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Matters of Faith: Global Warming and Intelligent Design

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Global Warming and Intelligent Design share a fundamental characteristic in common, the lack of definitive, proven evidence of the causation which would make them fact rather than theory.

In Intelligent Design you can see the leaps of evolution and the bizarre anomalies in the fossil record and you can say "something must have caused this", but there is no proof of what or who is the cause. You can choose God or aliens or mutation or random unidentified forces as your explanation equally convincingly because no evidence exists to definitively identify the unknown forces driving the evolutionary process. If you believe in a conscious force behind evolution you can only reach that conclusion through faith.

In the same way, Global Warming is a clearly identifiable phenomenon which can be documented through the geological record and contemporary temperature measurements, but it is impossible to point to a specific cause and say "aha, here's THE thing which is causing global warming." Human causation is the popular choice as a cause, but human output of the gasses which cause global warming is substantially less than the cumulative yearly output from natural sources like volcanoes and forest fires and falls well within the normal variations of those gasses from year to year. Natural forces like solar activity and the earth's climate cycle also contribute to global warming and it is impossible to definitively identify one cause as specifically responsible. If your choice is to believe in human causation as the one thing that causes Global Warming, that position can only be reached by the equivalent of a leap of faith.

Because these are beliefs which can only be reached by faith, those who subscribe to them have a tendancy to be driven to fanaticism in defense of their position. They attack and harass those who disagree with them, deride them as deniers driven by a political agenda, be it secularism or corporate greed, and do their best to essentially redefine reality on their own terms. They will go to great and destructive extremes to force their beliefs on others, including imposing their agenda on the school curriculum, promoting their beliefs through advocacy groups, seeking to pass legislation enshrining it in law, and attempting to destroy and discredit those who don't agree with them.

The remarkable thing with this sort of fanatically held belief is that it doesn't matter if there's any truth or evidence behind it, or if there are facts which directly contradict it. The true believers will gladly redefine reality on the fly so that whatever facts they're presented with will fit into their worldview. Inconvenient fossil records predating the biblical creation of the earth? God created them to test our faith. Inconvenient record snowfalls and cooling trends in Europe? Well, of course, cold weather is a symptom of global warming. The great thing about faith is that it can help you rationalize anything no matter how ridiculous.

It's interesting that the people who object most to the irrationality of Intelligent Design theory are often the same people who are just as dogmatic in their adherence to Global Warming theory, and vice versa. The two are unrelated, but it's interesting that both groups have their issues of absolute belief which they hold to be inviolable with equal levels of vehemence and obsession.

What neither group considers is that maybe both positions are irrational and untennable and that both theories have flaws, are open to criticism and might need more study and analysis. Both Global Warming and Intelligent Design are still theories and neither has the stamp of absolute empirical truth on them, because both are based on assumptions which cannot be definitively proven and to some degree have to be 'taken on faith'. I find any demand to believe something which cannot be proven just because others believe in it – no matter how numerous they are – to be objectionable and an offense to reason. Reality isn't defined by a majority vote. What's worse, when a theory becomes dogma, those who subscribe to it fanatically will try to stifle further discussion, exploration and analysis, and that's a very negative force in a any kind of scientific inquiry.

About Dave Nalle

  • pleasexcusetheinteruption12

    But why should you believe in atoms? Ever seen one?

    uhhh..yes

  • duane

    Uhhh … well, that’s nice. I guess I should eat more carrots.

  • pleasexcusetheinteruption12

    Ever heard of a microscope?

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Or are you like Dave Nalle, and others, and choose to pretend that any skeptic of evolution theory is automatically some kind of science denying, flat earth, bible thumper who believes God planted dinosaur bones to test our faith?

    Very reassuring to see someone from the ID camp misrepresenting my beliefs just as badly as the GW folks did.

    When did I ever say that evolution was an unassailable fact? Give me a quote or cite where I said it. You can’t, because I haven’t written one single word in a comment on this thread or in the article about evolution.

    Just like GW and ID, evolution needs to be tested, reassessed and examined in the light of new evidence on a regular basis. Just like ANY theory should be, for that matter.

    Someone who believes in ID and rejects evolution on that basis is not a ‘skeptic of evolution’. They have accepted a different theory which is based on faith rather than science. A skeptic of evolution would be someone who doesn’t KNOW the answer to the question of where man came from, but is willing to consider more than just one answer.

