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Stardate 15.027

Ascent out of Darkness ~ Armchair Philosophy from the 'Silly Beliefs' Team


Paying for their parents' sins
Recently Patrick sent us the following observation, and it once again highlights how some arrogant religious-minded people push beliefs that, if they were true, would actually be quite immoral.
'I don't know if it's the case in New Zealand, but in my country many people say that when something bad happens to someone he or she is paying for their parents' sins. And I say to myself that if people reason like that in my country, it must also be the case in several other countries. I think that it's an excellent example of "silly belief".

There's sometimes a hint of truth in peoples' silly beliefs, but this drop of truth gets dissolved in an ocean of absurdity. Let's say that one or both of Hector's parents are compulsive gamblers. It's therefore very likely that Hector will be living in poverty (at least during his youth). Yes, that's because of his parents mistake. But to proclaim (and many people do, at least where I live) that everything bad that happens to people is because they are paying for their parents' sins is simply grotesque. It's not only intellectually absurd but it's also offensive for the parents.

In fact there is probably a correlation between this way of thinking and the famous "Original Sin". Humanity is paying for Adam and Eve's original sin. We must be really lucky that God loves us and is sinless.

Oh, really?'

We're certainly familiar with the belief that problems in life can be blamed on the sins of the parents, and it is indeed a silly belief. Of course there are real physical examples, such as gambler parents, where their mistakes in life would likely impact on their children's wellbeing, but when we hear this claim most often it normally refers to a supernatural cause, where children are being targeted and punished specifically because of something their parents did. It's not the parents directly harming their children, even unintentionally, but some god judging their parents and deciding for some obscene reason to punish the children for the actions of their parents. Thankfully this accusation is seldom expressed publicly in NZ these days, although I'm sure there are still religious fundamentalists that express it privately. In the USA when bad things happen to innocent people you still hear many fundamentalists attributing this suffering as indirect punishment from God. And with reincarnation, people such as Hindus claim that suffering in a present life is caused by bad actions in a previous life. The present innocent person is being punished even though someone else, a person they are utterly unaware of, performed the wrongful action, and escaped punishment. Many people from past times believed that disasters and disease were a punishment from the gods for some wrongdoing committed by someone. If you got the plague it was deliberate punishment for some past action on somebody's part, not necessarily the person who actually ends up suffering.

According to a character in a TV episode of the animated comedy 'South Park', and remembering that they are usually commenting on real issues that concern Americans, if someone is born with a deformity it was because their parents had laughed at a handicapped person before they were born, or, according to the Catholic Church, your parents simply had sex in a position other than the missionary position.

But why would people think that innocent children are punished by a god because of what their parents might have done? Is there any reason to believe this horrendous sounding claim could be true? Well, if you're not too bright and religious, then yes there is. The Bible clearly states, many times (and these passages apply to Jews, Christians and Muslims), that completely innocent children will be punished by God for 'the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation', and in some cases right through to the tenth generation. Here are some examples of children that will be punished because of what their parents did (or didn't do):

'And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God... does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."' EX 34:6-7

'The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.' NU 14:18

'...for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me...' DT 5:9

'No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation.' DT 23:2

'Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. Do not abhor an Egyptian, because you lived as an alien in his country. The third generation of children born to them may enter the assembly of the LORD.' DT 23:7-8

And look at how the innocent children and wife of a man who sinned are to be treated:
'May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes... May no one... take pity on his fatherless children. May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation. May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out. May their sins always remain before the LORD, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.' PS 109:9-15
It disgusts me that Christians go on about 'family first' and yet this is how they expect their God and you and I to treat an innocent family. And Jesus later continues this hatred of families with statements such as,
'If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life — he cannot be my disciple'. LK 14:26
Conversely there are also promises from God that later generations will receive rewards and protection from God, even if they aren't deserving of this:
'The LORD said to Jehu, "Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation."' 2KI 10:30
As stupid as the belief is, people that are true believers certainly have good reasons to see God's handiwork in anything bad that happens. If the Bible is telling the truth, then without doubt bad things happen to good people because of the sins that their parents (or grandparents, greatgrandparents etc) committed.

But as Patrick says, this notion is both grotesque and offensive. Where is the justice in punishing a child for a wrongful act committed by a parent before they were even born? Is it just and right to punish a person who is without any doubt completely innocent of the crime they are being punished for? Surely true justice should punish the guilty party, and only the guilty party?

Clearly God is attempting to get people to follow his rules by instilling fear into his followers, and he does this by threatening innocent children. No doubt then as now some people were prepared to commit wrongful acts and suffer the consequences if they were caught. But how many of them would have committed illegal acts if they believed their own innocent children and grandchildren would be the ones that would be mistreated, imprisoned, tortured and/or killed in their stead? And who but a monster would deliberately torture and kill a child for a crime committed by his dead grandfather? Why do Christians (and Jews and Muslims) freely worship a being that not only threatens innocent children, but makes good on his threats, blowing them up in wars, drowning them in floods, burning them in fires, afflicting them with disease and targeting them for rape by his priests? Imagine if a human dictator behaved like this. A man robs a bank and escapes justice, so the dictator simply arrests his young children and has them executed. A man rapes a woman but dies of a heart attack when he is arrested, so his 6 month-old baby girl is arrested in his place and given life imprisonment. Imagine if this dictator's police were to knock on your door right now and arrest you for something your great grandfather did a hundred years ago. It's no good saying you didn't do it, that you're innocent. They know only too well that you didn't commit the crime, you're being punished for something someone else did. And what defence is there against a charge such as that? You could say it's not just or fair, that it's immoral, but you'd be reminded that what is just and moral is whatever the person in charge says it is. How long would it take before a popular revolt happened and the dictator was dragged from power and found himself imprisoned or executed? Name one society from history where people willingly supported such blatant injustice?

Of course you might be tempted to name some Jewish, Christian or Muslim societies. But the reality is that I've never encountered a Jew, Christian or Muslim that for one moment would willingly support such injustice and blatant cruelty. If confronted with the suffering of one of their children, they would all plead with God that he can't torture their child because of something they did, and they would angrily argue with an atheist like me that he would never do such a disgusting thing. They would in fact essentially deny the passages in their holy book that categorically asserts that their god is a right vicious bastard. Decent Jews, Christians and Muslims can only worship their god by denying the many embarrassing and offensive passages that clearly depict him as a sadistic demon rather than a loving god.

But let's assume that some ignorant believers truly accept that bad things happen to them, their children or their community because of some wrongdoing committed by others, perhaps by others that are long dead. A lot of people are clearly stupid enough to believe this, but are they stupid enough to accept this as fair? My experience is that even stupid, uneducated people are generally very quick to complain when they believe they are being treated unfairly. If they are fired from their job or refused access to a bar or sense discrimination or are denied some benefit etc then they quickly, and perhaps rightly, seek legal redress. In the world controlled by humans they don't stand for injustice. So they clearly recognise human injustice, so I can't accept that they can't see the gross injustice involved in their God punishing innocent children. So how do they balance the contradictory Biblical beliefs that their god is a loving, just god and also a vicious, unjust god stalking the world killing children? Of course they can't explain this example of cognitive dissonance. They start mumbling and usually deny that God would punish the innocent, which means that they're now again arguing that the Bible is wrong in places. When I point this out they usually end up explaining, in essence, that they don't accept the passages in the Bible that they don't like or agree with. I didn't realise that we had a choice, that we could pick and choose what sort of god we wanted. I'm forever amazed that Christians aren't troubled by the realisation that they are as disbelieving about many Biblical claims about God as are atheists.

Of course a few fundamentalists do openly accept that God is causing the deaths of the innocent, but insist that this is forced on him by people that sin, that break his commandments. We are warned in the Bible so we only have ourselves to blame. They realise that it is unjust in human terms of justice, but God works in mysterious ways we're told, and we can't apparently comprehend his level of divine justice. They accept that if a human leader acted as God does then he should be arrested and punished, but that we can't judge God's behaviour the way we judge our fellow humans. But this raises a problem. If we can't understand and judge God's behaviour, then how do we know that what he does is indeed right, good and just? If we don't know or understand God, how can we judge him? Let's say I know someone called Bob who has just travelled to Australia, and I asked you whether he could be trusted in what he's doing in Australia. Of course you would answer that you can't judge Bob as a good person since you know nothing about him. If I then revealed some of his activities you would then likely judge him on how he compared with what you considered moral behaviour.

Generally we can all agreed on what we consider is right, good and just behaviour for a human, who we accept isn't perfect, so shouldn't God's behaviour run in the same direction as ideal human behaviour, just at a much higher level? While we may not understand God's reasoning, we can certainly see how God behaves. He punishes innocent children for the sins of their fathers, and this behaviour if committed by a human would be judged as abhorrent. So why do true believers condemn humans for harming innocent children but at the same time worship God for doing the same thing? If humans are only capable of judging human behaviour, if that is our only yardstick and if God's actions are beyond us, shouldn't our logic argue that based on all we know about justice, then God's behaviour with innocent children, being so different from what we aspire to, is likely very wrong? After all, what alternative arguments do we have that punishing the innocent might sometimes work better?

And it's not just God punishing children for the sins of the father, God is infamous, if the Bible is to be believed, for wiping out entire communities, cities and even life on the entire planet because of the sins of one or a few. Men, women and children, God had no problem with slaughtering untold innocent folk as punishment for a sin or moral transgression committed by others that they had likely never even heard of. In the Flood of Noah, because of the behaviour of some in the Middle East, God also killed every innocent man, woman and child in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas even though they had never heard of God or knew that they might be breaking some of his commandments. In modern times we have fundamentalists insisting that disasters such as Hurricane Katrina striking New Orleans or the earthquakes that hit Christchurch were actually caused by God as punishment for many in society becoming accepting or tolerant of homosexuality or abortion or prostitution or ... well, the list is endless of the things that true believers and their god are offended by. While some homosexuals or prostitutes no doubt suffered in these disasters, many people that were punished most likely weren't at all tolerant of homosexuality and prostitution, and yet they were made to suffer like everyone else. Being innocent won't save you from God's anger at others, so what advantage does being a believer bring in this life? And it's not just Christians who have no problem with their god punishing innocent people. Do you remember the Islamic cleric who argued that women in revealing clothing cause Allah to punish us with earthquakes, or the Malaysian locals that claimed that some naked tourists offended their invisible mountain spirits, and these spirits went on to punish some innocent tourists some days later? If some human leader, official or government targeted and punished the innocent and ignored the real guilty party, all these human believers in gods would demand justice while calling for the leader or official to be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity. And yet when their god does the same but on a far greater scale, they drop to their knees and praise him for punishing the innocent rather than the guilty, and implore that we do the same.

