Facing up to the Embarrassing Fact of Ignorance

On Sunday, I will join Rabbi Fred Morgan and historian and blogger Dr Paul O’Shea in a panel discussion of Pius XII and the Holocaust. I have prepared as well as I can for this important event, being jointly organised by the Council of Christians and Jews and B’nai B’rith Antidefamation Commission, but I have to admit to being a little trepadacious (is that a word?). The reason for this is that there is so much about the topic which I simply don’t know. I am somewhat comforted, however, by the fact that someone who has studied the matter as deeply as Dr O’Shea has, also admits that ignorance on this topic is something we will all have to get used to – there is so much we simply will never know (not this side of eternity anyway). So, going into Sunday’s event, I have been rehearsing saying that phrase which is really very difficult for me to admit: “I don’t know.”

I like to think of myself as a scripture scholar and a theologian, and, as my wife will tell you, I am something of an omnivore when it comes to the reading of works by scriptures scholars and theologians. Yet the more astute of my readers will have notices the absence of PhD or even MTh or MDiv after my name. The lack of such qualifications are for me what one might call a “thorn in my pride”. Yet do not fear, my self-image remains intact, as common experience has taught me that many holders of such qualifications tend increasingly to be more and more informed about less and less, as doctoral dissertations demand (by their very nature and by sheer practicality) that the scholar focus on a very narrow field of enquiry. My point in this rambling is that even if one is a Doctor of Philosophy or Theology (or of Economics or Science for that matter), one’s amount of knowledge always remains finite, while what one does not know always remains infinite. As Douglas Adams famously opined, “Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds”, hence the learned scholar is just as ignorant as the layman.

Well, that’s as may be. (You may notice that my blog ramblings tend to be a string of connected ideas, rather than an actual single argument; I say: “Live with it”.) I read a great piece in The Age today by retired Senator, Nick Minchin, on Climate Change and Climate Change Skepticism (“They tried to change my mind but I’m still a climate skeptic” ). On the infamous QandA program with Cardinal Pell and Richard Dawkins, the compere had a go at the good Cardinal for being a Climate Change Skeptic. The irony is actually rather sweet when you think about it. The Atheist criticises the Believer for believing in something for which there is no evidence (the Believer, on the other hand, believes that there is plenty of evidence, and that the Atheist is simply too blind to see it). But then the Climate Change Believer criticises the Climate Change Skeptic for being too blind to see the evidence which is before their eyes (evidence which, according to the Climate Change Skeptic, is only there if you have already decided to believe in the claim in the first place).

Now the piece by Nick Minchin is about another ABC program in which he participated, called “I Can Change Your Mind”. I haven’t heard of it before, nor have I watched it. The article in The Age, however, shows that while Mr Minchin has every respect for climate change activists, the whole issue does come down to a matter of belief. He concludes his article by saying:

Indeed, the absence of warming since 1998 despite rising carbon dioxide levels shakes the foundations of the alarmists’ cause, as green icon James Lovelock, father of the Gaia theory, recognised this week when he backtracked from his alarmism. He now says: “The great climate centres around the world are more than well aware how weak their science is.”

What I do know about science is that it is dynamic, that there are always unknowns and that there is much we don’t know about Earth’s climate. May the debate continue.

The admission “that there is much we don’t know” is worth taking on board. “But we DO know!”, I can hear the Climate Change Believers retorting (in much the same way that I assure you that I DO know that Christ is risen from the dead), “We have the evidence.” No, my dear CCB’s, what you have is exactly what I have for my faith in the Risen Christ – the witness of those who claim to know. You (unless you have personally dedicated your life to the study of climate and the impact of human created carbon emissions upon the climate) and I are forced to rely on the witness of this or that scientist as much as I rely upon the witness of the apostles for my knowledge of Jesus Christ. What you have is faith that their witness is reliable, a faith which I personally do not share. Yes, indeed, you may be able to examine the results of those scientific studies for yourself, just as I can study the veracity of the apostolic witness, but in the end, both you and I have to admit that what we don’t know is in fact much more than what we do know.

If you were to ask me whether or not I “believed in Climate Change”, I would have to tell you “I don’t know”. I know that there are a lot of people who want me to join them in their new-found eco-faith, and a lot of others who condemn me for my failure to “make a decision for Climate Change”, but the fact is that on this matter, I simply have to say “I don’t know”. Nor, I think, does anyone else.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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37 Responses to Facing up to the Embarrassing Fact of Ignorance

  1. Kate says:

    Hmm, the problem of credentialism!

