Knowledge – or mere entertainment?

In any newspaper we may find a mention of some exciting new scientific discovery. It may be evidence of a promising new cure, or perhaps an association between our behaviour and health, or some aspect of human psychology which we can relate to ourselves. The scientists have been beavering away on our behalf. Newspaper mentions are a distillation of around 40,000 studies a year which are recorded in the public domain. But what weight can we place on this information: are we being offered knowledge or entertainment?

Such studies are the outcome of the scientific method. This can be simplified by its stages: observe the material world and identify possible patterns; formulate hypotheses which could reveal the rule behind these patterns; test the hypotheses and accept those that are verified by experience. The corpus of modern science is based on this methodology, and so we should be properly grateful. But we need to be wary.

The published study is not a gift just to us: it is meat and drink to the aspiring scientist because the progress of his career and his reputation can best be achieved through his public contribution to new and potentially useful knowledge. A negative study, often an important contribution in itself, gets no fanfares. As a result there is a sad history of positive studies, some of which are at least questionable. Problems may range from an optimistic massage of data to outright fraud. While many branches of science are susceptible, those concerned with psychology and sociology are particularly vulnerable because the concepts and outcomes are more difficult to measure than those in the physical sciences, even with recent assistance from fMRI brain scans.

Scientific fraud (search for examples on the internet if you are interested) is less important to us than earnest scientists who believe so strongly in their hypotheses that they are tempted to make their data fit the conclusion which they “know” to be true. One obvious way is to bin those studies that prove negative and start again – perhaps with minor alterations – until they get the results they want. We read the triumphant final study, but know nothing of the preceding failures. One authoritative source described data massage as “rife”. And I write as one who has occasionally been tempted to omit an awkward result which conflicts with the statistical confirmation I need.

Another problem is the need to account for other characteristics which may be affecting the outcomes. Take, as an example, a measurement of the benefits resulting from breastfeeding. If, as I understand to be the case, breastfeeding mothers are likely to have a higher level of education and better living standards, this may skew the results. One may employ a control for this, but omit other, less obvious, characteristics. And each control imposed can raise the cost or validity of the study. Nor does such a study necessarily identify the drawbacks.

Few studies review complete populations – they use a sample. So, even if the study itself is gold plated, the results can never be precisely reliable. Probability theory is used to calculate the margins of error. Avoiding technicality, the p value indicates reliability. This must be 0.05 or below for respectability. Oddly enough, there is always a large a number of studies which just scrape in under this threshold – too large for coincidence. A similar statistical effect occurred when teacher discretion provided more C grades at GCSE than were warranted.

But there is a longstop. Substantial studies will be published in peer-reviewed journals. The intention is to check studies through expert criticism, and to provide the information needed for the study to be replicated by others. But even this system is flawed. Peer reviews, it has been strongly argued, are of questionable value and replication is a thankless task – thus too rarely done. In one case a pharmaceutical company decided to replicate 53 published studies of new drugs. Nine out of 10 failed.

What defence does the layperson have against inaccurate results? Certainly, one virtue is healthy scepticism. A reader with some close knowledge of a subject will be able to compare other studies and, if he has the skill, to analyse the study and its statistics, so he may want to obtain the full paper. For most people, commentary in a responsible publication such as New Scientist or Scientific American is the best bet.

There is, however, a post scriptum consolation. Religious believers are often accused of superstition, magic and claims resulting from wishful thinking. It may be a comfort to know that scientists, notwithstanding their steely pragmatic evidence, all too often prefer their own interests to the hard knocks of truth.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Moral judgment, Neuroscience, Quentin queries and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

85 Responses to Knowledge – or mere entertainment?

  1. Ignatius says:

    There is another part to this you have neglected Quentin. There is a whole army of freelance journalists desperate to make a name and a buck. This army is camped out in the forest of research going line by line through the phd theses and research projects of countless thousands of bright young things also trying to make a splash and a name for themselves in the bright twinkly world of the public eye. The result is all sorts of vain scaremongering and posturing in the broadsheets which then gets mulched down into tabloid fodder. Much of our thinking is formed by this curious dream machine which presents itself as worthy but is in fact fancifully stretched on a thin fabric of maybe’s and tenuous links.

    • Quentin says:

      This of course is true, and I hope that my column will provide background for the rightfully sceptic. You will appreciate that strict newspaper wordage invariably requires decisions about what to cover and what to omit.

  2. Geordie says:

    Global Warming is a prime example of scientists massaging the results and ditching results that don’t fit into their favoured theories. If it was proved beyond doubt that global warming was not caused by mankind, an awful lot of scientists would lose their grants and be out of work. UN Committees would be abandoned and the members of those committees would have to think of other ways to spend our money. Green groups would have nothing to protest about and would lose their ‘holier than thou’ warm feelings. Politician would have to face up to the realities of this world; i.e. Mankind does not have the power it thinks it has; our arrogance would be seen for what it is; and possibly many would turn back to God and put their faith in Him instead of science.
    I speak as an ex-science teacher and am aware of the great benefits science has brought us but it is no substitute for God.

    • tim says:

      Climate is a hot topic in more senses than one. I don’t think it is right to make general accusations of falsification or even data massaging against those in the field. Fraud requires strict proof. Nevertheless, selection is inevitable, not necessarily of the results, but of the work to be done. Work to be funded needs to be ‘important’, ‘relevant’ and (usually) not too much out of the main line. If you want to do a study on the mating habits of slugs, it may be easier to find support for a study of the effects of climate change on the mating habits of slugs. And the main problems – for sceptics – are not in the science, but in the economics and politics.

    • pnyikos says:

      Good comments, Geordie. The institutions that you mention (not to mention Al Gore, and the Nobel Committee that made the idiotic decision to award him the Nobel Peace Prize) love to emphasize that global warming HAS taken place in the last fifty years, while confusing the public into thinking that we are to blame for it. The fact is that we have little hard evidence as to what percentage of global warming is man-made, and what percentage is due to variations in the output of the sun and to other factors that we are unaware of.

      Scientists have jumped on this “man-made” bandwagon in huge numbers with only a cursory look at the evidence, or none. If you were to back them into a corner, most would probably admit that they do not have any good arguments for it. On the other hand, some would add that our supply of fossil fuels needs to be conserved and alternative sources of energy found, and would claim that the only way of getting public action on this is to scare the public about the dire effects of global warming, never mind whether it is man-made or not.

  3. Alan says:

    I think a healthy scepticism is certainly a virtue and there should always be that willingness to accept that some established view might be wrong, may be overturned by new information, could be mistaken or is outright fraudulent. History makes that plain. But that should be held as a possibility rather than the probability that many seem to turn it into when they aren’t comfortable with what the science is telling them … or what it can’t tell them. I hope that anyone who goes searching the internet for examples of “scientific fraud” retains their level of scepticism for the hits they get. Finding what is in your own interests is a cautionary tale here too.