OK, so it's easy to assert, but is there any good evidence that 'problems in life can be blamed on the sins of the parents'? We would argue that there is not. We all know of people, both from history and from our own lives, who have suffered some misfortune apparently through no fault of their own, and while you could argue that they are being punished by God for the sins of their fathers, you could equally argue that they are being attacked by evil fairies or trans-dimensional aliens or a witch's curse. There is no evidence that any of these beings are the cause of the innocent suffering. We laugh at people when they blame gremlins for their bad luck, we should do likewise when they blame some god.

The problem is that if someone insists on 'the sins of the parents' argument, there is no way of proving that this is bogus as there is no way of proving that our long dead ancestors didn't commit some sin that we don't know of. We can argue that our ancestors were decent, good, god-fearing people, but of course we can't really know this with any certainty. We may 'know' that they weren't murderers, rapists or criminals of any stripe, but let's remember that there are some 613 commandments in the Bible that most people break on a regular basis and numerous other ways that one can sin in the eyes of God. Your ancestors may have been decent people in human ethical terms, but flagrant sinners in God's eyes. For example, working on the Sabbath, which is Saturday, not Sunday, is a serious sin, it's one of the Ten Commandments, wearing clothing made of two different fabrics is a sin, and then there's the one about sexual thoughts and cute women in mini skirts:

'"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' MT 5:27-28
OK, so it doesn't mention mini skirts, or even that the women have to be of a certain cuteness, but I'm still screwed. While people that know me would say that I'm a decent person, in God's eyes I have committed virtual adultery untold times, and worse still, I show no signs of reforming. And as I write this Xmas approaches, so did your parents or grandparents ever erect and decorate a Xmas tree? Are you familiar with this Biblical passage?:
'This is what the LORD says: "Do not learn the ways of the nations ... For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.' JER 10:2-4
Clearly God will not be pleased with your Xmas tree, even if you do stick an angel on top. So no matter how upright you think you are or your ancestors were, the reality is that everyone sins in God's eyes, so Christians can always argue that bad things happen because of something your ancestors did. You can't deny that your ancestors sinned, because clearly they would have, even if it was something that you might consider as utterly innocuous and hardly worthy of real punishment. So every fundamentalist can argue that bad things happen to good people because their ancestors will have definitely sinned in some way, and we skeptics can't deny this, but at the same time neither the believer nor the skeptic can show a real connection between the present bad event or the unknown sin that is claimed to have caused it. We know bad things happen to innocent people, but we can't prove that some ancient sin did or didn't cause it. But we can prove the opposite.

By this I mean we know that some people have had really great lives with nothing bad happening to them, but at the same time we know that their father or grandfather etc most definitely sinned in the eyes of God, and not just a bit of lusting, but murder, rape, torture, slavery and other heinous crimes. From history and from our own communities we know of people that haven't been punished because of the sins of the father. Children of murderers or rapists or atheists often lead good lives sans the punishment that the Bible promises. Even though we may not know why most innocent people are being punished by God since we don't know what their fathers did, we know exactly what murderers and rapists did and so we should see without exception predictable suffering in the lives of every one of their children. And yet we don't. Every child and grandchild of a man guilty of some serious crime should have real suffering visited upon them, no matter how much they strive to distance themselves from their ancestor's deeds and try to lead good lives. Suffering is what God has promised, and surely we must believe that God can be trusted to do what he promised. But again, clearly there is no connection with the present suffering of children and the blatant evil deeds of their dead ancestors. Likewise we see cities where crime is rampant, where prostitution is widespread, where homosexuality is anything but hidden and where abortion clinics are legal. We know of popular beaches where nudity is common and countries where atheism has overtaken religion. But these cities and countries which we're told are offensive to God don't suffer from disasters, or God's wrath, any more often than do cities and countries that go out of their way to please God. In fact, the more irreligious a city or country is, generally the safer it is to live there. There is without doubt more suffering from disasters, disease, poverty, famine, warfare and religious hatred in countries where religion controls the minds of the population. It's almost as if God can only punish you, or your kids, if you choose to believe in him.

And Patrick is correct, there is correlation between 'Adam and Eve's original sin' and God choosing to punish the innocent rather than the guilty. Unfamiliar with social niceties, God's utter confusion on how to deal fairly with the carefree nudist couple in the newly established Eden resort was where it all started. When they ate the forbidden fruit that God had foolishly placed in the fruit section of their supermarket, God made terrible choices that would forever damage his claim of being a wise, loving and just god. We all know the story, but the true believers gloss over how naïve and childlike Adam and Eve must have been. They weren't like your typical nudist couple that you might meet today, well yes they were totally naked, but appearances (and lusting) aside, if you got to chatting you would have found that they were the most ignorant people you'd ever met, knowing little more about the world and life than does a crash test dummy. It's not that they weren't intelligent, it's just that they were very young, probably less than a year old, very inexperienced and with no access to education. Then along comes a talking serpent, I mean you and I would be suspicious right there and then, but not Eve. But in Eve's defence, she apparently knew enough to know that God was keeping them ignorant, so she ate from 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil' because, according to the Bible, she was 'desirable for gaining wisdom'. But as we know, God was extremely pissed by this turn of events, even though being all-knowing he already knew this was going to happen even before he created her. I guess this is like pretending to act surprised at a surprise party that you knew about in advance. So anyway, then God punishes Adam and Eve for making the wrong choices, but let's recall that before they ate the fruit neither Adam or Eve knew what the concepts of right and wrong, good and evil were. They only gained this wisdom after the fact, by eating the fruit, and yet God punished them as if they already possessed the 'knowledge of good and evil' when they made the uninformed choice to take a bite. This is like a parent punishing a two-year-old toddler for trying to drink alcohol, even though it will be many years before the child will understand how alcohol differs from other drinks. All a responsible parent should do is keep the alcohol away from little hands, he shouldn't pour it into a glass and put it the toddler's crib next to some fizzy drink. So right here God makes a very unjust, totally unfair and frankly irrational decision to punish Adam and Eve as if they were knowledgeable and rational adults, rather than as the naïve children they really were, albeit in adult bodies. Clearly God doesn't have the knowledge or ability to fairly judge anyone. His treatment of Adam and Eve is a gross injustice, but unfortunately his ineptitude doesn't end there. God decides that not only will he punish Adam and Eve for disobeying him, he will also punish billions and billions of people that haven't even been born yet for a sin that they had no part in. What could be fairer than that, condemning everyone that will ever live to unnecessary suffering, and not because they did something wrong, but because they did nothing wrong? This is like a judge sentencing a rapist to life imprisonment, then going on to sentence his tearful victim to life imprisonment too, but he doesn't stop there, he then sentences everyone in the courtroom to life imprisonment; family members, lawyers, police officers and those in the public gallery, everyone. We would consider a judge that did this insane and remove him from any position of authority, and yet true believers willingly throw their full support behind their heavenly judge when he falsely condemns not just a single courtroom, but an entire species.

That silly religious folk in this modern age can still believe that some god is poking around in our lives, putting rainbows in the sky, causing disasters and stuffing souls into babies is bad enough, but that they also support this god when he kills innocent children because of something someone else did, often something quite piddling, then that is a belief that is obscene, monstrous, shameful and reprehensible. I truly don't know how they can openly admit to belief in such a fiend.

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 17 Dec, 2015 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend

How to fake a haunted house
With Halloween nearly upon us, last night the producers of TV3's 'Story' decided to use their investigative skills to run a story about ghosts that apparently frequent a haunted house in little old NZ. Recent investigations on the program have been into the laws around purchasing firearms and whether bacon and processed meat is carcinogenic, so viewers surely view their stories as important, serious and well researched, and not just some silly bullshit that we would find in the tabloids, as told to them by a friend of Kim Kardashian.

But of course viewers were mislead, the piece was apparently nothing more than a cheap promo for a NZ-made horror movie that is due for release on Halloween. I have no problem with movie promos, the problem I have is that the 'Story' item tried to convince us that the haunted house that was the inspiration for the movie was real and they were going to give us an exclusive look at it. So secret was the location of this haunted house that, mirroring something from international espionage, the investigative reporter and cameraman had to submit to being blindfolded so they couldn't see where they were being taken. All they knew is that the 'historic rural farmhouse' was somewhere in Central Otago. On TV3's website it reads that:

'In the backblocks of Otago lies a house so haunted the owner does not want anyone to know where it is. But Story found it.
Two filmmakers were so inspired by the house they decided to make a film about it...
Story went to investigate the house which has been captured on the big screen and so scary... '
OK, so according to this article — 'Central Otago haunted house legend captured on film' — the movie called 'The Dead Room', directed by Jason Stutter and co-written by Stutter and Kevin Stevens, is based on the urban legend of two science teachers who in the early 1970s visit the historic rural farmhouse to debunk claims the house is haunted. They reportedly flee because of some terrifying and unexplained events'. So it's actually just a silly urban legend involving two people and no real details. Clearly the writers sensed that there wasn't a movie in that skimpy urban legend, so we're told that 'when they put pen to paper in 2012, the story turned into a classic horror about two paranormal investigators who hire the services of a reluctant spirit medium who goes with them to the house where a powerful spirit resides, protecting the house's secrets at all costs'. In other words, the movie plot is fictional, and merely inspired by the fact that people sometimes get scared in what they naively believe is a haunted house. But the movie's promoters clearly thought that the movie could profit by having a real house that it was all based on, so we're told that,
'During the pair's research they tracked down the house's location and its owner.
"We asked if we could check it out and he didn't initially want us to. He was worried about people knowing where it was. But he let us go down there and checked out the house. It was really creepy."
There were some unexplained occurrences while the crew was on location to decide if it was feasible to film there, including locked doors opening and camera equipment not working, he said.
"I would not want to stay there."
They decided to rebuild the house in a Wellington studio.'
In another article, it's reaffirmed that the house shown in the 'Story' program is the real haunted house that the movie is based on,
'Intrigued enough to begin researching the project, through a contact, Stutter, to his surprise, managed to track down the actual house.'
We're also again told that 'the owner... gradually... opened up a bit and let us come down to measure it up and shoot some footage, so we could recreate it at Avalon Studios'.

