Letters to the Editor: December 2019
Don’t Give Up on the Death Struggle
From my reading of the September and October issues, I have come to the conclusion that you are taking a decided turn away from the subject that interests your readership the most — namely, the Catholic Church’s death struggle with modernism.
In the October issue, I found absolutely no mention of the Church, her doctrinal crisis, or her lack of effective leadership. Instead, you treated us to articles about the deterioration of English linguistics, breastfeeding, climate change, and — of all things — a commentary on 2001: A Space Odyssey.
With all the challenges facing God’s Church, it would seem to me that your authors and contributors could find something to say about such critical issues as a looming German-led schism; the Amazon synod, with all the threats it poses to authentic Catholic teaching; and the selection of a body of 13 newly appointed cardinals that threatens to bury Holy Mother Church under an avalanche of modernist drivel unseen since the 1960s.
We, your readers, turn to you for expert commentary on and analysis of these and other critical issues. Please get this journal of yours back on track and be quick about it!
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
Worry not: We will continue to hit on the Church’s “death struggle” with modernism.
But the Church is engaged in another death struggle, a struggle against modernity. This struggle is multifaceted, and we think it is well and good — necessary, even — to examine it from as many angles as possible, so to understand with greater clarity exactly what the Church and Catholics are up against vis-à-vis modern culture.
The “deterioration” of language is a critical flashpoint in this struggle. Breastfeeding is a pro-life issue. Like it or not, climate change has become a concern of the Church. The dialogue on 2001 wasn’t merely a discussion of an old movie but was meant to be an exploration of the philosophies and motivations of our scientifically minded elites, such as Stanley Kubrick, Carl Sagan, and Jeffrey Epstein.
If you found any of this to be too esoteric, we hope the offerings in our November issue — free will vs. genetic determinism, the current attempt to redefine the priesthood, Islamic persecution of Christians, etc. — were more satisfying and in line with your expectations.
And we hope you find the fare in this issue compelling as well. The struggle against modernism is well represented: in my New Oxford Notebook column, in the guest column by Fr. John A. Perricone, and in the feature review by Thomas Storck. The struggle against modernity is also addressed: in the article by Clifford Staples and in Jason M. Morgan’s Cultural Counterpoint column.
I love the NOR!
What I mean is the mental stimulation I receive from reading through the various articles and letters to the editor is tremendous. I can’t imagine getting in a snit about a difference of opinion and canceling my subscription, as Philip Siegelman has threatened to do (letter, Oct.). I look forward to each issue with such enthusiasm that I have actually missed a night’s sleep to read through it when it’s arrived. My days would be rather ho-hum without the likes of the NOR to put life into my existence.
Keep up the usual great work of this tremendous publication. I hope to be able to enjoy receiving it for many years to come.
Edward J. Davis
A Feckless Response to Recurring Crises
Terry Scambray’s copious review of Raymond Ibrahim’s important book Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War Between Islam and the West (Sept.) reminds us that there has been a war waged anciently and renewed furiously within our own lifetimes against not only Christians but secular humanists, Hindus, Buddhists, and everyone else across the globe who is judged by the jihadists to be unworthy of life and liberty. The condemned often include those Muslims whom the jihadists deem to be insufficiently driven to violence by their faith.
There seems to be a deafening silence in response to Ibrahim’s carefully researched articles and books, which seek to acquaint us with jarring truths about the jihadists’ worldview and bloody methods. Is this because he reveals embarrassing facts, which public school teachers and administrators, most mainstream media mavens, and mainline Protestant leaders in Western Europe and the U.S. are at such pains to ignore?
As Scambray points out, we judge individuals and cults by their actions as well as their proclamations and prophecies. Most “teachers” in public schools and Protestant churches fail to mount even a weak defense of the Christians who are being slaughtered throughout the Middle East and Africa. It’s such an inconvenient truth!
Most of us were taught very little about the true nature and cost of the Muslim conquests of yesteryear. (One of the falsehoods we were taught is that the Arabs saved classical Western civilization by preserving vital texts Christians were destroying.) We learned practically nothing about the motives and methods of the jihadists. After all, that was all in the past and would never trouble us again.
Why have government leaders in the West been so feckless in their diplomatic and military responses to the chronic and recurring crises in the Middle East?
Let’s hope Scambray’s review encourages more readers to look for answers in Ibrahim’s work.
