Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Seeing Jesus as a revolutionary heretic

The Royal Chapel of King Henry II at Dover Castle in Kent

The Royal Chapel of King Henry II at Dover Castle in Kent

Although it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Environment, I would like to mark the Jewish festival of the Passover – and the Christian celebration of Easter – by inviting all readers to pause for a moment of reflection: To take a moment to consider the story of the Last Supper (i.e. Jesus sharing the Passover meal with his followers the night before he was arrested) from the perspective of those who were actually there.

To do this, it is necessary to understand the religious beliefs and practices of Jewish people 2000 years ago. Therefore, if you will bear with me for a few moments, that is exactly what I will now do – with reference to one particular chapter of one book within the Old Testament (OT).

The Pentateuch is the Latin word used to describe the first five books of the OT (i.e. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy). However, scholars like to make things complicated and – therefore – divide these 5 books into 6 parts, as follows:
(1) Pre-history [Genesis Ch.1-11],
(2) The Patriarchs [Genesis Ch.12-50],
(3) The Exodus [Exodus Ch.1-18],
(4) The Law and the Tabernacle [Exodus Ch.19 – Numbers Ch.9],
(5) The Wilderness [Numbers Ch.10-36],
(6) The Speeches of Moses [Deuteronomy].

Leviticus lies wholly within part (4). It is, however, a great deal more than just a book full of Laws: It also forms the basis of much Jewish and Islamic teaching; provides a context to understand the rest of the Bible; and highlights the radical way in which Jesus fulfilled a great deal of OT prophecy. Chapter 17 of Leviticus is possibly one of the most challenging aspects of the latter because, in it, God is reported to have said:

I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar… (Leviticus 17: 10-11)

This command, not to eat blood (deliberately or otherwise), must be seen in the context of contemporaneous pagan practices – and those discovered since (e.g. cannibalism) – all of which were based on the belief that drinking the blood of sacrifices empowered those who did it.

Non-Christian theologians often say that Jesus hijacked the Passover. But, in fact, he seems to have done a great deal more than that: There are four accounts of the Last Supper in the New Testament, and all four of them describe Jesus identifying his blood with that of a sacrifice; and/or commanding his followers to drink the wine as if it were his blood (which they clearly did). Jesus therefore identified himself with the Lamb of the Passover, but he also identified himself with another important date in the Jewish calendar – The Day of Atonement – as described in Leviticus chapter 16.

This involved the selection of two goats: the first of which was sacrificed as an atonement for sin; whilst the second was sent away into the desert having had the sins of all the people ceremoniously transferred onto it (i.e. ‘the scapegoat’) by the High Priest.

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” However, in fulfilling it, Jesus appears to have rendered its continued observance unnecessary. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews perhaps puts this best: “But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10: 3-4).

As it happens, both Jews and Muslims seem to have realised this some time ago – as neither routinely make ritual sacrifices anymore! However, both still observe the practice of not drinking the blood of animals. Leviticus 17 is also the basis of the opposition of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) to having blood transfusions.

From its very earliest days, therefore, the practice of those that came to be known as ‘Christians’ to meet to re-enact the Last Supper was the main reason for Jewish opposition. It is also one of the reasons why, even today, Christianity is seen as heresy by Jews, Muslims, JWs, and many others.

If I have not already upset you enough by this very politically-incorrect post, there is one other way in which I think the existence of Leviticus 17 should inform our attitude to the central message of Christianity: I have a scientific background and, as such, I know – and have known – many people who invoke the ‘Christianity is a myth’ reason for not considering the message more carefully. According to such people, Christianity was invented by the followers of Jesus after his death or – even more outrageously – by St Paul (who was an expert in Jewish Law).

One of the main reasons this argument has become so popular today is that it is now widely understood that St Paul was the first to actually write down the story of the Last Supper. However, there is absolutely no reason why any self-respecting Jew – let alone St Paul – would make up a story like that of the Last Supper because it directly contradicts chapter 17 of Leviticus. Similarly, they would not have made up the story of the Crucifixion because they believed the long-awaited Messiah would lead them to a great victory over their Roman oppressors. In short, if you were a Jew, ‘You could not make this stuff up!’

