You Can’t Bend Science to Suit Religious or Cultural Mores

By Neil deGrasse Tyson / Huffington Post, November 22, 2015

What is science? How does it work?

Excerpt

If you cherry-pick scientific truths to serve cultural, economic, religious or political objectives, you undermine the foundations of an informed democracy. Science distinguishes itself from all other branches of human pursuit by its power to probe and understand the behavior of nature on a level that allows us to predict with accuracy, if not control, the outcomes of events in the natural world. Science especially enhances our health, wealth and security, which is greater today for more people on Earth than at any other time in human history.The scientific method, which underpins these achievements, can be summarized in one sentence, which is all about objectivity: Do whatever it takes to avoid fooling yourself into thinking something is true that is not, or that something is not true that is. This approach to knowing did not take root until early in the 17th century, shortly after the inventions of both the microscope and the telescope. The astronomer Galileo and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon agreed: conduct experiments to test your hypothesis and allocate your confidence in proportion to the strength of your evidence. Since then, we would further learn not to claim knowledge of a newly discovered truth until multiple researchers, and ultimately the majority of researchers, obtain results consistent with one another.This code of conduct carries remarkable consequences. There’s no law against publishing wrong or biased results. But the cost to you for doing so is high. If your research is re-checked by colleagues, and nobody can duplicate your findings, the integrity of your future research will be held suspect. If you commit outright fraud, such as knowingly faking data, and subsequent researchers on the subject uncover this, the revelation will end your career. It’s that simple. This internal, self-regulating system within science may be unique among professions, and it does not require the public or the press or politicians to make it work. But watching the machinery operate may nonetheless fascinate you. Just observe the flow of research papers that grace the pages of peer reviewed scientific journals. This breeding ground of discovery is also, on occasion, a battlefield where scientific controversy is laid bare. Science discovers objective truths. These are not established by any seated authority, nor by any single research paper. The press, in an effort to break a story, may mislead the public’s awareness of how science works by headlining a just-published scientific paper as “the truth,” perhaps also touting the academic pedigree of the authors. In fact, when drawn from the moving frontier, the truth has not yet been established, so research can land all over the place until experiments converge in one direction or another — or in no direction, itself usually indicating no phenomenon at all. Once an objective truth is established by these methods, it is not later found to be false…Objective truths exist outside of your perception of reality… These statements can be verified by anybody, at any time, and at any place. And they are true, whether or not you believe in them. Meanwhile, personal truths are what you may hold dear, but have no real way of convincing others who disagree, except by heated argument, coercion or by force. These are the foundations of most people’s opinions….Differences in opinion define the cultural diversity of a nation, and should be cherished in any free society….Political attempts to require that others share your personal truths are, in their limit, dictatorships. Note further that in science, conformity is anathema to success. The persistent accusations that we are all trying to agree with one another is laughable to scientists attempting to advance their careers. The best way to get famous in your own lifetime is to pose an idea that is counter to prevailing research and which ultimately earns a consistency of observations and experiment. This ensures healthy disagreement at all times while working on the bleeding edge of discovery. In 1863… Abraham Lincoln — the first Republican president — signed into existence the National Academy of Sciences, based on an Act of Congress. This august body would provide independent, objective advice to the nation on matters relating to science and technology.Today, other government agencies with scientific missions serve similar purpose, including NASA, which explores space and aeronautics; NIST, which explores standards of scientific measurement, on which all other measurements are based; DOE, which explores energy in all usable forms; and NOAA, which explores Earth’s weather and climate. These centers of research, as well as other trusted sources of published science, can empower politicians in ways that lead to enlightened and informed governance. But this won’t happen until the people in charge, and the people who vote for them, come to understand how and why science works. http://www.alternet.org/culture/neil-degrasse-tyson-you-cant-bend-science-suit-religious-or-cultural-mores

Full text

If you cherry-pick scientific truths to serve cultural, economic, religious or political objectives, you undermine the foundations of an informed democracy.

Science distinguishes itself from all other branches of human pursuit by its power to probe and understand the behavior of nature on a level that allows us to predict with accuracy, if not control, the outcomes of events in the natural world. Science especially enhances our health, wealth and security, which is greater today for more people on Earth than at any other time in human history.The scientific method, which underpins these achievements, can be summarized in one sentence, which is all about objectivity:

Do whatever it takes to avoid fooling yourself into thinking something is true that is not, or that something is not true that is.

This approach to knowing did not take root until early in the 17th century, shortly after the inventions of both the microscope and the telescope. The astronomer Galileo and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon agreed: conduct experiments to test your hypothesis and allocate your confidence in proportion to the strength of your evidence. Since then, we would further learn not to claim knowledge of a newly discovered truth until multiple researchers, and ultimately the majority of researchers, obtain results consistent with one another.

This code of conduct carries remarkable consequences. There’s no law against publishing wrong or biased results. But the cost to you for doing so is high. If your research is re-checked by colleagues, and nobody can duplicate your findings, the integrity of your future research will be held suspect. If you commit outright fraud, such as knowingly faking data, and subsequent researchers on the subject uncover this, the revelation will end your career.

It’s that simple.

This internal, self-regulating system within science may be unique among professions, and it does not require the public or the press or politicians to make it work. But watching the machinery operate may nonetheless fascinate you. Just observe the flow of research papers that grace the pages of peer reviewed scientific journals. This breeding ground of discovery is also, on occasion, a battlefield where scientific controversy is laid bare.

Science discovers objective truths. These are not established by any seated authority, nor by any single research paper. The press, in an effort to break a story, may mislead the public’s awareness of how science works by headlining a just-published scientific paper as “the truth,” perhaps also touting the academic pedigree of the authors. In fact, when drawn from the moving frontier, the truth has not yet been established, so research can land all over the place until experiments converge in one direction or another — or in no direction, itself usually indicating no phenomenon at all.

