Bad science and its moral pretensions: The case of James J. Lee

by Amanda Read | September 11th, 2010

Thomas Malthus, Charles Darwin, James J. Lee

Thomas Malthus, Charles Darwin, James J. Lee

A disturbing aspect of James J. Lee’s case is that his quest was logical according to respected — albeit false — premises.

This month began with a scare at Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring, Md.  Armed with a gun and explosives, environmental extremist James Jay Lee held a small number of hostages in Discovery’s office building and demanded that the company produce shows in accordance with his demands.

Lee was arrested two years ago after leading a protest that included homeless men in which he tossed thousands of dollars into the air outside Discovery Communications.  He was put in jail for nearly two weeks and evaluated by state psychiatrists, who found nothing wrong with him and his passion for the planet.  Lee’s recent grammatically (and scientifically) challenged manifesto is so ridiculous that it’s comical.

Yet the most disturbing aspect of this case is that the eco-martyr actually wasn’t being illogical.  A self-professed atheist and child-shunner (similar to oft-adored Margaret Sanger, come to think of it), he entered a course of action that followed logically from his premises.

All Lee did was put a doomsday environmental philosophy into action. If

1) the Earth is lacking in resources and threatened by imminent man-made danger,

2) the Discovery Channel isn’t responsibly convincing the masses,

3) humans are an insignificant species and parasitic blight on the landscape, and

4) there is no God…

…then why would terrorizing a building full of people be wrong?

If those premises happen to be true, then Lee was doing something for which he could not be held morally accountable.  Science is not an adequate basis for morality anyway, but firmly held beliefs based on incorrect data certainly don’t advance the cause of righteousness.  Growing evidence shows Lee’s premises to be false.

From “the demands and sayings of Lee“:

“Develop shows that mention the Malthusian sciences about how food production leads to the overpopulation of the Human race. Talk about Evolution. Talk about Malthus and Darwin until it sinks into the stupid people’s brains until they get it!!

(So much for academic integrity — just brainwash the poor Darwin-denying dopes!)

Lee didn’t exactly paraphrase the early 19th-century Malthusian concept of exponential human population growth vs. linear agricultural growth correctly.  Maybe that’s why he failed to realize how irrelevant it is.

All right, time to get out the textbooks again:

“The predictions Malthus made assumed food production is confined spatially – what people can eat within a country depends on what is grown in the country.  We now know his assumption does not hold true; countries are not closed systems.  Malthus did not foresee how globalization would aid the exchange of agricultural goods across the world…food production is not confined spatially, as Malthus assumed…Nonetheless, Malthus’s ideas continue to attract followers.” (pg. 47, Human Geography: People, Place and Culture, 9th edition).

Lee’s agenda sees no value in helping starving people in Third World countries; according to his morality it’s better to let impoverished people die out than it is to help them.  Neither does his agenda favor children who are well-provided for.

“All programs on Discovery Health-TLC must stop encouraging the birth of any more parasitic human infants and the false heroics behind those actions. In those programs’ places, programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility must be pushed
…Saving the Planet means saving what’s left of the non-human Wildlife by decreasing the Human population. That means stopping the human race from breeding any more disgusting human babies! You’re the media, you can reach enough people. It’s your resposibility because you reach so many minds!!!
Humans are the most destructive, filthy, pollutive creatures around and are wrecking what’s left of the planet with their false morals and breeding culture.”

By no stretch of the imagination could a show about human sterilization be more wholesome and entertaining than the Duggar family.  Besides, in recent times, declining fertility rates have been of far more concern than overpopulation.  Very few families are blessed to be as baby-abundant as the Duggars, and mimicking them is certainly not the point.  Rather, it is the sancitity, uniqueness and enjoyment of human life that is refreshing to viewers.

Earlier this year, I was given a carbon footprint calculation assignment in college.  According to Lee’s premises, my household of 11 humans should have sent off alarm bells in the university’s earth sciences department.  However, we surprisingly had a much lower carbon footprint than would be expected from the national average.  I personally have a carbon footprint that is only one-fourth the size of that belonging to the average American.

