Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category
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 8:22. – Yes, Senator James Inhoffe [R-OK], I am looking at you).
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.
For this spoof of the Anglican version of the Nicene Creed I apologise to all those who lack a sense of humour:
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
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).
Longstanding readers of this blog will be aware of my previous exchanges of emails with the retired vicar, Rev Philip Foster (author of While the Earth Endures: Creation Cosmology and Climate Change). They will also be aware of how, after a lengthy exchange of views, I was forced to conclude that Rev Foster thinks that overpopulation, climate change, sea level rise and mass extinctions cannot happen – simply because God will not allow it. For those that are unaware of this back-story, please read ’The Three Monkeys – Monckton, Foster, and Peiser’ (20 August 2012).
All but very recent readers should also be aware that, over the summer, I attempted to get some sense out of The Rt. Rev. Peter Foster, the Bishop of Chester (no relation to Philip so far as I am aware) who is on the Board of Trustees of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). In my email to the Bishop, I asked (as politely as I could) what scientific background he had (if any); how many other Bishops share his views; and how he can dismiss the concern of the vast majority of Christians on the planet. I also asked (somewhat impertinently) if he could do this without reliance upon:(a) scientific-sounding arguments that conflict with the generally-accepted Laws of Physics; (b) invoking conspiracy theory to dispute the reality, reliability and reasonableness of the modern-day consensus regarding what is happening to our climate; and/or (c) claiming that climate change ‘sceptics’ are like Galileo (fighting against the Establishment).
In his initial response, he advised me that his first Degree was in Chemistry; claimed not to know how many bishops share his views; and said he did not “dismiss” any concerns of other Christians. Apart from this, he provided me with a copy of an article he had published in the Church of England’s own newspaper, the Church Times on 21 October last year (i.e. ‘Look to Adaptation; not Alarmism’ posted online [mostly behind a paywall] on 19 October). When I pointed out to him that he had failed to comply with my request (to respond without invoking a, b, or c), he expressed disappointment that I had not actually responded to the content of his article. However, when I did so, he thanked me for sharing my views and suggested we end our exchanges: Am I the only one to see this as a win-win scenario for the Bishop? He criticised me for failing to respond in detail and then ignored my refutations of his arguments when I did..!
In my comments to Bishop Peter, I suggested that, since he has is not an active climate scientist, his article appeared to be a lengthy restatement of a litany of contrarian arguments that have been repeatedly falsified elsewhere (e.g. in peer-reviewed literature and/or on the Skeptical Science website). Am I being unfair? Well, I invite you to decide based on the evidence of his own words. Or rather, I would, were it not for the fact that the Bishop has declined to give me consent to publish what he sent me (which may be different from what the Church Times published) – although he acknowledged that he cannot stop me publishing my opinions of what he wrote.
Therefore, because I think this is such an important issue, pertaining to the public understanding of science and respect for scientists, I believe that there is an over-riding case to be made for illustrating the ways in which Bishop Peter’s article is full of opinion but devoid of commonly-accepted scientific fact. However, since I cannot do this without quoting from what he sent me, I must therefore rely on the fact that Copyright law includes a “fair use” clause, which stipulates that “the quoted material is justified, and no more than is necessary is included”…
As can be seen by following the link to the Church Times website (above) – where the first few sentences are visible for free) – Bishop Peter begins his attack on the scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) by citing the conditional nature of all scientific knowledge – effectively claiming that climate change “sceptics” are like Galileo. However, as I said to Bishop Peter in my comments, this is an entirely spurious and fallacious argument. Furthermore, the Church of Rome is thankfully not the arbiter of scientific truth today; and the so-called sceptics are not fighting against an anti-scientific and obscurantist establishment. In fact, they are probably helping to preserve one; it is called the fossil fuel industry.
Bishop Peter then cites the case of the Royal Society, which was criticised by a minority of its members (i.e. not climate scientists) for endorsing the consensus view of ACD. He quotes the views of Lord Broers (another non climate scientist) disputing the link between CO2. This is therefore an endorsement of the marketplace of ideas fallacy – that all opinions are equally valid – enabling anyone to pick and chose which commonly-accepted scientific evidence they will and won’t accept.