    While the system of peer review and repeatable independent testing isn’t perfect and has its practical limitations – along with its cheats and biases as well – I’m attracted to the principle least. It is inevitably flawed and it’s a helpful reminder to point that out. I don’t believe that should in any way suggest that it couldn’t be the best approach to discovering knowledge though.

  4. Nektarios says:

    I can agree with Geordie on the issue of Climate Change. When scientists argue from models and consensus, they are losing their credability as scientists. Science was never conducted on the basis of models and consensus but by measurement, observation and exeperiment.

    But they are not the only guilty parties, there are others. Many universities around the world and especially in the USA will not give a post to anyone who will go against their Humanistic and Secular agendas.
    Church institutions fair no better as they too have adopted in many cases the Humanistic and secular agendas.
    We need scientists in many fields, but it is the financing of so much of it, that is a headache. Many a scientist will do real science, and others will jump on the Humanitic and Secularist bandwagon.

    But you know there is nothing new in any of this. Man has not changed since the Fall and God has not changed at all. The Bible is not essentially a scientific journal, but it is the eternal Word of God and gives us not only a correct view of ourselves as individuals, but a worldview till the end of time.

    • milliganp says:

      There is an incredibly high correlation between religious fundamentalism and rejection of climate science. You reject models and yet modelling technology is used in the design of motor vehicles and aircraft, architectural design of massive structures, conducting nuclear experiments without ever having to explde a bomb, research on cancer etc. etc.

      • tim says:

        milliganp, you’re not relying on Levandowsky’s work, I hope? Perhaps you’d like to quote your reference (President Obama will not do). Correlation is not causation, of course.

        Models are fine, within their limits. However, models cannot be validated because they fit with past results – they need to predict the future as well. Few climate models have shown ‘skill’ at this. The models are running hot. A common response to this argument is … but I’m becoming boring.

        More generally, if you get the chance, go to Stoppard’s new play at the National “The Hard Problem”. It’s not easy to get in – probably your best chance is to time-travel to yesterday and see the live broadcast to cinemas. It deals with some of the problems Quentin raises, including (in passing) data selection – but recommended primarily because it’s a splendid evening,

      • Alan says:

        Tim – “The models are running hot. A common response to this argument is … but I’m becoming boring.”

        I was far from bored. I was quite interested in how that continues. I’m aware of the common response since I’ve seen it printed in the popular magazines Quentin refers to (along with the references to the data) but I don’t know where the alternative line of reasoning and evidence goes from there.

      • Nektarios says:

        Milliganp
        The models of technology on the items you mention are stable for the most part and known unlike the ever changes of climate. Obviously, I am not against modelling but the methods used by the IPCC which they use to get goverments co-operation are so obviously bogus, and the methodology clearly suspect. This is not science, not even bad science, but a corrupt ideology.
        Consider also those meetings on Climate change under the auspicious of the IPCC. The news agengies, media, and the BBC, will all report there was a meeting, but what was discussed and agreed is never mentioned.Yes, scientists, universities and governments
        have, are and continue to be corrupted on this issue of climate change and other issues.

  5. Horace says:

    Looking through the 55 publications which appear in my CV (sometimes in my own name only, sometimes with colleagues) — for example:- FROM 1956 “A computer for the evaluation of contingency by the Chi2 method.” (Proc. Electro-physiol. Technol. Assoc., 7,1) – TO 1996 “Role of Electroencephalography and Evoked Potential Studies in Involuntary Movement Disorders” (Calcutta Neurological Journal) — the majority simply concern descriptions of new or improved techniques or recounts of the findings of such techniques in various groups of patients.

    None of my efforts is the kind of publication here discussed by Quentin, none claims to identify or establish previously unknown facts and none (as far as I know!) were ever commented on in the newspapers. Nevertheless I would argue that they reflect a fairly accurate picture of scientific publications in general, and not only in the medical field.

    The kind of fraudulent, or quasi-fraudulent, epoch making ‘scientific proofs’ described by Quentin surely represents only a very small class which cannot be taken to characterise ‘science’ in general.

  6. Nektarios says:

    When it comes to `Climate Change’ it is interesting to see who is proposing this to be true science, while the real climate experts who actually do the science do not agree with the Climate Change lobby as to the degree of Climate change or the rate of climate change.
    The Green Party for example, make a big song and dance about climate change, but it is not until you get to the bottom of this Parties’ credentials does one see the real agenda.
    The Green Party, initially were composed of those individuals who came across from East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They were and are Communists.
    They could not get anywhere here in the west by sticking to their communist ideology, but they still wanted to do damage to the west. The Green Party and Climate Change ideology wants essentially power, and to do damageto the interests of the west. They had no means to do that apart from bankrupting the west and stopping its production of products. Hence the Climate Change debacle born, and Agenda 21 is part of this whole scenario – google up Agenda 21 and find out.
    The cost to the west alone, would be in the order of $834 Trillion US dollars – enough to bankrupt the whole of the west, forcing the west to shut down all production in any products.
    The backers of Climate Change are the UN, the EU, the Middle East and Russia and China, none of whom are democratically elected or signed up to any of the climate change treaties or protocols. so many of them unelected governments are calling the shots and making demands on the west with creeping treaties western governments cannot easily get out of.
    Corruption of the Universities and the scientists engaged in climate change and by whom, slowly emerges along with their motives and agenda.
    Climate change is not what we need to worry about unduly at all, but the agenda by unelected bodies who seek to do damage to the west under the guise of doing the world good. They are powerful and very dangerous. That’s what we should deal with.

    • Vincent says:

      Nektarios, the genesis of the Green Party which you describe is indeed dramatic. Accompanied by what would seem to be an international plot (communist?) to bring down the Western democracies by the burdens of responding to climate change, we really ought to be fighting back with vigour.

      It may well be true that its fundamental nature is anti capitalist but in this country this is unlikely to be understood by the average voter — who may just want better environmental conditions. Of course if it were popular enough to be an effective government: our current strata: poor, comfortable, well off, would change to poor,poor,poor — with a band of corrupt oligarchs. Pretty much like the old East Germany.

      But I trust that we would not be so stupid.

    • milliganp says:

      It is difficult not to ridicule such a specious analysis. Communism by another name? You left out freemasonry, the illuminati and an attack on Judaism. Big Oil spends billions undermining efforts to reduce carbon usage and hires its own scientists to create confusion; given all the money is in the opposition camp how do you explain that carbon consumption continues to be of concern?
      50 years ago the tobacco companies were paying doctors to deny that smoking caused cancer, 20 years ago there was a counter-science move to deny the link between HIV and AIDS.
      The Saudi’s have deliberately reduced the price of oil to three ends:- to destroy the incentive to explore for oil that costs $100+ a barrel to produce (particularly US shale oils), to undermine green energy – which typically costs the equivalent of $150+ a barrel and to hook the world on cheap oil. Given humanity’s short sightedness, and the theme of Quentin’s last blog of preference of short term pleasure over long term survival our children and grandchildren are going to inherit the short-sightedness of our self-centred culture.

