The Second Time as Farce: Galileo Redux

According to Bob Fletcher, a full-time militia staff researcher, the government of the United States has developed weather-tampering techniques to create drought and famine, so the New World Order can starve millions in America and control the rest. -- David Foster and Arlene Levinson, Associated Press, May 18, 1995

Executives of oil companies can change the weather.--Greenpeace

According to Fletcher, Tiny transponders implanted under the skin can track you worldwide, change your personality, or leave you sterile. -- David Foster and Arlene Levinson, Associated Press, May 18, 1995

Tomorrow's Weather: Brought to you by Big Business. -- Natural Resources Defense Council advertisement

Fletcher says that he has enough evidence of the impending U. N. invasion that you'll need to change your underwear when you leave here. -- David Foster and Arlene Levinson, Associated Press, May 18, 1995

All of here this morning are Paul Reveres of the environmental movement. We too are working as a team. The enemy is more subtle than a British fleet. -- Remarks by Vice President Al Gore to the Climate Change Conference

Before the Enlightenment, the weather was almost universally considered to be the result of divine forces. Pagans attributed atmospheric phenomena to Jupiter and his kindred gods; Christians attributed them to Divine Providence. The Enlightenment brought us scientific explanations of the weather. No longer did Jupiter hurl his thunderbolts; now Benjamin Franklin flew his kite into a storm. Nevertheless, until recently, many people, probably most, believed that God controls the weather. Even a tornado, they said, was God's will. All of a sudden, however, we are told that the weather, far from being controlled by God, far even from being subject to any reasonable scientific explanation, is controlled by businessmen and politicians. The Enlightenment removed the weather from divine control; today's successors to the Enlightenment have placed it under human control.

The suddenly establishment belief that the weather is under human control represents the greatest intellectual change since Galileo observed the moons of Jupiter and the spots on the sun. In the West, prior to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the visible heavens were almost universally considered a semi-divine realm sharing in the eternity and incorruptibility of God. After Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton, the visible heavens were seen as obeying the same physical laws obeyed by objects on earth. The Renaissance and Enlightenment gave rise to science, an independent institution that sought naturalistic explanations for all physical events. Religious explanations gave way to scientific ones. A secular worldview arose that ignored the possibility that religious and scientific explanations might complement one another, that God could work, at least most of the time, through scientific law rather than against it. As a result, the advance of science, which should have brought about an improvement of religion and philosophy, worked against both. After Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton, it was no longer reasonable to consider the visible heavens or any other part of the natural world semi-divine; today our rulers claim to have what would have to be a semi-divine authority over the natural world. Galileo was famously persecuted; in Earth in the Balance, Al Gore compares himself and others worried about global warming to Galileo, and those complacent about global warming to Galileo's persecutors.

When we blame each other for weather we do not like, rather than accepting it as God's will or considering it the result of impersonal natural forces, when every degree too hot or too cold for our liking confirms our prejudices, when every unwelcome gust of air breeds resentment, when every rainy day we want to be sunny or sunny day we want to be rainy makes us hate each other all the more, when voters believe that the weather depends in some large and predictable way upon how they vote, when we fight vainly over Nature's thermostat the way we fight over the temperature in our offices, we have truly entered a New World in which we must be Brave.

Al Gore usually speaks of controlling climate, not controlling weather, but it matters little which he says because even when he says climate, he means to suggest weather, and, after all, climate is made up of weather. Besides, the White House obliterated the distinction between weather and climate by inviting two hundred weather forecasters to discuss climate change, and, to tell the truth, controlling the climate is no easier than controlling the weather. So which is more insane, blaming the government for bad weather or blaming the Republicans? We have a Vice President as lost in the pecans and walnuts as an especially insane militia leader! More lost really. If the government claims to be able to control the weather, who can blame someone for complaining when the weather does not turn out to his liking? Religion gave way to science, and now science has given way to madness, as it eventually had to do once divorced from true religion.