Once an objective truth is established by these methods, it is not later found to be false. We will not be revisiting the question of whether Earth is round; whether the sun is hot; whether humans and chimps share more than 98 percent identical DNA; or whether the air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen.

The era of “modern physics,” born with the quantum revolution of the early 20th century and the relativity revolution of around the same time, did not discard Newton’s laws of motion and gravity. What it did was describe deeper realities of nature, made visible by ever-greater methods and tools of inquiry. Modern physics enclosed classical physics as a special case of these larger truths. So the only times science cannot assure objective truths is on the pre-consensus frontier of research, and the only time it couldn’t was before the 17th century, when our senses — inadequate and biased — were the only tools at our disposal to inform us of what was and was not true in our world.

Objective truths exist outside of your perception of reality, such as the value of pi; E= m c 2; Earth’s rate of rotation; and that carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases. These statements can be verified by anybody, at any time, and at any place. And they are true, whether or not you believe in them.

Meanwhile, personal truths are what you may hold dear, but have no real way of convincing others who disagree, except by heated argument, coercion or by force. These are the foundations of most people’s opinions. Is Jesus your savior? Is Mohammad God’s last prophet on Earth? Should the government support poor people? Is Beyoncé a cultural queen? Kirk or Picard? Differences in opinion define the cultural diversity of a nation, and should be cherished in any free society. You don’t have to like gay marriage. Nobody will ever force you to gay-marry. But to create a law preventing fellow citizens from doing so is to force your personal truths on others. Political attempts to require that others share your personal truths are, in their limit, dictatorships.

Note further that in science, conformity is anathema to success. The persistent accusations that we are all trying to agree with one another is laughable to scientists attempting to advance their careers. The best way to get famous in your own lifetime is to pose an idea that is counter to prevailing research and which ultimately earns a consistency of observations and experiment. This ensures healthy disagreement at all times while working on the bleeding edge of discovery. 

In 1863, a year when he clearly had more pressing matters to attend to, Abraham Lincoln — the first Republican president — signed into existence the National Academy of Sciences, based on an Act of Congress. This august body would provide independent, objective advice to the nation on matters relating to science and technology.

Today, other government agencies with scientific missions serve similar purpose, including NASA, which explores space and aeronautics; NIST, which explores standards of scientific measurement, on which all other measurements are based; DOE, which explores energy in all usable forms; and NOAA, which explores Earth’s weather and climate.

These centers of research, as well as other trusted sources of published science, can empower politicians in ways that lead to enlightened and informed governance. But this won’t happen until the people in charge, and the people who vote for them, come to understand how and why science works.

http://www.alternet.org/culture/neil-degrasse-tyson-you-cant-bend-science-suit-religious-or-cultural-mores

Science and the Search for Meaning by Rev. Peter Morales

By Peter Morales, President, Unitarian Universalist Assn, www.theNewAtlantis.com, Summer 2013

Excerpt

We affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” This simple proposition, which could serve as the motto of any scientific society, secular organization, or humanist group, is in fact one of the seven principles that guide the Unitarian Universalist religion…for many religions, truth, or at least what is true about the most important matters, is given by a set of sacred texts or traditions that members accept as a matter of faith. At least in this somewhat stereotypical view of religious thought, the truth about the highest or most important things cannot be sought — it is only given by authority. Scientific truth, on the other hand, is constantly changing. That is to say, what people know to be true changes as new information comes to light and ideas are challenged by new findings.

It is understandable, then, that religion and science have had a conflict or two over the years…many people believe they have to make a choice between a religious and a scientific worldview…for faith to be whole, for it to encompass the whole of our lived experience with the world, we must come to terms with science and what science teaches us. As Unitarian Universalists, we recognize that science and religion share a common wellspring. They both arise from the human need to cope with life, to make life comprehensible, controllable, and meaningful…

Science is based on a radically democratic way of knowing, in the sense that scientific truth is comprised of the things we can all experience — not on private experiences, accessible only to putatively gifted individualsscientific truth needs to be equally true for everyone everywhere… ultimately, science is an attempt to understand those parts of human experience that are unarguably true for all of us…While science and religion both arise from our need to cope with experience, science and religion are responses to fundamentally different questions. Science can help us discover the truth about our world, but religion can help us give that truth meaning…There is a human hunger for meaning that science does not address….Meaning in life does not exist unless we create it; it is our individual and collective response to what we have learned about the world…

I believe that hunger for meaning is the source for the renewed interest we have witnessed in recent decades in ritual, in spiritual practices such as meditation, and in traditional religious imagery. This coincides with recent findings that the number of people in the United States who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated is growing, while a majority of them still “describe themselves either as a religious person (18 percent) or as spiritual but not religious (37 percent).” People are seeking something that science does not give them. This is not a criticism of science. To criticize science for not satisfying our emotional and spiritual need for meaning is like criticizing a circle for not having corners.

Religion, at its best and most profound and most enduring, has been humanity’s way of collecting and transmitting wisdom about the meaning of life from one generation to the next.….Before science, religion filled the vacuum created by ignorance and created stories to explain the truth about the world — myths about creation and humanity’s origin…only we can decide how to react to them, how to apply those wondrous insights to our own lives…That is our religious task — individually and communally to create lives filled with meaning and lives consistent with what we love most deeply…

Full text

We affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” This simple proposition, which could serve as the motto of any scientific society, secular organization, or humanist group, is in fact one of the seven principles that guide the Unitarian Universalist religion.

