Sunday, January 17, 2010
Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, doyen of the climate change denialists, has a truly bizarre screed up at the blog of the Science and Public Policy Institute. Monckton starts off with a perfectly reasonable (if debatable) discussion of the intersection of science and religion, making these claims:
But then things start to turn weird:
~ There is not the slightest point in any religionist trying to scientifically prove that God created the world; nor is possible to prove that God intended the universe to unfold precisely as it does, by intelligent design.
~ Conversely, science can never prove wrong the proposition that it was God who, directly or indirectly, caused the Big Bang to occur and thus brought our universe into existence.
~ A scientist may legitimately demonstrate that all religions except one, to the extent that they teach matters that are contradictory to one another, must be false; may legitimately believe -- though it is only a belief, for it is not testable -- that all religions without any exception are false but has no scientific basis for saying anything more than that none of them can be proven to be true.
According to al-Haytham, the scientist – the seeker after truth – does not place his trust in any consensus, however broad or however venerable. Instead, he subjects what he has learned of it to his own hard-won scientific knowledge, and he tests it, and tests it, and tests it again. As al-Haytham put it, "The road to the truth is long and hard, but that is the road that we must follow."
That's simplistic, of course. No consensus in science is sacrosanct and all are open to questioning on the same basis that formed them in the first place -- empiric evidence. But science builds on our present knowledge and it would be impossible to do science in our present state of knowledge if everything had to be individually confirmed by every scientist before going into new areas. Even more importantly, there is no reason to doubt our present knowledge simply because there is a consensus. But that is precisely what Monckton proceeds to try to demonstrate by citing the following alleged "facts":
~ Scientists led by Sir Fred Hoyle at Cambridge University tried to disprove the Big Bang, first proposed by Georges leMaitre, a Catholic priest, because they objected to the idea that a single moment of creation had actually occurred.
~ There was a misguided and hateful consensus as to the desirability of eugenics that led to the Nazi horrors.
~ Lysenkoism was a consensus, agreed to by the governing class of the day.
~ HIV was not treated with the "standard policy response" to a new, fatal, incurable infection, by testing everyone repeatedly, and isolating all carriers of the infection immediately, compulsorily and permanently, because a particular "pressure-group" lobbied heavily to prevent the usual public-health measures from being put into place created a consensus in the "governing class."
~ DDT, harmful only to the mosquitoes that cause malaria and yellow fever, was banned worldwide, on entirely specious, pseudo-scientific grounds.
The fact that the scientific consensus quickly accepted the Big Bang, while Hoyle fought a losing rear guard campaign against it, makes that instance, even if Mockton's characterization of Hoyle is correct, an example against his case that consensus is untrustworthy. Lysenkoism was never a scientific consensus, but one enforced at the end of a gun under one, and only one, repressive regime. Absence the threat of the Gulag, there is no reason whatsoever to compare Lysenkoism with the consensus on climate change. Besides the hint of homophobia in his claims about HIV, it is hardly true that we treat infectious diseases with permanent quarantine. Leper colonies are a thing of the past and hepatitis C patients walk the streets. His claims about DDT are, charitably, overblown, in that it was never banned for disease vector control and, in any case, it was was already succumbing to insect resistance due to its overuse as an agricultural pesticide. While science has much to be ashamed of in the case of eugenics, it is at least questionable if there was a scientific consensus on what should be actually done, as in involuntary sterilization. Even if it was a consensus, a single example is insufficient to carry Monkton's claims.
But then he gets truly weird:
Precisely because the worst sort of scientists are prone to say, intolerantly, that religion is not a legitimate pastime for any scientist, many scientists have come to the view that they no longer need to adhere to any moral precept at all. Morality, they say, is the province of religion and not of science. We, they say, can do what we like as long as we can get away with it, and there is no such distinction any more as true or false, right or wrong, just or unjust.
Perhaps, therefore, no one should be allowed to practice in any of the sciences, particularly in those sciences that have become the mere political footballs of the leading pressure-groups, unless he can certify that he adheres to one of those major religions – Christianity outstanding among them – that preach the necessity of morality, and the reality of the distinction between that which is so and that which is not. For science without the morality that perhaps religion alone can give is nothing.
Amusingly, the advocates of ID, almost entirely religious believers, are constantly engaged in dishonest tactics in support of the very thing that Monckton states is impossible: to produce scientific evidence for God.
Morality being the necessary and exclusive province of the religious is a joke ... a condition Monckton also seems to suffer from.
Via Open Parachute
P.S. As Dave has helpfully pointed out in the comments, there was wide support among Christians, who, according to Monckton "preach the necessity of morality," for eugenics in America, a fact that the United Methodist General Conference admitted and apologized for in 2008. That in no way expiates whatever scientific support there was for eugenics but it clearly contradicts Monckton's claim that religion is some sort of antidote to the immoral use of the trappings of science.
"Can I sign up to your religion Vic? I need to get a morality license to certify I am fit to do science, and know what's what.."
"Certainly My Son" says the Vicar. "That will be £50 for the license, and a tenth of your earnings for life, and regular attendances at church services."
The Scientist winces, then a smile spreads across his face as the scales fall into his eyes. "Oh joy! I see what a wretch I have been to my fellow man, healing them with out praising God! A terrible husband, neglecting to discipline my wife and children! Refusing to proclaim the error of the ways of people whose lifestyle I dislike!"
Another scientist rescued from consensus - and plunged straight into another type of conformity.
"Ironically, as the Eugenics movement came to the United States, the churches, especially the Methodists, the Presbyterians, and the Episcopalians, embraced it."
Just as well that some clergy, secular critics, and scientists spoke out against eugenics on social and scientific grounds. What was that about a consensus?
Plus, it's well established that it misses enormous amounts of people, especially the poor, outcast, and people who don't want to be found. If the census were also rounding up and quarantining people, it would be much harder to find the sort of people who think they might have HIV. Not to mention the massive invasion of people's privacy it would require. I can only imagine the stink the religious right would raise when they come to take blood from their sons and daughters.
All that for a disease that kills 1/3 as many people in the US as traffic accidents.
I've more than lost count of the number of times I've encountered religious people denigrating atheists because the god-less lack objective morals. What they inevitable fail to realise is that they themselves haven't got them either. Claiming to do something objectively is not the same thing as actually doing something objectively.
Incidentally, that beachfront condo with the great ocean view down in Yuma's still available. I'll even throw in a bridge for good, moral Christians.