Climate change “skeptics” in the creationist role

We received an email from a relatively new atheist who is still coming to grips with various science-related issues now that he’s shed his theism.  He wrote:

After de-converting I’ve started reassessing some long held political beliefs that were based on my old religious beliefs. I’ve found that when I look at things from a skeptical point-of-view it is much easier to come to a rational political position than if I just accept things on faith or along party lines. Unfortunately I might be looking at things a little too skeptically. Here’s my current dilemma:

I’ve been studying the merits of accepting the concept of global warming. I am not a scientist, so I have to base my decision on the information that is available to me, which is usually dumbed down for mass consumption. I have done quite a bit of research outside of news articles, but I couldn’t really get far without hitting the political side of things. Unfortunately, I see way too many logical loopholes in the presentation; especially the Al Gore/liberal democrat presentation, which to be honest, sounds like it’s based on religious indoctrination.

It’s taken me quite a while to compose a reply, but the response touched on quite a lot of useful concepts about scientific claims, peer review, how laymen learn about complex scientific issues, and the political tactics of creationists.  While this isn’t always directly related to atheism, it’s one of those issues that comes up from time to time from atheist viewers, and it’s worth a discussion.

The rest of his letter, as well as my response, is below.

That doesn’t mean I’m a “global warming denier.” It just means that I don’t have enough persuasive information to make me truly believe that it’s the crisis they want me to accept. This has caused some hard feelings between me and my more liberal friends. Some of them even go so far as to call me a “flat-earther” and lump me in the category of Rush Limbaugh followers. I wanted to share my observations with you because it actually does seem to me that people accept global warming the same way religious people accept their dogmas without evidence. I thought some of you might think it was worth reading. For example…

1- There is the overarching threat of punishment if you don’t believe.
For religion it’s hell, for global warming it’s sea levels rising, and species extinction.
2- There are way too many extra “theories” making the rounds.
For religion it’s always some new theory about creationism, for GW it’s something like this article blaming dinosaur farts on mass extinction. I’m not saying it isn’t true, I’m saying it makes these scientists sound crazy. It’s not my fault if the presentation isn’t convincing.
3- They insult dissenting opinions.
For religion it’s “atheists are fools,” charges of heresy, or blaming it on a desire to sin. For GW they call dissenters “flat-earthers” or holocaust deniers. It’s insulting and extreme.
4- They use selective “evidence.”
In religion they cherry pick laws and bible verses. GW promoters ignore important temperature fluctuations throughout history. I don’t mean to make a straw-man argument, but it’s almost like saying that when I have a fever my average temperature over a few days necessarily dictates the future, ignoring the mass of older data that balances the average. They’ve focused in on this “hockey stick” chart of the past few decades and ignored evidence of a naturally fluctuating ecosystem. (Once again I’m not a scientist, but I’ve honestly not found any information to adequately solve this problem).
5- They have a monetary incentive to exaggerate.
Religion is obvious, but GW promoters make their living on government grants and politically motivated donations. The worst example of this is Al Gore’s investments in businesses who thrive on the GW crisis. I hate to pick on him, but he’s put himself out there as the ringleader. This is where my skepticism might be going too far into cynicism, since anytime I see money changing hands I start getting these conspiracy theories in my head. Obviously if he thought GW was real he would invest in the programs to help make a difference.
6- Argument from authority.
Church leaders claim a monopoly on the truth and infallibility. With GW- laymen like myself are discouraged from challenging experts. Once again this is the political side of things and not the actual scientists themselves condemning skeptics. I think the experts would prefer us to examine the data so we can actually learn the facts. The political extremists are the ones who tout the “scientific consensus” as proof of global warming. I just disagree with the argument that a majority of experts can’t be wrong. If I’m not skeptical I could be accepting anything based on faith. I think it’s a virtue to doubt things first. (This is where I need the most advice. When does skepticism have limits? I defer to my doctor on medical issues, but I’m skeptical with global warming).
7- Emotional pleas: Guilt and Penance.
In religion I need to feel guilty for sinning and make amends somehow. It’s the same with GW. I’m supposed to feel like I’m destroying the world and get so worked up over the crisis that I donate money and change my lifestyle (which is fairly Green anyway). I resent the idea that children are scared into believing that polar bears are dying because their parents waste energy. It’s an appeal to emotion and I disagree with the presentation of that to make a scientific argument.
8- Exaggerated solutions.
You know how ridiculous the religious “solutions” to being a sinner are. In GW these politicians and activists act like zealots. Maybe it’s just a loud minority who are trying to take over the debate for their own gain, but I don’t think we should have eco-police, driving limitations, or energy austerity based on the poor arguments they’ve presented. It’s too much power given to hand over lightly. Once again I might be wrong here, but they’ve failed to convince me and I’m not being deliberately ignorant here.

Well… I’m sorry this email was so long. To sum up my position: I think the politically extremist view actually hurts the argument. But even if they toned down the rhetoric I wouldn’t be satisfied because the foundation of the argument is strong enough. Like I said, I’m not a scientist, but in something like the case of evolution I’m able to trust that the scientific consensus is true. The difference is that even though I can’t understand the nuances I still have a preponderance of evidence to let me trust that there is a real foundation to the argument. I always start out “agnostic” and humble in these things because there’s a chance I could be wrong. All of these complaints don’t mean that I won’t accept the truth of global warming eventually, I just need more information.

I’m not trying to draw you guys into a political debate, and I’m not suggesting that you all agree politically. I’m more interested in your insight into how far skepticism goes in finding the truth, especially when I’m so limited in my scientific abilities. I think it would be disingenuous to accept global warming without understanding it better, but in the meantime I’m a heretic and I might be making a big mistake. Also, are there any other parallels that you know of between this religious style of presenting political ideas that I should be looking for, or am I just being a total idiot by comparing the two? Once again, I’m sorry for the long email and for bringing up politics. Thanks.

My reply:

Thanks for writing.  This reply may be even longer than your original message, with a lot of necessary background information, so I hope you’ll stick with it.  Before I answer your points specific to global warming, let me talk a bit about how scientific consensus is reached.

Science in modern times is generally done through a process known as peer review.  There are a variety of journals for each field with very strict barriers to publication.  In any scientific field, performing original research which yields a completely novel conclusion is the primary way that scientists gain prestige and recognition, and the way that scientific knowledge is advanced.  Any time our understanding of the world changes in any significant way, you can expect to find a citation of the primary research as published in a mainstream scientific journal.

For instance, Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity was first released in the form of the paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” in the German journal Annalen der Physik.  The groundwork for some of the basic development of the internet was laid out in Vinton Cerf’s 1974 paper, “A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication”, in the journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.  You get the idea — ideas are regarded as significant only once they are published in journals significant to the field.