I shall leave the final word (almost) to one of the greatest Christian philosophers of the last century, C. S. Lewis:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. (C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity)

Happy Easter to one and all. (Normal service will be resumed shortly)

Written by Martin Lack

17 April 2014 at 00:02

The imprudence of being earnestly Oakwood

with 19 comments

As for the flat Earth, the debate is over.

I concluded yesterday’s post, entitled ‘The importance of being earnestly wrong’, by quoting a wonderfully circular argument from Oakwood.  This was the assertion that “…you cannot show any one of these [opinions] to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’…”   In reality, the scientific consensus regarding climate science is no more the subject of legitimate debate than the consensus views that: the Universe and the Earth were not created in six days little more than 6000 years ago; the Sun does not orbit the Earth; humans did not co-exist with dinosaurs; and the Earth is not flat.

There are therefore some things about which we humans are no longer wrong (with the exception of those whose approach to science is prejudiced by their ideology or theology).

Yesterday’s post also contained a TED video of a March 2011 talk, entitled ‘On Being Wrong’, given by Kathryn Schulz.  This is so good – and so fundamental to appreciating the predicament that Oakwood is in – that I have embedded it here once again.

Schulz warns against automatically assuming that people with opposing views are either ignorant of all the relevant facts, intellectually incapable of processing the information, or deliberately stating things they know to be false.  However, she also makes the fundamental point that most people don’t know they are wrong – they are just as convinced that they are not wrong as those who are actually right.  This makes it critically important that everyone be willing to accept that they may be wrong.  I have done this a lot; and I still do it regularly.  However, with regard to climate science, I repeatedly find myself coming back to the logical proposition that:

Doubting the science can only be justified by asserting that the consensus is unreal, unreliable or unreasonable.  This does not require all scientists to be liars; but it does require the vast majority of genuine experts to be either stupid, mistaken or mendacious.

Not only would such (implausible, improbable, or insidious) things be without precedent (and require an awful lot of people to be wrong or corrupt), there is also a clear precedent – in the tobacco industry – for the business-funded disputation of highly inconvenient science (which only required a few people to be corrupt in order to fool an awful lot of people).

So, then, because I think it highly instructive – and since it is impossible to breach the confidentiality of someone who chooses to remain anonymous – Oakwood’s email to me is reproduced below (entirely without permission) with rebuttals included in bold text:

“You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.”  Yes, that applies to everyone.  Here are a few facts:

IPCC models did not predict the current temperature pause.  If the IPCC has [now] said ‘because of what we know about the ocean’s massive heat capacity compared to the atmosphere, and the potential for aerosols from growing economies such as India and China, a 15 to 20 year pause is possible’. Of course, they didn’t say that [before], and only come up with the theory after the event.  The IPCC do not do the modelling; they merely synthesise the results and summarise the implications.  This is therefore statement of belief in either widespread scientific incompetence or political conspiracy.  Furthermore, since (1) ice continues to melt (at sea and on land); (2) sea level continues to rise; and (3) ocean pH continues to decline, warming has clearly not stopped.  See also ‘How reliable are climate models’ and ‘Global Warming Has Stopped’ on SkepticalScience (SkS).  

Proxy temperature data studies cannot reproduce instrumental data for recent decades – when temperatures are at their highest. Therefore, we cannot rely on them to say anything about previous ‘high temperature’ episodes, such as the MWP.  This is a complicated issue but this argument has been comprehensively and repeatedly discredited.  For example, see ‘Response by Marcott et al’ on Real Climate (with links to other sources of info).  As for the MWP, see ‘How does the Medieval Warm Period compare to current global temperatures?’ on SkS.

While so much is made of the Arctic’s ‘record’ low, little is said about the Antarctic’s ‘record’ high, except ‘well that’s different’.  Antarctica is geographically isolated and affected by the hole in the ozone layer but, despite this, the West Antarctic and the Antarctic Peninsula are warming as fast as the Arctic.  See also ‘Antarctica is gaining ice’ on SkS.

