Govfall: Or, tell me again why federal courts are ruling on the validity of scientific theories?

posted at 3:21 pm on June 28, 2012 by J.E. Dyer

We in the US appear to be very close to becoming a theocracy.  The religion in question is not Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, nor is it even environmentalism.  It’s “government infallibilism,” or, as I like to call it, Govfall.  The central tenet of this religion is that government is competent to decide or rule on anything – anything at all, regardless of evidence or lack of it, knowledge or paucity of it, or understanding or dearth of it.

The branch of the US government that represents the proper use of Govfall’s main religious tenet isn’t always the same one (which, frankly, ought to be a clue for believers).  The judicial branch has been, as it were, on the throne of judgment for a number of decades, but Americans have also suffered a few presidents to seat themselves on it, like FDR and Obama.  (Contemporary accounts of FDR’s arbitrary morning decisions on what relationship the dollar should have with gold are a sort of emblem of that political theocrat’s brand of Govfall.)  Congress, which actually represents the people in their hamlets and villages, is rarely the infallible theocrat, but it has had its moments as well (and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi has certainly had a habit of speaking in a sort of goofy ex cathedra style).

The fundamental question is why we have come to accept this idea that government can and should rule on unproven theories about global cause and effect, and proceed to govern as if their propositions are “true.”  Setting aside the questionable nature of some theories, why should government take on this role?  Why should anyone?  What is it we think we know or need to accomplish, that we have agreed to submit our futures to this concept of Govfall?

The matter at hand is the D.C. court of appeals ruling on the EPA’s authority to kill economic activity in the name of global warmism.  The ruling describes the EPA’s opinion on global warming and greenhouse gases as “unambiguously correct” – which is a deeply silly formulation for characterizing any scientific theory, but would also have been considered, by our Founders and virtually all federal jurists up until the last 20-30 years, as comprehensively invalid language for any kind of judicial ruling.  Judges aren’t competent to make decisions for the public on this matter.  Their competence is in interpreting the law, not certifying scientific conclusions.

There is a difference, of course, between demonstrated harm and theoretical, yet-to-be-realized harm.  When trash piles up and emits gases into a local area, that can be detected and documented (although rarely “unambiguously,” which is a prohibitively humongous claim in the skeptical realm of science).  When toxic substances are detected in dead fish or decrepit urban trees – substances that actually kill forms of life, not just substances that advocacy groups don’t like – that too is often more certifiable than not, if not necessarily “unambiguous.”  The tradition of empirical, non-religious-based law has some remedies for demonstrated harm: property owners can sue polluters when the pollution, whatever it is, damages or impinges on the full rightful use of their property; legislatures can make laws prohibiting (or managing, as with fees and clean-up requirements) certain defined types of polluting activity.

But when there is no demonstrated harm, but only unproven theories about very generalized, potential, worldwide harm in the future, it is a central question why government, through any of its branches, should be doing anything about it.  This question gets at very basic things:  what we expect of our life in the world, and what we expect of government.

Do we expect human life in the world to need constant supervision from a central authority in order to ward off cataclysm?  Is our view of life pessimistic and fearful in this way?  Do we believe that we are an incontinent, destructive species, as unaware as infants of the damage we do?  Is there an unspecified cosmologic “judgment” hanging over us that we have to organize to avert?  Are we effectively insentient organisms in a system with predetermined processes and outcomes, operating in a universe of deadly limits and shortages?

As for government, do we agree that its job is to enforce on everyone a particular attitude about these matters?  We can’t agree among ourselves, from state to state or town to town, whether very present and material things like prostitution or abortion-on-demand should be legal, but we expect the central government to rule on an inchoate vision of what might happen in the future, however unlikely it may be, and then constrain everyone’s options – for just about everything – based on that ruling.

Why does there need to be an entity with the authority to do that?  We didn’t start our life as a nation with the idea that government should have that authority.  A state government, by its limited geographic nature, cannot effectively exercise such an authority, and our national idea is actually that the central government must not.  Our national idea is limited government and liberty of thought, conscience, and economic endeavor.

If we cannot behave, in our economic lives, as if we think catastrophic anthropogenic global warming is a much-falsified theory waiting for some solid proof, then we are not effectively free to think it.  We are constrained to behave as if we don’t.  That situation differs only by the jackbooted thugs at the door from the lifestyle of people under communist rule, in which you’re free to “think” whatever you want, as long as you say and do only government-approved things, and never speak about or live by your own beliefs.