    I think it is important to make a number of distinctions here – degrees can certify as to one’s grasp of content knowledge in regard to a set curriculum (undergraduate, diplomas to course work masters) plus a certain level of skill in putting it together in various ways. Research degrees by contrast demonstrate one’s ability to carry out extended research, provide a certain level of analysis and put it into coherent form.

    Both skill and knowledge sets can be attained in other ways, and there is always a danger of credentialism – putting undue weight on the qualification as opposed to the actual skill and knowledge set! Not least because to a certain extent a PhD for example is as much an endurance test as anything else, and we all know people who have somehow managed to obtain a qual but it is not obvious how!

    That said, the advantage of doing a formal course of study is that we can’t avoid the bits of the subject matter we don’t much like, don’t agree with, have our thinking tested by those with some expertise and be asssessed as having achieved certain competency in critical thinking in the relevant field.

    When I first started work after getting my first degree, we were givne a talk by someone who said go back to uni every ten years and update your ‘human capital’ with a further qualification. His argument was that the state of content knowledge in your field will typically turnover in that time, new techniques and so forth will come in that you need to update, and no one should remain isolated in their own narrow area of interest for too long. It was good advice which I’ve taken and never regretted!

    All the same, there are areas of expertise I’ve needed to acquire along the way for work and other purposes that aren’t reflected in my formal qualifications, and I do sometimes think it would be nice if there was something equivalent, in the higher education sector, to the voc ed concept of ‘recognition of prior learning’!

    The bottomline is we don’t need to have a phd in Pius XII and the holocaust (or any other topic) to be able to say something sensible on the subject, amd acknowledgment of the limits of our own expertise is surely a sign of intellectual maturity! But do consider go doing that Masters!

    • John Candido says:

      Thank you very much Kate for giving me the word ‘credentialism’ together with its meaning! As someone who has always had, and still has, an abiding respect for any person’s credentials, it is important to place this in perspective. There are many people who have great intelligence who are cleaners, tradespeople, or unskilled labourers, who could have been doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, mathematicians, or theologians for that matter, given the opportunity and personal interest.

      Similarly, there are a multitude of people who having qualified for one profession, or having no profession, who could have been far more successful in some other calling in life. This could include such examples as carpenters who could have been better plumbers or doctors, or engineers who could have been better suited as tradespeople, artists, or business people.

      Will I gain another degree in future as a mature age student, in addition to my Bachelor of Arts, is unknown at this stage? Whether I do or not, at least I have been exposed to attitudes such as credentialism, to correct my own bias towards them, and not worry so much about having the credentials or authority to say this or that. To be aware of my intellectual limitations is vital, as someone who tries to be a conscientious blogger in theological or non-theological matters. We must always keep in mind the honourable tradition of highly skilled and knowledgeable amateurs, who are not credentialed, but who can offer integrity and great service to the community nonetheless. Politics has such a tradition.

  2. Tony says:

    I think there are two consistent approaches you can take on both issues. The first is positive:

    I am genuinely open to the possibility of a God and I am genuinely open to the possibility of human contribution to climate change. Who do I talk to, read, listen to? Surely you’d choose organisations and individuals with long-term credibility in the field? In both cases it is surely the representatives of faith and science that have stood the test of time and have a depth of knowlege and experience.

    In both cases, there are concerns about their credibility, but overall scientific organisations and mainstream religions are the best source of knowlege in terms of climate and faith (of course I’m only comparing the two for the sake of argument, they are different ways of knowing).

    The second is negative:

    I’m not open to the idea of human influenced climate change or God and I dismiss both ‘authorities’ because I can find plenty of cases where they got things wrong or their representatives were corrupt.

    On that basis, it seems to me, +Pell is inconsistent. There may be exceptions, but overwhelmingly those best place to make a judgement — the scientific bodies of the world — have been consistent and strong in the concern they’ve expressed for climate change.

