The gods must be laughing—at Al Gore



By Tom Harris

Overlooked in the controversies about former Vice-President Al Gore’s global warming films, An Inconvenient Truth (2006) and An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017), is that truth is not possible in science. Scientific hypotheses, and even scientific theories, are not truth; they can be, and often are, wrong. 

Truth applies to mathematics, chess, and other endeavors in which we write the rules. It never applies to our findings about nature, which are educated opinions based on scientists’ interpretations of observations. Philosophers since ancient times have recognized that observations always have some degree of uncertainty and so they cannot prove anything to be true. Not only are our methods of observing imperfect but, as human beings subject to many influences, we all have biases that affect how we interpret what we think we see.

At first, it was mostly activists and politicians who made claims to certainty about climate change. But increasingly, more scientists now use such language as well. A prime example is scientists who work with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has repeatedly claimed that some of their major conclusions are “unequivocal,” in other words, ideas that cannot be wrong.

For instance, the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report Synthesis Report starts, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of…”

Although a supporter of the dangerous human-caused global warming hypothesis, Lehigh University philosophy professor Steven Goldman explained in a personal communication that the IPCC statement is faulty. It is “an attempt to persuade extra-logically,” said Goldman. “Strictly logically, no observations can lead to an ‘unequivocal’ interpretation.”

David Wojick, a Virginia-based Ph.D. in the logic and philosophy of science, disagrees with Goldman about climate change but agrees that the IPCC made a serious mistake in the Synthesis Report. “Reasoning from evidence is inductive logic,” said Wojick. “As for unequivocal, that is never the case in inductive logic.”

Yet, in speaking about the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Working Group I co-chair Dr. Thomas Stocker asserted that “warming in the climate system is unequivocal.” Canadian historical climatologist Dr. Tim Ball calls Stocker’s statement “nonsense.”

The promotion of absolute truths in science has impeded human progress for centuries. For example, when the Greco-Egyptian writer Claudius Ptolemy proposed his Earth-centered system, he did not say it was physical astronomy, a true description of how the universe actually worked. He promoted it as mathematical astronomy, a model that worked well for astrology, astronomical observations, and creating calendars.

It was the Catholic Church that, relying on a literal interpretation of the Bible, promoted the Ptolemaic system as truth to be questioned at one’s peril. This was why Nicolaus Copernicus, a Canon in the Church, waited until he was on his death bed before he allowed his revolutionary book showing the Sun to be the center of the universe to be published, even though the text was completed three decades previous. This is also why Galileo had so much trouble when he claimed that the Church was wrong and that Copernicanism was the truth, a position that Galileo could not really know either.

Later, the assumed, unquestionable truths of Isaac Newton’s laws eventually acted to slow the advancement of science until Albert Einstein showed that there were important exceptions to the laws. When authorities preach truth about science, progress stops.

Einstein once said, “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” It might be humorous to the gods, but when eco-activists like Gore succeed in suppressing debate about climate change, one of the most important issues of our age, we all lose.

Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.

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William Hicks
William Hicks
3 years ago

All I think of is Lenny, from Lenny and Squiggy, when I see this picture.

Dave James
Dave James
3 years ago

Dale review of Al Gore’s movie does not address Tom Harris’s letter.

Mr. Harris’s letter states, “truth is not possible in science.”

Mr. Harris’s own example of Copernicus shows us Mr. Harris premise is false. Copernicus’ hypotheses that the earth rotates around the sun is settled science and unequivocally true.

3 years ago

Without even seeing the movie (only the previews), we can be assured that the works of one of the richest and biggest climate hypocrites in the alarmists community will interest only the most scientifically naive audience (which could be its largest audience). Gore, a man with virtually no background in science of any kind and who has one of the largest carbon footprints in the U.S. can hardly be expected to produce anything but the most ridiculous and fictitious of works.
We would think that the nearly complete failure of “his” claims and predictions in his earlier work combined with his movie being banned in England until his errors were corrected, would settle the man down somewhat. However, with unlimited funds and an ego to match, he rises to once again perform his elegant sandwich board act.
Using factual information to debate his fiction will likely place a distant second as the excitement of alarmism and unbridled deception will likely win out every time.
Apparently nonsense remarks like “the science is settled”, “warming in the climate system is unequivocal” and other completely unscientific statements seem to completely elude the general public.
It’s interesting that Thomas Stocker, one mouthpiece for the UN, stated at the release of the firth assessment IPCC report, after referring to the “warming hiatus”, went on to state, “We have insufficient data to adequately assess the forcing over the last ten or fifteen years, to make, to establish a relationship between the causes of the warming.”
Undaunted, the “Chicken Littles” of the world went on to claim that we were all going to die from out of control warming, and soon, if we didn’t stop exhaling CO2 and pay up! This is all those like Gore need, to carry on…

Dave James
Dave James
3 years ago

Tom Harris’s definition of the word “truth” is so narrow that it is nonsensical.

Mr. Harris claims that truth is 100% certain so he claims there is no truth in science because science includes uncertainty. Mr. Harris mistakes uncertainty for a lack of understanding. We understand the natural world around us because of science.

Let’s take Tom Harris’s example of Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernicus had a scientific hypotheses that the earth rotated around the sun. Copernicus created and mathematical model described such a solar system and compared is to his observations of the stars. Johannes Kepler expanded on Copernicus’s hypothesis and mathematical model by inferring that the planets in the Solar System, including those farther away from the Sun have elliptical orbits. Galileo’s observation confirmed Kepler’s model. Kepler’s was so accurate describing the natural world that it was no longer a scientific hypothesis but a scientific theory.

According to Tom Harris, scientific hypothesis and scientific theories are not truth. Given Mr. Harris strange definition of truth both Copernicus’s and Kepler’s description of a heliocentric solar system cannot be said to be true.

Science showed us that the earth travels around the sun. Kepler’s theories as so well excepted that they are now referred to as Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.

According to Mr. Harris a heliocentric solar system is just an educated opinion based on scientists’ interpretations of observations. Mr. Harris has more in common with the 15th century Catholic Church’s “promotion of absolute truths” than with Copernicus, Kepler or Galileo.

Mr. Harris uses his false definition of truth to denigrate climate science for example in a prior article in the paper Mr. Harris claimed, “For essentially nothing in science, especially… the study of climate, is a known fact.”

Science is based on fact, not opinion or preferences. When Mr. Harris’s statement rejects the scientific process as a source of knowledge.

In the same article Mr. Harris uses his false definition of truth to defend Tim Ball’s dubious claims by writing, “There are scientists who do not agree with Ball, of course. But even they cannot rationally claim to be 100% sure of their position.”

Just because science contains uncertainty does not mean science knows nothing. Nor does scientific uncertainty does on mean all claims are valid.