"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Settled Science - The Holy Grail Of The True Believer

Bobby Benson knew that climate change was real, and that man’s contribution was accelerating it.  The science was clear, abundant, and undeniable.  If not, he reasoned, what to make of the fires in Maui, the scorching heat in Greece, the uptick in storms in Tornado Alley, and the parched fields of Iowa? 

There was no doubt that man’s unholy greed, his insatiable appetite for energy, and his unconcern for the life of the planet was responsible.  The science is settled, he said, set in stone, irreversible, uncontested, and absolute.

He tracked atmospheric variations – temperature, humidity, rainfall – in real time and historically.  He had apps that monitored climatic variations by geographic region, computed by significant macro- and micro-variables - El Nino, the Humboldt Current, sun spots, the trade winds, Deccan heat, mid-ocean temperatures, glacial recession, and gravitational variance.  The apps were all coded with alerts which signaled suggestive fluctuations in barometric pressure, wind velocity, or ocean current direction.

He, however, was an a priori amateur, operating on the assumption that the climate was changing, and that his job – and that of the world’s professional climatologists – was to demonstrate it; and the collection of copious data confirming predictable shifts in temperature was part of an effort to do something about it.  Naysayers would finally be convinced that the world is in dire danger and would commit their support to efforts to slow, stop, or reverse it.

Bobby was indefatigable in his search for confirming evidence and in his evangelism.  He was a charter member of the most active, reliable, and well-known and –funded environmental associations.  He knocked on doors, folded circulars, organized citizen lobbying committees, and became known as the environmentalist’s environmentalist. 

However, could it be that he was wrong? That the world was in a geological warming cycle, part of a recorded pattern deciphered from tree rings, carbon dating, and fossil remains?  Deep core samples of Antarctic ice were chronicles of a hundred million years of geologic and atmospheric history.  Ocean sediments were treasure troves of marine life over millennia; and they at least suggested periodicity not intent.

The science might not be so settled after all, and the famous A Priori Paradigm – that human beings are conditioned to judge first and conclude later – cannot be ignored.  After all, everyone in the world once believed that the Earth was the center of the known universe.  How could a God-inspired Creation be anything but? The daily cycles of sunrise and sunset were clearly functions of solar revolution.  It was a matter of divine principle, and science – or what passed for it in Copernicus’ day – was its handmaiden.

Disease, death, and destruction were not matters of calculus or scientific inquiry, but divine intervention.  The only logic in societies from England to the Amazon forest saw the world not as a logical place but a divinely-inspired and –ruled one.

Then came science and one insubstantial belief was replaced by another logically deduced one; but the science was no different than the mythology that preceded it. Just as Ptolemy was replaced by Copernicus, so was Newton replaced by Einstein.  Homunculi were replaced by microbes; mosquitoes replaced bad air as causes of malaria; and the steady, fixed world of observable phenomena was replaced by the probabilistic ones of Max Planck and Niels Bohr. 

With the advances in genetics and artificial intelligence, ours will be the last recognizable, old-fashioned human generation – a human race unchanged since the emergence of homo sapiens 200,000 years ago.  Soon genetic engineering and symbiotic interface with the computer will alter this living fossil and render it recognizable only to paleontologists who will look upon it as today’s scientists look at Neanderthals, apes, and dinosaurs.  Slow, progressive Darwinian evolution will be a thing of the past.  Radical, immediate, revolutionary change will be the new algorithm.

Since the human genome was completely sequenced, the identification of specific gene configurations linked to human characteristics and behavior has become routine; and the engineering of some of those sequences to modify or eliminate them has proceeded quickly.  It will not be long before .  It will not be long before all genetic sequences will have been identified, codified, sorted, and catalogued, and available for modification.  

There is no such thing as a settled human being.

Existential philosophers have suggested that man should not be looked at as the cause of global warming and climate change, but simply a part of it.  Man, plants and animals, all living things are part of one ecological system.  The temporary ascendancy of man has given him dominion, but such jurisdiction can never be permanent in a dynamic ecosystem.  His time will come, brought down by circumstance, his own doing, or unheard of viral pandemics.

Within this philosophical framework, let alone within a more divine one, concern for the Earth – a miniscule, insignificant speck in a timeless, endless universe – is fanciful at best, divisively arrogant at worst.

None of this worried Bobby nor gave him pause; and there was no way that his mission would be denied. Climate change was real, visible, and immediate.  It was a matter of principle.

He was not alone.  Legions of true believers followed the same path.  Something must be done! Delay is tantamount to complicity.  Doubt is ignorance.

Bobby was a happy man.  Conviction is a settling thing, a calming one.  The world was warming and the end would come sooner or later.  He would not be around for Armageddon; nor for the unthinkable eventuality that it might never come and his life’s work would all have been for naught.

Ignorance is bliss.  It always has been and always will be.

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