  3. Joshua says:

    Yes, it is highly amusing to see atheism as the fashion (as if one could believe in such nonsense as God! – whatever next?) and also doctrinaire commitment to the truth of climate change (as if anyone could reject it without being wicked and disingenuous). A few centuries ago, atheism was viewed as obviously wrong and sinful, while scientific inquiries were matters of theoretical interest to the few. Just today I picked up briefly a book whose blurb informed me that, given the existence of WMD’s (should that be W’s MD?), belief in any kind of absolute truth regarding God and religion “cannot be allowed” – which seems both an attack upon fundamental rights and also a naive statement forgetful of recent history: for during the Cold War, did not nuclear weapons exist? and did not communism proclaim itself a system of absolute truth? yet never did we outlaw communism. Last time I checked, the religious views (if any) of the President of France, the Queen and British P.M., the current U.S. President, the soon-to-be-reelected President of Russia, and the rulers of China did not seem overly to influence their restraint regarding use of their large stockpiles of atomic weapons. Arguably, a few “rogue states” such as North Korea (a Stalinist theocracy ruled by a dynasty of god-kings) and Iran (a Shiite theocracy, currently experiencing tensions between the military-backed President and the theocratic elite), to say nothing of terrorists (of a certain religion only, though it is un-P.C. to say so), are the only groups whose potential for exploding atomic bombs may relate to their own religious beliefs! It is inescapable that those who have a problem with Christianity, rather than seeking counselling, seem to have a puerile wish to attack it, without the slightest regard for the hard-won rights of the modern West, as helpfully summed up in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (a document whose contents, embarrassingly enough for anti-believers, were strongly influenced by Catholic philosophers).

    In other words, people make embarrassing errors in debating these issues, errors that a first year philosophy student would be gently reminded not to commit (hopefully).

    As for religion and climate change, well, both are proposals about how to interpret the world around us: the latter is an issue – to what extent climate is modified by human inputs – that greater scientific research (and indeed the obvious test of watching the thermometer over the next few decades) will eventually prove, disprove or (more likely) reinterpret and refine; the former, an issue that, we as Christians believe, is not merely a matter of human investigation, but of supernatural revelation – and therefore carries a far greater guarantee of its truth. That is the fundamental distinction: any scientific theory is a product of human reason applied to sense data, testable by comparison with reality; a religion, at least in Christian terms (if not also in Jewish and Muslim views, etc.), is not merely the product of unaided reason, but has its anchor in God revealing truth to us, and therefore has a degree of veracity that science never can possess.

    After all, as I recall dear Br Christian teaching me (at the beginning of my studies that later resulted in a degree in theology, studies that I am still pursuing), faith is an infused, intellectual, supernatural, theological virtue – God grants the gift of faith, which aids the intellect and indeed raises its capacities to a new, supernatural level, by which the mind can grasp divine truth. We know the truths of faith (such as God being Trinity) with greater sureness than we know even logical truths (e.g. the principle of non-contradiction), or mathematical truths (e.g. 1+1=2), let alone than we know truths about the natural world (e.g. the Earth orbits the Sun), or about human history (e.g. that Napoleon fought such-and-such battles). Religious belief is founded upon superior epistemological claims. As Aquinas notes at the outset of the Summa, normally the argument from authority is the weakest of all arguments, but, in theology, it is the strongest, owing to the unique authority of God, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

    Compare this to scientific claims – and I speak as one with an honours degree in astronomy, with a double major in mathematics and physics, so I am not entirely ignorant of science – whereby we have come to have a profound grasp of some aspects of the laws of the universe; and yet in many areas there still remains much that is obscure. I myself, not being an expert in the science appertaining to the world’s climate, must needs rely upon expert testimony: and clearly this testimony is not as absolutely persuasive nor authoritative as one could wish it were. (I think, purely as an interested observer, that Bjorn Lomborg’s view that human inputs are effecting climate change, and that the best thing to do is to adapt to this, rather than expend money and expertise on less-effective methods of averting it, is probably the via media. Further than that, I would counsel, if the worst-case comes to pass, moving either to far southern New Zealand, or arctic Canada, though here in Tasmania the best available predictions suggest that little climate change will affect lifestyles for the next half-century or so.)

    The most important argument in the arsenal of environmentalists (and I am by no means opposed to their insights and this one in particular) is the “precautionary principle”, a (seemingly justifiable) reversal of the usual onus of proof whereby, in the case of some development that may cause drastic and even irreversible environmental damage, before that development may be undertaken, it must first be proven not to in fact cause that possible dreadful outcome. In the case of climate change worries, the principle is easy to discern: if there is a possibility that our emissions of carbon dioxide, etc., will cause deleterious, long-term and almost irreversible changes to the Earth’s climate, then there is a sufficient reason to act to stop it by stopping those emissions. The problem is whether or not stopping such emissions is both politically feasible and actually the most viable method for dealing with the situation, granting the danger is real. It is well-known that methods of carbon-capture and storage are far from demonstrable, let alone cheap enough to employ; likewise, emissions of greenhouse gases are on the up-and-up at faster and faster rates as China, and to a lesser extent the rest of the developing world, industrializes, and who could imagine being able to stop that process; and notoriously all current renewable sources of energy are both very much more expensive and much less capable of producing significant percentages of the world’s power needs that fossil fuels are. That is why adaptation to climate change seems to me the real-world thing to do. But, as this is not a religious issue, we have not the same access to absolute truth, and so all are free to disagree on this point.