The reason the barriers to publication are strict is because, well, science isn’t blogging.  It is highly competitive.  When I say that it is peer reviewed, what I mean is that each paper is passed through a multi-stage process where anonymous experts in the same field will read the paper thoroughly and look for reasons why it is not good enough to publish.  These reasons might include:

  • Lack of original research
  • Use of outdated information
  • Flawed methodology
  • Incorrect analysis of the data
  • Failure to fully document all methods and relevant information

Some people seem to have the misconception that scientists decide things in lockstep.  The opposite is actually true.  The application of peer review, and a sincere attempt to discredit the findings of each and every paper, is considered a critical duty of practicing scientists.  And the fastest way to make a name for yourself as a scientist is to overturn a widely held belief and get your findings published.  In order to pull this off, scientists have to be rigorous, completely transparent in their methods, and apply reasoning that will get past the bullshit detectors of some of the most educated people in the world.

This may seem a little long winded, but I’m explaining it in order to give context to the information in this Wikipedia article: Scientific opinion on climate change.

Scientific opinion on climate change is that the Earth’s climate system is unequivocally warming and it is more than 90% certain that humans are causing it through activities that increase concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels. This scientific consensus is expressed in synthesis reports, scientific bodies of national or international standing, and surveys of opinion among climate scientists. Individual scientists, universities, and laboratories contribute to the overall scientific opinion via their peer-reviewed publications, and the areas of collective agreement and relative certainty are summarised in these high level reports and surveys.


No scientific body of national or international standing has maintained a dissenting opinion.

The short answer to your question is that in the scientific literature on Earth Science and Climatology, peer-reviewed publications on the subject don’t just lean towards Global Warming as a reality; it is overwhelmingly one sided in that direction.  The journals support it.  Numerous major coalitions of scientists in related fields have issued statements indicating unanimous support for it.  You can read all the details in that linked article.  Of course, since it’s a Wikipedia article you don’t have to assume it’s true, but you should read the overview and then follow up on the linked references for backing.

The reason I wanted to explain the peer review process is because without this understanding, it’s easy for a layman to dismiss a consensus like that as “argument from authority,” but that’s not the case.  Like all disciplines, gaining a thorough understanding of the fields of geology and climatology requires many years of education and specialized training, and most people like you and me simply don’t have that background.  So, the way that we get an understanding of the state of scientific knowledge is by surveying the peer-reviewed literature.  The preponderance of published papers tend to be on the side that is supported by research, data and evidence.

That doesn’t mean that we take the words of those scientists on “faith.”  Because the system is transparent, if this issue is important to you then you’re more than welcome to participate in the educational process, perform your own research, and win a Nobel Prize by overturning the consensus view through new research.  But as a layman, you should at least recognize and understand that lots of people are already trying to do that, and as far as the peer review process is concerned, this has been a settled question for quite a while now.

I’d also like to point out that trying to pin the science entirely at the feet of one guy like Al Gore is a means of trivializing and dismissing the thousands of scientists who actually performed the original research.  Al Gore didn’t invent GW any more than he invented the internet.  (Actually, he never claimed to have invented the internet either, but that’s a separate lie.)  Al Gore’s role has been to popularize the science.

In that sense, he’s more like… let’s see… Morgan Freeman in March of the Penguins.  If you were some kind of anti-penguin person, you could spend a lot of the time attacking the movie and its conclusions by digging up dirt on Morgan Freeman.  But ultimately, the movie rests on the work that thousands of zoologists did learning about penguin mating habits, and Morgan Freeman’s contributions to the work as a whole are more or less trivial.  When somebody attacks Global Warming by calling Al Gore a liar, to me that is a primary indicator that the person has not done even the most basic research on the topic.

If you’d like to review the research that supports Global Warming, and presentations by a public figure like Al Gore upset you, you would do well to disregard popularized explanations and go straight to the research papers.  You can start by browsing Google Scholar, which aggregates professional papers:
has about two million of them, so that could keep you busy for a while.

If you need summaries, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has a good overview of the basics at:
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well:
I also find this page fairly helpful (though it is, distinctly, an advocacy page):

With all that in mind, I’m going to touch on your eight points briefly.

1-      There is the overarching threat of punishment if you don’t believe.

I’m not sure what to say about this.  Science is in the business of making predictions, and the predictions don’t change based on what you wish were true.  For instance, climate scientists predicted a sea level rise based on dramatically shrinking polar ice caps, and this shrinking is something that has already been observed and continues to be.

2-      There are way too many extra “theories” making the rounds.

Despite what I already said about a consensus view, if you think that scientists should never disagree with each other than you’re going to be really disappointed with the scientific process in general.  Like I said, scientists compete to overturn existing theories with new evidence, and they often argue and disagree passionately about specific areas on the cusp of the research.  This isn’t remarkable; it’s routine business.  Since this “dinosaur fart” research you’re citing is fairly new, I’d be surprised if it’s widely considered to be established science.  You linked a newspaper article, and science journalists often sensationalize stories like that in order to make it more punchy, and sometimes more crazy, beyond what the paper actually says.  Maybe you should read the paper.

3-      They insult dissenting opinions.

I’m going to give a short answer and a long answer to this.  The short answer is that GW denial is correctly regarded as the climatologist’s equivalent of creationism.  Creationists often level the same complaints against biologists.

I’ll elaborate on the similarities after I finish with the rest of your points.  If you’d like to read it now, you can scroll down a bit.

4-      They use selective “evidence.”

This one is actually quite false.  If the “naturally fluctuating ecosystem” were a credible scientific proposal then this would be a significant factor in the peer reviewed literature.  While there have been ups and downs in past history, one of the things that climate scientists largely agree on — after taking recognized historic fluctuations into account — is that the current warming trend is dramatically accelerated over historic trends, and it is largely due to human activity.

There are a variety of specific responses to this at under the heading “It’s not us.”  A few examples to browse are

5-      They have a monetary incentive to exaggerate.

This is a bit ridiculous.  If you’re going to say that “government grants to scientists for X” are a motivation to do research on X, then you might as well say that every scientist in every field is secretly motivated by cash infusions, and therefore all of physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, sociology, and economics is invalid.  This is a downright nihilistic dismissal of all of science, not just one particular field.  And even to the extent that government funding is involved, there’s no strong evidence to indicate that the funding would be denied to anyone who was capable of producing solid research against global warming.  As I suggested before, major upheavals in the evidence can be a fast track to a Nobel Prize instead.

Furthermore, this argument can cut both ways.  There are large scale lobbyist organizations dedicated to debunking climate change, which are funded by the oil industry and various political organizations.

I’m not sure if it would be productive to argue about which side receives more of the funding.  But regardless of the extent to which both sides are motivated by greed, dissent about global warming is driven almost entirely by industry concerns and funding, while the preponderance of qualified peer reviewed research still falls almostentirely on the side of GW.

6-      Argument from authority.

