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Does Nigel Lawson's defeat mean that religions should lose charitable status?

I was interested to see that Nigel Lawson's anti-science Global Warming Policy Foundation has been rapped on the knuckles by the Charity Commission for not meeting the requirement for an educational charity to be unbiassed (and, by implication, evidence based). I presume the same requirements don't apply to religious charities, as surely they would be in trouble too.

Some while ago I wrote a post about a visit from the Jehovah's Witnesses and how their leaflet inspired me to realise that it is difficult to apply the Bible to everyday 'big questions' like 'What should we do about terrorists?' because the advice is so conflicting that it is possible to come up with pretty well diametrically opposed recommendations.

Shortly after writing this I had a bit of an epiphany*. I've always struggled to understand how climate change deniers can come up with such a strangely selective view that went against the majority scientific consensus - but now it was obvious. They don't use a scientific approach, they use a religious one.

The scientific approach is to use the theory best supported by experts in the field given the current evidence, until new evidence suggests we should do otherwise. There is always some contradictory evidence, and often one or two experts who disagree with the majority, but it is clearly not providing a good scientific view to take an alternative theory as 'fact' when it overwhelming countered by the best supported theory - the scientific consensus, as it is often called in climate change. So, for instance, most cosmologists support the Big Bang theory. Not all of them - and it could eventually prove wrong. But for the moment it is the theory that is best supported by the evidence, and so deserves the status of being the theory we currently work with.

However, those using a religious argument have a different approach. Because a source like the Bible or the Koran has so many different and contradictory concepts and interpretations, it is possible to support pretty well any thesis using religious argument. All you do is pick and choose the quotations from the Bible etc. that support your view and ignore the rest. And that's exactly what climate change deniers do. (As do those who think science is unfairly against alternative medicine, or ghosts or whatever.) They pick and choose the evidence that fits their worldview.

This is totally unscientific - but it is inevitably how arguments based on religious documents work. This isn't science, it's religion. And those who talk this way about climate change (or any other application of science) are entirely missing the point when they use this approach.

So we can see why it is that the GWPF will inevitably struggle to meet that 'unbiassed' requirement for an education charity. But, as I say, should we also be asking the Charity Commissioners to ensure that religious institutions given charitable status (think of the arguments over whether Scientology should be given charitable status) are equally required to be unbiassed or to lose that benefit? It's an intriguing thought.

* Yes, I do know what I've done there.


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