December 4, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Secular Scientists Excuse Profanity

If everything evolves, then profanity evolves, and it’s no big deal, even if it warms the atmosphere.

In “The Evolution of Profanity,” Heather Littlefield, a linguist at Northeastern University, gave a completely relativist perspective on profanity in an interview by Linda Ogbevoen posted on PhysOrg.  After all, if the human intellect evolves, like Medical Xpress reported, then it’s just neurons firing.  And if animals are just as moral as we are, as Live Science proclaimed, we are not essentially different from animals.  And if cooperation evolves, as Science Daily and PhysOrg keep saying, then so does non-cooperation – which could include profanity.  Why wouldn’t Littlefield believe and teach, therefore, that the only content we give to “bad” words is arbitrary and socially determined?  It evolves over time, and nothing is really right or wrong with it.  Littlefield did not mention the kind of profanity that blasphemes God, but there were no indications she felt any different about that.

It’s not surprising, then, that a scientist at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting, scheduled a talk with the F-word in the title of his paper, even though it’s a word associated with violent rape.  It’s not even surprising that Science Now thought it was funny – at least, they did not condemn it, but put the word (with some asterisks) into their headline.

Brad Werner of the University of California, San Diego, has livened things up with a suggestive title talk, scheduled as part of a session tomorrow called “The Future of Human-Landscape Systems II.” Drawing on Werner’s computer modeling of the relationship between human society and environmental systems, “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism” makes some disturbing conclusions. (Asterisks are included in the official title of the talk, which can be accessed by search.) “[T]he dynamics of the global coupled human-environmental system within the dominant culture precludes management for stable, sustainable pathways and promotes instability,” Werner’s abstract says. This appears to suggest the answer to his provocative question, then, is yes.

It’s also not surprising that if scientists believe the world is [expletive deleted], that they should get in your face about it.  Nature on Nov 14 gave good press to Jeremy Grantham so that he could preach, “Be persuasive. Be brave. Be arrested (if necessary).”  He praised James Hanson who has “screamed” warnings for 30 years about global warming, and Gus Speth, whose protests landed him in jail.  Why wouldn’t Grantham’s ending appeal call for violence and profanity?

Overstatement may generally be dangerous in science (it certainly is for careers) but for climate change, uniquely, understatement is even riskier and therefore, arguably, unethical.

It is crucial that scientists take more career risks and sound a more realistic, more desperate, note on the global-warming problem. Younger scientists are obsessed by thoughts of tenure, so it is probably up to older, senior and retired scientists to do the heavy lifting. Be arrested if necessary. This is not only the crisis of your lives — it is also the crisis of our species’ existence. I implore you to be brave.

The irony seemed lost on Grantham that appeals to ethics fail, because ethics evolve (according to the same scientific consensus he trusts), and is therefore socially constructed, because we are just animals.  It wasn’t even necessary for him to know that man-caused global warming is true – just that most scientists agree it is (argument from authority, and bandwagon).   “I have yet to meet a climate scientist who does not believe that global warming is a worse problem than they thought a few years ago,” he began.  “The seriousness of this change is not appreciated by politicians and the public.”  He might have a pulpit as a theist, but evolutionary processes are about power and reproductive success, not truth.

If anthropogenic climate change were so clear as to demand immediate, even law-breaking, action, why do studies by scientists keep casting doubt on it?  On Science Now, for instance, Sid Perkins reported that “Recent drought trends [are] not so cut and dried.”  He began,

The picture of expanding drought painted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may not be quite as arid as it looks. A technique commonly used to estimate the severity of a drought may actually overestimate the effects of dry spells, new research suggests. Worldwide climate data combined with a more refined technique for assessing droughts reveal that they haven’t expanded as much in recent decades as previously thought.

On Nov. 15, Nature weighed in on this, saying “A new assessment of drought trends over the past 60 years finds little evidence of an expansion of the area affected by droughts, contradicting several previous estimates.” – estimates the IPCC had relied on for its conclusions about the seriousness of global warming.

In another global warming reassessment in Nature on Nov. 29, a team explored  “The mystery of recent stratospheric temperature trends,” and concluded that “The new data call into question our understanding of observed stratospheric temperature trends and our ability to test simulations of the stratospheric response to emissions of greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting substances.”  Despite the uncertainties, PhysOrg worried that drought might happen, and PhysOrg preached we must act now, facts or not.

The issue here is not whether global warming is indeed man caused, or even whether the scientists mentioned above believe it is.  The issue is the ability of any human to make such sweeping conclusions based on unreliable, changing interpretations of data.  Even worse is the self-refuting nature of a corrigible relativist’s appeal to ethics to get his fellows to change their ways.  That thought alone is enough to make an amoral, unbridled animal shout, “@%#!!”

The bitter fruit of evolutionary thinking has not yet reached its limit of toxicity.  The limit could well be The Abolition of Man.



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  • rockyway says:

    1. “I have yet to meet a climate scientist who does not believe that global warming is a worse problem than they thought a few years ago,” he began.
    – This is muddle headed thinking at its best. Here’s a guy who more or less tells people to lie, and then he expects them to believe this statement of his. (Overstatement is cute, but we all know what he means.)

    2. “This is not only the crisis of your lives — it is also the crisis of our species’ existence. I implore you to be brave.”
    – He’s apparently forgotten that on the basis of materialism he’s just a puddle of chemicals floating in a meaningless void.

    3. “…but for climate change, uniquely, understatement is even riskier and therefore, arguably, unethical.”
    – This the old ruse, beloved by politicians, that a lie can be a good thing. (As Nietzsche famously said, ”The falseness of an opinion is not for us any objection to it.”)
    We need to ask how he’s going to enforce his edict about uniqueness.

    I guess he’s never heard the story about the boy who cried wolf.

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