Paul Rubin has written an article in WSJ regarding Environmentalism as a type of religion which I find quite interesting. The factors he lists as similarities are pretty dead on:

• There is a holy day—Earth Day.

• There are food taboos.

• There is no prayer, but there are self-sacrificing rituals that are not particularly useful.

• Belief systems are embraced with no logical basis.

• There are sacred structures.

• Skeptics are not merely people unconvinced by the evidence: They are treated as evil sinners.

One could also add:

• Prophet - Al Gore.

• Scripture - The IPCC reports.

However, environmentalism is far from being alone in the specter of issues and causes that people become fundamental about, and many political opinions tend to get stuck because people refuse to change their them - even when faced with overwhelming contradictory evidence. This is not confined to the "right", and possibly afflicts more people on the "left". Scientists routinely refutes diverging opinions with ad hominem argumentation, freezing out those who disagree, withholding resources etc.  Economists (sorta one myself) believe their social science is a hard science with evidence based facts proved by complex mathematics. Attempting to critcize a parenting is something I can absolutely forget about since I don't have children myself. Even our hero Einstein refused to accept quantum theory.

What are your opinions on this subject? Can these opinions-turned-fundamentalism be compared to religion?

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'Science is not done by consensus' - Love it!

Aren't scientific pardigm shifts often introduced by people considered renegades in their fields?

Pure science is advanced by renegades (subjective interpretation),  but it becomes a strong theory to assess the worlds realities only when a quality consensus is achieved. These are two separate processes.

Apologies if I ruffled your feathers. I liked the statement because science shold be driven forth by the best available evidence/theory, even if it goes against the established consensus. I read an article the other day where the LHC researcher Nicholas Hadley said about the Higgs Boson "If we don't see it (within a couple years), we will be very excited, because it means that there's something very brand-new." If I am not mistaken, there's a pretty good consensus surrounding the existence of the Higgs Boson, but there is a chance the consensus is erroneous.

As for the environment, quite a few scientist supported the conjecture of global cooling not more than 35 years ago, and I remember from when I was quite young the apocalyptical headlines of how there wouldn't be an ozone layer when I grew up. The consensus today is that we are experiencing man made global warming, and I do not disagree. I will not devote my life to this consensus though, because there is a chance it may not be correct.

No disagreement.

I am just fearful that if a better theory emerges that it won't be discounted due to the too many people being too entrenched.

No need make assumptions about my opinions - we are in agreement.

I just find it interesting that some fellow atheists who do not believe in eternal truths in religion seem to have the complete opposite approach when it comes to science. Scientific consensus represents the best available theory, and (as non-scientists) we must follow it, but it's not necessarily the right theory.

To tie it back to the theme of my OP, why do you think some people refuse to change their opinion even when they are proven erroneous? And isn't it worse when people who embrace science as the best means of explaning existence do it as opposed to people who use a divine being?

That's true. People are selective in perceiving new information: we have a tendency to overlook data that comes in conflict with our current beliefs and easily notice one that confirms them. It's a psychological fact.

So yeah, it's not easy, but we need to try and challenge our beliefs from time to time checking on conflicting information and be ready to be proven wrong.

The ozone layer warnings are actually a good example of how humanity can affect the global climate. If we had not stopped the massive use of chloroflurocarbons and thus stopped the ongoing depletion of the ozone layer it might well have been the case that it would be gone by now.

Yet, unlike the popular science magazines i read as a child (, the major cause of death is still not skin cancer last I checked..

We did save the ozone layer, but these things were taught as facts in my high school education in the late nineties, and my science education was much more up to date than much of the BS being taught in American schools today. (FYI, my high school natural science teacher had a company producing electricity from the methane emissions of landfills.)

I have ended up with the question: What gives?

And the rates of skin cancer actually went up in Australia after the "invention" of solar protection creams. Just goes to say, better to nip the problem in the butt instead of constantly trying to compensate for it.

So...the claim that 'If we lose the ozone layer the major cause of death will be skin cancer', followed by us not losing the ozone layer means that ... skin cancer not being the #1 cause of death is a problem?


If A, then B. Since not A, not B should not be surprising.


I think I'm misunderstanding you somehow, Arcus. I feel like you're trying to make a point that I am somehow not seeing.

The point was that scientists are not very good predictors of the future. They are the best we have, but they are not 100% correct.

As a child my parents smeared me in with SPF 50 before going outside to play in the sun. It was the right choice for the wrong reasons; the fear of skin cancer caused by the hole in the ozone layer instead of the fear of skin cancer caused by being sun burnt. Pragmatically such a distinction does not matter, intellectually it does.

Ah, I see.

Frankly, it depends on what they are predicting. If a scientist were to predict that there would be a total solar eclipse in Maine in the year 2548, I'd lay good odds of it being accurate. As the system involved gets more complex and the data less certain, the accuracy decreases, which is why things like climate science have large error bars.


The prediction that skin cancer may be the #1 cause of death if the ozone layer had continued to be destroyed may have been accurate. We'll never know, as we stopped destroying the ozone layer and thus the X part of 'If X, then Y' was negated. If someone predicts "If X happens, then Y will happen" and people prevent X from happening, it is not a condemnation of the prediction that Y does not happen.


Plus, while scientists tend to add qualifiers to their predictions to express the uncertainty in them, such as 'given current conditions' or 'barring new evidence', it does not help matter when the media takes a scientist stating "If X and Y continue as their current rates, and Q occurs, then Z might happen" and put out a headline stating "Scientists claim Z inevitable!!"




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