The IPCC finds NO convincing link between extreme weather events (floods, drought, hurricanes) and global warming. Their best is ‘medium confidence’ (for heavy precipitation). (More warm days and fewer cold days is not ‘extreme weather’, but simply a logical outcome of the fact temperatures rose over the 20th C). The IPCC has been repeatedly shown to understate all kinds of risk.  Historical analysis of weather in the Northern Hemisphere has shown that extreme weather is becoming more frequent.  Multi-decadal change like this cannot be explained without reference to human activity.

IPCC and climate scientists have no idea when the pause will come to an end. Their ‘accurate’ models cannot tell them. This does not matter.  Arguing that warming has stopped requires falsification of the evidence that increased atmospheric CO2 is the dominant factor.  See ‘It’s not us’ on SkS.

The 97% consensus includes most AGW-sceptics, including me. That is: CO2 is a greenhouse gas; its concentration has increased over the 20th C; it has very likely made some contribution to warming.   This myth has been repeatedly debunked.  This piece on the RealSceptic blog is the best source of information I have yet seen on how and why this argument is entirely bogus.

There is general agreement amongst climate scientists that a doubling of CO2 on its own will create about a 1dgC rise.  CO2 is not acting alone and it is the totality of change that is causing problems.  Apart from that facet of reality, this is a very misleading argument, as explained by Michael Mann himself on the LiveScience blog

Anything more relies on the belief/assumption that positive feedbacks will significantly outweigh negative feedbacks. Ongoing change despite a pause in surface warming implies warming effects are outweighing cooling effects.

But, we’ve had all these discussions before. But you cannot show any one of these facts to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’ and making nonsensical statements about ‘believing all scientists to be liars’. No, Martin, the practice of science is not about saying: ‘If you disagree with me, you’re calling me a liar’. I have not called Oakwood a liar but, I must admit, he/she does seem to be remarkably incapable of accepting that he may be wrong.

It’s about proper open debate.  The fact that the vast majority of ‘sceptics’ are libertarians and/or free-market ideologues proves that the ongoing ‘debate’ is driven by policy implications not any residual uncertainty regarding science. See this excellent essay by Stephan Lewandowsky on The Conversation blog.

While still a minority, there are plenty of climate scientists and experts who do not believe AGW is a major threat.  For this to be valid the pool of “climate scientists and experts” would have to be broadened to include all kinds of scientists whose expertise is not relevant.  Since we do not generally allow this when discussing evolution or cosmology, why should we do it for climate science? 

Of course the answer to that final question is that, as with evolution and cosmology, some people are ideologically opposed to accepting the nature of reality.

Are we all Britain haters now?

with 10 comments

Here in the UK, the Daily Mail has got itself a lot of publicity for printing an article last Saturday entitled “Man Who Hated Britain”.  The article was about the late father of Ed Milliband, who is the current leader of the Labour Party (and could therefore be our next Prime Minister).  For the avoidance of any doubt, I must declare that I think such an eventuality would be a disaster for Britain.  However, I digress…

Basically, the Daily Mail’s argument is that, if for no other reason than that he died in 1994, many people may not realise that Ralph Miliband was a passionate believer in the political philosophy of a certain Karl Marx (oh and, yes, he was Jewish as well).  Choosing to ignore the fact Milliband senior joined the Royal Navy and settled down to married life here after the War, the Daily Mail based its entire article on something he wrote in his diary when he arrived here as a refugee from the Nazis (at the tender age of 17).

Despite asking for and being given a right to reply, Ed Milliband has had to put up with the Daily Mail refusing to apologise and – indeed repeating its criticism of his father.  In essence, therefore, the Daily Mail’s position is that you cannot love Britain if you are a Socialist.  However, this is nothing new; this has always been the position of the Daily Mail – they have just never found such a blunt way to say it before.  The Independent newspaper has helpfully summarised the whole story in this article yesterday.

Unfortunately for the Daily Mail, this is an easily falsifiable argument; especially when you consider that the newspaper routinely uses xenophobic headlines to attract readers:  It does not matter whether the subject is radical Islamic preachers, environmental protestors, or climate scientists – according to the Daily Mail they all hate Britain.

With regard to radical Islamic preachers in Britain, I agree it does seem somewhat hypocritical to criticise the country in which you have chosen to live.  However, to be entirely fair, they have chosen to work here; and they are living here in the hope that they can turn the UK into an Islamic state.  Does this mean that they ‘hate’ Britain?  No it does not; it just means they don’t like it the way it is.