  4. Catherine says:

    Any chance of taping the talk for those who cant attend?

    • Schütz says:

      I’m not sure if they intend to record the presentation and discussion. I am pretty sure Dr O’Shea will make his paper available afterwards – and mine will be too. I will see what transpires.

  5. Matthias says:

    Which reminds me Schutz that i noted in the Pew Sheet at the Cathedral this morning, that there will be a discussion on Bioethics at the Celtic club this coming thursday night, between Nick Tonti-Fillipini and Rabbi Shimon Cohen who is director of the Institute of Judaism and Civilisation

    • SonofTrypho says:

      Is this the same Rabbi Cowen who has recently embroiled himself in some controversy in the Jewish community concerning his opinions of homosexuality?

  6. Peregrinus says:

    Well, isn’t it true of the great bulk of what we “know” that, in fact, we accept it on the authority of others? The experiences of one human being are necessarily limited by time, place, circumstance, culture, etc. To take a simple example, I was well into my thirties before I knew from my own observation that Australia actually exists, and well into my forties before I knew in the same way that New Zealand exists. I still have no direct evidence that Russia, China or South America exist. I have no experience from which I could say that the moon is, or is not, made of green cheese. I do not know that Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott exist – I have never met either of them, or even seen them. I do not know, in fact, whether a person called David Schutz exists; for all I know he could be a very advanced artificial intelligence application. Of all the contributors on this blog, to my knowledge the only one I’ve ever met in the flesh is Faz. (And that could have been an impostor!)

    It does seem to me that the only way we can live with this kind of limited knowledge is by developing workable skills which enable us to assess what is presented to us for credibility. I think that assessing the credibility/authority of the person telling us is only a small part of this – most of what we are told is, after all, told to us by people who themselves have it at second hand, and so on down quite a long chain.

    A much larger part, I think, is assessing the credibililty of what is told to us. Is it coherent? Is it rational? Does it accord with what we already know/believe? Does it “fit” with our experience, our common sense, our reason, our instinct? The information that troubles us most, perhaps, is the information that defies credibility, rationality, etc, and that yet for other reasons we are compelled to accept as true – e.g. that on a single day in 2011 Anders Breivik murdered 77 people in order to publicise an almost unreadable manifesto setting out his bizarre political opinions.

    I think what this means is that what we know, or what we choose to accept as knowledge, is quite subjective. It’s heavily culturally influenced, of course – the Enlightenment encourages a particular framework for assessing knowledge-propositions – but it’s also personal.

    It’s no coincidence that climate change scepticism/openness correlates quite closely with political conservatism/liberalism. Now, I might like to think that my political stance is the result of clear-sighted and dispassionate observation of society and intgelligent reflection on history whereas yours is the outcome of romantic delusions and/or naked self-interest about which you are in denial, but actually there is no reason to believe that this is so. My political stance, and yours, reflect my culture, my upbringing, my experience, my reflections, and so forth – and so, it seems likely, does my attitude to climate change.

    As Joshua point out, it’s ironic to see atheists who have an unshakeable faith in anthropogenic climate change – but perhaps no more ironic than to see theists whose scepticism on the point is so strong that they reject all measures designed to address it.

    Faith, I think, is the way we deal with things that we do not or cannot know. I didn’t observe the resurrection, and I haven’t had any startling mystical experience which, even subjectively, convinces me of its reality. But it appeals to me by providing explanations, and coherence, and meaning, and significance, and by addressing questions which otherwise cannot be addressed, and accordingly I choose to live in reliance on it. Yes, intellectually I cannot deny that I might turn out to be wrong, but I am content to live in the faith of the resurrection – or at least to try to live in that faith – and I’ll accept the possibility that my faith might turn out to be misplaced.

