Thursday, June 25, 2015

Wha daur say mass in ma lug?

All this fawning over the pope leaves me rather depressed. So, maybe he happened to say something that was not completely stupid and backward. I suppose perhaps if you are feeling particularly optimistic, that's something to be mildy positive about. But that hardly outweighs the downside of having some cult-leader wielding such authority. It would be far better to not listen to him at all.

(sits back and anticipates first comment about living in glass houses...though it's more stone than glass)

36 comments:

andthentheresphysics said...

I agree with your sentiment that having someone with the power of the Pope has many downsides and it would probably be much better if he did not wield such power. However, given that he does, do you think it better that he makes some kind of stand with respect to climate change, or not? My current view is that it is good that he has. However, much of what was written in the Encyclical Letter seems to have just been religious moralising, and so I'm certainly not suggesting that we all suddenly become subsistence farmers and give most of our money to our neighbours. But, if it gets people to take the issue more seriously, then it may make a positive contribution. Admittedly, we shouldn't forget what the road to hell is paved with.....

Paul said...

On balance, I think it's a good thing to bring the climate/environment discussion to the forefront (at least for 5 minutes) for more people.

Still, totally agree on the cultishness point and I quite liked Nick Cohen's piece (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/20/pope-francis-dogma-birth-control). But I'm just a miserable atheist :) ...or :( ?

Mitch said...

What the pope says is that there is a moral dimension to climate change. He accepts the science; he does not create it.

James Annan said...

On the plus side, it does make some right-wing zealots (eg US Republicans) look pretty silly, which is surely a good thing. But giving him too much credit risks much the same on the other side, eg when he makes his next reactionary outburst. And picking and choosing which bits of the pope's comments to support seems similar to the cherry-picking that we rightly deride when the climate sceptics do it.

Tom C said...


I thought you were a church-goer Annan. Why this outburst against the pope? The old anti-Catholic thing seeped into your English blood?

Anyway, whoever is looking silly here it is not us right-wing zealots. We understand that sensitivity is low so alarm is misplaced. And we understand economics enough to know that adaptation will always be preferable to mitigation.

Put aside the reflexive name-calling and try again.

James Annan said...

That got off to a good start, with two misconceptions in your first paragraph. Thought the post title should have been a bit of a hint, but never mind.

Though to be fair I am now a regular attendee at the church in the linked pic, and it's even a Catholic one. In fact I'm there right now, just beside the altar. Seems the wine has just run out, so I'll make do with a whisky instead.

Bernard J. said...

I'd love to live in a world where logic and reason are prime, but unfortunately I don't so I guess we need to take what we can get.

I'd also like to live in a house like James, but unfortunately I don't so perhaps I'll have to skip over the pond and take it off him... ;-)

Steve Crook said...

The most amusing thing was watching people gushing at his insight and saying how this would change everything. When they'd normally have crossed the road to avoid being seen with the Pope.

Be more to the point if he wrote an encyclical saying that birth control was Good Thing and that women should take a full role in the catholic church. But he won't.

That said, I've got no time for those who said he should have kept his nose out of it. Christianity is political, *everything* is political.

Tom C said...

As much as it would be a good idea to quit this pointless conversation, I am still curious. I assume my first mis-conception was that you were a church-goer. What was the second? And the title of the post means..?

guthrie said...

Tom C - to explain it to you, the post title is in Scots, and Annan is generally a Scottish surname (Although I used to have a work colleague from Ghana with that surname). The title will probably be from the 16th century or 19th re. Catholic vs Protestant ructions in Scotland. The church is presumably the one he lives in, ex-churches converted into houses can be found all over the place.

guthrie said...

Ah no, the internet says it was allegedly Jennie Geddes, who started a riot in 1637 in Edinburgh in what was then St Giles Cathedral, although it isn't exactly now, since the Church of Scotland doesn't have cathedrals.

James Annan said...

guthrie is of course on all points. I'm not sure why Jenny Geddes stuck in my mind, she's about the only bit of history I seem to remember. It wasn't actually anything to do with the Catholic church, it was about the (attempted) Anglicisation of the Scottish church. But the quotation seemed suitable.

guthrie said...

