Monday, April 13, 2009

The Flying Hypocrisy Monster and You

A couple of days ago a well-meaning friend sent me an email with a link to this Youtube video about "Global Climate Warming Change". Said "It's a good argument."

Now, I watched it, and realized within about ten seconds (as most anyone would) that it's nothing more than Pascal's Wager on a white board.

I found this definition

"Pascal's Wager

In the seventeenth century the mathematician Blaise Pascal formulated his infamous pragmatic argument for belief in God in Pensées. The argument runs as follows:

If you erroneously believe in God, you lose nothing (assuming that death is the absolute end), whereas if you correctly believe in God, you gain everything (eternal bliss). But if you correctly disbelieve in God, you gain nothing (death ends all), whereas if you erroneously disbelieve in God, you lose everything (eternal damnation)."

From this site.

What struck me is that this kind of argument is often presented by people who are vitriolic in their hatred and dismissal of religion. If someone with a Bible or whatever knocked on their front door and said "hey, why not believe in God - what have you got to lose?" they'd tell the story for days about how they laughed in the guy's face and mocked him and were offended that such creatures are allowed to walk the Earth, blah blah blah. I know because I've heard it - endlessly. Folks who know or assume I'm an atheist make no effort to disguise their utter contempt for religion in general (and Christianity in specific) around me, assuming I obviously feel the same way.

Of course, the ones that forward around Youtube videos like this don't see the reality that they are just as religious as the people they despise if not more so.

There is no evidence that the climactic variations we do see are affected by anything related to Man, plenty of evidence that the main engine driving climate is the Sun (no big surprise for some of us), and certainly no evidence that poor old Carbon Dioxide is affecting global temperature. Yet the disciples preach on, firmly believing without proof that their old warming man in the sky is real while others are not. And they're so proud of how smart and responsible it makes them feel - exactly the same kind of smugness they mock in what they perceive as religious people, and for the same reasons. When it's not frustrating, it really is funny.

The bottom line is that I don't accept Pascal's Wager as a valid reason to consider anyone's religion, but I do appreciate the deep irony of climate alarmists using it as a persuasive tool for theirs.


cnick said...

Please! Not this again. It sure looks to me that, when it comes to climate change theories, you are cherry-picking shaky evidence while also ignoring basic science and logic to support your strongly-held beliefs (i.e. your belief that humankind has not and cannot influence climate, and that anyone who disagrees is an idiot). That actually sounds pretty religious to me.

I know that you don't agree with the above characterization. I'm just going based on what I've seen you write on this blog.

Atom Smasher said...

Fair enough - you don't credit me with having a solid background for my opinions. So it's back to basics. So you believe that human industry affects global climate and temperature?

Explain it to me. In your own words, no links. What's the mechanism, what's the rate, and what's the climactic effect? And what's the relation to the demon CO2?

MeatAxe said...

Hey Nick

If you get done with that and have time, for extra credit, I'd like to know what temperature the earth should be now.

I've wondered this for a while. The arguments for global warming show often involve alarming graphs showing large temperature increases.

But a look back into history shows considerable variation in average temperature with a cycle of warming and cooling trends.

It's quite fun to read the newspaper and documentary evidence from the 1700s describing how New York Harbor would freeze over in the winter, and the English would walk across the frozen Thames River.

Likewise the Pax Romana (300 BC) seems to coincide with a 700 year warming trend making growing seasons longer and summers hotter. That one is actually called the Roman Warming, and it was followed by what's a cooler period until about 900AD when what's called the Midieval Warming began...

I guess my point is that we see considerable variation in climate, and I guess what I'm asking is what do the global warming folks say the 'natural' temperature of the earth would be, accounting for natural warming and cooling trends, if the human population hadn't been putting carbon into the atmosphere?

Seems like this would be the first step to making an argument for manmade global warming and yet,I haven't seen anyone contrast temperature increases with what temperatures are increasing from.

Hope this makes sense!

cnick said...

I believe that it is very _possible_ for human industry to affect global climate and temperature for the following simple reasons:

1. CO2* absorbs infrared radiation; when this happens, the temperature of the CO2 (and surrounding gases) rises more than it would if the CO2 were not present when subject to the same level of infrared radiation.

2. Human activity is contributing a non-trivial quantity of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Neither of these facts is in dispute.

Therefore, it is entirely reasonable to suspect that human activity has caused or will cause a rise in global temperatures relative to what the temperatures would have been in the absence of that activity.