    Climate change, of course, is a matter of rather less moment. With respect to climate change the issue is not how, fundamentally, live is to be lived, but the comparatively trivial issue of whether to pay a carbon tax, whether to support recycling, whether to pay the costs of moving towards sustainability, etc. A big “I don’t know” with respect to anthropogenic climate change isn’t much help here because, in the end, we either will or won’t have carbon taxes, and bear the other costs that are rational to bear if anthropogenic climate change is, indeed, real. We have to make this decision without full knowledge, but that’s in the nature of the decision. If we wait until we have full knowledge – until the real-time whole-of-planet experiment has run its course, as it were – then we will no longer have the opportunity to make any decision. Hence the kind of choice we have to make here is, in some ways, not a thousand miles from the kind of choice that religious propositions demand of us.

    (P.S. The word you want, David, is “trepid” – trembling, agitated, fearful; first attested in 1650. If you were a highly advanced artificial intelligence system, you’d know that.)

  7. Gareth says:

    On the actual issue of ‘climate change’. I have no strong opinion BUT considering most green-leaning citizens are more than hostile to and not willing to take on board some of my strong held beliefs (eg abortion, children needing mothers, homosexuality and euthanasia) – likewise I am not willing to take on baord anything they have to say.

    I wonder how many Christains would like to take such green-orientated views seriously, but can not because they see the Greens as a moral cancer.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Isn’t that an ad hominem argument, and generally regarded as fallacious? A thing is either objectively true or objectively false, but it does not become true or false because e.g. Bob Brown says it.

      Besides, what you seem to be saying is that you will reject what “green-leaning citizens” believe. What if non-“green leaning citizens” also believe it? Most of the advocacy about the need to take action on climate change does not come from people who are identifiably greenies (unless you take the view that anyone who advocates for this is by definition a greenie, in which case your argument is simply circular).

      I wonder how many Christains would like to take such green-orientated views seriously, but can not because they see the Greens as a moral cancer.

      A Christian who would like to take any proposition seriously but doesn’t because he thinks its advocates are immoral is subordinating truth to ideology. Which is bad science and bad Christianity.

      • Gareth says:

        Pere: Isn’t that an ad hominem argument

        Gareth: Certainly not and if it is – it would up to you to prove otherwise.

        Obviously if Matthias (and I thank him for his response) responses in the affitmative, what I have said would carry a lot of weight amongst many Catholics.

        The Green agenda is simply evil and uncompatible with the moral compass of everyday Catholics.

        • Peregrinus says:

          Pere: Isn’t that an ad hominem argument?

          Gareth: Certainly not . . .

          Why not?

          . . . and if it is – it would up to you to prove otherwise.?

          What do you mean by “prove”? That’s a bit like trying to prove that a table is an item of furniture, or that a Catholic is a Christian. All we need do is to look at the definition of the general concept under examination – argumentum ad hominem – and then see if the particular concept – what you say about climate change – falls within the definition.

          An argumentum ad hominem is an attempt to refute an argument or proposition by attacking the beliefs or character of the person proposing it (Oxford English Dictionary). Or, if you prefer, it’s an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it (Wikipedia).

          This seems to me exactly what you’re doing here. You say that you are not willing to take the idea of anthropogenic climate change on board, because “green-leaning citizens” are hostile to, and unwilling to take on board, some of your views. In other words, you reject climate change not because of anything about the notion of climate change itself, but because of the beliefs, or behaviour, of the “green-leaning citizens” who advocate it. That falls squarely within the notion of “argumentum ad hominem”.

          It has to be pointed out that “argumentum ad hominem” is a logical fallacy – that is to say, it’s not a sound reason for rejecting the idea of anthropogenic climate change (or anything else). Even if it is true that green-leaning citizens are hostile to your views, this tells us absolutely nothing whatsoever about whether what they have to say about anthropogenic climate change has any truth or utility. It’s entirely possible to be hostile to Gareth’s values, and yet well-informed about climate science.

          • Gareth says:

            Pere – You have deliberately misquoted my post.

            I said something along the lines of I find it hard to take on board anything Green-orienated peoples have to say (and hence climate change fits the Bill) because of their evil and extremist views on other significant moral issues.

            That they are a moral cancer and deeply at odd with Catholic morals undermines the credbility of their other views deeply. Many Catholics would simply acknowledge this as Matthias did.

            Pere – Is a reason that you deliberatly have put your own spin on my first post here because I have reached the stage where arguing just for the sake of simply arguing simply wastes my time, particularly when this arguement is against views of the orthodox Catholic persuasion.