Without even subscribing to the theory of man-made global warming, our big family lifestyle is very Earth-friendly.  From personal experience it appears that, the more children a family has, the more likely it is to be proficient at reusing, recycling, eating organic food and living in the countryside.  Furthermore, we accept biblical standards of morality, which include caring for and appreciating the Earth.

Nobody has to believe the Bible to be environmentally conscious or to behave morally.  But the premises of the Bible and accurate, updated science offer far more logical reasons to do so than do the demands and sayings of Lee.

In the bizarre instances in which self-professed Christians have gone on deadly rampages, their faulty reasoning actually can be refuted by the biblical worldview they claimed to know.

It will be interesting to see if the same can be said of the environmentalist worldview of Lee.  The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT) disapproved of Lee exercising the “live long and die out” agenda upon the Discovery Channel with “coercive methods.”  That’s kind of them, but does their reasoning really match their own premises?

When Lee defiantly pointed his gun at a hostage, the police fatally shot him to defend the hostage’s life.  Michelle Malkin summed up the episode: “Well, he wanted fewer people on the planet. Now, he’s got his wish.”

Thus is the tragedy that comes about when one believes that the chief end of man is THE END of man.  After all this eco-tragedian, myth of scarcity talk, I think the world could use a dose of Sam Clark’s uplifting Musical Chairs and Tapping In.

Read more of Amanda’s column Not Your Average Read in the Communities at The Washington Times.

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3 Responses to “Bad science and its moral pretensions: The case of James J. Lee”

  1. I am so torn on whether or not I should respond seriously or just deliver the mocking you deserve.

    Science is not a source of morality, and I don’t think many people claim it is. It’s a way to observe and learn more about existence. You’re just irritated because it just so happens to reveal that your religion is, in fact, false. So let’s drop that point.

    You are ignoring the effectiveness of Lee’s methods, which is why they are so very flawed. The Discovery Channel is not going to change its programming, and now public opinion of environmentalism has gone down. I’m also struggling to understand his objective: why is he desiring of more educational programming if humanity is an undesirable species that should be removed? If things are so dire, the status quo will slowly remove us from the planet, and hardier species will march on. His logic is very flawed.

    Why is it wrong? Because Lee is part of a society that shuns such actions. We all want to live without having to worry about people barging in and making demands backed with threat of violence. Lee and his ilk are free to influence society to move towards that direction, and we are free to counter those attempts. I have a feeling Lee wouldn’t have been successful doing such.

  2. Amanda Read says:

    Azou,

    I had a feeling that your side of the audience would react that way upon seeing the article title. I hope that you actually read the whole thing and noticed that I did acknowledge the fact that science isn’t an adequate basis for morality – which only furthers my points. Besides, James J. Lee based his actions on bad science, which is really more dogmatic than evidence-based.

    I plan to delve deeper into this issue in my next article, which will be about the debate “Does Atheism Poison Everything?” between David Berlinski and Christopher Hitchens (I attended it).

    I understand what you mean about the illogical thought behind attacking the Discovery Channel itself – even VHEMT saw that. But psychiatrists agreed the first time Lee was arrested that there was nothing mentally wrong with the man. He was just passionate about a cause that is looking increasingly pointless.

  3. I did read the article, and it’s very easy to interpret that bit as insinuating that people derive a moral standard from science.

    James Lee did not base his actions on bad science, his actions were simply bad. A man that shoots up an IRS building over tax hikes would, in my opinion, have poor misconception about taxes.

    But it doesn’t matter: violence rarely persuades people. You simply bully them into saying what you want to hear, and they will stop the second they are no longer at risk. If Lee is correct and humans are indeed doing disastrous things to the planet, violence will more likely get people to consider you crazy than correct.

    This article’s existence proves it: you are using the incident as a way to refute certain sciences. Lee’s actions have spurred the INVERSE of what he ultimately wanted.

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The Alabama-based writer, filmmaker, Christian homeschool graduate, unconventional college graduate, military daughter and eldest of the 9 Read children. The origins of Sincerely Amanda are recounted here.

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Willing To Be Examined

"Man was at first a perfect upright Creature, The lively Image of his Great Creator: When Adam fell all men in him Transgress'd, And since that time they Err, that are the best, The Printer Errs, I Err much like the Rest. Welcome's that Man, for to complain of me, Whose Self & Works are quite from Error free."
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