Having given you a taste of what is to come, I will conclude my review of the Bishop’s almost 1000-word article tomorrow. For now, though, I would like to leave you with a few thoughts on the alternative to what both Philip and Peter Foster are peddling. This peculiarly Christian form of denial is, in effect, a theologically-driven form of libertarianism, which is founded on the belief that it doesn’t matter what we do to the environment because God is in control and/or Jesus is coming back soon.
However, even for the most devout, sincere and/or evangelical Christians – and everyone else too – there is an alternative to this utilitarian “use it up and wear it out” nonsense. You don’t need to be a tree-hugging fanatic who likes to dance around stone circles at sunrise on the longest day of the year in order to believe that we humans should be good stewards of the environment. If we just go forth and multiply in order to subdue the Earth and have dominion over it, the fairy tale will not have a happy ending. It is time for us to put away such childish thinking; accept that we do not have an inalienable right to have our needs met; that we are exceeding Nature’s ability to meet those needs; and that – unless we change our ways – this selfishness is going to have severe adverse consequences.
I think it really is time for Plan B. However, if you remain to be convinced, please come back tomorrow and see what a ludicrous position Bishop Foster’s Plan A really is…
Two weeks ago, I posted a blog about episodes one and two of Andrew Marr’s History of the World. Last week, I forgot to watch the third episode but caught up with it on the BBC’s iPlayer during the week. Having now watched the fourth episode, as was just broadcast, I am going to comment here on both episode 3 and 4. First though, a quick recap… Despite the rather grandiose title for the series, it is a history of the World from the perspective of Homo sapiens only:
– Episode 1 – from 70 to 7 thousand years ago (i.e. up to the invention of agriculture and cities).
– Episode 2 – up to approximately 400 BC (i.e. the birth of democracy and the death of Socrates).
– Episode 3 – up to approximately 600 AD (i.e. the birth of Mohamed and the invention of Islam).
– Episode 4 – up to approximately 1500 AD (i.e. Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper).
Therefore, if we were to represent the entire 4600 million years of the Earth history by one calendar year, the 70 thousand year history of Homo sapiens covered in this series of programmes would begin at 23:52 hrs on 31 December!
Having secured permission to make eight episodes of almost an hour in length, Andrew Marr apparently decided that this would give him sufficient time to tell no more than about 60 stories; and so set about choosing 60 significant events in human history. In the second episode, the most significant event was the Greco-Persian battle of Marathon.
In the third episode, the most significant event was probably the life of the man who would become known to Christians as St Paul. Marr spent quite a long time telling his story and, arguably, with good reason: As with the battle of Marathon, things could have turned out very differently for Western Europe (and therefore modernity) if Saul had not become Paul on the road to Damascus in about 35AD.
The remainder of the episode was not without incident; returning briefly to both India and China – to note the spread of Buddhism to much of south east Asia thanks to Ashoka; and to cover the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, whose legacy includes the Terracotta Army in Xian. However, by far the most traumatic event, alluded to at the start of the episode, but dramatised in full towards the end, was the martyrdom in Carthage in 203AD of Perpetua and Felicity. Much of the story seems to have been recorded by Perpetua herself but, having refused to renounce her faith in Christ – and having handed over her baby to the care of her parents – her death at the hands of a young gladiator is described by those who witnessed it. This whole thing made me feel very uncomfortable, as I find martyrdom very scary (but not for the reason you might imagine): I am worried that there may not be that much difference between the bravery required to die rather than renounce your faith; and the brainwashing required to kill as many “non believers” as you can by killing yourself.
Moving swiftly on, Andrew Marr fitted in a visit to the Nazca Lines in Peru, to see how that civilisation came to an end, in similar fashion to the Maya in Central America, in an accelerating frenzy of human sacrifice in an attempt to appease their gods (who they thought were unhappy with them). Yet again, it seems (to me at least), Marr gave cursory acknowledgement to the potential for human mismanagement of the environment to have unintended consequences; and emphasised instead his favoured meme that climate change is natural. This time, the change in question being the year without sunshine of 535-36 AD. Again, Wikipedia has a good summary and, within this, the key source (alluded to by Marr) appears to be a 1999 book by David Keys, entitled Catastrophe: A Quest for the Origins of the Modern World, in which is presented evidence for 30 years of heavy rain followed by 30 years of drought. The strange thing is that, although the evidence for the long-term effects seems to be straightforward, there seems to be remarkably little agreement about which volcano was responsible. However, to my mind, the whole thing just serves to underline the seriousness with which we should view a potential eruption of the Katla volcano on Iceland.