But anyone seeing the 'Story' program should quickly see a problem with this claim, that the actual haunted house was measured and recreated at Avalon Studios. This is because the 'real' haunted house is a quite small mud brick house, and the house in the movie is a much larger wooden house, possibly even a two-storied house. Apart from the fact that they both have a door and two windows at the front, there is no similarity. Clearly they didn't recreate the original house because it was far too small to hide in and any fleeing ghost hunter could run through the front door and out the back door in just a few strides. Not much room for scary tension there.

'Story' reporter Julian Lee meets movie makers Jason Stutter and Kevin Stevens at an undisclosed Central Otago location, and Sutter describes the haunted house they are about to drive to:

'You know when you go into a place and you can cut through the atmosphere ... it has this awful feeling about it.'
Around 90 minutes later, or so we're told, they arrive at the haunted house and the front door that should have been locked is found to be ajar. Ghosts? Apparently these ghosts can't walk through walls, but they can open locked doors. With clearly faked shots of doors slamming shut, Stutter states that 'I just always feel that it's got a really weird kind of feeling about this place', and in one article it's revealed that when they were there previously,
'strange things began to happen at the house. "I don't know if it was just because somebody told us. I don't believe in ghosts, but I just felt the vibe of this place and felt something was really amiss".'
We're shown some fleeting and carefully selected images of the house, presumably so that people can't identify it and visit, and then Lee begins to wrap up the visit by saying, 'Jason and Kevin admit to be cynics about the whole story, but cynicism has a limit'. Cut to Sutter who explains, 'Things being moved out of place. People have said they've heard the ghost walking down here', and then the reporter interrupts when he 'finds' a scribbled note on a pad that says: 'STAY AWAY'. Lee then finishes with, 'It doesn't really matter how skeptical you are though, this place will make you reflect on everything you think you know'. The item then fades out to the sound of a woman screaming for help.

Seriously, how could the moronic reporter, with the little that he saw, conclude that there was indeed good reason for an informed skeptic to rethink his view of ghosts? One could suspect that he has no understanding of what skepticism means, but the reality is more likely that he was simply making up nonsense to charm the viewers who are believers in this spooky stuff. Clearly the old mud brick house is not the house in the movie, but might it still be the haunted house of the urban legend, were they right when they said 'It was really creepy' and 'I would not want to stay there'?

No. They were either lying outright or are the most gullible and easily frightened people on the planet. The historic house simply fitted the profile of what people expect a haunted place to look like. Find a spooky house and connect an invented ghost story to it. Of course I know what you're thinking, I'm only assuming that the place wasn't really creepy, and would I spend the night there? It's easy to be brave about haunted houses when you're somewhere else with the lights on.

But here's the thing. Unlike the blindfolded reporter I do know where the haunted house is, and I have actually spent many an enjoyable night under its roof. It's a mud brick house built by one of the first European settlers to the area and owned by a friend of a friend (or at least it was). Just four small rooms with no electricity or running water, and when I stayed there some years ago just a large open fire, although I note there is now a modern firebox installed. Staying there one got a feeling of how the early pioneers lived, but the one thing I didn't feel was the presence of any ghost, and neither did any of my friends. Nothing spooky ever happened, the doors never unlocked themselves, and there was never an atmosphere of dread. It was a great place to relax. There was no running and screaming. Except on bath day, the bath being out under the trees and the water not always as hot as it could be.

In case you doubt my story, the picture on the left is a screen shot from the 'Story' video, and the one on the right is as it looked on one of my stays. A few changes since I was there, but clearly it's the same place.

Haunted house

It's no wonder that many unsophisticated folk still believe in ghosts, haunted houses and things that go bump in the night when TV shows pretending to be staffed by investigative journalists produce serious items that appear to lend support to these silly beliefs. Likewise the movie makers who tell us that they 'don't believe in ghosts, but... ', then go on to imply that they might soon change their minds. Why do these wankers feel they have to be open to the possibly of ghosts to promote their movie? Probably so they won't appear arrogant in the eyes of the ghost-believing theatre goers that they want to attract to their movie. And yet you don't see the makers of hobbit or superhero movies having to pretend to believe in hobbits or superheroes to promote their movies. But it's the producers and presenters of programs like 'Story' that really astound me. They desperately want to be respected and taken seriously in their reporting, and they are often highly educated, well qualified and in a position to make a real difference in educating their viewers, but they will happily sit there and tell blatant lies supported by faked video, all in the name of ratings. They probably think they're merely giving the ignorant masses what they want, and if they're silly enough to believe in ghosts in this day and age, well there's probably no helping them anyway. Some silly fluff pieces keep their gullible viewers happy and the presenters well paid. They don't care that they're responsible for all those movie goers that will see this latest horror movie and argue, 'It's based on a real story you know, a real haunted house in Central Otago, no honestly, I saw it on that TV current affairs program that follows the News'.

It's perhaps easy to understand why some believe there's a conspiracy to keep the masses superstitious and mired in ignorance. However I don't believe this, it's merely far easier and more profitable to make, promote and sell nonsense. And the trouble is that if you're willing to pander to ghost believers, perhaps even giggling under your breath as you make a serious delivery, then why might you not also pander to promoters of organic food or homeopathy or those that deny climate change or the moon landing? As soon as an investigative TV program demonstrates that ratings easily trump doing the right thing, refusing to tell an inconvenient truth, how can viewers have any confidence in the integrity of their next story?

Posted by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 30 Oct, 2015 ~ Add a Comment     Send to a Friend


  1. Comment by Graeme Hill, 30 Oct, 2015

    Aptly enough I have Joe Nickell, paranormal investigator extraordinaire on the Weekend Variety Wireless this Sunday from 10pm. You may take this as shameless marketing or a decent heads-up of interest and relevance.

  2. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 31 Oct, 2015

    Oh excellent Graeme. I've been a fan of Joe Nickell's work for years as he's exposed the nonsense behind everything from ghosts and UFOs to the Shroud of Turin. Your interviews, as opposed to much of the media, give me reason to hope that there might yet be a chance to open the minds of some to the reality of the universe.

  3. Comment by Mira, 31 Oct, 2015

    Hello John, my friend Sue lives on Albert Road opposite Albert Park Lake Victoria.
    Up the stairs & across the landing, half way across the landing, one is filled with a feeling of trepidation, just that one spot, many have felt it & without being previously told. Sue's cat will not cross that particular spot by itself in either direction, Sue carries it across coming & going.
    It is a newly built 2 story town house.
    Go figure.

  4. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 31 Oct, 2015

    Hi Mira. Naturally I don't think a ghost or anything paranormal is the cause of that 'feeling of trepidation', although I accept that the feeling is no doubt real to some. But there are many invisible but entirely natural things that can cause us to get weird feelings. One that has been put forward is infrasound, and the movie makers that I wrote about even incorporated infrasound into their soundtrack in an attempt to give their audience spooky feelings at appropriate times in the movie. You'd have to experience the movie in a theatre to see if you felt anything, but if you did, remember that it was the speakers causing it, not the ghosts on the screen.

    Spook In her book 'Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife', Mary Roach writes that infrasound is inaudible, low-frequency sound waves that run from zero to twenty hertz, and that 'If the source is powerful enough, infrasound can... engender all manner of mysterious-seeming phenomena'. Some other points were that infrasound can

    'cause vision irregularities: sometimes blurring, sometimes a vibrating visual field'.

    'infrasound can, in a small percentage of the population, set off vibrations in the liquid inside the cochlea. These vibrations — which happen because of an uncommon anatomical weakness in the bone structure of the ear — could create a sudden, inexplicable feeling of motion, which could lead to the unease that some of the cellar visitors reported.'

    'What if the feelings people report when they think they've been in the presence of spirits are in fact the effects of infrasound? The more [Tandy] thought about it, the more sense it made. Old buildings have thicker, more solid walls, which resonate better. And old abandoned castles and cellars often have no furniture or curtains to absorb sound waves. Infrasound would also help explain why reports of ghosts are often localized — why people sense a presence in just one part of a room. Infrasound tends to "pool" — it registers strongly in the spots where the peaks and troughs of sound waves overlap, and disappears where peak and trough cancel each other out. Tandy even has an infrasound-based explanation for why people sometimes feel cold in the presence of what they take to be a ghost. Infrasound can activate the fight-or-flight response, and part of that response is a curtailing of blood to the extremities. Hence the chills (and the racing heart and thus, it stands to reason, the unease).'

    It was also noted that 'It is thought that only a small portion of the population is sensitive to infrasound', and that apparently 'tigers use infrasound to ward off potential rivals'.

    In our modern technological world there could be many devices that are emitting inaudible infrasound, from a faulty air conditioning fan on a nearby building to an annoying neighbour's stereo. Of course infrasound may not be the cause of your friend's mystery spot Mira, but I mention it to show that there are natural, non-spooky causes that most people have never heard of, and they all need to be eliminated before we can honestly say that a strange feeling is truly mysterious.

  5. Comment by David, 31 Oct, 2015

    'or those that deny climate change or the moon landing?'
    Not many people actually deny climate change, but there is good reason to question the case being made that CO2 emissions are causing catastrophic global warming and that so far at least, the effects of increased CO2 are largely positive. I would have thought that a blog that supports scientific thought and reason would be just a little concerned by climate activists who claim that the "science is settled" and want to prosecute people expressing contrary views. Even denying the moon landing has some logic, this was at the height of the cold war and neither side was above using tricks and deception to get psychological advantage. Subsequent space exploration seems to show that in that case the doubts were unfounded.
  6. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 01 Nov, 2015

    Sorry David, but I must disagree, many people do deny climate change, and specifically that humans are contributing to it. I've met far more people that express doubts about climate change than the likes of the moon landing. You only have to look at the media and politicians worldwide. Debates about climate change are widespread, yet no media or politicians are arguing about the moon landing.

    I'm not a fan of talking specifically about 'global warming' rather than 'climate change', since many people then argue that a temperature drop somewhere means the planet isn't warming, or that an increase in destructive storms has no connection to warming, whereas in reality global warming causes many complex changes in our climate, not just a simple increase in temperature, which many people think would be a good thing anyway, nice summer temperatures all year round!

    When I talk about people denying climate change, I refer to the germ of the idea, that the climate is changing due to increasing global temperatures and that humans are likely contributing to that increase. Get into a debate with anyone and that is the point that drives the conflict. I think that most people, apart from some religious fundamentalists, accept that climate can change and has changed in the past, for example they accept that the ice ages happened, and that it could be changing at the moment. The real arguments, at least in the public sphere, revolve around whether humans are contributing to any change, and what we could or should do about it.