The story of Al Gore can be found in Samuel Johnson's masterpiece Rasselas. In search of wisdom, Imlac consults a learned astronomer. After numerous visits, Imlac wins the astronomer's trust, and the sage reveals to him his great secret: Hear, Imlac, what thou wilt not without difficulty credit. I have possessed for five years the regulation of the weather, and the distribution of the seasons: the sun has listened to my dictates, and passed from tropic to tropic by my direction; the clouds, at my call, have poured their waters, and the Nile has overflowed at my command; I have restrained the rage of the dog-star, and mitigated the fervors of the crab. I have administered this great office with exact justice, and made to the different nations of the earth an impartial dividend of rain and sunshine. The poor astronomer realizes that if he changes the weather for the better in one place, he risks making it worse somewhere else, so he must not indulge his pride by innovation. He must avoid disordering the seasons. All of his efforts, therefore, are devoted to maintaining the weather in exactly the same state that it would be should he do nothing. Now he is old and tired and wants Imlac to relieve him of the onerous burden of maintaining the weather exactly as it would be without his efforts.

When Imlac tells his companions the story of the astronomer gone mad, Princess Nekayah smiles, and Pekuah is convulsed with laughter, drawing Imlac's rebuke: to mock the heaviest of human afflictions is neither charitable nor wise. The wise and charitable response to Al Gore, then, is pity. The astronomer's lament must be Gore's: If the task of a king be considered as difficult, who has the care only of a few millions, to whom he cannot do much good or harm, what must be the anxiety of him, on whom depends the action of the elements, and the great gifts of light and heat!

According to the misnamed chaos theory, which is not a theory but a straightforward mathematical demonstration, unless the initial conditions of a system are known with infinite precision, the future behavior of that system cannot be predicted beyond narrow limits. Such a system is complex or chaotic. Because of quantum indeterminacy, no physical system can be known with infinite precision. Therefore, the future behavior of all physical systems cannot be predicted beyond narrow limits. In the case at hand, the future weather and climate cannot be predicted beyond narrow limits. Weather and climate are chaotic.

Nota bene: The unpredictability of physical systems is not simply a result of the limitations of human knowledge. Physical systems are inherently unpredictable. No amount of research or computer power can overcome this unpredictability. Even if we knew everything there is to know about the present state of the universe and had an infinite computing capacity, we would still be unable to predict future weather and climate beyond narrow limits. The unpredictability is part of the universe itself.

Many variables affect weather and climate. They are variables; that is, they change, and weather and climate change with them. The sun does not emit a steady amount of radiation, the earth does not orbit regularly around the sun, the orientation of the earth to the sun is not regular, the spin of the earth is not regular (days are much longer than they used to be due to the slowing of the earth's rotation), the orbit of the moon around the earth is not regular, asteroids and comets bombard the earth episodically, volcanic activity is not uniform, the interior of the earth is not static, the effect of life on the atmosphere varies, geologic features change, and so on. As a result, weather and climate are always changing. Even the rate of change varies. There is no such thing as a background rate of change. Change can be slow, or it can be exceedingly rapid, as in the case of asteroid impacts, volcanoes, or sudden variations of the output of the sun.

The aim of science is often said to be to predict and control. Chaos theory demonstrates that prediction and control are necessarily quite limited, despite what advances we make in science and technology. As a result, the scientific establishment (generously funded by that monument to attempted prediction and control, the federal government) feels threatened. In an attempt to preserve its lofty image, the scientific establishment has taken to presenting chaos theory to the public in a reassuring manner that robs it of its revolutionary implications. Order is said to underlie disorder, as if there were some pattern to be discerned that would make the disorder no longer disorderly. In fact, chaos theory shows that there would be disorder even in a deterministic universe. So long as the initial conditions of a deterministic universe could not be specified with infinite precision, the future of that universe could be predicted only to a narrowly limited extent. Deterministic laws (order) would then underlie disorderly results. The disorderly results, however, would be no less disorderly for having resulted from an orderly process. Order does not underlie disorder; disorder underlies order: disorder results from order; order is pregnant with disorder. In any case, the universe is not deterministic, so the claim that order underlies disorder is academic.

Chaos theory is not exactly new. It is the mathematical expression of the old principle that a small thing can make a big difference. For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of the shoe, the horse was lost. For want of the horse, the rider was lost. For want of the rider, the message was lost. For want of the message, the battle was lost. For want of the battle, the war was lost. A titanic chess duel hinges on the position of a single pawn. We small things may well make big differences in the weather, but we can understand our effects on the weather in much the same way a pawn would understand a chess game or a single soldier in a foxhole would understand an entire war. We do affect the weather, but we can hardly know the effect or its magnitude. We cannot predict the weather beyond very narrow limits. Least of all can we control it. Al Gore is leading us into an Alice in Wonderland world where perspective is distorted all out of proportion. We should be warned by the following lines from the poem at the beginning of fictional Alice's fictional adventure. They apply full well to our actual place in the actual universe.

