Kevin Drum has a post up which examines John McCain’s shiny new climate change policy, and concludes that while it’s certainly novel that a Republican candidate is willing to admit the existence of a climate crisis, and while the cap-and-trade scheme he describes is pretty bog standard mechanism for achieving progress, McCain’s specific plan has some serious flaws. You should read Kevin’s post, but here are a few highlights:
First, McCain’s plan’s goal is significantly more modest than Obama’s plan. It aims for a 60% reduction of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) by 2050. That sounds like a lot, but it’s not, particularly since, as Drum points out, any plan is likely to get watered down in Congress. Obama’s plan, by contrast, aims for an 80% reduction, which is a good deal better, though not perfect (even with a reduction to zero in the US, we’ll very likely still have a problem in developing countries – this is a cumulative problem, and we’re running out of time).
At least as significant a difference is that where most cap-and-trade emissions reduction schemes propose an auction of emissions permits, McCain’s initial permits are not auctioned, but given away. Emissions permits increase energy costs by their nature, and that increase tends to apply itself regressively, hitting poor people disproportionately, since they spend a larger percentage of income on things affected by energy costs.
McCain’s plan gives away the initial permits with the described intention of minimizing this cost, but it doesn’t work that way in real life. The opportunity cost of the permits force the price of the energy higher anyway – the only difference is that the increased prices are effectively a windfall for greenhouse gas emitters, since they just pocket the difference.
The proceeds of an auction can be used to help ameliorate the regressive effects of requiring the permits, in addition to funding some of the huge increase in research necessary to develop safe and clean energy alternatives. If you give away the initial permits, those funds are not available, and you’ve paid polluters for having polluted by making their former pollution a profit maker (since it’s a certainty that permits would be issued according to some perception of “need” driven by current pollution levels).
It’s a little like the McCain gas tax proposal, except that instead of transferring a burden from the driving public to the taxpayers at large so that the oil companies can increase their profits by not passing the entire savings on to the driving public, this plan actually imposes a cost on everyone in the form of increased energy costs, but makes sure that that extra money goes straight into the pockets of polluters.
Naomi Klein, in her recent book Shock Doctrine, talks at some length about how we’ve gotten in the habit of making sure recently that when we find and legislate against corporate wrongdoing, whether it is pollution, malfeasance, or criminal behavior, we always seem to make sure that the costs of that misbehavior are borne by the taxpayers, not the folks whose behavior the legislation is designed to restrict. McCain’s climate change policy is a classic example of that principle at work, and this time, we can’t afford it – the costs of making real progress on this problem are already going to be high enough without including the price of taking everyone who was getting rich by polluting the planet and making them richer by stopping.
Another fellow pilot and I had an exchange about the validity of the Science standards adopted by the Kansas state school board in 2005
Note: This is a long series of exchanges spread out over three posts, and edited from several more forum posts at the Cessna Pilots' Association forum (which, I'm sorry to say, is a members-only program). Please forgive me if it's unforgivably convoluted, but I wanted to save it here, because I enjoyed the exchange very much. I am indebted to my friend and fellow pilot for the stimulating discussion, even if I disagree with him in the most strenuous terms.
The Kansas Science Standards have been described as being intended to remedy a “limitation” of the current definition of science, one that is embodied in the line about science being defined as “seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us … through the use of observation, experimentation, and logical argument”. I would argue that this is a perfectly reasonable definition of science, and one that is both consistent with long-standing understanding of what scientists do and supportive of those aspects of scientific inquiry that are primarily responsible for the scientific method’s successes.
Science does seek explanations of the natural world that rely on observation and experiment. It always has been predicated on the assumption that there are physical, mechanistic, natural explanations for physical phenomena. Searching for those kinds of explanations is what science is about.
Does that mean that science can’t answer teleological questions or speak to the possibility of design in the natural world? YES, it does mean just exactly that! Those questions are important, and so is searching for answers to them, but until the day that someone comes up with a way to observe positive physical evidence in support of a particular position, that search is not a matter for science, it is a matter of faith.
There is a great deal that science can’t explain, and any marginally competent scientist will tell you so. That’s not a failing of science, and it in no way limits inquiry consistent with scientific method. It doesn’t limit inquiry or explanation that isn’t consistent with scientific method either, and those explanations may be right, but they’re not science. To insist that science be redefined so as to include any explanation for something, testable or not, is to fundamentally miss the point of scientific inquiry itself, and it does damage to both science and faith.
