Human Exceptionalism

How Science Ceases to be Science

This is a very good column in The Australian, that debunks global warming. But that is not why I bring it up, as we don’t discuss the ins and outs of that issue here. In “Climate Hysterics v Heretics in An Age of Unreason,” Arthur Herman shows how science devolves into ideology–as it did during the eugenics panics of the 20th Century that led to so much horror. From his column:

The reason is that precisely that they are believers, not scientists. No amount of empirical evidence will overturn what has become not a scientific theory but a form of religion.

But what kind of religion? More than 200 years ago, Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume put his finger on the process. His essay, Of Superstition and Enthusiasm, describes how even in civilised societies the mind of man is subject to certain unaccountable terrors and apprehensions when real worries are missing.

As these enemies are entirely invisible and unknown, like today’s greenhouse gases, people try to propitiate them by ceremonies, observations, mortifications, sacrifices such as Earth Day and banning plastic bags and petrol-driven lawnmowers.

Fear and ignorance, Hume concludes, are the true source of superstition. They lead a blind and terrified public to embrace any practice, however absurd or frivolous, which either folly or knavery recommends.

The knaves today, of course, are the would-be high priests of the global warming orthodoxy, with former US vice-president Gore as their supreme pontiff. As Hume points out, the stronger mixture there is of superstition, with its ambience of ignorance and fear, the higher is the authority of the priesthood.

As with the Church in the Dark Ages or the Inquisition during the Reformation, they denounce all doubters, such as Evans or Britain’s Gilbert Monckton as dangerous heretics, outliers in Gore’s phrase: or as willing tools of the evil enemy of a healthy planet, Big Oil.

This is not the first time, of course, that superstition has paraded itself as science, or created a priesthood masquerading as the exponents of reason. At the beginning of the previous century we had the fascination with eugenics, when the Gores of the age such as E.A. Ross and Ernst Haeckel warned that modern industrial society was headed for race suicide. The list of otherwise sensible people who endorsed this hokum, from Winston Churchill to Oliver Wendell Holmes, is embarrassing to read today. Then as now, money was poured into foundations, institutes, and university chairs for the study of eugenics and racial hygiene. Then as now, it was claimed that there was a scientific consensus that modern man was degenerating himself into extinction.

This is what also stimulated utopianism, the true bane of humanity–because as we have seen from the jihad, to the French Terror, to the Killing Fields of Cambodia–when we think we can bring near perfection to the world around us, we begin to allow any means to bring forth utopian ends. And that’s when people get hurt.