I’ve already addressed this one, which is why I spent so much time up front explaining how and why scientific consensus is achieved.  To sum up, you are not required to take the opinions of authorities on faith; but unless you have done enough original research to debunk it in a rigorous way, the positions of the entire scientific community ought to at least be given some weight.

7-      Emotional pleas: Guilt and Penance.

Again, the research is what it is, and whether it makes you feel bad is irrelevant to the question of whether the science is valid.

8-      Exaggerated solutions.

What we decide to do about it in the long term is still open for discussion, but denying that the problem exists in the first place is totally contrary to the research.

Now, as promised, I have a few things to say about evolution and creation.

Take a survey of the peer reviewed scientific literature in biology, and it almost unanimously supports evolution.  I say “almost” because there are always going to be a few outliers here and there in any field; but it’s not an exaggeration to say that more than 99% of biologists accept evolution, and only about 5% of scientists in general (biologists and not) identify as creationists.

With numbers like that, you might reasonably say that there is no scientific controversy whatsoever.  And yet there is a very heated public controversy.  Outside of practicing scientists, there is about a 50/50 split among all US citizens, and of course fewer still believe in undirected evolution, i.e., the rest believe that evolution occurred but that God had to “help” it along at key points — a position not at all supported by the science.

What creationists lack in scientific support, though, they more than make up for in polemics.  Creationism isn’t taught in schools, because in principle science is supposed to drive the curriculum, and science supports evolution and rejects creationism.  How do creationists respond, then?  They claim that they are champions of freedom.  They are “skeptics” of evolution.  They are supporting the right to dissent; and furthermore, there is a scientific conspiracy to keep all the good, legitimate evidence for creationism out of mainstream journals.  They make quasi-documentaries like Expelled, in which they highlight what appear to be honest teachers and dissenting scientists who are being persecuted because they “challenge the establishment”.

Sometimes creationists try to frame themselves as the true defenders of “real science,” even going so far as to state the evolution is a religion; and so they try to retool creation into a more sciency sounding “intelligent design,” in an effort to obfuscate the issues and mask their political and religious motivations. And of course, some claim that their opponents are only motivated by greed.

All this is an effort to blur the fact that the efforts by creationists to do any science has been an abysmal failure.  They rarely get anything significant published in peer reviewed journals, which they regard as more evidence of a conspiracy, but actually reflects that their research is too shitty to pass the reviews.

In a nutshell, that’s the state of climate skepticism with respect to scientific theory.

Update: The following day, rather than the hostile response I was half expecting, I received a very nice reply:

Thank you very much for your detailed reponse. I really appreiciate you taking the time to set me straight. I kind of feel like an idiot now for even asking. You pretty much demolished my whole system, but at least I’m not going to go on screwing it up from now on.

I can definitely see how I was looking at the whole thing from the wrong perspective. I’m still recovering from taking things on face value without doing proper research. You’ve set me straight on a lot of things now.

Thank you very much. I’ve been catching up on your archive of videos and I really appreciate how you take the time to help other people think things through. It was very nice of you to take the time to reply.


  1. jamessweet says

    I think he’s got a point in that many liberal laypeople can be a bit quasi-religious when it comes to arguing about environmentalism generally, and AGW specifically. It’s possible to be right for the wrong reasons, after all! 😀

    I always get a bit punchy when I hear someone talking about the “purity” of nature, keeping our environments “pure”. Who gives a fuck about that? I believe in environmental causes because I want my sons to live in a world where they can be healthy and happy, not because I believe in some mystical supremacy of “Nature” — and yet I think a lot of my fellow progressives do believe that.

    And then of course you have the weather == climate fallacy, where people say, “Hmmm, mild winter, must be global warming!” Well, maybe it’s global warming, but it’s difficult to say; there would be periodic mild winters with or without AGW.

    I’ve also heard pro-choice and pro-marriage equality arguments that are frankly awful, and fail to address the bad guys’ point of view on any level. Which is hard for me since I am so rabidly pro-choice and pro-marriage equality!

    I admit I can really empathize with the correspondent’s point of view here. It’s not infrequent that I hear someone making a case for some liberal cause or other, and I’m like, “No! No no no!!! Well, I mean yes, actually, a million times yes… but not for those reasons!” 😀 It’s possible (s)he could be hearing a lot of bad reasoning about the threat of AGW, and falling prey to the Fallacy Fallacy as a result.

  2. says

    Oh no, not the dino fart nonsense. It’s been appearing in about every newspaper over the past two weeks and it’s complete bullshit. The original paper the newsarticle is based on doesn’t even mention the mass extinction event.

  3. Kazim says

    It’s the first I’ve heard of it, so I’m glad that my “tentative skepticism” mode was up. Can you link a source that accurately explains what it’s about?

  4. Zengaze says

    Absolutely fantastic blog kazim this needs to be stickied somewhere as a go to for rebutting the old “well science requires faith too” argument from the wackos who wish to present biblical revelation as being on a par to scientific discovery. I think your correspondent hasn’t broken that bit of programming yet.

  5. says

    Great response.

    1- There is the overarching threat of punishment if you don’t believe.
    For religion it’s hell, for global warming it’s sea levels rising, and species extinction.

    This is confused. If you ingest a fatal dose of cyanide, you’re going to die, whether you believe cyanide is poison or not and whether you know you’ve been given cyanide or not.

    When and how different populations of humans and other species are affected by AGW will depend on a number of factors, but acceptance of the science (or even knowledge of the existence of AGW) isn’t one of them. Most beings affected will have no idea what’s happening to them or why.

  6. says

    GW promoters ignore important temperature fluctuations throughout history.

    They’re not ignored. They’re accounted for. They’re also understood with statistical analysis.

    The rate of change we’ve seen in the past 50-100 years is geologically unprecedented outside of us being struck by a sizable meteor.

    It’s like the difference between the tides casually going in and out, and a 100 foot tsunami incoming at 500mph.

    You can’t explain that.

  7. jeff says

    Brian Dunning just put out a Skeptoid that addresses this very issue. I think he did a good job of explaining it so that a lay person would understand. He makes several key points about how we were introduced to the topic and how that failed the public, from a science communicating perspective. It’s worth listening to and only lasts about 13 or so minutes.

  8. jamessweet says

    a 100 foot tsunami incoming at 500mph.

    You can’t explain that.

    Welp, in fairness to Mr. O’Reilly, there’s “never a miscommunication” when a tsunami hits you…

  9. says

    I am a skeptic and atheist and the one thing that I always question, when decided what to believe, is motive!

    There is very good political motives why scribes of biblical times and the early roman church would have people believe the myths and prophecies, there are no motives to explain why scientists would lie about evolution, the age of the planet/universe etc

    BUT there is very good political motives why our governments would have people believe that global warming is man made!

    This documentary is very compelling evidence that you should be skeptical of politically funded science!

  10. Kazim says

    Gary, normally when you have a conversation with your own sock puppet, you’re supposed to at least give the sock puppet a new name.