Science and faith have coexisted peaceably for generations, with both scientists and religious leaders recognizing that they move in essentially different spheres. In the mainstream churches of most religions, they still do, and they should, for science and faith are categorically different. The religious leaders who insist that inescapably teleological or religious views be incorporated into science curricula are not engaged in fixing a limitation of science. They have decided (on the basis of very little evidence) that science is hostile to faith, and they are engaged in an attempt to subjugate its conclusions to their own ends, to redefine science so that it serves God.
That’s an inescapably radical agenda, and one that tears at the foundations of both science and faith. Dress it up in whatever mental gymnastics please you, but it remains a dangerous recipe for producing both bad scientists and compromised religious leaders.
My interlocutor argued for the removal of the restriction to “natural” phenomena in the discussion of what constituted science:
"You argue for this definition of science
'seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us … through the use of observation, experimentation, and logical argument.'
While I contend that “seeking explanations for what we observe in the world around us … through the use of observation, experimentation, and logical argument” is a better one.
The key tenants of solid science are that;
1. Explanations are consistent with experimental
or observed data.
2. Explanations are testable by others by additional experiments or observation.
This leaves all explanations open to criticism and modification.
In your definition of science the presupposition of natural explanations is unassailable and violates the basic tenants of good science. Additionally it may also crosses the bounds between science and religion. Naturalism is the fundamental tenet of non-theistic religions/belief systems.
By defining as acceptable an explanation that is consistent with the data we can remove the belief part from science. You are correct that there is much that science today cannot answer and it should not suppose to do so."
As to the definition of science, I believe I understand the subtlety of the
distinction you draw, but I’m afraid we must continue to disagree. You have
correctly described the definition for which I argue, and while I understand
and respect your interest in explanations that are “open to criticism and
modification”, I also believe that natural explanations all
fall into this category.
It seems to me (and, as I understand it, the vast majority of scientists, who can be supposed to know more about this than I) that science is the study of the natural world, and that natural explanations are therefore the only ones that are scientifically testable. If we include supernatural explanations of natural phenomena as science, we have left the realm of those explanations that are “testable by others by additional experiments or observation”, and reached a dead end. Being “consistent with experimental or observed data” isn’t enough – the data have to provide some sort of active support for an explanation, or it’s not science. “Deus ex machina” makes both poor literature and poor science, and for very close to the same reason – we can learn nothing from it.
The question is one of utility. Mechanistic, “natural” explanations are repeatable, even by skeptics. Supernatural explanations require belief. To include them as valid science is to exclude a studied skepticism from science.
Supernatural explanations may be more important than scientific ones, but that is a criticism of scientific method itself, not of particular scientific theories. The mechanistic explanations garnered by scientific method over hundreds of years of research may be just a smokescreen for the active intervention of God, or Vishnu, or a collection of invisible and omnipotent bunny rabbits, but that possibility is (at least, currently) not falsifiable, and so not science.
That naturalism is a fundamental tenet of non-theistic belief systems is neither surprising nor threatening to religion. Naturalism may be a necessary condition for a non-theistic view of the world, but it isn’t a sufficient one – there are literally millions of religiously devout scientists that believe in both the power of scientific method and the mysteries of faith. Those people don’t have non-theistic belief systems, they just recognize that the questions answered by science and those answered by faith are different questions. I agree with them.
...and then he said (starting with an excerpted quote from my last post):
"'If we include supernatural explanations of natural phenomena as science, we have left the realm of those explanations that are “testable by others by additional experiments or observation”, and reached a dead end.'
And again you show the bias that I argue against. If we include the possibility of supernatural explanations of phenomena as science we can still remain in the realm of explanations that are testable by additional experiments or observations. Let me give you a very elementary example. You leave the house and all the ingredients for a cake are sitting on the kitchen counter. When you return there is a cake on the counter. You may conclude that someone made a cake from the ingredients. I conclude that someone took all the ingredients and left a cake. How do we decide which is the correct theory? We’ll if I happen to observe that the cake found was a chocolate one, yet the ingredients on the counter did not include chocolate then we will have to discard your theory!
