The more I reflect on what I have learnt regarding the inherent cultural values associated with factual evidence (such as that relating to evolution, climate change etc) and from discussions with others on the subject, I’m drawn to one point which I feel is potentially the most difficult to overcome by those who reject evidence to maintain a favoured view point.
This is a fear of a loss in control supposed by “committed sceptics” of a given subject.
With those who accept the high certainty of such finding, in general, I find they are happy to acknowledge their own shortcomings and prefer to embrace acquisition of high quality information over a need for absolute certainty. This of course can lead to flying off the spectrum entirely (especially where critical evaluation of information is neglected) and into the ether of “anything is possible and thus everything is really unknowable”, which I have also encountered.
On the other hand, I find a panicked reply when reasoned debate fails a committed sceptic.
A creationist once told me he would prefer to be evolved from a wolf then, when he couldn’t counter a reasoned look at the evidence. Most others claim that morality is meaningless if evolution is true.
A committed sceptic once told me that he welcomed the tropical summers of the UK then, when he couldn’t counter a reasoned look at the evidence regarding climate change. Most others talk about the end of the civilised world if it’s accepted as true (eg. initiatives aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will send us back to the Stone Age).
Listen to the language; morality would be lost… society as we know it – the hard won civilizations we have created – will be destroyed; the primary value at heart here is a sense of purpose, of meaning, both personally and communally. If this instinctive meaning to one’s life is “lost” absurd propositions are likely and fatalism inevitable. If X is true, well, all hell will break loose…
Of course it wouldn’t.
We have incredibly strong evidence to support the theory that the universe is more than 13 billion years old and of our genetic relationship with all other life on this planet; of evolved diversity.
We have conducted studies that conclusively demonstrate empathy and altruism in other species. Morality exists not due to divine implantation in our minds and/or soul, but due to increasingly well understood social behaviour which is not unique to our species.
What’s more, our morality is not a written and thus stagnant code hardwired on our brains, as unchangeable as they would be on stone tablets. Instead they are evolving – arguably for the better – with subsequent generations (read, for instance, Mary Wollstonecraft’s essay, The Vindication of the Rights of Woman).
Likewise, climate change is true – it has occurred for reasons understood previously without human influence or consequence, however, this time is different only in that latter points.
Climate change is always punctuated with great changes to species abundance, distribution and regional weather patterns however, so far, life has persisted.
Fatalism and committed scepticism only reduces our potential for effective adaptation. And it is in this point that I feel the concern over a loss of control is unwarranted. It is a misunderstanding control entirely.
Surely we have given up the days in which a daily, weekly, monthly or other pivotal points in time required a sacrifice to ensure the gods favoured us with good weather (for our crops and well-being).
Sure we may laugh, but such events are written even into the stories of the god of Abraham and, within my own lifetime, people in developed countries have turned to rainmakers for help. It is laughable to think such devices enable control over the elements – giving up expected favour or assistance by the gods or other magical methods isn’t to give up control, only a delusion of it.*
On the other hand, we clearly do have control over the global climate. We’re currently and inadvertently conducting such geo-engineering. We have the control on how much heat we wish to trap and what kind of global climate we want.
Thinking about it in this way, imagine in the future that we knew that the axis of the Earth’s spin, the orbit around the sun or solar activity (or a combination of these factors) were to send us into another cold or warmer phase (science has given us the tools to make such prediction). We could alter the concentration of greenhouse gases to ensure we maintain a climate similar to the Holocene, ensuring food production, human well-being and species protection.
We also have the power to control how well we adapt to any unavoidable changes, in advance, if we so choose to acknowledge the projections. The results of our efforts may not even be evident until long after we have handed the keys on to future generations. This demonstrates not only control, but wisdom.
We truly are capable of being masters of our domain. However, we remain victims instead to our own delusions and preoccupation with fatalism. As stated above, the worst fears expressed by committed sceptics are simply unjustified and in truth masked the real fear; a fear in losing control. The reality is, as is so commonly the case, the very opposite. In letting go of false “certainties”, tied to a delusion of control, we can instead own our future.
While I believe if push came to shove, we would battle on under change and persist, however, I would like to think we could instead value real certainty and real control which is already within our grasp.
*Even if there is a god(s) – which is not the point of this article – we always claim their ways to be mysterious, favouring or ignoring for their own reason, leading us back to same point; it is thus a delusion of control under such “mystery”.