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Unfamiliar with scientific method
December 15th, 2015
By Alex M. Saunders, MD


In his critique of Pope Francis comments on climate change Ed Binetti (Dec. 3)) seems unfamiliar with scientific method. The method sequence is observation, making a hypothesis or theory, followed by experiments to test theory, leading to a conclusion based on result. The conclusion either supports or does not support the theory. (A conclusion may be a new observation). Only careless scientists insist their conclusion is proof of the theory or establishes fact. However, if many scientists, with careful experiments all reach the same conclusion, then it is correct to speak of consensus.


In daily conversation all of us frequently speak as if an observation were a fact.Then we put many such “facts” together and proudly come to a “proof.” This is how Ed Binetti asks us to fit God into the scheme of things. Such process is neither theology nor science, because neither of these endeavors uses careless daily conversation as starting point of investigation.


In contrast, here are some observations. First, long before humans invented fire, the Earth has experienced temperature cycles. Ice ages follow warm trends in approximately 23,000-year cycles. A more detailed observation; we are presently in the later stages of such a warming cycle.Ice from the most recent ice age is still retreating.A third, even more detailed observation, the present cycle is warming more rapidly than any that came before.Independent experimentation supports the theory that carbon dioxide produces a hothouse effect.


We need not try to prove that humans contributed to global warming, although observations support that notion.What we must do as guardians of God’s Earth is decide to reduce our future contribution to accelerated warming. Pope Francis has every right to support the scientific consensus and to put his support into a moral context.


Alex M. Saunders
San Carlos


 

From December 17, 2015 issue of Catholic San Francisco.

 

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