Cardinal George Pell knows of the fallacy of arguing by authority.
Recently Robert Manne, following fashionable opinion, wrote that “the science is truly settled” on the fundamental theory of climate change: global warming is happening; it is primarily caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide; and it is certain to have profound effects in the future .
His appeal is to the “consensual view among qualified scientists”. This is a category error, scientifically and philosophically. In fact, it is also a cop-out, a way of avoiding the basic issues.
The basic issue is not whether the science is settled but whether the evidence and explanations are adequate in that paradigm.
The complacent appeal to scientific consensus is simply one more appeal to authority, quite inappropriate in science or philosophy.
He also notices some similarities with religion.
The rewards for proper environmental behaviour are uncertain, unlike the grim scenarios for the future as a result of human irresponsibility which have a dash of the apocalyptic about them.
The immense financial costs true believers would impose on economies can be compared with the sacrifices offered traditionally in religion, and the sale of carbon credits with the pre-Reformation practice of selling indulgences.
Some of those campaigning to save the planet are not merely zealous but zealots. To the religionless and spiritually rootless, mythology – whether comforting or discomforting – can be magnetically, even pathologically, attractive.
He also makes another point which I think is all too true.
I fear, too, that many politicians have never investigated the primary evidence.
Pell clearly has done his own research before coming to his own conclusion. Too many politicians it seems merely accept authority at face value and fail to actually look into the claims they are presented with. It’s rather unsettling considering the magnitude of the decisions to be made by them.