Unitarian Universalism was formed in 1961 through the merger of two different religions, Unitarianism and Universalism — the first a Christian heresy, the second at least unorthodox, if not also heretical. Unitarianism rejects Trinitarian theology, and Universalism asserts the salvation of all. Historically, Unitarians and Universalists stood up for what they believed, even at the expense of their personal safety. Likewise, Unitarian Universalists are committed to truth and meaning to this day.

It is perhaps surprising that a religious organization would hold as one of its deepest convictions the “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” After all, for many religions, truth, or at least what is true about the most important matters, is given by a set of sacred texts or traditions that members accept as a matter of faith. At least in this somewhat stereotypical view of religious thought, the truth about the highest or most important things cannot be sought — it is only given by authority. Scientific truth, on the other hand, is constantly changing. That is to say, what people know to be true changes as new information comes to light and ideas are challenged by new findings.

It is understandable, then, that religion and science have had a conflict or two over the years. Many religious traditions have taught us that we human beings are God’s most glorious creation in the physical universe and that Earth is therefore properly at its center. Science suggests instead that we are the accidental outcome of a process of evolution that had neither us nor anything else in mind and that our geocentric perspective is an illusion. We have here two radically different conceptions of the human condition and of humanity’s place in the cosmos. And therefore it should come as no surprise that many people believe they have to make a choice between a religious and a scientific worldview.

What to make of science is a fundamental issue facing religious traditions in our time. Science has become an overwhelming challenge to traditional ways of viewing the world and our place in it. But for faith to be whole, for it to encompass the whole of our lived experience with the world, we must come to terms with science and what science teaches us.

As Unitarian Universalists, we recognize that science and religion share a common wellspring. They both arise from the human need to cope with life, to make life comprehensible, controllable, and meaningful. Indeed, we are all scientists. We all search for knowledge about the world, a way to make sense of our experiences and to give our lives meaning. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we learn that we were wrong. But our knowledge is never disinterested, as it always grows from our personal urge to make meaning of experience. We are scientists because we search for truth about our world.

Science is the discipline that can give us answers to the search for facts about the world around us. These questions can run the gamut of the myriad everyday questions that are relatively easy to answer — How much does this rock weigh? What kinds of things will a magnet pick up? But it also includes questions that are enormously complex and difficult — How old is the universe? How did human beings get here? What is the mass of the Higgs Boson? But all of these questions have something in common: we can answer them. We can gather evidence, study it, compare answers, and choose the answer that best fits our experience.

Science is based on a radically democratic way of knowing, in the sense that scientific truth is comprised of the things we can all experience — not on private experiences, accessible only to putatively gifted individuals. Another way of saying the same thing is that, at least in principle, science does not ask us to take its conclusions on faith or on authority. Science is about what is objective and repeatable; scientific truth needs to be equally true for everyone everywhere. A pound is a pound the world around. The charge of an electron and the mass of the top quark are the same everywhere. When we look through a backyard telescope, Jupiter has four visible moons when you look at it and when I look at it, just as it did when Galileo looked at it through his primitive telescope. The latest data suggest that the universe is 13.82 billion years old. This is the case whether we like it or not. The speed of light appears to be the universal speed limit even for those who would like to zip along at warp nine. The mass of the top quark according to the most recent measurements is 173.09 billion electron volts whether your theory predicted it or not. We are the products of the same biological evolution that produced monkeys, manatees, and mangoes. That’s just the way it is, and ultimately, science is an attempt to understand those parts of human experience that are unarguably true for all of us.

Meaning Beyond Science

But Unitarian Universalists affirm the search for both truth and meaning. If we are scientists in search of truth, we are also theologians in search of meaning. While science and religion both arise from our need to cope with experience, science and religion are responses to fundamentally different questions. Science can help us discover the truth about our world, but religion can help us give that truth meaning.

Even as science continues to teach us more and more about what is, to penetrate many of the fundamental questions about the universe, people are still searching for a way to apply those truths to their lives in a way that is emotionally or spiritually fulfilling. Part of the reason for the gap between scientific knowledge and meaningful experience of it is that the passion and wonder and awe that science ought to inspire is too often suppressed or ignored in the way we teach and talk about science. But the problem goes beyond that. There is a human hunger for meaning that science does not address. After we know all there is to know about the world, we still must answer the question: “so what?”

Questions about meaning are not scientific questions. The issue of what will make your life or mine meaningful is not a question that lends itself to controlled measurement. In this case, there are no correct and incorrect answers, no objective propositional statements.

Indeed, the answer we seek is not “out there,” but rather in our hearts and in our families and in our communities. Meaning in life does not exist unless we create it; it is our individual and collective response to what we have learned about the world. We develop rituals and religions, form families and communities, join together and drift apart in order to find purpose and meaning for our lives.

I believe that hunger for meaning is the source for the renewed interest we have witnessed in recent decades in ritual, in spiritual practices such as meditation, and in traditional religious imagery. This coincides with recent findings that the number of people in the United States who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated is growing, while a majority of them still “describe themselves either as a religious person (18 percent) or as spiritual but not religious (37 percent).” People are seeking something that science does not give them. This is not a criticism of science. To criticize science for not satisfying our emotional and spiritual need for meaning is like criticizing a circle for not having corners.

Religion, at its best and most profound and most enduring, has been humanity’s way of collecting and transmitting wisdom about the meaning of life from one generation to the next. Religious rituals, rites of passage, moral teachings, images, and stories — especially stories — are ways of creating meaning together and sharing it. Religion can teach us about the kinds of things worth committing ourselves to: community, family, compassion, justice, the natural world, beauty.

