

One of the difficulties in raising public concern over the very severe threats of global warming is that 40 percent of the US population does not see why it is a problem, since Christ is returning in a few decades.

Is it true that 40% believe something like this? Are there studies underlining this claim?

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    Removed a long thread about theology, politics and personal opinions. If that kind of thing fascinates you, great! Go have a chat here! Please use comments for the rest of us to discuss how to improve the question.
    – Sklivvz
    Nov 22, 2016 at 1:17
  • (well done, @Sklivvz.) This question is very poorly founded. Chomsky is NOT making an accurate claim: he's simply being funny, sarcastic: given the "40% believe in end-times" statistic he's making a joke, a sarcastic comment - about global warming - based on that. The question headline, and the sentence "Is it true that 40% believe something like this?" totally incorrectly present Chomsky's sarcastic comment, as if Chomsky is stating, or as if there is, some sort of study on "global warming / end times belief".
    – Fattie
    Nov 23, 2016 at 10:54
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    While certainly not a scientific claim, it seems like a pretty direct logical connection. Why would you care about the long-term future of humanity and our planet if you genuinely believed that you and everyone you care about will be teleported to heaven within the next few decades? He's making a straightforward comment on how religion can cause people to deny reality. As the answers below indicate, there are studies showing that 40% do at least believe "something like this", regardless of whether there's been a study on this specific phrasing.
    – Tal
    Dec 6, 2016 at 18:12

2 Answers 2


The 40% figure most likely comes from Pew Research Center:

By the year 2050, 41% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ definitely (23%) or probably (18%) will have returned to earth.

The figures can be seen here:

enter image description here

However, Pew does not make the global warming implication.

There is a study by Barker and Bearce about this:

the authors show that believers in Christian end-times theology are less likely to support policies designed to curb global warming than are other Americans. Barker and Bearce, End-Times Theology, the Shadow of the Future, and Public Resistance to Addressing Global Climate Change

I do not have full access to the paper, but Religion Dispatches quotes it as:

a belief in the Second Coming reduces the probability of strongly agreeing that the government should take action by more than 12 percent.

The article is written by a professor doing research on evangelism and climate change. She disagrees with the conclusion that a belief in Christ’s return is the only or main reason for believing that global warming is unproblematic.

As it seems that Chomsky is using the Pew numbers, and as it is fair to assume that at least some people believing in the probability of a second coming may still worry about global warming, I wouldn't rate the claim as given as accurate.

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    A different Pew survey finds "Finally, while an overwhelming percentage of Christians (79%) say they believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ, far fewer see Christ’s return as imminent. Overall just 20% of all Christians expect Christ to return to earth in their lifetime; even among those who say that the Bible is the literal word of God, just 37% expect Christ to return to earth in their lifetime." pewforum.org/2006/08/24/…
    – DavePhD
    Nov 20, 2016 at 12:48
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    @tim a sensible 14% voluntarily said "Unknowable/No one knows when Jesus will return" even though it wasn't given as an option. pewforum.org/files/2006/08/religion-politics-06.pdf
    – DavePhD
    Nov 20, 2016 at 13:07
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    The data is rather confusing - are non-white evangelicals excluded completely? Are all atheists, muslims, hindus etc all classified under unaffiliated? Or does it mean that 41% of self-identified Christians think Jesus will return by 2050, which is a very different matter from 41% of Americans? Nov 20, 2016 at 13:53
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    @oddthinking the graphic is unclear, but i believe the categories are meant to be (probably/definitely) will happen and (probably/ definitely) will not happen - i.e combining the probably and definitely groups for both sides into a single figure.
    – PhillS
    Nov 20, 2016 at 14:44
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    While this answer contains correct information; it misses a key point here. Chomsky is NOT making an accurate claim: he's just being funny, sarcastic: given the "40% believe in end-times" statistic he's making a joke, a sarcastic comment, based on that. Note that very similarly, you often hear people comment sarcastically: "It's no wonder Americans believe in XYZ, after all study after study shows 48% of them believe in UFOs." It's confusing to present this as a "claim which we should determine the truth of." Bad question. Any answer should point out that the question simply doesn't parse.
    – Fattie
    Nov 21, 2016 at 22:02

Fully 79% of Christians in the U.S. say they believe that Jesus Christ will return to Earth someday. A 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found less agreement among Christians, however, over the timing and circumstances of his return. One-in-five American Christians, 20%, believe the Second Coming will occur in their lifetime, a larger number than the 17% who do not believe in the Second Coming at all. (Pew Research Center 2009)

The entire full report does not mention climate change and / or global warming. I found a report that predicted this number for 2050 would be approximately 41% but this is not now, 2009 is the closest I could find to now.

The Christian Post provided some supportive evidence.

Nearly half of Americans now believe that the recent surge in natural disasters is the result of biblical "End Times" than climate change, and more than two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants hold this belief, according to a new study. (The Christian Post, 2014)

The original research from for the Christian Post is from the PRRI (2014) and URL explains the methodology and process. I am unsure if PRRI is peer-reviewed. I would classify this as, treat-with-caution, as it is in the grey literature. The citation is

Jones, Robert P., Daniel Cox, and Juhem Navarro-Rivera. “Believers, Sympathizers, & Skeptics: Why Americans Are Conflicted about Climate Change, Environmental Policy, and Science.” PRRI. 2014.

When asked about these causes separately, Americans are more likely to say that recent natural disasters are the result of climate change (62%) than biblical “end times” (49%).

The number of Americans who believe natural disasters are evidence of the apocalypse has increased since 2011, when only 44% agreed.

White evangelical Protestants are much more likely to attribute the severity of recent natural disasters to the biblical “end times” (77%) than to climate change (49%).

Most Americans do not believe that God would intercede to prevent humans from destroying the earth. Approximately 4-in-10 (39%) Americans believe that God would not allow humans to destroy the earth, while a majority (53%) of Americans disagree.

You cannot ascertain if these 39% are Christian and if they are considering climate change as an earth destroying event. It likely is not earth-destroying according to the IPCC or any other source I can find.

Religion dispatches (2013), dispute the claims in general about the linkage between Christianity and climate change lack of concern, but this is a source that should be treated with a high-level of skepticism.

I think the question of if rapture, second-coming, or the end-of-times Christians care less about climate change and 40% do not care due to the upcoming rapture is conflated from the PRRI paper combined with the Pew quotes. I would state that the 40% statement is neither proven or unproven and that Norm Chomsky may be conflating the 40% part which appears to be true with the not-caring part which he is inferring but is not proven.

  • Pew 2009's numbers contradict the claim "Fully 79% of Christians in the U.S. say they believe that Jesus Christ will return to Earth someday. "
    – smci
    Nov 20, 2016 at 21:43
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    No they don't, @smci. Pew's question was specifically about whether they believe that will happen by 2050, while the 79% figure is about "someday".
    – Beanluc
    Nov 21, 2016 at 0:29
  • @Beanluc: I was aware of the 'by 2050' qualification; I read some article which misstated Pew 2009. You are correct; however evangelicals' beliefs are "On issues ranging from the origins of life to Christ’s second coming, evangelicals express distinctly different views from ... even other religious groups." Here's summary and graphs. "[Belief in the second coming] is nearly unanimously expressed by white evangelical Protestants (95%) and black Protestants (92%); Catholics (70%) and white mainline Protestants (60%)"
    – smci
    Nov 21, 2016 at 9:15
  • I'm pretty sure that the 2006 survey's 20% ("believe the Second Coming will occur in their lifetime") went up after the (man-made) 2007 financial collapse and the 2008 election. Nov 21, 2016 at 18:45

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