Exactly the same logic applies to environmental campaigners and climate scientists.  To label them as anti-British (anti-Western or anti-progress) is grossly unfair.  They are not anti-British – they just believe Britain would be better if it was not at war with Nature.

So what is the Daily Mail up to?  I think it is essentially peddling xenophobia.  This may well have originated as an evolutionary survival mechanism.  However, today, in the absence of any predators, xenophobic tribalism is essentially a maladaptive coping strategy:  It is a method of absolving oneself of responsibility for anything; and shifting the blame for everything on to somebody else.

This is essentially what climate change denial is:  Many of those of a religious persuasion tell themselves humans cannot be changing the Earth’s climate (because God won’t allow that to happen).  Many of those of a humanist persuasion tell themselves that we are not changing the Earth’s climate (because that would require us all to admit we have made a mess of things).

Seen in this light, we would all appear to be planet haters now.  If we can admit this to ourselves and to each other; I think that this might be the first step on a long road towards doing something about it.

In the meantime, my response to those who think there is still something inherently evil about Communism is as follows:

It is amazing how so many – who no doubt consider themselves to be very much right-of-centre politically – forget that the first people to be called “Christians” would today be described as Communists.* So, I think a little less contempt is called for; and a lot less hypocrisy.

Marxism is essentially Industrialism without the Capitalism. Whereas Marxism prioritises production; Capitalism prioritises consumption. As such, both are deeply mired in the unsustainable delusion of ‘growthmania’.  It may be that Capitalism has proven itself far better at wealth creation, but, neither system has proven to be very good at providing equal opportunity for all.

* The Bible makes it clear that, in the very earliest years at least, Christians formed a self-supporting community of people within which property and food were shared. Therefore, those who think there is something inherently evil about Communism have got stuck in the past: McCarthyism never did do anyone much good; and it is now at least 50 years out of date.

Having said all that, I am still not a ‘Watermelon’ (i.e. green on the outside but red on the inside).  I remain a (non-financial) supporter of the Conservative Party and, as such, I live in the hope that one day soon it may stop allowing ideology to prejudice its attitude to science; and accept what climate scientists are telling us will happen if we do not take radical steps to decarbonise our economies by 2050.  For goodness sake, even business leaders are now saying we must do this.  What the hell are we waiting for?


UPDATE:   On 1 October 2013, in a welcome attempt to put the record straight, The Daily Telegraph has re-published its very fair-minded obituary of Professor Ralph Milliband from its edition of 7 June 1994.  (H/T  Roger Davies [@4589roger] on Twitter).

Conservatives for conservation (of a habitable planet)

with 4 comments

Whilst I am aware of – and have previously quoted – Lord Deben (i.e. leader of of the Committee on Climate Change – the advisory group David Cameron and George Osborne are ignoring so studiously), I was not aware of the campaign he is heading on Twitter.  Thanks must therefore go to John Havery Samuel for alerting me to James  Murray’s Are the Green Tories preparing a fight back? article on the BusinessGreen website.

As a child, just about everyone in the UK will probably remember learning about the story of Elijah humiliating the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel (i.e. as recounted in 1 Kings 18 in the Old Testament).  However, not all may recall the crisis of faith that followed this tremendous victory (see 1 Kings 19).  Although I have never really had the moment of victory, I often feel that I have sure spent a long time having a crisis of faith.  However, once you appreciate that I am a socially-conservative environmental realist (see links below if you don’t believe me), I think my persistent feeling that I am in an extreme minority becomes entirely understandable.

I would very much recommend that you read the entire story (i.e. of Green Conservatives preparing a fight back) on James’ blog.  Hopefully these opening paragraphs will encourage you to do so:

One of the bright spots in an otherwise pretty dispiriting summer for the UK environmental movement has been the unlikely emergence of Tory grandee John Gummer as Twitter’s latest eco-warrior. Now known as Lord Deben, the former Environment Secretary and current chair of the independent Committee on Climate Change has provided a beacon of centre-right common sense on matters environmental – and all in 140 characters.