Even if any such temperature rise has not reached a threshold of indisputable measurability, the fact that human-caused CO2 emissions continue to rise at a dramatic rate also makes it very reasonable to suspect that, left unchecked, human-cause CO2 emissions may affect global temperatures.

Now, you might say, "Well, just because something is possible doesn't mean it is happening for a fact." Fair enough. But basic risk mitigation strategy tells us that when a potentially damaging event is a real possibility, then one should take steps to mitigate that risk.

To summarize: there are good reasons to suspect that human activity has caused or will cause global warming. I don't know for certain one way or the other; only time will tell.

*Other gases emitted by human or human-caused activity also have this property. Methane, for example.

cnick said...

Ter..err I mean MeatAxe:

I've no idea what the temperature of the earth "should" be. I'm not sure that such an idea even makes sense.

But, if we're going to muck about changing the earth's temperature, I'd rather we did it on purpose, and for good reason, rather than not even knowing that we are changing it and just hoping it will work out fine anyway.

MeatAxe said...

Of course it makes sense. If someone tells me that human activity is raising the temperature of the globe, the number one bleedingly obvious question is: "By how much?"

And to answer that you have to know what the temperature would be without the given activity.

Its loaded with sense. It's replete with sense. It reeks of sense. Its the most sense-ful question I've heard all year.

Atom Smasher said...

So cnick- You believe that it's reasonable to assume that the CO2 we dump into the atmosphere can affect global temperature. Do you know that if you study paleoclimate, atmospheric CO2 is most often a follower of temperature increase, not a leader?

Do you know that not one of the models touted for atmospheric temperature, ocean temperature, storm rate, sea level, or any of the other panicky crap the greeniacs have been balancing on their Gaia-boners for the last decade or so has produced any accurate results?

Aside from that, do you know that the warming and cooling periods we see in the current record match almost perfectly with solar activity?

See? It's belief without proof, and they even use Pascal's Wager to sell it. Again, delicious irony.

cnick said...

MeatAxe: basically we are talking about the difference between "should be" and "would be." Asking the question "what would the temperature of the earth be under [condition X,Y,Z]?" is a scientific question.

Asking "what SHOULD the temperature of the earth be?" is entirely a philosophical one and holds no interest for me.

My question for you is "Would you rather know what you are doing or not know what you are doing?"

Atom Smasher:
It's not an assumption. It's a logical conclusion that something is possible. Big difference.

I don't really follow atmospheric science all that closely. I just know the basic facts about CO2's properties.

The evidence you offer as refutation doesn't actually refute my conclusion about the possibility of global warming.

Suppose the models are not accurate: that just means the models are not accurate. It doesn't mean anything else. (Your reasoning seems to be that "EarthModel3000 says that warming will occur, but EarthModel3000's predictions have been shown to be inaccurate; therefore warming will NOT occur." Fallacy.)

Suppose paleoclimate shows CO2 increase following temperature increase; this supports the hypothesis that "Increasing temps cause increasing CO2." But what does it say about the converse? Nothing. That's just basic logic.

Suppose that warming and cooling periods match almost perfectly with solar activity: Of course they do! Without energy from the sun the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would have no effect on the climate, since everything would be 2 degrees Kelvin and frozen solid. The point is that CO2 can _magnify_ the amount of solar radiation absorbed. But if the amount of solar radiation decreases, the temperature will still probably decrease. Again, this observation is completely orthogonal to my reasoning.

I don't see any belief without proof here. I see science and logic.

Frankly, from what you write on your blog, you seem more interested in insulting people who disagree with you than in searching out the truth. It seems pretty clear from your writing that your mind is already made up and no amount of reasoning based on facts is going to change that. I'm sure you're not like that in person, but the internet does strange things to people.

Atom Smasher said...

cnick- I *do* follow the science about this topic somewhat closely, and I have the background to be able to make sense of much of it. Whether you believe or credit that or not, that's your affair. But as far as your last paragraph goes, I think you need to rethink that a little. On the one hand, you're partially correct in that I view this blog as a soap box, *my* (or half my) soap box, in fact. Not as a discussion area. I have and do discuss politics and science and philosophy and all that good stuff with friends in person, and with strangers and acquaintaces and friends on various public internet forums.

This is different.

Now, regarding insults to those who disagree, that's an incomplete statement. I insult ideas that are patently foolish and people who support them. But you yourself have seen me post in agreement at various times when something I've posted can be taken in a different way, or outright identify the weaknesses or possible shortfalls of my positions right when I'm posting them.

