Crichton: Against all Edens

MCrichton.jpgAfter Michael Crichton's death last week, a few different obituaries hinted at his iconoclastic questioning of global-warming certainties. What's striking is that Crichton's criticisms of global warming attracted more hostility than his attacks on religion -- a generic religion that stands as the enemy of all things scientific. New York Times science columnist John Tierney quotes from a speech, "Environmentalism as Religion," which Crichton delivered in September 2003 at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club:

There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

. . . Religions think they know it all, but the unhappy truth of the environment is that we are dealing with incredibly complex, evolving systems, and we usually are not certain how best to proceed. Those who are certain are demonstrating their personality type, or their belief system, not the state of their knowledge. Our record in the past, for example managing national parks, is humiliating. Our fifty-year effort at forest-fire suppression is a well-intentioned disaster from which our forests will never recover. We need to be humble, deeply humble, in the face of what we are trying to accomplish. We need to be trying various methods of accomplishing things. We need to be open-minded about assessing results of our efforts, and we need to be flexible about balancing needs. Religions are good at none of these things.

Crichton went further in other settings. In "Aliens Cause Global Warming" and "The Case for Skepticism on Global Warming," he saw science as contaminated by politics.

S.T. Karnick, writing in The Weekly Standard, comes closest to making sense of Crichton's life and work:

To some extent Crichton's writings reflected an attitude of scientism in its totalizing sense, the fallacious assumption that nothing not readily explainable by science is true. In a book such as Congo, for example, there is a strong implication that human beings are not unique in this creation and thus not intrinsically of greater importance than other creatures. That line of thinking actually contradicts the warm feelings toward humanity that are necessary to justify his and the reader's concern for the characters.

Fortunately, that sort of scientism is usually not too annoyingly evident in his works. Very much on the positive side, in addition, was his crusade in recent years to tell the truth about global warming: Crichton was insistent that there is no manmade global warming crisis facing us today. In speeches, articles, and his excellent potboiler novel State of Fear, he not only refuted the scientific and economic assertions of global-warming alarmists but also, and perhaps more importantly in cultural terms, pointed out their real motivation for pursuing their agenda: money.

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