Correcting Grammatical Misconstructions
Thank you for printing my letter (Oct.) and allowing me to share with your readers the important position that theistic evolution actually preserves rather than distracts from God’s power, wisdom, and goodness in regard to creation. Unfortunately, in your editing of my last sentence, you introduced some grammatical misconstructions. Below is my final paragraph, with the last sentence rewritten.
“However, too often the Christian denial of theistic evolution is guilty of the same modern version of Gnostic thinking that, beginning with nominalism, produced the very atheistic scientific materialism that Christians are attacking. When Christians deny true agency to physical things and thereby the power and efficacy of all the secondary causes present in a beautifully predesigned natural evolutionary process, they are committing the same nominalist Gnostic error that sees all of physicality as intrinsically unintelligible and meaningless. For the modern scientific materialist, it is the autonomous self who imposes meaning, purpose, and value on this so-called unintelligible physical world, according to the dictates of his own selfish will unrestrained by rational discovery. Similarly, for the Christian infected with this same Gnostic error, instead of rightly understanding God as capable of predesigning the physical world with purposeful natural causation and cooperatively sharing His intelligence and freedom with men as personal secondary causes, God is now mistakenly imagined as having no alternative but to forcefully impose His will and His grace in ad hoc fashion on an otherwise meaningless materiality and uncooperative humanity.”
Douglas Miller, M.D.
Hickory, North Carolina
A Thwarter of Honest Confrontation
I am surprised that Pieter Vree would look to Pope Francis for understanding in the clerical sex-abuse crisis (“Father Figuring,” New Oxford Notebook, Jul.-Aug.), a Pope who has been more instrumental in thwarting honest confrontation than promoting concern, as evidenced by the Vatican’s sham summit on the protection of minors. If “clericalism” is the cause, how could clericalist, non-accountable papal protection of abusers be a cure?
Obviously, Vree is right to identify sin as the cause of sin, yet, as we know from our own lives, the denial of sin is the singular thing the whole of humanity shares as its greatest talent, and we are able to create entire belief systems out of those denials. But the Church exists to rescue us from our delusions.
Clericalism exists only in the sense of an ecclesial culture in which many ordained men, not honoring their providential graces, resist recognizing that truth is synonymous with the unchanging mind of God and become detached from considering everyday events of moral consequence.
Francis has become the catalyst for the validation of the moral relativism percolating in the Church for decades, which has become sufficiently abstracted and callous, where ethics are now viewed like a detached academic debate. He has incited strains of progressive conceit that have degraded the Church’s moral witness. There is mercy for sinners, but insufficient outrage for children raped.
Francis demonstrates obliviousness to the potential for uncritical belief in things like climate change to become an exercise in Orwellian moral displacement, the assuaging of a secularized conscience repressed from years of tolerating the extermination of inconvenient life, where population control and promotion of abortion are fantasized as principled ecological virtues. The Church now supports moral sophistries she previously condemned.
Fr. George Ryan, C.S.P.
Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostle, Retired
Port Richmond, New York
PIETER VREE REPLIES:
What I wrote was that clericalism, the sense that certain privileges inhere in the priesthood that place ordained men above accountability, is not the cause of the sex-abuse crisis, as Francis has suggested. Rather, clericalism, when manifested in protective networks of homosexual priests, is a secondary cause in that it enables homosexual predation in the Church to “fester and grow.” Yet, in Francis’s Vatican, the primary cause of the crisis, homosexual predators in the priesthood, “is being studiously ignored. There’s a concerted lack of will among Church leadership to acknowledge the deplorable and disastrous impact homosexual predators have had on the life of the Church.”
Francis’s interior motivation, or lack thereof, is an open question.
John F. Kippley’s article “What Every Priest Should Know about Ecological Breastfeeding” (Oct.) touched on a lot of important points. What many priests might not realize is that supporting breastfeeding moms and, in particular, promoting ecological breastfeeding is taking positive pro-life action. Ecological breastfeeding is the natural extension of bringing a baby into the world and is part of God’s design. It nourishes both mother and baby physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It promotes mother-baby bonding, helps moms truly listen to their babies, and spaces babies naturally.