Before science, religion filled the vacuum created by ignorance and created stories to explain the truth about the world — myths about creation and humanity’s origin. But over the long march of the history of science, humanity has sought to fill that vacuum, to learn more about the world and to discover how it works. Science is indeed a spectacular achievement. The scientific truths of life are amazing, beautiful, and awesome. But only we can decide how to react to them, how to apply those wondrous insights to our own lives.

We are all intensely aware of the potential for conflict between science and religion. But that potential conflict does not define us or our journeys. We can know and face the truth — what scientific endeavors try to prove — and then move on to define our own meaning. We have choices to make. We still have to fashion lives that can channel our passion and our compassion. That is our religious task — individually and communally to create lives filled with meaning and lives consistent with what we love most deeply.

Search Together

Finally, I want to draw attention to one more aspect of that deceptively simple principle: “we affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” As Unitarian Universalists, we do not merely accept truth and provide the space for people to create meaning. We actively search for truth and meaning, holding to a principle demanding action and not simply providing a concept available for passive assent. Our view of truth may change, the meaning of our lives may be different, but as long as we are actively, responsibly seeking both truth and meaning — and allowing others to freely do so as well — we are living into our best selves. We are all scientists. We are all theologians. We are all in this together.

What is the meaning of your life? Our religious traditions suggest some answers. We will all answer differently based on our differing experiences, but we can all agree on some common themes. Our collective wisdom proposes that a meaningful life is a committed life — committed to mutual compassion and respect, openness, humility, and stewardship. This is what it is to live religiously. This is why we covenant together to be a religious community. We are here to help each other live with purpose. We learn, accept, and marvel at the wonders science has opened for us, and then create our lives by giving that knowledge meaning.

Rev. Peter Morales is president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations in North America.

Peter Morales, “Science and the Search for Meaning,” The New Atlantis, Number 39, Summer 2013, pp. 119-123.

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/science-and-the-search-for-meaning

Get Apocalyptic – The Case for the New Radical

YES! Magazine / By Robert Jensen, Alternet.org, May 28, 2013  |

Excerpt

Feeling anxious about life in a broken-down society on a stressed-out planet? That’s hardly surprising: Life as we know it is almost over. While the dominant culture encourages dysfunctional denial—pop a pill, go shopping, find your bliss—there’s a more sensible approach: Accept the anxiety, embrace the deeper anguish—and then get apocalyptic.

We are staring down multiple cascading ecological crises, struggling with political and economic institutions that are unable even to acknowledge, let alone cope with, the threats to the human family and the larger living worldA deep grief over what we are losing—and have already lost, perhaps never to be recovered—is appropriate. Instead of repressing these emotions we can confront them, not as isolated individuals but collectively, not only for our own mental health but to increase the effectiveness of our organizing for the social justice and ecological sustainability still within our grasp. Once we’ve sorted through those reactions, we can get apocalyptic and get down to our real work…The task for those with critical sensibilities is not just to resist oppressive social norms and illegitimate authority, but to speak a simple truth that almost no one wants to acknowledge: The high-energy/high-technology life of affluent societies is a dead end… to get apocalyptic means seeing clearly and recommitting to core values…we must affirm the value of our work for justice and sustainability…If all this seems like more than one can bear, it’s because it is. We are facing new, more expansive challenges. Never in human history have potential catastrophes been so global; never have social and ecological crises of this scale threatened at the same time; never have we had so much information about the threats we must come to terms with…Mainstream politicians will continue to protect existing systems of power, corporate executives will continue to maximize profit without concern, and the majority of people will continue to avoid these questions. It’s the job of people with critical sensibilities—those who consistently speak out for justice and sustainability, even when it’s difficult—not to back away just because the world has grown more ominous…To adopt an apocalyptic worldview is not to abandon hope but to affirm lifeBy avoiding the stark reality of our moment in history we don’t make ourselves safe, we undermine the potential of struggles for justice and sustainability.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin

Full text

Feeling anxious about life in a broken-down society on a stressed-out planet? That’s hardly surprising: Life as we know it is almost over. While the dominant culture encourages dysfunctional denial—pop a pill, go shopping, find your bliss—there’s a more sensible approach: Accept the anxiety, embrace the deeper anguish—and then get apocalyptic.

We are staring down multiple cascading ecological crises, struggling with political and economic institutions that are unable even to acknowledge, let alone cope with, the threats to the human family and the larger living world. We are intensifying an assault on the ecosystems in which we live, undermining the ability of that living world to sustain a large-scale human presence into the future. When all the world darkens, looking on the bright side is not a virtue but a sign of irrationality.

In these circumstances, anxiety is rational and anguish is healthy, signs not of weakness but of courage. A deep grief over what we are losing—and have already lost, perhaps never to be recovered—is appropriate. Instead of repressing these emotions we can confront them, not as isolated individuals but collectively, not only for our own mental health but to increase the effectiveness of our organizing for the social justice and ecological sustainability still within our grasp. Once we’ve sorted through those reactions, we can get apocalyptic and get down to our real work.

Perhaps that sounds odd, since we are routinely advised to overcome our fears and not give in to despair. Endorsing apocalypticism seems even stranger, given associations with “end-timer” religious reactionaries and “doomer” secular survivalists. People with critical sensibilities, those concerned about justice and sustainability, think of ourselves as realistic and less likely to fall for either theological or science-fiction fantasies.

Many associate “apocalypse” with the rapture-ranting that grows out of some interpretations of the Christian Book of Revelation (aka, the Apocalypse of John), but it’s helpful to remember that the word’s original meaning is not “end of the world.” “Revelation” from Latin and “apocalypse” from Greek both mean a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden, a coming to clarity. Speaking apocalyptically, in this sense, can deepen our understanding of the crises and help us see through the many illusions that powerful people and institutions create.

