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Peter Kirk

all climatologists know that human activity is only one factor among many affecting climate variation, and by no means the most important one

You can believe that "human activity is ... by no means the most important one" if you like, John, but the evidence is in fact that the large number, probably a majority, of climatologists do not believe this. Get your facts straight if you want anyone to take your rant seriously.

JohnFH

It's you, Peter, that do not have your facts straight. Clearly you have not studied the question in any depth.

If you had, you would know that variations in orbital forcing, solar activity, and volcanic activity are now understood to be key determining factors. You would also know that among greenhouse gases, variation in the quantity of water vapor, not carbon dioxide or methane, is the more important determinant. Furthermore, you would know that climatology's understanding of the various feedback loops in the process is in its infancy, and that predictions about what the future holds, with or without a change in anthropogenic carbon dioxide production, fluctuate wildly from one scientific journal article to the next. You would also know that if you plot the rise in temperature over the last 150 years against the rise in anthropogenic greenhouse gas production, there is no strict correlation.

Despite the bandwagon effect and the cultural climate that skews the results in no small measure, climatologists, if you read the fine print, tend to be reserved and cautious on the issues.

You are being credulous, Peter.

Peter Kirk

No, John. I admit to not reading the fine print, and I accept that there are many significant factors. But your claim concerning "all climatologists" and "by no means the most important one" are absurd in the light of the published IPCC reports. Here is a fairly random quote from the latest one, page 5:

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations. It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent (except Antarctica)

As I said before, you can disagree with the climatologists who wrote this if you like, but you cannot deny that there are at least some, very likely many, climatologists who do believe and write things like "Most of the observed increase ... very likely" concerning anthropogenic warming.

JohnFH

Just remember, Peter, that the opinions expressed in the IPCC reports are the result of an alchemy of research viewpoints of scientists whose funding would be dry up if the hype around climate change was punctured, to which was added the political correctness of said scientists, plus that of collaborating government bureaucrats.

The operative words "very likely" and "likely" should not be taken too seriously, as you will discover if you speak with actual climatologists, or read widely in the scientific literature.

Alan Lenzi

I don't even know where to begin, John. This post is religion at its very worst.

JohnFH

Alan, I'm always interested in your point of view, so try me. I assume the main problem for you is that non-rational or non-verifiable dot-connecting, in your book, should be avoided at all costs.

I'm very tempted to take that position myself. But I've come to allow it, though not in scientific research, which is why, insofar as climatologists are right, based on fresh studies, that we are now entering a cooling phase due to non-anthropogenic causes that may last for years or decades, the previous view that climate change in the last 150 years is basically a product of human activity turns out to be an unsupported meta-narrative. End of story.

I accept of course that as a non-theist you will regard the possibility that a cyclone in its land might "say" something about the Myanmar government as pure nonsense, and that my choice to suspend judgment on the question but regard the people's reported reaction to the cyclone as a healthy one to be misguided.

Here's a somewhat different kind of example I struggled with at the time. It is different because the possibility that that the non-rational dot connecting has a basis in a "metaphysic" will seem to theists, and not just to non-theists, next to nil.

I once was asked by a relative to visit a man who was dying of cancer in the hospital. He was undergoing all kinds of experimental treatment, the effects of which were still unclear, but he felt that he was going, and he wanted to talk about the shape of his life with a pastor.

He was a truckdriver, not exactly a churchgoer, but he had his own beliefs. What he told me is that he had had an affair for years while on the road, that he had betrayed his wife miserably, whom he nevertheless loved, and that he felt he got cancer and was going to die because of it. The felt connection had a self-authenticating quality about it to him. In short, he saw his whole life in the light of his terrible failing. His need to repent and come clean with someone was agonizing, and tearing him apart.

So what was I supposed to do as a pastor in that situation? I realize the question doesn't really regard you, but still. This is what I did. Since I judged his need to repent and come clean to be a healthy need, I tried to lay the groundwork for that to happen. But I did not challenge his dot-connecting confrontationally. I may have alluded to Job or what not, about how suffering and sin are not necessarily connected, but I don't think I did, so as not to confuse him.

One way to describe what goes on in situations like this, which are far more common, I think, that we would like to imagine, even in the realm of science, is in terms of the use of "triage" among conflicting truth-claims. That is, a less important truth is sacrificed for the sake of preserving a more important truth.

The example I give may strike you as absurd in any case, but perhaps you will understand the concept of sacrificing a less important truth for the sake of a more important one.

I know: unlike nurses, we are not trained to do triage as scientific researchers. But think about what actually happens, and then tell me if you think it's possible not to.

Peter Kirk

"scientists whose funding would be dry up if ... the political correctness of said scientists"

So you now admit that there are scientists who are saying these things? Would you then be prepared to qualify "all climatologists" with "who are not dependent on outside funding and are not politically correct"? The amended version would of course still be highly tendentious, but at least it would not be a demonstrable falsehood.