As Kippley discusses, the superiority of breastfeeding is also confirmed by science. Our current culture tends to distort the natural law and often encourages the separation of mother and baby. Ecological breastfeeding is the antithesis of that. By practicing ecological breastfeeding, a mother is living out her faith in a very real, practical way and being a wonderful role model in her parish and community. However, she needs support and encouragement to continue to live counterculturally. Priests can make a big impact by speaking about breastfeeding from the pulpit, offering natural family planning (NFP) classes that include information on ecological breastfeeding, welcoming nursing moms and their babies into the main congregation, and hosting groups like the Catholic Nursing Mothers League.
Gina M. Peterson
Executive Director, Catholic Nursing Mothers League
Los Alamos, New Mexico
John F. Kippley explains in clear, cogent terms why breastfeeding plays an important part in God’s plan for bringing children into the world, and for the health and well-being of both children and their mothers.
Our society in general is so deeply imbued with a contraceptive mentality that priests should warmly welcome any means to help counter this anti-life attitude. Mr. Kippley points out that mothers who faithfully practice ecological breastfeeding experience on average 14.5 months of amenorrhea (the absence of periods) and consequent infertility — without periodic abstinence from the marital act as required by NFP methods.
Kippley also details the health benefits of ecological breastfeeding, that it is both a natural system of nutrition for infants and a natural way to strengthen infants’ immune systems — with benefits for mothers as well — in what Kippley calls a “divinely designed mother/baby ecology.” Moreover, he explains that the health benefits for children are long-lasting, reducing the incidence of diseases and conditions such as allergies, asthma, and obesity as they grow older. It produces other benefits as well, such as stronger immune systems and higher IQ and cognitive test results at school age.
Kippley points out another reason why priests should educate themselves and make known to married couples of child-bearing age the benefits of ecological breastfeeding: Pope St. John Paul II, in an address to experts assembled at a conference on breastfeeding, said, “Women have a right to be informed truthfully about the advantages of this practice.”
Fr. Dwight P. Campbell
If they gave out a Nobel Prize for defending God’s plan for life and love for mothers and babies, John F. Kippley would be a worthy recipient. His article on ecological breastfeeding is the latest in a lifetime of articles and books, in cooperation with his wife, Sheila, in which he has cogently and convincingly explained the beauty and wisdom of following the Creator’s plan.
With all the hullabaloo today about saving the planet, Kippley offers one solution — ecological breastfeeding — that would go a long way toward preventing diseases in infants and helping women space the births of their children without relying on dangerous drugs and devices. Maybe his wise advice could even change the minds of those who think they can save the planet by eliminating children.
JOHN F. KIPPLEY REPLIES:
My thanks to Fr. Dwight Campbell, Jim Drummey, and Gina Peterson. They will be gratified to know that the British Medical Journal published a report (Oct. 2) on the environmental hazards of manufacturing baby formula and how breastfeeding benefits both the baby-mother micro-environment as well as the macro-environment. It can be summarized thus:
- Switching from formula to breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life could save the equivalent of 95-153 kilograms of CO2for each baby. In the U.K. alone, that would reduce carbon emissions equivalent to reducing automobile traffic by 50,000-77,500 cars each year.
- The food industry contributes 30 percent of global greenhouse gases, and dairy and meat production are a major reason why. Powdered cows’ milk is the foundation of most infant formulas. Cows and other livestock produce large amounts of methane, second only to the oil and gas industries. Methane is a major greenhouse gas.
- Up to 4,700 liters of water are needed to produce a single kilogram of powdered cows’ milk. To make milk from the formula safe, the water used must be heated to at least 70°C. This requires energy use equivalent to charging 200 million smartphones each year.
- In 2009, 550 million infant formula cans ended up in landfill: 86,000 tons of metal and 364,000 tons of paper. And production has more than doubled since. (In context, I think that’s in the U.K. alone.) This does not account for the paper and plastic used, and wasted, at each step in the production of formula.
- Only 50 factories worldwide produce formula, about four million tons’ worth. This means that cows’ milk and other additives — including vegetable oils (palm, rapeseed, coconut, or sunflower), fish oils, fungal and algal oils, and minerals and vitamins — must be transported to these distant sites. And then the final product must be transported around the world to consumers. China, for example, imports 180,000 tons of formula, mostly from Europe.
For a full summary of the BMJ report, go to www.news-medical.net/news/20191003/Formula-costs-the-earth-support-breastfeeding-instead-says-new-study.aspx.