Sometime in the last century, the weight of sentiment among those who aspire to government jobs, in any role in any of the branches, tilted toward the religion of Govfall.  It has become unendurable to them to think of the people out here doing things they disapprove of, and they have diligently enlarged the purview of government to encompass ruling on ideas and theories – always invoking the supposed disasters and wrongs that government power is either averting or redressing.

In the oft-invoked Galileo v. Pope analogy, today’s Govfall faithful, however much they may want to see themselves as Galileo, are actually “the Pope” (or, technically, the Roman Inquisition).  The Govfall believers are the people insisting on a single, cosmological orthodoxy, in spite of the continued lack of evidence for it and the strong arguments against it.  In the matter of global warmism, their orthodoxy is throwing into informative relief not only their religious attitude about man and the natural world, but the dangers of the religion of Govfall in general.

Just as the papacy could not be infallible on the matter of the earth’s and sun’s places in the solar system, so modern government cannot be infallible on whether the globe is headed for a man-made natural cataclysm.  No human organization can be infallible on something like that.  Being “the government” doesn’t confer special powers of insight or prophecy; it just hands a gun and a badge (or a black robe) to a bunch of ordinary people no smarter than the rest of us.  That’s why our Founders wanted government to be limited and constitutionally restrained: because nothing good comes from expecting too much of the government, or giving it too much to do.

The end result for Galileo and the Pope was that Galileo’s theory became the accepted one, and the papacy eventually changed its policy on inquiring into, or taking sides on, scientific questions.  The Catholic Church was undergoing the “Counter Reformation” throughout the precise period when Galileo lived and wrote, and ultimately, one of that reformation’s chief casualties was the idea of putting the imprimatur of the Holy Church on the material conclusions of politics or science.  Galileo’s personal story had an impact on that, but the change in attitude came at least as much from the Protestant Reformation, the Church’s recognition of internal corruption, the successful revolt of England’s Henry VIII against Rome, and the political turmoil on the continent from the Protestant-Catholic rift.

I see an analogy to these events in the religions of Govfall and global warmism.  Govfall, a cult of central, infallible authority, is the basic problem, and it is the thing that will have to change.  Warmism may well be a focused, singular precipitating factor – one that will be especially memorable in the centuries to come – but there are a number of others that highlight the sclerosis and unsustainability of Govfall.  What history tells us is that a political religion like Govfall is unsustainable.  In one way or another, the people, over time, decide against it.

The American people are waking up to the absurdity of a federal appeals court proclaiming that warmist theory is “unambiguously correct.”  The Govfall religion sits wrong with us, and the evidence of its pervasiveness is piling up.  In the end, it will not be Govfall that triumphs.  The ruling public idea of government will change, in favor of the wisdom of our Founders – and Govfall will fall.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
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what’s with the giant type?
all the other post are normal,
Bob

Bobnormal on June 28, 2012 at 3:23 PM

The infallible inflexibillity of orthodoxy.

Inflexibility has one “l”.

Schadenfreude on June 28, 2012 at 3:24 PM

tell me again why federal courts are ruling on the validity of scientific theories?

As a scientist, and someone who has dealt with the judicial system as an expert witness, I was kind of wondering the same thing?

In my experience, jurists seldom have anything even remotely resembling a reasonable understanding of the scientific method, or the meaning of scientific results. They parse it like a tired old will from the 18th century, and draw absurd conclusions based on that parsing.

Now in addition to freedom, the courts have killed scientific inquiry as well.

Awesome.

Mr Galt on June 28, 2012 at 3:26 PM

Great article!

Circa 1600:

Pope: The Earth is the center of the universe!

Galileo: But, really, it moves!

Circa 2012:

Pope-bama: Carbon Dioxide will melt the World! We must stop the seas from rising!

The Unenlightened Masses: But, really, it snowed last October!

Pope-bama: What do those meteorologists know about weather? I won!!!

Steve Z on June 28, 2012 at 3:40 PM

It will be argued in the Supreme Court that the EPA can impose this regulation because it’s a TAX, and Chief Justice Roberts will uphold this new “religion”.