Jumping to the question under discussion, evolution, how does this apply? The naturalist explanation for the varying forms of life present today is that natural forces caused gradual progressive changes from the simplest forms to the complex forms that exist today. And intelligent design advocate would say the changes that occurred were to some degree caused by other then a natural force. How do we resolve this choice? Which one better describes what we can observe in the fossil record? It is that simple and that effort fits within the definition of science-testable by others by additional observations."
...and I replied:
Perhaps I do demonstrate a bias in my definition of
science, but it's a bias in favor of evidence, and in favor of being
able to say “I don’t know yet” without having my world collapse around
me. Perhaps a better way to put it is to say that science concerns
itself not with why, but with how. In the example you
gave, neither of us has any idea how a cake came to sit on the counter,
and in fact, I would be as happy (or unhappy) with either explanation,
since both involve an outside agent for which there is no evidence in
your description (other than the existence of a cake, which is
Since it seems unlikely that we could regularly leave collections of ingredients on the counter and come back to find baked goods, I imagine our inquiry would involve trying to find and map new footprints on the kitchen floor, and trying to figure out some way to determine if the baker came in with cake or just a recipe and some chocolate (dirty utensils in the sink, residual warmth in the oven, crumbs on the driveway, a cakebox in the trash, and so on). If we could find no supporting evidence for the existence of a baker, though, we would be forced to consider the possibility that cakes can happen as a result of processes other than being baked by external forces. That we simply don’t yet understand the details of how they happen cannot stop us from considering that possibility.
The existence of varied life forms is hardly so simple a matter, as you know. We have no experience of cakes (or even cookies) baking themselves that I’m aware of, but we do have experimental evidence of processes in evolution that track that theory as a whole with remarkable precision. In the interest of saving you from another “grand tour”, I’ll spare you a recitation of the reams of evidence that support the conclusion that living “cakes” can bake themselves, but it’s there, and it has been steadily added to over 150 years of careful research.
Proponents of intelligent design argue that the fossil record’s gaps disprove the theory of evolution, or at least, require us to consider as science explanations that fill in those gaps. This is nothing more than the inability to accept the limits of what we have so far seen in the fossil record, and presupposing with Paley the existence of a “watchmaker” because we can see a “watch” and no other watch-generating agency. This is reducing life to cake-baking again, and it’s wildly simplistic.
The existence of a complete fossil record that showed every step along each evolutionary path to the present, would, in my view, be suspiciously tidy. I am therefore unconvinced by an argument that says essentially that the lack of such a fossil record throws evolutionary theory into significant scientific doubt. More importantly, though, there is no portion of the “watchmaker” theory that can be replicated in a lab, particularly since one of the primary characteristics of the watchmaker in question is His notoriously fickle inclination to make an appearance.
Science is the study of things that do reliably appear in the world, and that study has produced every one of the technological advances on which we now rely for our daily existence. To hobble further study by saying that we have to consider “God did it” as valid scientific theory is to render scientific inquiry unable to proceed past that point. If the proponents of intelligent design want to be considered as scientists, they might consider investigating how “God did it”, but as long as the answer to that question remains “We can’t know that – He’s God”, then that answer, while gratifying in that it provides an internally consistent explanation for anything, is profoundly unscientific.
...to which he replied (again excerpting some quotes from my post):
"'we would be forced to consider the possibility that cakes can happen as a result of processes other than being baked by external forces.'
Big grin here … I was not intending for the cake story to be an analogy for evolution but I can see how it might appear so. What I was trying to show is that observation can be used to figure out the baked here or not theory.
'Proponents of intelligent design argue that the fossil record’s gaps disprove the theory of evolution, or at least, require us to consider as science explanations that fill in those gaps … The existence of a complete fossil record that showed every step along each evolutionary path to the present, would, in my view, be suspiciously tidy. I am therefore unconvinced by an argument that says essentially that the lack of such a fossil record throws evolutionary theory into significant scientific doubt.'