    A Wikipedia article — Climate change opinion by country — (which admits it could be a little out-of-date), lists that roughly half of the populations in Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA question whether global warming or climate change is 'caused by human activity', and apparently this is your stance too. So yes, when anything like 50% of the public disagrees with the other half, I think we can say without exaggeration that many people deny climate change.

    Here is a typical and recent article about views in the USA, not exactly a small, uninfluential country, which I think gives a good summary of the debate. In contrast to past years, the majority of Americans seem to have got on board with 'global warming', but it quickly goes down hill from there:

    'Poll: Americans Don't Think Climate Change Will Affect Them Personally'

    First, Americans overwhelmingly agree that global warming is happening...

    But the basic fact of rising temperatures is about the only point where public opinion matches the science. The new data also show that a majority of U.S. counties remain unconvinced that global warming is caused "mostly by human activities." ... (nearly 80 percent) disagree with that sentiment...

    The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's most highly regarded body of climate scientists, was emphatic on this point, saying it is now "extremely likely" that humanity is the dominant cause of global warming. The new polling data show Americans seem unconvinced by scientists in general, with ... more than 97 percent ... disagreeing with the statement that "most scientists think global warming is happening." In fact, 97 percent of climate scientists believe climate change is real.

    A lot of this disconnect between public opinion and scientific consensus can probably be traced back to the intense politicization of climate science in recent years, funded largely by interests within the fossil fuel industry. Climate change is now the single most polarizing issue in America.

    That's clearly shown in the new poll's assessment of how Americans feel about the risks associated with global warming: Residents of more than half of U.S. counties aren't worried about climate change ... or about 62 percent ... Worse: There wasn't even one county in which a majority of respondents believe global warming will harm them personally. In sharp contrast ... (more than 99 percent) do agree that future generations are at risk...'

    So 'global warming is happening', but there's no way that it's our fault, and it's certainly not a problem anyway. But then strangely, at the same time 'more than 99 percent' of Americans 'do agree that future generations are at risk'. There seems be no thought that even if it's not directly our fault, could there be anything we might do that could reduce the problem for our grandchildren?

    You go on to say that you 'would have thought that a blog that supports scientific thought and reason would be just a little concerned by climate activists who claim that the "science is settled" and want to prosecute people expressing contrary views'. For a start, I take little notice of what 'climate activists', from either side of the debate, go on about. As believers in free speech, of course we would never support prosecuting people for expressing contrary views, and only true conspiracy theorists would believe that this is what scientists and governments backed by teams of lawyers are arguing for.

    But you're right that we are 'a blog that supports scientific thought and reason', and as such we use reason to side with scientific consensus. We support evolution over creationism since nearly all scientists side with evolution, plus their evidence and reasoning is far more convincing, and it can be shown that the few opposing scientists are usually motivated in their views by religion, not science. We support the big bang theory over creationism for the same reasons. Ditto with ghosts, psychics, homeopathy and aliens abducting us from our beds, we side with the scientists and their convincing arguments. Could the scientists be wrong? Of course they could, and psychics, homeopaths and alien abductees are continually reminding us that scientists don't know everything and have got it wrong in the past. But the scientific unknowns in the 21st century are extremely complex, and without several scientific degrees and years of research experience, I am never going to be able to truly debate with scientists, with the experts. All I can do is accept what the scientific consensus is and try and understand on a simple level why scientists have adopted a certain view. Again, they might be wrong, but I can't realistically argue that they are wrong until they produce the evidence to show they were wrong. Certainly a few scientists have argued that they have this contrary evidence, but their evidence is not compelling to the majority of their fellow experts, and many damage their credibility by having links to industries that, because of financial reasons, wish to deny human-caused climate change at all costs.

    You may have noticed that in the above quotes, one said that '97 percent of climate scientists believe climate change is real'. You say that 'there is good reason to question' this view, but I wonder why the majority of the world's experts can't see this, when you can. You might find this article on the 'Scientific American' website interesting: 'Big Gap between What Scientists Say and Americans Think about Climate Change'. It begins by saying that,

    'There is good and bad news for climate scientists. The good news: Most Americans (79 percent) say that science and scientists are invaluable.

    The bad news: On controversial topics such as climate change, a significant number of Americans do not use science to inform their views. Instead, they use political orientation and ideology, which are reflected in their level of education, to decide whether humans are driving planetary warming.'

    Scientists are valued for their expertise it seems, but half the population believe they're not needed to explain something as obvious as what the weather is doing, and when the silly scientists do try, they get it wrong! The article states that,
    'In 2014, the vast majority (87 percent) of scientists said that human activity is driving global warming, and yet only half the American public ascribed to that view. And 77 percent of scientists said climate change is a very serious problem. In comparison, only 33 percent of the general public said it was a very serious problem in a 2013 poll.'
    The article also gives other examples of 'Opinion Differences Between Public and Scientists', and while everyone, including the unqualified layperson, is entitled to disagree with the experts, I can't really see how they can think that this disagreement is equal when expertise and evidence is taken into account. So David, since this blog does indeed support scientific thought and reason, we will continue to express that thought, which overwhelming says that it's 'now "extremely likely" that humanity is the dominant cause of global warming'.

    And in case you see a suspicious difference between '97 percent of climate scientists...' in the first article and '87 percent) of scientists...' in the next one, a comment following the second article noted:

    'The 87% was scientists in general. Of climate scientists who have published at least 10 peer reviewed research papers in the last 30 years, 97% agree. In fact, the more expertise and experience a scientist has in this field, the more likely that he or she agrees withy AGW.
    A study of peer reviewed climate papers between 1991 and 2012 found that out of over 13,000 papers, only 24 rejected AGW
    Of over 2,000 peer reviewed papers published in 2013, with over 9,000 individual authors, ONLY ONE author rejects AGW'
    And you're right that denying the moon landing has some logic, as do most conspiracies, they only flourish because a superficial glance at them seems to suggest that they have some good points. But it's not a question of whether there was a reason to have faked the moon landing, or if the American government might be hiding aliens in Area 51 or shot JFK, the question is whether these things did actually happen, not that they logically could have. People can and do argue that the moon landing never happened and that climate change isn't our problem, and while the arguments do have logical validity — they could be true — they simply don't have the supporting evidence to take them beyond a hypothetical argument.

    And regarding doubt about the moon landing, I'm not sure that 'Subsequent space exploration seems to show that... the doubts were unfounded'. The conspiracy is not just that we never had the technology to go to the moon, but that humans could not survive the trip even we did. And since the Apollo landings no human has dared venture further than Earth orbit. Worse still, many astronauts have been killed since and the shuttle program has been cancelled, leaving NASA grounded as far as manned space flight is concerned. There is no real program for a Mars landing or even a return to the moon. If I thought like a conspiracy theorist, then if anything, 'Subsequent space exploration seems to show that' there might be technological and/or human survivability problems after all.

    That's what a simplistic look at the space program might indicate to someone suspecting a conspiracy, but if they looked deeper and consulted the experts, they would learn that we likely did land on the moon and other factors influence the present space program. It's the same with climate change, forget the beguiling websites and what 'experts' like Moon Man Ken Ring and author Ian Wishart write, put your trust in what the scientific consensus says. What's it saying when NZ's most outspoken climate activists against AGW are an astrologer and a Christian fundamentalist? Oblivious to the flaws in their own core silly beliefs of astrology and creationism, I struggle to believe they've somehow grasped a problem with the complex scientific evidence that the experts have missed. If thousands of scientists were to disagree with me, and since I'm not an expert, I think I'd be questioning my own reasoning, not theirs.

  7. Comment by David, 01 Nov, 2015


    John, my original intention was to object to your putting climate change 'deniers' in with moon landing deniers but then when I thought about it, I do think that initially at least, there might have been a cause for scepticism about the moon landing. But let's not talk about the moon landing, that was an aside.

    I am not well qualified in the subject of climate change so I do rely on the views of others. The number of people speaking out against 'the consensus' seems to be more than you would expect if it were only three percent, and when I see people trying to shut down debate I get suspicious. When you read articles by John Cook, Stephan Lewandowski and others they set out quite openly the method they are using to influence public opinion - but they ascribe the tricks they describe to the opposition. I am inclined to believe Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace http://www.thegwpf.com/28155/ when he says that the debate has been taken over by people with an agenda and no understanding of science.

    As for "Of climate scientists who have published at least 10 peer reviewed research papers in the last 30 years, 97% agree". This is the result of a study by John Cook, not a totally unbiased observer, who undertook a subjective analysis of published papers and concluded that "Among abstracts that expressed a position on AGW [Anthropogenic, or human-cause, Global Warming], 97.1% endorsed the scientific consensus. Among scientists who expressed a position on AGW in their abstract, 98.4% endorsed the consensus. It turns out that the 97% represent only a very small percentage of the papers studied so the figure is a little misleading. Similarly when you say Of over 2,000 peer reviewed papers published in 2013, with over 9,000 individual authors, ONLY ONE author rejects AGW' it is not clear that the 9000 authors were writing papers where denying AGW or not was actually an issue. Many papers have been written that discuss the effects of AGW without actually voicing an opinion on its validity. Very few scientists would be prepared to dogmatically assert that there is no AGW, but that is not the same as saying that they believe it is a problem demanding urgent attention. I am very sceptical about many of the claims for AGW and would no doubt be labelled a denier, but that doesn't mean I outright reject AGW. In fact I would not be surprised if it were shown that mankind had had some effect. But that is not the same thing as demanding that the world economy be put into reverse and that CO2 be treated as a pollutant.

  8. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 02 Nov, 2015

    Actually I think the linking of AGW denial with the moon landing hoax is instructive. Most everyone that identifies with a pet conspiracy theory, be it AGW, the moon landing, 9/11, aliens and Area 51, the deaths of JFK and Princess Diana, the suppression of medical cures, Jews running the world etc, can see a wealth of evidence supporting their theory, but often struggle to understand why people believe those other cranky claims. The reasons they readily dismiss other theories usually don't apply to their pet theory for some reason. Clearly scientists that work for tobacco companies are biased when it comes to denying that smoking is harmful. Can we believe scientists that work for the government when we ask them about captured alien spacecraft? But for some reason we're expected to accept that scientists that work for the fossil fuel companies aren't biased and can be trusted when it comes to AGW. No matter the topic, there is always vocal denial by some fringe groups, but when the vast majority of scientists believe in something, be it evolution, the big bang or the moon landing, most of the informed public accept these views. It's inevitable that some will always argue with the science, but most see this as illogical, unless the science is challenging one of their pet beliefs.

