Words Matter: Industrial climate disruption is not a religion

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a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices (source)

Some people falsely allege that industrial climate disruption is a religion. This allegation is blatantly flawed, as is the related allegation that industrial climate disruption is a cult. But that doesn’t prevent deniers of industrial climate disruption from making the false allegation in an attempt to render the underlying science moot.

As shown in the definition above, a religion is a set of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices, with the key word being “religious.” Religion requires the worship of some greater power or divinity. Scientific disciplines do not. In general, religion concerns itself with faith and adherence to established doctrine whether or not the doctrine make sense. Science, on the other hand, concerns itself with what is observable, what can be explained using logic and mathematics, and what can be tested with experiments or future observations.

Industrial climate disruption does not postulate any particular greater power or divinity. This fact alone disproves the claim that climate disruption is a religion. But for the sake of argument, what greater power or divinity could possibly be invoked by industrial climate disruption? The measured infrared properties of carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane make poor deities, seeing as they’re not imbued with any intelligence. Climate models also make poor greater powers since they are merely simulations based on fundamental physics that respond blindly to their inputs. And the various fundamental laws of physics used in climate models are as unintelligent as a molecule of carbon dioxide is.

The only way to make industrial climate disruption into a religion is to redefine the entirety of science itself as a religion. And at that point we might as well say that the Babel Fish is the proof of the non-existence of God, prove that black is white, and avoid zebra crosswalks thereafter (ref.).

And for those industrial climate disruption deniers who go even further and call industrial climate disruption a “cult,” cults are a subset of religions. Specifically, a cult is “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious” (source). If industrial climate disruption can’t be a religion, than it can’t be a cult either.

So why do deniers of industrial climate disruption make a blatantly flawed allegation? Some truly are ignorant of the differences between religion and science. Some may be so opposed to policies they fear will result from accepting industrial climate disruption as real that they have unconsciously chosen to ignore the blatant flaw. But the rest know that the allegation is false, but they allege it anyway in an attempt to discredit industrial climate disruption as a whole.

Since the Renaissance, science has earned a privileged place in human culture. Individuals and organizations make decisions every day based on what the best available science tells them will happen. For example, scientists knew that Mount Saint Helens was going to erupt weeks before it ultimately did – the evacuations ordered by the Governor of Washington as a result of the work of geologists monitoring the volcano saved thousands of lives. Given the privileged place science holds, if the science underlying industrial climate disruption is accepted, then naturally individuals and organizations will start changing how the interact with each other and with the world as a result. Those changes would naturally create winners and losers, and many of the people and businesses on top today would sustain massive losses in the process.

If successful, branding industrial climate disruption as a religion is a shortcut. Instead of having to challenge the expertise of each and every climate scientist one by one, they can all be tarnished as “high priests.” Instead of having to demonstrate errors in thousands of peer-reviewed studies, all the studies can be dismissed as mere holy writ. And instead of having to disprove multiple well-established scientific laws and independent lines of evidence that all demonstrate the reality of industrial climate disruption, all that information can be conveniently swept under the rug with rhetoric

If industrial climate disruption can be branded as a religion, then it can essentially be ignored. The individuals and organizations (both businesses and governments) who stand to lose the most can dismiss industrial climate disruption by saying “We don’t have to change to satisfy the religious beliefs of Jews, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, or pagans, so we don’t need to change to satisfy climate disruption either.” Governments of countries where separation of church and state is codified can go even further, claiming that creating policies to address industrial climate disruption would be in breach of that very separation.

Industrial climate disruption has no greater power or deity and thus cannot be a religion. But that won’t stop deniers from misusing “religion” in an attempt to discredit industrial climate disruption.

Words matter – and sometimes they’re misused on purpose.

4 replies »

  1. How ironic that the same underlying forces that want the liberty to impose a religious norm on the un- or other-religious while ignoring the freedom “from” religion angle, are so quick to spin around on this matter and, insisting that something that isn’t a religion actually is, demand that they be free from that “religion’s” impositions. It’s mind-boggling.

    Here’s my tongue grafted to cheek prescription:

    Start a new “religion,” Scientismology (a simple 501(c)3 filing), centered around the deification and worship of a new pantheon of gods with such names as Reason, Measurement, Operationalization, Falsifiability, Evidence, Empiricism, Inquiry, Hypothesis, Analysis, Theory, Law, Testing, and Peer Review. Since the government cannot tell us what we may and may not worship, there’s nothing to say some Prophet of Science can’t announce the Apotheosis of these erstwhile abstract concepts.

    In the names of the great saints, St. Newton, St. Popper, St. Einstein, St. Marie Curie, St. Rosalind of Franklin, and St. Grace of Hopper, let us pray.

  2. I think one has to be careful in engaging in this discussion. I am semi-addicted to talk radio which is dominated by those on the right so I have heard this argument numerous times. I am convinced no serious, reasonable person actually believes it and it only serves as a red herring to distract from the real conversation which deserves serious, reasonable discussion.

    Rush LImbaugh during the past year or so likes to refer to those who disagree with him on the left as low information voters. I believe the science is religion argument is actually directed at that portion of his audience (and a significant constituency on the right who are not in his audience) who I would describe as un-informable voters.

  3. Frank – you should start that religion. Remember what L. Ron said: “If you want to get really rich, start a religion.” 🙂

    If you do start it, and it’s a big success, may I be a cardinal? But only if you have really cool outfits like those other guys who won’t let me just be a cardinal – I’m really only into it for the fashion….

    Brian – great piece. Sorry I got distracted by that whole “I wanna be a cardinal” thing. What is most maddening to me about this behavior of the right is what Frank noted – their ability to pivot between contradictions so conveniently and noisily – and their followers’ inability to recognize these contradictions and reject them as the faulty, misleading, thinking they are.