March 06, 2014

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First, a skeptic tells me the Warmers don’t take into account, say, urban heat islands. I diligently go off and Google it. It turns out the Warmist websites are all over the subject. How about the 2013 IPCC working report? I contemplate downloading the whole 375 megabytes but decide against it. I do, however, download the 0.4-megabyte glossary of the terms used in the report. “Urban Heat Island”? Yep, they know about it.

Now, my skeptical correspondents will come back with: “OK, they know about it, but they haven’t properly calculated the effect! See, if you allow for placement of detectors…,” and we’re off to the races again, but at a lower level of detail. Googling this finer point, it seems to me that the skeptics have put some spin on the relevant findings. When I say so, they tell me I’m missing something one further level of detail down, and so ad infinitum.

Infinite regresses show up a lot in these jousts. Adam Gopnik captured this aspect of creationism in a recent New Yorker article:

Experience shows that those who adopt [the “God of the Gaps”] strategy end up defending a smaller and smaller piece of ground. They used to find God’s hand in man’s very existence, then in the design of his eyes, then, after the emergence of the eye was fully explained, they were down to the bird’s wing, then they tried the bacterial flagellum, and now, like [Stephen C.] Meyer, they’re down to pointing to the cilia in the gut of worms and the emergence of a few kinds of multi-cellular organisms in the Cambrian as things beyond all rational explanation. Retreat always turns to rout in these matters.

Alas, with all respect to Mr. Gopnik, it doesn’t. The thing about infinite regresses is that they’re infinite. These little nut orchards can be tended forever. Martin Gardner, in that 1957 book:

Mencken once wrote that if you heave an egg out of a Pullman car window anywhere in the United States you are likely to hit a fundamentalist. That was twenty-five years ago….

Pullman cars are long gone, but the creationists are still with us, blathering on about tornados in junkyards and the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Is it any wonder that biologists roll their eyes and run for the exit when a creationist opens up?

I”€™ll rest on my prescription of five years ago, concentrating my skepticism on the shyster politicians ever scheming to grab away my liberty or property. In science I”€™ll go with the magisterium. They may be wrong, but that’s not the way to bet.


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