Rovin on June 28, 2012 at 3:42 PM

Govfall: Or, tell me again why federal courts are ruling on the validity of scientific theories?

Answer: Clearly, they’ve given up completely on ruling on the basis of law, the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

TeaPartyNation on June 28, 2012 at 3:46 PM

The warmist theory is unambiguously fabricated trumped up ideologically motivated bull-hockey!
Yes, the hockey stick graph, which was a product of a radical agenda-driven Berkeley graduate (Mann), has been debunked. That means that current temps are not unusual in any way, and, frankly, that there is nothing wrong with the climate. There is no problem.
What’s more, CO2 arguably has nothing to do with the climate. Nothing, nada, zilch. The whole GWarming theory was founded on a false and now refuted ipcc claim of a causal correlation between CO2 & temperatures; 98% of the public doesn’t know this, and they can learn it, though, by viewing just this 3 minute video that calls out algor for repeating the ipcc deception on CO2. Watch it, link to it (like I am doing here), and share it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WK_WyvfcJyg

anotherJoe on June 28, 2012 at 3:47 PM

We in the US appear to be very close to becoming a theocracy. The religion in question is not Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, nor is it even environmentalism. It’s “government infallibilism,
==========================================================

Its Worshipping at the Lib/Dem/Prog/Socialist Alter
of Big Government Religion!
(sarc).

canopfor on June 28, 2012 at 3:51 PM

Govfall: Or, tell me again why federal courts are ruling on the validity of scientific theories?

The requirement comes from Oslo. One must support junk science to get the prize.

burt on June 28, 2012 at 4:23 PM

Do we expect human life in the world to need constant supervision from a central authority in order to ward off cataclysm?

Certainly! Thunder lizards roamed the earth for hundreds of millions of years and they were gone in a (relative) flash because they didn’t have a central authority looking out for them.

burt on June 28, 2012 at 4:40 PM

I didn’t mean to strike @ 4;40.

burt on June 28, 2012 at 4:41 PM

I deem global warming a tax, that’s how — John Roberts Souter

18-1 on June 28, 2012 at 4:50 PM

whoa style sheet tb:dr (too big, didn’t read)

RushBaby on June 28, 2012 at 5:00 PM

In this country, we have separation of Church and State. We don’t have to depend on beliefs. This is the country of “the people’s right to know,” “public knowledge is a prerequisite to accountability,” “the most open and transparent administration in history,” “freedom of information,” the “Show Me State,” a “well-informed electorate,” and “Enquiring minds want to know”.

J_Crater on June 28, 2012 at 5:53 PM

J.E., don’t worry some of us get why the font is big. ; )

Bmore on June 28, 2012 at 6:00 PM

J.E., don’t worry some of us get why the font is big. ; )

Bmore on June 28, 2012 at 6:00 PM

So you understand that a short time ago, the Hot Air WordPress algorithm stopped turning my Times New Roman 12-point input into TNR 10-point automatically? Dang, that’s spooky… :-)

I forgot to reduce to 10-point before the copy and post on this one. Didn’t use to have to. Old seadogs, new tricks and all that. Apologies to anyone whose sensibilities have been injured.

J.E. Dyer on June 28, 2012 at 6:25 PM

Please do not compare the “warmist” proponents to the scientific community/Catholic Church which did not support Galileo. At least they objected to Galileo’s theory on scientific grounds. Even a simple google search shows that the reason Galileo was censored was because in order to accept a heliocentric model of the solar system, observational data that should have been witnessed was not. Even though the scientists felt the heliocentric model was probable, in order to accept it, Aristotelian physics had to be denied and a stellar parallax, predicted by the Geocentric, or Copernican model, had to be observed. No stellar parallax was observed, so the Heliocentric, or Tychonian, system was a more scientific choice because the data did not refute it. When the stellar parallax was finally observed in the 19th century, the Church publicly accepted Galileo’s model.

