Thursday, 12 July 2007

Arbitrary and out

There's a misconception afoot about what we know and what we don't know. If there's no evidence for something, then there's no reason that the something for which we're arguing should be taken seriously. Any claim for that "something" will be purely arbitrary, and the claim itself semantically null.

Clearly, into this boat fall all our religious myths and our fairy stories, all our wishes without evidence and our hypotheses without data.

Arbitrary claims don't require disproof, they're simply out by virtue of having nothing to back them up: to make a claim without evidence is no better than opening our mouths and letting the wind blow our tongues around; to reject such claims requires no more than a dismissal of such a claim as "arbitrary and out," and it certainly requires no alternative hypotheses to be formulated to explain away the arbitrary hypothesis put forward.

All fairly straightforward you would think, yet here's where the misconception grows legs for some people, and here's where I'll use an example to show what I mean. Many people figure there must be an answer to "how the universe was made" or "how humans were made," and every religion has had a crack at answering these questions -- many most entertainingly -- but none with any more evidence than I have for there being spiders on the far side of the planet Mars.

Religionists will frequently assume that if they can disprove, say, the big bang hypothesis or the theory of evolution, that their own crackpot theories will then have the field to themselves. But they wouldn't. If the evidence were to disprove either scientific argument, then the job would be to formulate another hypothesis that did fit the known evidence, not to abandon science and seek instead the skirts of religious myth. The default position of our knowledge is not myth; the default position is to say "I don't know. Yet."

And there's nothing wrong with saying "I don't know." It's not incumbent upon those who reject myth to advance an alternative. Sure, it's scary if you can't explain something (which explains why primitive men were so eager to make up stories to "explain" what they didn't know), but it's profoundly philosophical to accept that on some things the evidence is not yet in, and we really do not know. Reflecting recently on this topic, scientist Vincent Gray had this to say:
A senior scientist recently challenged me to provide a better tested hypothesis on what is happening to the planet than the hypothesis that it is due to increases in greenhouse gases. I replied that I do not have one, but that does not mean that the greenhouse gas hypothesis is right.

I then realised that I had said an awful thing. It would seem that humans are scared to death of anything they cannot explain. They are so scared that they are prepared to adopt the most ridiculous and irrational explanations rather than accept that maybe they did not have an explanation at all. The most widespread irrational explanations are the various forms of religion. This is even enshrined in our law. Anything for which a rational explanation is not forthcoming is called "An Act of God." The almost-atheist philosopher Baruch Spinoza put the matter succinctly when he said "God equals nature."

... In Darwin's time many of his associates who accepted evolution realised that Christianity was incompatible with it and found the need for an irrational explanation for anything not explained by evolution by adopting doctrines such as spiritualism. Even Alfred Russell Wallace, co-discoverer of Darwin's theory, embraced spiritualism. There are still spiritualists today, but they have had to withstand its fraudulent nature, so people are continually searching for alternative irrational beliefs which can provide an "explanation" for things that we currently do not understand.

One of these is the climate...

[Weather] forecasts today are also not always right, but they are essential to all our lives.

All practical forecasters know that even with all the current sophistication, weather forecasting gets more and more unreliable as you go ahead. Beyond a month or two is very dicey, although I have two friends who claim good results even then.

Given this firmly based experience it is remarkable that the world is currently in the grip of a doctrine which claims to forecast climate one hundred years ahead, It is based on a perfectly plausible scientific theory that increases in greenhouse gas emissions could cause climate change, but it is truly amazing that no evidence has been presented that this effect can be detected, or that it might be serious. Predictions that can be checked are never made.. "Climate Change" must therefore be seen as yet another substitute for religion amongst people who can no longer accept that heat waves, droughts, floods and hurricanes are "Acts of God"

It might be noted that people had so much trouble blaming recent British floods on "climate change" that God is making a comeback...
It's worth reading Dr Gray's complete piece here, at the Climate Science Coalition website. And for those of you asking, "where's his evidence to say there's no evidence?" Dr Gray recommends his many newsletters [which you can find linked from the bottom of his most recent], which he says, "have given copious reasons for the absence of evidence for a responsibility of greenhouse gas emissions for detectable climate change, but if you really want more, try my book or the Climate Science Coalition website."

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