The fossil record is a rather interesting topic as it is the primary observation that the theory of evolution is trying to explain but is also one of its major contravening observation. The gaps in the fossil record do not disprove the theory of evolution, but the theory of evolution's inability to explain them is a major problem with that theory that should not be glossed over. Yes a complete fossil record that showed every step along each evolutionary path is too much to ask for, but the lack of even one case of macroevolution, a major part of the theory of evolution, being present in the fossil record is very damaging. A major test of any theory is that it can accurate predict the results of tests. Evolution predicts that a fossil record of the evolution of new species will be found. It has yet to happen and the failure of this test for well over 100 years is no small issue. Darwin himself pointed this problem out. And conversely the observation of sudden appearances in the fossil records of numerous life forms that have no conceivable ancestors in the fossil record is also disturbing. A few would be no big deal, but hundreds is a problem. All of these observations demand that explanations other then gradual progressive changes should be considered."
...and I said:
Glad I got you to grin, as that was my intent. The comparison between cake-making and watchmaking was striking, though.
It's been some time since I've been really conversant with the details of the research I'm alluding to, and I don't claim to be a biologist, so I'm probably not a very good guide, but we aren't short of them. Richard Dawkins' answer to Paley, The Blind Watchmaker and Stephen Jay Gould's The Structure of Evolutionary Theory are both more eloquent and more erudite than I can be on the subject, and both are well worth the time (in Gould's case the considerable time) it takes to read them.
As I understand it, it is somewhat misleading to describe macroevolution separately as a central tenet of evolutionary biology. The changes that define "speciation" (ability to interbreed) aren't those that would appear in a fossil record, so there is unlikely to be an "Aha!" moment in the search for macroevolutionary evidence. I suppose the development of forensic DNA testing holds some small hope, but the Earth recycles its living tissue very efficiently, and what we can see in the fossil record is only a purely random snapshot of a tiny percentage of those creatures who have lived, so it's by no means certain that we'll find evidence in such DNA tests, nor is it my understanding that any evolutionary biologist is currently willing to stake his reputation on so improbable a proof. Where, other than in the writings of those who want to oversimplify the theory of evolution in order to poke holes in it, do you find the statement that "Evolution predicts that a fossil record of the evolution of new species will be found" as anything other than a possibility?
What I know of the process by which species become different is limited, but I understand it includes a tiny mutation that prevents interbreeding followed by others which gradually differentiate the two new species from one another. In that sense, speciation is an extension of the variation within species that is well-established, and that has been replayed in a number of labs.
We're still talking past one another to some extent in this discussion, though, and the tests of the theory of evolution are somewhat beside the point, since they are internecine arguments among those who all accept the validity of "naturalistic" explanations.
The real problem, as I see it (and as I've perhaps been clumsy in trying to express) is that science is at its core a reductive enterprise, and God is not reducible. Even if the explanations provided in Genesis are literal truths, and man was created at the end of six days of work by the Almighty, and all the evidence for evolution that we have seen is simply a false trail (all possibilities I admit I find incredibly remote at best, but possible), intelligent design isn't science because at its core, it relies on an unknown and unknowable agency for its explanations.
Science has at its base the drive to construct "rules" or "theories" about the physical world, and God doesn't have to obey any rules. His handiwork may well be all around us, but it is impossible to explain it scientifically, because science is the study of how things come to be the way they are, and there are no how "rules" that apply to God. What we "know" is no less mysterious than what we don't, and more importantly, neither one ever will be less mysterious, because there is no way to investigate it.
It's possible that God made the rules about how the world works, and that the study of science is the study of those rules, but if the rules are so incoherent as to require regular "tweaking" by the Almighty to produce the world around us, then a) God's not a very good designer, and b) science is meaningless. If intelligent design is science, then the basic principle of science that there is a repeatable, mechanistic explanation for the world we live in, is wrong. Scientific explanations aren't just undiscovered yet, they're undiscoverable and therefore essentially illusory. People respond to medical treatment because God has decided they will, not because doctors know anything about how we get sick and get better. Crops grow because God says so, not because we know anything about farming. Bridges stand up because God in His wisdom, likes bridges. Airplanes fly because God wants them to, and for no other reliable reason.
Whether that attack on the usefulness of science is intentional or not, that's a mighty big baby you're throwing out with that bathwater.
...and then he said:
" 'The comparison between cake-making and watch-making was striking, though.'
Absolutely, and I can see how you made that connection. However it was not my intent at the time I wrote it, I was just hungry! By the way, for analogies I prefer Behe’s mouse trap.
'We're still talking past one another to some extent in this discussion, though, and the tests of the theory of evolution are somewhat beside the point, since they are internecine arguments among those who all accept the validity of "naturalistic" explanations.'