He has argued that fracking may be useful, but will never provide a silver bullet for the UK’s energy crisis; repeatedly challenged “climate deniers and dismissers” to provide one example of a credible institution that supports their crackpot theories; and taken numerous pot shots at ill-informed anti-green commentators and several of his climate denying colleagues in the Lords. All because, in his own words, “no reasonable person would ignore expert opinion and wager his children’s future on the contrarian views of people who are not peer reviewed”.

It has been a breath of fresh air and a useful reminder that not all Conservatives have signed up to the reckless vision being relentlessly promoted by Lord Lawson and the Murdoch press – a vision whereby fracking miraculously saves the economy and climate change is either not really happening or left to look after itself. They may not have access to the media foghorm enjoyed by their less progressive colleagues, but there are some Tories who still understand the existential threat posed by climate change, the value of the green economy, and the relationship between conservation and Conservatism. The big question for the UK’s green political scene is whether or not there are enough of them and whether they can wrestle back control of a narrative that Lord Lawson and his friends have recently steered in their own direction.

For those that would challenge my assertion that I am (or can be) ‘socially conservative’, I can only refer you to things I have written on this blog previously:

A brief history of mine (12 March 2012).

Why I am not a socialist (25 June 2012).

Why I am not [just] a capitalist (26 June 2012).

Similarly, for those that would challenge my assertion that I am an environmental realist, I can only refer you to the following:

The problem with inverting reality (31 January 2012).

Conserving mass, water and energy (11 July 2012).

Entropy – an unauthorised biography (7 September 2012).

Lack of perspective

with 2 comments

St Augustine of Hippo [Botticelli (1445–1510)

I have referred to St Augustine of Hippo before, to highlight the folly of invoking conspiracy theory rather than dealing with nature of reality. However, even though they have little to do with the theme of this blog, I hope readers will not mind me sharing these amazing quotes:

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”


“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”

Read more of the wise words of St Augustine on the Brainy Quote website.

Written by Martin Lack

10 July 2013 at 11:30

Science Denial Alive and Well Among Policy Makers and Right Wing Heroes

with 5 comments

Martin Lack:

This is just brilliant. Some readers and viewers may not appreciate the irreverent humour but, I am sorry, sometimes humour is the best way to make the point that, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, insisting that humans may not actually be the primary cause of climate change is as absurd as insisting that the Earth may not almost be spherical.

Originally posted on Climate Denial Crock of the Week:

Delaware Newszap:

GEORGETOWN – Sussex County Council members are not on the same wave length regarding the debatable issue of sea level rise.
At the May 7 council meeting, Susan Love, a planner with the Department of Environmental Control and Natural Resources’Coastal Management Program, delivered an update on progress made by the state’s Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee, which is developing an adaptation plan for the state that will provide a path forward for planning for impacts of sea level rise.

Ms. Love’s presentation drew no love from councilmen Samuel Wilson, R-Georgetown, and Vance Phillips, R-Laurel.

Mr. Wilson cast doubt sea level rise even exists.

“They don’t have no facts. It’s almost BS, to be honest with you,” said Mr. Wilson.

“Man has been on this earth … according to the Bible … about 6,000 to 7,000 years,” challenged Mr. Wilson. “Salt (water) may intrude. You’re…

View original 171 more words

Written by Martin Lack

19 May 2013 at 14:16

Who says the Bible is irrelevant?

with 8 comments

Please do not worry that I am suddenly turning all Evangelical on you. Far from it. I just cannot get over how relevant the following words seem. They were written by former Pharisaic Jew, Saul – known to Christians as St Paul – to his young protegé, Timothy, in 66-67 AD.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… (2 Tim 3: 1-4)

I am trying hard to fend-off a potential Messiah complex with regard to environmentalism but it seems, to me at least, an incontrovertible aspect of modernity that we have now fulfilled this 1950 year-old prophecy. However, as regular readers of this blog may well be able to guess, what concerns me more is that the greatest failure of modernity arose out of the Age of Enlightenment: This seventeenth-Century revolution in natural philosophy meant that Western science emerged from the Dark Ages but, from it, along with all the positive benefits of building on Chinese and Islamic scholarship, we sadly inherited the idea that humans are superior to Nature – rather than part of it. This is a fallacy that underlies the inability of many to accept the reality of ACD (i.e. anthropogenic climate disruption). Either that, or they are deluded into thinking that:
1. Humans are incapable of affecting their environment (despite the precedents of industrial pollution causing Acid Rain and CFCs creating the hole in the Ozone layer); or
2. God will not allow humans to trash the Environment (due to infantile reliance upon things like Genesis 9:15: “I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” Yes, Senator James Inhoffe [R-OK], I am looking at you).

