Monday, December 06, 2004

Is Global Warming a Religious Belief?

This article in the Toronto Free Press is fascinating on several different levels. It tells the story of an MIT professor, Richard Lindzen, who claimed in a speech to the National Press Club in D.C. that fears of global warming are akin to religious beliefs. The way in which he related fears of global warming to religion is telling. Here are a few of what I think were the more telling quotes:

"Do you believe in global warming? That is a religious question. So is the second part: Are you a skeptic or a believer?"

Once a person becomes a believer of global warming, "you never have to defend this belief except to claim that you are supported by all scientists--except for a handful of corrupted heretics," Lindzen added.

"With respect to science, the assumption behind the [alarmist] consensus is science is the source of authority and that authority increases with the number of scientists [who agree.] But science is not primarily a source of authority. It is a particularly effective approach of inquiry and analysis. Skepticism is essential to science--consensus is foreign," Lindzen said.

So, if I am reading the tea leaves correctly, the argument Lindzen is making is that global warming fears and religion are the same in two, related ways: their assertions should not be questions if you are a true believer, and their assertions rely wholly upon authority and consensus.

This is, obviously, a bit of a back-handed comment about both religion and the science of global warming. Lindzen does not believe the global warming claims are true, and in order to express his frustration with his ostracized skepticism he relates his interlocutors to religious types. I find his opinion about global warming and the state of the science interesting (there is a bit of that in the article), but I am more concerned with the idea that religion does not tolerate skepticism.

To put my view one way, I believe that God would want every honest question answered. Plenty of people want to “question” Christianity out of spite and pure disagreement, but that is argumentation and not honest skepticism. And to answer the next question, I believe firmly that Christianity can stand the test of academic argumentation. If it is true, it will stand the test of honest scrutiny.

Although there are plenty of examples of the church not tolerating skepticism, belief in this world is a tightrope walk of faith and reason and clearly from time to time the church has erred on the side of fideism. A healthy church, though, thrives on those among its ranks who press on thoughtfully and sincerely in their faith.

Can knowledge concerning God and the Christian faith rightly be called knowledge if it is some kind of mixture of faith and knowledge? There is one way of knowing things, sometimes called fiduciary knowledge in which we honestly know things as a result of experience or personal history. I know chairs work because I have sat on a few-I trust most chairs. I know God exists, in part at least, because I have experienced him and know Him to be real. For some more info on types of knowledge, try this link at prosthesis.


Rev. Mike said...

I'm not sure how he's saying anything Thomas Kuhn didn't say 40 years ago. What do you think?

Phil Steiger said...

I think that is right-there is certainly a paradigm that has to be accepted in order for one's science to be acceptable. I have read this kind of frustration in people from the ID movement as well.

I wonder if we are near a Kuhn-style revolution in a few areas of science?