For both our oars, with little skill,

By little arms are plied,

While little hands make vain pretence

Our wanderings to guide.

So how could we have a sanity-challenged Vice President and few people notice? The answer is that he and many others are prisoners of a sanity-challenged religion. When Shirley MacLaine blamed the eruption of Mount St. Helens on environmental destruction, most people probably thought, Well, that's Shirley MacLaine for you. But Elements of Literature: Introductory Course, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1997 and purchased in massive quantities by school boards in all parts of the United States, suggests to sixth-graders precisely that Mount St. Helens erupted because of threats to the environment. Loo-Wit, the Fire-Keeper is a Nisqually myth retold by Joseph Bruchac, a sure sign that if there ever were such a story, it would not resemble what our children are made to read. Loo-Wit is a beautiful young woman who could no longer find peace as a human being, so the Creator changed her into a mountain. Now she is known as Mount St. Helens. The Creator intended that humans should look at her beauty and remember to keep their hearts good, to share the land and treat it well. If we human beings do not treat the land with respect, the people said, Loo-Wit will wake up and let us know how unhappy she and the Creator have become again. So they said, long before the day in the 1980s when Mount St. Helens woke again. According to Shirley MacLaine and bogus Nisqually myths, environmental catastrophes take place because our crimes against the environment anger the New Age gods. According to Al Gore, environmental catastrophes take place because of our crimes against the environment. Al Gore just puts a pseudo-scientific gloss on Shirley MacLaine's New Age beliefs and a myth of the Pacific Northwest retold by a white man from Saratoga Springs, New York, who had an Indian grandfather.

Gore displayed his New Age beliefs for all with eyes to see in Earth in the Balance. Christians might have thought that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For Al Gore, "faith" is "akin to a kind of spiritual gyroscope that spins in it own circumference in a stabilizing harmony with what is inside and what is out." Gore has come to believe "in the value of a kind of inner ecology that relies on the same principles of balance and holism that characterize a healthy environment." As if claiming to know how to control the weather were not enough, Gore presents himself as a Messiah come to deliver us from the "spiritual crisis in modern civilization that seems to be based on an emptiness at its center and the absence of a larger spiritual purpose."

Man in his actual state of (fallen) nature-as opposed to the fanciful state we keep hearing about-is a being living in fear of the gods and shame at his own bestiality. In an effort to placate the gods and set himself apart from the other beasts, he pours meal and oil and wine on fires and slices the throats of birds and sheep and sons and daughters and maidens and warriors. At the center of Christianity is a different understanding of sacrifice. Christ offered himself up on the cross, making a full, complete, and perfect sacrifice for our sins, and not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. No longer do we have to offer up our daughters when we want winds favorable to our sails, as Agamemnon sacrificed Iphigenia in order to get to Troy. Even though the Crucifixion made such sacrifice unnecessary, in a secular world man reverts to his actual state of nature. Whatever his self-understanding, he lives again in fear of the gods and shame at his own bestiality, and he must sacrifice. Al Gore must sacrifice one tenth of our economy to bring better weather. Since people sacrifice what is most dear to them, we can see what is most dear to our latter-day Galileo: other people's money.

Global warming complaints are based on the unstated assumption that the earth once had an ideal and unchanging climate. Before the Industrial Revolution or before civilization or before the evolution of man, weather was perfect. Then the evil activities of man brought about bad weather. Obviously, this myth is a perversion of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Gore speaks again and again as if he actually believes that it is possible for climate not to change. In his speech to the Climate Change Conference, he applauds Sabrina Alimahomed, a fifteen-year-old girl who planted trees in a vacant lot in El Segundo, California. If we succeed in blocking climate change, Gore says, it will be because of the dedication Sabrina and her compatriots have shown. The Vice President is telling teenage girls that if they plant trees and recycle, climate will no longer change on a world that has had billions of years of changing climates. However, fear ye not therefore, Sabrina, for Gore will arise, and rebuke the winds and the sea; and there will be a great calm. But the men will marvel, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him! Everyone talks about the weather, and now he has done something about it!

The silver lining in the vast cloud of madness enveloping us? We now have proof, if ever we lacked it, that we are utterly lost without divine intervention. Anyone who has worked with the genuinely delusional knows that it is impossible to talk them out of their delusions. We need someone who can cast out devils.

Jonathan David Carson, Ph.D.

A slightly edited version of this essay appeared in the March 1998 issue of First Things.