      • tim says:

        Indeed, it is difficult not to ridicule specious analyses, whether based on pro- or anti-capitalist conspiracies. Better to recognise that there is an element of truth in both positions, however grossly exaggerated. It will not do to contend that either Greens or climate sceptics do not (generally) believe what they say. The oil companies have money, and don’t like to have to change their ways, but they can see which way the wind is blowing (to coin a phrase). There is plenty of money to be made out of ‘renewable energy’ if you don’t mind that much of it comes from subsidies imposed by governments and paid for by consumers, rich or poor (more of the latter, of course). In the present climate (of opinion) oil companies cannot afford to be seen opposing ‘renewable’ energy. The billions (and planned trillions) that will be spent come from governments, who raise it from their taxpayers.
        To support these payments, you need to have faith that the scientific projections of the degree of warming, and the net effects that such warming will have, are sufficiently reliable to justify them. Could the money be spent in better ways?
        Here is a suggestion. We are told that all sorts of existing problems will be made worse by ‘global warming’ (sea level rise, plagues, hunger, malnutrition, poverty, water shortage, extreme weather, etc). Instead of trying to prevent this by cutting back burning things (which, for various reasons, may or may not work), couldn’t we use all this money now to tackle these problems that we already have? Then, if climate change is as bad as some predict, we shall be better placed to cope with it. And if it’s not so bad, the money and effort won’t have been wasted. ‘Adaptation’ before ‘mitigation’? Surely that makes sense?

      • Nektarios says:

        Milliganp
        Some of your arguments, true though they are, back up what I have said earlier.
        My argument is well rearched and far from being `specious’.
        Don’t get me started on Freemasonary of which the RCC is riddled with from top to bottom. Nor the illuminati, the real money-brokers for the last 300+ years that think they control this world. both positively evil.

      • milliganp says:

        Well researched does not count if you only research views that accord with a predetermined position. There was a point in the UK some years ago where large number of people were convinced of a link between MMR and autism. Despite the assurances of medical experts large numbers of parents refused the vaccine and measles resurged. It was only when the doctor admitted falsifying his research that the trend in vaccination reversed. If global warming is genuinely happening the point of certainty is, sadly, beyond the point of no return. Given this, it would seem common sense to do all that is reasonable in the interim to play on the side of caution.

  7. John Nolan says:

    I am sceptical about a methodology which starts out with a hypothesis and then looks for evidence to support it, discarding what doesn’t fit. If historians practised their craft in tis way, Mein Kampf would count as a serious work of history. Nor is it ‘scientific’ to argue ‘it may or may not be true but we need to take action now in case it is.’ Al Gore’s notorious film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ still influences the school syllabus although many of its assertions are questionable and have indeed been questioned, not least by climatologists.

    It is revealing how those who regard anthropogenic climate change as an article of faith characterize anyone who questions their hypothesis. ‘Climate change deniers’ is frequently heard, although everyone accepts that the earth’s climate changes and has always done so. Mr Milligan would have us believe that such people reject climate science altogether and are likely to be religious fundamentalists (whatever that means – the term was not originally pejorative). No doubt Cardinal Pell falls into this category since in addition to his scepticism regarding ACC he is a staunch upholder of Catholic moral teaching and – horror of horrors! – he has been spotted wearing a cappa magna and celebrating a Pontifical High Mass.

  8. tim says:

    Alan, ‘the models are running hot’? I’m not sure you’re wise to encourage me, but anyway…

    There are several answers to this. One is “not all of them are” – only about 90% of them – but it is apparently not right to select those that are more successful. There are 50 or so different physical explanations – a number that does not inspire confidence. Most of these boil down (sorry) to the contention that the ‘extra heat’ is being taken up by the oceans, which (or parts of which) are stated to have warmed (a measured) one or two hundredths of a degree since the millennium began. This seems thermodynamically fishy, and raises two questions: why has this started happening (it wasn’t predicted) and (if it is happening) what’s to stop it going on indefinitely (the heat capacity of the oceans is enormous).

    But the main response sidesteps these doubtful and not totally convincing arguments. It says: Never mind the details, we need to do this anyway. Growth – of energy consumption, the economy, the population – cannot continue indefinitely on a finite planet.

    That’s true enough. But even if not indefinitely, maybe these – or some of them – can continue for quite a while yet. ‘Peak oil’? In the 1920’s, a US commission estimated that, at the then current rates of consumption, there were only about 15 years worth of oil left. It is not clear that we need to act yet – or if we do, what we should best do. That is a politico-economic question, not pure science. The poor we have with us today. Do we have duties to them, that are perhaps clearer – and perhaps outweigh – duties towards our – and their – grandchildren?

    • John Nolan says:

      In the mid-nineteenth century the lack of whale oil led many so-called scientists to predict a return to a new dark age. At the same the consensus of scientific opinion was that cholera was an airborne and not a waterborne disease. Why is present ‘scientific’ consensus regarded as unquestionable? And don’t give me that ‘peer review’ argument; like-minded people agreeing with each other is hardly convincing.

    • Alan says:

      Tim – “This seems thermodynamically fishy, and raises two questions: why has this started happening (it wasn’t predicted) and (if it is happening) what’s to stop it going on indefinitely (the heat capacity of the oceans is enormous).”

      The answers I have seen of this type include an explanation of why it is happening and why it isn’t expected to continue in the long term. It’s a “fair cop” that it wasn’t predicted and, of course, these climate scientists could be off in their predictions this time too. Is that doubt enough for you to favour an alternative prediction/model?

      Tim – “That is a politico-economic question, not pure science. The poor we have with us today. Do we have duties to them, that are perhaps clearer – and perhaps outweigh – duties towards our – and their – grandchildren?”

      Given that you accept the possibility of the predictions panning out, what sort of action would you be thinking of here that might offset the damage caused by a 1 meter rise in average sea levels (not the worst case scenario predicted) within just one person’s lifetime?

      • tim says:

        Possibility needs to be converted into likelihood before we decide what to do. Sea level rise is likely to continue, even if global warming doesn’t. So we are going to have to find ways of coping with it – as necessary. I would wait to see what happens.

      • Alan says:

        “Possibility needs to be converted into likelihood before we decide what to do.”

        Waiting to see what happens is deciding what to do.

    • Alan says:

      John Nolan – “Why is present ‘scientific’ consensus regarded as unquestionable?”

      I don’t think it is that the scientific consensus is unquestionable. It’s just not very easy to question. As is the case with any other group of experts. Pointing out that they have been wrong before seems far from sufficient to me. The medical profession has been wrong before. Their models of how the body worked have been off in the past. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still the best people to look to for information and advice. There seems no particular reason to place your confidence elsewhere instead.