            In a previous post you admited some of your views are at odds with that of Catholic morals (which I commend for the honesty), so perhaps it is the right time to say lets agree to disagree, I simply dont have time to waste to continually go around in circles and move on.

            • Peregrinus says:

              Well, if I must cut-and-paste, what you said, Gareth, is this:

              “. . . considering most green-leaning citizens are more than hostile to and not willing to take on board some of my strong held beliefs (eg abortion, children needing mothers, homosexuality and euthanasia) – likewise I am not willing to take on board anything they have to say.”

              Or, to put it the other way around, you will not “take on board” anything certain people say because those people will not “take on board” some of your beliefs. Your objection is not to what is said, but to who is saying it. I defy anyone to argue that that is not an ad hominem argument, and it is nonsense to suggest that I am “deliberately putting my own spin” on what you wrote. Nor am I arguing just for the sake of argument, and it is flat-out wrong of you to suggest that I am arguying “against views of the orthodox Catholic persuasion”. There is no Catholic teaching which says that we must either accept, or not point out, ad hominem arguments.

            • Gareth says:

              Pere – you blantantly put your own ‘spin’ on my original post that I dont accept climate change????

              That is a deliberate distort. The original post said nothing of the sort.

              Greens orientated views on important Catholic morals do give less credence to their broad views. This is a good and valid point to be made.

              I honestly do not see how one could put a spin on this to claim this classifies as an ad hoc attack.

              If you believe otherwise and continually ignore advice to stop twisting posts/arguing with Catholic orientated views for no legit reason, then its for the best to not continue any conversation. Just a waste of time.

            • Tony says:



  8. Matthias says:

    Garreth -“I wonder how many Christains would like to take such green-orientated views seriously, but can not because they see the Greens as a moral cancer.” I would if the Greens were not pagan in their outlook. I think there are some Christians who vote Green because of the “social justice ” policies and ignore the life and death ones

    • Gareth says:

      Thanks Matthias for the response.

      Those twho won’t even acknowledge and support the most basic rights we can have, namely to life itself, undermine the credibility of the causes they do espouse.

      Aint that the truth.

  9. “[You] have prepared as well as [you] can for this important event[ “a panel discussion of Pius XII and the Holocaust”], being jointly organised by the Council of Christians and Jews and B’nai B’rith Antidefamation Commission, but [you] have to admit to being a little trepadacious (is that a word?).”

    I would feel more than just a little trepidation at the thought of participating in an event (co-)organised by B’nai B’rith (or an agency thereof).

  10. mormorador says:

    David, you have confused being a witness, which requires no knowledge about what one sees, with being an expert, where one has expert knowledge of the subject under consideration. Climate change scientists do not witness to climate change, they give authoritative (i.e. not, note, Authority) testimony as to explanations about it.
    I cant believe you have innocently fudged these; I suspect you (like much of the right wing) are playing the down-home ‘proddie’ simpleton card, to avoid cognitive dissonance with the very nasty implications of climate change, and to avoid the discomfort of rethinking our obligations if anthropogen. CC is true. Adopting this proddie intellectual persona to avoid expert testimony isnt very Catholic is it? (- both in dodging uncomfortable truths, and in rejecting legitimate expertise – neither of these is a Catholic thing to do).

    The analogy of the expert in climate science in religious matters is not your or my folky belief in the resurrection, but the expertise of a biblical scholar on biblical records about it, and the theorising of a systematic*/dogmatic*/doctrinal* theologian about it.

    Please be assiduous about this distinction and rethink your post.

    Please sort out the notion of witness from expertise before going anywhere near a Catholic theology programme to do any graduate study. Catholicism has always esteemed the development of theological expertise (and, for that matter, but as a side point, it has done its bit to advance secular/philosophical knowledge as well); I think you need to work on just how seriously it takes the notion of expert, and how different this is from the other traditions, like Baptists or born-agains, who seem to operate pretty much on a witness-level only. It is not just about the woo!woo! of inner faith, but about actually KNOWING something. And developing this knowledge takes years, self-discipline, immersion in a craft where one learns the do-s and dont-s. To a certain extent, doing scholarship on theological topics takes a toll on the people who do it – they cant go back to things being as simple and obvious as they were in school religion classes. As a result, there can be misalignment or collision between those who havent done this but (ahem) operate on blogs, and those who have the discipline of the credentials and the institutional positions, and have a responsibility to nuance this entails.
    Please have some sympathy and respect for systematic theologians (as they style themselves now) – even the ones you think are unorthodox monsters; have some respect for the learning and the raw amount of data synthesised to back the climate change position, and get out of ‘born again’ mode. On the basis of deference to expertise, climate change has to be taken seriously.