  11. says

    5- They have a monetary incentive to exaggerate.
    Religion is obvious, but GW promoters make their living on government grants and politically motivated donations. The worst example of this is Al Gore’s investments in businesses who thrive on the GW crisis. I hate to pick on him, but he’s put himself out there as the ringleader.

    Cripes, do people bother looking this stuff up before they make such ignorant comments?

    This is from Gore’s testimony to Congress several years back:

    BLACKBURN: So you’re a partner in Kleiner Perkins. OK. Now, they have invested about a billion dollars in 40 companies that are going to benefit from cap-and-trade legislation. So is the legislation that we are discussing here today, is that something that you are going to personally benefit from?

    GORE: I believe that the transition to a green economy is good for our economy and good for all of us, and I have invested in it. But every penny that I have made, I have put right into a nonprofit, the Alliance for Climate Protection, to spread awareness of why we have to take on this challenge.

    And Congresswoman, if you’re — if you believe that the reason I have been working on this issue for 30 years is because of greed, you don’t know me.

    BLACKBURN: Sir, I’m not making accusations, I’m asking questions that have been asked of me and individuals — constituents that were seeking a point of clarity, so I am asking you for that point of — point of clarity.

    GORE: I understand exactly what you’re doing, Congresswoman. Everybody here does.

    Never mind the logical fallacy, the premise it’s based on is just flatly untrue.

  12. says

    I know I am replying to my own post but I actually wanted to add to what I had written after I had already posted! I don’t very often write on discussion forums but this is something I feel very passionate about!

  13. Zengaze says

    It’s always good to factor in motive in assessment, when you assign to much weight to assumed motive you start seeing the CIA in your shadow

  14. Kazim says

    Then maybe you should submit an article about it for peer review!

    Be sure to add more exclamation points for extra credibility with the reviewer!

  15. says

    I am not a scientist so will not be submitting an article about it for peer review!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Also motive is not my sole consideration when reasoning.

    Perhaps you could watch the scientific documentary I have linked and then make your comments or mock me some more if you wish.

  16. says

    It’s a documentary that deals with a scientific topic which I am asking people to watch and then have a discussion about its content.

  17. Rose says

    This is a great post! I think you really hit the nail on the head with your responses.

    I have a question, though: do you have any recommendations for sharing a post like this with non-atheists? There are a glut of articles on FTB that I want to share broadly with my friends and acquaintances, but I fear that some of the people I most want to read the articles are going to shy away from them or treat them with disdain because of where they come from.

  18. Kazim says

    Well, it’s harder work, but nobody wrote a single go-to post for me to send to my friends. You could simply borrow my links and reconstruct the discussion in your own words. It requires a deeper understanding of the issues involved, but you’ll come out stronger for having learned it. Several of the sites I linked are very good and broad sites that combat denialists, and you can learn a lot by browsing them.

  19. katkinkate says

    Also, from personal experience, when asked why you ‘believe’ in global warming, as a layperson, it is hard to express the science in a clear, concise way that might convince someone else. Very few non-climate scientists will have the facts in the front of their minds and just saying ‘I trust the scientists,’ just makes you sound as ‘religious’ as the deniers. It’s also easy to stoop to calling denialists liars, stupid and greedy rather than try to compile an erudite, nuanced and accurate paragraph at the drop of a hat. I call this the ‘lazy person’ defence.

  20. Kaylakaze says

    I’d recommend pointing him to potholer54’s climate change video series (on youtube, of course).

  21. says

    I’m bookmarking this 1000 times (yes, 1000). It’s an excellent response to what appears to be an honest inquiry on climate change, thoroughly addressing the “big picture” denialist claims and objections. Thank you.

  22. Kazim says

    It is hard. Then again, it is also hard to do the same thing when challenged about the existence of God, for an hour each week, with strangers on the phone. 🙂

    My advice in the regard was sort of elaborated in this post:

    Basically: Practice. The first few times you argue about a new topic, you will stumble. But in stumbling, you will discover new gaps in your own knowledge, and you will research those gaps, and you will learn effective and efficient ways to present that information for the next time. And the more you encounter the same point, the better equipped you will be to respond to it.

  23. jacobfromlost says

    Even as a lay person, if you do a little research, you will find many, MANY examples that are dramatic and undeniable (with pictures and everything, lol). Not that people don’t deny them anyway.

    As an aside to the mountains of evidence confirmed with peer review, I find the deniers’ progression interesting. At first they said it wasn’t happening at all. Then they said it might be happening, but it’s natural and human activity has nothing to do with it. Slowly, they are finding it more and more difficult to deny the obvious. (Soon they may admit 20 or 30% is due to human activity…then 50 or 60?%…and eventually they’ll say they knew it was real all along, claim credit for discovering it, and demand to be in charge of whatever new green energy tech eventually proves to be cheaper and better than nonrenewable resources.)

    On one side, you have virtually all scientists supported by falsifiable methodology, peer review, predictions that continue to confirm previous evidence (2012 is already breaking records, and is expected to break more )…

    …and on the other side you have people who say “nuh-uh” based on…???? Kennedy from 1990’s MTV saying it’s sun spots (contrary to those who, you know, study sunspots and climate)?

    This is when I point out that an “open mind” is when you accept what all of the objective evidence indicates, not when you “accept” things despite the evidence just because you really, really want to. I don’t actually WANT Climate Change to be real, as it is going to wreak more (as in additional to what has already happened) havoc if we don’t figure out some effective solutions quickly.

    (And as a lay person, I love to pull out my own anecdotal evidence. I’ve lived in basically the same place for 40 years. When I was young, we had snow every winter that first fell before Thanksgiving, and didn’t melt until well into the new year. I remember this well because I would go sledding/snowmobiling every single year. All the kids did. In the very early ’90s, the winters had far less snow. Sometimes none. In ’96, we got a HUGE amount of snow at once, over a couple days. But in years directly before, and in the years since, very little. I was told once that I just THOUGHT there was more snow in the ’70s and ’80s because I was a child and was smaller. I responded that that doesn’t explain the pictures we have of snow more than a foot deep on a picnic table in our front yard…among dozens of others. All I get are shrugs.)

  24. Upright Ape says

    A word of advice, Gary: don’t get hung up on “motives” too much. That is how conspiracy nuts do things. Better start with EVIDENCE.

  25. jamessweet says

    Motives can be a useful indicator of how carefully one needs to look… Since there’s not enough time to look at 100% of the evidence for 100% of the propositions, we have to be selective. And if there’s a conflict of interest, you prioritize that to look closer maybe than something where the party has no motive to distort.

    But yeah, at best it’s a clue. Motives definitely do not qualify as evidence in and of themselves.

  26. Upright Ape says

    The biggest difference between climate change and religion is that climate science does not rely on revelation. Publications appearing in Nature and Science aredoes not inspired by holythe ghosts, neither are they handed by angels to cave dwelling prophets. Climate is a physical science relying on temperature readings and proxy measures such as tree rings and ice cores. There isn’t a single scientific body endorsing a religion; there are plenty endorsing climate change. Drawing up a list of “similarities” between the two only makes me want to say:when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail.

