On Framing, Part Two

In my previous post on this subject, I described the main faults I see in the Mooney/Nisbet thesis regarding the importance of proper “franimg” in presenting science to the public. In this post I would like to focus specifically on their Washington Post article. In particular, I would like to chastise them for some rather ill-considered remarks contained therein.

We start at the beginning of the article:

If the defenders of evolution wanted to give their creationist adversaries a boost, it’s hard to see how they could do better than Richard Dawkins, the famed Oxford scientist who had a bestseller with “The God Delusion.” Dawkins, who rose to fame with his lucid expositions of evolution in such books as “The Selfish Gene,” has never gone easy on religion. But recently he has ramped up his atheist message, further mixing his defense of evolution with his attack on belief.

For many on the pro-evolution side the sentiments expressed above are taken as an article of faith. They seem to think it’s obvious that Richard Dawkins, in angrily condemning religion, hurts the cause of promoting science in the U.S. I’ve never seen the slightest shred of evidence that that is the case. The idea, it seems, is that religious people are so delicate that even though many of them would like to support good science education, they are driven back to the side of darkness by mean old Richard Dawkins. Frankly, I think Dawkins and his supporters (which includes me) have a higher opinion of religious people than people like Mooney and Nisbet. After all, Dawkins merely engages seriously with their arguments and explains his reasons for finding them mistaken and foolish. It is people like Mooney and Nisbet, by contrast, who seem to believe that religious believers need to be condescended to, and have difficult scientific issues reduced to buzzwords and catch phrases.

Leave aside for a moment the validity of Dawkins’s arguments against religion. The fact remains: The public cannot be expected to differentiate between his advocacy of evolution and his atheism. More than 80 percent of Americans believe in God, after all, and many fear that teaching evolution in our schools could undermine the belief system they consider the foundation of morality. Dawkins not only reinforces and validates such fears — baseless though they may be — but lends them an exclamation point.

We agree with Dawkins on evolution and admire his books, so we don’t enjoy singling him out. But he stands as a particularly stark example of scientists’ failure to explain hot-button issues, such as global warming and evolution, to a wary public. (Emphasis Added)

As if to prove my point, Mooney and Nisbet here make explicit the condescension that was only implied in their previous paragraph. Just take a look at that bold-face remark. Of course people can be expected to differentiate between Dawkins’ advocacy of evolution and his advocacy of atheism. And to the extent that people are not able to make that distinction it simply reflects badly on them.

To see how foolish that bold-face remark is, just turn it around. Imagine a non-Christian deciding he wants to learn about evolution and picking up a book by Ken Miller, John Haught, or Francis Collins for that purpose. He quickly finds himself reading about how evolution enriches Christian faith, and fits more comfortably within a Christian worldview than it does within an atheistic one. If our reader now comes away saying, “Gosh! I want to support good science education but this evolution stuff is obviously just a cover for Christianity,” would Mooney and Nisbet lament the poor framing evident in books by those authors.? Or would they argue that our reader ought to think things through a bit more carefully?

If atheists and non-Christians are expected to separate the theological views of people like Ken Miller and Francis Collins from their scientific views, why can’t the same be expected from Christians encountering the views of Richard Dawkins?

Mooney and Nisbet tell us to leave aside the merits of Dawkins’ arguments. I’m sorry, but that is a rather large thing to leave aside. The idea that evolution tends to undermine religious faith is not a baseless fear. Rather, it arises from a simple acknowledgement of the fact that an understanding of the world based on four billion years of evolution by natural selection is hard to reconcile with an understanding based on an all powerful, all loving God creating the Earth for the pleasure of humans. No one feels the need to write a book explaining all the ways in which science in general and evolution in particular conflict with traditional religious views. Those conflicts are obvious to everyone who gives serious thought to the issue. Instead, it is the theistic evolutionists who go on for hundreds of pages trying to explain their views to a skeptical public.

If Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris disappeared off the face of the Earth, it would make not the slightest difference to the rates of evolution acceptance among the genral public. In fact, I suspect it would make things worse. Someone has to push back against the relentless tide of religiously inspired nonsense in this society. Our problem is not that religion is challenged too much. It is that religion is challenged too little.