      • John Nolan says:

        Alan, the experts don’t agree. Only recently has it become possible to use satellites to measure the thickness of polar ice. The results make interesting reading. There is still a lot we don’t know about ocean currents. In the 1970s experts were telling us that we were facing global cooling. Ozone depletion was a big issue in the mid- 1970s, but within a few years scientists were rubbishing it. It resurfaced in the 1980s and now seems to be off the radar again.

        If, and it’s a big if, global temperatures are set to rise in the 21st century to the levels they were at the end of the first millennium of the Christian era, then we need to learn to adapt to it, not to wreck the world economy trying to play King Canute.

      • Alan says:

        John,

        The experts don’t entirely agree, but there is a view upon which a very large majority of the them do agree. In the 1970s some experts were predicting cooling but the majority weren’t. Even so, this is still merely pointing out where they have been wrong in the past. That doesn’t make an alternative view any more reliable. The non-experts have been wrong before too.

        “we need to learn to adapt to it, not to wreck the world economy trying to play King Canute.”

        Even if the adaptation were to be much more costly?

      • tim says:

        What is the scientific consensus? That the globe has warmed – by around one degree C in the last 150 years or so. That part of this warming – and it is by no means clear how much – is due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So far so good. On the basis of this, it is said that if we continue to release CO2 into the atmosphere, warming will continue, may accelerate, and the resulting changes will be serious and potentially catastrophic. This is not agreed. It is not sufficient that it cannot be ruled out. We can adapt to a slightly warmer climate. For many of us, it would be a clear benefit. More people die of cold than of overheating (quite a lot more). People don’t normally choose to retire to cooler countries. How much should we spend now to reduce (to an unclear extent) potential risks some distance in the future? Millions or trillions? If there is a consensus on that, there is no basis for trusting it.

      • milliganp says:

        Tim, how callous can you get. Do the people of the Sudan, Etheopia and Somalia not count. Nor the people of the Indian sub-continent. In 2003 over 14,000 french elderly died in a summer heatwave. A temperature rise of 2C may make Brighton a more pleasant place to take a spring break but 2C in Africa will kill Millions. Ignorance (and indifference) is bliss.

      • Vincent says:

        Milliganp, a good point, I think. but we will certainly know about the peoples you mention when they are forced to emigrate to cooler climes — such as ours.

  9. Brendan says:

    Being a non-scientist I am fascinated by ‘ science speak ‘ in this blog ; ” models running hot ” etc.
    Anyway,of course for the foreseeable future at least the world holds its breath while it finds a way forward for our planet. As a Christian ; hoping the direction is in accord with Divine Pleasure.
    Tim ends by asking , ” Do we have duties to them [ the poor ] that are perhaps clearer … etc ?”
    The answer to ,,,,” who is my neighbour ? “…gives the answer for the Christian . And I don’t mean the common Thatcherite version of self ALWAYS before others first , becoming the dictum of the day.
    For all of us : the scientist , economist, or just the passer-by , the world is wonderfully entertaining and most of us would like to make our mark one way or other. There are outstanding matters that go above and beyond ” mere entertainment “. Thomas Merton ( pre- Trappist period ) observed:-
    ” The logic of worldly success rests on the strange error that our perfection depends on the applause of other men ! A weird life it is , indeed, to be living in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real ! ”
    ,

  10. milliganp says:

    I wonder how many of those posting here on climate change would, if told they had cancer and there was a cure with a 95% success rate refuse it until someone could assure them a cure was certain.

    • John Nolan says:

      Milliganp – non sequitur.

      • tim says:

        If it could be demonstrated that adaptation was more costly than mitigation, and that mitigation is possible and would be effective, mitigation would be preferred. Do you think you can demonstrate this? I don’t.

      • Alan says:

        Tim – “Do you think you can demonstrate this? I don’t.”

        A very reasonable doubt that I share. Just as I would doubt that you could demonstrate either the effectiveness or the lower relative cost of the “let’s wait and see” approach. Despite the ease and cheapness with which people seem to think we could adapt to a few more degrees I’ve a suspicion they’re as much in the dark if not more so, particularly since there’s barely a hint as to what adaptations might be required. While changing preferred holiday locations might be a part of the estimate, I feel there could be more to it.
        We don’t then have a comparison between an uncertain, untested science and a certain, fully costed alternative. We have our best estimates of both. When it comes to an illness where I’ve questions about prognosis, experimental treatment, conventional medicines etc. I know which professional body I’m going to ask them of. They might not be able to guarantee me a 95% success rate, they may have gotten things wrong before, but I’m still valuing their collective advice over that of the hospital visitors who try to reassure me that I’ll be fine.

  11. Nektarios says:

    Thank God, He is on the throne and not man- the scientist, the politician, the businessman.
    So we are not getting very far in establishing who does one trust? As things are, very few as most of the scientific and academic world are compromised and it mostly has to do with age old problems
    of power, prestige and money.
    From a biblical point of view it is very clear, there were times of famine, times of flooding, weather disturbances and they lasted sometimes for several years in the case of famine and that was long before there was a so-called carbon footprint – the rogue and danger to our plant?

    If CO2 increases climate temperatures, and it does, by a very small amount and is not a problem,
    I say, not a problem, because those who have actually done the science, done the observation, done the measurements, done the experiments tell us there has been very little climate change in the last 20 years or so.
    Another factor they proved was that even if man doubled the carbon footprint globally it would raise the temperature by where it is now around 1.5 degrees to around 2.5, not a problem that cannot be dealt with. And here is something very comforting to those who would feel alarmed by all the climate change hype and it is this: Man can only double it from where it is now and no further because man does not have the resourses to extract or produce to such a level it would get beyond doubling CO2 emissions. So go out and enjoy the sunshine!
    It is not man that will destroy this world – yes, lets thank God who its on the throne has control. Him do I trust!

  12. Brendan says:

    What appears to be a growing trend in the media , is the use of the historical / docu-drama under the cover of entertainment ; purporting to be fiction but giving the impression of being factual in some if not all of its content. For many people of a younger generation there may well be a blurring of the line between knowledge and entertainment; where if most of the television quiz shows are anything to go by, they show a lamentable lack of knowledge of the history of our Islands. Occasionally even University Challenge raises my eyebrows ( although no more on questions concerning Christianity / The Bible ) . Michael Gove once highlighted this disturbing situation , before he was unceremoniously moved to another government job.
    Most people , professional or otherwise feel that Dame Hilary Mantel’s ” Wolf Hall ” falls precisely into this category in its perverse depiction of both Thomas Cromwell and Saint Thomas More.

