February 25, 2010

Trying to argue someone out of a belief they were never argued into

Filed under: Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:06

Clive sent a link to Lord Monckton’s “Answer to a ‘global warming’ fanatic”:

Dear Enquirer, – Thank you for taking the trouble to write to me. If I may, I shall highlight various passages from your letter in bold face, and then respond to them seriatim in Roman face.

“I am not a climate scientist, and so I can only go by the overwhelming consensus amongst scientists that man-made climate change is occurring and that it poses a grave threat to humanity.”

First, science is not — repeat not — done by consensus. Aristotle, in codifying the dozen worst fallacies to which mankind is prone, described this one as the “head-count fallacy”, or, as the mediaeval schoolmen called it, the argumentum ad populum. Merely because many people say they believe a thing to be true, they do not necessarily believe it to be true and, even if they do, it need not necessarily be true. Abu Ali Ibn al-Haytham, the astronomer, mathematician and philosopher of science in 11th-century Iraq who is credited as the father of the scientific method, said this —

“The seeker after truth does not put his faith in any mere consensus, however broad and however venerable. Instead, he subjects what he has learned from it to scrutiny using his hard-won scientific knowledge, and he verifies for himself whether it is true. The road to the truth is long and hard, but that is the road we must follow.”

More recently, T.H. Huxley, in the famous debate in which he defeated Bishop Soapy Sam Wilberforce in Oxford on the question of evolution, put it this way —

“The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the very highest of duties: blind faith the one unpardonable sin.”

Secondly, the “consensus” you speak of does not in fact exist. Schulte (2008) reported that, of 539 scientific papers dated January 2004-February 2007 that contained the search phrase “global climate change”, not one provided any evidence that any anthropogenic influence on any part of the climate would prove in any degree catastrophic. That, if you do science by consensus, is the consensus.

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