Skeptic or Believer?

From Susan Lawler:

But yesterday, as I was preparing to deliver a lecture on the evidence for evolution, I looked at the day’s quote and found myself embarking on an involuntary rant. Typically, my students remembered the rant and forgot the lecture. Worryingly, they may not have been able to tell the difference. Hopefully, it did them no harm. You can be the judge, as I replicate my rant here.

“There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.” — Hippocrates

Hippocrates’ quote about science and opinion reminded me why I did not watch the recent TV show called I can change your mind about climate change, although I have heard a lot about it.

I cannot bear to watch or read anything that labels the proponents of these debates as sceptics and believers. The misuse of these words creates enough confusion to overpower any substantive points that might be made in the process.

The way these words – sceptics and believers – are used in discussing climate change, just drives me nuts. As Hippocrates says, one is science and the other opinion, but when these words are linked to climate change, their meaning is opposite to their definitions. This is sneaky, underhanded obfuscation.

Sceptics, as portrayed in the media circus, are completely mislabelled. Those who deny actual evidence cannot be called sceptics. They begin by believing in the rightness of their cause, and then cherry pick their facts. No true sceptic would develop an argument based on bias alone.
Scientists are the true sceptics. They begin with doubt, rather than beginning with belief. They ask themselves, “What kind of data could I collect that would prove to me that an idea I think is right is actually wrong?”

Scientists ask rigorous questions, test assumptions and scrutinise each other’s logic. Yet when 97% of scientists agree that climate change is caused by human activities, they are labelled “believers”.

This is a deeply misleading word for the scientists involved, and it is offensive to true believers as well….

Climate change deniers are neither sceptics nor believers. They do not believe in anything, other than their own opinions. Because they try to argue about the evidence, they pretend to be sceptics, but they are not. Their scholarship is insufficient, their doubt is selective, and their arguments are flawed.



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  • Percival

    I completely agree with her; that was a rant.

  • Larry Barber

    The Hippocrates quote sure looks like an opinion to me!

  • Mark E. Smith

    We’re back to the question, “Why should I believe a scientist anyway?”

  • It may have been a rant, but it was a good rant. Sometimes you need to rant to get people’s attention (e.g., John 2:17). She makes a great point. Unfortunately too many people (many of them Christians!) don’t want to listen to the overwhelming scientific perspective on this topic. Humans are not the only factor, but we’re contributing to the problem. (I ride my bike to work almost everyday-except today.)

  • I thought we were past the Modernist myth of the “objective” scientist.

  • metanoia

    At one time 97% believed: the world was flat, the solar system revolved around the earth, it was impossible to put a man on the moon, John Tesh wrote good music. I rest my case.

  • Keith Bates

    That 97% figure is a prime example of cherry-picking. It was derived from a survey of scientists who had published in the climate area. The methodology was that if you believed that climate change was essentially caused by human interactions then you were counted as a climate scientist. The 3% must have had a bet each way or changed their mind. So 97% of the people who agree with the proposition agree with the proposition.

  • Grizz

    Less than 97% believe in God at all, if we check the facts. What does that prove? Some of them are scientists and some could hardly be further from scientific in their denials. So what?

    Seems to me that when we find ourselves retreating to a position we would not defend if it came from another, we express our own doubts about the worthiness of our own arguments.

    Jesus said that few would find God’s way and follow it. Who cares what 97% of any group who do not trust Jesus say about that?

    Statistics can tell the truth … and they can also lie. Statistics are NOT determinants of fact. They are reflections of our approaches to facts.

    Rant all you like. Nobody is stopping you. Still, do not be surprised to find that some do not hear your rant the way you intended it. Others will not even listen at all. So what?

    Good followers of Jesus ask questions, seek answers, and knock down doors that shut away secrets others consider too dangerous to address. Jesus knows better than to shut away secrets out of fear. He even allowed the closest 12 men in the world to Him to hear Him praying for a way out of going to the cross. And they heard Him pray that God’s will be done anyway, too.

    Climate change is real. It has always been real since God created climate in the first place. Change is a design intention of God. Repentance is not possible without change. Nature is a witness to how life is cyclic and climate is no stranger at the table of change. So what?

