Sunday, April 08, 2007

Global climate change and religion

Well, holy shit, that title should bring the punters in!

Earlier this morning, I listened to an episode of Insight on Radio New Zealand National, all about "climate change sceptics". I use quotes, as this term is a little pejorative, with connotations of a bunch of tinfoil-hatted wackos.

Aluminium headgear or not, they put up quite a compelling argument - just as the (currently more vocal and respected) climate change proponents do. None of the people interviewed sounded like nutters, their arguments were reasonable, and seemed plausible.

However, I'm not here to debate the ins and outs of climate change: whether it is actually occurring; whether it is as severe as it is claimed; whether humans are the primary cause. No, you make up your own mind about those.

I want to weigh in with my opinion on a much heftier debate - that of Science vs. Religion. So, here's my crackpot theory:

To the vast majority of people who put themselves on the side of Science (and I include myself in this group), Science is a form of Religion in itself.

"What the fuck are you on about?"

Allow me to attempt to explain: it seems to me that much of the argument of those who are against Religion (and theoretically for Science) is centred on an objection to the blind faith that Religion requires. Since Science is all about the proof, Science proponents (I'll call them Scienticians from here on) cannot conceive of a belief in Intelligent Design (to give god his modern name) when there is no proof of such a phenomenon.

My counter to this is that very few of we Scienticians can claim to have anything other than the most vague and indirect proof for many of Science's claims. Let me put it this way: I have never seen an atom's component parts - I have not even seen an atom itself, come to think of it. I say I know that they exist, that everything is made out of them, but I do not really know this to be a fact; I have seen no direct proof that this is the case.

Instead, it is my belief that this is the case, based on the incredibly hard work of far more intelligent people than I, and documentation of such work. However, I am not even qualified to read the majority of this material. Instead, I must rely on others (who can understand it), who are able to translate it into a form which I am more easily able to comprehend.

These "others" can be anyone from overeducated friends, to high school science teachers, to celebrities acting above their station. All of them bring their own biases and interpretations to this information exchange, altering the "scientific evidence" still further.

Continuing this to the logical (maybe only to me) and dangerous conclusion means drawing parallels between the bible and the great scientific works of our time, between leading scientists and the clergy, and between scienticians and churchgoers.

In short, what I'm saying is that whether your explanation of the world hinges on tiny, invisible, largely empty particles, or on a supreme being conjuring everything up out of nothing, you are always explaining it in second-hand terms.

Unless you're Ernest Rutherford or maybe the Pope.

Feel free to call me out on any inaccuracies, and to put forward your own theories.

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