Andrew Marr then finished the episode by cheerfully noting that the chaos caused by this eruption (wherever it all emanated from) was global; and probably facilitated the Arabic conquest of Jerusalem (637AD) and, once the Koran had been written and agreed upon, the consequential spread of Islam.
At this point, things start to get more familiar (to me here in the UK at least). In episode 4 Marr covers the period the Vikings to the Renaissance; from the vacuum left behind after the fall of Rome – to the rediscovery of classical knowledge and the foundations of modernity. Along the way, we are regaled by tales…
– Of the Viking leader Oleg who took control of Kiev (and then re-wrote their history for them to make it sound like he was invited in); and who then invited a whole range of religious leaders to try and convert him; chose to become Greek Orthodox; and then promptly re-fashioned it to make it more to his own liking – the Russian Orthodox church was born.
– Of the brilliant work of Muslim scholars and astronomers such as Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, (who accurately determined the circumference of the Earth in the ninth Century) and whose name is reflected in what we now call Algebra.
– Of Genghis Khan who forged the greatest Empire form a band of people who bucked the trend by not settling down and building cities – but remained nomadic – simply because the grasslands they called home were not fertile enough for growing crops.
– Of Marco Polo who spent 24 years travelling around Asia and the rest of his life telling highly exaggerated stories all about it.
In all of this there was very little in the way of mention of climate change; but plenty in the way of environmental mismanagement and an early forerunner of the Law of Unintended Consequences – the Black Death (an inadvertent import from China to Europe) being a case in point. There was also the fascinating story of the arrival in Cairo (in 1324 AD) of an African King, Mansa Musa who, quite literally, put Mali on the map (i.e. the Catalan Atlas) by bringing with him so much gold – and handing it out so freely – that the price of the precious metal plummeted (was that an unintended consequence too?).
Running through the entire episode was an almost paradoxical juxtaposition of religious tension (if not outright war) and trade (i.e. mutually beneficial economic development). For example, both before and after the great siege of Constantinople (1453 AD), the Venetians happily traded with their Muslim counterparts in the East. However, it seems that with the creation of Istanbul, the Middle Ages came to an end: It was replaced, of course, by the Renaissance; borne out of the indulgences of the nouveau riche of the City States of northern Italy. One of the greatest beneficiaries of all being possibly one of the greatest polymaths of all – Leonardo da Vinci. And the rest, as they say, is history…
Rick Santorum recently suggested that climate scientists are like Pharisees but, as many others have pointed out – as they always were and will be – the real Pharisees today are ultra Conservative politicians! As such, by uttering such an absurdity/insanity/obscenity [delete any that do not apply], Santorum has plumbed new depths of reality inversion.
I appreciate that fools like Santorum make an easy target but, please, can we attack the psuedo science without attacking the misguided Churchianity that people like Santorum hide their anti-intellectualism behind? I think all such denialism is not actually driven by any real faith in God that these people may have (apart from an almost subconscious ascent to the idea that we humans have a right to dominate nature rather than a responsibility to be good stewards of it). For the vast majority, their denial of reality is driven by adherence to libertarian ideology and free market economics. However, because this would be immediately seen as them not acting in the public interest, a bit like members of the KKK, they hide behind a veil of pure white religiousity instead.
So then, here is why I think Rick Santorum needs to study his Bible a bit more closely (it is taken from the 23rd Chapter of the Gospel according to St Matthew):
Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?…
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices— mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law— justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!
(Matthew 23:13-32 NIV)
Those who know their Bible well, may ask why I stopped there. This is because Jesus went on to rebuke these Pharisees as follows: “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth…”
Is this not exactly what the Tea Party is doing? These ultra-Conservative prisoners of libertarian ideology and fanatical adherents to free market economics are determined to sacrifice the future habitability of planet Earth on an altar of worship to their God of short-term self-interest… My advice to all who are tempted to join them is this: When we know we’re in a hole, we should stop digging!
Update: With my thanks to the Mashed Potato Bulletin for the hat-tip, Michael Tomasky very eloquently summarised all that is wrong with the Republican Party today in this (17 January 2012) piece: What Mitt’s Father Got Right (and Mitt Gets Wrong)… As Tomasky says, “Romney… is appallingly wrong about ‘envy’ [because] he assumes that everyone wants to get rich but isn’t ‘good’ enough.”
