Saturday, 20 July 2013

Roy Spencer's beliefs - what are they?

Dr Roy Spencer is a darling of the denier crowd at WUWT because he is a real qualified scientist in the field of climate.
Roy, not Frank
Frank, not Roy

He is also theologically minded. He signed up to the Cornwall Alliance's Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming which tells us that global warming is natural because God did it.  Perhaps Spencer didn't read it first but on the Cornwall Alliance website page of signatories, Spencer is top of the list of scientists.

Spencer is also an avowed supporter of Intelligent Design. If the ID debate has slowed down in recent years it must be because one of the top ID scientists, Michael Behe, was thoroughly taken apart at the Dover trial a few years back. ID is creationism in a shabby coat.

One comment at WUWT said Spencer had claimed he is agnostic. If he has, and I couldn't find it, then that change is both recent and goes against the flow of what he has said and done over the years. Importantly, Spencer is ignorant of evolution, uses typical creationist arguments and does it all with a straight face.  Yet he claims much in a 2005 essay.

Leaving aside the fact that intelligent design was invented about the time that Spencer claims he was studying it, the rest of what he says betrays a pile of ignorance as tall as the Empire State Building.  For someone who supposedly studied evolution v creationism for two years, his essay is content free.  For example, Stephen Jay Gould did not argue from absence of evidence. He had plenty of evidence to support his punctuated equilibrium theory.  It is not a theory I subscribe to.  I didn't think the evidence was sufficiently compelling but there is more to it than just a set of missing fossils.

The fact that Spencer talks in exactly the same hackneyed and debunked creationist sentences suggests he has plugged in a creationist robot and got that to type his essay.  Those scientists who do study evolution claim that even if there were no fossils ever, the evidence for evolution would be overwhelming. I tend to agree.  But I don't expect Spencer to read Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show On Earth, or The Ancestor's Tale, or Climbing Mount Improbable or...  For a good reading list on evolution perhaps some of these authors might be useful: Jerry Coyne, Steve Jones, Sean Carroll, Stephen Jay Gould and others.

Spencer ought to know that Intelligent Design is not the only other show in town besides evolution.
If the public school system insists on teaching evolution as a theory of origins, in the view of many a religious activity, why is it discriminating against the only other theory of origins, intelligent design?
Wishful thinking of the teach the controversy kind.  Which controversy should be taught?  Which creation myth is the one a science teacher should be teaching?  If Spencer is to be believed it is the Abrahamic God.

"Argue the science, not the man" says Anthony Watts without a flicker of irony. But when the man bases his science on a two to three thousand year old set of stories, whether true or not, there is a real difficulty making the distinction. Spencer has made a decision not clearly based on science to deny evolution and to deny climate science. He has said so publicly. It is hard to unpick the faith from the evidence based decisions. When he speaks of the critical thinking skills of scientists being lost after they graduate, he wasn't thinking of himself but he is a clear example of one who has done just that. If he truly read anything on evolution written by one who studies it, then he has ignored it. Totally.

If there is one thing Spencer might have learned from the creationists it is how to set up a false debate. Question everything, look for little holes ("no intermediate forms" as a false argument which, when countered with an example, gives two missing links - think about it), cherry pick, take quotes out of context, even change them. Spencer, remember, did not get around to correcting his error on the satellite data very promptly. A rather unscientific oversight.

Mind you, concern trolls at WUWT give Spencer advice on handling the politicians:
JFD says:
Who prepped Roy for the debate? Anyone who has ever testified on the witness stand would know that the question on creation would be forthcoming. His response should have been, “Senator, this is a scientific hearing. Do you have a scientific question for me. I will be glad to discuss theology with you over dinner. We could also discuss at that time why you were eyeing that woman in the red dress”. Then grinned.
Sadly for JFD, the proponents of ID do not claim it is theological but scientific, so the question would have caught out Spencer - if he answered as the comment would have had him answer, he would have opened himself up to the accusation that his science really is based on the Bible.  If he had answered that it was science after all, the rejoinder is that the Dover case concluded otherwise.  Spencer must know he is caught on this one.  Apparently he is an intelligent man.  Can't say, I've never met him.

I am not trying to attack the man. I am attacking the man's thought processes. If he chooses to base his science on the Bible then I am entitled to take that to task. Willard at WUWT clearly got fed up of that and felt the need to snip and defend, using Newton's rather heretical ideas on Christianity and his rather more scientific ones on gravity as an example. Fair enough, but Newton wasn't saying that he felt the Bible proved his science correct but that his science proved the Bible correct - his science supported his Christianity not the other way round.  And the philosophy of science is entirely different today.

Spencer has spent a good deal of his life in trying to find flaws in the science because he believes that God is in control and humans cannot do the damage that is claimed.  If he doesn't, then he lied when he put his name to the Cornwall Alliance Declaration because that's what it says.  As for being a liability, clearly Spencer's dodgy scientific conclusions on climate science must be coloured by his personal faith, because he has told us so.  That signature on that Declaration is a smoking gun.

Perhaps the thing that climate science deniers should most worry about is Spencer's treatment of the mistake he made on satellite data that he apparently sat on for years.  Not the best example one could give when deniers try to wave around a few quotes from 5000 emails and prove a conspiracy.  When scientists really get it wrong, they end up being sad characatures of true scientists, becoming more and more isolated from the mainstream and from reality.  I would suggest Spencer is on that road. 

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