JohnFH

I concede that I could have worded things better, but as you yourself demonstrated, Peter, scientists say these things, but only with important qualifications. And, when you turn to the scientific journals, it quickly becomes clear the reports of which you speak paper over all kinds of unresolved controversies for the sake of making a point of a different kind, on the policy level.

You are welcome to stick to the party line on this issue. Maybe I'm too biased by past experience. The climatologist I looked up to as a kid was predicting, based on some evidence in that sense, global cooling. TIME magazine ran scary headlines then, too. Some people say, it's different this time. But I see no clear evidence that this is so.

Alan Lenzi

There's a lot I'd like to say, but simply shouldn't take the time. So here's what I have:

Lots of people anthropomorphize the weather, a cold, an affair, etc. and attribute communicative or penal power to these things. In fact, I just finished a book that demonstrates how pervasive animism and anthropomorphizing is among humans (in literature, visual arts, science, philosophy, and religion). Anthropomorphizing is a very useful perceptual strategy that has given us an adaptive advantage in a rather harsh world. It's natural for us, in many respects, to attribute a random or otherwise explainable event to the intention of an unseen human-like agent because that is precisely how our brains are wired to survive everyday life (whether we're talking about the savanna or the street). It's a better bet to go with the worst case scenario and flee than to stick around and get killed. Most of the time, anthropomorphizing is mistaken. (The author I read believes this is the case with religion.) But just because it is natural doesn't mean we should allow it to rule us in every respect. And just because it is evolutionarily advantageous by and large doesn't mean that EVERYthing it produces continues to be useful for humans.

Your idea of "taking stock" when natural disaster or sickness strikes is an example of imbuing a random event with too much meaning. And in this case, I'd say doing this can be very unhealthy, leading to psychological (for individuals) and larger cultural (for social groups) issues. What if everyone in Myanmar decided the terrible events that have taken place are due to Christians?

You can say what you want about how healthy you think divination is (trying to figure out why bad stuff happens by looking at the weather, corpse counts, or your internal body temperature), but I think it is important for humans to work to get beyond such bad ideas.

By the way, yes, this is a reductionistic view of the origins of religion. It focuses on cognitive aspects. Methodological reductionism is unavoidable. It is also ontologically reductionistic because the author believes he has explained the origins of religion in naturalistic terms. Many believers will not agree. Like biological evolution, they will figure out a way to fit this into their "god of the gaps".

By the way, your turning to talk about the climate half way through the original post is baffling. Whatever one's position on that issue, it is not the same as what you describe in the first half AT ALL. Very odd alignment there.

JohnFH

Thanks, Alan for taking the time to comment and for the link. It sounds like a book worth reading.

I agree with so many of the things you say, I don't know where to start.

You are of course right that religion is often an expression of un-health, but then, so is anti-religion. In many people, a pre-existing condition of un-health is simply made worse by whatever ideology they choose to live by, religious, anti-religious, or otherwise. Once this phenomenon is set to one side, it is not clear at all that religion is basically unhealthy. Indeed, there is somewhat of a consensus among sociologists of religion that religion is a net positive. I'm not saying that settles the question, but it does keep it open.

I should say that the last point, the one about global warming and green schemes of dealing with it as differing little in principle from fear-propitiation schemes found throughout human culture, is a point others made long ago more generally.

In the 1982 book “Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technical and Environmental Dangers,” Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky argue that environmentalists’ complaints reflected an antipathy toward dominant social hierarchies. The authors compare environmentalists to religious cults and superstitious groups of the past.

The great anthropologist's book did not earn her many friends, but that doesn't mean she wasn't right.

Alan Lenzi

I didn't say religion is completely unhealthy. There's data to suggest that religion may actually promote health. I said that the kind of divination that you are talking about--trying to understand the mind of god about what/who is to blame for disaster, illness, guilt-feelings, etc.--is unhealthy and should be discouraged, even among believers. That's the point. (I'm not a rapid atheist unable to nuance a position.)

As for the climate stuff and Mary Douglas: Douglas may be right. But the way you introduced the subject in the post made it hard to see the connection between "acts of god" and an ideological political view that blames people. I think I'm seeing the connection now a little better since I've shifted my reading strategy from "acts of god vs. human politics" to the more general "finding a way to explain what is out of one's control". But I still think you're doling out apples and then oranges. The environmentalists can be confronted with data and eventually all but the most die-hard could be convinced (if in fact there is no human-induced global warming--an issue on which I am not taking a stand here). With "acts of god" there simply is no data at all except subjective feelings/thoughts. Everything can be explained more or less naturally, but a believer will continue to insist there is more to it than what meets the eye (because physicians and weather forecasters are too reductionistic in their approach to health / meteorology). Interpreting the "acts of god" are much more dangerous and unhealthy, in my opinion, because there are no (relatively-speaking) objective (i.e., publicly available) controls.

JohnFH

Thanks, Alan, for taking another whack at understanding what I am trying to get at. I'm thinking out loud, of course. The interaction is very helpful.

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