  27. Upright Ape says

    There are still people in this world who claim Diana was “killed” by the royal family. Why? Because they had a motive to get rid of her.
    For conspiracy theorists that is all they need.

  28. Woof says

    Whatever you do, stay away from Senator (gawd!) James Inhofe and his fantasy The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

    If you’re considering it, here… I’ll save you some time:

    “We can’t afford to fix it, so it’s not happening.”

  29. says

    As I have said I am not solely relying on the apparent motives to reach any conclusions. I am simply asking people to watch a documentary which present evidence from scientists that shows the other side of the argument about the causes of global warming. I do not believe in conspiracy theory’s such as Lady Diana being killed or the NASA moon landing being faked. I have also never said that there is no such thing as global warming, indeed there is, but the debate is whether it is primarily man made or not and whether or not the threat is exaggerated for political motives. If there is such overwhelming evidence that we are fact destroying the planet then why do all the governments in the western world not do much apart from tell people to reduce the amount of plane journeys they take as if that stops planes from making their journeys in the first place or bump up fuel prices and impose extra taxes and toll charging which only sends out the message that it’s OK to destroy the planet if you can afford to. The politicians hypocritically drive around in 4×4’s and other gas guzzling vehicles. I of course am not suggesting that cars do not pollute the air and am all for reducing the emissions of vehicles and also for renewable sources of energy. It is worth mentioning that when it was found that CFC gasses were destroying the ozone layer, products containing CFC’s were banned outright and when lead was found to be pollution air and soil, leaded fuels were phased out and replaced with unleaded fuel. The documentary also highlights how the west impedes on the development of African countries by pressures to not use their fossil fuels. OK this may all sound rather cynical as opposed to skeptical but there is definitely a good scientific argument too against anthropogenic global warming. I direct the reader of my post to watch the documentary as it explains this evidence better than I can here. The film did win an award, there was some controversy following the film (as would be expected) and the films maker did omit a couple of mistakes (such as an out-of-date data graph to name one) but overall the arguments are definitely persuasive. I myself may not be persuaded by the evidence that global warming is solely man-made but I might be persuaded by Christopher Hitchen’s pascal wager-esque take and assume that it is better than mankind try to do something to stop global warming than to do nothing at all. I also think that it is silly to compare the denial of man-made global warming to entrenched creationist beliefs. If this was to be any religious overtones to global warming than I imagine the religious would be inclined to say that the evidence of the earths impeding destruction by overheating would signify the end of days and “proof” that the prophecies of revelations are true!

  30. Upright Ape says

    If you have evidence, post it right here and we will discuss it. I don’t have time for every fringe video on the web. As for “whether it is caused by humans”, the answer is most likely yes. If it were caused by the sun, for example, troposphere and stratosphere would both warm up. Whereas measurements show as the troposphere is warming, the stratosphere is actually cooling-precisely what you would expect if climate change were caused by gases released through human activity. As for “why aren’t we doing anything about it”-have you forgotten the fossil fuel lobby? Or libertarian ideology denying the existence of any problem the markets won’t automatically fix? As for whether there is a good scientific argument on your side, the answer is a resounding no. Name for me not a video on the web, but a scientific body backing your arguments. While you are thinking, I name one that backs mine: National Academy of Sciences. Oh, and by the way, did it occur to you that you brought up absolutely no PHYSICAL EVIDENCE in your longish post?

  31. Woof says

    There’s nothing (serious) happening to combat AGW now because the folks in charge are either blinded by ideology or they only care about the next fiscal quarter or election.

    You bet on humans taking the long view, you gonna lose.

  32. tosspotovich says

    Gary, in Australia we are introducing a carbon emissions tax which comes into effect at the beginning of the next financial year. This has faced massive opposition from lobby groups representing industries that will be affected. So motive is a factor to how we tackle the problem but has no bearing on whether global warming is anthropogenic – to discover that you will have to look at the evidence and the consensus of experts in the field.

  33. Upright Ape says

    I have a book to recommend to you, Gary. “Collapse”, by Pulizter-prize winning Jared Diamond. It is crammed from cover to cover with horror stories of human inaction in the face of looming catastrophe, leading to collapses of human civilizations. I am shocked that anyone can bring up our inaction as “evidence” of anthropogenic climate change non-existance with a straight face.

  34. gfunk says

    I think the emailer misunderstands the logical fallacies- I see this a lot- people might correctly see red flags because they superficially appear to fit the formula, but many of his concerns were not founded:
    1.There is the overarching threat of punishment if you don’t believe. – only a fallacy if threat is unfounded.
    3- They insult dissenting opinion- maybe they are just bad opinions, doesn’t indicate they are invalid
    4- They use selective “evidence.”- well, we need to indicate their selective evidence is actually ignoring valid evidence
    6- Argument from authority- only a fallacy if the person is not an authority
    7- Emotional pleas: Guilt and Penance.- only a fallacy if unfounded
    8- Exaggerated solutions.- I don’t know how this fit into his original narrative, but, again, it’s only fallacious if the solution is really exaggerated.

  35. Suido says


    Speaking of motive, let’s ask those dyed-in-the-wool hippies, the frothing-at-the-mouth-wilderness-warriors who make up the American Institute of Petroleum Geologists. You know, those guys who make all their money from the carbon based energy economy.

    Excuse me AIPG, what’s the deal with Climate Change? Real, next question.

  36. says

    I don’t see why I am expected to provide the physical evidence? as I have not personally made any assertions apart from say that this documentary is a very convincing and a good scientific argument. I am not the polemic nor do I purport to be. I am merely recommending a documentary that I think is worth watching and does present the evidence which you are asking of me (this is no different to those of you who are recommending links of further reading to me). I am also not saying that mankinds inaction is evidence to support the argument against AGW but rather just my cynicism’s to provide further food for thought. You may refuse to watch the documentary as some of you have, I really couldn’t care less but for those of you that do watch it I would be interested in discussing the points which it raises. I initially posted hoping that the author of the initial letter which started this debate might be interested in watching it as a lot of his skepticism is echoed in this documentary. It is not just a “fringe video off the web” as someone put it, it is a prize winning film from (UK) channel 4.

  37. Nathan Godwin says

    I think Judge Chamberlain Haller best summarized the common response to earnest attempts to sell people on ideas they just can’t (or don’t want to) get behind:

    “Mr. Gambini, that is a lucid, intelligent, well thought-out objection… Overruled.”

    I’m glad this person is skeptical, it is good to be skeptical of all claims until there’s reason enough to accept them as true. Russell has clearly and reasonably presented the case, I just hope not to Judge Haller.

