My Turn — John Bos: Acceptance versus belief

  • BOS

Friday, May 11, 2018

In her last ever book “No Time to Spare,” Ursula Le Guin writes that if someone asked her if she believed in evolution, she would answer “No.”

As a long-time fan of Le Guin’s writing, I knew that she had something up her literary sleeve. She then wrote “I don’t believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution. I accept it. It isn’t a matter of faith, but of evidence.”

Le Guin goes on to say that the whole undertaking of science is to deal, as well as it can, “with reality. The reality of actual things and events in time is subject to doubt, to hypothesis, to proof and disproof, to acceptance and rejection — not to belief or disbelief.”

“Belief,” Le Guin posits, “has its proper and powerful existence in the domains of magic, religions, fear, and hope.” She sees no opposition between accepting the theory of evolution and believing in God. “The intellectual acceptance of a scientific theory and the belief in a transcendent deity have little or no overlap: neither can support or contradict the other. Le Guin thinks that belief has no value in and of itself. “Its value,” she writes, “increases as it is useful, diminishes as it is replaced by knowledge, and goes negative when it’s noxious. In ordinary life,” she says, “the need for it diminishes as the quantity and quality of knowledge increase.”

Le Guin states that there are areas where “we need belief” because it’s all we have to act upon. “In the whole area we call religion or the realm of the spirit, we can act only on belief.” There, she says, belief may be called knowledge by the believer. And she thinks that’s “fair,” so long as it’s fair to also maintain and insist upon the difference between acceptance and belief outside of religion, She states that “In the realm of science, the value of belief is nil or negative; only knowledge is valuable.” And she concludes by observing that “Perhaps acceptance is the secular equivalent of belief.”

So what is it with the Trump administration chock full of officials who don’t “believe” the science that finds our environment being severely degraded by unrelenting CO2 emissions and the way we live our lives on planet Earth? The fact that they don’t accept climate science either rests upon a “belief” that rises from ignorance or, more likely, defensive denial in favor the fossil fuel industry whose dollars help them keep their jobs. Do they believe that they will be rewarded in the next life or the next campaign?

The repeated mantra that we need an experienced business person to run the business of America has not come to pass. Donald Trump’s business experience from a corporate perspective is non-existent. No chief executive of a major corporation that I know of doesn’t like to read bothersome reports – like national security briefing papers. He did not “manage” a large workforce at Trump Enterprises; it was, and continues to be, a family affair even within the White House. Key executives in federal environmental and energy agencies who do have real business experience and don’t “believe” in climate change have been recruited from major fossil fuel and pharmaceutical industries.

For starters, we have Vice President Mike Pence who apparently doesn’t’ “believe” NASA, the National Academies of Science and all major American scientific organizations on climate change. In 2009 for instance, he told MSNBC, “I think the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming.” As governor of Indiana he sued the EPA to block the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era landmark plan to reduce climate pollution from power plants. And in February 2017 said, “Just last month, after years of senseless delays, President Trump authorized the construction of the Keystone pipeline and the Dakota pipelines for our energy future and to create American jobs. That’s what it means to rebuild our infrastructure and put America back to work.”

Moving down the environmentally hostile hierarchy we come to the just fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who walked away from his job as CEO of Exxon-Mobil with a $180 million retirement payment. He has left it to others to fight lawsuits that accuse the company of knowing for nearly five decades that greenhouse gas pollution from their fossil fuel products had a significant impact on the Earth’s climate and sea levels.

Sinking deeper into the swamp we have EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt who “believes” evolution as an unproven theory. His skepticism about a major foundation of modern science such as evolution is in direct conflict with his agency’s mandate to make science-based decisions. As the head of the EPA he has met regularly with corporate executives from the automobile, mining and fossil fuel industries and then made decisions favorable to those interest groups, according to The Washington Post. Pruit is currently the subject of a congressional probe looking into his unauthorized lavish spending at taxpayer expense.

Space does not permit me to chronicle the anti-earth exploits of U.S. Department of Energy Chief Rick Perry who has long avoided getting pinned down on humankind’s contribution to climate change. He has said that any action on climate change should be weighed against economic costs, not the public health. Nor Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke who reviewed western national monuments and then ordered the elimination of “burdensome regulations” on the oil and gas industry to drill in federally owned land.

To date, the Trump administration has sought to reverse more than 60 environmental rules, according to a New York Times analysis. To date 33 rules have been overturned, 24 “rollbacks” are in progress, and 10 rollbacks are in political limbo. The focus of the non-acceptors of climate change is to trash all the pro environmental regulations and rules put in place during the Obama administration. “It’s the economy stupid” vs. the environment.

Breathe deeply.

John Bos lives in Shelburne Falls. He invites questions and comments at john01370@gmail.com.