The dustbin of failed evolutionary experiments?

with 45 comments

proceed with cautionOnce again, as I did in my previous post, I must credit xraymike79 as the source of the title for this offering, as it also featured in the quotation from his recent post.

For ease of reference, however, here is the relevant part of that quotation once again:

…Know that this culture of self-worship and materialism is sending our species to the dustbin of failed evolutionary experiments, most certainly by the end of this century if not mid-century. The evidence is all around us if only we care to open our eyes.

So, then, what are these “failed evolutionary experiments”; and why might we be about to join them in the dustbin?  Indeed, what does it mean to suggest there is a dustbin?  I ask this latter question because, as I often seem to find myself saying, the concept of waste disposal is an illusion: Nature does not do waste disposal; it only ever does recycling.

However, there is an even more fundamentally-challenging aspect to xraymike79’s turn of phrase, which is the suggestion that the emergence of complex life on Earth is the result of an unguided process.  Jean-Paul Sartre’s question “Why is it that there something rather than nothing?” is answered with the following equation: Nothing + Time + Chance = Something.

Some scientists, such as George Smoot (Wrinkles in Time) and Paul Davies (The Mind of God) have asserted that the Universe appears to be perfectly designed to accommodate us – effectively a statement of the Anthropic Principle.  However, I find it hard to refute the argument, made by people like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, that we are here because the Universe is the way it is – effectively a statement of existential Selection Bias.

For people of a theistic persuasion (like me for example), such notions are very challenging.  However, I dislike the arrogance of people like Dawkins and Hawking, who – rather than just assert that they do not believe in God – appear to want to insist that they have proven that God does not exist.  Although they present cogent arguments and justifications for their atheism, I prefer the position adopted by Stephen J. Gould – that science and religion represent non-overlapping magesteria.  This is the proposition that science seeks to answer “how” questions, whereas religion seeks to answer “why” questions.  If so, it would appear to be self-evident that trouble ensues when either party steps outside the boundaries of their legitimate enquiry.

It was for this reason that Young Earth Creationism had been rejected by the vast majority of Christian theologians even before Charles Darwin was born.  They had, in essence, followed the advice of St Augustine (354-430AD) in The Literal Meaning of Genesis, and Thomas Aquinas (1225-74AD) in Summa Theologica.  For example:

Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, [and] one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false, lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing… (Thomas Aquinas, 1273AD)

As I said to my son recently, “just as scientific theories like evolution should not be used to reject religious beliefs; Biblical texts should not be used to reject scientific facts”.  I hope you will agree that this is a nice turn of phrase too, but, it belies the fact that all knowledge in science is provisional.  However, in my defence, I must protest that “should not be used to reject things most scientists consider to be beyond reasonable doubt” …does not sound quite so good.

So then, back to big question:  Is evolution a random process with no pre-ordained purpose; or has it been guided by someone or something?  Well, I think I am going to dodge the bullet on that one; but I will say this:  I was astonished recently to learn about the ‘Maximum Power Principle’ – as proposed by Howard T. Odum – that suggests that Darwinian-style natural selection tends to produce organisms “that maximize power intake, energy transformation, and those uses that reinforce production and efficiency”.  For background to this, please see this comment (and those that follow it) by Paul Chefurka on Guy McPherson’s Nature Bats Last blog.

If you look at Chefurka’s comments, you will see that he blames the ‘Maximum Power Principle’ for the fact that humanity seems set on a path to self-destruction (and unintended ecocide), i.e. that our consumption of resources is biologically-driven.  Some may say, as I did initially, that this explains an awful lot but, upon further reflection, I am inclined to think that this could be used as an abdication of ultimate responsibility for our not leaving this Earth in as good a state as we were fortunate enough to find it.

