Evolution and climate change in NCSE’s mission

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As most PT readers probably know, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has added climate change education to the core issues it is concerned with. I was originally dubious of that move, feeling that the focus on evolution education was enough to handle without adding another issue on which there’s public/political debate, though (as is also the case with evolution) considerably less scientific debate.

I’ve come around, though, for a couple of reasons. One, of course, is the increasing trend on the part of anti-evolutionists to lump climate change in with evolution in their “controversial issues” and so-called “academic freedom” legislation. These are part of the more general anti-science movement that Kenneth Miller warned against in Only a Theory, and I share Miller’s apprehensions in that respect. I do not think Miller exaggerates the threat to science literacy and support in the U.S.

Another reason I’ve come around is the commonality of the arguments of evolution deniers and climate change deniers. An excellent illustration of that commonality is a recent overview by John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli of the reactions of global warming denialists to The Guardian’s analysis of the very high consensus of scientific papers on global warming. Abraham and Nuccitelli referred to the five tactics used by science deniers to wish away the findings (in this case) of the analysis of scientific consensus on global warming. They are (from another source):

1. Conspiracy theories
When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes something is true, the denialist won’t admit scientists have independently studied the evidence to reach the same conclusion. Instead, they claim scientists are engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy. The South African government of Thabo Mbeki was heavily influenced by conspiracy theorists claiming that HIV was not the cause of AIDS. When such fringe groups gain the ear of policy makers who cease to base their decisions on science-based evidence, the human impact can be disastrous.

2. Fake experts
These are individuals purporting to be experts but whose views are inconsistent with established knowledge. Fake experts have been used extensively by the tobacco industry who developed a strategy to recruit scientists who would counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. This tactic is often complemented by denigration of established experts, seeking to discredit their work. Tobacco denialists have frequently attacked Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California, for his exposure of tobacco industry tactics, labelling his research ‘junk science’.

3. Cherry picking
This involves selectively drawing on isolated papers that challenge the consensus to the neglect of the broader body of research. An example is a paper describing intestinal abnormalities in 12 children with autism, which suggested a possible link with immunization. This has been used extensively by campaigners against immunization, even though 10 of the paper’s 13 authors subsequently retracted the suggestion of an association.

4. Impossible expectations of what research can deliver
The tobacco company Philip Morris tried to promote a new standard for the conduct of epidemiological studies. These stricter guidelines would have invalidated in one sweep a large body of research on the health effects of cigarettes.

5. Misrepresentation and logical fallacies
Logical fallacies include the use of straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented, making it easier to refute. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 1992 that environmental tobacco smoke was carcinogenic. This was attacked as nothing less than a ‘threat to the very core of democratic values and democratic public policy’.

As is obvious, the same characteristics describe the science denialists of the creationism and intelligent design movement (yes, the singular “movement” is intended). We all know of numerous examples of each tactic in that evolving movement. So I now support NCSE’s addition of climate change education to its mission.

Warning: The BW awaits IDiots and Inhofe fans

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In fact, the Heartland Institute started out as a cigarette smoking/lung cancer denialist institution and has since morphed into a climate change denialist institution. It is heavily supported by the Koch brothers and includes such notorious deniers as Pat Michaels and Fred Singer (who also is a smoking/lung cancer and CFC/ozone depletion denialist).

I just ran onto a U.S. Senator decrying another Senator’s “magical thinking” about global warming. I don’t endorse the religious arguments, and it’s pretty weird to listen to one Senator reproving another with multiple Bible verses. What ever happened to Thomas Jefferson?

A quote from that Senator: “… we’re going to bet on a miracle? That’s the plan?”

There is a rather large difference between the two when you get down to it, which is that God essentially comes first for the IDiot, with science a mere afterthought. Phillip Johnson:

Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence.

He bases this on Lewontin’s statements–which may or may not mean what he and other IDiots claim. I really can’t figure Lewontin out, mainly because he made a number of post-modernist criticisms of biology, so possibly he did think that “materialism” comes first. Well, it doesn’t, and only a sophist or some other fallacious person would base such a claim upon one biologist’s statements.