  13. tim says:

    Also, Milliganp, as it happens, I have cancer – lymphoma – which I’ve been told is incurable (but don’t get too concerned yet). If I were offered a novel cure for it, my questions would include: what will the treatment involve? How do you know the treatment will work? On the basis of the answers, I would try it – or not. Some treatments for cancer are not pleasant. And in fact, even if the treatment was not burdensome, I would probably not try it. Why not? – because my existing treatment is holding the disease at bay so that it gives me almost no trouble, even if it is incurable.

    To continue the analogy, global warming may not be too inconvenient either – so that the proposed treatment may be worse. The analogy breaks down when you offer a 95% success rate. You can’t legitimately claim this for your solution to global warming. You have no experimental evidence of previous cures – only theory. And the theory is insufficient, as you don’t know what proportion of previous warming is due to natural variation. The treatment is faith-based, rather than evidence-based.

  14. Peter Foster says:

    As Quentin says, experimental facts may lead to concepts: Einstein used the measured constancy of the speed of light to imagine, through mathematics, a world in which this was possible. On the other hand Paul Dirac starting with a priori concepts amazingly predicted antimatter. However, theory more often directs the experimental search, e.g. the Higgs Boson.

    On the wider point of how to distinguish the intrinsic value of everyday reports, most studies of the type “is it better to eat margarine, butter or animal fat” do not require a deep knowledge of scientific concepts but simply a rational scepticism.

    We need to be aware of two mechanisms of misinformation:

    (i) Untrue statements which become accepted by repetition.

    For example, a holiday break for children from the Ukraine is promoted by a statement which is untrue:
    “The health benefits of a month of clean air and clean food that is not contaminated by nuclear fall-out in the UK are amazing for the Chernobyl youngsters – it can add two years to a child’s average life expectancy.”
    Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline very reluctantly acknowledged that no source for this statement could be found.

    (ii) The pseudo-academic report.

    A “supposed truth” is explicated in a report with a large number of references in imitation of the style of a paper in an academic journal. However, the references direct the reader to news items, magazines, other references in the same list, or to a key secondary source in which partial and misleading information which has been taken from a primary paper in a peer reviewed journal, but to which an accurate reference is not given, is discussed.

    An example of this pseudo-academic style is the CAFOD document “What Have We Done?” in the Climate Change Report H4C and the revised H4C (1) November 2013.

    Science is a problem for Catholics because the Church has asserted a competence (see below) to decide the ‘natural law’, and in doing so has intruded into the province of science. The Church is locked into the viewpoint of a particular epoch in cultural history in which the components of the world and their functions were thought to be directly designed by God. This has diverted the Church from interpreting the moral law in the world as it is now known.
    Humanae Vitae Para 4: ……No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her magisterium to interpret the natural moral law. It is in fact indisputable, as Our predecessors have many times declared, (l) that Jesus Christ, when He communicated His divine power to Peter and the other Apostles and sent them to teach all nations His commandments, (2) constituted them as the authentic guardians and interpreters of the whole moral law, not only, that is, of the law of the Gospel BUT ALSO OF THE NATURAL LAW. [My capitals] For the natural law, too, declares the will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for men’s eternal salvation. (3)
    (2) Matthew ch.28: v.18-19
    (3) Matthew ch.7: v.21
    We may reflect upon the strength of the support given by these quotations.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I often wonder what scientists (catholics) say about Jesus Resurrection from the dead.

      • tim says:

        Catholic scientists accept that Jesus’s Resurrection was contrary to the laws of Nature. In general, scientists take it for granted that the laws of Nature are immutable. But this is a philosophical premise. If you point out to them an apparent exception, they will reject it. Usually they will find a clear demonstration that it is only apparent. But where they can’t, their faith will not be disturbed. “A miracle (something contrary to the laws of Nature) requires stronger evidence than any specific instance can provide”. And science deals only with the reproducible – what can be repeated to order. A catholic scientist will (I suppose) typically believe that God lays down the laws of Nature, and can therefore make exceptions to them when He thinks fit. The Resurrection, though unique, makes sense.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Tim.
        Thank you for your comment.

    • Nektarios says:

      Peter Foster
      It is not necessary for men’s Salvation, but, as the Apostle Paul calls them at the beginning of Ephesians 1.1 – saints. The word saint means set apart unto God. In verse 4 the writer tells us. And…. `we should be holy and without blame before him in love.’
      We could go on here. but these sublime verses of the Apostle 1-6 is in fact the definition of a Christian. One cannot be a Christian without being set apart unto God. One cannot be a Christian without being holy.
      Merely quoting Holy Scripture without explaining what they teach leads to the mess so many a Christian find themselves.
      One last thing on this, Peter, These Epistles are not written for non- believers but for Christians.

      • Peter Foster says:

        Nektarios, I agree. I tell my Jehovah’s Witness visitors that statements in the bible must be seen in the context of the whole, and not in isolation; but legalism in the Church is based on just such.

    • Quentin says:

      Clearly the scientists have a role in discerning the nature from which the Church draws its moral conclusions. For instance, the sociologists can tell us of the nature of man as a social animal. The Church can teach us that we must therefore tell the truth and keep our promises. Or the way it was seen that abortion was more wicked than first thought — through understanding better the process of conception. Argument about the first moment at which a conceptus may be declared a human person must turn to a large extent on the biology of embryonic development.

      For most of history it was thought that law could be derived directly from biological structure — since this was God’s direct creation and so implicitly expressed his law. It did not (and has not yet) reviewed its teachings in the light of evolution which, being part of nature, must be taken into account..

      • St.Joseph says:

        Quentin.
        I am wondering what science can tell us about our soul, or Spirit,if anything.
        Do they say any thing about it?
        Grace comes into that somewhere as humans that must have a great deal to do with our destiny!.

      • Quentin says:

        Goodness, St J. what a question!

        Every living thing has a soul, by definition. The Latin word for soul is anima, from which we get ‘animated’. So it refers to the unifying principle of life. When we lose life our body falls to bits.Traditionally we speak of three kinds of soul: vegetative, animal and human. Aristotle believed that the human embryo lived through each of these three souls as it developed.

        So very aspect of science which is concerned with living things is concerned with soul. However science, which needs to be based on measurable evidence, can only have limited view of the aspects of a human soul which have been created directly by God. They can note the effects of such aspects but they cannot grasp their inner nature because, through being spiritual, they are not open to material evidence.

        We sometimes think of scientists nowadays as sceptical people. But the history of science shows that many great scientists have been religious believers. And many fine scientists today are religious. We need to remember that science and religion are both concerned with truth; if they ever conflict, one or the other has got matters wrong. You, personally, will know that I have written about religion and science for a long time. The more I explore God’s creation through science the more wonderful his work seems to be.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Quentin,
        Thank you, very interesting. Did Aristotle say how he came to the reasoning that the human embryo went through these three stages,
        Was he speaking of evolution from conception.
        I am quite ignorant of Aristotle.
        I am quite interested that he called the embryo ‘human’ even with a vegative and animal soul.
        Forgive my ignorance , just thoughts.Although I would like my pet cat to be in Heaven,
        Probably wont think of her if I go there,
        Although I did see her after she died also my daughter did and she did not know I did at the time.
        She was in her twenties and not a fan of her’s!

