Friday, June 01, 2007
No, not science and religion, I'm not going there again. This is a follow-up to Sniggering at Greens. One of the points I was trying to make there was that opinion - especially lay-opinion - is usually meaningless in these kind of debates other than as a political force. This may surprise people, but I have never attacked science itself (or if I have I take it back) - that would be absurd. I have attacked the institution. I have, often, detected faulty logic in the reasoning of scientists, sometimes in their science, but, more often, in their attempts to discuss the meaning and implications of their discoveries - especially when I detect evidence of the illiterate cult of scientism. But plainly, as a lay person, I can't argue with, for example, Pa Annoyed's second comment on my sniggering post. All I can say is that global warming sceptics seems to represent a small minority of the world's scientists and that there appears to be increasing evidence of a rapid climate change. But as the Samizdata post which inspired mine demonstrates, many people seem to take scientific insight and speculation as an occasion for opinion. Of course, this is true of both sides of this debate - the prig who finds solace in green hectoring is the correlative of the scientist who predicts doom because of his own depression or because he simply wanted to belong to the body of received opinion and, thereby, to hold on to his job. This symmetry might suggest that the lay sceptic and the lay believer are on the same footing. But this is an illusion. A rational lay man, looking at the state of scientific opinion on global warming, would have to conclude there is a serious problem. This would not be a matter of belief or opinion but of assessment. That is my position. (Though, I confess it might be influenced by a longing for true wilderness, the prose of E.O.Wilson, my admiration of Jim Lovelock and a loathing of contemporary vanity.) In that context, lay sceptics have a problem. Of course, we should all be generally sceptical for the reasons I suggest in Sniggering, but, to be specifically sceptical about climate change, you would have to deliberately decide to choose the minority's rather than the majority's scientific interpretation. This is not necessary for anybody accepting global warming because that simply involves the assessment I describe. What is obvious is that people are adopting the sceptical position solely because of pre-formed opinions, because, in essence, they don't like the science. This also happens on the other side, usually because of the greenery-priggery nexus, but the sceptical position is now the more risky. In both cases, because of the nature of politics, it is the opinions rather than the science that tend to form the debate. Politicians are thus inclined to be sceptical for no good reason or to adopt green schemes for very bad reasons. To have an opinion on the nitty-gritty of science - whether this is true or that - is obviously to be ignorant of the nature of science. What matters is that we have a healthily sceptical view of our rationality and, more importantly, of our true place in the world as tenants not owners.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:56 am