    Sometimes I wonder when we will ever really “get it” that it matters more to God what happens to a wino in the gutter than He does about all of our opinions and beliefs and many words about climate change. Of course, that is another discussion, right? But should it be?


  • Fish

    My girlfriend is an English professor, and when she uses the term “evolution” to describe something evolving, she’ll have students state flatly “I don’t believe in evolution.” She simply replies it doesn’t matter what they believe, because facts are facts and their beliefs play no part at all.

    How our society has reverted to a state where belief is stronger than science is a mystery to me. It’s almost like we actually do believe in magic, having rejected Western logic and the scientific method. Perhaps it’s all a ploy by the health insurance companies to increase their profits by giving us witch doctors rather than physicians.

  • DRT

    Percival#1, you actually made me snort out, well, you made me snort out loud (SOL?)

  • DRT

    Other folks. The only conclusion I can reach is that you don’t have a clue how science actually works. Don’t you know that scientists LIVE for the day that they can go against all the others and be right?

  • It’s not so much that I believe or disbelieve climate change… it’s more that I don’t care.

    Not an issue.

  • Mike M

    Grizz @8: I agree with most of what you say, but “so what?” is important because bad science makes good politics. For example, the criminalization of selling unpasteurized milk. The problem is that while climate change from human activities is real, the status qou solution (carbon credits) is odious, oppressive, and misdirected. So yes, what.

  • Darren King

    Generally, I agree with the spirit of this rant. The words used in this instance (skeptic and believer) do obscure the situation. However, that said, words mean different things in different contexts. And so it works both ways. There isn’t one contextually neutral definition of believer. And, for that matter, neither of skeptic.

    Secondly, again, while I land very much on the side of this “ranter”, it would be helpful if more people in the scientific community actually acknowledged the existence of Scientism. Because it can be an ugly fundamentalism too. Just as religious fundamentalism often comes off as not much more than tribalism, Scientism comes off as an absurdly reductionistic reckoning of reality.

  • E.G.

    It’s harder and harder to deny climate change. The evidence is building around us, particularly if you spend any time outdoors.

    And, as one who studies ecology, the evidence is in the pants and insects and birds and other animals.

    Joel: you can be apathetic if you want, but eventually that apathy will come back to bite all of us. Or, perhaps it already has begun to sink its teeth in.

  • E.G.

    Uh… plants, not pants. Although the former is sort of funny, considering where we are being bitten.

  • Mike M

    Oh boy. Good recovery!

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    I quess I am the contrarian for the day but I can’t help but feel at times that when some of us talk about science, its like science is going to save the world in the end. How many movies do I have to watch where this is the philosophical worldview of some of the hollywood script writers? Of course, rarely do these movies focus on that the world is being saved by science because some group of scientists messed the world up to begin with. I suspect if hollywood ever showed a movie of theologians saving the world, the world and many in the church would scoff at such a view.

  • John Inglis

    “Cimate change denier” is a stereotyping catch-all that covers up the fact that at least a substantial portion of so-called “deniers” don’t deny climate change per se, but deny the overwrought, hysterical and unproven Al Gore type of anthropogenic climate change apocalypse. So, for example, I believe that what we are experiencing is part of not well understood climate cycles and that anthropogenic effects are not significant enough to overcome these cycles. That, however, is a different question from that of how much we should pollute (pollution of some kind is inevitable, even if you’re part of a primitive tribe burning trees and defecating in the river), or from that of how best to allocate our resources (of time, talent, and $).

  • Patrick

    Her views entirely ignore various influences.

    1) “science” is susceptible to fraud as all endeavors are. It’s as susceptible to corruption from money as anything else. If I pay for data and you want to keep that money flow, you might want to tell me what I need, ESPECIALLY if your institute is associated with the money side which all public universities are that receive government funding.

    It’s suscpeptible to dishonesty, remember Piltdown Man? Remember the scientist at ORNL that proved “cold fusion”? It’s susceptible to human error&ego, It’s susceptible to ideology, eugenics and holocaust anyone? This author thinks scientists are perfect saints.

    Just nonsense at that point. “All Saints Science Hall” this way>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>