Outside the Muslim world, traditional religious belief is on the wane. But the religious impulse remains strong, perhaps strongest among those who have freed themselves of the shackles of religion and its restrictive morality.
But where traditional religion provides man with a means of dealing with the inherent incomprehensibility of life and a guide to living with limited understanding, its secular counterparts lay claim to certainty based on human intelligence.
Examples of the secular religious impulse abound. Norman Podhoretz argues that American Jewry's enthrallment to the Democratic Party has replaced traditional Jewish practice and belief. That explains why Orthodox Jews have failed to tie the knot.
The great historian of the Renaissance Jacob Burkhardt wrote, in the mid-19th century, "The future belongs to those who see things simply." Within a hundred years, that horrible truth stood fully revealed. In the name of single-minded visions of a world without complexity, Hitler, Stalin and Mao slaughtered tens of millions of human beings.
The most prominent current expression of the secular religious impulse is the belief in imminent catastrophic climate change brought about by human-produced carbon dioxide. Scientific high priests of the theory and their journalistic enablers have long claimed that there is no serious scientific debate, some even comparing global warming denial to Holocaust denial and advocating punishing it as such.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN once said that two things should never be viewed in production - sausage and the news. We can now add to that list scientific consensus. An Internet hacker recently released thousands of e-mails to and from researchers at the University of East Anglia's (UEA) Climate Research Unit (CRU), one of four official repositories for world temperature data.
Scientific consensus, the e-mails reveal, is a tautology: According to global warming alarmists, anyone who expresses any degree of skepticism is by definition not a serious scientist.
In one released e-mail, Phil Jones, head of the CRU, and Michael Mann, the lead author of the third report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), discuss ways to delegitimize Climate Journal, whose editor has published peer-reviewed articles by global warming "skeptics." Jones assures Mann that one way or another he and a colleague will prevent two such articles from appearing in the next report of the IPCC, "even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is."
Science depends on a willingness to continually retest hypotheses against the available data. Yet the UEA researchers did everything possible to prevent such testing, including destroying the raw data. The CRU's temperature data is "adjusted" to account for different means of collection at various stations around the world. When researchers sought the raw data to examine those adjustments, Jones and colleagues first resisted and eventually destroyed much of the data. Other e-mails speak of deleting all correspondence related to the preparation of the fourth IPCC report.
One e-mail speaks of "trick[ing]" the data to hide the lack of global warming since 1998, despite the continual rise in carbon dioxide emissions. In an e-mail from UEA, a researcher laments, "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment, and it is a travesty that we can't." But no such doubts about the climate models, upon which predictions of catastrophe are predicated, were ever expressed publicly. Another e-mail discusses strategies to obscure the uncomfortable fact that for long periods within the last thousand years, way before any human industrial activity, the earth was far warmer than today.
THE E-MAILS, opined The Sunday Times of London, constitute not a "smoking gun, but a mushroom cloud" in terms of the doubts cast on the so-called global warming consensus. The chicanery revealed does not disprove the theories of the global warming alarmists, but it makes a mockery of the notion that there is a scientific consensus. Yet with the exception of Fox News, the UEA e-mails went unmentioned for days by America's mainstream media. When The New York Times was finally forced to do so, it adopted the stance of the "wizard of Oz" telling Dorothy to ignore the man behind the curtain manipulating the dials.
Such efforts to create a consensus by diktat are old hat. In 2001, when Cambridge University Press published Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, the scientific establishment went into overdrive to discredit the work. Lomborg argued that the dangers of global warming were vastly overstated, and the costs of the measures proposed to reverse it drastically out of proportion to any danger.
Nature, Science and Scientific American published scathing editorials denouncing the book. Only Nature permitted a letter to the editor (not from Lomborg himself) responding. Science and Scientific American initially refused to publish any responses, and Scientific American threatened legal action if Lomborg continued to post its review and his response on his Web site. Though Skeptical Environmentalist had been peer-reviewed by three leading earth scientists prior to publication, one leading scientist demanded the firing of the Cambridge University Press editor responsible for the book's publication.
David Schoenbrod, a law professor and former attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund, reviewing the Lomborg controversy in Commentary (September 2002), concluded that Lomborg had refuted seven out of the nine allegations of factual error made in Scientific American's scathing review, and that the other two were trivial and had no impact on his conclusions. Indeed, the 11-page Scientific American review had more demonstrable factual errors than Lomborg's 500 page book.
MORE RECENTLY, Dr. Mitchell Taylor, one of the world's leading experts on polar bears, who has written that virtually all Arctic bear populations have either grown over the last 30 years or are at optimal levels, was disinvited to a meeting of the Polar Bear Specialist Group leading up to the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change on the grounds that his views on global warming are "unhelpful."
There are tremendous financial incentives for the alarmists to keep ratcheting up their hysterics. The European Commission and US governments at both the state and federal level will dispense billions of dollars in climate change research grants this year. As Bret Stephens puts it with characteristic elegance, "Environmental groups must believe in global warming as a priest believes in God."
Yet while research grants push the global warming agenda, the initial impulse is religious. (Presumably most priests believe in God before their jobs depend upon doing so.) Freeman Dyson, by consensus one of the greatest physicists of the past century, attacks not only the "sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories [about global warming]," but also the underlying "worldwide secular religion of environmentalism, which views man as an unwelcome interloper in some imagined natural equilibrium."
In the name of that religion, writes George Will, "communicants in the faith-based global warming community," who imagine themselves to be a "small clerisy entrusted with the most urgent truth ever discovered," are asking the rest of the world to wager trillions and hand over a substantial part of their freedom to governmental and intergovernmental bureaucrats.
That is pure religious fanaticism.