Sunday, June 7, 2015

Noise, rhetoric, and tribalism

I came across this line on one of the environmental blogs I participate in:

We both agreed that if we could talk to our opponents more there would probably be less rhetoric, less noise, and less tribalism that fosters hatred of the opposing side.

The issue there has to do with CAGW (catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, the term for the proposition that by emitting so much CO2, humans are causing the Earth to heat up, which is changing the climate, which will have catastrophic consequences, etc.). In my view, the physical evidence and the history of the climate science does not support CAGW. Certainly increased CO2 has had some impact on climate; CO2 is a greenhouse gas, after all. But the data seems to show that the feedback from increased CO2 is near saturation levels, and increased atmospheric CO2 has many benefits to the planet, including moderating extreme weather and improving plant productivity. I've written about all of this elsewhere, but the point here is that there are strong opinions on both sides, and too often the debate produces nothing but noise, rhetoric, and tribalism.

Which is a good comparison to the discussion about Book of Mormon geography.

I realize my views are not "mainstream" among LDS academics--yet. I think that is changing and will continue to change, mainly because the facts are the facts. True, I have made inferences from the available facts, and those are always subject to debate, questioning, challenge, disagreement, etc. And I'm fine with that; I welcome it. What I don't welcome is avoidance of facts and the noise, rhetoric and tribalism that too often accompanies this discussion.

This is why, shortly after I discovered the evidence about Winchester, and the soon-to-be published additional information about him and his contemporaries, one of the first things I did was contact well-known people at BYU and the Maxwell Institute. Some were more open than others. Generally, the BYU professors seemed open to new information and eager to get the history right. The Maxwell Institute people were more interested in defending their points of view. In one case, a Maxwell Institute scholar agreed to collaborate with me, but then he reneged because he didn't like my conclusion. He refused to discuss the merits or explore any areas of agreement. I requested a meeting with Brian Hauglid, with whom I had exchanged email before, but he has refused to respond, which I have to interpret as a rejection of my request.

As long as some scholars refuse to discuss the merits, or even to meet and talk, in my opinion they are perpetuating the noise, rhetoric and tribalism that is counterproductive to working toward the truth. I'm always willing to meet with anyone who is interested in these issues; hopefully that will include the Maxwell Institute, sooner or later.

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