Regardless of the Lewontin matter, while climate denial may piggyback off of anti-atheism/anti-naturalism, IDiots are more like YECs on climate science, pretending that real science is against it, not that there is something wrong with science per se. On evolution, they’re really against basing conclusions upon the evidence (which is all that “materialism” can really be based upon anyhow–empiricism), while God is an a priori Cause that cannot be questioned or evaluated against the evidence. Only with such an a priori can ID make any sense at all, for they never really evaluate Design according to known human design.

Climate denial is, by contrast, simply denial of the evidence. Even when it piggybacks off of ID science denial, that’s supposedly justified by the “fact” that scientists are “pre-committed” to an “anti-God ideology,” and not because climate science itself is considered to be illegitimate from the beginning. “Darwinism” is considered by them to be illegitimate from the beginning, which is why they never really think about evolution or Design.

Glen Davidson

Regardless of the Lewontin matter, while climate denial may piggyback off of anti-atheism/anti-naturalism, IDiots are more like YECs on climate science, pretending that real science is against it, not that there is something wrong with science per se.

Maybe I should have said IDiots are more like traditional YECs on climate science, because it seems to me that not so very long ago YECs did largely accept basic scientific premises, while rather simply and simplistically denying whatever evidence supported the old earth and evolution.

At least partly due to the influence of IDiocy, I think, they have become more post-modern in their ability to deny the fundamentals of science itself.

Glen Davidson

For clarification of what Richard Lewontin was up to (and no, he’s no postmodernist), see the nice EvoWiki page on the quote, here.

I started out Creationism-watching in the early 2000s, but since Dover most of my attention has gone to the somewhat more thriving community of AGW denialists. The similarities were not only apparent, they are what drew me to them in the first place. The dishonesty, the inability to own up to demonstrable facts, the character attacks on those who deliver the bad news, and the funded “grass-roots” campaigns to veto the findings of science by popular vote from the community level to the national and international stage.

Ideology motivates both groups of denialists, I think. Both are wedded to a quote-unqoute “conservative” view of the world that can’t handle disruptive findings, which threaten their comfortable preconceptions and beliefs. There are those who have a foot in both worlds, of course. I’ve written up my thoughts on AGW denier and ID believer Roy Spencer before. It contains some of my thoughts on how he embodies the worst of both positions and how that affects his ability to actually practice science.

Science literacy is important for combating both of these threats. However, I feel that the climate issue is more immediate and more pressing due to the timelines we’re looking at. If something isn’t done within the next two decades or so, we could be looking at a rapid climate shift that’s a different from today’s regime as today is from the last glacial maximum, when Chicaco was buried under a mile of ice. Meanwhile we’re pouring CO2 into the oceans at a rate that’s far too rapid for organisms to comfortably adjust their biology to, acidifying the oceans about ten to fifteen times faster than during the Permian-Triassic extinction event. All of this is happening on top of the other worldwide stresses we’re placing upon the seas and land in terms of exploitation and pollution, while our population balloons rapid and demands a higher standard of living than “dirt farmer.” We need solutions in place yesterday to avoid the worst.

Because of this urgency, the reactionary opposition to a change in policy has been a wealthy and well-coordinated mobilization of PR, harassment, and targeted law suits designed to shut down communication between the researchers studying this problem and the public that might listen to them. Scientists working directly for the government have been censored or had their reports altered before publication without notice, and those working in universities that receive any government funding have been subjected to vexacious Freedom of Information requests, fishing expeditions, and lawsuits demanding any and all correspondence a climate researcher might have had with the media. The message is clear and unambiguous: if you work on this problem and go public with the findings, we’re going to make life difficult for you.

Fully one half of the political machinery in the US has locked itself into a corner of public denial and derision of the problem in a sad display of partisanism, not only refusing to participate and find answers palatable to their constituents but refusing to even acknowledge the problem exists; or worse, to accuse those calling attention to the problem of being outright frauds that abuse public funds for their own gain. The well has truly been poisoned, and public discourse in the US is unbelievably still mired in a conflict of denialism and acceptance that makes the push by Big Tobacco look like an honest debate in comparison. It’s no accident that some of the same lobbyists and talking heads from that fight migrated to the climate change denial camp.

