There is a dogmatic stubbornness among the die-hard proponents of anthropogenic climate change – a refusal to consider (or, at the very most, understand) why opponents of such a notion will not roll over and play dead at the feet of “scientific consensus.” I will get to this later.
It should be noted first, however, that opponents are not “in denial” – as if it’s a stage of grief, or a nod to conspiratorial themes that reject the existence of mass atrocities. Opponents aren’t even in a state of skepticism about the notion of climate change. I think it’s safe to say that every opponent acknowledges that climate has changed, and is changing. It is not (yet) in a state of equilibrium, in other words.
I would also venture further that serious scientists and thinkers that oppose do not necessarily “deny” the contributions of human activity to climate change, because to deny its contributions altogether is to make an absolute statement of inertness about a variable (humans) that is everything BUT inert. It would be a contradiction to “deny” altogether our contributions to geological or atmospheric conditions. One may assert that they are statistically insignificant, but that is completely different than “denial.”
The other thing that needs to be destroyed once and for all is that from a scientific perspective “the debate is settled” on anthropogenic climate change. No real scientist would ever say this, because every real scientist understands that the scientific method doesn’t “prove” anything beyond a shadow of a doubt. (This is not a no-true-Scotsman argument. Scientists that don’t understand this foundational fact about the scientific method have no basis in calling themselves scientists any more than a relativist may call him or herself an expert on objective ethics.) The scientific method gives us theories and models that, given the available evidence, cannot be currently disproven.
Harvard Professor, famed botanist, and professed Christian Evolutionary Theist, Asa Gray was briefly famous in the 1880s for stating, “settled scientific belief should control religious thought.” In his lectures, Natural Science and Religion, Professor Gray noted regarding the distinctions between animal and plant life, noted “The best, I am disposed to say the settled, opinion now is that there are multitudinous forms [of life] which are not sufficiently differentiated to be distinctively either plant or animal, while, as respects ordinary plants and animals, the difficulty of laying down a definition has become far greater than ever before.” Gray believed in a continuum of the kingdoms, and that there was great ambiguity – too great to distinguish with any certainty between animal and plant life. The science was indeed settled.
Three years later, the chloroplast would be discovered, which is a clear and evident distinction between plant cells and animal cells, completely unsettling Asa Gray’s settled science.
The point is, the idea of “settled science” as a dogma is nothing new – just ask Galileo, who was condemned by the Catholic and Protestant churches, but also the secular scientific community for his attempts to overturn the scientific apple cart.
In the case of Asa Gray specifically, his supposed calculation that “settled scientific belief should control religious thought,” is influenced heavily by the philosophies of the 19th centuries, especially the idea of positivism.
Positivism is a philosophy developed and expounded by the French thinker, Auguste Comte, who famously posited the Law of Three Stages – a worldview of a perpetually progressing world in which humanity’s trajectory has gone from theocratic to the metaphysical as the ultimate authority, but will culminate in a perfect society in which empirical observation, testing, and conclusions would govern the minds of men.
Ironically, M. Comte could not verify this theory with empirical evidence – nor can anyone, for to do so would require total knowledge, not just of the past, but of the future.
But positivism was more than cold empirical observation – it heavily emphasized the morality of humanity, even though morality as a being – that is, ontologically – is entirely unobservable. Positivists would admit that “there is no morality in earth or space,” yet there is in humanity because of our social inclinations.
Frederic Harrison, an apostle of positivism, defined a moral being as “one who puts social affections above his personal instincts, consciously choosing good before evil.” Sir Henry Cotton argued “the sum and substance of morality is the victory of altruism over egoism.”
Cotton continued, “The application of morality lies in the subordination of selfish and personal instincts to the welfare, freedom, and happiness of mankind, and in the acceptation of duties co-extensive in their range with the whole of our human life, private or public, for the nation and its government equally as for the individual.”
The ultimate altruist, for the positivists, was the individual willing to sacrifice everything for the “good” of society.
There are a few problems with this; chiefest among them is that “good” is defined as that which is done altruistically, and altruism is defined as that which is done for “good.” It is a circular argument that cannot be broken – never mind that it can’t be observed empirically by positivist scientific standards. Another problem is that “society” is only ambiguously defined.
Despite these fatal fallacies, positivism was determined to move onward in its shaping of civilization in accordance with the Law of the Three Stages, somehow reconciling empirical science with circular morality. To the positivist, science has as much purpose, or telos, as morality does.
In 1903 J.H. Bridges exhorted his readers, “Scientific reasoning is at one with social aspiration in pointing to a future in which tillage shall take the place of carnage, in which men’s strength will be spent, not in preparations for mutual slaughter, but in making this earth a beautiful and abiding dwelling place for those that come after them, in which hopes of saving our own souls and bodies in a future world will give way to systematic efforts to save the bodies and souls of others in this.”
That sentence might as well have been written by Al Gore. In the climate debate today, proponents of an impending catastrophe are trying to merge morality and science in the same fashion as the positivists of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Science – TRUE science (that is, using the scientific method) – is completely silent on whether the application of itself should result in tillage rather than carnage; or whether a beautiful dwelling place is preferable to mutual slaughter. In other words, science is dumb to questions of “good” and “evil.” These are questions left to the metaphysical realm that sensory observation cannot answer.
But it’s because the vestiges of positivism among the financiers of the scientific community so desperately wish to conflate existential morality with empirical observation, that they will insist that “the debate is settled.”
No it’s not. There are anomalies, and as long as there are anomalies, extreme scientific skepticism is absolutely warranted. The anomalies are not subtle either, they are glaring – as in, the predictive models for anthropogenic climate change have almost ALL been wrong. In other words, the conclusion did not vindicate the hypothesis.
Whenever this happens, when a predictive model fails, it is obvious that a variable has either not been considered, or a variable has been given undue consideration. At this point, only dogmatic persistence can “save” the hypothesis. And what do we call dogmatic hypotheses and doctrines used for moral ends??
It’s no wonder that Auguste Comte developed his own religion – complete with temples, hymns, and liturgies – after abandoning theological and metaphysical approaches to reconciling potentiality and actuality.
Likewise, it is no wonder we see the rise of evangelical climate alarmists that have erected temples and written holy scriptures, codified doctrines and published hymns, venerated saints and punished blasphemers, all in the name of “Science,” and the completely unscientific notion of “altruism”.