      • Quentin says:

        St J., the whole question of the point at which the conceptus can be described as a person is one on which even Catholic theologians disagree. One day I will look at writing a piece on the subject but not, I fear, today. The Church however, without settling this question, teaches that human life is sacred from the time of conception.

        Without looking him up, I imagine that Aristotle made his deductions from the physical remains of miscarriages. His views remained the standard ones until late in the 18th century.

        If the absence of your cat in Heaven interferes with your happiness, it will certainly be there! I am all for our pets accompanying us after the Resurrection. My own cat is off colour today; she is sleeping at my elbow.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Quentin.
        Thank you for that post.
        I will look forward to your article wnhen you write it.
        I will say a prayer to St Francis that your cat gets better soon
        St Francis cured my Corgi dog Princes eye which was destroyed by my cat.He was blind, a friend rubbed it with a relic of St Francis, and it was cured. The Vet could not believe it! .

  15. John Nolan says:

    What we refer to as ‘science’ is really only a branch of it, i.e. ‘natural science’ . ‘Scientia’ simply means ‘knowledge’ . Morality or the ‘natural moral law’ is not to be equated with the ‘laws’ of physics, for example. Natural science has never been the problem for the Church that many people like to suppose; indeed churchmen were encouraged to study it as a means of understanding God’s creation. Bede knew the earth was a sphere and Copernicus was a monk who dedicated his treatise on the heliocentric system to the pope.

    Interestingly, since we observe things from the earth, and everything (including the earth) is in motion, then a geocentric model is arguably as valid as any other.

  16. tim says:

    Alan – ,”“Do you think you can demonstrate this? I don’t.”
    A very reasonable doubt that I share. Just as I would doubt that you could demonstrate either the effectiveness or the lower relative cost of the “let’s wait and see” approach. “

    Agreed. Agreed also that a decision not to act is still a decision.
    The question however is which of us has the burden of proof. You want to spend vast sums now on measures that may alleviate possible serious problems in 50 or 100 years. I want to hold off and (preferably) to spend some of the money saved to alleviate serious problems we have now (and which are forecast to get worse). I think you have the burden of proof, and I don’t see how you can discharge it.

    • Alan says:

      I’m not sure I agree that the burden of proof should be on those with one particular forecast or budget proposal but I’ll leave it to others to keep trying to make the case anyway.

  17. Alasdair says:

    As Christians we need not fear science. Our faith is the Truth, and science is also about truth. Therefore, ultimately, no real conflict is possible. Great, non-Christian scientists such as Einstein and Stephen Jay Gould (in his “non-overlapping magisteria”) saw this clearly. Unfortunately in recent times, some scientists such as Dawkins and Brian Cox have taken advantage of their celebrity status to embark on second careers as New Atheist apologists. As predicted by Stephen Jay Gould, they have had to abandon their objective, rational, scientific approach in order to make their arguements, and they have not had the honesty to admit it.
    Regarding Cox’s recent TV series “The Human Universe” I commented at the time “Each point he (Cox) makes starts with a scientific fact or hypotheseis that most of us wouldn’t argue with. Then he switches to part of his own world-view which is not by any means an obvious conclusion from the preceeding piece of science”.
    These erstwhile scientists are taking the name of science in vain.

    • Alasdair says:

      Regarding the perceived conflict between Science and Christian belief, I’ve just been reminded of a quote from Timothy Keller in The Reason For God in which he cites the American social historian Christian Smith. “The conflict model of the relationship of science to religion was a deliberate exaggeration used by scientists and education leaders at the end of the nineteenth century to undermine the church’s control of their institutions and increase their own cultural power. The absulute warfare model of science and reason was the product not so much of intellectual necessity but rather a particular cultural strategy”.

  18. Ignatius says:

    Thankfully though most are able to detect a bit of quasi religious wish fulfilment on the part of our celebrity scientists. I don’t think many people take Cox or Dawkins seriously when they “go off on one”…..do you?

    • Brendan says:

      Being of an older generation ; one thing that came over to me in some episodes of ” The Human Universe ” , – apart from Professor Cox’s somewhat shallow, incipient
      ‘ nod ‘ to religion – was a kind of boyish naivete reminiscent of the ‘ hippie-ish ‘ 60 ‘s period ; which had the unfortunate effect of producing a dreamlike entertainment , which took something from the serious science that he proposed to project. He certainly relished centre stage!

      • Brendan says:

        Talking of Professor Dawkins . He’s gone very quiet lately ( at least on TV ). Maybe it’s just me , or has he run out of ‘ memes ‘ ?

      • Alasdair says:

        Yes, absolutely B. You and I see it clearly. The hippie-ish dreamlike entertainment you describe, piggybacked onto serious science, is certainly at the heart of this blog. It’s a dangerous weapon in the hands of those with an atheist agenda.

    • Alan says:

      I’m not so concerned about the personalities of these people when I consider the points they make. When Prof. Cox says that he thinks we would probably be better off with less superstition I can entertain the idea even if he is wearing what looks like a tie-dyed T shirt.

      • Brendan says:

        I agree Alan; I like knowledge ( facts ) flat on . But when not in a lecture hall , the unscientific mind ( most of the population ) is rather at the mercy of sometimes slick media production where ‘ truth ‘ sometimes is obscured at the expense of entertainment ( ratings value ) value to the public.
        In the political arena , our politicians shy away from unscheduled contact with the public to rely on the pre-arranged shot. Is this conducive to imparting real knowledge to the public or is it just show or mere entertainment. No wonder old- fashioned hustings are assiduously avoided.

      • Alasdair says:

        Alan, I’m sure that when Cox uses the word “superstition” he is including religion. Indeed it’s very likely aimed straight at Christianity, in which case it’s intended to be insulting. A response in kind would be to loudly describe his broadcasts as pseudo-scientific telly-babble without even bothering to acquaint one’s self with the content.

  19. tim says:

    milliganp says:
    April 20, 2015 at 7:22 am How callous can you get?

    I’m afraid your ‘facts’ are not accepted by me – if they were, you might be justified in calling me callous. I see different facts. You point to 14,000 who died in France in the 2003 heatwave. Without challenging that, I will mention the ‘up to 40,000 ‘ excess winter deaths in the UK in the recent winter (Telegraph, 1 Feb). In both cases, dear energy makes matters worse. Fuel subsidies to ‘green energy’ mean pensioners cannot afford to heat their homes.
    Millions would not die in Africa because of a 2C rise in average world temperature. More die of cold than heat – even in hotter countries. Millions die in Africa of woodsmoke – who would not die if they had access to gas or electricity, or even better designed stoves. Africans need cheap energy – which modern superstition seeks to deny them. You believe in good faith that fossil fuels are the Devil’s work. I believe in good faith that we need cheap energy to raise people out of poverty – and that so-called ‘renewables’ cannot provide it. We must both act as we believe – and answer for the results if we are proved wrong.

