Peter Hitchens’ exquisite advice for everyone under 35 and all “progressives” in general

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“They have mistaken one thing for another: They have mistaken speculation and opinion for certainty and fact.

They’ve mistaken their own captivation with an idea they believe to be good for the truth and this is invariably wrong and dangerous. 

They should be told that one day that properly nurtured and with a fair amount of reading and education they will reach the stage that the rest of us have reached and realize that most of things they have said all their life were wrong, and to bear that in mind now.”

Peter Hitchens

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More proof that feminists, “progressives” and the Left in general are beyond taking seriously

ALL PLEASURE IS GUILT web

Seriously folks, it is becoming more and more evident that the world is dividing between the inheritors of the Western Enlightenment and the shamelessly entitled, self-indulgent, hyper-emotional infantilism that so called “progressives” are trying desperately to normalize as appropriate adult characteristics.

It has to be fought, resisted and called out at every opportunity.

Kudos to Milo Yiannopoulos for his fearless public resistance to this sub-mental tyranny!

Man-made climate change supporters exhibit poor thinking skills. Coincidence?

Emphatic supporters of the climate change establishment all seem to share the same grab-bag of rhetorical tactics, logical fallacies, memes and slogans that they depend upon to insulate themselves from any information that threatens their beliefs. The pattern when debating them tends to follow the same sequence: They begin by making definitive assertions with a zealous certainty for the unquestionable truth of their position. Then, after even the mildest probing, out come the straw men, appeals to authority, ad hominem attacks, logical inconsistencies and various other tactics of deflection and obfuscation.

I was reminded  of this again while having a fairly heated online debate about climate change that had been inspired by comments from a lightweight Australian TV personality named Waleed Aly.

There was the usual default, unexamined presumption that all the credible experts unequivocally support man-made climate change theory.
As I always do upon encountering this widely believed misconception, I provided a long list of recognized experts at the top of their fields and quoted their criticism of the AGW theory and the establishment that is committed to it.

Predictably, my opponent was oblivious to the existence of so many esteemed critics of the orthodoxy. But rather than this new information provoking curiosity or stimulating a deeper appreciation of the complexity of the issue, he instead headed straight for Google to search for something to torque into a justification for dismissing the criticisms out of hand.

Out of the ten or more experts I quoted, he found (no doubt to his great relief) that one scientist, Robert Carter, had been paid the whopping fee of $1,667 a month a few years ago by that  Great Satan of climate change heresy – The Heartland Institute.

And because the priority for climate change absolutists is not the truth but protecting their beliefs from threatening information, this was enough for my debating opponent to categorically conclude:

“Yes, he’s a seasoned scientist, but because of the source of his wage, unfortunately, we cannot trust his opinion in this case.”

What utter bollocks.

I pointed out that this argument was an example of ‘genetic fallacy’ – when an idea is either accepted or rejected because of its source, rather than its merit.

Didn’t matter.

I pointed out that not only had Carter been a critic of AGW theory prior to being offered the piddling stipend from Heartland, his position is in accord with other scientists who are NOT receiving a stipend from Heartland (like everyone else on my list whom he simply chose to bypass) and highlights observable, real world discrepancies between what the AGW theory crowd said would happen and what has actually occurred.

Didn’t matter.

I questioned the plausibility that this highly respected Ph.D., palaeontologist, stratigrapher, marine geologist and environmental scientist whose career spans more than three decades, who has served as Chair of the Earth Sciences Discipline Panel of the Australian Research Council, Chair of the national Marine Science and Technologies Committee and has a personal publication list of more than 100 papers in international science journals could be seduced into jeopardizing his credibility by providing false scientific claims for a $1,667 paycheque.

Didn’t matter. I was told:

“He was paid for being a critic, apparently, so yes, his word means absolutely nothing to me. He was paid after or before, no difference.”

