Image © Austin Cline
Is it mere coincidence that just about all 'skeptics' of both evolution and human-induced global warming are politically and religiously conservative? I doubt it -- though I'm not sure what the common factor is. Perhaps once having been introduced to anti-scientific ideology and/or the idea of preferring ideology over science, it's easier to do the same to a new subject. Perhaps the very rejection of evolution inclines one to disbelieve global warming, though I'm not sure how that would work.
Chris Mooney writes in the Nov-Dec, 2004 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer:
[F]ew ... "skeptics" have been publishing very much lately in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Despite efforts to derail it, a global consensus on climate change has formed and has been embraced by both the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the United Nations's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "Consensus as strong as the one that has developed around this topic is rare in science," Kennedy has noted.
Why does this matter? Well, the scientists whose views I detailed above fit firmly into the mainstream and were presenting consensus positions, not controversial ones. It would be a stretch to say that the theory of anthropogenic climate change has become as firmly established as, say, the theory of evolution, but there are telling similarities. Both views have won broad acceptance by the vast majority of scientific experts and now only come under fire from a small band of contrarian outliers. Moreover, the outliers aren't contributing much real science at this point. With a few exceptions, they're taking their case straight to journalists and public policymakers, an end run around the peer-review process. And of course, when the debate isn't going their way, they cry persecution.
Skeptics should recognize many of these traits; we've seen them before, not just in antievolutionists but among a wide variety of fringe scientists. At the very least, then, it seems that anyone who claims to be a science defender -- but questions the reality of human-induced climate change -- should have to answer the following question: Why trust the mainstream scientific community on other issues but not this one? One possible response -- dismissing today's climate science as warped by environmentalist alarmism -- strikes me as simply untenable. If we truly believe that ideology can so corrupt the scientific method in one field, then why place any more trust in the rest of science? [emphasis added]
Chris Mooney's question is very good and should be emphasized: whether one dismisses evolution or global warming, they are dismissing a conclusion accepted by just about everyone in the relevant scientific fields -- but if they are so incredibly wrong, how can the consensus of this field or any scientific field on any other issue be trusted? Obviously it's possible for a group of people to be right about one thing and wrong about another, but the conclusions at issue here were all arrived at by the same process.
If one is right and the other wrong, it should be possible for "skeptics" to identify how scientists went wrong in one case but not the other. Not only have they not done so, they haven't even really tried. The closely thing to an "explanation" which has been offered is the presence of conspiracies: a conspiracy of godless atheist evolutionists has created a "consensus" around evolution in order to discredit the Bible while a conspiracy of godless, socialist internationalists has created a "consensus" around global warming in order to undermine America's national sovereignty, enforce global socialism, etc.
In addition, there seems to be people who reject the anti-evolution "skepticism" of creationists while disputing the global warming consensus of science. Such people should be asked why the anti-warming arguments look and work so much like the anti-evolution arguments. They should have to explain what distinguishes their position from that of creationism and Intelligent Design, ideologies which they readily reject as absurd. This also shouldn't be too difficult, if in fact their skepticism is based upon genuine skeptical and scientific principles while that of creationists is merely a front to rationalize a religious ideology.
Update: Three years after this was first published, Eric at Classical Values "responds," after a fashion:
Anyway, as it's not every day that I read that I "should be asked about something," I figured might as well respond to the argumentative question -- "why the anti-warming arguments look and work so much like the anti-evolution arguments."
My central argument is that there is no crisis. Certainly nothing which would justify the massive government intrusions which are being demanded by a political consensus which masquerades as "science." Furthermore, I am against government solutions to "crises" -- whether the crises are real or not.
I put the word "responds" in scare quotes because Eric doesn't actually address the question he said he "might as well" answer. The question is about the parallels between skepticism directed by creationists at the science of evolution and the skepticism directed by global warming deniers at the science of global warming. Eric, though, doesn't address the science.
Eric doesn't see a "crisis" and notices that there is no "crisis" postulated by evolutionary theory, so wonders where the parallel is supposed to be. He should have wondered why he was looking in the wrong direction: the idea of a "crisis" is an evaluation of the direction we are going and consequences of the data -- you can, in theory, agree with all the scientific data and still not think it's a crisis (even in the worst case scenarios, you might be a misanthrope who looks forward to humanity suffering).