Skipping ahead a bit:

So in today’s America, like it or not, those seeking a broader public acceptance of science must rethink their strategies for conveying knowledge. Especially on divisive issues, scientists should package their research to resonate with specific segments of the public. Data dumping — about, say, the technical details of embryology — is dull and off-putting to most people. And the Dawkins-inspired “science vs. religion” way of viewing things alienates those with strong religious convictions. Do scientists really have to portray their knowledge as a threat to the public’s beliefs? Can’t science and religion just get along? A “science and religion coexistence” message conveyed by church leaders or by scientists who have reconciled the two in their own lives might convince even many devout Christians that evolution is no real threat to faith.

In this blog entry Chris Mooney writes:

Frankly, I think we’re having a healthy–if sometimes quite passionate–discussion over all of this. To be clear: Nobody is saying anybody else ought to shut up or stop talking. (I could read this post in that way, but I will not; and PZ should not read our articles in that way either.) (Emphasis Added)

I’m afraid I don’t see how to reconcile that bold-face remark with the WaPo excerpt above. It sure sounds like they’re telling Dawkins and his supporters to shut up. His message, apparently, is alienating potential supporters, and should be replaced with a message that says the exact opposite of what Dawkins believes. Can Mooney really be confused as to why many people read that and think he is telling Dawkins to shut up?

The broader point, as I’ve said before, is that I think I give religious people more credit than do Mooney and Nisbet. I don’t think there are very many people who start out on the fence, then read Dawkins and decide to join the forces of darkness. Rather, those devout Christians to whom they so casually refer are perceiving something genuine when they see a conflict between science and religion. Arguments like those of Ken Miller may look appealing to some, but I suspect to most people they either look like compromises of the faith or like pointless supernatural add ons to a scientific message that doesn’t need them.

Paul Zachary “PZ” Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota at Morris…

I didn’t know the Z stood for Zachary. At least I learned something of interest from the article!

We’re not saying that scientists and their allies should “spin” information; doing that would only harm their credibility. But discussing issues in new ways and with new messengers can be accomplished without distorting the underlying science. Good communication is by its very nature informative rather than misleading. Making complicated issues personally meaningful will activate public support much more effectively than blinding people with science.

Okay, back to business. This distinction between “spin” on the one hand and “framing” on the other is a bit too subtle for me. The idea, I think, is that spin is supposed to be fundamentally dishonest. When a politician spins he is not really lying, but he is presenting the facts in so misleading a way that it comes very close indeed to the line. Framing, by contrast, is supposed to represent an effort to help people focus in on what’s important. Rather than present the facts in a misleading way, you are helping people distinguish the really important facts from the less important side issues.

So, yes, intellectually there is a distinction there. But as a practical matter the two are rather hard to distinguish. It’s hard to argue that you’re interest is in good communication when you tell scientists that for strategic reasons it’s important to play up the “science and religion coexistence frame,” while telling the rather large percentage of scientists who demur to be quiet, or at least to soft-peddle their message.

The fact is that it is impossible to reduce complex scientific issues to concise take-home messages without fundamentally distorting the science. Issues like evolution, global warming and embryonic stem-cell research are complicated, and that is all there is to it. So let’s have no illusions about what is being recommended here. We’re not talking about effective communication or presenting science in an engaging way. We’re talking about dumbing it down as a concession to the relentless unwillingness of large segments of the public either to educate themselves properly or to defer to those who have so educated themselves. As a simple strategic matter there may be something to this (though I doubt it, as I explained in my earlier post on this subject). But let’s not hide behind a euphemism like “framing” to pretend that we are somehow being noble.

The main thing I think of when I read essays like the ones written by Mooney and Nisbet is: They’re blaming the victim. When the public displays manifest ignorance of science or gets their facts from right-wing demagogues, the blame is placed on scientists for inadequate marketing. I’m sorry, but at some point people are responsible for their own ignorance.

Comments

  1. #1 JohnnieCanuck
    April 19, 2007

    The main thing I think of is that what they are advocating is dishonesty. Like the DI, they believe the ends justify the means. Like them, they show contempt for their audience.