The climate change angle can wait; as I want to tackle the ongoing financial crisis first…
I have just gotten round to watching a DVD of the award-winning 2010 documentary, Inside Job, brilliantly narrated by Matt Damon, which tells the story of how a de-regulated financial sector has led to 30 years of instability and 4 financial crises (so far)… It’s like a real-world version of the Bourne Identity – only without a happy ending. Therefore, although I am naturally conservative (rather than liberal) – and despite my agreement with John Gray over the Delusions of Global Capitalism – I may still have been far too generous to laissez-faire global Capitalism in general; and Alan Greenspan in particular.
It would appear that, almost single-handedly, Greenspan engineered, perpetuated and, whenever possible, extended the de-regulation of the financial services industry and, thereby, facilitated all of the financial crises we have seen in the last 30 years. This is because, in the 1980s, he oversaw the deregulation that brought a swift end to 40 years of post-WWII well-regulated financial stability; purely because he worshipped at the temple of free market economics.
And what have we to show for it? The USA today is a more inequitable society than it has ever been – maybe even more so than Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. Capitalism may be more successful at innovation, profit-generation and re-investment but, when money became an end in itself (i.e. the money fetishism exemplified by the film Wall Street), I think the rot really did set in. Never have the words of St Paul ever proven more true: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” (I Tim 6:10).
Derivatives, Collateralized Debt Obligations, Credit Default Swaps, banks recommending investments to their customers and then betting money on those investments failing, credit rating agencies giving AAA ratings to organisations they knew to be in trouble, Professors of Economics being paid to write good references for such failing banks, etc., etc… The people involved were quite clearly consumed by a love of money (oh and prostitutes too). Of course, there were plenty of warnings, such as Raghuram Rajan’s Has Financial Development Made The World Riskier? (2005); but nobody wanted to listen…
By the way, if any of you have not seen this street-level interview on the recent Wall Street protest, recorded by FOX News (but not aired for some reason?), you should… Did the Inside Job give rise to this protest? It sure should have done. Has it led to calls for limited re-regulation, I hope so. Will it lead to anyone being put in prison? I doubt it. However, as George Santayana, once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”…
So, what has this to do with climate change (this blog is meant to be about the Environment after all)? Well, in my humble opinion, climate change is the result of human greed, arrogance, selfishness and pride:
– Greed – because it is the consequence of the single-minded pursuit at profit at all cost.
– Arrogance – because it is the consequence of the false belief that we could, as Herman Daly once put it, treat the Earth as if “it were a business in liquidation”.
– Selfishness – because in failing to even attempt to follow a path of sustainable development, we have failed to recognise the need for both intra-generational and inter-generational equality and environmental justice.
– Pride – because, even when presented with very clear evidence of the looming consequences of all our bad decisions, we have still failed to act accordingly and sufficiently promptly.
Instead, there seems to be no end in sight to the misinformation campaign being waged by the vested interests of the Fossil Fuel Lobby and the misguided libertarian ideologues within Conservative Think Tanks. And, even within the UNFCCC process, we continue to argue about who is more to blame and who should be first to act… Is it really any surprise that we cannot solve the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East? We can’t even agree on a sensible course of action when the well-being (if not life-chances) of billions of people are clearly at stake.
And to those of you who think that maybe God will help us, I am inclined to say that, he tried that 2000 years ago and many of us have ignored him; so why should he bother again? Or maybe you are one of those who think that we can and should have dominion over the Earth? Well, I prefer the idea of our being good stewards of it; rather than raping and pillaging it.
Is that really so bad an idea? Even though I am not left-wing, nor seeking the establishment of a supra-national, one-world, socialist government (as people like John R. Bolton seem to want to claim), must I be labelled a “watermelon” for espousing such an appeal to reason?
It all reminds me of the tagline from one of Bob Dylan’s classic songs from his Gospel years: “When you gonna wake up [and] strengthen the things that remain?”
Here in the UK, it is expected that the afternoon temperature in the shade will today exceed the all-time record for October. Furthermore, the Royal Horticultural Society, National Trust and many other organisations are reporting that many plants have been “confused” into flowering for a second time in one year. I have heard of seasons shifting; but this is ridiculous!