When I got to this part of your post, I chunk out all my carefully crafted replies about the tests of the theory of evolution as this is really the heart of our discussion. I think you meant to say “those who only accept”. If I’m wrong tell me.
'science is the study of how things come to be the way they are'
Yes, I agree but what is so threatening about the answer to the how question being God? That does not overturn anything that is already observed about how the world works. You appear to be afraid that if God somehow guided the development of the world that it would overturn all of science. I don’t buy it. Take this statement as an example,
People respond to medical treatment because God has decided they will, not because doctors know anything about how we get sick and get better.
If you believe that God is active in the world then you might restate this as follows. People respond to medical treatment because God has decided they will respond to treatment and doctors understand how they will. Why do the “laws” of science work the way they do? Fundamentally we don’t know. We know how to describe how lots of things work but we do not know why they work that way. Why is the gravitational constant the value it is? We don’t know, nor do we need to know to send a man to the moon. We just have to know what it is. Why is the value of the cosmological constant what it is? Again we don’t know, but Einstein’s equations don’t work without it!"
...and I replied in turn:
“…I prefer Behe’s mousetrap.”
The problem with Behe’s mousetrap analogy is that it assumes that all the parts of the mousetrap must have been developed at once as a mousetrap, and that implies the design of a mousetrap. If you assume that the only reason for the development and selection of an inherited trait is the use to which it’s finally put, Behe’s mousetrap is a real puzzle, but the problem is that there is no reason to make such an assumption. It’s a classic piece of question-begging to do so and then to say that the conclusion driven by that assumption must therefore be valid.
“…what is so threatening about the answer to the how question being God?”
I don’t feel threatened by the proposition that God made the rules at all, nor do I think many scientists are, as long as the rules remain. I personally know a couple of “naturalist” scientists whose faith informs their belief in something very much along those lines. I don’t happen to believe that with them, but if the rules remain, one’s belief or lack of it is irrelevant to the study of the rules themselves, and science is the study of those rules.
Intelligent design implies something else altogether. It says that at some point, God came along and fiddled those rules to produce a result unobtainable by following them. Not just that He could fiddle the rules, but that He did, at critical points. If that’s so, then the rules are meaningless. The gravitational and cosmological constants are constant not because there is some reason for them that we don’t know yet but might someday find out, but because it’s God’s will that they be so.
If that’s true, and if, as we are told, God’s ways are irreducibly mysterious, then all of science is engaging in a pointless exercise, because it attempts to learn something that is not just unknown, but unknowable. That’s a dead end, and I don’t buy it. More to the point, it implies that further study of the mechanics of how the world works (i.e., science) is a waste of time that could be better spent in prayer. That may be a perfectly acceptable conclusion for some, but not one that I want to see my child taught in science class. Such a science class is not teaching science, but theology. I learned a great deal from studying theology in school, and I think studying it is very worthwhile, but nobody pretended it was science, and nobody should.
He replied that :
"You appear to argue that each of the parts of the mousetrap may have developed with some other function."
...and I replied to that (along with some other related back-and-forth):
They may have, or, as others far more well versed in evolutionary theory than I have repeatedly pointed out, some parts of them may have developed as less sophisticated mousetraps. We don't know, but the existence of a mousetrap doesn't require that it have been arrived at all at once - it may have been arrived at in steps, and refined over time. (This analogy is stretched as thin as it will go here, particularly since mousetraps and other inanimate objects, like cakes, were designed. The same need not be so for living organisms - again I refer you to Richard Dawkins.)
I'm not sure that I can think of another way to say what I've been saying, and we may have to leave it here with an agreement to disagree. I'm not saying that it's inconcievable that God's hand is at work in the variety of species, the laws of physics, or anything else that science studies. What I'm saying is that if that's so, it's a fact that is outside the scope of the study of the rules that govern the physical world, and therefore not science. It may be right, but it's not science, and to include such a wild card in the deck of those rules is to obviate what science studies. It may be there, but it's unstudiable by definition, and therefore not science by definition.
You would like to change that definition. I think such a change is dangerous and inconsistent - inconsistent for the reasons we have been discussing, and dangerous because I don't want to see scientific inquiry on trial in ecclesiastical courts, which are venues that have already demonstrated their incompetence in such matters repeatedly over the course of history.