The situation is, as far as I’m concerned far more intolerable than the waning influence of the ID movement.

Who said Lewontin was a postmodernist? I didn’t, and anyone interested in the truth should be able to distinguish what I wrote from any such claim. That said, I’m not as sure about the post-modern criticisms as I wish I were (or, better, the opposite), but I’ve seen some stuff that doesn’t give me too much confidence in Lewontin.

I also know full well the context of his remarks (which could be taken as epistemological–yet it’s certainly not worded as I’d word it), but then there’s this nonsense that he and a number of others signed:

As for the two points raised at the final NABT Board meeting, let us analyze them in some more detail. The words “unsupervised” and “impersonal” were taken as miscommunicating the nature of science. Not really. Science is based on a fundamental assumption: that the world can be explained by referring only to natural, mechanistic forces. Johnson is quite right in affirming that this is a philosophical position. He is wrong when he suggests that it is an unreasonable and unproven one. In fact, every single experiment conducted by any laboratory in any place on Earth represents a daily test of that assumption. The day in which scientists will be unable to explain natural phenomena without referring to divine intervention or other supernatural forces, we will have a major paradigm shift - of cataclysmic proportions.

asa3.org/ASA/education/origins/openletter.htm

How post-modernist does that sound (ok, I know it’s not exactly philosophical post-modernism, more the mumbo-jumbo of people who don’t think very precisely, but think it’s profound and vaguely post-modern)? I mean, besides the contradictory nature of saying that “naturalism” is a philosophical assumption as Johnson claimed–and it can be and is tested every day. What?

First of all, no resort to either “naturalism” or “materialism” is needed in the least, and to mean much of anything worthwhile they have to be based upon empiricism, so can the BS that we have to assume any such thing. Secondly, if it’s tested it’s hardly just a philosophical proposition or assumption, it’s a scientific proposition that happens to be justified. It may be a bit “meta” in some sense, but I wouldn’t call it metaphysical, just a kind of encompassing “assumption” that is very much justified, but not in a strictly “scientific” manner–at least not as normally understood.

So why is Lewontin playing the philosopher at all? Basically, he can’t even straighten out that contradictory mess, let alone justify it. I don’t know that he’s so much one to criticize as any one thing, but he does run a kind of leftish prattle that at times does no credit to either leftism or to science.

Glen Davidson

It may be a bit “meta” in some sense, but I wouldn’t call it metaphysical, just a kind of encompassing “assumption” that is very much justified, but not in a strictly “scientific” manner–at least not as normally understood.

What I’d characterize such a proposition as being is an empirical discovery upon which science is based–but which science also tests as a kind of side effect.

In the sense that “natural” as used in the referenced letter means little or nothing more than “what is observed” (not “revealed” or some such thing) though, it simply boils down to the fact that you don’t get to just make up “causes” and claim that these explain phenomena. Which is what IDiots think is totally unfair.

Glen Davidson

Well besides thew obvious similarities between science deniers of every strips and the obvious shared strategies involved in denying scientific realities, the two issues are not unrelated. One of the major effects of anthropogenic climate change will be that evolution might not be fast enough to track such rapid environmental change. This will mean that many extinctions will occur and the ecosystem will be drastically affected. Of course that would’t necessarily be the case if evolution is all wrong, but this is microevolution we’re talking about and even the most ignorant creationist admits that that happens, right?

DS said:

Well besides thew obvious similarities between science deniers of every strips and the obvious shared strategies involved in denying scientific realities, the two issues are not unrelated. One of the major effects of anthropogenic climate change will be that evolution might not be fast enough to track such rapid environmental change. This will mean that many extinctions will occur and the ecosystem will be drastically affected. Of course that would’t necessarily be the case if evolution is all wrong, but this is microevolution we’re talking about and even the most ignorant creationist admits that that happens, right?

Nope, ask Ray Martinez about that.