How much longer can so-called “sceptics” continue to deny the evidence that really is as plain to see as the hand in front of your face? Unless, of course, their eyes are closed and their hands are firmly clamped over their ears!… And, before all you sceptics out there point out that we also seem to have a lot of very cold weather, I should just say that I fully expect we will have another very harsh winter here in the first quarter of 2012. This is because weather is not the same as climate; anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is changing our global climate; and one of the effects of this change is an increased frequency of extreme events of all kinds (hot, cold, wet, and dry).
Therefore, in my humble opinion, there is only one cause of AGW denial and that is what Leon Festinger called cognitive dissonance. When Festinger published his Theory of Cognitive Dissonance in 1957, he explained his basic idea by referring to the mental discomfort of people who continue smoking even though they know doing so may kill them… People will try and rationalise their behaviour, deny or distance themselves from the consequences; and avoid situations or information that might force them to confront the reality of what they are doing. Does any of this sound as familiar to you as it does to me?
In Requiem for a Species, Clive Hamilton refers to cognitive dissonance and/or confirmation bias (reading only information that reinforces your prejudice) as being one of a number of maladaptive coping strategies, which he feels are akin to Sigmund Freud’s ‘defence mechanisms’ (2010: 121). However, if we stick our heads in the sand and hope that this problem will go away, things can only get worse. So, I would ask you, “How uncomfortable are you feeling?“
What are you going to do with your invitation to Belshazzar’s Feast? Personally, I would RSVP and say you have a prior engagement because, as George Santayana once remarked, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Amongst Christians, it is a popular past-time to ask “What would Jesus do?” But let’s be a little more PC about this… What would Muhammad, or King Solomon, or Buddha, or Confucius do? In fact, what would Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, Rene Descartes, or John Locke do? Bringing things right up-to-date – so as not to exclude secular humanists – what would Richard Dawkins, Stephen J Gould, Carl Sagan, or Edward O. Wilson do?… [N.B. Although we certainly have not always done so, in the last 40 years the majority of people have come to accept that we do actually have a problem but, even if you do not, will you humour me for a moment; and read on?]…
In Douglas Adams’ Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, a super-computer is famously programmed to provide an answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” If we were to programme a set of computers with the entire written records of each one of the above great thinkers, alongside a summation of the AGW problem, what answer (i.e. solution) would they come up with? Hopefully, it would be something more useful than “42”!
Let’s take the weirdness a little further, let’s say computer geeks crack the problem of Artificial Intelligence, and let’s say our computers are actually robots… What would happen if we locked them in a room and told them they had to reach a two-thirds majority decision on a course of action? What solution(s) would they propose?
One thing I think we can be sure of is this: If the marketplace of ideas had demanded that robots programmed with the thinking of people like Senator James Inhofe and “interpreter of interpretations” James Delingpole had also been allowed into the room; they would be ejected for being illogical (or blow-up trying to compute the data). So then, as before, that leaves us with all the world’s great thinkers, what course of action would they propose?
Of course, no-one can know, but one thing I am fairly certain of is this, they would not reach the conclusion that there is no cause for concern; and no need to act!
I know that it will come as unwelcome news to some (influenced by Dr. S. Fred Singer and Chartered Accountant Andrew Montford) to discover that this is in fact exactly what the IPCC was asked to do. The IPCC was not asked to come up with a plan to stall Western development, halt human progress, and facilitate worldwide authoritarian government. It was asked to try and come up with a plan to decouple environmental degradation from worldwide economic development.
Our biggest problem today remains (as ever it was) that those with a vested interest in the continuance of business as usual continually seek to water-down IPCC reports (so that they are not too challenging); and to downplay, deny or dismiss the scale or immediacy of the problem we face.
However, although the long night of deception has lasted between 20 and 40 years (depending on whether you think the campaign started in 1972 or 1992), I think dawn is fast approaching. The only trouble is that we may no longer have enough time to limit the damage in the way we once could have done. At a book launch for Requiem for a Species, given at the University of Queensland on 24 March 2010, Clive Hamilton put it this way:
“The presence of feedback effects and tipping points calls into question some of the most fundamental assumptions of climate change negotiations, including the belief that we can ‘overshoot’ to, say, 550 ppm and then work back to 450 ppm…, that greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere can be stabilised at some level, and the belief that we can adapt to some given degree of warming.” (p.11 of 17)