The situation with the Church and Galileo is very similar to what Albert Einstein experienced. When Einstein presented his general theory of relativity to the scientific community in 1911, it was not accepted because the necessary observational data had yet to be observed. Some predictions of Einstein’s theory of general relativity are significantly different from those of Newtonian physics. Since the acceptance of his theory required certain aspects of Newtonian physics to be violated, or overturned, it is not surprising that scientists required proof in order to consider the new theory viable. There was an astronomical observation that could definitively prove or disprove Enstein’s theory. Sir Arthur Eddington was able to take pictures of the positions of star images within the field near the sun on May 29, 1919 during an unusually long total eclipse of the sun, and thereby provide this needed observational data. The photographs proved that Einstein’s prediction of the bending of light around the sun from his general theory of relativity did occur. Therefore it verified his theory.

No one would suggest that the scientists who wanted verifiable astronomical observations as evidence in order to accept Enstein’s theory were wrong to expect proof. Likewise, the Catholic scientists were also justified in waiting for proof.

Unfortunately, the warmist proponents are in no way interested in science. They want to dictate public behavior and control funding. Their behavior is corrupt, and it is spits in the fact of scientific inquiry.

StubbleSpark on June 28, 2012 at 7:18 PM

Should be “GovInFall”. More accurate and funnier.

Hucklebuck on June 28, 2012 at 8:00 PM

The matter at hand is the D.C. court of appeals ruling on the EPA’s authority to kill economic activity in the name of global warmism. The ruling describes the EPA’s opinion on global warming and greenhouse gases as “unambiguously correct” – which is a deeply silly formulation for characterizing any scientific theory, but would also have been considered, by our Founders and virtually all federal jurists up until the last 20-30 years, as comprehensively invalid language for any kind of judicial ruling. Judges aren’t competent to make decisions for the public on this matter. Their competence is in interpreting the law, not certifying scientific conclusions.

This is true as a matter of principle. We saw a similar case recently, when a federal court ruled that “Intelligent Design” was not a scientific theory. Unfortunately, many conservatives thought that was just fine because they agreed with the conclusion. But they missed the bigger issue: courts have no validity or expertise in judging what is and is not science.

Now that the “scientific theory” is global warming, the court takes the exact same steps to come to a conclusion that conservatives will hate.

And in so doing, they do become exactly like the Pope: trying to declare what is acceptable science by authority, which is not part of the scientific method.

I’ve long been of the opinion that we need an amendment to the Constitution instituting some separation of science and state, much like the guarantees of non-establishment and free exercise of religion.

Congress shall make no law declaring a scientific theory to be proven, nor restricting the ability of others to pursue their own scientific theories.

Hmmmm. Needs work.

tom on June 28, 2012 at 9:13 PM

Please do not compare the “warmist” proponents to the scientific community/Catholic Church which did not support Galileo. At least they objected to Galileo’s theory on scientific grounds. Even a simple google search shows that the reason Galileo was censored was because in order to accept a heliocentric model of the solar system, observational data that should have been witnessed was not. Even though the scientists felt the heliocentric model was probable, in order to accept it, Aristotelian physics had to be denied and a stellar parallax, predicted by the Geocentric, or Copernican model, had to be observed. No stellar parallax was observed, so the Heliocentric, or Tychonian, system was a more scientific choice because the data did not refute it. When the stellar parallax was finally observed in the 19th century, the Church publicly accepted Galileo’s model.

The situation with the Church and Galileo is very similar to what Albert Einstein experienced. When Einstein presented his general theory of relativity to the scientific community in 1911, it was not accepted because the necessary observational data had yet to be observed. Some predictions of Einstein’s theory of general relativity are significantly different from those of Newtonian physics. Since the acceptance of his theory required certain aspects of Newtonian physics to be violated, or overturned, it is not surprising that scientists required proof in order to consider the new theory viable. There was an astronomical observation that could definitively prove or disprove Enstein’s theory. Sir Arthur Eddington was able to take pictures of the positions of star images within the field near the sun on May 29, 1919 during an unusually long total eclipse of the sun, and thereby provide this needed observational data. The photographs proved that Einstein’s prediction of the bending of light around the sun from his general theory of relativity did occur. Therefore it verified his theory.

No one would suggest that the scientists who wanted verifiable astronomical observations as evidence in order to accept Enstein’s theory were wrong to expect proof. Likewise, the Catholic scientists were also justified in waiting for proof.

Unfortunately, the warmist proponents are in no way interested in science. They want to dictate public behavior and control funding. Their behavior is corrupt, and it is spits in the fact of scientific inquiry.

