Blasphemy  

Posted by Big Gav in

Jamais at Open the Future has a post on the dodgy rhetorical tactics used by climate skeptics and the underlying belief systems that guide them - Blasphemy.

Superfreakonomics author Steven Levitt has been fighting against the myriad critics going after him for the many, many mistakes in (at least) the global warming section of the book. Interestingly, a phrase that keeps coming up in his rebuttals is "I'm not sure why that is blasphemy."

Blasphemy. Hmm.

What strikes me as interesting about the use of this term is that it (along with the use of "belief" and explicit references to "global warming religion") changes the frame of the discussion of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) to something for which faith overrides analysis. By claiming that AGW scientists are simply pushing their beliefs, AGW critics can position themselves in front of the general public and the traditional media as simply having differing beliefs, in a social milieu in which multiplicity of faiths is a Good Thing (™). Attacking them for not believing in AGW is akin (in this framing) to attacking them for being Presbyterian. You may disagree with their beliefs, they say, but they have every right to believe what they want.

The parallel here is with scientific subjects such as evolution, the biological origins of sexual orientation, and the age of the universe, all of which have opponents who insist on framing all sides of the argument in terms of beliefs (you can probably add vaccinations to that pile, too). It's not just that they're faith based -- they insist that everyone else in the discussion is, too.

There's some utility for them in this. If the discussion around AGW (or evolution, or vaccinations) was solely scientific -- with the use of relatively objective evidence, open analysis, and a willingness to learn from mistakes -- the disbelievers would quickly lose all standing. The scientific evidence for AGW is simply so overwhelming that the only way to perpetuate a "debate" is by playing the belief card. As long as AGW deniers and "skeptics" can keep the framing religious, they can maintain their perceived legitimacy.

As far as I know, Steven Levitt does not adopt an explicitly religious view of the issues discussed in his book, and might even take offense at being lumped in with anti-vaxxers and creationists. But he's the one who has decided to frame his arguments in the language of faith and belief. The lesson is here is simple: pay attention to language. The messages and meanings underlying the terms chosen by interest groups can say more about them than they might intend.

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