It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Friday, January 23, 2009

Not about religion

Back when Irene's Mom used to live in Mississippi and we were in Wisconsin, we'd find ourselves driving through the deep south on occasion. A couple of times I heard some pretty extravagantly strange preachers on the radio. One I'll always remember said something like
"We have nothing against freedom of religion. Everybody should be free to believe whatever they want, and no religion should get special treatment. But when it comes to the Bible, we aren't talking about religion. The Bible is the revealed truth of God."
Based on that, I find it easier to understand evolution denialists than climate change denialists. As far as I know, the Bible makes no specific claims about the radiative or thermodynamic properties of atmospheric trace gases. A pity.

If you find yourself in a position where it is very rewarding to take the Bible literally, though, an unreasonable model of the earth prehistory is pretty much explicitly  included. Once you "believe in" that, it is necessarily the case that great swaths of earth science and biological science are wrong. You are very much seeking the charlatan who will tell you in vaguely realistic terms how and why the science is wrong. It turns out the world has a sufficient supply of shameless and complaint and/or self-delusional PhD's to provide cover for you if you want to "believe in" science and "believe in" the Bible at the same time.

Having achieved that, you will perceive any person advocating evolution as at best mistaken, but likely evil and probably to be damned to hell. This will be reinforced by their arrogant refusal to consider alternatives to their dire mistake in the classroom and in public discourse.

I see this as all about the dichotomy between how things are decided in science vs how they are decided in politics. In science, not every voice carries equal weight. This makes some people uncomfortable as it seems to go against the tenets of democracy. I think the best answer is Daniel Moynihan's: "You are entitled to your own opinions but you are not entitled to your own facts." 

Anyway, given the many similarities in tactics, including what seems to us a willful refusal to debate honestly, it's worth it for us in the climate trenches to pay close attention to the evolution nonsense. One thing that all this makes clear is that there really is a quasi-religious, dogmatic belief that it is impossible that restraint on any human economic activity can be a good idea. This belief is, in some circles, as beyond challenge as the Bible is to a fundamentalist. 

It must be; this can account for their approach to evidence and I don't believe anything else could. A small number of them must be lying through their teeth (as must some of those testifying against evolution). The number of consciously bad actors may be very small, though.

4 comments:

naught101 said...

it's worth it for us in the climate trenches to pay close attention to the evolution nonsense.

I agree, and take heart from that - I think the climate "debate" is an easier one to win (as in, large majority on side) than the evolution one. Evolution goes completely against creationist ideas, and there's no significant benefit for the general public to promote the science.

Climate change does have economic rationalism/reaganomics/neoclassical economics to go against as you point out, but the slim grasp on reality of those theories has already be significantly proven, by people like Herman Daly. And there ARE significant benefits for the general public of tackling climate change (ie. like having a decent future for your kids). And a lot of people are starting to work that out.

Jules said...

i've always said the root of AGW-skepticism is a "sektarian" belief in free market politcs, explaining why the same people attack not just climate science, but also the science around the relation obacco/smoking, etc.
Everything starts from the dogma there may not be government actions, and all that is needed to save the dogma.

Marion Delgado said...

I used to get, as I think you've observed, furious over climate denial but was blase about evolution denial. It wasn't what I saw as my ox being gored, and who really cares what religious parents get into the classroom, really, because, frankly, it's not going to last long. Etc.

Where it has come home to me is in the hate campaign against rachel carson, and the (very sad) campaign against immunization.

It turns out the bell tolls for me more than I thought. Look to the DDT madness if you think the market fundies can't/won't exploit the anti-evolution cranks for financial and ideological gain.

Agricultural DDT use didn't facilitate the preferential reproduction of resistant strains, partly because the Earth is 6,000 years old and evolution is a myth.

I don't think that politically everyone with a science vs. denialism axe to grind needs to form a big tent coalition, but those of us who share a core set of principles about science need to acknowledge it.

Dano said...

As far as I know, the Bible makes no specific claims about the radiative or thermodynamic properties of atmospheric trace gases. A pity.

"The bible doesn't tell you how the heavens go, the bible tells you how to go to heaven" -- Cardinal Baronius

Best,

D