    Dave

  • pleasexcusetheinteruption12

    Guess nobody likes you Dave…

  • duane

    peti, you’re helping Dan cheat. Let him answer the questions by himself. You didn’t help me answer his questions.

  • MCH

    Say Nalle…question: Did you pose for the caricature on the cover of The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary, and then draw in some hair later? Cuz that sure looks like you, man.

  • http://jswynne.typepad.com/gropes/ Jim Wynne

    Here’s PZ Myers at Pharyngula with a little bit about a scientist who’s been extensively quotemined by the GW deniers:Peter Doran in the New York Times

  • alethinos

    SEE The OP/ED section of the New York Times today.
    Peter Doran is an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Has asked that his name be REMOVED from those who DISPUTE global warming. Interesting piece…

    alethinos

  • JR

    Dan: To my knowledge there aren’t any species transitions to a new species ever found in the fossil record.

    What would you call Australopithecus?

  • http://www.co2emissions.org.uk Hoggle

    JR
    Australopithecus is an example of the species that existed at that time. To demonstrate a transition you would need at least one genetic sample from each generation between the two samples declared as different species.

    Species is a classification system that loosely groups together individual organisms that are sufficiently similar to have fertile offspring. Asking for a demonstration of species transition demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the topic.

    In order that evolution happen you need to demonstrate two things, and only two things.

    The first is natural variation – random mutations in asexual organisms and novel recombinations as well as mutations making the offspring slightly different from their forebears.

    The second is natural selection – the variation in statistical survival rates between individuals arising from their differences.

    If you demonstrate both of those, then evolution is a mathematical certainty. They are the axioms and evolution is the mathematically proven consequence. Both have been demonstrated repeatedly, both experimentally and in the natural world.

    Regarding the origin of life question. Experiments replicating what is known about the ‘primordial soup’ have demonstrated that not only are the building blocks of life possible to arise spontaneously, it is actually very easy for them to do so. wikipedia

    Once you have the building blocks, self-replicating molecules are just a step away, and once you have self-replication, life is inevitable through the processes of evolution. wikipedia 2

  • http://www.co2emissions.org.uk Hoggle

    apologies.

    The first is natural variation – random mutations in asexual organisms and novel recombinations as well as mutations in sexual organisms making the offspring slightly different from their forebears.

  • Clavos

    Dave,

    GW update.

    According to an article published in today’s Miami Herald, Chris Landsea, of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, has co-authored a paper which will be published today in the journal Science, in which he challenges the studies by Kerry Emanuel of MIT that found that hurricanes have intensified due to global warming.

    Landsea joins Dr. Bill Gray, of the University of Colorado and Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center, in pointing out that the effect of GW on recent hurricane activity is minimal.

    In his paper, Landsea points out that previous studies failed to take into account that significant improvements in the technology of hurricane monitoring have skewed the comparison to historical data.

  • Maezeppa

    This premise, of equating global warming with ID is absurd. One has an abundance of hard science behind it and the other is a philosophy and not a science.

    Nobody wants global warming to be occurring but it is a fact. The best theory behind the warming, and for which there is more evidence than there is for a link between cancer and cigarette smoking, is that it is human caused.

    Just looking at the carbonic acidity of the ocean, the carbon dioxide levels at night time are sufficient indicators and far from the only ones.

    Face it, you don’t WANT to accept reality.

  • Dan

    Not to hi-jack a thread, but just to respond to a responder…
    Hoggle: “Asking for a demonstration of species transition demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the topic.”

    I’m hoping I’m not misunderstanding anything fundamentally but, isn’t species transition what evolution postulates? If “To demonstrate a transition you would need at least one genetic sample from each generation between the two samples declared as different species” then shouldn’t ancestrial lineage be evident in the fossil record? Doesn’t periodic explosions of new species without common ancestors found in the fossil record threaten the postulate?

    “If you demonstrate both of those, then evolution is a mathematical certainty. They are the axioms and evolution is the mathematically proven consequence. Both have been demonstrated repeatedly, both experimentally and in the natural world.”