But there is an ending we have to confront. Once we’ve honestly faced the crises, then we can deal with what is ending—not all the world, but the systems that currently structure our lives. Life as we know it is, indeed, coming to an end.

Let’s start with the illusions: Some stories we have told ourselves—claims by white people, men, or U.S. citizens that domination is natural and appropriate—are relatively easy to debunk (though many cling to them). Other delusional assertions—such as the claim that capitalism is compatible with basic moral principles, meaningful democracy, and ecological sustainability—require more effort to take apart (perhaps because there seems to be no alternative).

But toughest to dislodge may be the central illusion of the industrial world’s extractive economy: that we can maintain indefinitely a large-scale human presence on the earth at something like current First-World levels of consumption. The task for those with critical sensibilities is not just to resist oppressive social norms and illegitimate authority, but to speak a simple truth that almost no one wants to acknowledge: The high-energy/high-technology life of affluent societies is a dead end. We can’t predict with precision how resource competition and ecological degradation will play out in the coming decades, but it is ecocidal to treat the planet as nothing more than a mine from which we extract and a landfill into which we dump.

We cannot know for sure what time the party will end, but the party’s over.

Does that seem histrionic? Excessively alarmist? Look at any crucial measure of the health of the ecosphere in which we live—groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of “dead zones” in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species, and reduction of biodiversity—and ask a simple question: Where are we heading?

Remember also that we live in an oil-based world that is rapidly depleting the cheap and easily accessible oil, which means we face a major reconfiguration of the infrastructure that undergirds daily life. Meanwhile, the desperation to avoid that reconfiguration has brought us to the era of “extreme energy,” using ever more dangerous and destructive technologies (hydrofracturing, deep-water drilling, mountaintop coal removal, tar sands extraction).

Oh, did I forget to mention the undeniable trajectory of global warming/climate change/climate disruption?

Scientists these days are talking about tipping points and planetary boundaries, about how human activity is pushing Earth beyond its limits. Recently 22 top scientists warned that humans likely are forcing a planetary-scale critical transition “with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience,” which means that “the biological resources we take for granted at present may be subject to rapid and unpredictable transformations within a few human generations.”

That conclusion is the product of science and common sense, not supernatural beliefs or conspiracy theories. The political/social implications are clear: There are no solutions to our problems if we insist on maintaining the high-energy/high-technology existence lived in much of the industrialized world (and desired by many currently excluded from it). Many tough-minded folk who are willing to challenge other oppressive systems hold on tightly to this lifestyle. The critic Fredric Jameson has written, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” but that’s only part of the problem—for some, it may be easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of air conditioning.

We do live in end-times, of a sort. Not the end of the world—the planet will carry on with or without us—but the end of the human systems that structure our politics, economics, and social life. “Apocalypse” need not involve heavenly rescue fantasies or tough-guy survival talk; to get apocalyptic means seeing clearly and recommitting to core values.

First, we must affirm the value of our work for justice and sustainability, even though there is no guarantee we can change the disastrous course of contemporary society. We take on projects that we know may fail because it’s the right thing to do, and by doing so we create new possibilities for ourselves and the world. Just as we all know that someday we will die and yet still get out of bed every day, an honest account of planetary reality need not paralyze us.

Then let’s abandon worn-out clichés such as, “The American people will do the right thing if they know the truth,” or “Past social movements prove the impossible can happen.”

There is no evidence that awareness of injustice will automatically lead U.S. citizens, or anyone else, to correct it. When people believe injustice is necessary to maintain their material comfort, some accept those conditions without complaint.

Social movements around race, gender, and sexuality have been successful in changing oppressive laws and practices, and to a lesser degree in shifting deeply held beliefs. But the movements we most often celebrate, such as the post-World War II civil rights struggle, operated in a culture that assumed continuing economic expansion. We now live in a time of permanent contraction—there will be less, not more, of everything. Pressuring a dominant group to surrender some privileges when there is an expectation of endless bounty is a very different project than when there is intensified competition for resources. That doesn’t mean nothing can be done to advance justice and sustainability, only that we should not be glib about the inevitability of it.

Here’s another cliché to jettison: Necessity is the mother of invention. During the industrial era, humans exploiting new supplies of concentrated energy have generated unprecedented technological innovation in a brief time. But there is no guarantee that there are technological fixes to all our problems; we live in a system that has physical limits, and the evidence suggests we are close to those limits. Technological fundamentalism—the quasi-religious belief that the use of advanced technology is always appropriate, and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences can be remedied by more technology—is as empty a promise as other fundamentalisms.

If all this seems like more than one can bear, it’s because it is. We are facing new, more expansive challenges. Never in human history have potential catastrophes been so global; never have social and ecological crises of this scale threatened at the same time; never have we had so much information about the threats we must come to terms with.

It’s easy to cover up our inability to face this by projecting it onto others. When someone tells me “I agree with your assessment, but people can’t handle it,” I assume what that person really means is, “I can’t handle it.” But handling it is, in the end, the only sensible choice.

Mainstream politicians will continue to protect existing systems of power, corporate executives will continue to maximize profit without concern, and the majority of people will continue to avoid these questions. It’s the job of people with critical sensibilities—those who consistently speak out for justice and sustainability, even when it’s difficult—not to back away just because the world has grown more ominous.

Adopting this apocalyptic framework doesn’t mean separating from mainstream society or giving up ongoing projects that seek a more just world within existing systems. I am a professor at a university that does not share my values or analysis, yet I continue to teach. In my community, I am part of a group that helps people create worker-cooperatives that will operate within a capitalist system that I believe to be a dead end. I belong to a congregation that struggles to radicalize Christianity while remaining part of a cautious, often cowardly, denomination.

