Posted by: terrapraeta | December 14, 2007

Faith as Science


“Who are you to wave your finger?
You must have been out your head
Eyehole deep in muddy waters
You practically raised the dead

Rob the grave to snow the cradle
Then burn the evidence down
Soapbox house of cards and glass so
Don’t go tossin’ your stones around”

Tool The Pot

Yesterday was a very disturbing day for me. We spent the afternoon with my family. My parents have just bought a new home, disturbingly close by, so they invited us all out for a barbecue to see the place and spend a casual afternoon.

Lately, every time that I have spent any amount of time with them, my father and I have gotten into discussions-turned-arguments on some topic that is important to me. Yesterday, there were two.

I have always thought of my dad as very intelligent, very well read and quite scientifically inclined. I learned science from him throughout my childhood, he taught me to read voraciously, analyze, look deeper so as to not merely accept ideas presented by an authority or otherwise. So while I understand our disagreement on politics as simple variation in world view, priorities and assumptions, I have always thought that when it comes to matters of science that we could not get very far apart.

Wow, was I wrong. Last night, after a lengthy discussion of ecology, fossil fuel limitations and effects on agriculture, permaculture, paleo diet and a host of other related (in a systemic way) topics, we then got into a discussion on global warming.

Turns out he is still an adherent of the ‘global warming is BS’ camp. For many years, I too felt that climate was complex enough and planetary variability was wide enough, that Global Warming was questionable. But that was fifteen years ago. In the time since, the data has built up, the models have been refined and the scientific community has decided that global warming is a fact, the only questions relate to how it will effect us and when those affects will appear.

Dad, on the other hand, tells me that the whole solar system is heating up, so temperature increases here have nothing to do with us.

Pause, two three… well, umm, yeah, the sun DOES tend to increase its radiation as it ages. No question there. And quite frankly, other planets in the solar system are more likely to be directly affected by this increase, because their atmospheres are not characterized by dynamic dis-equilibrium ( Our atmosphere is constantly modified by the life on this planet. Biological organisms generate compounds that are normally unstable and therefor will generally break down, or combine with other elements/compounds as soon as possible. James Lovelock suggested that if you are trying to identify a planet with life, the easiest way would be to look for this dis-equilibrium.)

Next, he told me that volcanoes spew more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with each (major) eruption, then the total emitted by human industry. In fact, volcanoes predominantly emit particles, which temporarily contribute to cooling trends, and sulfuric oxide (SO2) which is an anti-greenhouse gas. The eruption of Krakatoa in 1880 contributed to global temperature decreases of ~1.5 degrees, lasting into the early part of the twentieth century. (Volcanic activity overall, from the late 1800’s into the early part of the twentieth century was much higher than the following fifty years)

So we went around for quite a while with all this. But the part that killed me, the part that screwed me up for the rest of the evening: as the conversation was winding down in frustration, he told me that these conversations are not terribly useful for us to have. I agreed that this was true of political stuff, but science is just science. We might interpret data differently, prefer different models or theories, but science is still science. His reply? Even science has been politicized, that I was spouting ‘junk science…’

I think my jaw must have hit the floor. Yeah, there is lots of junk science out there. But I was not the one spouting it! And for him to suggest that was the case absolutely floored me.

So what did I learn? Probably something that I have needed to learn for a long time. My dad is extremely intelligent, and extremely analytical, and completely set in his world view. So when he looks at any bit of information, he does not test his assumptions against it, he analyzes it to determine whether it bolsters his assumptions. Those bits of info, no matter how illogical, ill supported or outrageous that support his a priori beliefs become ‘facts’, while those that do not become ‘junk science.’ I guess Creationists are not the only ones to have this failing.

I suppose it is a good thing for me to understand, but part of me is so horrified by this possibility that I want to relegate it to the ‘junk science’ category. But I won’t. Because my world view does not allow me to pick and choose ‘the truth’.

(Originally posted August 27, 2006)

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