As for global warming denialism, it is indeed based on pseudo-science, just like creationism, which is actually evolution denialism. Denialism of any kind is based on selective distortion of the truth, rather than taking the entire unadulterated truth into account.

Somewhat ironically, I’m not sure the NCSE has chosen a good example of a straw man argument. (It’s really more of an argumentum ad consequentiam – equally fallacious, but not the same thing.)

NCSE is certainly correct in seeing that inadequate science eduction (and sometimes outright science denial) is a common link in debates about evolution and about climate change, but their move into the climate change arena originally worried me. That’s because, unlike evolution, the climate change issue also involves discussions of political action to bring about changes in industrial practices, and whether such changes make economic sense.

Then the debate morphs into political arguments about, oh, things like whether the UN should control the world’s economy. Such topics are usually terra incognita for science blogs. I was concerned that NCSE would get dragged into that stuff. But so far they’ve avoided talking about policy, and they stick with the science. Most admirable.

I’ve noticed that there’s an even closer connection between evolution deniers and Big Bang deniers (they often refer to all of it as “evolution”). That’s not surprising. Unlike climatology, both biology and astronomy clearly conflict with a literal reading of scripture.

Because of that, and also because of the perils of drifting into arguments about economics and politics, I would have preferred for NCSE to move into cosmology rather than climatology. There are no political screaming matches involving the origin of the universe. Also, I find it more fun to blog about cosmology than climatology, about which I know very little. But NCSE seems to know what they’re doing.

SensuousCurmudgeon said: I’ve noticed that there’s an even closer connection between evolution deniers and Big Bang deniers (they often refer to all of it as “evolution”). That’s not surprising. Unlike climatology, both biology and astronomy clearly conflict with a literal reading of scripture.

I think that you mean “cosmology” rather than “astronomy”, although I would argue that astronomy does clearly conflict with a literal reading of Scripture. Astronomy more so than biology or cosmology. Not only the structure of the Solar System (geocentrism vs. heliocentrism), but also the Moon being a large object, a source of light, for the night. Any problems with the Big Bang, as far as I can see, are derivatives of problems with astronomy. And there is nothing in the Bible about fixity of species. (Except, of course, for those with a highly refined ability to find whatever is pleasing to them in the Bible.)

SensuousCurmudgeon said:

I would have preferred for NCSE to move into cosmology rather than climatology. There are no political screaming matches involving the origin of the universe.

But OTOH, being wrong about the Big Bang won’t kill people.

Creationists know full well what the consequences of their GW denial are. They’ve thought it out.

KENT HOVIND: There is surprisingly little if any proof of global warming. It may be warming, I don’t know, but the evidence is really shaky. What would happen with global warming is probably the ice caps would melt raising the ocean level maybe, I don’t know, thirty feet. That’s perfect. We are in Pensacola, Florida, sixty feet above sea level. If the ocean came up thirty or forty feet we might get beach front property. I mean by the time the waves are done eroding everything away. Do you know what the value of this property would become if it was on the beach? [.…]

ASSISTANT: You know, I’ve thought of this already. But there is one big problem, floating dead bodies in your front yard.

HOVIND: You would have floating dead bodies [but] only for awhile. […] Oh yeah, I’m in favour of global warming. Go for it. Start the car, just let it idle. Burn the fuel. Heat up the ozone or whatever they are going to do to it and let’s have it. Increase the value of my property.

[Truth Radio 17 May 2006 @ 47:00; http://kent-hovind.com/quotes/ethics.htm]

SensuousCurmudgeon said:

NCSE is certainly correct in seeing that inadequate science eduction (and sometimes outright science denial) is a common link in debates about evolution and about climate change, but their move into the climate change arena originally worried me. That’s because, unlike evolution, the climate change issue also involves discussions of political action to bring about changes in industrial practices, and whether such changes make economic sense.

Then the debate morphs into political arguments about, oh, things like whether the UN should control the world’s economy. Such topics are usually terra incognita for science blogs. I was concerned that NCSE would get dragged into that stuff. But so far they’ve avoided talking about policy, and they stick with the science. Most admirable.