Curious about the consistency of these ideals concerning the corrupting influence of money in climate science,  I cited the example of a recent paper in the journal Nature Climate Change that lauded the EPA and the Obama Democrats for a policy of strong carbon emission restrictions that was co-authored by researchers receiving huge grants from the EPA itself – amounting to a princely sum just shy of $50 million in total.

I suggested to my opponent: “If you find the privately donated $1667 a month allegedly paid to Carter to be”extremely worrying”… you should be apoplectic about $50 million worth of tax revenues being handed over to these guys.”

The response tells you everything you need to know about the circular reasoning and unapologetic indifference to intellectual integrity that seems to be typical of the climate change faithful:

“Funding by governments for “climate research” is expected and I fail to see your point here. Are you suggesting that the governments shouldn’t fund climate research?”

Insert head explosion here.

But it gets positively surreal with his next comment. He tells us that in his estimation it is those of us who have continued to exercise intellectual autonomy and make the effort to think critically – in spite of the overwhelming cultural  incentive to submit to torrents of climate change propaganda and groupthink – who are most likely the gullible pawns of powerful external interests.

“Just to be clear”, he writes, “I’m not being personal here, I’m just coming to the conclusion that you may have been mis-informed by a highly organised, lucrative group of organisations, with great interest in slowing the pace of policy against the use of fossil fuels.                                                                                                      
Needless to say, I suggested there was something delusional and self-serving about assuming that highly organized, “lucrative groups” and organizations could have an incentive to misinform people such as naive ol’ me, while simultaneously taking for granted that the billions of dollars at stake for the climate change establishment, government tax revenues and ‘green’ energy interests have no motivating influence whatsoever for the people shaping his perspective.

Guess what? Didn’t matter.

I ended up pulling the plug on the conversation after he concluded a subsequent round of circular reason and self-aggrandizement with this charming sentiment:

“But you seem so stupid, that I feel I need to explain certain things to you, simple things. You know?”

Yer. Where would we be without these towering intellects to enlighten us?

I wish I could say that out of the hundreds of similar debates with devotees of the Church of Climate Change that the quality of reasoning displayed by this guy was uncommon. But it isn’t! It’s pretty much the standard.

Having adequate thinking skills is NOT optional for constructing a valid opinion. It’s time we reintroduced this axiom into our culture and made it unequivocally explicit.

And in my view, this is really where the debate has to begin. Not with the premise of man made global climate change itself. But with drawing attention to how consistently lousy the reasoning skills are of those who most ardently support it.

Climate change is not about science….at least not for 99.999% of us

For everyone on the planet other than the miniscule fraction who get paid by government to study it, global climate change is not an issue of science. Essentially none of us have direct knowledge or experience of the data or the arcane calculations involved – and even if we did, we wouldn’t know what to do with any of it.

So what does this mean for the 99.999% of the world’s population whose opinion on the science is less than irrelevant?

It means we need to be self-consciously aware of what we are really doing when we settle on a particular opinion about man made climate change. Since we are not basing our opinions on the actual production and evaluation of the data, what are we basing it on?

The answer is trust. We are deciding to trust certain far removed professional institutions and the various forms of media that filter their proclamations down to us. There is nothing particularly wrong with doing this. In fact, it is the only means we have for engaging with the complexities of the larger world beyond our immediate experience. But it isn’t science.

Too often people pretend that the act of choosing to trust an institution is the same thing as as being knowledgeable about the phenomenon of planetary climate change itself. Even worse, it often imbues people with an unearned sense of intellectual and even moral validation.

If on the other hand it was explicitly clear to everyone that the only issue we are grappling with when it comes to climate change is whether or not the institutions and media who promote the premise are deserving of our trust, then the debate would be much different than the one we tend to see. Rather than supporters hurling the pejorative ‘denier‘ at people who refused to ‘acknowledge’ what they personally ‘know’ to be an incontestable fact, they would be obliged to ask, ‘What cause do you have for not choosing to trust these institutions?’

A humility in the face of our collective ignorance about the physics of atmospheric CO2 concentration is immediately imposed on everyone. Instead of arguing about the arcane proclamations of a distant, unquestionable professional scientific class – we are forced to justify and take responsibility for the quality of our own skills for critically assessing the arguments.

