Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Bob Hope gets in a zinger in this old clip I came across at No Left Turns:
Pretty funny.

Hot and Cold

Proponents of the hypothesis that the earth is getting warmer have been insisting that the warming is occuring because we're polluting the atmosphere with CO2 and that the mean global temperature is spiking. It has turned out, however, that the earth is not warming, and that the prognostications of impending disaster have been wrong. Why?

Evidently climatologists overlooked another factor. Developing nations like India and China are pumping tons of sulfur into the atmosphere by burning coal. Atmospheric sulfur cools the earth and offsets the effects of CO2, but if we remove the sulfur, we're told, the earth will warm very fast.

So how do we know that the climatologists know that? Well, we have to take their word on it. We have to trust them and place our faith in their competence.

They tell us it's science, but it sounds a lot like religion. Here's an excerpt from the Reuters article linked above:
Smoke belching from Asia's rapidly growing economies is largely responsible for a halt in global warming in the decade after 1998 because of sulphur's cooling effect, even though greenhouse gas emissions soared, a U.S. study said on Monday.

The paper raised the prospect of more rapid, pent-up climate change when emerging economies eventually crack down on pollution.

World temperatures did not rise from 1998 to 2008, while manmade emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel grew by nearly a third, various data show.

The researchers from Boston and Harvard Universities and Finland's University of Turku said pollution, and specifically sulphur emissions, from coal-fueled growth in Asia was responsible for the cooling effect.
In other words, there is no global warming. What there is is an increase in both CO2 and sulfur emissions. The above article notes that warming will be unimpeded when third world countries crack down on sulfur pollution, a prospect that the article implausibly implies is inevitable and imminent.

Reading this, one wonders why climatologists aren't alarmed by the global cooling that will occur if developed countries limit their CO2 output while the third world continues to churn out sulfur. Isn't this really the most likely scenario?

One reason for their reticence, I'll bet, is that the climatological community knows that if they now start expressing alarm over imminent global cooling after all the panic over "hockey stick" increases in global temperatures they'll become a laughingstock and no one would ever believe another word they said.

Is it Ever Right to Lie?

Note: I just returned from a week in Guatemala and found that in a couple of the posts I had prepared to have my brother Bill post for me while I was away entire sections were transposed, rendering them incoherent.

Some readers may be tempted to opine that incoherence is nothing new here on Viewpoint, but, be that as it may, this was worse than usual, and was entirely my fault. In my rush to prepare for the trip I simply got careless.

Anyway, I'm reposting below the corrected version of what was, I hope, the most severely distorted one.

When a group called Live Action used deception and subterfuge to surreptitiously record Planned Parenthood personnel violating the law there was some debate over the ethics of their tactics. Live Action members posed as prostitutes and pimps and lied about their purposes to PP staff in order to record the staffers giving advice that was clearly in violation of the law, but is it ever right to lie, in the service of what many consider to be a good cause, i.e. saving the lives of unborn children?

Catholic ethical philosopher Janet Smith argues at First Things that the answer is yes. This answer puts her in uncomfortable conflict with Thomas Aquinas (and also, though she doesn't mention him, with Immanuel Kant), nevertheless I think she's clearly correct.

There's a lot of solid thinking in her essay and the reader interested in the morality of lying should read the entire article. Here's a sample of her disagreement with Aquinas:
Aquinas has zero tolerance for false signification [communication], even to save an innocent life. According to his principles, it would be wrong to say to a Nazi seeking to kill Jews hiding in an attic: “There are no Jews in the attic.” He also maintained that it was wrong to cause someone to have a false opinion by telling the truth.

Thus I believe that it would violate Aquinas’ principles to use true speech to mislead Nazis. Someone who had no Jews in his attic, but who answers the door of his neighbor’s house where Jews in fact are hidden, cannot morally say, “There are no Jews in my house,” since he would be leading the Nazi to think falsely about reality. Similarly, a soldier can hide in the bushes to ambush his enemy, but he cannot place his empty tent strategically to deceive the enemy about his whereabouts, for that would be to lead another to think falsely about reality.

This rigorous view extends to the social uses of falsehood as well. Aquinas condemns all false representations of reality, including saying something false for the sake of amusement, ruling out what is known as a “jocose lie.” The same holds for dissimulation designed to smooth over awkward social situations or designed to calm the immature or deranged.

This does not mean that Aquinas holds that all false significations are mortal sins. Lying to the Nazi at the door, exaggerating a story for entertainment, and pretending to enjoy a meal that does not please all fall under the category of a venial sin. Nonetheless, by his way of thinking all false signification is a sin, and as such can never be employed.

Aquinas’ rigorism about uttering falsehoods is certainly cogent, but hard to reconcile with some of his other positions. Aquinas (and the Church) approve of killing someone for the sake of protecting innocent life as well as commandeering or destroying the property of another to protect other goods. Thus the question: Why shouldn’t Aquinas (and the Church) permit false signification uttered in order to protect innocent life and other important goods?
Good question. Consider this variation of an example that Kant employs: A man walking on a city street witnesses an attempted murder. The victim manages to break away and flee past the witness up an alley where she hides. The thug, knife in hand, pursues. When he gets to the witness he grabs him and demands at knifepoint that he tell him where the victim has gone.

Kant (and presumably Aquinas) insists that if the witness says anything he must tell the truth. It's absolutely wrong to lie. Now, suppose that the witness realizes that the victim is his teenage daughter. I submit, that it's morally preposterous to obligate the witness in such an instance to tell the thug where his daughter is hiding or to remain silent.

Anyway, despite my overall agreement with Smith I think she's mistaken about one part of her analysis. She draws a distinction between lying, which she thinks is absolutely wrong, and false signification, which she thinks may sometimes be justified:
Can the defense of some false signification be squared with the traditional absolute prohibition of lying? A close consideration of the analogy with the use of lethal force and the taking of property should help us see that the absolute prohibition can be retained. Neither Aquinas nor the Church understands the use of lethal force in defense of innocent life to be an “exception” to the prohibition of murder.

Nor does the taking or destroying of property belonging to another when necessary to avert some great evil function as an “exception” to the prohibition of theft. Murder is the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being. Theft is taking something against the reasonable will of the owner, and a reasonable owner would approve of taking property to protect important goods.

Therefore, properly stated, although killing and the taking of property are sometimes morally permissible, the norms against murder and theft remain absolute, without exception. Similarly, I believe that the telling of some falsehoods and other forms of false signification are compatible with the absolute prohibition of lying.
The problem here, it seems to me, is that the examples she gives of killing/murder and taking/theft really are not analogous to the examples of false signification/lying. Not all killing is murder, but if one knowingly tells the Nazis there are no Jews in the attic when there are that is a lie. If a guest tells the host that he enjoyed the meal when he didn't that is a lie. Not only is it a lie, but, it seems to me (and to Smith) that it's the right thing to do. If so, then lying cannot be absolutely wrong.

One final thought tangential to the main theme of this post. Smith inadvertently raises a theological conundrum when at one point she uses an example of false signification from the Bible. She cites the account (Jn. 7:8-10) of Jesus leading his followers to believe that he was not going to attend the Feast of the Tabernacles and then, after they went without him, he went.

Did Jesus lie or did He change His mind? Christians will reject the former, but if they endorse the latter then it seems they also have to accept that Jesus in his human incarnation did not have exhaustive knowledge of the future. This will not sit well with those who believe that since Jesus was fully divine He was omniscient even though incarnated in a human body.

Perhaps there's a third alternative. I leave it to readers to suggest one.