Belief, science and status
Padraig Reidy: a ruling on the "beliefs" of an environmentalists poses more questions than it answers
04 Nov 09

As a hardened secularist (indeed, an erstwhile professional atheist at New Humanist magazine), I have to admit I’m not sure how to react to yesterday’s ruling in favour of “green martyr” Tim Nicholson, placing his environmentalist beliefs on a legal par with religious beliefs.

At first glimpse, it’s a victory for Nicholson’s freedom of conscience; Nicholson is pretty much the UK environmentalist movement’s first legally recognised conshie.

And yet…and yet. This ruling does some weird things. It a) upholds the privilege that religious belief holds under law, and b) potentially reduces what should be a scientific and political standpoint (i.e., a belief in the evidence for man-made climate change and the need to limit/reverse it through practical means) to a supernatural belief: for every climate-change sceptic, here, finally, is legal proof of what they’ve said all along: climate change is an article of orthodoxy and faith rather than science.
But then, should we be glad that other “deeply held” viewpoints are now given the same status as belief in the supernatural?


By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.