Could man made CO2 emissions be driving planetary climate change in a way that proves to be catastrophic? I guess so. All I know for sure is that unlike what we have been encouraged to believe, there are many highly credentialled, professional scientists who are recognized authorities in their fields presenting reasonable, rational, demonstrable criticisms of the means, methods, conclusions and politics of the climate change establishment. Anyone who looks into it finds the same thing. But like the rest of the 99.999% of the population, I have no freakin’ idea who is right and I’m not qualified to say anything definitive about it.

But I am qualified to critically assess the intellectual integrity, logic and ethical validity of influential institutions that insist we believe there is no valid criticism of their work while encouraging the denigration and demonization of anyone who dares challenge the absolutism of their authority. And so are you.

Is this tactic of immunizing themselves from criticism a factor in my judgement of their trustworthiness?

You’re damn right it is.

 

As always, feel free to leave a comment below!

 

The documentary ‘The Unbelievers’ and why overvaluing scientists is never a good idea

If you need a demonstration of why overvaluing science in our culture is a problem and why elevating the status of scientists out of all proportion is a mistake, look no further than the recent documentary The Unbelievers. The inevitable promotional website for the film describes it like this:

“The Unbelievers’ follows renowned scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss across the globe as they speak publicly about the importance of science and reason in the modern world – encouraging others to cast off antiquated religious and politically motivated approaches toward important current issues.”

Ten minutes into watching this orgy of vanity and self-regard and you get the feeling that it is less to do with promoting “science and reason” as it is about fulfilling the ambition of two middle-aged nerds to be treated like rock stars.

There is a barely constrained sense of gloating that oozes from Dawkins and Krauss throughout the film – and I couldn’t help but fill in a backstory of two creepy little crusty-nosed school boys, shunned by their peers and resentful… who grow up and manage to cultivate for themselves the status of minor celebrities amongst the conformist-academic set.

“That’ll show all those jocks who picked on us in school! I bet those girls who called us losers wish they had been nicer to us now!”

The neediness for ego validation is almost palpable.

Of the two, only Dawkins can really claim to be ‘renowned’ for anything. Anyone who has paid attention to the dreary and redundant ‘New Atheist’ phenomenon over the last few years will be familiar with his genre defining book The God Delusion. They will also be aware that Dawkins has made it his life’s quest to make sure there isn’t one single sentient being left on earth who isn’t aware of just how much Richard Dawkins dislikes religion. All he asks in return for his dedication to this noble cause is that the rest of humanity acknowledge how much smarter he is than them.

Krauss is something of a Larry-come-lately to the pantheon of celebrity uber-atheists – deftly inserting himself into the vacuum left by the untimely death of the one true rock-star of movement, the late great Christopher Hitchens (at one point in the film, Krauss holds up a copy of Hitchens’s book ‘God Is Not Great’ and proclaims it to be his “Bible”).

Krauss’ day job is professor and theoretical physicist, although he looks like every villain from the old Scooby Doo cartoon who gets unmasked at the end of each episode. I keep wanting to hear him say, “And I would have got away with it too if it wasn’t for those meddling theists!”

At any rate, Krauss is clearly thrilled with himself now that he’s palling around with the big boys. And in the world of narrow focused, redundant, self-congratulatory atheist spewmeisters – there’s none bigger than Dawkins. In fact, you get the sense that Dawkins – almost a caricature of the classic haughty Englishman – is doing his best in the film to appear tolerant of the younger, uncouth American in running shoes lapping at his heels. Krauss is very much Ralph Malph to Dawkins’ Fonzie.

Krauss’ lesser status is emphasized by the close-up shots in the film of the promotional poster for their speaking engagement at the Sydney Opera House. The poster features a large portrait of Dawkins and bold oversized text announcing “An Evening With Richard Dawkins”….below which in much smaller text is printed “in conversation with Lawrence Krauss”.

