Tuesday, 3 October 2006

If you believe they put a man on the moon

October is supposed to be the rainiest month here in Melbourne, but so far this year there was hardly any rain and it doesn't look like much of it is going to come this way soon.
Australia in general has been going, so they say, through a drought over the last 12 years or so (I wasn't here personally all those years to make sure this rumor is true). Between Australia getting drier each year, Europe getting warmer to the point thousands die of heat in France, and hurricanes devastating the USA, I don't have much of a doubt that global warming is a reality.
It's interesting to hear the scientists and read the articles, but what truly convinces me that something needs to be done is just observing what mankind is doing to the environment. Drive along Australia and you will see that pretty much everywhere that can be made into some use by man was indeed already twisted on man's behalf. While this may not necessarily mean that the climate is changing, I think we have been overdoing it, and that in one way or another we are going to pay the price. If there is some sort of justice out there, then, for example, what we are doing to animals - say, the way caged chickens are brought up - should be paid for. Spoken by a man who loves his chicken, by the way - I am as guilty as anyone.
It therefore struck me as terribly strange when a friend told me that he doesn't believe in this thing called "global warming" which he dismisses to be some sort of a conspiracy by a group of people trying to promote their agenda. His line of thinking was that mankind has only been documenting the weather for 150 years only, so how do we know that the world is truly on the boil and that what is taking place now is not just some part of a regular trend?
I told him (and showed him articles) that we are actually able to measure the temperatures from hundreds of thousands of years ago through ice taken from Greenland or through trees (albeit with a high variance). I told him that global warming does not necessarily manifest itself in high temperatures, but also in things like sea acidity (changing currents and killing all sorts of living things) and an increase of carbon particles in the air (rising up to extremes never ventured before without some serious cataclysm). Needless to say, I was about as convincing to the guy as John Howard is to me with his "children overboard" tale.

It got me thinking - what makes people believe in things?
Most of us seem perfectly happy to believe in all sorts of weird religions just because our parents tell us to; the vast majority doesn't really nitpick the details of their religion, yet history shows that a lot of us will kill or die in its name. I, on the other hand, dismiss religion as pure bullshit all too often, yet even I admit that I do it more because I despise the corrupt ways of most organized religions rather than really believing that they're bullshit; you can call me an agnostic instead of an atheist if you want, but I admit that I do not know if god exists or not. I'm just saying that I severely doubt he exists in the common forms we associate it to take, and I'm also saying that I refuse to believe in things unless I see proper proof for them - no matter how powerful these entities might theoretically be, and no matter how much eternal suffering this doubt might cost me when I rot in hell.
The question now becomes: well, smart ass, what is "proper proof" anyway?
And that's the really tough one.
Lately it has become fashionable to deny the USA moon landing. I associate this trend more with the lack of popularity of Mr George W rather than true doubt (you didn't hear much of that conspiracy theory when Clinton was around). Still, I could not believe the number of people that will simply not accept the moon landing as a fact; and I'm not talking about lunatic eccentrics here, I'm talking about logical, smart people at work - people not that different to me.
I find their approach puzzling, and I'll quote Ben Elton on that. In his recent live show, he said he finds it hard that people don't accept the moon landing - despite the fact the principles of what it takes to land on the moon have been known since Newton's days and the fact no one doubts the existence of satellites on top of our heads. Yet these doubtful people will take photos in their mobile phones and SMS/email them across the world, where they will instantaneously appear on someone's screen - all without paying it a second thought. This unbelievable magic - no person alive would be able to tell you exactly how this collection of light beams is captured and beamed across the world - this miracle of science eclipses Moses' burning bush by a good many light years - this magic is being accepted without any second thoughts; but having the world's biggest super power land a man on the moon with technology that's been used to move stuff around for quite a long time (remember the rockets falling on London during World War 2?) will not be accepted.
I guess what I'm trying to say here with the help on Neil Armstrong is that we humans are not that logical in what we believe in and what proof we require in order to believe in things.
So what is proof enough for me?
As I said in previous posts, as far as I'm concerned I do not even know for sure whether the earth is not flat and whether the sun doesn't sink into the sea only to be teleported to the other side each morning by the neighbor's cat.
What I do know, though, is that in order to explain things I would accept a systematic approach to try and explain them; a system that incurs coming up with a theory and then seeing how it matches empirical observations. Often enough, one theory will replace the other when new observations come about, but that's fine with me.
I can easily find a lot of these theories and the arguments that support them in all sorts of scientific publications and even in fictional books. Where I cannot find them is in religious scriptures, but that's not the point. The point is that it's the approach that counts; since I can tell how, theoretically, a person can get from the earth to the moon and back, I am satisfied there; but since no one can provide me with a guide to reaching heaven (other than urging me to "well behave" according to certain behavior patterns that might look really silly in the near future and definitely looked even sillier in the not too distant past), and since I have to resort to pure belief in order to accept heaven's existence, I will not take accept it for now.

And as for global warming: There is pretty much a consensus in the scientific community about its existence. Publications such as Scientific American don't discuss whether it's there or not, they discuss how to prevent it from killing us all in the too near future. Those of us that do not accept it are more akin to hiding their heads in the sand. Or, sadly, they are more likely to be the victims of damaging propaganda distributed by certain groups who stand to "lose" (I cannot see how you can win when the world turns into ashes, but never mind). Call me a weirdo, but I find that religious people tend to doubt global warming more than the agnostics amongst us.
Which brings me to my last observation about beliefs: People will have a much easier time believing the things that are more comfortable for them to believe in.

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