The BMJ report could be highly beneficial for the advancement of the practice of ecological breastfeeding.
Pope Francis is concerned about the macro-environment and women. He can advance both causes by asking women to practice ecological breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond. I plan to mail the BMJ report and my NOR article to him, but my hunch is that it will take some special handling to get these translated and presented to him. That is something I have been praying for, and I invite you to join me.
I have also been praying that the Amazon synod does no harm to the Church and even does some good. If the Pope were to promote ecological breastfeeding, that would be good for individual babies and mothers, for the environment, and for the Church.
A. James McAdams has odd ideas about the nature of “truth” (“Post-Truth, Climate Change & the Catholic University,” Oct.). He cites as a profound example of post-truth thinking the rejection of the “scientific consensus about the existence, causes, and dangers of global climate change.” Those three areas cover a lot of ground, and while there certainly is consensus that the planet has been warming for a bit more than 11,000 years, I’m not sure there is a true consensus as to the causes of warming or related dangers.
McAdams wishes to correct the “uninformed views” of those who are skeptical of the “scientific consensus” regarding climate change. Why, he asks, might reasonable people resist what he calls an “indisputable fact”? To paraphrase The Princess Bride, I don’t think those words — in this case, indisputable fact — mean what McAdams thinks they mean. On September 23, 2019, 500 climate scientists sent a letter to the United Nations Global Climate Change Summit, opining that there is no climate emergency, that natural as well as anthropogenic factors cause warming, that warming is far slower than predicted, that climate policy relies on inadequate models, and that global warming has not increased natural disasters.
McAdams’s views on poll results that show an inclination among conservatives to question scientists’ motives appear less than completely informed. “There is no reason to assume,” he states, that “scientists’ desire to advance their careers” drives them to confirm the “majority consensus.” McAdams goes so far as to say that “it makes more sense that a researcher would seek to identify evidence that disconfirms some aspect of the majority consensus.” Sadly, his view appears to be inaccurate. See the case of Susan Crockford of the University of Victoria, whose contract was not renewed after 15 years as an adjunct assistant professor. Crockford is a high-profile speaker and author; her research on polar bears and dog domestication has been widely cited. Why was her contract not renewed? Apparently, it was a result of her research showing that polar bear populations are stable and thriving.
This is but one instance. Anyone who followed the “Climategate” e-mail scandal at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit in 2009 should be aware that dissent, even minor dissent, in the climate-science community can be career-threatening. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has a less than stellar reputation with its cast of characters, including Michael Mann and Phil Jones. Historically, IPCC predictions and projections have been largely off the mark. The e-mail scandal revealed, among other things, that much of its data had been manipulated and/or deliberately kept from the public. It also demonstrated that dissenters have faced black-listing, peer review has been corrupted, and the scientific method appears to have been abandoned at the highest levels.
Finally, consensus is not, and never has been, science. And it has never meant “truth.” In the first half of the past century, there was consensus among the scientific community that the infamous Piltdown Man hoax was real. Climate consensus today — to the degree that there is a consensus — is an attempt to explain what is happening and what is believed will happen in the future. It may or may not be the best scientific view based on the available evidence, but it is largely unverifiable and does not equate to “truth.” The earth’s climate is extremely complex, and it has numerous known variables.
It may well have multiple unknown variables. Even though I have been following this topic since the late 1980s, when I attended a Catholic university, I do not know if the “scientific consensus” is any closer to the truth than the view of the skeptics. Catholic universities should teach the scientific method to students in the field of science and teach them to follow the evidence and seek the truth. Universities should not attempt to “correct their views” according to the prevailing accepted opinion.
Silver Spring, Maryland
Ven. Fulton Sheen, in his discussion of communism, quoted Cajetan that “if one starts with a wrong assumption and is logical from that point on, he will never get back on the road to truth.” So when A. James McAdams begins his article with a quotation from Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, the university president most responsible for the de-Catholicizing of Catholic higher education, I instantly sensed the use of a map that will lead to nowhere good. The title of McAdams’s article, “Post-Truth, Climate Change & the Catholic University,” raised a second red flag. So, I must demur.
I am not a climatologist, but I have taught science — specifically, chemistry — for most of my adult life. When the first articles on what was then called “global warming” appeared in scientific journals and science-oriented news, and then began to proliferate, I thought this would be the new catchword for researchers to use in grant proposals to attract funding. And I was correct. But as it became clear that the direst predictions of imminent catastrophe were not fulfilled, the phrase morphed to “climate change,” which is certainly a money magnet for researchers.