I'm more an earlier history sort of person, but despite being an Edinburger I'd forgotten what she was supposed to have said.
As far as the presbyterians of the time were concerned, Anglicanism was pretty much Catholicism, I am sure. It had bishops, mass, and various other things which I'd have to look up to recall. People forget how radically different things were in Scotland by this time compared to England or even now. When I read of how the C of S was 200 years ago and then compare to 100 years ago and now there has been a huge shift in basic attitudes. Why, many churches have stained glass! And they accept gay marriage and evolution!

Tom C said...

Well, thanks for the opportunity to learn some Scottish history. For those not of the British Isles it's as pretty obscure reference.

James Annan said...

Yes, it certainly is. On the other hand, it's always good to have an excuse to hone one's google skills :-) In fact I did while writing, and discovered that my memory hadn't got the quote quite right, not that anyone seems certain about precisely what was said. But the version above seems most popular.

On the very rare occasions I venture in to one, I do find the Anglican services an odd phenomenon compared to the presbyterianism of my childhood.

From wikipedia, this made me laugh: "The Presbyterian denominations in Scotland today are the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, the United Free Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, ...".

And the People's Front of Judea, no doubt.

Carrick said...

James, I don't see the conflict here, honestly.

I think there is a positive element to have people who speak out on ethics, and a positive element to have people who devote their lives to leading an ethical life, and are willing to be outspoken on it. What a concept that is.

Given that none of us (including the pope) have a "inside" on what is truly moral, we have to be wise consumers of what the ethicists have to say, just as we do when so-called experts speak out on scientific matters.

Steve Bloom said...

Hmm, "United Free Church of Scotland." Even if it weren't for the names of the others, I'd expect the history to involve considerable disunity.

Steve Bloom said...

Glass house, stone house... cat house more like. ;)

EliRabett said...


What the Pope does well is to differentiate between the scientific basis of the encyclical, which he accepts in full from his scientific advisors including Ramanathan and the ethical, moral if you will, consequences, which, as head of the Catholic Church, are his to describe to Catholics.

As Eli and James have agreed over these many years describing the physical consequences of a particular set of policies is the realm of physical scientists, describing the economic and social consequences not. That however, does not preclude physical scientists from having an opinion on the economic and social consequences, but just that it should be taken as a lay opinion.

dave said...

De'il colic the wame o’ ye, fause thief! Sunday 23 July 1637, legendarily causing the Bishops' War, the English Civil War and the Killing Time. None of which is recommended, especially colic in the wame.

Am rather in favour of the Pope pushing for political pressure to start paying serious heed to the science and its implications, not so sure about "Black Spider" Chas's latest comments which are more likely to be ineffectual.

The real problem is denial, both overt denial as part of ideological and commercial opposition to environmentalism, and the implicit denial Kari Norgaard found in the Norwegian rural community she gave the fictional name of Bygdaby. Which we're probably all doing, at least to some extent. Doesn't bode well.

dave said...

Oh, on denominations, does that cover the Wee Wee Frees?

Shame to miss out the Piskies, but of course they're not Presbyterian.

Alastair said...

Dave,

There is a chart here which shows the evolution of Christianity in Scotland:

Both the wee frees and wee wee frees are shown on what reminds me of a London Tube Map!

Alastair said...

James,

IMHO, any attempt to persuade people that carbon emissions must be cut or we face disaster should be welcomed, but the Pope is missing the fundamental cause which is a rising population. So long as the population increases, then for the average standard of living to be maintained we must consume even more resources. This is why politicians argue that economic growth will be our salvation. But that is unsustainable. It is only a matter of time until consumption exceeds production and disaster ensues as we all try to maintain the status quo. We can already see the result of unbridled population growth in Africa, which is sending imigrants across the Mediterranean in their search for a share of the action.

If the Pope would accept the use of contraceptives to limit the size of families, that would help to stem the growth of the global population which is at the root of rising CO2 levels. But that would mean he has to change his beliefs and very few people can do that. Their beliefs are part of their personality, and they regard them as just another possession. The map of Scottish churches shows just how tenacious can be of their beliefs.

Can you change your belief that rising CO2 is not an urgent danger and accept the truth of this warning from Prof. Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University? Our time is running out - The Arctic sea ice is going!

James Annan said...

Alastair,

Wadhams is an idiot who gives normal scientists a bad name. Agree that population is a big issue and the catholics refusal to address it makes them dangerous bedfellows in any environmental debate. Do like that pic of the denominations!

Carrick,

If we have to be wise users of their output then it seems to me that the ethicists aren't much help really. We could look in the outpourings of monkeys with keyboards to find our ethical guidelines too.