Anyone who has a reasonably strong interest in the subjects of atheism, religion, science and materialism will have seen these guys in action for years now – whether on television panel shows, debates on YouTube, BBC/CBC/ABC/PBS science programs and every form of print media. Individually they are both insufferable in their own way. Watching them together in a fawning 90 minute movie makes a documentary on the Nuremburg trials seem like a particularly endurable episode of Friends.

We even get the treat of seeing real celebrities (although mostly of the – oh…isn’t that whatshername? – variety) expound on why they think science is like, totally the best way to be smart. Apparently the producers of the documentary figured the credibility of the two scientists needed bolstering by former movie stars, comedians and some dude in a backward baseball cap who presumably plays in a rock band. And since everybody knows that all the really popular celebrities are dumb, these people must have seemed ideal for the gig.

Actually, the filmmakers were probably just desperate to splice in anything that could compensate for a movie featuring two dumpy, odd looking and not particularly likeable middle-aged men who together struggle to muster a single personality between them. And lest the glow from even the considerably dimmer stars of the celebrity firmament make our two brainy protagonists appear wan and bleached-out by comparison, the celebs are shot in dour black and white while scenes with Krauss and Dawkins are presented in full colour Nerd-O-Vision.

The one reassuring thing I can take away from The Unbelievers is that despite the fact the film came out around the middle of last year, as far as I can tell, almost no one is aware of its existence. That I am yet to hear a single human being utter the sentence – “I saw The Unbelievers last night” – strikes me as a good indication of how much of an appetite there actually is for embracing the dreary worldview of people who are essentially glorified technicians. The only reason I know about the film is because Krauss happened to be a recent guest on Alex Tsakiris’ excellent Skeptiko podcast.

I suppose the film might find an audience with the kind of people who actually forked out good money to fill the Sydney Opera House for the thrill of watching two dishevelled guys sit in the middle of an otherwise empty stage and congratulate each other for being superior to ordinary, stupid folks.

These are the sort of people who don’t bother to think critically for themselves about any of these topics, but assume that expressing enthusiastic agreement with the likes of Dawkins and Krauss makes them intellectually sophisticated by association. It explains why the mostly upper middle class audience at the Opera House all guffawed in a shared sense of knowing superiority and communal smugness when Krauss opened the proceedings by ridiculing the intelligence of the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, who appeared with Dawkins on the Australian television show Q&A the previous night:

“I was amazed. Cardinal Pell… manifestly didn’t understand evolution. Actually, he manifestly didn’t understand anything.”

Oh! Har, har! Chortle, chortle! What sophisticated wit! Smug grins all around. Of course, the very same condescendingly adolescent put down by a smarmy git like Krauss at a dinner party would engender only embarrassment and a general agreement among the guests that the guy was nothing but an obnoxious dick.

Clearly I’m not going to recommend this film to anyone. If you are already one of the true believers and hang off of every word that cascades from the mouths of this pair, then this is the movie for you.

For everyone else I have a simple plea: Can we PLEASE stop treating scientists like they belong to an enlightened caste of unquestionable truth-givers? It’s just a frikin’ job, people! These guys are not experts on anything other than the extremely narrow band of generally arcane study in which they specialize. Just because they are clever at math or biology does not mean they are particularly insightful about anything else! If anything, they’re probably less insightful than the rest of us who didn’t spend our entire lives cloistered in universities.

Look, we wouldn’t line up for hours and pay big bucks to sit in the Opera House to listen to a couple of economists on a stage lecturing us about the meaning of life or ultimate truth – no matter how accomplished they were at their jobs. But we have taken this one human pursuit, this one group of professionals, and because they’re interested in complicated things that none of the rest of us care that much about and because we’re so impressed with the gadgets they come up with, we have elevated them to an exalted status in our culture.

The result is that we have these two guys on a pilgrimage around the world to bestow upon the masses the benefit of their higher understanding. And the multitudes who flock to hear them speak treat them like enlightened beings who alone are privy to ultimate truth.