    There is one variable that could prevent the mathematical certainty. And that is time. Lot’s of things are mathematical certainties with infinite time. I’ve seen the calculations for 10 to the 100th power (think about that number) monkeys to randomly type a typically lengthed best selling novel and it would take much, much longer than what the age of the universe is believed to be.

    “Once you have the building blocks, self-replicating molecules are just a step away”

    Then we can anticipate the intelligent design of self replicating molecules in the laboratory any day now?

    One bright spot, maybe our evolution as a species with an assist from some punctuated equilibrium will help us adapt to the coming sauna world that global warming will bring about.

  • http://www.co2emissions.org.uk Hoggle

    I’m hoping I’m not misunderstanding anything fundamentally but, isn’t species transition what evolution postulates?
    Evolution says that species will adapt to their environments over time. If the same species adapts to two different environemtal niches, then at some point they will cease to be able to interbreed successfully and at that point they are defined as being of different species. But species is just a classification. Every individual is genetically unique (barring twins, unmutated clones etc), but it takes a large amount of difference before interbreeding becomes futile.

    The classic example is the horse and donkey. At some distant point they have a common ancestor, and more recently they might have interbred successfully, but nowadays their offspring is the infertile mule. So which modern species is the same species as their common ancestor? It is impossible to say, since both might be able to produce fertile young with the ancestor, or both might be unable to.

    You see, ‘species’ is an arbitrary cut-off point in the continuum of changes. It’s like the town limits – a house outside the limits might rely on the town just as much as one just inside it, but because there’s a sign saying ‘you are now leaving Springfield’ we say it’s not in the town.

    If “To demonstrate a transition you would need at least one genetic sample from each generation between the two samples declared as different species” then shouldn’t ancestrial lineage be evident in the fossil record?
    Think how many individual animals have ever existed over the 500 million years of vertebrate evolution. Now think how many fossils we have found. It is rare for any creature to be fossilised after death, and the odds of getting examples of every generation of a specific lineage are effectively zero.

    However, it is possible to see the process within living animals. Dogs have been bred from captured wolves. They now exist in a large number of different breeds, but all are, I think, able to interbreed. It is even known that some dogs can interbreed with wolves. But if we continue our selective breeding programs – effectively accelerating evolution – we will one day reach a dog breed that cannot successfully breed with wolves.

    Doesn’t periodic explosions of new species without common ancestors found in the fossil record threaten the postulate?
    Not at all. Evolution occurs at varying rates because selection pressures vary. When an environment is regular and unchanging, those already fitted to it evolve only slowly, like fine-tuning a car to run smoothly. But when the environment is disrupted by, say, a meteorite, climate change, arrival in a new area such as the galapagos, selective pressure suddenly becomes extremely high. Ill-adapted species diverge and special ise to suit the newly available niches.

    (apologies for that odd space in special ise – it appears to be a banned word!)

  • Mike Hawk

    Global warming is a political scam. The Earth has always gone through cycles of warming and cooling, and in fact the climate in the middle ages, previous to the little ice age that followed it, was considerably warmer than it has been in recent times, following the end of the little ice age in the early 19th century. The higher temps in the middle ages spurned a tremendous growth in both plants and animals and allowed humans to prosper like they had never prospered before.

    The basic truth here is that global warming is anything but harmful. To make a fuss about it is akin to complaining about the length of the day or the clouds in the sky.

    Al Gore is the Chicken Little of the new millenium, and anybody a with a shred of intelligence can see that.

  • http://ideaplace.blogspot.com Randy Kirk

    This thread is long dead, but it was extremely well thought out. I’m impressed. I happen to be a lowely pscyh major, so my scientific credentials may not be any better than Dave’s. However, I have been reading this debate in detail for several years, tend in general to agree with Dave, and have written extensively about it on my blog. My questions:

    No mention of the sun, clouds, interatmospheric healing effect, or potential benefits of global warming potentially outweighing problems.

    I’m surprised only because the quality of the rest of the input was so high. It seems amazing that these huge contributors would be left out.

    Loved the concept, Dave. But then, you would expect that from the most hated of all humans on earth, Right wing, male, heterosexual, law degreed, lilly white, plastic parts manufacturer, American, Baptist. Can’t help any of it. They all contribute to my survival, thus explaining why I have produced more than the average number of gene-machines.