  38. John Kruger says

    I get the feeling that the main argument of the correspondent is that there are a lot of similarities between climate change belief and creationist belief, and since creationism is wrong climate change is also wrong.

    Kazim hit on this a lot, but to sum up there are good and bad arguments from authority. You can trust a professional car mechanic about how your car works, that person is an expert in a relevant filed. You cannot trust a car mechanic on the mechanisms of quantum physics, at least not on the criteria that they are a car mechanic, no matter how great a mechanic they turn out to be. The fallacy comes in when the expertise is misapplied. People cannot be expected to be as good as experts in all fields, so we have to rely on authority for a lot of things. We just have to be careful that the authority we grant is not misplaced. Such is the purpose of the peer review system Kazim described so well. It is better to trust the consensus of climate change scientists globally participating in peer review than to suppose there is a massive global conspiracy. It is not so wise to trust the opinion on climate change of scientists in other fields that are being financed by oil companies.

    Logical fallacies are more of a +0 than a -1 when scoring the truth of an argument’s conclusion. When someone is resorting solely to emotional appeals, or any logical fallacy, to convince you of something the prudent course is to keep the “score” at zero. I could spout emotional appeals all day in favor of the theory of gravity, but I would in no way discredit it, I would only fail to support it. It is wise to ramp your skepticism up when you notice people deliberately avoiding good evidence, but it is not a means of discrediting the conclusion in and of itself.

  39. Upright Ape says

    So you are claiming that on the basis of one “documentary” we should ignore decades of peer reviewed science, and then you are miffed that you are asked for EVIDENCE. Amusing. You find claims of moon hoax or the royal family having killed Diana outlandish, yet a “documentary” claiming the western world is trying to prevent economic growth in Africa by talking about climate change convincing? (In case you missed it what killed the Kyoto treaty in the US was precisely that it left developing nations off the hook). Well see, that is precisely why I cautioned you about accepting claims bases on motives only rather than physical evidence. Your claims about climate change are not really any different from moon hoaxers claiming NASA has a “motive” to stage the moon landing or 9/11 “truther” claiming the Bush administration had a “motive” to stage the attacks.

  40. davidjanes says

    I have been saying for some time that the deniers are following a predictable pattern:

    1. The problem does not exist.
    2. OK, it exists, but it is natural and humans are not responsible.
    3. OK, we are responsible, but we can’t do anything about it.

    The scary thing is that by the time the deniers hit Step 3, they may well be correct.

  41. Kazim says

    Update: I received a surprisingly nice reply from the person who emailed me originally. If you haven’t seen it, please check out the bottom of the original repost, where I’ve added his repsonse.

    Take THAT, cynics who say there’s no point in arguing with people because nobody changes their minds.

  42. John Kruger says

    There was a real sincere and thoughtful tone throughout the e-mail. I had a feeling that this was someone who really wanted to benefit from the discussion and not someone who wanted a one way exchange.

    It is always great when that happens.

  43. davidjanes says

    A communications professor of mine once said that the difference between an argument, a sermon, and a fight is the willingness of each side to be proven wrong and change their mind. In an argument both sides are, in a sermon one side is, and in a fight, neither are.

  44. says

    I have made no such claims and I would invite you to respond with quotes of what claims I have made.

    I have invited people to watch a video and then discuss it. Which part of that do you not understand?

    To comment on a film that you have not seen or to invent claims which I have not made is quite senseless.

    I find your comments are superfluous, condescending and vainglorious.

  45. Kazim says


    There are two reasons people are not watching your video. The first is: It’s 75 minutes. In a conversation on the scale of a blog comment thread, that is a ridiculous amount of time to expect people to submit to just on your say so. Watching an interesting video is okay every once in a while, with good justification, but to demand that the dozens of people who you’re trying to reach should collectively spend a bunch of man hours on any video that you point them at is unrealistic.

    The second is: Arguing by linking other people’s videos is incredibly lazy and insulting on your part. If you can’t even be bothered to expend the energy synthesizing the points that you find compelling in the video and explaining them in your own words, why do you expect somebody else to do it for you?

    If you want to be taken seriously here, you’re going to have to stop whining that nobody is clicking the link and spending the time to make your argument for you, and just make it yourself. Otherwise, your participation in this conversation is not required.

  46. Upright Ape says

    Oh nice. Now we are into name calling. Didn’t you say this video claims the western nations are using climate change to stop growth in Africa? Why is this claim any less ridiculous than moon hoax, 9/11 “truth” etc?etc?
    If your video has any actual evidence you can bring it up for discussion. If it is just a mishmash of conspiracy theories just stop calling it a “scientific documentary”. It is NOT.

  47. says

    I have not “demanded” that anyone watch the video so let’s just go back and read what I originally posted which was “I recommend this UK channel 4 documentary to anyone skeptical of Man-made Global Warming”

    I have not made any arguments for or against anything nor have I made any assertions. I would have thought that anyone seriously interested in not just having a one sided argument or is even slightly curious about what the other side of the argument is and what evidence there is then they would watch the video.

    Just to make clear it is not MY video and how have I resorted to name calling.

    I am astounded how my intentions have been twisted, how arrogantly hostile some people have seemed and how ignorant and one sided the arguments are. For these reasons I shall now leave this thread and not waste any more of my time responding to comments.

  48. says

    I can’t resist this final word on the matter…

    Whether you watch the documentary or not … it’s not the end of the world!!

  49. Kazim says

    I know it’s not your video, which is precisely one of the things I was just pointing out. Rather than making your own argument, you’re trying to get someone else to make it for you, by just linking the video. I told you exactly how you can get the point across better — by explaining what you find compelling about the video and parsing the main points in order to get a real discussion going.

    But that’s more work than just complaining about it. So, you know, don’t let the door hit you and such.

  50. msironen says

    You guys should definitely do a similar post on feminism, because Taslima’s anti-porn/pro-Steinem+Dworkin basically demand it.

  51. Kazim says

    With occasional exceptions, mostly I leave posts about feminism to Greta, Jen, and Natalie. Go read a random post on their blogs and you will probably be correct if you assume I agree with it.

  52. msironen says

    Well it’s good to see you draw a CLEAR line between misogynists/rape apologists/sex trafficking enablers to ACTUAL misogynists/rapists/sex traffickers. We could use some more of that around here!

  53. Upright Ape says

    Ah, the good old “fairness”argument-anyone who doesn’t care to spend over an hour watching the video you demand-ahem-“recommend”” is making a “one sided” argument. Well you know, holocaust deniers have their own videos, would you br spending your time watching them because somehow both sides of an argument always deserve equal attention?
    You have never spent a single day collecting or analyzing data about climate. And here you are trashing the work of a whole community of scientists who have been doing that their whole careers. And yet those who disagree with you are the “arrogant” ones? Maybe first you should check the word in a dictionary.
    I can’t resist the final word on the matter: you keep repeating “channel 4” and “award winning” as if this gives the video some kind of authority. Well then does this match Al Gore’s Oscar and Nobel prize?