    • Alan says:

      Tim – On this point, I’m wondering what you are suggesting. Without wanting to check any of the actual figures I can quite easily accept what you say about the number of deaths resulting from severe cold as opposed to too much heat. Two things spring to mind though. Firstly, this is far from the main area of concern when it comes to an average global temperature rise from what I have seen. Secondly, for this to make a difference, those advocating ways to reduce the warming effect would have had to fail to account for this fairly obvious balance of risk. Why (besides a clear concern about loss of life in general) does this have a bearing on the matter?

      • tim says:

        Thanks, Alan. I’m afraid I haven’t understood your two points (I fear this reflects badly on me). There is no end to the concerns people have about the results of global warming (or climate change) from drought, crop failure, heat deaths, sea acidification, sea level rise, loss of polar bears, increase in number and ferocity of storms – among others. These are all legitimate concerns, if real – but several of them aren’t: or won’t be stopped – or much mitigated – by cutting down CO2 emissions. And they are at least partially balanced by the probable benefits of climate change. Against these concerns, cutting down CO2 emissions is expensive and constricts economic growth. That’s no problem for those of us who are comfortably off already – less good for the developing world. And it’s why – probably – significant curbs on CO2 emissions won’t happen. Short of a nuclear holocaust, all our grandchildren will be notably better off than us – good luck to them!

    • Alasdair says:

      A 2C rise in global temperature is as likely to cause more winter cold deaths as it is to cause heat-stoke deaths. Global Warming is not about a consistent 2C temperature rise all year round. Its about an increase in the energy of the atmosphere. One of the results of this is that atlantic depressions are more likely to draw a polar air mass over the UK in winter, bringing severe winter conditions. I live in a tolerably mild climate in spite of being 57deg north. At this latitude there are no large population centres in N America. In northern Europe though we benefit from the gulf stream. A secondary effect of global warming might be the suppression of the gulf stream. This would probably result in Aberdeen having the same type of winters as Juneau in Alaska which is at the same latitude.

      • tim says:

        Alasdair, please justify your thesis. The idea that ‘global warming’ may shut down the Gulf Stream is an old one, which I thought had been exploded (along with other popular scares, such as extinction of polar bears, return of malaria to Europe, etc). That may be wishful thinking on my part – but we certainly hear less about it these days than the dangers of global temperature increases. I think you will be hard put to it to find serious support for the view that shut-down of the Gulf Stream is ‘at least as likely’ as an increase in heat-stroke deaths. Also, I question how important ‘more energy in the atmosphere’ is. One might think that this would increase severe weather. However, the poles are warming faster than the tropics. This should tend to diminish the power of storms. Though the contrary is often alleged, storms have not increased either in number or intensity.

  20. Nektarios says:

    Science today is largely governed by a humanistic philosophy, that is, we are nothing more than matter, plus energy and chance. They have not a scrap of hard evidence to back up what man actually is, nor the reason for the universe being here in the first place.
    This old Book, called the Bible has a lot to say about both, but especially Man.
    I see so many so-called scientists like our first parents hiding behind the trees of their scientific philosopy that, of course excludes God from the whole equasion. But God is the Creator of the tree too, He is God of the front of the tree, and also God of the back of the tree they like our forebears tried to hide from God, thinking if we but hide ourselves behind out theories and mathematical deductions God will not see or find us. But God comes calling – Where art Thou?

    Another problem man has today, since we are coming up to a General Election, is the delusion
    that a certain man as Prime Minister of whatever Party, or Party can solve man’s problems.
    Man was made in the image of God, and was meant to live in Communion with Him. Man since the Fall has been excluded from Paradise, so trusts in his fellow men to rule over and govern him.

    Adam was duped by the devil then, and we are still being duped today. That man in No.10 or the White House or wherever cannot solve man’s problems and return him to paradise.
    But this old Book called the Bible, shows us One who can – even Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
    He can give us victory over our problems, forgiveness for our sins, raise us from the dead and return us to paradise and communion with God.
    So I you leave here, behind your particular tree?, with the question God posed Adam and Eve- Where art Thou?

    • Alan says:

      Nektarios – “They have not a scrap of hard evidence to back up what man actually is, nor the reason for the universe being here in the first place.”

      A failing they share with many/all I would say and the very reason that they are less willing then most to draw a hasty conclusion I suspect.

  21. Brendan says:

    Alasdair , April 26th. 7’06 pm. – Can I take this point further. Yes, some sections of media iare much more concerned nowadays about their own ‘ agenda ‘ rather than public opinion. Even the BBC , the National Broadcaster accountable to the taxpayer, sometimes forget their raison d’etre.
    The interview between Nigel Farage and Evan Davis last night is a case in point. I’m not suggesting that Evan Davis ( who fronts Newsnight ) is anything other than a good experienced interviewer who in many ways comes over as humane and fair. However , in a good interview ( the first to hold my attention in the current political campaign ) ; Evan on a number of times seemed insistent on putting words into Nigel’s mouth , rather than keeping to extracting from him ,his own answers . This led to Nigel attempting to put the spotlight on Evan as being representative of the ‘ media ‘ siding with the metropolitan elite – which is perceived by the general public as running its ‘ own ‘ agenda and not overly concerned withthe peoples outside the Metropolis .
    Evan left this line of questioning swiftly – perhaps realising the ‘ trap ‘ he’d had fallen into which projected some kind of impartiality on his part. Interviewers ( particularly in the Paxman era ) have a very powerful hold in influencing the public mind . But I intuit that often behind them is a production team more powerful , having their own sinister agenda – yes, perhaps atheistic – holding the strings ,of which many fine interviewers dangle to their tune – even inadvertantly perhaps.

  22. tim says:

    Alan, you are proposing that we spend trillions on a benefit which is said to be waiting for us decades in the future. And you don’t think the burden is on you to show that it’s worth while?

    Can I interest you in some more disaster insurance?

    • Alan says:

      It’s not that I think a decent case for the proposed action shouldn’t be made. It’s that I don’t think the burden should be on that particular choice over any alternative. Not taking out disaster insurance isn’t automatically more worth while.

  23. tim says:

    Alan, I have to agree (somewhat unwillingly) that faced with a number of alternatives for action – of which one is inaction – before hearing the case for each, there is no logical reason for privileging inaction over inaction. But – taking a slightly different point – the future is uncertain. We are being asked to make a very large investment now in return for a possibly correspondingly large return some distance in the future. Maybe we should. But, surely, the larger the investment and the further off the payback, the greater the need for a compelling case? One problem with the Stern Report was the exceptionally small discount rates he used to justify his argument. This ignores the uncertainty of the future.