Is the irony not blinding?

Rebutting Stefan Molyneux’s Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence YouTube Comments – Rebutted!

I have a lot of time for Stefan Molyneux. He has a ferocious intellect and is clearly fearless in expressing decidedly contrarian views on some very touchy, up-to-the-minute topics. He is also someone who is focused not only on opinions but on how people construct a view of the world that generates those opinions. For me, that is ultimately even more important than the opinions themselves, so I have a lot of regard for anyone like Molyneux who stresses that process.

And sure, he sometimes comes across as a little up himself. But that pretty much goes with the territory if you’re putting yourself out there on YouTube as a guy whose opinion not only matters, but is the embodiment of clarity and fine-tuned critical thinking.

Having said all of that, I can’t buy into his arguments for atheism. Or rather, it’s his definitiveness about there being no justification for any kind of position other than atheism that seems too decidedly materialistic and dualistic. And just too definitive for that matter.

Below are some comments in response to a recent video he produced for his Freedomain Radio YouTube Channel . In the video he takes on a critic of his argument that a God who created the universe can’t exist because consciousness cannot exist without matter. He also resorts to the old trope about “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” which I deal with as well. I would recommend anyone with any interest in the whole God/atheist/consciousness/materialism debate check out Stefan’s video – Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence YouTube Comments – Rebutted! . And if anyone wishes to contribute their own thoughts on the subject please leave a reply on this page.


My commentary:

Reflecting on Stefan’s argument that some kind of transcendent consciousness cannot possibly exist because consciousness cannot possibly exist without matter. It is a very clever argument – although I’m not sure to what degree the cleverness and logical congruence actually reflects objective reality.

It reminds me of Wilfrid Sellars’ notion of the “Myth of the Given” – essentially that you can’t assert the reality of pre-existing entities or structures outside of human awareness.

As philosopher Ken Wilber put it: “Metaphysics is thinking that falls prey to the myth of the given.”

Having said that, it strikes me that Stefan’s position presupposes a strictly dualistic conception of matter and consciousness. In a non-dualistic conception in which reality is seen as ‘one continuous thing’ so to speak – what Whitehead calls the ‘seamless coat of the universe – the question of consciousness existing without matter wouldn’t even make sense. And even if you are going to argue that consciousness has never been observed without matter as proof that consciousness CAN’T exist without matter….are you not then stuck with also acknowledging that matter has never been observed without consciousness?

L. L. Whyte said, “Thus, the immature mind (his word not mine!), unable to escape its own prejudice … is condemned to struggle in the straitjacket of its dualisms: subject/object, time/space, spirit/matter, freedom/necessity, free will/law. The truth, which must be single, is ridden with contradiction. Man cannot think where he is, for he has created two worlds from one.”

The physicist Erwin Schroedinger concurred, putting it this way: “consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; there is only one thing and that what seems to be a plurality is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception”.

I think this notion that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is kind of a crock.
It was a catchy phrase that Carl Sagan popularized that has become a meme in the culture which everyone now takes as a truism. I find it is used to dismiss anything that conflicts with the orthodoxy in a similar way that applying a label like ‘climate change denier’ is used to shut down debate about the so called ‘consensus’ orthodoxy of the climate change establishment.

Why should one kind of truth claim be held to a different standard of evidence than another? Surely the rigour and standards we already apply are more than sufficient! Why would we trust them otherwise?
Why is it logical to codify a bias in favour of one explanation and against another? How is it desirable to privilege the established orthodoxy against outlier modes of thinking?

The disadvantages to taking this hoary old adage seriously seem much more apparent than any alleged advantage. The most obvious problem is that you have one category for the orthodoxy with very firm goalposts – and another category where the goalposts recede forever beyond the horizon. In other words, regardless of the quality of the evidence, someone invested in the orthodoxy can always say it’s not ‘extraordinary’ enough

Questioning Climate Science: a sign of sanity in an increasingly mad world

I don’t believe climate scientists can do what they claim to be able to do. There. I said it. Let the angry mobs assemble – but please, pitchforks only. Burning torches are not environmentally friendly.