    Re AGW, you say that 'The number of people speaking out against 'the consensus' seems to be more than you would expect if it were only three percent, and when I see people trying to shut down debate I get suspicious', and yet I could say the same thing about creationism and Intelligent Design. From the powerful US 'Discovery' organisation to the Vatican and thousands of churches in between, we have 'people speaking out against 'the consensus'', arguing that the world isn't natural, that God did it. Even many of my local schools run classes pointing out how the scientific consensus is wrong and people are knocking on my door with free DVDs and books. Our universities have 'shut down debate' and simply refuse to teach creationism and Intelligent Design. So should I be suspicious, are our universities hiding something, or has the debate already happened and they simply teach the winner? Do the religious people that are still 'speaking out against 'the consensus'' and complaining that people won't debate with them really have a case, or does their blind belief mean they will continue no matter what the science says? I've heard of many scientists that won't debate people over the likes of evolution, UFOs, mediums or the moon landing hoax, not because they think the evidence is lacking, but because they think it's an utter waste of their time to debate things they believe have already been decided. I think it's a red herring to look at how many activists are trying to get a debate going or how many laypeople believe something is fishy. If I went by the numbers I'd be a god believer, not an atheist, and if I ignored the scientific consensus and simply looked out the window I'd believe the world is flat. I hear the same complaints from everyone that has a problem with scientific consensus, be it AGW, evolution or the moon landing, that a handful of brave scientists and/or officials are indeed speaking out, but that powerful forces are suppressing debate and evidence, and that the vast majority of scientists and officials are conspiring to hide the truth.

    You say that 'Many papers have been written that discuss the effects of AGW without actually voicing an opinion on its validity. Very few scientists would be prepared to dogmatically assert that there is no AGW, but that is not the same as saying that they believe it is a problem demanding urgent attention.'

    I seriously can't believe that the vast majority of the world's scientists that are writing on AGW have no opinion, or worse still, doubt that it is real but still keep quiet. You and I have no expertise and no influence but we still have firm opinions that we are willing to discuss, and yet I'm asked to believe that scientists that spend every working day researching AGW, it's what they live for, have no interest in voicing an opinion, no interest in passing on their expertise. Worse still, they know that very expensive and disruptive plans and policies are being devised, and if they are based on what they know to be bogus or at least very suspect scientific evidence, I again can't believe that the vast majority of the world's scientists ignore what others are doing with their data and just remain silent. They may not mention it in their scientific papers, but there are many other forums in which to voice their views. Climate scientists in general must be the most uncaring, reckless, irresponsible, selfish and apathetic group of people on the planet. What might it take for them to find their morality and their voice?

    But that problem, their inexplicable silence, is typical of all conspiracy theories. We are asked to believe that a huge number of unrelated, ordinary people the world over are all prepared to hide an injustice so that some unknown person or persons can benefit. Even seeing that their silence may wreak worldwide havoc, including on their own family and community, isn't enough for them to expose the lies of others. Only two people saw President Bill Clinton get a blowjob and they couldn't even keep that quiet, so I simply can't believe conspiracies that depend on huge groups of people that are all prepared to keep secrets they don't even care about.

    Evolutionists publicly and openly reject gods as driving evolution, cosmologists argue for the big bang, astronauts and astronomers ridicule the moon landing hoax, and the majority of top scientists even identify as atheists, and I see no evidence that climatologists are somehow different, that en masse they don't give a damn what others are doing with their research.

  9. Comment by Zafir, 11 Nov, 2015

    Hi John. I've been busy recently and haven't contributed anything for a while.

    I can't resist commenting on climate change as it demonstrates (at least to me) how many people refuse to think for themselves, or seriously consider an idea outside of their ideology.

    Perhaps where most people get confused over the whole global warming and climate change thing is they fail to realise that it is really just about energy. Is there more energy coming into the system (the earth and its atmosphere) than leaving it?

    It's actually very straight forward and measurable. One of the simplest concepts I can think of; change in balance = sum of the incoming - sum of the outgoing.

    No need to be an expert. It doesn't matter who believes what when there is so much data freely available, we can make up our own minds directly from the evidence.

    The data is freely available and easy to find. I have charted.

    Full flowering dates of Japanese Cherry in Kyoto (records date back to 890 CE)

    650 years of Western Europe grape harvest dates

    Ocean Heat content

    Sea Level changes

    Global Ocean and land surface temperature changes

    Total solar irradiance

    Sun spot numbers (dating back to 1749 CE)

    Winter min temperatures vs summer min temperatures

    C13 to c12 ratios

    Artic sea ice

    Atmospheric CO2 and Methane levels

    I give you and in particular David no conclusions, just look and the data, and try not to be immune to evidence.
  10. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 12 Nov, 2015

    For someone wishing to understand the science around climate change and the consensus view I fully encourage them to delve into the data you mention Zafir.

    However, if hundreds and perhaps thousands of highly qualified and experienced scientists look at the data that you've listed, plus data you haven't, such as the seeding of clouds by cosmic rays, and nearly all conclude that AGW is likely real, and a plumber with no scientific training whatsoever looks at the listed data and concludes that AGW is not happening, is it rational and reasonable for me as a layperson to side with the plumber? Or is it likely that the plumber might have missed something?

    Re AGW happening the data can say one of three things; yes, no, or inconclusive. Clearly the majority of scientists believe it says yes. Any layperson that disagrees must surely question their expertise at interpreting complicated science. If it's just a matter of tallying up the data, if it's really that simple, then why didn't the scientists get the same answer as our plumber?

    As I've said, I'm all for people trying to understand why scientists reach the conclusions they do, whether it's to do with climate change, evolution, the big bang or homeopathy, but if unqualified people read a popular science book or scientific article and find themselves disagreeing with the science, I suspect that it is they that have misunderstood the science rather than the scientists. Offhand I can't think of any 'plumber' (or astrologer) that has shown the scientific community to be in error. I know some people will mention names like Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin and patent clerk Albert Einstein, but these weren't laypeople, these were in essence 'scientists' debating with other 'scientists'. Of course it's possible that our plumber might be right and the scientists wrong, but if so, I struggle to understand why nearly all of these very bright scientists can't understand and accept the plumber's argument.

    Like you Zafir, I like to be swayed by the evidence rather than desire, and while I do have some strong minority views, for example I don't believe in gods, ghosts or visiting aliens, the minority that I agree with are scientists that use the only reliable method for discerning the truth. I guess I'm lucky that when people question my view and ask, 'Then why don't most scientists agree with you?', I can reply, 'Actually they do!' If I couldn't say that, then I wouldn't be so confident in expressing an opinion. But clearly it doesn't stop many others.

  11. Comment by Zafir, 13 Nov, 2015

    Hi John. I haven't looked at the data relating to cosmic rays and cloud formation, I suppose I should.

    There are various reasons for increasing confidence in a hypothesis. Taking the word of 97% of publishing climate scientists might seems like a fairly good one. If someone thought that AGW was false the climate scientist consensus should give them pause for thought.
    But still it is an act of faith to believe something because someone or even some group of people say so.
    That is not science, science is about inquiry into how and why. Taking something on authority and not challenging it sounds more like dogma.

    Interesting that you use a plumber in your example. Plumbers have a working knowledge of thermal expansion and displacement of water and latent heat. I would have a reasonable level of confidence that if a plumber was to look at data relating to water (frozen and liquid), they could correctly identify if the oceans heat content is increasing or not. I would say that the average plumber knows more about water than the average scientist.

    Perhaps you should have used a politician in your example instead.

    Even though there are many complicated climate interactions, the overall concept is very simple.
    Is there an increase of energy in the system?
    If yes, is it due to more energy coming in or less energy going out?
    If it is from less energy going out what is the data on the potential causes?

    Many people don't trust science, I suggest that science is more a set of thinking tools with a few checks and balances, than a body of people with a degree and some institutions.

    You don't have to be a certified plumber to find a leak and you don't need to be a qualified scientist to examine evidence.

    "If it's just a matter of tallying up the data, if it's really that simple, then why didn't the scientists get the same answer as our plumber?"
    The data is so compelling that I think they would get the same answer, unless there was a lack of critical thinking and or dishonesty.
  12. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 14 Nov, 2015

    Hi Zafir. I do applaud your dedication. You've noted in the past that you shun books on popular science and instead seek out and read the actual scientific papers written by the research scientists. However the typical layperson that I'm familiar with that expresses doubt over AGW (or evolution or homeopathy etc) would normally never consider reading even a lengthy newspaper article, let alone an entire book, let alone try and find scientific papers. While I lament that they won't delve a little further, for most, including myself, I do think the scientific papers generally are a step too far. They are written by experts for experts and they assume a certain level of scientific expertise. The layperson must already possess some scientific knowledge of the topic to even know what research papers to look for, and then to understand them when he finds them. For example, re AGW you suggest that people look into 'Sun spot numbers' and 'C13 to c12 ratios'. But to seek this data people would first have to understand how sun spots and different carbon isotopes might contribute to climate change, likewise when you suggest looking at the 'Full flowering dates of Japanese Cherry in Kyoto'. But you made no suggestion to look at data from ice cores or tree rings or to track changes in volcanic activity, glaciers, the ozone layer or the movement of the jet stream. Nor did you look at the effect of solar flares, coronal mass ejections, the solar wind and cosmic rays on our atmosphere. My point is that people have to already have a good grasp of the science to be able to know what data to look at and what can be ignored. Sure I can look at a scientific paper that say glaciers in Greenland are retreating (or whatever), but it will make no mention of how this might tie in with a myriad of other factors that might affect the climate. Only the real experts that have spent their lives researching these things know how these different factors might interrelate, and rather than have them explain in great detail how they gained their specific data, say on Japanese Cherry trees, I'd rather read a broad overview of how these myriad complex factors might affect climate change. I'd always be afraid that no matter how many scientific papers I thought of reading I might still have missed a crucial one, one whose affect greatly altered the effect from all the others. For example, while you may have looked at the Japanese Cherry trees, did you look at the migration patterns of the Norwegian tufted titmouse? OK, I just made that up, but how can the layperson know all the many things that might be an indicator or cause of climate change? You mentioned sun spots, but I suspect that most people wouldn't know what a sun spot really is, or what affect it might have on us. I recently read in astronomer Philip Plait's book 'Death From the Skies!: These Are the Ways the World Will End', that 'The stock market, baseball scores, even personality traits have been (dubiously at best) linked to sunspot numbers'. I didn't go looking for the actual research papers.