  54. communist.goatboy says

    As a master’s student in physics doing an original research thesis project, I have yet to see someone so carefully and succinctly put into words what it is that people like myself do on a daily basis. I just have a few comments.

    “…the bullshit detectors of some of the most educated people in the country”

    I would change that in the world, given that the scientific community extends well beyond the geopolitical borders of the United States. Which is a very good thing!

    Check out the Youtube user Potholer54. He has a most excellent channel full of insightful videos about interrogating people’s claims. Any time someone makes a statement worth discussing, he always first asks “What is your source?” Truly the best question to begin any serious discussion, IMHO. Also, he specifically has a video debunking the dino farts discussion; and a multitude on global warming. Don’t forget to check out Thunderf00t and AronRa, as well! 🙂

    Your comparison of Al Gore and Morgan Freeman directly addresses a key issue: neither public figure is a scientist. It is not to say that having a public figure bring scientific issues into the light of the general public is bad, but that they are not (usually) well versed in the intricacies of the methods, data, and accumulated knowledge of the subject. Just remember, anyone can be a scientist. You don’t need a Ph.D., just the scientific method.

    Many thanks for taking the time to show that science isn’t about finding what we want to be true, but carefully observing and describing the natural world as it is.

  55. Kazim says

    I would change that in the world, given that the scientific community extends well beyond the geopolitical borders of the United States. Which is a very good thing!

    Damn, I don’t know how I was so careless. Corrected.

    Your comparison of Al Gore and Morgan Freeman directly addresses a key issue: neither public figure is a scientist. It is not to say that having a public figure bring scientific issues into the light of the general public is bad, but that they are not (usually) well versed in the intricacies of the methods, data, and accumulated knowledge of the subject. Just remember, anyone can be a scientist. You don’t need a Ph.D., just the scientific method.

    All things considered, I do think Gore’s role in the climate science movement is much greater than Morgan Freeman’s role in Penguins. Freeman is just the narrator, and as far as I know that was nothing but a role for him. Gore, however, is deeply and actively concerned with his issues. For a layperson, he’s got a pretty good grasp of his subject; as a politician and a public figure, he gets some credit for raising awareness of the issue; and he was the one who put together most of the presentation in the first place.

    Even so, the presentation is just that: a performance. It’s a performance that highlights the scientific facts, but it is not the SOURCE of those facts. Thus, you can criticize the movie as art (and of course, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did exactly that in giving it two awards). But to criticize the science, you really have to bypass the movie and look at the research. That’s why I think it’s important not to overstate Gore’s role in climatology.

  56. dephlogisticated says

    To Rose, and others that may be looking for a “non-atheist bent”, I would suggest the YouTube channel “Climate Denial Crock of the Week”. There’s about 100 videos, and quite well-done.

  57. Warp says

    There are tons and tons of “documentaries” out there that go to great lengths to present dissenting views on events or a scientific consensus, or just a conspiracy theory. Some of these “documentaries” can be pretty convincing to the layman.

    What one should understand, and this is something that most laymen do not, is that just because such a “documentary” sounds very convincing, that doesn’t make it true. These conspiracy theorists are extremely good at producing material that sounds really convincing, yet is completely false. It is perfectly possible to fool people into believing falsities by using all kinds of dishonest techniques, such as cherry-picking, quote-mining and overall just inventing things. It helps when the “documentary” has a very professional quality to it, the things being said are easy to understand, and the speaker narrating the “documentary” has a very charismatic, assuring and compelling intonation. This gives the viewer a false sense of conviction that what is being said is actually well-researched and trustworthy.

    Debunking such a masterfully-created pseudodocumentary can be a long and arduous job that requires a lot of research and expertise on the subject. You have to go through the hundreds and hundreds of claims made in it, and then research the scientific literature (which can be an extremely laborious job to do, especially for a layman) for each one of them. It could take you months, if not even years, to thoroughly debunk such a thing. No wonder most people do not do this even if they wanted to.

    The easiest thing to do is to follow a simple rule of thumb: If the “documentary” is in drastic contrast with the scientific consensus, just dismiss it, no matter how convincing and alluring it may sound. It’s probably bollocks. It may make good entertainment, but it’s most probably just fiction, and should be considered as such. Even if you were wrong in dismissing it (you won’t be, but hypothetically) there’s no big danger: You can be sure that if the new research presented by this “documentary” is actually valid, it will cause a change in science as well. Sooner or later you will have scientists publishing actual papers on that subject. You don’t have to rely on this “documentary” alone. Thus it’s safe to just dismiss it for now and wait for science to catch up. (Of course that won’t happen, but as said, I’m talking about the hypothetical case that the “documentary” is actually valid and accurate.)

  58. Cassie says

    Can you link me to their blogs? I can’t find the links anywhere :S. I aint internet literate…lol

  59. says

    Regarding global warming, Gary said: “… the debate is whether it is primarily man made or not…” .

    No, Gary, it isn’t. Did you notice the part in Kazim’s post linking to a Wikipedia article about scientific opinions on climate change?

    Scientific opinion on climate change is that the Earth’s climate system is unequivocally warming and it is more than 90% certain that humans are causing it through activities that increase concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels. This scientific consensus is expressed insynthesis reports, scientific bodies of national or international standing, and surveys of opinion among climate scientists. Individual scientists, universities, and laboratories contribute to the overall scientific opinion via their peer-reviewed publications, and the areas of collective agreement and relative certainty are summarised in these high level reports and surveys.

    You’ve been deceived, Gary.

  60. says

    Frankly I wasn’t impressed with the episode. It seemed to me that he gave a bizarrely unnecessary sense of false balance to the issue, was overly general, and made a few weird claims (like that nobody had really heard of global warming until the mid-’90s; I was taught about it in the ’80s).

  61. Josh1415dr says

    This is Josh (the guy who sent the global warming email). This is the first time I’ve visited this blog (I usually watch the Youtube uploads). I was surprised to see that my question was posted here. I just wanted to thank Russel again for answering my question so thoroughly. It’s amazing to me that there are people out there willing to put that much time into helping a stranger learn something that they should already know.

    You might also find it interesting that even though I wrote this email with pure sincerity … now I feel like a complete idiot. It’s really embarrassing because I honestly thought that I was making decent arguments and now I see that it was completely baseless- and not only that, the arguments themselves had nothing to do with the subject. Hopefully this feeling of stupidity will at least teach me to be more skeptical of own knowledge before I start making comparisons like this. Russel has really set me straight on this. Maybe this will help you guys see some of the thinking errors that you’re up against when you’re debating with people like me. Thanks everyone. Please keep up the good work.

  62. Swashbuckler332 says

    From one Josh to another:

    You were not an idiot. You were misinformed, and wanted more information so that you could be properly informed.

    Asking a question can sometimes be the highest form of wisdom.