I am apocalyptic, but I’m not interested in empty rhetoric drawn from past revolutionary moments. Yes, we need a revolution—many revolutions—but a strategy is not yet clear. So, as we work patiently on reformist projects, we can continue to offer a radical analysis and experiment with new ways of working together. While engaged in education and community organizing with modest immediate goals, we can contribute to the strengthening of networks and institutions that can be the base for the more radical change we need. In these spaces today we can articulate, and live, the values of solidarity and equity that are always essential.

To adopt an apocalyptic worldview is not to abandon hope but to affirm life. As James Baldwin put it decades ago, we must remember “that life is the only touchstone and that life is dangerous, and that without the joyful acceptance of this danger, there can never be any safety for anyone, ever, anywhere.” By avoiding the stark reality of our moment in history we don’t make ourselves safe, we undermine the potential of struggles for justice and sustainability.

As Baldwin put it so poignantly in that same 1962 essay, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

It’s time to get apocalyptic, or get out of the way.

See more stories tagged with:

apocalypse [3],

radical [4],

crisis [5],

us [6],

alarm [7],

activism [8],

catastrophe [9]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/activism/get-apocalyptic-case-new-radical

Links:
[1] http://www.yesmagazine.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-jensen
[3] http://www.alternet.org/tags/apocalypse
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/radical
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/crisis
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/us-0
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/alarm
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/activism
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/catastrophe
[10] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

97% Global Warming Consensus Meets Resistance from Scientific Denialism

The robust climate consensus faces resistance from conspiracy theories, cherry picking, and misrepresentations

by Dana Nuccitelli, The Guardian, May 28, 2013

The Skeptical Science survey finding 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming has drawn an incredible amount of media attention. Hundreds of media stories documented our survey and results. Lead author John Cook and I participated in a number of interviews to discuss the paper, including on Al Jazeera, CNN, and ABC. President Obama even Tweeted about our results to his 31 million followers.

The story has been so popular mainly because our results present a simple but critical message. There is a wide gap between the public awareness and the reality of the expert consensus on human-caused global warming.

 

Additionally, as John Cook has discussed, research has shown that perception of consensus is linked to support for climate policy. This is true along most of the ideological spectrum – when people are aware of the expert consensus on human-caused global warming, they are more likely to support taking action to solve the problem.

Opponents of climate action have been aware of the powerful influence of the scientific consensus for decades. As far back as 1991, Western Fuels Association launched a $510,000 campaign to “reposition global warming as theory (not fact)” in the public perception. A memo from communications strategist Frank Luntz leaked in 2002 advised Republicansto continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”

Thus although our results were straightforward and consistent with previous research, we were not surprised when they met with resistance from certain groups, and anticipated the critiques with an FAQ. However, in reviewing the various criticisms of our paper, we noticed some common threads amongst them. A 2009 paper published in the European Journal of Public Health by Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee discussed five characteristics common to scientific denialism:

1) Cherry picking;
2) Fake experts;
3) Misrepresentation and logical fallacies.
4) Impossible expectations of what research can deliver; and
5) Conspiracy theories;

These characteristics were present throughout the criticisms of our paper, and in fact we found examples of each of the five characteristics among them.

For example, the author of one blog post contacted a handful of scientists whose papers were included in our survey and claimed that we had ‘falsely classified’ their papers. Climate economist Richard Tol echoed the criticism of our paper in this blog post. This particular criticism manages to check off three of the five characteristics of scientific denialism.

Specifically contacting these few scientists is a classic example of cherry picking. Our survey received responses from 1,200 climate researchers; the author of this post carefully selected a few of them who all just happen to be well-known climate ‘skeptics’. It’s also a variant of the fake expert characteristic, as John Cook explained in his textbook with G. Thomas Farmer, Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis.
“A variation of the Fake Expert strategy is to take the handful of remaining dissenting climate scientists and magnify their voices to give the impression of more significant disagreement then there actually is.”

The handful scientists contacted for this blog post are among the less than 3% of climate researchers who dispute human-caused global warming. As a result, the voices of this small minority of ‘skeptics’ are magnified.

Third, this blog post argument is a misrepresentation of our study. The Skeptical Science team categorized the papers based solely on their abstracts, whereas the scientists were asked about the contents of their full papers. We invited the scientific authors to categorize their own papers, so if they responded, their ‘correct’ classifications of the full papers are included in our database. As illustrated in the graphic below, we found the same 97% consensus in both the abstracts-only and author self-rating methods.

Another characteristic of movements that deny a consensus involves impossible expectations. The tobacco industry perfected this approach in the 1970s, demanding ever-more stringent levels of proof that smoking caused cancer in order to delay government regulation of their products. This technique of impossible expectations was illustrated in another blog post claiming that only papers which quantify the human contribution to global warming count as endorsing the consensus. Most climate-related research doesn’t quantify how much global warming humans are causing, especially in the abstract; there’s simply no reason to.

We didn’t expect scientists to go into nitty gritty detail about settled science in the valuable real estate of the abstract (the short summary at the start of the paper). However, we did expect to see it more often in the full paper, and that’s exactly what we observed. When scientists were asked to rate the level of endorsement of their own papers, in the 237 papers that actually specified the proportion of human-caused global warming, over 96% agreed that humans have caused more than half of the recent global warming.

In yet another blog post, Christopher Monckton, whom my colleague John Abraham exposed as habitually misrepresenting climate scientists’ research, has also misrepresented our results. Monckton compared apples to oranges by looking at previous consensus studies in an effort to argue that our results show a ‘collapsing’ consensus. On the contrary, using a consistent apples-to-apples comparison over a two-decade span, we showed that the consensus on human-caused global warming is growing.

