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On Climate Change, Uncertainty and Truth

Anyone who blogs has persistent commenters.  Last year my “top” commenter was one David Lloyd-Jones, a Canadian who took exception to a great deal of what I wrote (although not everything he read).  Lloyd-Jones found me via my series of my business dealings in China in the early 1980’s.  He himself has had an interesting career, both in the U.S. and Japanese governments and in having brought coin laundries to Japan.  The latter should not be gainsaid: for anyone from this continent to head to that part of the world and have success in business wasn’t easy then and isn’t easy now, as the balance of trade shows.

Unfortunately both of us weighed each other in the balance and found the other wanting.  For his part my conservative Christianity was never to his taste, he having started out in the ACoC and ended up in orthodox Judaism (although his attitude towards the nature of the Scriptures made me scratch my head about the orthodox part).  On my side I was disappointed that someone with his kind of experience outside of this continent would accept the conventional wisdom our elites put out as uncritically as he seemed to do.

The back and forth ran through the summer and early fall.  One thing that he was regaled with (and honestly I didn’t time it for his benefit) was the re-serialisation of My Lord and My God, my extended piece on the deity of Christ and the nature of the Godhead.  Evidently the experience was just too much, for when I got to the end of it and tackled the issue of subordinationism in Sydney Anglicanism, I got the following comment:

It rather seems to me that if this were a discussion about an objective reality then reasonable people would say “It seems to me that….” and “Your perception of it might differ slightly.” Isn’t that how you handle questions like whether or not there’s oil down some particular well?

It is only if the discussion is about what formulas are allowed inside some club that an insistence upon precision can come to the fore.

Now I’ve seen many arguments against the kind of theism described in My Lord and My God, but the idea that it’s too precise to be true…well, that was a new one.  So he and I went back and forth on several fronts, not the least important of which was whether mathematics was a true science or not.  (I should have brought up the point that advances in geophysical exploration methods have taken a great deal of uncertainty out of verifying the presence of oil in the earth, but sadly I did not).

I also pointed out the following about uncertainty:

As far as your obsession with margins of error, being (as you correctly assert) in the earth sciences, I am very much aware of the uncertainties of science and engineering. These stem (sorry!) from two things: the complexity of the environment, and our ability (or lack thereof) to process the data we have and project what might happen if things change either from natural causes or our own doing. The former is there; the latter is improving, in part because of the improvements of our ability to simulate the environment around us.

But he stuck to his guns with as much certainty about uncertainty as I had about certainty:

I simply wanted to say that in its concern for a precise exactitude it separated itself from those fields of discourse in which any objective reality is in play. Where there is truth there is doubt; where there is certainty there are arbitrarily adopted rules, it seems to me.

At which point I came up with the following:

But let’s turn things around: consider the topic of the hour, climate change. You say “Where there is truth there is doubt”, and in a backhanded way that was the point I was trying to make here. But if you were to make your same point re climate change, you will be branded as “unscientific” along with other expressions too vile to be expressed on this blog. Why? Because its proponents believe that, in climate change, there is certainty! So are you prepared to make the challenge there?

That not only ended the debate: that ended David Lloyd-Jones’ season as a commenter.  As of now, he has not returned.

The truth is that Lloyd-Jones’ logic, such as it is, better suits the subject of climate change than it does theology.  But it’s unsurprising that someone who likes to “go along to get along” as he sees it would not want to apply that logic to where it belongs.  The fact that rigid certainty has taken over the minds of so many on this subject is indicative of the nature of their belief.

On the other hand, having been raised in the Anglican/Episcopal world where the subject of God cries out for more precision and less Anglican Fudge, getting attacked for that by someone who likewise took his leave from the world of the 39 Articles is really strange.

But that’s what happens when logic and reason are divorced from the other, and that’s all too common in this “scientific” age.


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