True Believers

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It is always a wonderful feeling when a new fact or observation suddenly forces you to revisit previously held beliefs and check whether they are still valid. Those who cling to beliefs while deliberately ignoring awkward facts are spouting dogma, not applying the tools of reason. As Eliezer Yudkowsky has noted at the wonderful rationalist website Less Wrong (stop reading this and follow the link now), reality is never in error, only your view of it.

This happened to me recently while skimming through the comments to the essay ‘Will their Failure to Properly Simulate Multidecadal Variations In Surface Temperatures Be the Downfall of the IPCC?’ by Bob Tisdale, as posted on Watts Up With That. A comment by hunter (no idea who you really are, sorry) made the excellent point that Climate Alarmism has painted itself into the same corner as the early Christians, who believed that Jesus would return within a generation of his crucifixion. Such a widespread belief created difficulties for the Church, which needed to act fast to explain away his non-appearance. That the transformation was carried out successfully was central to Christianity developing from an apocalyptic Jewish heresy into a global religion.

Now, twelve months ago I thought Climate Alarmism was in regrettably rude health and unlikely to lose mainstream political support anytime soon. But in the last few months, with David Rose’s articles published in the Daily Mail (not a media outlet I would usually follow), and Matt Ridley gaining increasing coverage, and the British public suddenly realising how much ‘renewable’ subsidies are taking directly from their pockets, I had come to believe that the end is actually in sight. Buttressed by the generally tepid reaction to AR5, I could easily imagine a time approaching when the Green stranglehold on the conscience of the world’s politicians would be loosened.

But Hunter’s observation made me go back and have a good hard think about my take on the current well-being of Climate Alarmism. Christianity had adapted, and survived, and moved on (indeed flourished). Would the Alarmists do the same? If so, what changes would they need to embrace?

It was while I was wondering about this that I had a bit of a revelation. For the Christians, when Jesus didn’t appear as expected, the whole premise of the Second Coming changed. To expect the Messiah within any definite timeframe went from orthodoxy to heresy. And the reason? Falsifiability.

I hadn’t realised that before.

It suddenly became clear that in any religion the fastest way to heresy (apart from questioning the existing power structure) is to espouse any belief that is falsifiable. Claim to know the date of that Jesus will rise again? Heresy. Assert an individual can perform miracles to order? Witchcraft! Faith must always be shrouded in ambiguity and shielded from examination by reason. To question the hierarchy, or introduce a falsifiable claim is strictly taboo. To do otherwise is to become a cult, perhaps burning brightly with the zealotry of its adherents, but doomed to a quick death.

This insight obviously links straight back into Climate Alarmism. Unfalsifiable hypotheses are one of the key indicators of pseudoscience. Predictions couched in a plethora of ‘coulds’ and ‘perhapses’ and ‘mays’ have no place in the scientific method. Researchers refusing to allow third parties to review their methods and data are obsessed with only one thing: that their work should not be subject to the scrutiny of reason. That it should never be falsified. These are all hallmarks of the Alarmists.

So although after some reflection I do still think that the high tide of Alarmism is past us now, the lesson here is that we must expect more, much more, of this sort of unfalsifiable nonsense. Eventually it will become all they have left.

Postscript

It has also occurred to me that someone making a prediction that will not happen in their lifetime (or at least until after they retire on a nice comfortable pension) is, from their perspective, making an unfalsifiable assertion. Thus individual careers can be advanced at the expense of the credibility of the movement as a whole. This may become a fatal problem for Climate Alarmism.

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One response to “True Believers

  1. The passages where Jesus allegedly said he’d be back within the lifetimes of people then alive were obviously conflated with others that speak of the destruction of Jerusalem, which did fall in that time frame. The Bible is treacherous ground on which to base beliefs. Early versions were hand-copied by amateur scribes who were barely literate, but at least were making an effort to be 100% accurate. Later versions were tampered with by well-educated dogmatists who had an axe to grind and loved to put their own words in Jesus’ mouth. Some scholars believe that the 4 Gospels were based on a re-hashing of a single document that consisted of only a compilation of the sayings of Jesus, as the very last living disciples remembered them. That theory isn’t currently mainstream, however. Read “Misquoting Jesus,” sometime–a real “revelation.” Not recommended for the faint of faith.

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