Last week, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, issued a new warning on global warming that began with this sentence: "We all agree. Climate change is real, and we humans are its chief cause ... we are on the verge of a catastrophe if we do not act."
Just a few days later the United Nations released a new report in which it confessed its previous estimate of AIDS cases worldwide was inflated by more than 6 million sick people. In India alone, the number of AIDS patients estimated by the United Nations dropped by more than half, from 6 million to 3 million.
"They've finally got caught with their pants down," Dr. Jim Chin, a clinical professor of epidemiology at the University of California at Berkeley and a former staffer at the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press.
The old, false U.N. numbers were the result of an obviously bad methodology, especially in India; prevalence rates among women in urban clinics were imputed to the population as a whole, thereby oversampling AIDS-prone prostitutes, addicts and people with multiple sexual partners.
So why did the U.N. scientists go with the bad data? According to professor Chin, U.N. officials were reluctant to admit fewer people were infected because that might translate into less funding to fight AIDS, which continues to devastate millions worldwide.
As far as I can tell, the United Nations is like just about any other large bureaucratic institution -- a mixed body of people and ideals that does some good and is at least as susceptible to corruption as any other human thing. But in Europe, faith in the United Nations is reaching biblical proportions.
Which is why when the U.N. secretary-general reaches for the language of science to establish an absolute truth (global warming is a human-caused catastrophe) grounded in an obvious falsehood ("we all agree"), I find it creepy.
The statements have the form of scientific assertions, but they are clothed in a spirit of dogmatic certainty that is alien to the culture of scientific endeavor. A climate science that cannot predict the weather a month from now may have strong evidence that global warming exists, is human caused and will be a catastrophe, but it cannot possibly have yet produced a proof about which "all agree."
Thus, a new faith system is emerging in the world, centered in Europe, but with outposts among the educated in many parts of the world. In his new book "Challenging Nature," Dr. Lee M. Silver, a Princeton molecular biologist, calls this emerging cultural system "post-Christian." While Christian-based cultures see human beings as uniquely moral beings given dominion over the Earth by God (hence the moral qualms about human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research, but not about genetically engineered plants or animal research), post-Christians "are more worried about the flora and fauna," notes New York Times science columnist John Tierney wryly. Frankenfoods, overpopulation, and technological progress created by our invasive species threaten as much fear as they inspire hope.
Post-Christian faith is rooted in fear that "Mother Nature" is weak, vulnerable, and yet full of violent retributive possibilities that must be assuaged by great sacrifices humbly offered by people under the influence of the new priesthood of international regulators.
The United Nations is now the arbiter of truth and our only hope of saving the planet.
Every human being is born with an innate need to have faith in something greater and more powerful than him or herself. Offered a choice, I find it hard to see how a rational person could place his faith in something so checkered as the United Nations.
But then, the heart has its reasons which reason knows not.