Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Arguing About Causation

At Planet Gore, John Hood has dreamed up something called The Climate Religion Test. The premise is simple enough: If Hood can prove that your concern over climate change is “essentially religious,” you lose the debate (because as all good conservatives know, religious notions must not be allowed to infect science, nor to influence public policy).

The thing is – and I can’t stress this enough - you have to be fair enough to meet Hood halfway. He can’t demonstrate that you’re a fearmongering obscurantist with a sinister hidden agenda unless you’re willing to concede the point right off the bat:

Here's a handy way to test the real motivations and intentions you face when debating a climate-change alarmist. Give him this challenge:

Just for the sake of argument, assume that skeptics are right about one thing only — that human-generated carbon dioxide is not a significant contributor to the global warming trend of the past century, nor will it be a significant contributor to the future warning trend.
Once you’ve granted Hood this small favor, you’ll see how easy it is for him to dismantle your sophistries and prove that they lack any rational foundation.
Assume that everything else the alarmists claim is true….Assume that land ice will melt, dump into the sea, and push sea levels up. Assume more flooding, more powerful storms, more precip in places that don't need it and less precip in places that do. Assume that polar bears and bullfrogs will die. Assume kudzu and other weeds will swallow the countryside. And so on.

Even if the warning trend is a natural phenomenon, caused by sunspots or other cycles uncaused by human action, shouldn't we try to stop it, anyway? Why are we arguing about causation?
Dude, seriously. You, like, already admitted that the skeptics are right. So why are you still talking about cutting emissions? If you really wanted to stop global warming, you’d do something about…you know…whatever it is that’s causing it.

Here’s the clincher:
If your sparring partner argues that human beings shouldn't interfere with a natural process, then he is giving the game away. His goal is not to maximize benefits and minimize costs associated with climate changes. His goal is to change human action for other reasons, and his motivation is essentially religious.
Fair enough, I guess. But by that standard, the project of maximizing benefits and minimizing costs is “essentially religious” too.

Putting that point aside, I think readers who decide to experiment with Hood’s argument are going to be disappointed, unless they’re content to sit in a remodeled basement debating a hand puppet. Disease and drought are also “natural processes," but most people are willing to take steps to prevent them or mitigate their effects, regardless of their political views.

Next week: Hood proves to hairy-legged feminists that abortion is immoral by asking them to concede “for the sake of argument” that fundamentalists are correct in calling it murder.


Thers said...

Yumm! That's some tasty sophistry, right there...

Anonymous said...

But by that standard, the project of maximizing benefits and minimizing costs is “essentially religious,” too.

Well, duh!