But what kind of religion? More than 200 years ago, Scottish
Enlightenment philosopher David Hume put his finger on the process. His
essay, Of Superstition and Enthusiasm, describes how even in
civilized societies the mind of man is subject to certain unaccountable
terrors and apprehensions when real worries are missing. As these enemies
are entirely invisible and unknown, like today's greenhouse gases, people
try to propitiate them by ceremonies, observations, mortifications,
sacrifices such as Earth Day and banning plastic bags and petrol-driven
Fear and ignorance, Hume concludes, are the true source of
superstition. They lead a blind and terrified public to embrace any
practice, however absurd or frivolous, which either folly or knavery
recommends. The knaves today, of course, are the would-be high priests of
the global warming orthodoxy, with former US vice-president Gore as their
As Hume points out, the stronger mixture there is of
superstition, with its ambience of ignorance and fear, the higher is the
authority of the priesthood. As with the Church in the Dark Ages or the
Inquisition during the Reformation, they denounce all doubters, such as
Evans or Britain's Gilbert Monckton as dangerous heretics, outliers in
Gore's phrase: or as willing tools of the evil enemy of a healthy planet,
[COMMENT: This writer has a
mistaken notion of the "Dark Ages", Christianity, the Inquisition, etc.
O well, again. We Christians earned a lot of it. But God did
not. E. Fox]
This is not the first time, of course, that superstition has
paraded itself as science, or created a priesthood masquerading as the
exponents of reason. At the beginning of the previous century we had the
fascination with eugenics, when the Gores of the age such as E.A. Ross and
Ernst Haeckel warned that modern industrial society was headed for race
suicide. The list of otherwise sensible people who endorsed this hokum, from
Winston Churchill to Oliver Wendell Holmes, is embarrassing to read today.
Then as now, money was poured into foundations, institutes,
and university chairs for the study of eugenics and racial hygiene. Then as
now, it was claimed that there was a scientific consensus that modern man
was degenerating himself into extinction. Doubters such as German
anthropologist Rudolf Virchow were dismissed as reactionaries or even as
tools of the principal contaminators of racial purity, the Jews. And then as
now, proponents of eugenics turned to the all-powerful state to avert
A credulous and submissive public allowed politicians to pass
laws permitting forced sterilisation of the feeble-minded, racial screening
for immigration quotas, minimum wage laws (which Sidney and Beatrice Webb
saw as a way to force the mentally unfit out of the labor market) and other
legislation which, in retrospect, set the stage for the humanitarian
catastrophe to come. In fact, when the Nazis took power in 1933, they found
that the Weimar Republic had passed all the euthanasia legislation they
needed to eliminate Germany's useless mouths. The next target on their
racial hygiene list would be the Jews.
Real science rests on a solid bedrock of scepticism, a
scepticism not only about certain religious or cultural assumptions, for
example about race, but also about itself. It constantly re-examines what it
regards as evidence, and the connections it draws between cause and effect.
It never rushes to judgment, as race science did in Germany in the 1930s and
as the high priests of climate change are doing today.
Politicians everywhere should be forced to take an oath
similar to the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors: Above all else, do no
harm. The debate in Australia on this issue is rapidly building to a climax.
Before they make decisions that could trim Australia's gross domestic
product by several percentage points a year and impose heavy penalties on
Australians' lifestyle, Labour and Liberal alike need to re-examine the
superstition of global warming. Otherwise, the only thing it will melt away
is everyone's civil liberty.
Arthur Herman is a historian and author, his most recent book
is Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and
Forged Our Age.