I’ve noticed that there’s an even closer connection between evolution deniers and Big Bang deniers (they often refer to all of it as “evolution”). That’s not surprising. Unlike climatology, both biology and astronomy clearly conflict with a literal reading of scripture.

Because of that, and also because of the perils of drifting into arguments about economics and politics, I would have preferred for NCSE to move into cosmology rather than climatology. There are no political screaming matches involving the origin of the universe. Also, I find it more fun to blog about cosmology than climatology, about which I know very little. But NCSE seems to know what they’re doing.

I must express my respectful, yet complete and total, disagreement with this comment.

The NCSE was already, and obviously, political.

It is opposed to illegal insertion of creationist science denial dogma into public school curricula.

This is a 100% political struggle. It was 100% started by the aggressive political actions of creationists. The NCSE exists because of aggressive creationist political attempts, at every level from local school board through high levels of the federal government, to insert narrow sectarian science denial into public schools, and also to use anti-science to guide public policy.

A rapid climate warming trend that is strongly associated with rapid oxidization of previously sequestered carbon by humans is an objective fact. Which policies you personally prefer is a political question, but the climate change and its association with carbon is not.

The reason why the NCSE has chosen to defend climate science is identical to the reason that it defends the theory of evolution. Because political activists - the very same political activists, in fact - are attempting to force grossly inappropriate misinformation about climate change into public school curricula.

Purely private science denial is disturbing but largely irrelevant. Political science denial is not. The NCSE, and this blog, are defensive in nature. They exist because right wing activists - in other times and places it has been authoritarian left wing activists, but here and now it is authoritarian right wing activists - right wing activists are attacking science in the political sphere.

You have to choose, and bluntly, at this point, there is only one acceptable choice. Laughing at “rubes” over cocktails at the country club and then voting for science denial policies, or quite bluntly, failing to vote against such policies is choosing science denial.

You can have whatever social or economic views you have, but if you don’t resist the politics of anti-science, you are at least passively supporting them.

Reality is reality

I’m with harold. Here’s the NCSE’s self-description:

“The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a not-for-profit, membership organization providing information and resources for schools, parents, and concerned citizens working to keep evolution and climate science in public school science education. We educate the press and public about the scientific and educational aspects of controversies surrounding the teaching of evolution and climate change, and supply needed information and advice to defend good science education at local, state, and national levels. Our 5000 members are scientists, teachers, clergy, and citizens with diverse religious and political affiliations.”

This is an irreducibly political mission statement…as it must be. You can provide all the information you like, but if you want to stay above the political fray then you WILL lose to those who are willing to fight politically. One can argue about whether the expansion to include climate science is a good idea on strategic grounds (personally I’m all for it), but the idea that it is making the mission too political is IMHO just plain wrong.

SensuousCurmudgeon said:

I was concerned that NCSE would get dragged into that stuff. But so far they’ve avoided talking about policy, and they stick with the science. Most admirable.

But that’s not true. The NCSE has made numerous statements about policy, has energetically opposed creationist attempts at legislation, and provides advice for activists on how to maximise their political impact. The raison d’être of the NCSE is to influence policy.

harold said:

The NCSE was already, and obviously, political.

It is opposed to illegal insertion of creationist science denial dogma into public school curricula.

This is a 100% political struggle.

Yes, that’s true. The issue is usually something like “Should the state teach creationism in the public schools?” Arguing about that in the legislature is definitely a political act. But it’s one narrow issue. The only “political” question is: to teach Topic X or not to teach it. For a legislator, his response is ultimately limited to “yes” or “no.” We all know how furious the debates over that single issue can be.

My worry (which seems to have been unnecessary) was that defending the science of climate change would immerse NCSE in a much wider range of political and economic issues. What issues would those be? You know – issues like “What should government do to fix the problem?” Nothing like that ever comes up in the context of evolution vs. creationism.

