Milloy on Mercury and Evolution

There is all the difference in the world between reasonable skepticism regarding some particular religious or scientific claim and universal skepticism that brings all knowledge into doubt. Steven Milloy seems to have stumbled across that line.

I was impressed with Milloy’s recent article about the environmentalist flip-flop on mercury. While environmentalists have typically screamed bloody murder about any trace amount of mercury anywhere, when it came to laws mandating the use of light bulbs that happen to contain mercury, environmentalists were strangely mute. Milloy concludes, “First mercury was dangerous. Then, temporarily, it became no big deal. Now that the Greens have caught us in the CFL [compact fluorescent lightbulb] trap, they’re reverting to form on mercury — all to cause the sort of chaos resulting in increased government control of our lives.”

However, after I promoted this article via e-mail, Doug Peltz pointed me to a Cato interview in which Milloy expresses doubts about biological evolution as applied to humans. While Cato’s web page no longer seems to host the interview, it is available through

[Question:] What’s the real deal on evolution? Twenty years ago on “Cosmos,” Carl Sagan said it wasn’t a “theory” but a “law.” My Christian friends tell me it’s a theory shot full of errors. And my scientist friends tell me it’s provable in the everyday world.

[Reply:] Explanations of human evolution are not likely to move beyond the stage of hypothesis or conjecture. There is no scientific way – i.e., no experiment or other means of reliable study – for explaining how humans developed. Without a valid scientific method for proving a hypothesis, no indisputable explanation can exist.

The process of evolution can be scientifically demonstrated in some lower life forms, but this is a far cry from explaining how humans developed.

That said, some sort of evolutionary process seems most likely in my opinion. But there will probably always be enough uncertainty in any explanation of human evolution to give critics plenty of room for doubt.

Here Milloy implicitly casts doubt on inductive knowledge as such.

Obviously billions of years of biological evolution cannot be reproduced in a laboratory environment. However, extensive research into fossil records and genetics proves conclusively that all life on earth arose from evolutionary processes.

Moreover, the only alternative to evolution (broadly meaning the development of life through natural processes not guided by some higher intelligence) is some variant of creationism, either natural or supernatural. Natural creationism would involve something like the the process found in 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is no evidence for such creation, making any claim about it completely arbitrary. But those of a religious bent would dismiss natural creationism as quickly as they dismiss evolution, for their entire motive is to create room for supernatural creationism. So, in effect, Milloy sacrifices the very possibility of objective knowledge to religion.

One thought on “Milloy on Mercury and Evolution”

  1. This is one of the reasons I am increasingly skeptical of right-wing critiques of environmentalism. The people making these critiques are often hard to describe as champions of science. So who knows if they’ve got a better scientific assessment of evidence regarding global warming, etc.?


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