I write from the Arkaroola Wilderness Resort in the far north Flinders Ranges of South Australia where I do geological field work in this mountainous and unforgiving wilderness in summer. This is a privilege. Field work is an attempt to understand nature and this intimacy with nature stimulates questioning.
Science is based on dominant paradigms that are open to change at any time. Our understanding of nature requires a depth and breadth of knowledge, a healthy uncertainty, a willingness to change and a measure of awe provoked by the complexity of nature.
Nature changes rapidly and continues to surprise. Climate, sea level, the atmosphere, life, landscapes and temperature all change rapidly by many mechanisms for a diversity of reasons. For millions of years hominids and other organisms have survived, adapted and become extinct as a result of these changes. Nature is not mysterious; it is quantifiable. Science is married to evidence and divorced from value judgement.
We scientists argue about the data, which may be from measurement, calculation, observation or experiment. The explanation of data – a theory – is the neatest way of explaining such data and this, too, provokes healthy argument. New data or a re-evaluation of old data commonly results in the abandonment of a treasured popular paradigm. This is the methodology of science.
Herein lies the problem with city-based greens and religious fundamentalists such as creationists. The idol for worship is a dogmatic ideology enshrined in value judgements that allows no change despite scientific data to the contrary.
Nature is made the mystery by greens in isolation from integrated interdisciplinary scientific knowledge, somewhat contrary to traditional Christian views where the mystery is the supernatural. It is for this reason that I argue that environmental groups are a modern urban religion, albeit terribly flawed. From Paul Tillich’s theological perspective, the change from the dominant paradigm to dogma is a shift from preliminary to ultimate concerns resulting in evil.
Creationists have not evolved from the science and inexact literalist contradictory theology of the mid-17th century when the popular scientific paradigm was that the planet was 6000 years old and a mythical great flood shaped the planet’s surface, deposited fossiliferous sediments and killed sinners.
The greens can not accept that the good old days were not good old days, that natural changes are far greater than even their worst case human-induced doomsday scenario and that we now live in a society blessed with saviors such as science, technology and industry. Our greens bathe in the benefits of an industrial society yet, for reasons of nefarious politics, hypocrisy and ignorance, decide to be both within and without our industrial society.
Many city folk have lost contact with nature and this can be deeply disturbing. Such disconnection produces a romantic yearning for that which never existed, a yearning to be at one with nature despite a lack of understanding of nature and a yearning to do something, whatever something might be.
This disconnection produces irrationality, contradictions and the creation of green fundamentalism as the new religion of urban environmentalists. Disconnection of city people from nature has only added to the frustration of depoliticised rural people, thereby creating political instability.
In the cities, this disconnection is exacerbated by the lack of connection between seasons and seasonal foods or killing and meat protein and an uncompromising dogma about those outside cities who take risks to produce the energy, water, food and mineral resources we so voraciously consume.
We watch asinine survival programs unaware that there are 20 film support crew out of shot. Such programs appeal to our primitive instincts yet show how disconnected from nature we really have become. We plant gardens comprising water-hungry northern European vegetation, consume more and more water, don’t build new dams and don’t collect roof rainwater. We buy a four-wheel-drive to use on highways in the wilderness or watch concocted nature programs on television. We feel good to see large green areas on maps called national parks and then promptly forget about these areas.
The ancient monastics were correct. An extended time in a desert wilderness allows the discarding of trivialities, an interaction and connection with nature and an understanding of our place in the world. And it is not really a very important place after all.
This article was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald under the title, Science kept out by the greens’ dogma. Republished on NewsCream by permission of the author.