As for the two points raised at the final NABT Board meeting, let us analyze them in some more detail. The words “unsupervised” and “impersonal” were taken as miscommunicating the nature of science. Not really. Science is based on a fundamental assumption: that the world can be explained by referring only to natural, mechanistic forces. Johnson is quite right in affirming that this is a philosophical position. He is wrong when he suggests that it is an unreasonable and unproven one. In fact, every single experiment conducted by any laboratory in any place on Earth represents a daily test of that assumption. The day in which scientists will be unable to explain natural phenomena without referring to divine intervention or other supernatural forces, we will have a major paradigm shift - of cataclysmic proportions.

asa3.org/ASA/education/origins/openletter.htm

How post-modernist does that sound (ok, I know it’s not exactly philosophical post-modernism, more the mumbo-jumbo of people who don’t think very precisely, but think it’s profound and vaguely post-modern)? I mean, besides the contradictory nature of saying that “naturalism” is a philosophical assumption as Johnson claimed–and it can be and is tested every day. What?

I think this is a perfect illustration for the ‘why’ of Lewontin’s appeal to IDiots – he makes the same mistake they do. It certainly looks like he is conflating philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism. This may just be sloppy thinking on his part, but ID-types do their desperate best to muddy these waters – and they get caught at it, and laughed at for it, all the time.

By appealing to Lewontin as an Authority (the kind of ‘reasoning’ that IDiots are most comfortable with) they can smuggle in the crummy conflation without explicitly doing it themselves. The potential for them to then engage in sleazy and dishonest weaseling is obvious.

SensuousCurmudgeon said:

harold said:

The NCSE was already, and obviously, political.

It is opposed to illegal insertion of creationist science denial dogma into public school curricula.

This is a 100% political struggle.

Yes, that’s true. The issue is usually something like “Should the state teach creationism in the public schools?” Arguing about that in the legislature is definitely a political act. But it’s one narrow issue. The only “political” question is: to teach Topic X or not to teach it. For a legislator, his response is ultimately limited to “yes” or “no.” We all know how furious the debates over that single issue can be.

My worry (which seems to have been unnecessary) was that defending the science of climate change would immerse NCSE in a much wider range of political and economic issues. What issues would those be? You know – issues like “What should government do to fix the problem?” Nothing like that ever comes up in the context of evolution vs. creationism.

Well, I somewhat disagree. The NCSE definitely advocates the comprehensive coverage of evolution in public schools, whereas anti-evolutionists would prefer none of that and sometimes successfully pressure individual teachers into keeping quiet about it. But we all agree that public education without evolution is crippled, ineffective, and legally and ethically unsound. The NCSE definitely advocates for the enforcement of government policies in this area. Teaching evolution in public schools is obvious and necessary. It needs to happen, and the NCSE has been great about making sure that it does despite the evolution denialists’ efforts to the contrary

As far as climate action goes, there is a similar obvious and equally necessary policy change that needs to happen. Just like teaching evolution in schools is utterly indispensable, so is a policy that puts a higher price on carbon emissions. The costs of carbon fuels are not reflected in their market price; the “negative externalities” consist of things like pollution, global warming, and human and animal health impacts from non-carbon emissions that go out the same smoke stack. These are unavoidable costs which are not factored into the price of coal or oil for either industrial consumers or end-users, but nevertheless must be paid by all in real money, lost productivity, decreased health, and ecological damage among other things.

The only way to deal with these externalities is to begin pricing carbon to reflect its true cost. Just as you can’t address ignorance of evolution without teaching it in public schools, you can’t meaningfully address climate change without this step.

There are several ways to achieve this, most of them requiring direct government intervention. A cap-and-trade scheme like the one used to address acid rain can work, if done right. A direct carbon tax is simpler to implement but has the same effect. The major difference between those schemes is where they place the burden of certainty; cap-and-trade is more of a gamble for individual businesses while the government knows about how much money it’s going to make, whereas a carbon tax lets businesses know ahead of time how much they’re going to pay but decreases certainty on the government side of things. A fee-and-dividend system has been proposed whereby polluters are taxed a known, increasing amount per ton of Co2 emitted and the revenue is disbursed directly back to the public (such a scheme is revenue-neutral for the government and can more than make up for the increased cost of fuels/energy for low income citizens).