StubbleSpark on June 28, 2012 at 7:18 PM

In practical terms, absolutely none of that matters. It was not the role of the Pope to decide what was and was not science.

You do make a good case that there was a reasonable ground to reject Galileo’s statements. But the essential problem was that the Catholic Church of the day tried to make current scientific understanding as much a part of Catholic doctrine as Scripture and Tradition. Therefore, Galileo could be tried for heresy based on not accepting the current science.

And that was a mistake on the part of the Catholic institution, which I think even they realized before much longer. Science is not determined by authority, and is not supposed to be part of any religious doctrine. Your religious viewpoint may well influence your approach to science — which is why science was positively influenced by the Christian belief that God is a God of order — but that does not make science part of your religion.

tom on June 28, 2012 at 9:21 PM

In practical terms, absolutely none of that matters. It was not the role of the Pope to decide what was and was not science.

You do make a good case that there was a reasonable ground to reject Galileo’s statements. But the essential problem was that the Catholic Church of the day tried to make current scientific understanding as much a part of Catholic doctrine as Scripture and Tradition.

tom on June 28, 2012 at 9:21 PM

Bingo. The issue is that an authority wants there to be a controlling opinion on the matter: something that will govern what people are to be told to think and do. On abstract matters — and the character of an abstract matter changes over time — authorities rarely do well by their people trying to pin down and put an “Approved” stamp on a theory.

It’s obvious when someone kills another person by running over him with his wagon; determining that that happened should be a rigorous procedure, as therre may be extenuating circumstances, but there is no question that running over people with wagons is a cause for the effect of death.

There is tremendous question whether an accumulation of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere is the cause of any catastrophic effect. Favoring one theory on this kind of matter is virtually always a misuse of authority.

J.E. Dyer on June 28, 2012 at 9:35 PM

Tom wrote, “In practical terms, absolutely none of that matters. It was not the role of the Pope to decide what was and was not science.” I agree. However, my point is that it is ironic that the theocracy in Galileo’s day was more interested in scientific truth than our current government.

StubbleSpark on June 28, 2012 at 10:12 PM

tell me again why federal courts are ruling on the validity of scientific theories?

Why not? They did it in the Soviet Union for decades.

That turned out well. Didn’t it?

Mr Galt on June 29, 2012 at 12:17 AM

Our current government does not seem to understand what “science” is.

The Washington insiders continually confuse “science” with “policy”. But “policy” is not concerned with seeking “truth,” for “truth” endures even when everyone despises it and votes against it. And “science” is a unrelenting search for “truth,” which is anathema to policy wonks and dictators.

landlines on June 29, 2012 at 12:19 AM

Ultimately the Church was looking for parallax to verify Galileo while the government gives grants to scientists who spew bunk to prop up collectivism.

Talk about history all you want, but just because our leaders are faithless and dumb does not mean we have to be!

StubbleSpark on June 29, 2012 at 1:11 AM

Also: is not the name of this new religion not “Govfall” but “Secularism”? The real problem we are faced with as Americans is that the function and definition of Secularism has gone from being a sort of benign middle ground where people of all faiths can share in good conscience to something that stands against religion, not as an accommodation but as a rival or even arch nemesis.

It was this way. I suspect we can trace this change back to when the wrong people changed the word “liberal” to be practically the opposite of what it used to mean.

StubbleSpark on June 29, 2012 at 1:25 AM

Why not? They did it in the Soviet Union for decades.

That turned out well. Didn’t it?

Mr Galt on June 29, 2012 at 12:17 AM

The courts had guns to their backs and a one-way trip to Siberia if they ruled the wrong way. What exactly were they supposed to do?

MelonCollie on June 29, 2012 at 12:30 PM

More and more I am becoming utterly convinced that intelligence is an evolutionary dead end. I’ve seen little or nothing in my 60 plus years of life to prove otherwise.

I suppose this is actual proof that there is a God trying to protect us and guide us. But, I’ve not seen any positive evidence of that action taking place. We must have a non-interventionist God or something. Maybe it’s time for God to step in and protect us. That’s the only possible event I can see that could possibly protect us from ourselves.

{o.o}

herself on June 29, 2012 at 7:41 PM

Supreme Court. .. Supreme Crap. Tomato .. Tomotto

drfredc on July 1, 2012 at 10:17 AM