On Q&A on September 23 last year, Kerry O’Brien answered a question from an audience member about climate change. Speaking ex-cathedra, as becomes his venerable status as a doyen of all right-thinking, he bemoaned how the climate emergency had been apparent to him from as far back as the 1980s when “highly reputable scientists first started articulating the science of greenhouse gases and the implications of that.”
As an evidently devout adherent of the religion of scientism, he condemned the blasphemy of denying the undeniable truth, issuing the usual anathemas and calls to repentance for apostates. “All that has changed in that time is the science has got more and more and more and more solid… And we know that because that is the science. That is the science. There is no longer any doubt about the science.”
Pontius Pilate asked a very profound philosophical question when he asked, “What is truth?” From my perspective, Truth is a person, and one arrives at the Truth through a process of revelation. But to an adherent of the religion of scientism, truth – all truth – is arrived at through an irrational process of feeling around in the darkness, or, as they would put it, through a process of empirical enquiry, examining the part to know the whole, generalising from particulars to make universal claims, calculating probability without ever having the prospect of knowing the denominator, and relying solely on the senses for an understanding of reality.
The problem with the scientific method is that it must be unscientific in order to be scientific. The scientist, being a finite being bound by space and time, cannot know the whole of reality, cannot examine every particular in the universe, cannot know whether all swans are white or all crows black. He must rely on a philosophical presupposition that is not arrived at empirically. He must make a giant leap of faith and assume the uniformity of nature. Only then can he hope to generalise from particulars and make universal truth claims while never being in a position to empirically confirm those claims.
Theomachists like Kerry O’Brien, starting from the wrong metaphysical and epistemological assumptions, end up arriving at the wrong conclusions. Without the Logos, they end up with illogic, confusing deduction with induction. The conclusions of deductive reasoning necessarily follow from their premises, leading to valid inferences, whereas the conclusions of inductive reasoning never necessarily follow from their premises, leading to invalid inferences. Such people confuse deductive mathematical proof with inductive scientific proof.
Imagine, if you will, a medieval scientist conducting experiments into the cause of diseases. Somebody from the future travels back in time and asks him whether he is factoring into his experiments the germ theory of disease. Naturally, the scientist asks what germs are. The person begins to explain that germs are very small things that one cannot see, but before he can finish, the scientist rudely interrupts him, scoffing at the possibility of such things not seen, and sends what he deems to be a superstitious fool on his way.
As Donald Rumsfeld famously explained to us in 2002, there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. The trick is determining what we, as finite beings, actually know or are even capable of knowing. If we overestimate our epistemic capacity, we can end up making fools of ourselves.
How much do we know that we know, how much do we know that we do not know, and how much do we not know that we do not know? Einstein probably had the right idea of our epistemology when he said, talking about our knowledge of the universe: “We know nothing about it at all… The real nature of things, that we shall never know.”
So what of climate science? According to chaos theory, the butterfly effect describes a phenomenon whereby small changes in the initial conditions of a dynamical system can later have a large effect, such that a butterfly flapping its wings in one side of the world can end up causing a hurricane on the other side. This helps explain why doom-mongering climate-change predictions often end up being so wrong, given that the variables to be factored into any modelling are in actual fact innumerable.
People need to calm down and start exercising more sense and reason. After all, the historical record seems to show that the climate has variously warmed and cooled over time. We have had, for example, the Roman Warm Period, the Medieval Warm Period, the Mini Ice Age, and now today’s apparent re-warming. Ascribing today’s climate change to an anthropogenic cause seems to show an obdurate determination to ignore the historical record. Other, more plausible hypotheses can be offered to explain climate change, such as the possibility that the aforementioned periods of climate change may be better explained with reference to solar activity. We should therefore not do such rash things as destroy our economy on the basis of some irrational and hysterical reasoning.
So do we do away with science? Not at all! We just need to better understand what science is and what it can and cannot do. Science cannot discover truth because its reasoning process is illogical, that is, the inferences it makes are never valid. This being the case, the science can never be settled. This is because scientific conclusions never necessarily follow from their premises and so such conclusions are always falsifiable. Which is just a fancy way of saying that they are not true, or at least that there is no way we could ever know that they are true. Scientific conclusions, in reality, are always tentative and provisional, always expecting at any moment to be contradicted. They are always irrational.
Nevertheless, even as we look through a glass darkly, we still have to live in this world and make our best guesses about the operations of our spatiotemporal realm. We will have to deal with conflicting information, for example, about whether it is better to have margarine or butter, whether eggs good or bad for you, whether you should bother warming up before your gym workout, whether we should allow for some meat in our diets or go vegan, and so on.
Taking a stab at things, I have butter rather than margarine; I will probably only eat eggs in what I deem to be moderation. I no longer warm-up before my gym workouts, and I will probably cut down on my meat consumption, particularly red meat.
I have no idea whether these choices are correct, because I know that truth is a person and none of these things is a person. I am just taking a guess, maybe even an “educated guess”.
Sure, I will listen to what the scientists have to say on various issues. But I will not take it as gospel, because I have enough understanding of logic to know that it would be illogical to do so. And I would encourage people prone to climate-change hysteria to start thinking more clearly and calmly instead of so irrationally and hysterically.
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