    You say that,

    '...it is an act of faith to believe something because someone or even some group of people say so. That is not science, science is about inquiry into how and why. Taking something on authority and not challenging it sounds more like dogma.'
    But when you use the data in some scientific paper you are actually believing 'something because someone or even some group of people say so'. If you won't believe a scientist when he says in a newspaper article or a book for the layperson that he has done the research and has concluded that glaciers are retreating, for example, why should you believe him in his scientific paper just because he provides numerous tables and graphs before he expresses the same conclusion, albeit in more technical language? Certainly you may want to work through the tables and graphs to see if you reach the same conclusion, but you have no idea whether the scientist accidentally omitted some crucial step or used faulty instruments that invalidates his data. Likewise you can't be sure the data provided is even genuine, it could all be manipulated to support the desired conclusion. But if you accept the data as valid then you are taking 'something on authority and not challenging it'. I'm assuming you don't challenge the scientific papers themselves?

    If you are reluctant to accept a scientist's conclusion as expressed to the media or in a popular science book and insist on looking over the original research papers, I don't see why you shouldn't also be reluctant to accept his research and insist on performing the actual research yourself. If taking something on authority is dogma, then the only answer is to run every experiment yourself and prove every scientific claim yourself. But clearly this is impractical if not impossible. At some stage it makes sense to generally accept what certain authorities tell us. If a scientist is trusted to tell the truth in his scientific papers, I can't see why he can't be trusted when giving a summery of those papers in the media.

    You say that 'it is an act of faith to believe something because someone' — in this case a scientist — says so, and that 'sounds more like dogma'. When 'faith' supports dogma I suspect the reference is to the religious version of 'faith', where faith means 'A belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence, and may exist even contrary to the evidence'. One simply believes someone, eg a priest, without questioning the claims made. However the faith I have in the scientific worldview is a different beast, and means a 'Confident belief in the truth, value or trustworthiness of a person, an idea, or a thing'. Science has evidence to support its claims. We respect it because when it says something will happen, it does. Unlike religion, it doesn't just say we should blindly trust its conclusions, it predicts what we should observe if its claims are true, and it has an outstanding success rate.

    You speak of 'Taking something on authority and not challenging it sounds more like dogma', but I feel science supports its claims, that most of us don't have the time or training to challenge it, and that it is one authority that we can have considerable confidence in. You've probably heard some people dismissing a claim by insisting that it is merely an 'appeal to authority', where they usually argue that we shouldn't automatically believe something just because some authority figure or authoritative group such as a government makes the claim. But there is more to it than this. As Jill LeBlanc points out in her book 'Thinking Clearly: A Guide to Critical Reasoning', no one can know everything about everything, and so what is meant by 'an authority is someone who possesses expert knowledge on a particular subject'. In this case it does not mean someone that we are compelled to obey or believe, like a policeman ordering you to stop or the government making you pay your taxes. We must all make an 'appeal to authority' when we are dealing with the likes of scientists, doctors, lawyers, engineers and even plumbers, any professional that possesses specialist knowledge that most of us lack. But this doesn't mean that we should automatically accept whatever someone with a qualification claims. LeBlanc lists the following 'Criteria for judging acceptability for authority:'

    The authority must be identified
    The authority must be respectable
    The matter must be in this authority's field of expertise
    The matter must be one on which there is a consensus of experts
    She notes that 'An appeal to authority that contravenes one of these conditions is a fallacious appeal to authority'. So it's not the appeal to authority that we should be watching out for, but the 'fallacious' appeal to authority.

    I trust the scientific method, and believe that scientists are slowly but surely improving our knowledge of the world, and that all knowledge is provisional. I generally judge a consensus of scientists as an authority whose views I can accept as the best available at the time.

    I agree Zafir when you say that 'Even though there are many complicated climate interactions, the overall concept is very simple', I just don't think that most laypeople are qualified to discern, understand and tally up all the 'many complicated climate interactions' and be confident that they have reached the right answer. I also agree that 'Many people don't trust science', but I think we're fooling ourselves if we think that them looking at research papers will change that. They don't trust science because they don't understand science even on the simplest of terms, and making it more complicated merely makes things worse. You say that 'you don't need to be a qualified scientist to examine evidence', but I disagree. We can all understand basic scientific ideas, and I understand talk about the big bang, relativity, quantum mechanics, high energy particle physics and other dimensions on a basic level, but I am completely lost when I look at the high order mathematics and complex physics that make up the real evidence for these ideas. As much as I might want to, I will never truly understand the evidence that supports these ideas, I have to make do with explanations that are a dumbed-down version along with analogies and their inherent flaws. I can ask questions of scientists but I will never be able to truly challenge the raw evidence since I'm not a qualified scientist. Long gone are the days when even scientists could understand all that was then known in science, so I don't believe that a mere plumber or a politician can confidently say, 'Here, let me have a look at those scientific papers. I'll sort it out for you'.

    I agree Zafir that one should seek to understand these scientific issues as deeply as one's abilities (and interests) allow, but I simply don't think that the recommendation to consult scientific papers will resolve the AGW debate that one encounters at the pub. Arguments need to be kept simple, and a scientist's summary of his or her research will be more effective than reading the actual research paper out loud, combined with a Powerpoint presentation for the tables and graphs.

  13. Comment by Zafir, 15 Nov, 2015

    Hi John. Thanks as always for your well thought out and comprehensive reply.

    I do read popular science books but I actively avoid reading them while I'm trying to form a position on something. I do this in a attempt to avoid bias creeping into my reasoning process.

    I never take science reported in the media at face value and try to check references when the story is of interest.

    I go to research papers as a second option.
    My first preference and what I'm on about here is actual data. With a lot of research it is hard to get your hands on actual measurements of real world phenomena. But with factors that may contribute to climate change there is quite a lot.
    So yes there is a level of trust in that I am forced to assume that the data was accurately recorded by meticulous people with well calibrated equipment. The effects of measuring errors are lessened by larger data sets taken over longer periods from multiple sources.
    But by going to the actual data I don't have to rely on any bias, be it funding or ideological that the author of a paper or book may have.

    I would say that most science papers do have a much higher reading age than say a news paper but they are not impossible to read. Often I have to look up terms. Probably the biggest impediment is that they are usually so dry and sleep inducing.

    The list I gave is by no means conclusive as to all the factors that might contribute to climate change. It was a list of some of the data that I accessed and applied a couple of simple calculations to. I mean simple as in dead simple, such as adding the daily averages and dividing by the number of days in the month to get a monthly average. (Organising and charting data is so simple with excel, but I used to do this manually).

    For example I spent a couple of hours last night collecting data on cosmic rays and then charted it to see if I could see a correlation with sunspot numbers, next time I have a chance I'll see if I can find good data on clouds.

    Sure some of the things I have charted such as carbon isotope ratios were due to something I read, but mostly it has been from entering "climate change data" into Google and sifting through the dross looking for reputable organisations with long data sets.

    The cherry tree data set is interesting in that for hundreds of years the flowering dates were fairly constant and for some reason in the last few decades they start flowering progressively earlier.
    I know next to nothing about cherry trees and that one data set might mean nothing on its own. There could be plenty of reasons that cherry trees flower when they do. When looked at with other data sets, a clear pattern emerges.

    The reason that I jumped into this thread was not really to comment on climate change. I was trying to point out that we don't have to sit on the sidelines and applaud the bits we like from people that we already agree with.

    When I first starting thinking about AGW I didn't really have a position other than it sounded plausible but unlikely due to the small concentration of the greenhouse gases. By looking at the data I had to change my position to match the evidence.

    I grew up being told things that weren't true by people I trusted. Latter I told other people the same untruths.

    I guess now I am a little unusual in my approach to acquiring information.
    I think faith and to some degree trust should be inversely proportional to evidence.
    So when Yasuyuki Aono says that flowering cherries can be used as a proxy to reconstruct Japanese spring time temperatures. I don't know for sure if it's true but I can say the data set is impressive and shows a clear trend.

    I apologise and retract the bit about science and dogma. When I read it now it looks like a dig.
    I just mean to say nothing should be above scrutiny, not even the tools we use to scrutinise.

    I went to hear a professor emeritus give a talk a couple years ago. He made a few extreme claims and I asked him during the question section for some kind of references to back the claims up. When I latter checked the reference out it turned out to be an opinion piece in a non peer reviewed publication. Almost everyone else in the room appeared to be lapping up his every word. At one point he pointed his elbow patches around the room and said something like 'see these, I'm a professor.'
    He was an extreme case but I've seen the behaviour often in religious people.

    I think I've mentioned my old aged companions down at the local pub. One has a hard core position that AGW is bullshit. I brought my note book along a while back and took him page by page through the data and charts, he went strangely quite. He really hates being wrong.
    Now if the subject of climate change comes up he'll change topic instantly.
    I'll look for that Jill LeBlanc book, it sounds good.

    Have you seen the movie Memento? It's my favourite, the lead character prides himself on being a good investigator who is obsessed with systems and facts. The twist is he deliberately deceives himself to get the results he wants and jumps to quite a few wrong conclusions along the way.

    I think one of the most important aspects of science is the peer review process, where no expert or even idea is beyond scrutiny. I am no expert, but I can see trends in data and can do basic maths. For a lot of this stuff, that's all you need.

  14. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 15 Nov, 2015

    Hi Zafir. Again I must say I'm impressed with your commitment to research. And what can I say, I agree with your comments. I guess I'm just too lazy, plus as you say those papers are often 'dry and sleep inducing'. It's easy to see why most scientists fail at communicating their ideas to the public.

    You're right that you can 'never take science reported in the media at face value'. The little I know certainly wasn't gained from the media. The other night on the TV News they had a piece where it was revealed that NASA astronomers have just discovered that the solar wind is largely responsible for stripping Mars of most of its atmosphere. While the science is correct, astronomers have actually known this for some time. For example, astronomer Philip Plait wrote about it in that book I mentioned, 'Death From the Skies!'. It was published in 2008, so why is the media just telling us about it now, and saying it's all new?

    And just in passing, I don't think you'll see a correlation with sunspot numbers and cosmic rays, since cosmic rays come from interstellar and intergalactic space rather than the Sun, and are caused by the likes of supernova. I think.

    You also say that 'by going to the actual data I don't have to rely on any bias, be it funding or ideological that the author of a paper or book may have'. I agree, but conspiracy theorists wouldn't, they would argue (without evidence) that the author has already been bribed to falsify the data. Hell, he or she probably didn't even get off the sofa, let alone go into the field and probe something. Or so they would argue.

