In response to one of my pieces related to climate change, my persistent commenter had this to say:
My impression is that “you people think science is a religion” is an accusation made against the secular by a small segment of the religious, that tiny sub-group who think of themselves as “the religious.” I’d think your own post, in the part I quote here, is a good example of the troll at work.
The secular, by contrast, spend a great deal of time thinking about and debating what are legitimate methods, conclusions, degrees of sureness, and so forth of science. There is a good deal of criticism of “scientism” by the secular, but this vile illness is, imho, generally thought to be part and partial of dogmatic politics.
Which secularists do you have in mind?
Thanks to James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal, he’s about to find out. While discussing Sen. Marco Rubio’s denial of human activity in climate change, he notes the following:
Nonscientist Ruth Marcus, writing for the Washington Post, declared that Rubio’s words “undermine his other assertion,” namely “that he is prepared to be president.” Juliet Lapidos, also lacking in scientific expertise, went so far as to assert, in a New York Times blog post, that Rubio had “disqualified himself” from the presidency.
Stuff like this is why my commenter’s idealised concept that secularists “spend a great deal of time thinking about and debating what are legitimate methods, conclusions, degrees of sureness, and so forth of science” is wide of the mark. Far from that, what we usually get are two logical fallacies beaten to death: appeals to authority and ad hominem attacks.
Taranto, for his part, is ready to allow that appeals to authority are not fallacious except in a narrow sense. I don’t: appeals to authority ultimately don’t prove anything. They may give greater weight to what you are arguing, but ultimately they don’t really prove what you’re trying to show.
But, as I noted here, “greater weight” isn’t the end game in the climate change debate: absolute certainty is. With relation to that there are two things to be noted here.
The first is that one of secularists’ criticism of religion is that it is based solely on faith (the greatest appeal to authority) and not on reason. But if they considered things carefully they would see their own fallacy. What secularists are really trying to do is to replace the authority of God with their own, which may make their victorious in some cases but which shows them to be intellectually dishonest. That’s a big part of what I mean when I say that people make science into a religion.
The second is that, when convinced that they are right and their opponents wrong, they try ad hominem attacks, almost always morally loaded. These too are fallacious and don’t prove anything.
It would be nice if public debate proceeded along the lines my commenter thinks it does. But it doesn’t. As I noted, the freaks get all the publicity; it’s time to live in reality.
Note: I realise that I, in the preceding, equate the secularists with climate change advocates. That’s not entirely correct; there are certainly secularists who oppose climate change advocacy, and there are religious people who support it. (And the latter are usually as scientifically uninformed as their secular counterparts). I think it’s fair to say, however, that most people in the upper reaches of our society are secular to a high degree, as are their sycophants down the line. It’s a lot easier to have control over things and people when you don’t have God to compete with, isn’t it?