Real Sceptic

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Dr. Roy Spencer, Please Keep Your Religion Out Of Science

29th January 2014 6 responses

Dr. Roy SpencerNot everyone might be aware of this but Dr. Roy Spencer is someone who believes in Intelligent Design. He has often defended his support of Intelligent Design and his rejection of the Theory of Evolution quite vocally. Something I mentioned briefly in one of my blog posts.

That Spencer rejects the Theory of Evolution and replaces it with Intelligent Design brings into question his ability to assess evidence in a detached way. This  because Intelligent Design is nothing else than the attempt of dressing up creationism (religion) in a lab coat to make it seem more legit. Which might sound harsh but it is an accurate description, anyone familiar with the book ‘Of pandas and people‘ will be well aware of that.

I’m writing about this as Ethan Epstein made the following remark in his article ‘What Catastrophe?‘ (on page 3):

So many “alarmists” prefer to ignore him and instead highlight straw men: less credible skeptics, such as climatologist Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama (signatory to a declaration that “Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence—are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting”)

The article itself is filled with misrepresentations of climate science and known myths, almost every single point raised in the article is present on the Skeptical Science ‘Global Warming & Climate Change Myths‘ page. But Epstein did touch on a small grain of truth with this passage.

Like I said earlier it does reflect badly on Spencer that he accepts a pseudoscience like Intelligent Design. It raises legitimate questions on his ability to not let ideology cloud his judgement. Which is especially bad considering Spencer is a scientists as this means he should know better. Of course you can’t dismiss what he says on climate change because of that, but it’s enough to place a seed of doubt.

As you can imagine Spencer didn’t like this shot at his credibility by Epstein and responded to it with his blog post ‘Science and religion: Do your own damn Google search‘ (archived here). It’s his attempt to defend Intelligent Design and how he does so is quite telling. Let me start with the following passage:

I usually try to avoid the “R” issue, except that Ethan Epstein of the Weekly Standard chose to take a swipe at me in his otherwise good article on our dean of climate skeptics, Dick Lindzen.

Normally, I just ignore this stuff, but my e-mail has been blowing up in the last couple of days. So, against my better judgment, here are some thoughts on the subject…more for the benefit of those who are more outraged than I am (I expect to be attacked).

First, the hypocrisy. When warmist scientists like Sir John Houghton use the Bible to support action to fight global warming (e.g. his book Global Warming: The Complete Briefing) that was OK with everyone. Same with Katherine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman.

So, I guess it depends upon whether the bible-believer agrees with them before the warmists decide to trash Bible-believing ways.

I’m not familiar with the contents of the book ‘Global Warming: The Complete Briefing’ so I don’t know if Spencer has a point. But what Katherine Hayhoe said is publicly available, and it’s not what Spencer claims:

We believe in God through faith. Science, on the other hand, is the evidence of our eyes. We can measure the extent to which natural levels of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere regulate and maintain our climate. We can track how excess heat-trapping gases, beyond what would naturally occur, are being added to the atmosphere every day by human activities. We can calculate how this artificially warms the Earth’s surface, increasing risks of extreme heat, rain, and drought. We can see how these impacts often fall disproportionately on those with the least resources to adapt, the very people we are told to care for by our faith.

This is vastly different from rejecting valid science. What Hayhoe is saying is that her brand of Christianity says we should take care of our planet and science tells us we’ve failed to do so. This is her accepting valid science and putting it in context for her religious beliefs.  Why would I attack someone for accepting science?

As an atheist my position is that there’s no evidence that gives her religion any credibility or reason to believe in it. But I’m also pragmatic enough to see that she’s not someone who undermines science because of her religion. She’s not the enemy here, she’s an ally to those that are trying to get the public informed on science subjects.

But I do have an issue with people like Spencer who reject valid science because of their ideology. It’s when you try to push your unsupported views on science that I will speak up. It’s something you should be criticized for.

Epstein incorrectly assumes that I support the wording of all of the positions of the Cornwall Alliance, as stated in their Cornwall Declaration. But the Director of the Cornwall Alliance knows I don’t. We’ve discussed it.

Nevertheless, I still support the work of Cornwall. Seldom does a member of an organization agree with all of that organization’s stated positions.

The Cornwell Declaration is quite subtle with how it rejects valid science, far more telling is their page ‘An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming‘. It says things like ‘it’s a natural cycle‘, ‘CO2 limits will harm the economy‘, ‘CO2 limits will hurt the poor‘, ‘increasing CO2 has little to no effect‘, ‘CO2 is plant food‘, and the list goes on. Every single point raised on that page is rebutted on the ‘Global Warming & Climate Change Myths‘ page from Skeptical Science.

When a climate scientist like Spencer is on the Advisory Board of an organisation like the Cornwell Alliance that pushes climate science myths it does discredit him. As a climate scientist you have no business being associated with such an organisation. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with everything they say, what they say is already discredited enough that any association with them reflects badly on Spencer

This, and his rejection of the Theory of Evolution, are symptoms of an underlying problem: his ideology takes precedence.

Which becomes blatantly obvious with the following (emphasis mine):

The scientific evidence for a “creator” is, in my opinion, stronger than the evidence that everything around us is just one gigantic cosmic accident. I have no trouble stating that — and defending it — based upon science alone. No need to quote the Bible.

But why should any of this matter for real, observable science, like climate change? Belief in macroevolution is a religion, not science. It is an organizing system of thought, a conceptual model of origins, a worldview, which the evolutionist must fit all of his observations into.

[…]

Is that “science”? Really?

[…]

In Earth science, I find most researchers believe nature is fragile. But that is not a scientific position, it is a religious one. No less religious than my view that nature is resilient.

In short, there is no such thing as an unbiased scientist.

What he’s saying here is that because he has a biased position other scientists also are biased; this is wrong.

Nature is fragile, the evidence we have for that is overwhelming. In our planets history we’ve had at least five mass extinction events, during such an event our planet looses much of it’s biodiversity. And one really stands out: the Permian-Triassic extinction event. In it 70% of all land species, and 96% of all marine species went extinct.

Mass extinction events are the extremes of what can happen with a change in climate. But they do tell us what the worst case scenario could be. We also know that smaller shifts in climate can have severe consequences on ecosystems. Ecosystems we rely on.

The view in Earth science that nature is fragile is correct as this is what the evidence tells us. Life is remarkably resilient in adapting and surviving in new situations, but that doesn’t mean that a current ecosystem (i.e. nature) isn’t sensitive to changes in our climate. Or that changes cannot be catastrophic for current ecosystems.

As a scientist he should know better, but his world view takes precedence above his scientific training. This is what causes the credibility issue that Spencer has. Which he could solve if he kept his religion, and other ideologies, out of science.

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