    You're so right when you say that 'nothing should be above scrutiny' and 'we don't have to sit on the sidelines and applaud the bits we like from people that we already agree with'. Not many people get that. Like-minded people confirm their beliefs with each other but seldom bother or are prevented from discussing their concerns with those who think differently. Religion is a perfect example, most consider it rude for an atheist to ask a true believer as to why they think as they do. But it's the same with the likes of astrology, homeopathy, the Israel/Palestine conflict or climate change. When in a group no one wants these topics raised if it is known that there is a difference of opinion. To keep the peace we're asked to stick to topics we can all agree on. What about that rugby eh? But if you never let your beliefs be challenged then how can you ever be sure they would survive a real debate? Don't just chat to those that agree with you, talk with those that don't agree and find out why. Maybe their reasoning is better than yours. You'll never know if you stay in your own little bubble. Unfortunately it's not just the hosts of social events that try and keep conversation on non-controversial topics, the holders of what I might call silly beliefs are also quite reluctant to defend their beliefs. They say something like, 'Look, that's what I believe, but let's just leave it at that OK? I don't want to get into a debate about it since I know you think differently'. Well surely I would be the best person to chat with, since they could test their reasoning and maybe even convert me to their view? Regarding important topics, such as should I devote my life to Jesus or will climate change screw up my grandkids' future, if someone confines their discussions to only those that think as they do, effectively surrounding themselves with 'yes men', then they can never be truly confident that they've chosen the right path. If an opinion isn't worth debating, then I don't think it's even worth holding.

    But I suspect that many, especially concerning religion, hold specific beliefs based on desire, on what they want to be true, and know that frank discussion as to the validity of those beliefs could well see them tumbling down, so let's just talk with those that think as we do. And scientists and skeptics who argue that we follow the evidence are not immune. While it may be easier for us to change our views and reject disproved ideas, we still need to discuss our views with our opponents to see if they truly are more reasonable.

    To that end, by coincidence earlier today I met a creationist in a local square that had set up a model of Noah's Ark for public display. We actually had a fascinating and friendly conversation for an hour or so. It was rare to discuss religion with a believer who didn't just want to quickly lecture me and then flee. He said nothing that shook my worldview, and I'd like to think that I gave him some reasons to doubt his, but then he probably felt the same way. While minds might not have been swayed, at least we openly considered each other's viewpoint, which is all too rare these days, even on topics we apparently deem important.

    And no, I haven't heard of the movie Memento. It sounds interesting though, so I'll have to look out for it. Does he have some of those cute minions working for him?

  15. Comment by Anonymous, 17 Nov, 2015

    44 days to Xmas ........... what ! - no - no spooky stories .../? - gee man ... that sucks.

  16. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 18 Nov, 2015

    Some might argue that Xmas itself is an ongoing spooky story, with Jesus being one of the undead, a zombie endlessly seeking sinners to populate Hell and secretly watching you in the shower. That would scare me if I was a believer.

  17. Comment by David, 03 Dec, 2015

    John, I think this is a good honest source. I don't think he would quote numbers without being sure he can back them up. The fact that Scientific American is prepared to publish what he says is telling. Most of his argument is based on IPCC papers.


    To quote from his Scientific American article

    The climate change debate has been polarized into a simple dichotomy. Either global warming is "real, man-made and dangerous," as Pres. Barack Obama thinks, or it's a "hoax," as Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe thinks. But there is a third possibility: that it is real, man-made and not dangerous, at least not for a long time
    It is the extremes that could be characterised as 'silly beliefs'
  18. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 04 Dec, 2015

    Thanks David. Some very interesting articles there by Matt Ridley. I can see much sense in what he writes, and I'd like to think that reason will win out in the end, especially as science learns more about what's really going on, economics explains the costs and ethics sets out our options. However I'm not sure that 'It is the extremes that could be characterised as 'silly beliefs''. To me it's not about whether a claim is ultimately right or wrong, but whether it can at present be supported by evidence and good arguments. I don't think there is any good evidence that AGW is an outright hoax, so I see that claim as a silly belief, whereas there is much better evidence for AGW, so this is a rational claim. This may of course change as time goes on and more evidence comes in, as Ridley argues, and frankly, regardless of what I suspect, I hope he's right. No sane person wants to be responsible for screwing up the climate or to be forced to pay a fortune to try and combat it. But I also don't want to be irresponsible, and learn that AGW will be dangerous, but 'not for a long time', and so I'll just ignore it and let them worry about it in the future. Where's a good crystal ball when you need one?

  19. Comment by Zafir, 14 Dec, 2015

    Hi John, I wonder why David thinks that Matt Ridley is both a "good" and "honest source" on climate change?
    Is it because Matt Ridley is a member of the House of Lords?
    Perhaps it is because he is a zoologist?
    Maybe it is because he had an opinion piece published in a well known science journal?
    I suspect it is because David likes what Matt has to say on the matter.

    Is David saying that the position that global warming is "real, man-made and dangerous" is extreme and silly?

    Many of the references that Matt Ridley supplies are weak and or suspect.

    Based on the data; To say climate change is real is not silly. To say that it is man made is far from extreme. Also I fail to see how changes in climate that billions of people have adapted to for their food, dwellings and livelihoods could not be dangerous to a least some. Slight changes in weather patterns can cause crops to fail which could lead to famine and conflict.

    I know you can't answer for David so perhaps you can prod David with an email.

  20. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 14 Dec, 2015

    I've read a couple of Matt Ridley's books on genetics and evolution and I enjoyed them, but you're right Zafir that he is not an expert on climate change. As usual, I can't understand how real climate scientists can't look at Ridley's arguments and come around to his way of thinking, so clearly they must be able to find considerable flaws in them. So again, until the real experts en masse start to dismiss AGW, I'll side with the view that's it's likely a problem.

    And like you I have a problem with people who argue that changes in climate for some regions would actually be welcome, eg warmer temperatures mean they can grow new crops. But they forget that other regions that used to grow those crops may now be too hot and dry to do so, meaning their economy will collapse and the population will migrate, causing a worldwide flood of refugees. Likewise diseases like mosquito-borne malaria will also migrate to regions where previously it was too cold to exist. As you say, famine and conflict caused by regional changes in climate could be a huge problem. It pisses me off when people argue that even if AGW is real, all it will mean is that they will be able to wear just a T-shirt and shorts more often. What's the problem with that? It's almost as if they think some god is in control and while he makes their local climate more pleasant with a little warming, he will likewise cool the climate in hot, dry desert regions, and leave the likes of Hawaii just as it is. And the world did rejoice. Yeah right, that's how climate change works.

  21. Comment by Zafir, 14 Dec, 2015

    Hi John. Just re-read your reply to David. There was something very strange about it. It took me a few minutes to figure out what it was; I found myself completely agreeing with you. Not a common experience for me.

  22. Comment by the 'Silly Beliefs' Team, 14 Dec, 2015

    You're agreeing with me? I suppose this is where you ask for money? ;-)

    Or perhaps that consciousness shift — remember the Mayan Calendar — that was supposed to have happened in Dec 2012 has finally kicked in for you, where humans shift to a higher vibration and level of consciousness?

    But seriously, I thought I was going to see the year out with not a single person ever agreeing with me. But finally someone concurs with my view on something. And to think, people said that Hell would have to freeze over first.

  23. Comment by David, 15 Dec, 2015

    So Matt Ridley is not an expert on Climate Change? Well not a real expert. What expertise do you need to have?

    How about John Christie? https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BhFqgflaQVQ

    I don't think the principles behind climate science are difficult to understand. There are many papers in the literature about the potential impacts of global temperature change on sea levels, coral blanching, butterfly habitat and the like. Very few of these are counterintuitive in any way. Nor is there any debate about the first order effect of CO2 concentration. Everyone seems to agree that human activity has led to an increase in CO2 concentrations, and that the theoretical effect of doubling the CO2 concentration would be about a 1 degree increase in temperature. The issue comes down to whether there are positive or negative feedbacks. The climate models rely on an assumption that the feedback is positive. The models were calibrated during a period of rapid rise in temperatures in the later part of last century, and to make the models fit observations one had to assume quite high positive feedbacks. The divergence between the model predictions and observation since then seem to suggest that either the basic assumption or the calibrated strength of the feedback was wrong. On the other hand I predicted, quite early in this debate, that plant growth would increase (based on Le Châtelier's principle) and it was several years before there was general acceptance that this has in fact happened. A positive benefit of CO2 that many studies chose to ignore.

    I am not a climate scientist. I do have more than a passing knowledge of science. I also have experience in calibrating large complex mathematical forecasting models. If temperatures has continued to rise as predicted by the models, I would have had no hesitation in believing their underlying assumptions. But they haven't and I don't. You only have to disprove a hypothesis once.

    It is quite possible that the basic assumptions in the models are correct, but that because the period in which the models were calibrated had, by chance, an unusually high rate of temperature growth, the model coefficients have been miss-specified. Normally what would happen is that the authors would go back and re-calibrate the models and that would be that. Unfortunately global warming has become a huge industry on which many reputations have been staked. They are not letting go easily.

  24. Comment by Zafir, 16 Dec, 2015

    Hi David.

    "So Matt Ridley is not an expert on Climate Change?"
    I don't know if Matt Ridley is an expert on Climate Change. The only thing of his I have read is the link you provided John. Although I was unimpressed with many of his references.
    I was musing to John on why you would think he was good and honest.
    So why do you think Matt Ridley is a good and honest source?

    My speculation is, it could be because you like what he has to say on the matter.
    Am I incorrect?
    No problem if I am, just let me know why.

    Do you think that we should not have to worry about climate change because Matt says it won't be dangerous for a long time?

    Do you think that we should trust him because he had an opinion piece published in a well know science mag?

    I agree that the principles of climate science are not hard to understand. Although I wouldn't call them principles and the items that you list are far from well understood by the average non expert.

    "What expertise do you need to have?"
    Some aspects of climate science are very specific, expertise in their very narrow field is what they would require. But even then I would rather see the data for myself and try to understand what is going on.
    "How about John Christie?"
    I had only heard about John Christy in relation to the UAH data sets.

    Basically I try to separate the person from the ideas they are trying to get across. A person can be right or wrong depending on what they are talking about and when they were talking about it. e.g. I don't discount John Christy's point of view just because he has been both a missionary and a pastor.

    I think an idea, statement or hypothesis can and should be tested and examined on it's own merits and not by who said them.

    I am interested in if you think the statement — climate change is real, man made and dangerous, is extreme and or silly?