    • Peter says:

      “Climate change has to taken seriously”
      Really Mormorador!On what basis?
      Global warming zealots are like those protestant sects in the U.S. that keep
      predicting that the world is going to end but the dates come and go and we are still here.
      The planet hasn’t warmed in the last ten years.In 2007 serial clown Tim Flannery said Australia was probably in a permanent drought and even when it rained we would never get enough to fill dams and by 2010 Both Sydney and Brisbane could be just about out of water.Hasn’t happened.Was never going to happen.The last two years have been the two of the wettest on record,many dams around the country are now full,and,as of last week,no part of the country is still in drought.
      Another of their alarmist predictions was that by 2010 there could be as many as 50 million global warming refugees.It is now 2012 and there are zero global warming refugees.Recent satelite photos show as much snow as ever on the Himalayas despite predictions that much of it would disappear.The Great Barrier Reef is not dying as predicted.The Arctic Circle is not melting as predicted.
      1912 saw the Titanic sink to the bottom of the ocean.Global Warming alarmism and the charlatans who push it are headed for a similar soggy end.

      • Gareth says:

        It is funny also Peter that the Greenies predictions (which arguably is based on Nazi-based Eugenics) on population have similarly not came to fruition and now the western world faces the huge issue of agening populations/population decline.

        The Greens are serious false prophets – its time they were held account and their idiotic views highlighted for what they are.

        • Peter says:

          Spot on there Gareth!
          Bob Brown’s recent speech where he talked about inter-galactic phone calls and a one world government showed yet again what a fruitcake he really is.

          • matthias says:

            Peter spot on in both cases.
            Proddy sects in US preiciting the return of Our Lord. The latest is on RAIDERS NEWS UPDATES with the predictions from st Malarchy on PETRUS ROMANUS. but Brown’s call for a One World Government will come true one day -When the KING OF Kings Returns.
            ah give me the sanity and accountability of the Church

    • Kate Edwards says:

      I’ve been keeping out this debate waiting out of curiosity to see whether anyone would make this fairly crucial distinction between the knowledge handed down by the cloud of witnesses, whihc I do think is important.

      The issue, is things like the Resurrection we know because people who saw it passed iton; the knowledge has been safeguarded by the charism of the Holy Spirit entrusted to the Church.

      By contrast we don’t accept scientific knowledge because X who we recognise as authoritative says it. We accept it because we know that it reflects a hypothesis that has been empirically tested, replicated by others, and tested through the peer review process.

      That’s not to say that particular hypothesis will stand the test of time – a better explanation for what we are seeing may come along. But man-made climate change does seem to reflect the assessment of the majority of the scientific community of what is happening.

      And numerous policy assessments suggests that it does so at the level that we should act on the prudential principle.

      The challenge for Catholics in my view, is to fight erroneously based policy responses (such as those that focus on population suppression) and pitch consumerist slef-indulgence as the culprit for what we have done to the planet.

    • Schütz says:

      I’ve re-read my post, and while I am ready to grant that I failed in the distinction between “witness” and “expertise”, I am not ready to wear the accusation that my approach is “proddy”. I think there is an extent to which even someone who publishes something as an “expert” is still a “witness” (an “expert witness”, perhaps?) in that they are using their expertise to make a case for the truth to which they are witnessing. Biblical scholars, sytematic theologians and indeed even scientists, in my experience, are rarely disinterested in the case put forward by their evidence. They use their expertise in order to witness to the Truth as they have discovered it for themselves through their study. I am certainly not trying to downplay the importance of academic study. On the contrary. In the case in which I began, the case of Pius XII and what we know and don’t know, I am completely ready to accept whatever good historians (and I think Paul O’Shea is a good historian) come up with. I listen to them with respect for their expertise. But I still have to make a decision whether or not the conclusions they draw from their scholarly studies are true or not. As much as I honour those who are professional scholars such as yourself, I nevertheless retain the right to examine that scholarship for myself and make my own decision on the matter. I don’t think that is a particularly “protestant” approach, since I am completely ready to submit to the authority of the Church on this matter. And to me, the authority of the Church – informed as it is by the expertise of theologians and biblical scholars – is nevertheless what matters in the end for my faith. IF the time comes that the Church says that Pius XII is a saint, then I will accept the Church’s judgement. I will still be open to historical research on Pius, of course, but historical research on its own doesn’t decide the matter.