Several years ago, I wrote a letter to the editor of Chemical & Engineering News, in which I raised four questions that must be answered by science before we devote huge resources to the project of reversing climate change:
1. Is the mean temperature of the earth rising?
2. Is that a bad thing, as far as our stewardship of the earth and human existence and thriving go?
3. Is the rise in temperatures caused principally by human activities?
4. Is there anything humans can do to cause a significant reversal or amelioration of the process?
The answer to the first question, inarguably, is yes. Since the end of the Little Ice Age in the late 19th century, temperatures have risen. And they continue to rise, though for the past 10 or 20 years it appears there has been a pause in some of the measures.
To the second question, the answer is yes and no. Yes, rising temperatures can cause the inundation of coastal areas and flooding of low-lying countries, and if temperatures rise a great deal, areas such as South Texas, where I live, could become highly stressed and deserts could expand even more. But the Little Ice Age, the fruits of which included the decline in university quality because of the Black Death, the resulting Protestant Revolution, the Thirty Years’ War, and innumerable other catastrophes, is not a time to which we could aspire to return.
To the third question, the answer is again equivocal, despite the conclusion of the IPCC of “95 percent probability that human activities over the past half century have played a major role.” The global warming experienced prior to the Little Ice Age, which led to enormous European prosperity, including an expansion of arable territory to the extent that grapes were being raised in central Norway, was certainly not caused by human activity but by the normal interaction of the earth and the sun. That could well be happening again, though the increase in parts per million of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” is certainly part of the cause.
To the fourth question, all the work I have seen on amelioration or reversal has concluded, “No, whatever we do, temperatures will continue to rise.”
In my letter to C&EN, I suggested that much research remains to be done before we devote enormous parts of our gross domestic product to trying to reverse or stop temperature increases. That remains my contention, even though governments, motivated by global panic inspired by teenage political activists, rush to do just that.
W. Patrick Cunningham
San Antonio, Texas
A. James McAdams’s excellent article on climate change and reactions to it among the general public asks several questions. The main one was expressed by St. Augustine: “Why, then, does truth generate hatred?” There are certain reasons for this, which, unfortunately, McAdams misses. As a professional engineer who is old enough to remember the scares of the 1970s over the coming ice age, I would like to answer him.
Chief among the problems in raising awareness of climate change is confusion over what science has proven and not proven. That the climate has warmed significantly in the past half century is beyond question. That human activities have contributed to this warming is fairly well established. That this warming will cause droughts, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and sea-level rise is based on climate models of uncertain provenance and accuracy. That any particular measure — carbon credits, higher taxes, banning plastic straws, or shutting down the coal industry — will have a significant effect on the climate is not at all established. Yet the “climate change community” (if I may use the term) often conflates these four subjects and claims that “the science is settled.”
We are often given the fallacious logic that “we must do something…this is something…therefore, we must do this.” We are told regularly that we must act immediately or life as we know it will end within a decade; we have been told this for a third of a century now. Skeptics are called “anti-science,” and honest questions are met with verbal abuse. When the dust settles, our choice is to spend trillions of dollars with an uncertain outcome or not to spend trillions of dollars with an uncertain outcome. (I find it very telling that it has taken two decades for people concerned about climate change to hit on the very practical measure of planting more trees and sequestering their carbon.) Given this choice, I would rather keep my money and not be forced to listen to people question my intelligence and commitment to the truth.
A second problem is the hypocrisy of the leaders of the “climate change community.” We hear of them flying around the world in private airplanes to lecture the rest of us on how we need to reduce our carbon footprints. We hear them discuss expensive measures such as carbon-credit exchanges — from which they would benefit handsomely, at our expense — or bulky and impractical measures such as solar farms and wind farms, which are often funded by our tax dollars. With spokesmen like this, is it any wonder people are skeptical of the message?
In short, it is not the truth that is generating hatred. It is the flagrant dishonesty of those who insist we do something about climate change, as well as their penchant to retreat to calling names rather than providing answers when people ask questions. McAdams does not need to invoke any “post-truth” philosophy to explain what he is seeing; simple irritation at being continually lied to and insulted will suffice.