Be that as it may, the evidence from the fossil record suggests that the vast majority of species that have ever lived are probably no longer with us today.  However, that does not make them “failed evolutionary experiments”.  Indeed, I would argue that some species that have survived through to the present time look like failed evolutionary experiments (and I do not mean humans).  What sense is there in that?  Why do some species appear to have got stuck in a time-warp?  Is it enough just to say they are adapted to their niche environments?

I am therefore ambivalent about the question of whether evolution must be seen as purposeful or self-selecting process.  However, I think xraymike79’s turn of phrase is useful because it has the potential to shake us from our anthropocentric complacency.  Furthermore, I think it almost demands that – instead – we embrace the ecocentric reality around us:  Apart from a few dairy cows that might experience some significant discomfort for a while – most of life on Earth would not even notice if we humans disappeared.  As Edward O. Wilson observed, we may be the most intelligent life form on Earth – and we may be at the top of every conceivable food chain – but humans are not the most important life form on Earth.  That honour probably goes to fungi – Nature’s most effective and efficient recyclers.

Unfortunately, we humans seem determined to go down fighting and, unless we wake up to the reality that we cannot subdue and dominate Nature – we must seek to live in harmony with it – it seems increasing likely that we will cause the widespread breakdown of many essential ecosystem services upon which all life on Earth depends.  This is because we are currently in the process of deconstructing the benign and stable environment that has made life possible.  As such, the Hockey Stick may have now turned into a Scythe:

That being the case, we must all hope this does not herald the arrival of the Grim Reaper himself. :-(


See also:

The Sceptics’ Creed

with 6 comments

For this spoof of the Anglican version of the Nicene Creed I apologise to all those who lack a sense of humour:


[All stand]

We believe in some gods,
like Professor Ian Plimer,
writer of ‘Heaven and Earth’,
of all that is mean and not green.

We believe in some lords; John Christy
and in Richard Lindzen.
Endlessly they are proven wrong and yet still,
from their shite we recite,
true lies from sad guys,
opinions, not facts,
of one thing we are certain,
through them all truths were made.

For us and for our salvation
they came down from science:
by the power of our human folly,
they became embedded in ideology,
and made their plan.

For our sake they were crucified by climate scientists;
they suffered ‘death’ and were ‘buried’.
On the third day they rose again
in accordance with the sceptics;
they returned to their jobs,
and are seated in academic tenure.

They will come again in future to fudge the reason and the facts,
and their soapbox will have no end.

We believe in the wholly spurious, our god, the slither of doubt,
which precedes our judgement of evidence.
With the money and the vice it is worshiped and glorified.
It is supported through the profits…
We believe in one wholly cynical and irrational church.
We acknowledge one purpose; for the pursuance of greed.
We look for the perpetuation of growth,
and the life of the World to shun.


[Please be seated]

Copyright © Martin Lack 2013

Fostering denial in the C of E (Part 2)

with 7 comments

This is the second half of my rebuttal of the ideologically and theologically prejudiced denial of climate science by the Rt. Rev. Peter Foster, Bishop of Chester.  The first half was published yesterday (and should be read first in order to understand the context and what it is that I am reviewing).


Having reduced the evidence for ACD to something that is contingent and uncertain, Bishop Peter describes concern over ACD as “climate alarmism”.  However, use of such a pejorative term (implying that there is no cause for alarm) can only be justified by belief that the modern consensus regarding climate science is unreliable, unreasonable, or unreal.  This in turn requires that the majority of climate scientists must be either stupid, wrong, or deceitful.

Bishop Peter’s next target is computer models, which he describes as expensive and complex; and cites the data-mined, de-contextualised, emails illegally obtained from the CRU/UEA (a.k.a. ‘Climategate’) as evidence of scientific malpractice and/or dishonesty. He then takes a swipe at all the vested interests “springing up” who have a reason to engineer “alarm”.  Unfortunately, the reality is that the fossil fuel industry is by far the largest vested interest – receiving tax credits and subsidies many times greater than either academia or the green economy.

Next, Bishop Peter attempts to minimise the significance of a 0.8 Celsius rise in temperatures over the last 100 years by reference to the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and Little Ice Age (LIA); and attacks the validity of the famous Hockey Stick graph (i.e. in the IPCC’s 2003 reports).    However, these concerns (that current warming is not unprecedented) have been widely debunked; so I will not attempt to do so again here.