      • Peregrinus says:

        Isn’t there a tension, though, between this, in your original post:

        . . . in the end, both you and I have to admit that what we don’t know is in fact much more than what we do know.

        . . . and this, in your comment:

        . . . But I still have to make a decision whether or not the conclusions they draw from their scholarly studies are true or not.

        The implication of your first statement is that, much of the time, the task you set yourself in your second statement will be impossible.

        Now, I realise that your first statement was made in the context of climate change, and your second was made in the context of a historical evaluation of the actions and attitudes of Pius XII with respect to the Holocaust, and hard science is truth of a different order from moral judgment. Still, any judgment you might make about Pius XII has to be based on a knowledge of objective facts about what he did or didn’t do, what he was or wasn’t told, etc. And in any event I’m more interested in the general issue of what we know or can know than in the specifics of climate change or Pius XII.

        It seems to me that, most of the time, the decision we are called to make is not whether something is true or not, but rather how we are going to deal with the fact that we cannot know with certainty whether something is true or not.

        A few thoughts occur to me:

        Am I going to get as close to certain knowledge as I can, and then proceed as if I actually had certain knowledge? Or am I going to proceed in a way which acknowledges the possibility that my near-to-certain knowledge might, in fact, be wrong? Obviously, the further from certainty that I am, the greater the need to allow for the possibility of error.

        Do I need to “know” this at all? Maybe I don’t need to make a judgment about whether Pius XII behave heroically, or deplorably, or somewhere in between. The church will have to make that judgment if his cause for canonisation proceeds, but I personally don’t. And on the whole it’s not my business to pass moral judgments about other people. (About acts, possibly; about people, not so much.)

        How serious is this matter? If I’m going to hang you for murder, I need to be attentive to the possibility of even a small risk of error in a way that I don’t if I’m trying to decide whether you would prefer the book or the DVD as a birthday present.

        • Schütz says:

          All very good questions, Perry, and all included in what I originally was musing upon. (I think Mormorador got the wrong end of the stick on this). Included in this is Kate’s notion of proceeding on “good enough” information (the “precautionary” or “prudential” approach), even where information is not certain (as in Climate Change). In some cases, as with canonisation, it is good enough for me if the Church decides he is (or isn’t) a Saint. There may be a difference between accepting the evidence of witnesses and the evidence of experts, but both still come up against the problem of what we know and what we don’t know – and what we don’t know we don’t know… I can feel a George W. moment coming on.

  11. matthias says:

    Sorry Cardinal but i hope that is not the SSPX position coming through. I do not see any Jewish conspiracy theory operating here. Now if it was in the USA where Foxman at the ADC had his own agenda I would agree with you but not here. And i think from last year cardinal you know my position .

    • matthias says:

      False prophets yes and weknow that the Greens party is a non prophet organisation bit a profligate organisation

  12. A bit late to the party – hope the discussion went well, David.
    A very interesting subject, indeed.
    Btw, “trepadacious” is a word, but it’s spelled trepidatious.

  13. SonofTrypho says:

    Being a Hebrew-Catholic I’d like to provide a few thoughts from my own direct experiences-

    this forum will be reasonably well received by the Jewish component who are involved with ecumenism/inter-faith events but these are really not the people who are the “movers and shakers” of Jewish thought on this topic in the larger Jewish community – you will find very few orthodox and/or Hassidic/Haredi Jews involved and/or serious community leaders who will espouse a balanced position.

    Real dialogue needs to be with the people who are convinced that the Church and Pius XII didn’t do the right thing regardless of whether they have studied the issue or not (usually not). You will not find these folks in these interfaith meetings.

    To a large portion of these people it is a real belief that the Church/Pius XII was wrong, did the wrong thing etc and this belief is passed on like a tradition. It is generally understood by them that the Holocaust was a culmination of Christian persecution/anti-semitism rather than an aberration of historical circumstances.

    Best of luck with the dialogue – let us know how it goes.

    • Schütz says:

      There were a goodly number of folk who were from the Orthodox background at the meeting, and they certianly had their say, as did the Hebrew-Catholics present.

  14. Matthias says:

    Son of Trypho thnak you for telling us your background and yes I agree with you the Holocaust was a “aberration of historical circumstances.” and that many Catholics,Lutherans and other Christian groups suffered for their stance against Nazism.

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