A tragic downside of the partisan divide on the issue, with Republicans owning the majority of denialism, is that there’s been a dearth of non-governmental solutions proposed and explored. This has left the field of possible solutions open mostly to those who aren’t so reticent (or allergic) to using the government to solve these problems. This, in turn, seems to have exacerbated the issue by making all possible solutions vulnerable to attack as schemes for “big government expansion” or “hippy liberal fascism” and all the other hysterics designed to make people resent moderates and the Left.

The NCSE doesn’t have to back any particular solution to carbon pricing, but it would need to back carbon pricing as surely as it backs evolution in public education. One area where they might be able to make headway is in convincing the reticent elements of the Right to start thinking about ways to deal with climate change that might avoid the necessity of involving the government in carbon pricing. Take away the boogie-man of “big government” and suddenly the idea of dealing with climate change becomes much more palatable. This would be similar to the NCSE’s efforts to bring in reasonable religious leaders that endorse the teaching of evolution and can put it in a context that religious people can find more agreeable. There are ways to tackle this political issue without falling into the trap of partisan politics.

When comparing denial of climate change with denial of biological evolution, it’s useful to note that the Bible is not nearly such a big obstacle to acceptance of the science. Creationists like Ken Ham claim that Genesis 1-3 necessarily contradicts evolution. He’s wrong. But a sizable portion of the American public agrees with him. The most that James Inhofe and Rick Santorum can do is to float a couple of bogus biblical interpretations about the fixity of climate in Genesis 8:22, and claim that the planet earth is for our benefit. They don’t have a generation of fundamentalist tradition to draw upon.

Yes, it’s bizarre to hear a U.S. Senator refute their statements about what the Bible says. But somebody has to do it. The scientific research labs are not in the business of biblical interpretation, so it has to be the mainstream churches and religious scientists. And others: I note with appreciation that a number of people at Panda’s Thumb have identified themselves as not religious, but have a good handle on how to read the Bible and understand what it says and does not say. Fortunately those refutations require only a blog post, not an entire book.

Science journalist Chris Mooney says that climate change (denial) is no longer an education issue - it has passed beyond that. I think harold has diagnosed the problem correctly: climate change denial is not an issue of biblical interpretation, nor a religious issue. The denial of AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) comes from taking the entire platter of Fox News/Tea Party/Limbaugh positions en masse.

At my research laboratory we wonder if scientists should be content with publishing peer-reviewed scientific papers, or should we move into advocacy? I saw the difference vividly when I heard a very professional and respected scientist lose her usual cool at a meeting and sputter with disgust how ridiculous it was to even consider some of the geoengineering schemes being proposed for mitigation of CO2 increase! The National Center for Science Education has decided that they must go beyond their title and address the political issues as well. I agree with that decision.

Glen wrote

I mean, besides the contradictory nature of saying that “naturalism” is a philosophical assumption as Johnson claimed–and it can be and is tested every day. What?

To expand on that a bit: I see no (necessary) contradiction there. If philosophical assumptions have implications for our conceptions of how the world works, they are surely testable against the veracity of those conceptions. We can assess their logical coherence, their fruitfulness in leading to new knowledge, and their consistency with what we already have good grounds for believing. If philosophical assumptions about the nature of reliable knowledge and how we justify our knowledge claims are not testable in at least those ways they’re just so much noise, serving only to keep philosophers and IDists occupied with irrelevant verbiage.

And on the religious basis of climate change denial, I was surprised to watch this video in which a sitting U.S. Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, reported that one of his colleagues, in a private caucus, claimed that “God won’t allow us to ruin our planet.” Whitehouse quite correctly characterized that as “magical thinking,” a dominant characteristic of religious belief.

Richard B. Hoppe said:

Glen wrote

I mean, besides the contradictory nature of saying that “naturalism” is a philosophical assumption as Johnson claimed–and it can be and is tested every day. What?

To expand on that a bit: I see no (necessary) contradiction there.

Well you could consider it in context, rather than writing as if the view of Johnson that was referenced by Lewontin et al. wasn’t actually opposing the empiric to the philosophic, treating the latter as if it were prior to empiricism.