Let’s face it, expressing such a sentiment has become essentially taboo in our culture. We have been told repeatedly by the climate science establishment that the ‘science is settled’, therefore to question it is akin to questioning a longstanding observable fact – like the molecular composition of water or that the Earth orbits the Sun. For those of us who are not climate scientists and who have little or no understanding about how global climate actually works – that is to say, pretty much everybody on the planet – we are left with a straightforward choice: accept at face value the claims of this elite class of professional technicians as they instruct, or withhold our acquiescence pending further scrutiny.
To my mind, that leaves all of us roughly in the same boat. We’re all generally relying on the same second hand sources like the Internet and mainstream media to develop a useful perspective. And sure, some people are going to line up with the experts because….well, just because they’re the experts, right? Others will find too much about the climate consensus that is problematic to simply kick the responsibility for our thinking upstairs to a professional class of unquestionable truth givers. All things being equal, who really knows? Right?

Well, apparently not. When I look around, I see a whole bunch of people with no more expertise on the subject than I have (which is to say, none at all), flaunting unqualified certainty that the climate science consensus is beyond questioning. In fact, they are so confident in the perfection of their opinion that they go about happily affixing the contemporary version of the Scarlet Letter – a bright red capital ‘D’ for ‘DENIER’ – upon anyone who doesn’t conform to their way of thinking. Clearly for these people, not being convinced is simply not an option. Not for themselves, and not for you either.

Think about that for a second. These well intentioned, decent people evidently feel justified in categorizing you as morally, ethically and intellectually dysfunctional – even deviant – simply because you find cause not to share their opinion on something they know as little about as you do. In effect, they are declaring that there aren’t any other permissible opinions… period! That, in my view, is nuts. And for the life of me I can’t understand how otherwise rational people justify it to themselves. Nevertheless, this is now very much the mainstream position that we see reflected every day by our politicians, the media, academia, the creative classes and a good portion if not most of the educated middle-class.

What is going on here? When did we become so docile? So pliant? And when did ‘group-think’ go from being understood as the enemy of progress, truth, creativity and liberty to the prerequisite for admission to responsible society?

Back to my taboo-transgressing statement at the beginning. Obviously I don’t know the answers to whatever is supposedly going on with the climate. Like you, all I know for sure is that a particular subset of professional scientists claim they know the answer to all of that. The real question then for you and me, and the one question that all of us are completely, unequivocally qualified to answer is this: Have these professionals convincingly demonstrated that they know what they claim to know?
I find myself forced to honestly answer, no. I don’t believe they have.

Perhaps you disagree with me. Fine. That is something we can actually debate based on our own direct observations. For my part, I’ll want to know why the repeated failures of the computer models upon which their authority is predicated isn’t by itself enough to cast doubt on their credibility? Why statements like “the science is settled” and other efforts to immunize themselves from criticism raises no suspicion in you? Why troubling issues with their methodology and conclusions are discounted when raised by similarly credentialed professionals?
And ultimately, is it more plausible that computer software written by a handful of technicians in a lab somewhere has a 1 to 1 relationship with a constantly evolving, planetary-wide natural process? Or is it conceivable that a relatively small group of privileged professionals have hubristically persisted in overstating their ability to use new technology to account for a mind-numbingly vast, profoundly complex natural phenomenon that has been unfolding over millennia but which we’ve only been using satellites to study for the past forty years?

In his book Science and the Modern World, British mathematician and philosopher of science Alfred North Whitehead warned: “We have mistaken our abstractions for concrete realities”. Though written in 1925, Whitehead’s admonishment is strikingly pertinent in the context of today’s climate change obsession. These days, conflating digitally generated abstractions with “concrete realities” is our culture’s cognitive default position. Will they be validated in the long run? I don’t know and neither do you. Before we do anything else, maybe we should start by establishing a consensus on that.