Posts Tagged 'religion'

If you don’t recycle, you are kind of a jerk

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Recently, I was drawn into an argument (of sorts) at work, on the nature of climate change. My interlocutor insisted that he did not recycle because:

a) the whole climate change thing is not man made but a big conspiracy by scientists who are making money from supporting the claims and would be out of work if they didn’t


b) the zealotry of environmentalists is akin to that of fundamentalist religion, in that anyone who doesn’t agree is ostracized and condemned.

This individual, who, according to a recent poll, is one of about half the population of the UK who holds such an opinion, was brought to this point of view by Nigel Lawson (whose book on the subject is favourably reviewed here and by a climatologist here), not, unsurprisingly, a scientist, but a conservative politician.

To address point a), here is a thorough list of the arguments against climate change and the appropriate scientific proof refuting them.

I want to skip quickly past that point, since I think it’s been handled adequately elsewhere. It boils down to a refusal to understand the scientific method, the water cycle, and the carbon cycle.

Moreover, the idea that there is some evil consortium of mustache-twisting scientists bent on filling the world with windmills, rather than a varied group of climatologists, oceanographers, entomologists, meteorologists, geologists, biologists, microbiologists, astronauts, rocket scientists, ecologists, and other ‘ists’ and ‘auts’, who spent several years in school learning about how science works, stumbling across information in their research which all points to the same conclusion, is as absurd as thinking that the whole ‘world is round’ thing was a conspiracy of cartographers and sailors bent on making millions with new and more complicated maps rather than a discovery of something already extant.

Which brings me to his point b. While at first blush one can see the same kind of passion in really enthusiastic environmentalists as one sees in evangelical Christians or Mormons – people who desperately try to convert you because they really, honestly think that you will suffer endless torment if they don’t – a little more attention uncovers the problem with the comparison, which is the same problem that religious people come across when railing against atheists:

Religion is based on faith. Science is based on observation, tests, and adequate repetition proving causation. Religion is about convincing yourself, science is about letting the data convince you.

People who accept (rather than ‘believe’) climate change is man made and harmful react negatively towards those who don’t not because of some religious fervor, but because the deniers’ behavior (voting, not recycling, driving SUVs) affects them.

Deniers aren’t skeptics, looking askance at meager and poorly conveyed dogma, they are jerks who don’t want the hassle of changing their behavior, or people who don’t like or ‘believe in’ science.

But the thing with science is, you don’t have to believe in it, it’s there whether you like it or not. No matter how confusing math might be to any given person, 2 + 2 = 4. The world is round even if you’re not high enough up to see.

The Fight Over Darwin Continues

From The Telegraph – Richard Dawkins unleashes a bit more bile towards those proponents of relativity (in the non-Einstein-ian sense), in a review of “Why Evolution is True”

“A scientist arrogantly asserts that thunder is not the triumphal sound of God’s balls banging together, nor is it Thor’s hammer. It is, instead, the reverberating echoes from the electrical discharges that we see as lightning. Poetic (or at least stirring) as those tribal myths may be, they are not actually true. “

From a philosophical standpoint, nothing can be known, beyond doubt, to be objectively true, because our senses can be fooled, our minds can be leaky vessels, etc. Descartes gave us “je pense donc je suis” as a starting point for, generally speaking, trusting that the information we receive is largely true and real. What matters is that we can get through the world using this information. Even if it is all illusion, or if everything actually happens/happened/will happen simultaneously and time and choice are merely a function of our brains bursting through the event, we have no other way to go. We have to move forward through time because we can’t perceive how to go backward. Science is an ongoing practice to see just how far we can trust it.

What’s neat is that current scientific exploration has found that once we get to the incredibly big, or the incredibly small, physics (that is, the rules that seem to work according to our senses) fall apart. At the nano level, boundaries cease to properly exist, and we find that vast expanses of the universe are filled with stuff we can’t actually perceive. Which is to say, science has found where limits lie, and we’ve started to try and figure out what rules apply, what tools we can use to turn what we can’t perceive into something we can.

Of course, Dawkins is still easily infuriated because a selection of polls tell him that most people don’t seem to really ‘get’ science, that creationism/intelligent design is something that people actually want to teach children, as opposed to actual evolution (to the point that there are anecdotes of evolution-fearing children screaming in the classroom).

Most people then, too, must have a bizarre sense of human history. I have a hard time remembering the relationships between eras and ages, and wouldn’t be able to say for sure what was happening about 10,000 years ago, but to estimate that as the beginning of human history, (which is, I think, technically closer to 200,000 years ago, with our genus being about 2.5 million years old) seems like pretty bad math.

To be whipped into a righteous and indignant fury over determined ignorance is entirely understandable, I do it myself all the time, and to publish books (libraries of them) in refutation is clearly important, but I do wonder at it’s effectiveness. Given our collective intelligence and vast resources, to defend ignorance with religious fervor simply to maintain a literal interpretation of a myth should be downright embarrassing. And yet some people simply turn away from evidence, convincing themselves that they pass some sort of test of faith when they refuse to believe what’s right in front of them. How would yet more convincing change their minds?

While the scientifically minded (not always irreligious or liberal) don’t want to offend (not always, anyway), they certainly don’t want to be so passive that their children start thinking that there are equally compelling arguments for evolution and creationism. Really, the only sure way of success is for there to be an evolutionary advantage to believing the senses over what religious people or books tell you. But is there? The more highly educated one is (and therefore less likely to be literally religious, if of any faith at all), one is less likely to reproduce in large numbers. Are the offspring more successful? Well, if they don’t blow themselves up or go into a convent or monastery, they will likely be Catholically reproductive, too.

And then?