If philosophical assumptions have implications for our conceptions of how the world works, they are surely testable against the veracity of those conceptions.

Clearly the philosophic must actually refer to the empiric in some manner or it is pretty useless. The issue is how Johnson uses the term to disparage evolution, while they’re agreeing with him regarding “naturalism.” Johnson writes:

The scientific leadership cannot afford to disclose that commitment frankly to the public. Imagine what chance the affirmative side would have if the question for public debate were rephrased candidly as “RESOLVED, that everyone should adopt an a priori commitment to materialism.” Everyone would see what many now sense dimly: that a methodological premise useful for limited purposes has been expanded to form a metaphysical absolute. Of course people who define science as the search for materialistic explanations will find it useful to assume that such explanations always exist. To suppose that a philosophical preference can validate a cherished scientific theory is to define “science” as a way of supporting prejudice. Yet that is exactly what the Darwinists seem to be doing, when their evidence is evaluated by critics who are willing to question materialism.

[Bolding added]

The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism Phillip E. Johnson Copyright (c) 1997 First Things 77 (November 1997): 22-25.

Of course Lewontin et al. do add that it’s tested, but then that simply doesn’t agree with how Johnson is actually using the term “philosophical.” What is more, Lewontin’s remarks that IDiots bring up about the nature of “materialism” as being a priori do not include the contradictory claim about testability–he brings in matters that he presumably considers to be philosophical.

We can assess their logical coherence, their fruitfulness in leading to new knowledge, and their consistency with what we already have good grounds for believing.

Yes, obviously. But the fact is that since “natural philosophy” turned into science and philosophy became less empiric it has generally not included simple empiric observations that unseen forces acting irregularly intervene in this world (even though this can’t be fully ruled out as the rare occurrence). That is to say, while Johnson’s use of “philosophical” is important in actual context, it is also fairly close to typical usage.

If philosophical assumptions about the nature of reliable knowledge and how we justify our knowledge claims are not testable in at least those ways they’re just so much noise, serving only to keep philosophers and IDists occupied with irrelevant verbiage.

That matters neither to the specific context nor to how empiric matters are generally considered. There can be no legitimate philosophic a priori that unseen forces do not act quixotically in the world, at least from our standpoint, and it is science that actually investigates this, not the discipline of philosophy. Since that was what I was discussing, it is hardly to the point to discuss a whole lot of other things as if they were relevant to the discussion–or to pretend that I was denying any of what you wrote. I wasn’t, and you should very well recognize that to be the case.

Glen Davidson

I’d note that just about any issue can be transformed into a religious issue. People have a nearly limitless ability to find support for their cherished beliefs in their religious tradition, whether that’s a written text like the Bible or an oral tradition or a result of thinking things over.

TomS said:

I’d note that just about any issue can be transformed into a religious issue. People have a nearly limitless ability to find support for their cherished beliefs in their religious tradition, whether that’s a written text like the Bible or an oral tradition or a result of thinking things over.

Yet I can’t seem to get an answer to my question of which assault rifle Jesus would buy. I think they’re keeping it secret. They don’t want a guy like me to have the right (righteous) one.

James Schwartz in Lingua Franca:

Marxists don’t want there to be an innate human nature, particularly not one that smacks of selfishness, greed, and aggression. They always say that a person’s science can’t be divorced from his politics, but they never apply this argument to themselves.”

In the case of Lewontin, at any rate, this charge is often made. “There’s almost no scientific subject on which he’s positive,” says Bill Hamilton. “I can’t understand how such a good mind can be so negative about science per se. The politics always comes first. He doesn’t admit it, but that’s the case.”

Further along:

Even if God were to descend on Cambridge and part the waters of the Charles River at Lewontin’s feet, it would still be unthinkable to imagine the skeptical biologist embracing religion.

http://www.arn.org/docs2/news/ohmydarwin1199.htm

Yes, the link is to ARN, but for once it’s not some IDiot rot.

Glen Davidson

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on May 28, 2013 2:59 PM.

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