John F. Fay
As I read A. James McAdams’s article, I kept waiting for the punch line. Alas, it never came. After defining post-truth, he sums it up thus: “[People] accept the truth when it supports their preferences and dismiss it as ‘fake news’ when it does not.” But as a proponent of the dire consequences brought about by man-made climate change, McAdams does not apply this to himself.
After insisting that there is an overwhelming consensus among experts to support this theory, McAdams tells us that we have only 12 years to take “drastic steps” before it’s too late. But there is not an overwhelming consensus among scientists that man is responsible for the minimal increase in global temperatures over the past hundred years. Even if there were, a consensus does not prove anything, as that is not how science works. But there are many scientists in the relevant fields who actively dispute the currently fashionable man-causes-climate-change-and-that’s-bad idea. Here are just a few:
- S. Fred Singer, an atmospheric physicist. He’s responsible for the Leipzig Declaration, a statement of dissent from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that has been signed by over a hundred scientists and meteorologists.
- Patrick Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute and a senior fellow in research and economic development at George Mason University. He describes how poorly climate models have done in replicating the evolution of global temperature over the past several decades, and how observations belie the horror they predict.
And, briefly, some others who object to the man-made global-warming theory for various reasons:
- Richard Lindzen, emeritus professor of meteorology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, previously professor of dynamic meteorology at Harvard, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Meteorology Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
- Patrick Moore, cofounder of Greenpeace and an ecologist.
- Roy W. Spencer, Ph.D. in meteorology, formally Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama.
There are many more experts like these who raise a variety of questions about man-made climate change. So, it’s clear that the science is not settled.
It is fearful, however, that because of ideologues like McAdams teaching his own brand of climate alarmism at Notre Dame, we have the kind of belief in this theory among the college-educated that he outlines in his article. Indeed, he admits that educational attainment is the single largest predictor of attitudes toward this theory. It makes one wonder: Is it education our universities are engaged in or propaganda?
Colorado Springs, Colorado
On first reading, A. James McAdams’s article appears calm, thoughtful, and persuasive. And yet, it is not. There are a number of issues with the whole climate agenda that just don’t hang together for me. I am not a scientist. I have no reason to believe what I have been urged to believe by those who presumably know much more than I do about climate change.
When you do not have the training to be able to interpret things for yourself, you must trust the messenger. I know nothing about economics, but I trust the economic data issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce. I do not trust the data issued by the People’s Republic of China. I do trust the teachings of the Catholic Church about faith and morals. I do not trust the latest virtue-signaling by the current “woke” culture. And, sad to say, I do not trust environmental scientists about the environment, or climate scientists about climate change. For one thing, both sets of scientists have been predicting dire things for decades, and their predictions have, by and large, not panned out. They have been advocating dire solutions for decades, and where those solutions have been implemented, the results have been so-so. I understand that snowy owls have not made a rebound in Washington State, but the lumber industry there has been obliterated. I have heard no good news about the fate of the snail darter in California, but maybe the drastic cutback of irrigation water needed for agriculture there did help, after all.
When climate scientists have been caught “cooking the books” to get the data they want, it does tend to cut support for their findings among the public at large. When peer review has the effect of persuading the American Academy of Pediatrics to support early intervention with hormones and surgery for young children and adolescents who seem to suffer from gender confusion, one wonders about the validity of the “pure” science involved and the value of the peer-review concept itself.
When scientists pushing an agenda begin to feel the need to scare children in order to advance their cause, I, for one, find that my doubts become insurmountable!
Albany, New York
A. James McAdams is puzzled why a significant number of Americans don’t agree with his views on climate change. Worse, they refuse to be convinced by scientific studies and expert opinion. He’s consulted psychological literature to diagnose the problem, and he has decided that such people are suffering from “motivated reasoning” and “confirmation bias.” Well, maybe, but I think his approach — “You disagree with me and my compelling evidence; therefore, you must have some kind of mental disorder” — won’t change many minds. I was a salesman for 29 years, so I know from experience that blaming the customer won’t make many sales.
So, how should Prof. McAdams and his students proceed? I suggest they anticipate people’s objections and then formulate answers that respect people’s intelligence. St. Thomas Aquinas used this technique to good effect. Every article in his Summa Theologiae begins with objections to the proposition to be discussed, and every article ends with answers to those same objections, supported by logic and easy-to-understand examples. As the Catholic Church invented the university during the High Middle Ages, going to St. Thomas can be seen as a kind of return to the “fount of truth” that McAdams mentions.