 

In recent years, fewer papers have taken a position on the cause of global warming in the abstract. This was predicted by Naomi Oreskes in 2007, who noted that scientists will move on to focus on questions that are not settled. Some blogs advanced a related logical fallacy by claiming that this shows ‘an increase in uncertainty.’ However, if uncertainty over the cause of global warming were increasing, we would expect to see the percentage of papers rejecting or minimizing human-caused global warming increasing. On the contrary, the percentage of rejecting studies is declining as well. That scientists feel the issue is settled science actually suggests there is more certainty about the causes of global warming.

Finally, a conspiracy theory has been proposed, suggesting that the consensus is simply a result of scientific journals refusing to publish papers that reject human-caused global warming. Our analysis included results from 1,980 journals all around the world. For all of these nearly two thousand international scientific journals to block ‘skeptic’ research would involve a massive conspiracy indeed.

Due to the importance of our results, we fully expect the resistance to continue, and we fully expect those who resist our findings to continue to exhibit the five characteristics of scientific denialism. However, we have used two independent methods and confirmed the same 97% consensus as in previous studies. That overwhelming agreement on human-caused global warming manifests in so many independent ways indicates that the scientific consensus is a robust reality.

© 2013 Guardian News and Media

Dana Nuccitelli is a blogger on environmentguardian.co.uk. He is an environmental scientist and risk assessor, and also contributes to SkepticalScience.com

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/05/28-9

 

Deafness at Doomsday

By LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS, January 15, 2013

Excerpt

TO our great peril, the scientific community has had little success in recent years influencing policy on global security…Scientists’ voices are crucial in the debates over the global challenges of climate change, nuclear proliferation and the potential creation of new and deadly pathogens. But unlike in the past, their voices aren’t being heard…distinguished scientific minds at our research universities and other national labs — provide advice that is routinely ignored.. ideological biases have become so ingrained in Washington that scientific realities are subordinated to political intransigence…Until science and data become central to informing our public policies, our civilization will be hamstrung in confronting the gravest threats to its survival.

Full text

TO our great peril, the scientific community has had little success in recent years influencing policy on global security. Perhaps this is because the best scientists today are not directly responsible for the very weapons that threaten our safety, and are therefore no longer the high priests of destruction, to be consulted as oracles as they were after World War II.

The problems scientists confront today are actually much harder than they were at the dawn of the nuclear age, and their successes more heartily earned. This is why it is so distressing that even Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world’s most famous living scientist, gets more attention for his views on space aliens than his views on nuclear weapons.Scientists’ voices are crucial in the debates over the global challenges of climate change, nuclear proliferation and the potential creation of new and deadly pathogens. But unlike in the past, their voices aren’t being heard.

Indeed, it was Albert Einstein’s letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, warning of the possibility that Hitler might develop a nuclear weapon, that quickly prompted the start of the Manhattan Project, the largest scientific wartime project in history. Then, in 1945, the same group of physicists who had created the atomic bomb founded the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to warn of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and to promote international cooperation to avoid nuclear war. As Einstein said in May 1946, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

The men who built the bomb had enormous prestige as the greatest physics minds of the time. They included Nobel laureates, past and future, like Hans A. Bethe, Richard P. Feynman, Enrico Fermi, Ernest O. Lawrence and Isidor Isaac Rabi.

In June 1946, for instance, J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had helped lead the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M., argued that atomic energy should be placed under civilian rather than military control. Within two months President Harry S. Truman signed a law doing so, effective January 1947.

Today, nine nuclear states have stockpiled perhaps 20,000 nuclear weapons, many of which dwarf the weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet proliferation is as alarming as ever, even though President Obama signed, and Congress ratified, the new strategic arms-reduction treaty in 2010. Iran’s nuclear program could lead to conflict. So could the animosity between India and Pakistan, which both have nuclear weapons.

The United States is complicit, because whatever our leaders may say, our actions suggest that we have no real intention to disarm. The United Nations adopted the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would ban countries from testing nuclear weapons, in 1996. But it has not come into force; the Senate rejected ratification in 1999, and while President Obama has promised to obtain ratification, he has not shown enough urgency in doing so.

What’s striking is that today’s version of the Manhattan Project scientists — not the weapons researchers at our maximum-security national laboratories, but distinguished scientific minds at our research universities and other national labs — provide advice that is routinely ignored.

Last year, the National Academy of Sciences published a report demonstrating that all the technical preconditions necessary for ratifying the United Nations treaty were in place. But this vital issue did not come up in the presidential campaign and is barely mentioned in Washington. Another study by the academy last year, on flaws in America’s costly ballistic missile defense program, has had little impact even as the Pentagon considers cuts in military spending.

I am co-chairman of the board of sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which has supported the call for a world free of nuclear weapons — a vision backed by major foreign policy figures in both parties. But ideological biases have become so ingrained in Washington that scientific realities are subordinated to political intransigence.

Do scientists need to develop new doomsday tools before our views are again heard? Will climate researchers remain voiceless unless they propose untested geoengineering technologies that could have insidious consequences? Will biologists be heard only if their work spawns new biotechnologies that could be weaponized?

Because the threat of nuclear proliferation is not being addressed, because missile defense technologies remain flawed and because new threats exposed by scientists have been ignored, the Bulletin’s annual Doomsday clock — which was updated on Tuesday — still sits at five minutes to midnight. The clock is meant to convey the threats we face not only from nuclear weapons, but also from climate change and the potential unintended consequences of genetic engineering, which could be misused by those seeking to create bioweapons.

Until science and data become central to informing our public policies, our civilization will be hamstrung in confronting the gravest threats to its survival.

Lawrence M. Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, is the author, most recently, of “A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing.”

