The science of skepticism

Fellow blogger Rachel over at quakerattled has an interesting post on the topic of skepticism, specifically with regards to the denial of climate change. I would like to take this as an opportunity to add my two cents to the topic.

In my humble opinion, there are two fundamental types of skepticism: one based on the healthy challenge of conventional wisdom, and one based on the unhealthy disregard for anything that challenges one’s beliefs. The first is the modus operandi of philosophy, and has its basis in the scientific method; the second is the modus operandi of theology, and has its basis in metaphysics. I believe an understanding of the nature of these two types of skepticism is fundamental to the understanding of the nature of climate change denial, and its consequences for a reasoned response.

As I have noted before, there is an existential difference between science and theology that will prevent them from ever being reconciled, and to subscribe to the mindset of one or the other is to make an understanding of the basis of the opposing intellectual thought equally irreconcilable. Thus, a scientist will never fully understand those who willfully choose to reject an evidence-based outlook, and those of a theological bent will never fully understand the innate firewall between belief and evidence that exists in the world of science.

A scientist may have a belief, but that belief must always be held secondary to the scientific method, because to allow belief to intrude will poison the objective interpretation of data intrinsic to the process.  Since theology, on the other hand, is inherently based on the subjective interpretation of data, then all things theological spring from some core belief, and any contrary evidence will either be subjectively interpreted as needed to support that belief, or summarily rejected as false data. This is why climate scientists will always be flabbergasted by those who reject or selectively interpret the evidence, and why climate change deniers will always treat science as just another belief to be rejected or ignored.

Which brings me back to the fundamental difference in skeptical thought between climate scientists and climate change deniers. Climate science is based on a skepticism of the belief that mankind can do whatever it wants without regard to the consequences, and has created an objective evidentiary model based on experimentation and analysis that suggests that, indeed, there are (and will continue to be) consequences to our actions. Climate change denial, on the other hand, is based on the core belief that we can do whatever we want, and any evidence to the contrary will be treated skeptically and rejected, while any other supporting beliefs will be accepted as proof of validity. After all, if everyone in my specially chosen circle believes the same thing, then it must true, right?

So, what does this mean for the battle between climate science and climate change deniers? Well, my recommendation is that the climate scientists should just stop trying to convince the climate change deniers at this point and simply move on. Those who work from an evidence-based viewpoint have already been convinced by the data; those who are not convinced by now will never be convinced, and will actively undermine the efforts of climate science, so let them be.

Climate scientists should now be focusing their finite resources on determining and recommending triage strategies for adapting to the wholesale changes that the various human societies will be undergoing as climate change ramps up. Climate change denial has proven to be too big of a juggernaut to stop; what we need now is leadership to deal with the aftermath.


Filed under Climate Change, Philosophy, Science

7 responses to “The science of skepticism

  1. I agree with you. I have just recently come to the conclusion that it is pointless trying to convince deniers that climate change is real. It doesn’t matter how much evidence we provide, they will always find an objection. I have wondered whether they will continue to object even once the ice is completely gone and the water is swirling around their ankles.

    Thanks for the link!

  2. I kind of agree that trying to convince the deniers is pointless. However, the deniers seem to have influence, so it seems that what needs to happen is that somehow we have to convince policy makers to ignore the deniers. Managing to do this seems, in my opinion, to be easier said than done.

    • I think the best strategy is to keep providing the believers with the ammunition they need to help sway policy in the right direction.

      • Indeed, I agree. I do think, however, that part of that does involve rebutting some of what is said on sites like WUWT. It’s not clear that they can be completely ignored, as much as one might like to do so.

  3. Your recommendation is spot on. Ignore them and move on. If someone is going to be willfully ignorant of the overwhelming stock of evidence then there’s simply nothing anyone can do for them. They’ve chosen, and they’ve chosen poorly.

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