Pop Science: A Jealous God


It appears a new blasphemy has been revealed. No, I’m not talking about the latest black Mass, a new book by Richard Dawkins, or something Madonna or Katy Perry did on stage. Those sorts of things are just something we’re supposed to put up with in our post-Christian world.

This is something different. Something totally unacceptable. Several outlets are indignantly reporting on a decision by the State of Florida to ban a few holy phrases in official communications:

The devastating effects of rising sea levels are well-documented in Florida, but officials in the state’s Department of Environmental Protection are ordered against using the terms “climate change,” “global warming,” or “sustainability” in any official communications or documents.

This impressively detailed report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting cites records as well as past DEP employees, consultants, and volunteers.

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’ ” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

Kristina Trotta, another former DEP employee who worked in Miami, said her supervisor told her not to use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in a 2014 staff meeting.

“We were told that we were not allowed to discuss anything that was not a true fact,” she said.

The unofficial (it’s nowhere in writing) policy came about in 2011, right around the time Florida Governor Rick Scott, who doesn’t believe human activity is the cause of climate change, took office. Though neither of the DEP heads that have served under Scott agreed to comment, and both the governor’s spokesperson and the DEP’s press secretary insisted “there’s no policy on this,” the FCIR report is overflowing with damning testimonies.

As I wrote on the Facebook page of io9 (a publication which also evidently thinks the idea that pollution from Asian coal is an “intriguing theory” to explain colder, snowier winters):

Climate is always changing. It’s the causes that are in dispute. Science is also in a perpetual state of flux: big bang theory, event horizons, and dietary cholesterol are all recent things that come to mind. The causes for that, on the other hand, are more obvious : we don’t know as much as we think we do, and we’re not nearly as smart as we think we are.

It really does crack me up that for people who despise those of religious faith, there’s absolutely nothing more dogmatic than the god of climate change. And there’s no worse kind of heretic to be cast into the outer darkness and reviled than the climate change denier.

History and anthropology have demonstrated that man is, and always has been, a creature with a deeply numinous impulse. If for the post-Christian man Nietzsche is right and “God is dead,” that doesn’t mean his natural inclination to search for higher meaning is stamped out. It’s simply transposed onto science.

What fascinates me now that popular science is the new opiate of the masses (in lieu of our dusty old “superstitions” from the Judeo-Christian world) is that the ever-evolving dogmas of the nouveau religion are at times as capricious as any ancient pagan deity. It’s not just the old and unfashionable science theories of centuries past that have been overturned. Here are a few more recent examples:

I know there are more. These are just the ones that either come quickly to mind or are easiest to find in recent years.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not an anti-science post. This is an anti-scientism post. Science is supposed to be a process; an ongoing, self-correcting inquiry into demonstrating, as Aquinas said, not just the quia (that a fact is) but the propter quid (why a fact is as it is). Science does not stagnate. It does not become ossified, immutable, or arrogant. It deals not truly in laws but in observations of things which, for the time being at least, appear to be constants. It most certainly does not pontificate or cast anathemas.

Chesterton noted with dismay the logical jumps made by scientists in confusing correlations with necessities:

I observed an extraordinary thing. I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened—dawn and death and so on—as if THEY were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as NECESSARY as the fact that two and one trees make three. But it is not. There is an enormous difference by the test of fairyland; which is the test of the imagination. You cannot IMAGINE two and one not making three. But you can easily imagine trees not growing fruit; you can imagine them growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by the tail. These men in spectacles spoke much of a man named Newton, who was hit by an apple, and who discovered a law. But they could not be got to see the distinction between a true law, a law of reason, and the mere fact of apples falling. If the apple hit Newton’s nose, Newton’s nose hit the apple. That is a true necessity: because we cannot conceive the one occurring without the other. But we can quite well conceive the apple not falling on his nose; we can fancy it flying ardently through the air to hit some other nose, of which it had a more definite dislike. We have always in our fairy tales kept this sharp distinction between the science of mental relations, in which there really are laws, and the science of physical facts, in which there are no laws, but only weird repetitions. We believe in bodily miracles, but not in mental impossibilities. We believe that a Bean-stalk climbed up to Heaven; but that does not at all confuse our convictions on the philosophical question of how many beans make five.

Here is the peculiar perfection of tone and truth in the nursery tales. The man of science says, “Cut the stalk, and the apple will fall”; but he says it calmly, as if the one idea really led up to the other. The witch in the fairy tale says, “Blow the horn, and the ogre’s castle will fall ”; but she does not say it as if it were something in which the effect obviously arose out of the cause. Doubtless she has given the advice to many champions, and has seen many castles fall, but she does not lose either her wonder or her reason. She does not muddle her head until it imagines a necessary mental connection between a horn and a falling tower. But the scientific men do muddle their heads, until they imagine a necessary mental connection between an apple leaving the tree and an apple reaching the ground. They do really talk as if they had found not only a set of marvellous facts, but a truth connecting those facts. They do talk as if the connection of two strange things physically connected them philosophically. They feel that because one incomprehensible thing constantly follows another incomprehensible thing the two together somehow make up a comprehensible thing. Two black riddles make a white answer.

Another accomplished writer, Michael Crichton — himself a trained scientist — spent the final years of his life campaigning against this sort of dogmatic scientism. Crichton, who compared the modern global warming (now “climate change”) movement to eugenics in the pull-no-punches epilogue to his novel on eco-terrorism, State of Fear, saw the same religious impulse in popular pseudo-science that I have noted above.

Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people—the best people, the most enlightened people—do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in god, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.

It boggles the mind to hear phrases like “the science is settled,” and to see the ruthless ostracization of any, however well-credentialed and articulate in their objections, who offer any dissent from the established narrative on climate science. Science, more than any other field of inquiry, is supposed to embrace contradiction, experimentation, and debate. And scientists, more than the members of any other discipline, should recognize their own ever-evolving understanding of the natural world.

Instead, they seem content to draw inspiration from the caricature of one of their favorite rhetorical cudgels, wielded so often and indiscriminately against the Catholic Church. Galileo, who, according to their retelling of events, was put under lock and key for nothing more than challenging the status quo thinking of the establishment through honest inquiry. (Get the real story [or at least a more accurate one] on Galileo here.)


Right back atcha’, climate change zealots.


The science is settled: irony is dead.

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