2009-12-16

Climate change - a new religion?

There is a comments writer at the Newcastle Herald who sees proponents of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) as being part of a "false religion" or "cult". My personal feelings have been the opposite - that those who deny AGW, the sceptics or the "denialists", are part of a "false religion". Given that a recent survey of the Hunter Valley shows that one-third of people are to be considered "climate sceptics", that's obviously a very large "cult".

Evangelical Christians (of which I am one) are also ever mindful of new religious movements that challenge the claims of Christ. The rise of Neopaganism and the simultaneous rise of environmentalism and Green politics has led to a sort of "guilt by association", whereby evangelicals see "Greenies" or "treehuggers" as being ultimately satanic in origin.

This is not to say that sceptics are Christian and AGW proponents are not (I am both an AGW proponent AND a Christian) but the way these two groups have described each other in negative religious terms is problematic yet also understandable.

And, yes, I have described sceptics in such terms as well. Moreover I think that it is a good way of describing them.

Of course there is nothing religious per se about Climatology and the whole Global Warming debate. The use of the word to describe either side of the debate is not meant to literally label such a belief "religious" (though there is a point at which actual religion sometimes ends up being discussed, ie many Christians oppose AGW on religious grounds). What it is meant to convey, along with word "cult" would be the following:
  1. A commitment to the truth of their belief.
  2. The desire to change the world based upon the natural outworking of the belief.
  3. A belief that is not rooted in reality.
So from the point-of-view of scepticism, AGW proponents 1) believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming, 2) want to reduce carbon emissions on an international scale to prevent global warming, and 3) are doing so either because they are stupid (AGW is false), misled (belief that the IPCC and others are right when they're not) or because they have ulterior motives (money, prestige, conspiracy theories).

But now take the opposite viewpoint. From the point of view of AGW proponents, sceptics 1) do not believe that current warming has anything to do with human activity, 2) do not want to reduce carbon emissions because it is unnecessary, and 3) are doing so either because they are stupid (AGW is true), misled (by media, think tanks owned by sceptics) or because they have ulterior motives (funded by oil and mining companies).

Daniel Okrent, former public editor of the New York Times, created the following adage:
The pursuit of balance can create imbalance because sometimes something is true.
According to Wikipedia, this adage refers "to the phenomenon of the press providing legitimacy to fringe or minority viewpoints in an effort to appear even-handed."

What we have in this debate are two mutually exclusive polar opposites: Those who believe in AGW and those who don't. Now the fact is that one of these groups MUST be wrong -  there is actually no room for a third alternative viewpoint. Either the world is heating up because of human activity or it is not.

If a person believes in something that they hold to be truth, and if that truth demands action, then they will act accordingly. Whether or not their position is true in an objective sense doesn't enter into the equation, which means that this basic behaviour is quite normal and quite human. For those who believe, they will do x. For those who do not believe, they will do y.

This means that each group will naturally see each other with incredulity. "How can these jokers believe in / not believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming!? They are so committed to their position! They are like a false religion, a cult!". That is a natural position to take.

In the end, it comes down to information analysis and self assessment. Can we trust those experts who form the scientific basis of our belief at this point? Have we been guilty of believing stupid stuff in the past? How much knowledge of the subject do we need before we must let the "experts" take over and speak for us?

And that is why I am an AGW proponent and not a sceptic. I believe that a consensus of climatologists on this subject is all the evidence I need, regardless of where these people get their funding or which country they're from. I think that it is likely that the vast majority of climatologists have approached this subject with diligence and have come to their conclusions based on evidence, and I find it much less likely that these Climatologists have conspired and colluded over time to falsify the data for their own twisted ends. Moreover I also believe that, just as Big Tobacco hired doctors and scientists to confuse the public about the health effects of smoking in order to promote their own interests, so too do I believe that oil companies and mining companies are hiring scientists to confuse the public in order to promote their own interests (ie profit).

Moreover, I also note that there has never been any mass collusion of scientists to promote lies in history, whereas there have been multiple instances throughout history of quashing scientific knowledge by groups that are threatened by it - Big Tobacco attacking those scientists who discovered the link between smoking and cancer; the church attacking Galileo for his scientific progress. Science has obviously been corrupted by political operatives (eg Nazi Germany) but, left to itself, it has yet to deliberately use its power to lie and mislead the public. I see no evidence of political influence upon the world's Climatologists.

And those are my reasons for being a proponent of AGW, and the reason why many sceptics would see me as part of the "climate change religion", and the reason why I see them as being deceived by a "religion of scientific denialism".

There can be no "balance" here, because something IS true.

11 comments:

Ron Lankshear said...

Watching KobenHavn today on Cable A-Pac channel I am afraid the first two speakers I heard were extremely religious - it was all emotion and this was the time to do something BUT with no detail of what to do or agree on. One produced pictures sent to him by children as an example of the children want us to something. Why do they bother to put these people on.

Then on came the Prince of Wales. And Charles spoke brilliantly and it was about a way ahead and re-enforcing that we had to get this fixed and quick. Very focused at last he has impressed me.

Then Tony Abbott's breakfast speech this morning and he was not denying just saying ETS was a TAX - which I can see will be hammered at until there is an election. I think he said extra cost per household will be $700 and not ALP are shouting wrong only $600. Like last week when Tony talked about a 25% plan would cost 400 billion and ALP went on and on BUT about the 15% plan. What % are ALP now aiming for and HOW will they achieve it.