Between Rock of Ages and a Hard Place

By NICHOLAS WADE, New York Times, November 26, 2012

It was the standard political interview, about ambition and the right size for government. Then came the curveball question to Senator Marco Rubio of Florida from Michael Hainey of GQ magazine: “How old do you think the earth is?”

Senator Rubio, a possible contender in the 2016 Republican presidential race, gave the following answer: “I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians.”

He went on: “At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created, and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says.

“Whether the earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

It may have been a mystery back in the 17th century, when Archbishop James Ussher calculated from the age of the patriarchs and other sources that Earth was created on Oct. 22, 4004 B.C. Today’s best estimate for the age of Earth, based on the radiometric dating of meteorites, is 4.54 billion years. The real mystery is how a highly intelligent politician got himself into the position of suggesting that the two estimates are of equal value, or that theologians are still the best interpreters of the physical world.

Catholics and Jews have always emphasized their priests’ interpretations of the Bible, not the text itself; Protestants, starting with Martin Luther, insisted the Bible was the literal truth and the sole dependable source of divine knowledge, a belief the Puritans implanted firmly in American soil. Then, in the 19th century, German textual critics like Julius Wellhausen showed that the Bible was not the inerrant product of divine inspiration but had been cobbled together by many hands whose editing was all too evident.

At that point most Protestants decided to join Catholics in interpreting the Bible metaphorically and avoiding embarrassing public spats with science. But after discussions in the early 20th century, the conservative wing of the Protestant movement elected to double down their bet and insist that every word in the Bible was true.

The inevitable clash with science, particularly in the teaching of evolution, has continued to this day. Militant atheists like the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins beat the believers about the head, accomplishing nothing; fundamentalist Christians naturally defend their religion and values to the hilt, whatever science may say.

A scientific statesman, if there were such a person, would try to defuse the situation by professing respect for all religions and making a grand yet also trivial concession about the status of evolution.

Like those electrons that can be waves or particles, evolution is both a theory and a fact. In historical terms, evolution has certainly occurred and no fact is better attested. But in terms of the intellectual structure of science, evolution is a theory; no one talks about Darwin’s “fact of evolution.”

Unlike a fact, a theory cannot be absolutely true. All scientific theories are subject to change and replacement, just as Newton’s theory of gravitation was replaced by Einstein’s. The theory of evolution, though it has no present rivals, is still under substantial construction.

Evolutionary biologists are furiously debating whether or not natural selection can operate on groups of individuals, as Darwin thought was likely but most modern evolutionists doubt. So which version of evolution is the true one?

By allowing that evolution is a theory, scientists would hand fundamentalists the fig leaf they need to insist, at least among themselves, that the majestic words of the first chapter of Genesis are literal, not metaphorical, truths. They in return should make no objection to the teaching of evolution in science classes as a theory, which indeed it is.

And rudderless politicians like Senator Rubio wouldn’t have to throw 15 back flips and a hissy fit when asked a simple question like how old is the earth.

Nicholas Wade, a longtime science writer for The New York Times, is the author of “The Faith Instinct,” about the evolutionary basis of religion.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/27/science/biblical-literalists-clash-with-science.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121127

Anti-intellectualism – Conservative

The Ignorance Caucus by Paul Krugman, February 10, 2013 – [The Republican] party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions…while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place. The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs… full text

Will Republican Voters Believe Anything? The Right’s Hyperbolic, Dysfunctional World by Gary Younge, AlterNet.org, March 28, 2011 - Polls suggest there are between one in three and one in four Americans who would believe anything…These are national polls that span the political spectrum. So you can imagine how concentrated the distortions become when filtered through the tainted lens of the right. The challenge for the primaries is neither new nor unique to the right. The tension between appealing to the base and to moderates is the perennial test of any successful candidate in national United States politics. To win the party nomination you must appeal to your motivated base. To take the country as a whole you generally must engage the wavering centre. What is relatively new, however, is the level of logical dysfunction and hyperbole within the American right…what you need to say and do to be credible within the Republican party essentially deprives you of credibility outside it…With just a few exceptions only social conservatives (anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, pro-gun) can get elected within the Republican party, so it has ceased to be much of an issue in primaries.

The New Know Nothing Party and the High Price of Willful Ignorance by John Atcheson, Common Dreams, February 19, 2013 Ignorance: The condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed. Here in the 21st Century the Republicans have become the new Know Nothing Party…  Just as the original Know Nothings employed fear, bigotry, ignorance and hate to motivate its base, so too does the Republican Party… one area of willful ignorance eclipses all others in terms of its denial of fact and the consequences of that denial:  Climate change. The scientific consensus is clear at this point, and it’s backed up by empirical evidence…We are trading away children’s future.…So we have a clear and present danger, a strong scientific consensus, and empirical evidence that we are on the verge – or well into – irrevocable global disasters of epic proportion. How does the Party of Willful Ignorance respond?  With intentional ignorance, of course. The question is why. And the answer is simple. They sell ignorance because it is in the interests of their true constituency – the uber wealthy and the corporate special interests.  While tackling climate change would avoid catastrophic costs and create jobs, it will hurt the coal, oil and gas interests. Austerity preserves the status quo on who has and who doesn’t.

Between Rock of Ages and a Hard Place (Rubio – climate change)

The Republican Brain: Why Even Educated Conservatives Deny Science – and Reality by Chris Mooney, Truthout – published by AlterNet News Analysis, February 25, 2012

The Evangelical Rejection of Reason by Karl W. Giberson and Randall J. Stephens, New York Times, October 17, 2011

Will Glenn Beck’s Common Nonsense Change Our Nation – An Interview With Alex Zaitchik by Sara Robinson, The Campaign for America’s Future, May 24, 2010 -