Alastair said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alastair said...

James,

I am disappointed to see you descending into ad hominem arguments against Prof. Peter Wadhams. He has a long record of obtaining physical data in the Arctic. Compare that with his critics who are climate modellers, and whose models have been severely under estimating the speed of the decline in the Arctic sea ice.

A major effect driving that decline is the ice albedo effect. It is a positive feedback which will cause the loss of sea ice to accelerate or even to collapse suddenly. The modellers and their cronies who draw straight trend lines are the ones who deserve your opprobrium.

Glad you liked the map. I only found it by checking for the existence of wee^2 frees. I hadn't heard of them before. I suppose the number of sects must be a result of the second law of thermodynamics, everything tends to disorder :-)

Strange that the Roman Catholic church has not fragmented to the same extent as the Scottish church. Perhaps that is due to their having a Pope, who issues encyclicals that everyone must accept, rather than the "We're a' Jock Tamson's bairns" attitude.

Carrick said...

James: If we have to be wise users of their output then it seems to me that the ethicists aren't much help really. We could look in the outpourings of monkeys with keyboards to find our ethical guidelines too.


This seems like an odd logic to me, since this logic apply equally to scientists too.

After all, even with scientific, peer reviewed publications, sometimes people nail an argument, but the majority times they are pretty far off. And that doesn't even bring in the offal that is lovingly cooked up and served by uni PR departments.

And yet science advances.

As long as the ethical argument re AGW is a real argument rather than a self-referential-appeal-to-authority pronouncement, then I'd say the ethicist has advanced our understanding of the ethics and morality of an issue by a well thought out treatise on that issue. Obviously YMMV.

James Annan said...

Well for science that matters we have things like the IPCC, govt scientific advisors and the like :-)

I'd agree that if and when the Pope sets out a well-developed argument, it is worth listening to just as if anyone else does the same. But I start from a prior of deep scepticism, because the whole basis of his position is antithetical to well-developed argument.

Tom C said...

James -

That was, to put it mildly, an ill-informed comment. Are you completely unaware of the debt owed to Catholic theologians for developing argumentation according to the rules of logic? You might want to put your Google skills to use again.

You also should re-visit your post on Tim Hunt. Looks to me like the guy was sand-bagged and the whole thing an unseemly witch hunt.

James Annan said...

Tom, I don't dispute they might have said some things worth listening to. The problem is they also say (have said) things that are pretty much repugnant to me. As such, their judgement is basically worthless, and the argument from authority that is implicit in (some) papal outpourings is wholly out of place in the 21st century.

jules said...

I'm with Carrick. I think. Society might not advance through scientific methods, but it still somehow, mostly, manages to advance. Furthermore, at least some of the time, science advances more through social methods than scientific ones, by which I mean that the majority of scientists understand no one's work other than their own(*) and basically choose who to believe based on who their mates think is a clever dude.

jules
(*) and even our own work we only half understand, because we spend all our time discovering that what we thought yesterday is actually wrong today

Carl C said...

so basically Annan still hates uniformed priors! ;-)

James Annan said...

:-)

Uniformed and uninformed, both.

Should note that jules disagrees with me about the pope. Which pretty much means that I also disagree with me...I think...

Steve Bloom said...

Well, I am so pre-bored by the details I'm not even going to bother reading the encyclical, but to the extent it actually makes a difference in significantly more Catholics trying to make a positive difference in the climate debate, I'm all for it.

"we spend all our time discovering that what we thought yesterday is actually wrong today" Don't leave the DM off your press release distribution list. They love that sort of thing!

Hmm, Scottish schism and anti-schism continuing pretty much right up to the present. Crivens!

I did take the opportunity to refresh my memory about the English Civil Wars, and it would seem some things don't change. Also, considering the extensive involvement of the Scots throughout, why just *English*?

James Annan said...

Not our fight, though obviously happy to get involved in someone else's!

dave said...

Re "considering the extensive involvement of the Scots throughout, why just *English*," essentially because the various conflicts got other names, and The History of England paid them scant attention.

There have been attempts to rebrand the whole mess as "The Wars of the Three Kingdoms". Separate countries, in a couple of cases with separate parliaments, but a shared monarch. Something various parties are trying to get back again.

Internationally, climate change seems to have gone along with increased fragmentation.