    • tim says:

      Or, better, “inaction over action“. “The moving Finger writes, and having writ Moves on, nor all thy piety and wit, Shall lure it back to cancel half a line…”.

  24. Quentin says:

    I have just received the following by email. Q

    Friends –

    The Heartland Institute is hosting a mini-counter-conference on global warming across the street from the Vatican next week, on Tuesday, April 28, to coincide with the Pope’s workshop on global warming and sustainable development. Three scientists have confirmed that they will join us in Rome – Hal Doiron, Tom Sheahan, and Richard Keen – and several “lay” experts on global warming will be there too – Christopher Monckton, Cal Beisner, Marc Morano, and Heartland’s Jim Lakely.

    We’ve produced a Web page in response to the Vatican’s workshop as a resource for readers and the media, which you can access here, https://www.heartland.org/Vatican-Environment-Workshop

    Please call us if you would like comments/analysis from our experts before, during or after the conference.

    Yours Faithfully,

    Gene Koprowski
    Director of Marketing
    The Heartland Institute

  25. tim says:

    Thank you, Quentin. The Heartland Institute has ‘a terrible name in Portadown’ (as the Northern Irish protestant said about the Pope): but the link seems to provide (on the whole) a reasonably moderate statement of the case against over-enthusiastic action seeking to curb climate change. Though it’s a pity that they claim specifically that ‘false data have been concocted’. A charge like that requires solid proof (nor is it clear that, if any data have been concocted, that data was crucial to the argument).
    But it’s worth reading what they have to say – unless you are confident you already know they’re wrong.

    • tim says:

      And see this week’s ‘Catholic Herald’ for a face-off between William Oddie and Lord Deben (the ci-devant John Selwyn Gummer) on climate change.

  26. overload says:

    I don’t need a scientist to tell me that mankind is destroying both himself and his environment. Whether the distance to this end is short or long—the path taken is the same.
    Quite apart from whatever I may be able to see and intuit in (or from within) this country, when I went to India I saw blatant climate disfunction with my own eyes—rivers that smelt of sewage, piles of rubbish lining the roads, city smog, overpopulation, etc.

    I hear about other climate problems, such as sudden bee death (which it is speculated may be to do with pesticide use). I am told the threat that without bees the ‘workable’ climate (agriculture) will likely be as good as gone for mankind, and drastically changed for plants and animals, because of the need for bees for pollination of most flowering plants.
    Another: there is said to be vast islands of rubbish collecting in the ocean, and with this, plastic micro-particles released into the sea destroying sea life. What does this mean? Do I believe this information?
    And what I have heard about deforestation—inc. the clearing of forest and indigenous peoples to make way for mono-culture palm oil production—sounds drastic. Rainforest clearance, and the speed at which it was/is happening, was the first climate problem (apart from the ‘hole in the ozone layer’) that I was made aware, as a child; and what I heard distressed and angered me. For instance, when rainforest is cleared a whole complex self-sustaining ecosystem is destroyed, and the land becomes dry and barren, so it cannot just ‘regrow’. And many many species of plant animal and insect may live only in these forests. Whether or not, as I was told, the rainforests are necessary to sustain the habitable atmosphere on earth (I later read that most of the earths oxygen comes from the sea, not from the rainforests) is not even a necessary point to determine; it intuitively feels wrong, and even suicidal, to destroy nature in this way for ‘economic’ reasons.

    So why all this emphasis on CO2 climate change when there are so many other climate issues?

    I have heard it suggested that carbon emitting energy (ie. fossel fuels) are in themselves not the problem; it is mankind’s addiction to energy which is the problem (Look it up on google if you want, or boil a kettle). (And presumably mans selfish hunger for power and money, and the effects of this in the world, is not going to be fixed with technical solutions?)
    Perhaps the ‘climate change consensus’ is a kind of instinctive agreed plan of action, which is rooted in a right-understanding that mankind is headed for self destruction, and therefor such like-minded of mankind are desperately trying to engineer an excuse to persuade themselves and everyone else to have to get together and work together to start addressing things (ie. to ‘save the world’; to hope yet for ‘peace on earth’)?
    But we are ‘believers’—(Ephesians 6:12-13)—so we think differently?

  27. overload says:

    Quentin, April 20, 2015 at 2:17 pm
    About the ‘soul’ and the Greek suggestion of the embryo having different stages.

    I wonder what effect the scientific knowledge of conception has on intuitive secular thinking in respect of human consciousness and the sanctity of human life. For instance, we can see that the male ‘seed’ is in fact a cell which has active (not dormant) life in it such that it swims. Is there some level of consciousness dwelling in—or bound/linked with—the sperm cell? And if not, what is going on with this thing which seems to be alive? And what about the female egg cell?
    Catholic teaching says that human consciousness begins with the unification of sperm and egg cell. But without this teaching, and in the absence of knowledge, what is to say that the consciousness of the being which is to become human is not already in the sperm and/or in the egg? And if so, where does it begin? Is it possible for two separate consciousness to merge as one?
    If a Catholic can believe that an animal does not have dignity—does not have a ‘soul’—then why be surprised if a non-believer believes that a baby in the womb has no—or only primitive (animal-like)—consciousness?

    • Quentin says:

      I do not think that anyone, including the Church, claims that consciousness is present in the foetus before the brain is sufficiently developed to cope with this. So the question does not arise with either the sperm or the egg. The question is identifying the point at which the conceptus becomes a human person, and thus has human rights. Different views on this are held by different theologians. The Church has not attempted to answer the question definitively, but teaches that the conceptus must be treated as a human person from the beginning.

      • overload says:

        As I remember and understand it, the Buddhist teaching is that consciousness “descends into”, or “arises in” the womb. We humans are “born into the human womb”. This is on the basis of pre-existing/emerging consciousness which does not have a stable ‘home’, and is “searching for a place to be born”. This suggests to me that moment of conception is our birth; consciousness finds its home through the moment of the fertilisation of an embryo.

        Buddhist teaching is said to be based on direct observation and experience of reality (ie. observing/mindful of “consciousness in the consciousness”, “body in the body”, “sensation in the sensation” etc.), so I would call this scientific, however my instrument is not developed, stable, operational enough to make these observations for myself.

        However, we believe the grace of the Spirit gives us access to all knowledge in Jesus’ name…?

      • overload says:

        Adding to my last post, “This is on the basis of pre-existing/emerging consciousness”
        I think this is misleading, should read “This is on the basis of pre-existing consciousness”.
        Since Buddhism teaches rebirth, I was speculating about the emergence of consciousness for a first-birth; this consciousness also would, according to Buddhist teaching, have it’s origins prior to inhabiting the embryo—whether associated with the sperm and egg, I don’t know.

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