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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Scientists should accept claims only on evidence, and we should accept their acceptance, wouldn't you agree? If that's the case, if a better theory emerges, scientists will accept it and we'll accept it too. That's all I'm trying to say with this consensus thing.
Yes, and how we, non-scientists, determine that is by looking at the consensus, as we can't really analyze the evidence ourselves. I thing Arcus would agree with the last part, but it seems the consensus is not enough for him to accept a claim, even though I contend it is mathematically the best way to look at scientific theories that we can't fully comprehend.

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?

People are biased when it comes to their beliefs. People find it hard to analyze things and prefer clinging on to their prejudgments. I think that's more or less human nature. However, understanding how that way of thinking is faulty can lead people to be more vigilant and be more skeptical about what they already believe.

I, for example, know that, if what I believe to be true is also what I want to be true, I should analyze the matter closer because people are way more likely to believe what they want. That being said, fortunate circumstances sometimes occur and the truth corresponds with our desires.

It's a hard matter really, but I think it's manageable if we understand that we should be malleable enough to change our beliefs if necessary. I view it as a system in which there is a transitory period between beliefs, so we don't change our minds about certain fundamental beliefs so easily. But if we let data come in (i.e. we are open minded), then the good data will sway us to change our beliefs, while the bad data won't. It's also a matter of understanding to differentiate between good and bad data and that's a skill you have to learn all your life because of the complexity of the data available. Hopefully we can become wiser every passing day and see thing from different and ideally better positions.

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.

but there is a chance the consensus is erroneous.

Yes there is, but it is improbable, as I mentioned earlier.


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 

These are specific examples, but statistics takes into consideration a sample large enough to be statistically relevant. In math, these are particular realizations of a random variable, whose distribution can nevertheless render them improbable. It's like saying that I threw a die and it landed with the six facing up. However, it is improbable that the six will turn up the next time you throw it. In fact, it's improbable every single time you throw it, even though on a sixth of the times it will turn up. See my point now? Most hypotheses that aren't a consensus are wrong, even though some prove not to be.


I will not devote my life to this consensus though, because there is a chance it may not be correct. 

I never asked you to. Neither will I, but I do realize that the consensus represents the most likely theory given the current data.

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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