But to see that you'd have to *read* my posts instead of simply reading *into* them. And that's certainly your choice.

Regarding climate and CO2, you are grasping at a mighty thin reed if you are viewing the fact that, for instance, CO2 being mainly a follower rather than a leader isn't sufficient proof against anthro GW. If you truly are as smart as you want to think you are, you need to acknowledge that AGW is a *theory*, nothing more. And, as a theory, *any* valid counter or disproof must be acknowledged and answered, otherwise the *theory* isn't valid.

And so if you examine the theory of AGW (especially the CO2 element) dispassionately, honestly, and scientifically, the only conclusion currently reachable is that it has zero evidence *for* it, and much evidence *against* it. It is entirely possible that, with more honest study, parts of, or even the entirety of AGW theory might someday be proven sufficiently true. But no honest person can make that claim today. Those that do, I gainsay, those that that do and claim to be doing it from a foundation of science, I mock.

MeatAxe said...

Fine. I choose to assume that you are being pedantic instead of deliberately infuriating.

Let me try again: Do you know of any source, research or study that makes any suggestion, pronouncement, claim, or inference of what the average temperature of the earth would be, if humans had not added 'greenhouse' gasses to the atmosphere?

Also, while you're at it, could you take a swing at why knowing this is important or unimportant. If someone says global average temperatures are rising due to factor XYZ, don't you want to know the magnitude of the effect?

And how do you know the magnitude if you don't know what the global temperature would be without XYZ? And also, don't you want to know how they isolated the temperature rise attributed to XYZ from other factors?

Don't pretend I'm asking 'philosophical' questions. I don't have formal background in science that you have had, but I insist these are reasonable questions about methodology

cnick said...

AtomSmasher: I stand by my logic. Of course global warming is a theory. All of science is a theory. The facts I mentioned in my first comment support the theory that humans could cause global warming. The evidence you quoted has almost no relevance to that theory. Attempts to link them sure look to me like beliefs driving reason rather than the other way around.

I understand you are writing this blog for your own amusement. I am writing these comments for MY own amusement.

What do you do for a living, anyway? I'm actually just curious. I'm an applied mathematician myself.

MeatAxe: I didn't mean to irritate anyone. Sorry. Regarding your first question: I have no idea. I don't think you could realistically calculate such a number without having godlike powers.

Regarding, the second question ("why knowing this is important,"), there are many reasons. One is that since we live on earth, and its our only planet for now, its probably a good idea to understand as much as possible about how the whole system works; that includes the effects our activities have on the climate. The climate variation you pointed out earlier demonstrates that the climate is a complicated thing, and we likely don't understand many things about it.

Regarding your remaining questions: yes, of course I'd like to know the answers to those questions. But now we're getting into questions of scientific methodology, which I'll leave to the experts.

Regarding the last item: Again, no offense intended; I simply misunderstood your use of the word "should."

Atom Smasher said...

cnick- okay, you stand by your logic that more heat-trap components in the atmosphere leads to more heat trapping. That seems reasonable to me too. So, what does the curve look like? Is it a simple linear relationship? Is it positive? Negative? Steep? Shallow? You don't know, because no one knows, yet the politics (and yes, the religion) of AGW acts as if they know, and they spend my money and restrict my liberties as if they know.

See where I'm coming from here?

MeatAxe said...

Hey Nick

No offense at all. I was just needling you a little, like we did in the good old days.

In your last comment and Atom Smasher's last comment, you can see the essential building blocks of our skepticism.

You mention 'god like' intelligence as a requirement for determining something that seems like an essential ingredient for establishing the degree/severity of warming that is or isn't taking place.

Also, believe me, I don't equate skepticism of Global Warming with a license to pump crap into the air with wild abandon. I don't like to breathe, or eat poison more than anyone else.

And I certainly hate the notion that a bunch of guys in sheets sitting around the table at an OPEC meeting can dictate to the US economy.

Like your approach to security and terrorism, I just want the government to take a proportional response to the issue, leavened with some rational analysis of the issue and not the hysteria we see too much of.

cnick said...

Hey, I think we're all coming to an agreement here! Well done guys.

Atom Smasher said...

What are we agreeing on? That AGW is a silly theory and people that give it credence are also silly?

cnick said...

We are agreeing that it's not possible to know for sure what is happening with the climate.

Atom Smasher said...

...except that it corresponds pretty perfectly to solar activity, and not at all to anything like CO2.

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