Ron Lankshear said...

Proof reading and NOW ALP are shouting wrong only $600.

apodeictic said...

With respect, I think you've missed the point with this post. It is possible for the scientists to be right as a matter of science and yet for people to corrupt those scientific truths and set up a false religion around them. AGW can be both good science and a false religion. The two are not mutually exclusive. Personally I think many people have adopted the false religion of AGW. And yet that need not imply that I deny the truth of AGW as a scientific theory. I blogged on this issue several months ago here http://is.gd/5q6U4

BLBeamer said...

I'm not sure the point of OSO's post unless it is to bolster his own flagging faith. There are lots of folks who, clearly, treat climate change or AGW as their religion, including the symbolic ritual stoning of heretics and shunning of infidels.

The latest revelations regarding the hacked CRU emails demonstrates that a group of scientists have acted in an unscientific manner - perhaps even shamefully so.

There's a lot of bad science being used to justify ill-advised government action.

AGW can be both bad science and false religion, but until the scientists involved behave in a scientific manner by immediately making their data and studies open to criticism, it will be impossible to tell them apart.

AGW can also be good science, but it will always be false religion.

I think the evidence for Christ's resurrection is strong, but I would not get many converts if my only retort to unbelievers was to call them "deniers".

Ron Lankshear said...

Good points Beamer and apodeictic your blog is well worth a read
sojourner2915: When Tetzel comes a-knockin'

I think the reaction to the EA Uni Email hack is an indicator of the problem. Oh these people have stolen private email - emails on a public paid for system that should be open under FOI I understand. The out of context remarks I read were very hard to follow as to the argument we were not gilding the lily.

Anyhow whatever those Uni folk were trying to do Climate Change is clear - both OSO and I are on East coast and today on way to 37 centigrade.
The question is how much of GW is "A" and HOW do we fix it. That was my complaint with the religion that we cannot rationally discuss a solution we just have to wave flags and have cuddly feelings that we are doing something. Perhaps that explains Prince Charles worried expression.

Meanwhile our PM is in KobenHavn to negotiate something but without approval back here of his current "policy" called ETS.

BLBeamer said...

Well. I read apodeictic's post and followed the link to Doug Wilson's comments.

Is that the Doug Wilson I know? The head pastor of Christ Church of Moscow, Idaho and editor of Credenda/Agenda?

I know him. I have met him and his father. That church is in my father's home town and I have attended services there.

Small world.

Ron Lankshear said...

Amazing BL - BTW I tried sending you an email through your profile but I gather you have Old address there as it came back.

Emails arriving saying to for Obama pray Psalm 109:8 - not very nice but some USA folk I know seem to be really upset over the Health care stuff etc etc.

Say Merry Christmas to all the OSO bloggers

BLBeamer said...

Ron - I sent you my current email address through the email on your web site.

apodeictic said...

BLBeamer, that is Doug Wilson of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho and I too have met him; I know know one of his daughters and one of his nieces from their time in Oxford (England) where I'm currently doing my PhD and I met Doug when he came over on a speaking tour/ family visit. In certain Christian circles Wilson is a big name. Yes, he's a small town pastor, but he's a significant contemporary author/theologian/thinker in Reformed Christianity. While most people at your local Pentecostal church would probably never have heard of Wilson, a lot of people in Presbyterian and other Reformed circles (such as the Reformed wing of Anglicanism where I come from) would certainly have heard of him.

I don't always agree with Wilson (personally I'm not sold on the whole Federal Vision thing) but whether I agree with him or not I usually find what he says to be thought-provoking. The fact that I link to someone (or something) on my blog shouldn't really be seen as any kind of endorsement of the person or views expressed therein. The reason I linked to Wilson was simply because I quoted him and the link allows others to read the quoted remarks in context, direct from the horse's mouth.

BLBeamer said...

I don't pretend to understand the Federal Vision dispute. I tried to read a lengthy Wilson essay on that subject but I completely lost interest after paragraph three and fell asleep.

Regarding your endorsement disclaimer: no worries. I find Wilson an interesting person to read, even when I disagree with him.

I haven't been to Moscow since 2002, but I have to admire Wilson for the enemies he has attracted from (and in) in that small town.

He had the audacity to state that race relations in the old Confederacy weren't as bad as commonly portrayed, particularly when compared to contemporary race relations in the North. This seems to me to be a position that should not be controversial, but he was attacked by people who used his comments as evidence that Wilson wants to re-institute slavery.

The usual suspects of Unitarians, liberal Methodists and secular humanists (am I being redundant?) were the instigators of the attacks.

Some of it is on You Tube. Wilson's calm is remarkable considering the vituperation heaped on him.

Ron Lankshear said...

Not having any knowledge of I went to
http://www.federal-vision.com/

Now looking at
An Evangelical Introduction to the Federal Vision (UK)
By Steve Jeffery

and after reading a page I am still confused as Beamer says and will not bother as far as I can see it is arguing over words

such as
"We deny that a mere formal adherence to the doctrine of the Trinity is sufficient to keep the
very common polytheistic and unitarian temptations of unbelieving thought at bay."