Some HancAquam readers are asking if the Climate Gate scandal undermines the authority of science in general. . .the implication being that science--often the arch-nemesis of religion in the public square, particularly Christianity--has been somehow fundamentally damaged and can now be safely ignored or ridiculed into silence. Visions of booing the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens off the world-stage dance in our heads. . .
Generally, the question goes something like this: "Doesn't this scandal prove that science is just another game played by elitists who want fortune and fame?"
My unequivocal answer: "Absolutely. Not."
The Climate Gate scandal reaffirms the truth of what every Christian ought to know from personal experience: we live in a fallen world run by fallen men and women who do and says things that all too often prove to be sinful. Scientists may be under a cloud of suspicion at the moment, but science as a means of investigating the natural world is as trustworthy has it ever been. In the same way that the abuse scandals put the clergy under suspicion without touching the essential core of the faith, scientists themselves will have to endure heightened scrutiny while defending the basic integrity of their profession. And defend it they must; first, by unambiguously condemning the CRU and those who deceived the public. And second, by starting over with a new investigation into the basic assumptions of global warming.
Scientists, like theologians, freely admit that their knowledge is ultimately tacit, firmly held but subject to refinement upon further study. Our knowledge of the world (or God) in no way alters the reality of that world (or God). As John Polkinghorne argues, our sciences (whether it is natural or divine) are always a matter of verisimilitude, "truth-likeness." For scientists, the truth-likeness of science empowers the discovery of new facts and the invention of new technology. The bumper-sticker on the Good Scientist's car might be: "Science. It Works."
What must be combated during this scandal is the rise of scientific equivalent of the Voice of the Faithful (VOTF). This group was founded in 2002 as a lay-led reaction to the scandals. Taking advantage of the chaos after the scandal broke, VOTF argued that the abuse of minors by priests and the subsequent cover-ups by bishops exposed the weaknesses of the Church's hierarchical structure and the need for radical reform. VOTF pushed for changes in this structure that fit their dissident, Protestantizing agenda for the Church: women's ordination, married clergy, more hierarchical power to the laity, etc. Their push for these specific reforms ignores the fact that women, married people, and lay folks in other churches and even in non-religious professions sexually abuse children as well.
Unfortunately, for the VOTF, they can not demonstrate how the hierarchical structure itself was responsible for the sexual abuse of minors. No Church document approves child molestation. Nothing in the tradition of the Church encourages it. Canon law does not sanction it. No Catholic conscience properly formed can tolerate it. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Everything the Church holds to be true and faithfully teaches explicitly condemns the sexual abuse of minors. The abuse happened precisely because the men who populate the hierarchy failed to be diligent in their sacred responsibilities. Had they followed Church teaching faithfully, the abuse would have never happened. The teachers are at fault, not the teachings.
This goes for the Climate Gate scientists as well. The Climate Research Unit scandal happened because the scientists involved did not faithfully carry out the basic procedures of the scientific method. By destroying inconvenient data, lying to colleagues and gov't oversight bodies, by suppressing oppositional voices in the journals, and manipulating methods to reach pre-determined outcomes, these guys behaved more like religious zealots defending a ridiculous occult dogma than as scientists searching for the truth.
Just as the sex scandals exposed a perversion of the Church's teachings and structures by fallen men, Climate Gate exposes a perversion of the scientific method by those bent on having their way in spite of the truth.
Science is worthy of our trust. Those abusive climate-scientists are not.