  25. Comment by David, 17 Dec, 2015

    In reply to Zafir, who says

    So why do you think Matt Ridley is a good and honest source? My speculation is, it could be because you like what he has to say on the matter. Am I incorrect?
    I am sure I am affected by confirmation bias like the rest of us. I might ask a similar question — You say "Although I was unimpressed with many of his references" — perhaps because you don't like what they say.

    I have read Matt's writing on a number of subjects and have always found his arguments to be well researched and presented — even when I don't agree with them — so my expectation would be that his arguments on climate change would also be well founded. But of course I selected that particular piece to quote in this forum precisely because for the most part I agreed with it.

    My inclination, which you clearly share, is to discount the arguments of missionaries and pastors. I don't understand how intelligent people can believe in sky fairies. But I accept that some do. And I congratulate you for the clever way you present an ad hominem attack as the opposite.

    For the record, I actually disagree with Matt as regards that statement. I think global warming is real and probably mostly natural. Whether it is dangerous or not, (or man-made or not) it is not going to be significantly reduced by reducing the use of fossil fuels, so the best response is adaption rather than prevention.

    If you want to know what I base this on, it is this:

    1) The theory behind the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 seems to be robust (I can understand it!) Without CO2 the world would be a whole lot cooler. Based on the theory doubling the CO2 concentration would lead to a 1 degree temperature increase.

    2) The climate model predictions rely on the assumption that there is a positive feedback. The feedback coefficient was calibrated during a period of high temperature growth

    3) As a rule, I would be suspicious of a positive feedback mechanism. Systems with positive feedbacks are unstable. While climate has fluctuated over the last few million years, it has in fact been remarkably stable.

    4) Increased heat and CO2 concentrations increase photosynthesis. So the natural world has a feedback mechanism that is negative (ie stabilising)

    5) The climate models predicted continued rapid warming into this century and that has not happened. Even with adjusted data sets the rate of increase falls far short of the predictions

    6) The most likely explanation is that the high growth in temperatures in the latter part of last century was due to the compounding effect of some other cause rather than a positive feedback mechanism.

    Now there are other possible explanations that might be made to fit the alarmist creed. But I would trust Occam's razor and go for the simple one.
  26. Comment by Zafir, 19 Dec, 2015

    Hi John. I suspect that you don't want silly beliefs to become another climate change forum. but here's my response to David anyway.

    Hi David.

    "I am sure I am affected by confirmation bias like the rest of us. I might ask a similar question — You say "Although I was unimpressed with many of hiis references" — perhaps because you don't like what they say."
    Well it doesn't appear to be a question but I will bite anyway. Yes I am susceptible to the halo effect, horn effect, expectation, conformation and various other biases. I care more about the truth than about being right so I strive to minimise biases in my reasoning process.

    The reason that I think many of the reference that Matt supplies are weak is because I like factual statements to be backed up by facts, not other people's blogs.

    "I think global warming is real and probably mostly natural."

    "1) The theory behind the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 seems to be robust (I can understand it!) Without CO2 the world would be a whole lot cooler. Based on the theory doubling the CO2 concentration would lead to a 1 degree temperature increase."

    I do not understanding your reasoning. You acknowledge the greenhouse effect and seem to be aware that greenhouse gas concentrations are increasing.

    Do you think that these gases are increasing in the atmosphere only by natural phenomena?

    Do you not think that burning hydrocarbons or the manufacture of cement do not give off CO2 as a by-product?

    Does land use change and deforestation not have any effect?

    Is your main beef with modelling?
    Fair enough, there are variables that are so difficult to predict that they might as well be random. I am always cautious when somebody makes a statement about the future.

    "4) Increased heat and CO2 concentrations increase photosynthesis. So the natural world has a feedback mechanism that is negative (ie stabilising)"
    Do you think this mechanism will be enough? Do you have any data or references that suggest it will be?
    "Now there are other possible explanations that might be made to fit the alarmist creed. But I would trust Occam's razor and go for the simple one."
    Sorry I missed it, I might not have been reading carefully enough. What was the simple one?
  27. Comment by David, 19 Dec, 2015

    I seem to be having a discussion with Zafir

    Matt Ridley's analysis is not based on blogs, but even if it was, I would have thought the strength of the argument was more important than the source.

    The theory behind CO2 being a greenhouse gas is based on it absorbing particular wavelengths. That is a simple verifiable fact. I haven't done the experiment myself but I am happy to accept it is true. If it is true, then you can calculate the effect of increasing the concentration. I have seen a mathematical proof that doubling the concentration should increase the temperature about one degree. I regret I didn't go through the workings, but it sounds plausible. If Zafir can give us a reference that proves the effect is greater I will be happy to look at it. Note that if doubling the CO2 concentration increases the temperature one degree this is a logarithmic response — the impact of each additional ton of CO2 is reducing.

    So if we accept that it is human actions that are leading to an increase in CO2 — and I know some people with more knowledge of the subject than I think that this is an oversimplification, but let us assume it is true for the moment — we might expect to see an increase in temperature resulting over time as a direct consequence of increasing emissions. But it would not be the dangerous increase that Paris was all about preventing. To get a 2 degree increase in temperature we would have to see a quadruple increase in CO2 concentration. Keeping below 1.5 degrees would not be a big challenge. To get the dire predictions for future temperature increases of over 2 degrees, you have to assume that the CO2 effect is amplified due to positive feedbacks.

    So yes I am aware that the concentration of CO2 is increasing. I am prepared to accept for the sake of argument that the increase is caused by humans. What I am sceptical about is the claim that the feedback is positive. As I said, if the feedback truly was positive we would have an unstable system. Zafir must be aware that burning hydrocarbons and making cement are not the only sources of CO2 in the atmosphere and I am not aware of any claim that only human-generated CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas. If there really was a positive feedback the world would already have headed for one extreme or the other. It is more likely that feedback is negative. Photosynthesis is one negative feedback. It clearly is insufficient by itself otherwise the CO2 concentration would not have risen, but it is entirely consistent with the observation that over time the increase in temperature has been less than one degree for each doubling of C02 concentration.

    So how did we get these alarmist models? Again let us assume that the structure of the models is correct (even the owners would agree that is generous). If you have read the literature you would know that the degree of feedback is a parameter that is estimated by calibrating the model. Since the models were calibrated over a period when there happened to be a high rate of global warming, the feedback coefficients in the models are strongly positive. If the same models were to be calibrated to fit the period from 2000 to the present, the feedback coefficient would be negative.

    So given that the long term relationship between CO2 concentration and temperature has seen the temperature rising at less than one degree per doubling of the concentration, what is more likely? That the late 20th century rapid warming is the real thing, the feedback really is positive and that the failure of the temperature to keep pace with predictions is because the heat has been trapped in the oceans, or the early 20 century temperature readings were all mistakenly too high — or that the feedback is in fact negative and the late 20th century increase was compounded by some other influence?

    My hypothesis is that the feedback is negative.
    If it is negative, then global warming could well be real, man made, but would not be dangerous.

    I believe it is possible to mount a credible argument that global warming is primarily a natural phenomenon and the feedback almost eliminates the human contribution, but to do that relies on disputed 'facts'. Leave it at real man made and not dangerous for now.

  28. Comment by Zafir, 20 Dec, 2015

    Hi David

    "Matt Ridley's analysis is not based on blogs, but even if it was, I would have thought the strength of the argument was more important than the source."
    And I would have thought that reliability of facts was the back bone of a sound argument.
    I have done a quick tally of the links that Matt used to back up his articles that you provided.
    Blogs 7
    iPCC policy summary 2
    organisations set up to sway policy 5
    testimony statement 1
    Government research organisation 1
    Data or data access site 2
    Academic papers 3
    Not found or can't access 2
    Industry stats 2
    IEA 1
    Newspaper article 2
    netweather tv ? 1
    Overall I thought the references were weak, with a few instances of cherry picking thrown in for good measure.

    I played with a few figures today out of interest. I took four decades of direct measurements of C02 (ppm) from ftp://.noaa.gov/ and compared them with the same four decades of surface temperature anomaly from http://.nasa.gov/ this data set is an index in 0.01 degree C based on variance from the 1951 — 1980 average
    Here's what I found.
    1975 to 1984, ave CO2 337.7, ave temp var 19.4
    1985 to 1994, ave CO2 352.9, ave temp var 36.3 (warming of 0.17 C on previous decade)
    1995 to 2004, ave CO2 368.9, ave temp var 65.3 (warming of 0.29 C on previous decade)
    2005 to 2014, ave CO2 388.6, ave temp var 82 (warming of 0.17 C on previous decade)

    Now this is very crude, in fact I crunched the numbers while trying out some of my home brew. Also correlation is not the same thing as causation. But the implied sensitivity of this is somewhere between 2.3 and 5.8 C per doubling of CO2. No fancy modelling here. Interestingly when I check this against papers written on climate sensitivity I found my crude workings were within the bounds of the experts, (I must have gotten lucky.)
    Hansen et al 1993 3 +/-1
    Bender et al 2010 1.7 to 4.1 C

    "To get a 2 degree increase in temperature we would have to see a quadruple increase in CO2 concentration. Keeping below 1.5 degrees would not be a big challenge. To get the dire predictions for future temperature increases of over 2 degrees, you have to assume that the CO2 effect is amplified due to positive feedbacks."
    The first part of your statement is clearly wrong. There has already been around 1 degree warming and we are nowhere near doubling CO2 levels yet. Are you aware that it is 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels they are talking about?

    You have now acknowledged — that CO2 abssorbs certain wavelengths "That is a simple verifiable fact."
    — that "the concentration of CO2 is increasing."
    — you are even "prepared to accept for the sake of argument that the increase is caused by humans"
    Of course human activity is not the only source of greenhouse gases, they were around a little while longer than us.

    "Photosynthesis is one negative feedback. It clearly is insufficient by itself otherwise the CO2 concentration would not have risen, but it is entirely consistent with the observation that over time the increase in temperature has been less than one degree for each doubling of C02 concentration."
    Seriously where are you getting this stuff from? How many doublings of CO2 have we had?
    I am probably coming across as insulting now, and I don't mean to. It is just the second part of that statement is so obviously false that I hope it was a typo.

    Think about it. Is there an ongoing increase in the energy balance? You know melting ice, higher temperatures, thermal expansion, that kind of thing. If there is an overall increase, then there is an overall nett positive forcing.
    Suppose you will either have to dispute the data or argue semantics over what the word dangerous means.