Thursday, November 8, 2012
There's a certain dietary supplement that my doctor advised me to take, to correct a certain medical issue. I know very little about this area, but some quick Googling revealed that there are some medical experts who believe this supplement to be entirely unhelpful, and possibly even harmful. I've even heard that some medical scientists, who stressed the importance of this supplement, had been bought off by a drug company.
Still, the overwhelming majority of medical experts - the people to whom I entrust my life - clearly believe it to be helpful. Now, it's certainly possible that they are all mistaken - working under a mistaken paradigm, or something like that. But it seems to me that most sensible thing to do would still be to follow the overwhelming majority of opinions in medical science, which rate this supplement as beneficial and important. Sure, there may be some advocates who were bought off or committed scientific fraud or whatever, but it seems highly unlikely that all the advocates were. And yes, those advocating for it may all be operating under a mistaken paradigm, but then so too could be the case with its opponents. With me knowing next to nothing about this field, but having to make a decision, the most sensible approach is to go with the general consensus of medical experts. Since the scientific method, while imperfect and sometimes leading to mistaken conclusions, has demonstrated its validity on many occasions - putting man on the moon, curing many conditions, making countless predictions that prove correct - it makes sense to go with the consensus on this issue, too.
So far in this post, I would think that most people either agree with my reasoning, or are sympathetic to it. Sure, I know people who don't give their kids vaccinations, due to the one or two voices claiming that they are harmful. I know someone who believes that diet soda is part of a global conspiracy to test poisons, and claims that to be the reason why Obama doesn't drink it. But, in general, I think that most people operate in the same way. If you have to make a decision regarding a field that you know very little about, you follow the majority of experts in that field, barring some very special reason not to do so.
In light of this, the reaction to my post of Sunday is extraordinary. I mentioned that I don't think that there is any basis for attributing Hurricane Sandy entirely to climate change caused by man. I mentioned that I don't think that there is any basis for attributing Hurricane Sandy entirely to climate change caused by man. (Yes, I just wrote that sentence twice, because many people apparently didn't read it the first time.) I further wrote that it seems plausible - not certain, but plausible - that Sandy was exacerbated by changes to the environment caused by man. And that's when people went berserk.
I didn't allow all the comments to be posted, because several were written by people who were apparently so consumed with rage that they didn't notice the sentence on the comment form, written in bold capital letters, that ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED. But the comments were astonishing. First is that many people assumed that I was saying that the hurricane was caused by climate change, when in fact I specifically said that I didn't think it was caused by it; merely that it's plausible that it was exacerbated by it. Then is that many people insisted that I was not only incorrect for believing that man-made climate change is plausible; I was entirely unreasonable, even foolish, and demonstrating low IQ! One person accused me of "worshipping" scientists, and of demonstrating "sheer arrogance."
It's incredible. The exact same approach that I would use for assessing the medical benefits of a dietary supplement - that almost everyone would use - is considered here to be absolutely wrong, utterly foolish, and demonstrating theological and moral deficiencies!
It reminded me of certain aspects of the Great Torah-Science Controversy of 2004-5. Many people were up in arms over my acceptance of evolution. I was accused of "worshiping the gods of science." I was frequently accused of being ignorant of real science (!). I was accused of blinding myself to the atheist bias of scientists (apparently even the religious ones), and to the hoaxes and frauds that have been perpetrated by evolutionists.
One aspect of this that always puzzled me was, why did people care so much? Many of these people had no real interest in this topic, let alone expertise. It's not as though evolution poses any serious theological problems; certainly much less than are posed by kabbalah. True, evolution is untraditional, but then so too is much of charedi Judaism. And there are many more serious intellectual challenges to Judaism, which few people seem to care much about. Why do people care about evolution so much?
Eventually I realized that it has very little to do with either science or theology. Rather, it was about the social aspects. For various historical (but not theological) reasons, evolution has become the signature area of battle between religion and atheism. It's "us" versus "them." My own involvement led to even more emotional social struggle: Loyal Followers of The Gedolim, versus Jews who are Against The Gedolim. This battle wasn't about science or theology; it was about personal identity. No wonder emotions ran high.
I think that the same is true here. For many people, climate change is not simply another scientific issue, with advocates and detractors. Rather, it epitomizes the fundamental divide in society: religion vs. atheism, conservative vs. liberal, Republican versus Democrat. Why are many Americans with no interest in or knowledge of biology, such as Ann Coulter and Jonathan Rosenblum, so caught up in fighting evolution? Because it's identified with liberalism and Democrats. Likewise with climate change; anyone even hinting that they find it remotely plausible is supporting Them.
Perhaps I should have prefaced my post with the following fact: I am deeply upset that Obama was re-elected, for lots of reasons. Primarily is that to my mind, Iran is the single most important issue in the world. Obama is severely ineffectual on that front, which could lead to the greatest threat Israel has ever faced. See? I'm a Republican!
Of course, I don't expect that admission to really change anything. Nobody consciously admits that their thinking on this issue is centered around social identification. Human beings excel at believing that they have arrived at conclusions for rational reasons even if such is not the case.
At least, that's what modern science says. (Rav Elchonon Wasserman, too.)
(UPDATE: If you're looking to find some scientific arguments against climate change and evolution, reader Raffi Bilek wryly pointed me to a new book: "The Truth About Nonsense!" by Chawnaw Hershel Kahn. It promises to show "how pathetically easy it is to refute evolution, the Big Bang, an old planet, mutations, global warming and ozone depletion!" Plus, it "features new scientific theories; why do we get old, how crystals grow and the real speed of light! Don't miss the frauds! It's all such nonsense!" You can read a preview at this link and purchase the book here.)
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