Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Particular Metaphysic

So far, I've posted three statements about anthropogenic global warming (AGW) about which I have a good deal of certainty. They were 1) Despite what much of the media say, there is a good deal of disagreement among scientists about the validity of claims about AGW, 2) The issue is primarily a political--not a scientific--debate, and 3) the Earth is remarkable in its ability to maintain life-friendly surface temperatures throughout life's history and despite huge changes in the amount of solar energy reaching it.

The next (and, I think, last) three statements I'll make on the subject are quite interrelated, so much so that it is difficult to decide which should come first. Here's what I came up with...
The anthropogenic global warming debate is being carried out almost entirely within a particular metaphysical perspective, that of naturalism.
Now, regular readers will realize that I frequently blog about the issue of scientific naturalism. I have argued that there is neither historical, philosophical, or practical justification for adopting a naturalistic approach to doing science, and I have shown that all of the latest important scientific discoveries have undermined a naturalistic understanding of the world in which we live and supported a theistic one. I have even argued that naturalism cannot logically ground either the scientific enterprise or the reliability of human reasoning.

My goal here is not to advance or defend those arguments again. Rather, it is simply to point out that in this important debate about anthropogenic global warming, its possible consequences and those of proposed solutions, we continue to act as though nature is the whole show despite overwhelming evidence and reason to the contrary.

Is this important? I suggest it is. If either AGW or its proposed solutions are as significant as people and the media seem to think, then it only makes sense that we begin our search for truth from within a metaphysically accurate worldview rather than from within a worldview that excludes the accurate answers. Let me illustrate this with just one practical example by referring back to yesterday's post.

The default position throughout the history of Western thought has been to acknowledge that things that appear to be designed--like the universe itself and living things and their components--are designed. It has only been very recently that scientists and others have kidded themselves into thinking that the design apparent in everything we see in the world around us is, in fact, only apparent. Let's see where these two very different approaches lead with regard to the thermal regulatory efficiency of the Earth and its atmosphere (discussed yesterday).

If the Earth's remarkable efficiency at maintaining life-friendly surface temperatures is designed (as the evidence would suggest), then we would do well to understand it better in order to work with that design to prevent future failure. If, on the other hand, we rule out design with regard to the atmosphere (and crust and plate tectonics and life and all the other interrelated factors mentioned yesterday), we are likely to miss important cues that would help to solve whatever real problems arise.

But what is actually going on is a worse option. And that is that the idea that the universe and life are designed has become so unpalatable to so many moderns--for reasons having to do with the theological and moral implications--that the features and efficiency of the Earth's thermoregulating mechanisms are not merely dismissed as only apparent but are in fact ignored altogether. I trust that you can understand that this is not the way to go about arriving at an accurate understanding of these important issues. Just as the relatively recent discoveries of the roles and purposes of the human tonsils and appendix required that researchers be open to their being designed (and eschewing the naturalistic conclusion that they were the useless byproducts of an evolutionary process), so, too, breakthrough discoveries about the threat of AGW likely require an openness to the design of the entire system, design attested to by all of the evidence available from life's long history on Earth.

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