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.