Eric doesn't think government should be trying to solve a crisis, even if there is a crisis (since it doesn't matter, why bother disputing it?), and notices that evolutionary theory doesn't postulate government doing anything so wonders where the parallel is. By this point he definitely should have noticed that proposals for government action are derived from values independent of scientific data and thus have nothing to do with the parallels between reactions to the science in each situation (though we might, for the sake of argument, draw a weak parallel to objections to public schools teaching evolution).
The parallels that Eric claims to wonder about are alluded to briefly in the quote from Mooney above and explained in more detail in the original article: "Both views have won broad acceptance by the vast majority of scientific experts and now only come under fire from a small band of contrarian outliers. Moreover, the outliers aren't contributing much real science at this point. With a few exceptions, they're taking their case straight to journalists and public policymakers, an end run around the peer-review process. And of course, when the debate isn't going their way, they cry persecution"
I'm pretty sure Eric read that as well as the full quote. I'm pretty sure that Eric was able to understand that what's being described here are some basic similarities in the reactions of "skeptics" to the science of evolution and the reactions of "skeptics" to the science of global warming. I asked why people who are critical of the first sort of skepticism engage in the second sort of skepticism even though both sorts of skepticism look so much alike in structure and behavior.
Eric pretended to answer, but in reality he didn't even begin to address it. I don't think he can. He rejects the pseudo-skepticism of evolution denial, but he's unable to explain how and why the skepticism of the science of global warming is any less a pseudo-skepticism. He says that he sees "no resemblance at all between evolution and global warming," which means that he's unable to recognize that the science behind global warming is about as secure as the science behind evolution.
Perhaps that's a significant part of his problem -- perhaps he doesn't accept science on it's own terms, but only when it doesn't contradict previous ideological commitments. This impression if reinforced when he says "I resent the attempted linkage," as if pointing out that two scientific fields are fairly equally secure were somehow a personal affront -- as if it were about him, rather than about how well a scientific field meets basic scientific criteria. Can you imagine anyone with any education about science saying "I see no resemblance at all between geology and evolution, and I resent the attempted linkage"? Of course not -- it's an absurd statement that only reveals the speaker's total ignorance of science.
Global warming skepticism may be many things, but tying it to creationism is a rhetorical cheap shot and not a legitimate argument against it.
Insofar as global warming skepticism partakes of the same tactics and attitudes as creationism, it absolutely is a legitimate argument against it -- and this is because the tactics and arguments used by creationists are not legitimate tactics and arguments for use in science. Comparing this to the tactics and arguments used by global warming deniers who reject creationism is a very good point to make and not at all a cheap shot because it reveals just how situational their supposed "standards" are: they reject behaviors which they themselves are happy to use in the right ideological setting. It reveals that the are not genuine supporters of science -- rather like the supposed supporter of free speech who only happens to support it when it comes to speech they like but not speech they don't like.
No wonder that a growing number of people on the right have grown tired of trying to engage in legitimate arguments.
This presumes that they truly understand what a legitimate argument is. When a person uses a legitimate argument against the tactics and methods of creationism, but then uses those tactics and methods themselves when it comes to global warming, I will doubt that they truly understand that argument in the first place -- I will suspect that they only used it because it sounded good against something they disagreed with, not because they truly understood what it meant. If they really understood it, then wouldn't ignore it once the ideological setting shifted.
Now, it's possible that Eric doesn't actually use any of the tactics and methods common in creationism and which are found in so much global warming denial. Maybe he's an unusual gem among global warming deniers. Even if this is the case, though, he can't fail to recognize the illegitimate tactics and methods so common in global warming denial: the lack of peer-reviewed scientific research, the attention paid to policymakers instead of scientists, etc. In that case, the proper response would be to agree with the criticism but explain how some, like himself, are exceptions. He didn't do that, though, which suggests that he isn't so unusual after all and fails to understand how all of this doesn't work as reasonable, legitimate objection to science.
Which, you know, sounds an awful lot like what we find in creationism.