A. JAMES MCADAMS REPLIES:
I am grateful to those who took the time to respond to my article and for their thoughtful comments. I am glad to respond to some of the major issues they raise about the existence, causes, and implications of global climate change.
One issue that surfaces in several letters has to do with the way scientists have conveyed their warnings about climate change. Yes, some scientists and academic experts treat their public audiences and even their peers in arrogant ways. John F. Fay is absolutely right when he criticizes the hypocrisy of scientists who fly around the world in private airplanes “to lecture the rest of us on how we need to reduce our carbon footprints.” This behavior is an unfortunate manifestation of the elitism in many fields — especially among politicians and talking heads — that divides our country. As several letters indicate, there have been instances in which scientists have exaggerated or misrepresented their findings to steer public opinion away from reasoned debate and promote unfounded fears. Clearly, some scientists think they know better what ordinary citizens need and treat them in condescending ways. Some are politically motivated. Others, however, are simply scared about what is happening and voice their concerns in the ham-handed ways typical of many academics, myself included!
However, I am more concerned about the motives of a different group of scientists: those who have no expertise in climate science yet work as paid consultants for the petroleum industry and other corporate contributors to global warming. Unlike most scientists, such as my colleagues at Notre Dame who primarily focus on research and seek government grants, these consultants are in the position to grow extraordinarily wealthy by spreading disinformation in the service of corporations, the goal of which is to enrich their shareholders. They remind me of the so-called experts who once helped the tobacco industry promote the lie that there is no clear link between smoking and cancer.
I am even more concerned about the impact of self-serving politicians who knowingly propagate the lie that climate change is a “hoax.” All three of the letter-writers who directly address the issue agree that global warming is a fact (though they dispute its causes). So do our armed services. The Defense Department’s Report on the Effects of a Changing Climate (Jan. 2019) declares climate change “a national security issue” and calls for urgent measures to combat the impact of recurrent floods, droughts, wildfires, and other factors on military installations and operations.
Blaise Rhodes contends that I have “odd ideas” about the nature of truth, and he and W. Patrick Cunningham suggest that I don’t understand the scientific method. If by truth they mean absolute truth, then I agree. Only God has a legitimate claim to absolute truth. However, the purpose of science is to pursue the truth. To this end, scientists seek to reach a consensus. The standard measure for this consensus is 95 percent agreement on findings and conclusions. Based on the findings of the UN Commission on Climate Change, as well as peer-reviewed studies by actual climate scientists, the current consensus about the existence and human causes of climate change is at or above 95 percent. Naturally, scientists disagree about the nature, impact, and related causes of the threat. However, unless one finds a viable alternative to the peer-review process, the existence of the overarching consensus must be treated as a fact, not an opinion.
Cynthia Cromie trusts the data released by the Department of Commerce but not the data of climate scientists. I have the opposite view. Department of Commerce reports have been frequently manipulated by self-interested politicians and their corporate partners to propagate the view that all is well with the U.S. economy, when, in fact, it has never been well for millions of Americans.
I thank Mr. Fay for describing my article as “excellent.” I disagree with him and others about one major issue. Fay would rather keep his money than spend “trillions of dollars with an uncertain outcome.” But the effort to combat the effects of climate change is not a hunting expedition. We are already spending billions of dollars (maybe more) to combat these effects. While we cannot know which of these efforts will work, even the energy industries agree that some are effective. More importantly, even if the causes are disputed, climate change is an existential threat to mankind. I would rather spend trillions of dollars now in the hope of ameliorating at least some of the damage being done to the future well-being and health of my grandchildren and the hundreds of millions of other young people around the world.
There is one striking thing about all the letters. Although Jim Baird mentions St. Thomas Aquinas, no one mentions another Catholic leader: Pope Francis. The Pope makes two essential points in Laudato Si’. First, he affirms the existence of a global climate crisis and mankind’s central role in causing it. Second, he suggests that even if these findings aren’t true, we need to recognize that we have abrogated our duty to be loving caretakers of our planet by turning it into a trash heap.
Finally, as to criticisms that I’m an “alarmist,” I plead guilty. I am alarmed because the impact of climate change on our lives is alarming. Indeed, I am alarmed that reasonable people should think otherwise!
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