  63. Dunc says

    This so-called “documentary” is well-known to be chock full of deliberate misrepresentations and outright lies. At least one of the scientists involved subsequently sued the film-maker for misrepresentation (successfully) and much of the “data” presented in simply fabricated. It’s not a documentary, it’s propaganda. All of this has been extensively documented since it first came out, and I have a hard time believing that anybody could promote it after all this time without being aware of this.

  64. Tomasz R says

    >Any time someone makes a statement worth discussing, he always >first asks “What is your source?”

    This is an ugly psychological trick. People are generally not good at remembering sources (especially alien ones, not from people they know personally), they are better at remembering main points or conclusions of acquired information.

    Example: “methane from farting dinosaurs” hypothesis – basically everyone who heard it is assured to remember the main mechanism of how this methane prodiction should work. Does anyone remember the name of the scientist that came out with it?

    The second aspect of asking for source is that it really doesn’t matter for the validity of a particular claim. Unless there are sources that lie or tell the truth 100% of the time? Even if a source is unreliable, eg. 65% of the time is wrong, 35% of the time right, then you can’t say nothing about any particiualr information from it unless you validate the information itself.

  65. Tomasz R says

    During the good old times everyone knew that climate is not predictable, especially long term. Has it changed now? Or are all these scientists just making analysis of the past, and then groundlessly extrapolating them to the future? And getting some hits in the process, similar to economists that bet on constantly growing prices during a bubble.

    The second question is what are the norms of the climate, and who sets them? After all we are living in an Ice Age now, so current “normal” geological climate of northern hemisphere is characterized by the indispensible element of thick ice sheets over what’s a bulk of Europe and Northern America. We are living in an ice age! Perhaps a warming is not bad after all? And fear-mongering about warming is actually similar to religious indoctrination?

    And what about longer-term climatic norms?

    “Late Carboniferous to Early Permian time (315 mya — 270 mya) is the only time period in the last 600 million years when both atmospheric CO2 and temperatures were as low as they are today (Quaternary Period ).”

  66. Josh1415dr says

    Thank you very much. I feel like someone who’s been given eyeglasses for the first time. After I got Russel’s response I’ve been doing some very intense research on all of the material he linked to, and I’ve been listening to the Non-Prophets podcast around the clock.

    From his response I’ve come to a crazy realization that my main problem is that I was comparing two things that have nothing to do with each other in order to determine the truth about a scientifically measurable fact (instead of studying the facts themselves). Then I realized my whole life I’ve always been coming to the wrong conclusions based on inference. I’m just looking for patterns in things and automatically equating them without challening my assumptions. My whole world-view has been turned upside down.

    Coincidently (or is it?) Matt talked about this in episode 761 that I just watched. I was so excited that he articulated this problem so brilliantly that I trascribed it. Here it is if you’re interested:

    “Protecting the beliefs that we hold. Religions have a very good mechanism for self protection. But the big thing is that we tend to live our lives based on inference and induction. That today is pretty much the same as yesterday, and we use our reasoning and our experience in combination to build up these, sort of, our intuition our visceral reactions, and we live primarily by inference and induction. Which means that I’m comparing the situation I’m in and trying to come up with what seems like or feels like the best answer- because if I sat around and actually spent time reasoning through A and B and considering all the possibilities, which I can’t do in many cases (it would be too much time) it would be too much investment. And so the problem is that while inference and induction are really really good at getting us through most things, that what they do is they inflate our opinion of our own intellect and our own ability to reason. To the point that when we intuitively come to a wrong conclusion it has the same strength as the right conclusion until it’s challenged, and if that wrong conclusion sits there and you base a lot of other things upon it and it seems to work. It’s like what you get in many religions, where you sing along and you get goosebumps and all these things work together to create a safety net around that belief so that it’s very hard to get in to where that core belief that’s wrong is. And this inflation of the estimation of our own intellect causes us to emphasize how correct we are.”

    I was so blown away by how true that statement was that I’m completely re-evaluating everything I thought was true. And you’re right about me asking the question. If I’d never asked the stupid question I never would have known it was stupid. I would have never experienced a challenge that didn’t reinforce my false comparisons. I’ve gotten more satisfaction from this one email than I did from decades of thinking I was right.

    Anyway, sorry for the long response. I’m just really excited that I can finally get some real answers to life’s questions since I can finally see what I’m doing wrong.

    Thanks again!

  67. Josh1415dr says

    By the way, if there’s anyone out there who knows of any books or resources I can study on the subject of critical thinking or compartmentalization I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks again.

  68. Dan says

    Ecosystems, and a planetary system with life is nothing but ecosystems, are not contained by averages, rather they are controlled by extremes. Highest hot kills, lowest low kills, longest drought kills, longest submersion kills, highest wind kills, longest snow cover kills, the biggest waves kill, etc. Averages are boring and cause minor shifting in an ecosystem, the extremes, now they define the ecosystem. Tough to fine a lifeless place any where on this ball of dirt and water. Heat it, cool it, life remains, when something dies away, there are many lives ready to take the space vacated. This planet is not and has not been a stable system, it has vacillated in a rather wide range of extremes during the past few billions of years. Humans are not going to stop that change, nor has it been shown they will affect the extremes. That said, the only rules Mother nature has is adapt to change or die. Likewise no living organism exists without causing change in the ecosystem it inhabits.

    I view the height of human hubris, the belief it is bad to say coastal folks should be affected by rising oceans and don’t deserve to die (or any of the other equally stupid living situation humans place themselves in or are born to.) I say if one is that stupid, or born that unlucky, one surrenders life. There is even a nice name for it, “Darwin Award.” Just look around the globe and there is much evidence of sea level change or coastal levels change (there is a difference) and to deny that fact, then issue blame, is just plain too dumb to live. Pick up your stuff and move, adapt to the change, now that is a solution. Stopping the change, now that is not going to happen.

    No, this planet was changing before humans evolved on to the scene and it will continue to do so when the last human fossils are long turned to specks of clay. Get used to the idea, as you will never stop it. But clearly few humans ever look beyond their own puny time on the ground and see the big picture that change happens slowly or quickly; be it the slow thousand year grinding of a glacier, the days long eruption of a volcano or the few second of between the impact with the upper most atmosphere and the surface of the planet by an asteroid. Be lucky enough to be in the right location and you just won the lottery of death. Do not pass GO and do not collect $200.

    You, me, your kids, their kids, we are all gonna die, how is not often known, but die you will, die they will and a carbon tax redistribution of wealth will not change that. Moving a few trillion, trillion, trillion carbon atoms from here to there is just a chance to laugh at fools who make this stuff up.

    And just what is the human carrying capacity of this planet, 7, 14, 28, 56, 112, 224, 448, 896, 1792 BILLION or more? The last two doublings were in just about the past 100 years. At that rate the 1792 Billion will be here in a mere 800 years. 800 years ago was just the 13th Century when we humans had a pretty robust history even then.