Next on Bishop Peter’s list of ‘expert’ witnesses is the Professor of Earth Sciences, Ian Plimer; and his book Heaven and Earth, which is a lengthy re-statement of a variety of contrarian ideas and second-hand opinions including the “volcanoes are causing the warming” and  “CO2 is plant food” memes).  Unfortunately (for Plimer and Co.) this has also been widely discredited (e.g. here by Michael Ashley in The Australian newspaper).   With regard to the latter meme, recent research has repeatedly found that any positive effects of CO2 increase are irrelevant when account is taken of negative impacts of increased temperature and shortage of water – as experienced in the USA this year.

Once again, Bishop Peter equates concern over ACD with religious belief – something that, in doing my MA research, I found to be most common amongst economists.  This suggests to me that Bishop Peter is merely repeating arguments fed to him by his friends at the GWPF.  Whatever the case may be, equating concern over climate change with religious belief is yet another fallacious argument; as it requires great faith to dismiss all the evidence for the reality of the problem.

Next, Bishop Peter completely mangles the truth that secular humanists fool themselves that we can control Nature, in order to bolster a fallacious argument that it is foolish to think we can have any impact on our climate.  This is swiftly followed by the argument that the ACD problem, even if it were proved to exist, is probably too costly to fix:  Yet more economic rationalism from the GWPF me thinks; and completely at odds with the view of most commentators today –  that ACD is a problem we can no longer afford to ignore.  Sadly, economic arguments will always be the last bastion of denial of science – especially if doing something to stop things getting worse will impact negatively on massive vested interests in the maintenance of “business as usual”.

Next, Bishop Peter turns his attention to carbon capture and storage (CCS), correctly observing that, despite much talk, it is still little more than a concept. However, if CO2 is not the cause of the problem – who cares?  Surely, then, CCS is an irrelevance; a complete waste of time and money?  I am afraid I am at a loss to understand the point being made.  What is clear, however, is that Bishop Peter believes that we should burn fossil fuels simply because they are there (because God has provided them for us to do just that).

Nearing the end of his walk-through of debunked contrarian ideas, Bishop Peter laments the fact that UK government policy “is in a mess” and admits that the use of hydrocarbons is unavoidable for some purposes.  I agree – aviation is an obvious example.  However, that leaves huge scope for substitution in other processes; what we lack is the political will to take action.  However, what Bishop Peter completely fails to do is to acknowledge that policy is a mess because policy inaction is the goal of those that deny that burning fossil fuels is damaging our environment– and always has been.  Denial of responsibility is a tried and tested business strategy, pioneered by the manufacturers of organic pesticides and the tobacco industry.

In his final paragraph, Bishop Peter calls for “a non-political debate” about policy.   However, this is a tacit admission that he thinks climate change is a hoax and a politically-motivated conspiracy designed solely as an excuse to tax people more heavily.  In his final sentence he even claims that expenditure on the “unproven” science is hurting the poorest in society.  Sadly, this is yet more reality inversion – what is now hurting the poor the most is the consequence of decades of denial orchestrated by the fossil fuel lobby.

And so it can be seen that, in the course of less than 1000 words in the Church Times, Bishop Peter neatly affirmed his support for all six pillars of climate change denial, namely that:
1. Global warming is not happening.
2. Global warming is not man-made.
3. Global warming is not significant.
4. Global warming is not necessarily bad.
5. Global warming is not a problem.
6. Global warming is not worth fixing.

Just one problem with that hypothesis; most scientists, economists and environmentalists have long since concluded that it is.  Therefore, for his part in peddling such scurrilous misinformation, I believe Bishop Peter should be truly ashamed of himself.


In light of the comment made on yesterday’s post by thefordprefect (referring to the irrationality of a certain Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming), it seems appropriate for me to repeat part of my response here:

Not all Christians are fully signed-up members of The New Flat Earth Society…  The Evangelical Climate Initiative (2006) is (or was?) an alternative viewpoint: One endorsed by many Christian charities; including the UK’s Tearfund (i.e. The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund).


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