Galileo Galilei's encounter with the Church is the quintessential example of the quest for scientific truth being subverted by powerful gatekeepers of dogma. The Church has long since lost its gate keeping status but that does not mean that powerful gatekeepers have disappeared. In fact, a powerful new community of gate keepers has emerged in my lifetime. Here is how it came about.
The Manhattan Project of World War II was one of the most significant scientific feats of the 20th Century. An incredible level of cooperation across institutions and disciplines rendered the atomic bomb. President Roosevelt was so impressed by the achievements of this team of scientists that he asked MIT Engineer and White House official Vannevar Bush to pursue the possibility of ongoing scientific research sponsored by the federal government.
Bush came back with a report called Science: The Endless Frontier. The report extolled the ability of government to address a host human dilemmas through the coordination and funding of scientific research. In response, President Truman signed in to law legislation that would create the National Science Foundation which would answer to the office of the President.
By 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower was expressing concern about the growing involvement of the federal government in science research. In his farewell address January 17, 1961, he said:
The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present -- and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must always be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become a captive of a scientific-technological elite.
The National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy have become major sources for scientific funding. Funding is awarded based on the scientific paradigms and priorities of the government. Initially funding focused on health and military research. During the 1960s, Kennedy promoted his ambitious plans to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade and Johnson declared War on Poverty, conjuring up the idea of the united war effort during WWII. Coordinated scientific efforts played major roles in these programs.
Meanwhile, Rachel Carson published her book in 1962, entitled Silent Spring, which more or less ignited the modern environmentalist movement. Then Paul Ehrlich published his book Population Bomb in 1968, where he predicted depleted fuel resources, massive famines, and host of other disasters based on scientific assessments. Four years later came the Club of Rome report Limits to Growth. It echoed and expanded on similar themes including a proposal to divide the world into ten governmental units to "manage" the scarce resources for the world. A few years later in 1980, the Carter Administration produced the Global 2000 Report which repeated more of the same. So, what happened over the past 25 years? World population grew at a much reduced rates than anyone predicted, hunger and famine have been dramatically reduced, and even with the present fuel shortage prices in the United States we are still below 1970s inflation adjusted prices.
By the end of the 1980s, many of the global disaster prophecies were beginning to look pretty silly. Government was still declaring its new wars on social issues. The latest was the War on Drugs. With looming global disaster fading from the scene as "war targets," grounded space exploration, and free market mechanisms successfully addressing many economic issues, new justifications were needed for science expenditures. Fortunately, a new global disaster emerged on the scene: Global warming.
During the 1990s, with assistance of a more than sympathetic administration, global warming became the funding topic of the day. The United Nations was already very much on the bandwagon with this concern. Just as with past administrations in the USA, the government set the paradigms and parameters for funding.
Now, if your organization's funding is at all government dependent, how likely are you to report back to the government that the scientific paradigm they are using is bogus? If you like working at scientific research and like to eat, it is not likely. Thus, a reinforcing feedback loop has been created. The government keeps funding research and they keep hearing what they want to hear. But it doesn't end there.
For a research scientist, an essential activity for advancement is peer-reviewed publications. How does this work? A journal receives a study for potential publication. It is submitted to leading scientists with expertise in the field the study addresses. Who are these expert reviewers? Most often, they are the ones who have been successful at working the government funding game to get money for research. (Journals keep confidential who reviews what studies.) Guess what happens when research comes along that threatens the paradigm, which is the government's paradigm, which is in turn the ultimate source of the reviewer's salary? Consequently, challenge to paradigms becomes daunting far beyond just the intellectual and factual challenges. Challenge the dogma of the gatekeepers and you learn what Galileo learned.
The global warming paradigm, as funded by the government, is described well by Patrick J. Michaels in his book Meltdown.
The earth's surface temperature is influenced by human activity, and changes that are being measured today are largely consequences of that activity. We are developing the ability to quantify those changes from basic physical principles, and have determined that the major cause of recent climate change is the emission of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuel. Improved quantification of those changes will give policymakers improved guidance on what might be required to slow, stop, or reverse those changes.
The evidence is not bearing this out. A better paradigm that describes the facts is:
The earth's surface temperature is influenced by human activity, and changes that are being measured today are largely consequences of that activity. We know, to a very small range of error, the amount of future climate change for the foreseeable future and it is a modest value to which humans have adapted and will continue to adapt. There is no known, feasible policy that can stop or even slow these changes in a fashion that could be scientifically measured.
The fact is that most of the alarmist stories about global warming in publications like Time, Newsweek, and major newspapers are refuted almost as quickly as they are published. The same is true for publications like Science or Nature. Sometimes they are refuted as misrepresentations of the findings by the very researchers who conducted the studies. These refutations are rarely published or given the same consideration as the alarmist stories that make the front page.
The United Nations, progressives (often championing collectivist solutions), the press, and significant pockets within the scientific community, are intermeshed in support of the paradigm. Their interlocking vested interests are highly resistant to challenge.
The solution to global warming by these gate keepers are things like the draconian Kyoto Protocols. One of the Protocols' provisions is that the United States reduce its carbon dixoide emission levels to rates 5% below 1900s averages. Why not 10%? 25%? 2%? There is no rationale because no direct link can be shown between the emissions and the environmental effects.
As Christians we have a responsibility to be environmental stewards. We also have a responsibility to discern truth. Our stewardship should spring out of our appreciation for the world God has given us rather than from alarmist half-truths and errors that aim to limit open and free societies out of fear. The global warming movement is less about science and more about people, wittingly and unwittingly, seeking limitations on free societies based on foundationless fear. Let the church not make the same mistake it made 400 years ago by standing with dogma, whatever its source, against scientific inquiry.