    The only thing more appealing about them, compared to the DI, is that I agree with the end they pursue.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    April 19, 2007

    the importance of proper “franimg

    I like it.

    No, seriously!

    Now that the last ScienceBlogger whom I read regularly has weighed in on the issue, and since I don’t see any more practical suggestions forthcoming, I figure I’ll start ignoring posts about franming. Can’t we get back to something useful and fun, like Egnor-bashing?

  3. #3 Blake Stacey
    April 19, 2007

    Also:

    For many on the pro-evolution side the sentiments expressed above are taken as an article of faith. They seem to think it’s obvious that Richard Dawkins, in angrily condemning religion, hurts the cause of promoting science in the U.S. I’ve never seen the slightest shred of evidence that that is the case.

    Joshua (Tobasco da Gama) has looked at data on this.

  4. #4 Tyler DiPietro
    April 19, 2007

    Personally, I’m sick and tired of the entire discussion of framning. I think everyone can agree that scientists should be more publicly visible and should tailor their work to the non-technical public, but I haven’t seen any practical suggestions so far, beyond the usual “shut up you meanie atheists or religious people will rape us” meme.

    So I agree, back to the Egnor-bashing! It’s very fun in comparison.

  5. #5 MartinC
    April 19, 2007

    Nisbet and Mooney seem to miss one critical point regarding the evolution/religion question, namely that if you are an evangelical christian who believes in a literal biblical interpretation, then accepting evolution means giving up that literal belief. Kenneth Miller, a catholic (nearly as bad as an atheist in the mind of some of these folk), has as little hope as Dawkins to get through to these people.
    I’ve yet to see one decent example of how to get these people to accept evolution. Dawkins himself claims that these people are lost, unreachable through rational discussion, and its hard not to come to the same conclusion.
    His target is the middle ground individuals, who are probably reachable, both by himself and God friendly evolutionists like Miller.
    I think that Nisbet and Mooney, in pandering to the political situation in Washington, have failed to realise that scientists, and in particular those active in the blogosphere, do not share the same faith based demographics as the population at large. Id like them to perhaps deal with that particular political reality a little better than they have to date.

  6. #6 Maria
    April 19, 2007

    I can’t help but think that Mooney and Nisbet haven’t framed their arguments properly…

  7. #7 Joanna Bryson
    April 19, 2007

    I really like this article, but I disagree with one of the comments. It is not necessarily dishonest to consider what your reader (or viewer) will actually see or hear. The idea of communication is not to spontaneously emit words as they come to your head. The idea of communication is to get your ideas over to another person. To do that well, you have to take into proper consideration their perceptual biases.

    For example, I lecture about plagiarism every year in a course about research methods. I used to just define the term, and that didn’t help the problem. But eventually I learned that a sub-population of students believed that because they were not native English speakers & had to do an unfair amount of work more than English speakers, it was fair & proper for them to do things native English speakers didn’t do, in order to compensate. Now I address this belief almost directly, making the point that the objective of the degree is to learn British research methods which have been quite succesful, not just to write a dissertation. I also emphasize past cases & penalties, *then* (having motivated the discussion) do the definition & explain the difference between plaigarism & referencing. This works.

    I’m sorry I don’t know who to credit for this observation, but there’s a fairly well-known artistic principle that a painter is not supposed to paint what they see, they are supposed to help the viewer see what they see. This means a painting presents not just a scene, but an implicit personal history & state of mind which shows how the artist perceived the scene on that particular day. That’s framing.

  8. #8 Pseudonym
    April 19, 2007

    OK, here’s an attempt at a practical suggestion.

    The key thing that you need to know about framing, and I don’t think Nisbet and Mooney expressed this well, is that facts work on the intellectual level, and frames work on the (metaphorical) gut level. No amount of facts will break through from the head to the gut.

    Conservative think tanks have known this for 30 years, and spend a lot of money coming up with language to appeal to the gut. Every time they say “tort reform”, the implicit assumption (the subtext, the gut reflext that the term invokes) is that tort law is something bad that needs reform.

    One of the frames that’s beloved of IDiots, and is all over the wedge document in particular is:

    Evolution = Atheism

    Just about every ID catch phrase is designed to invoke this frame, from “Darwinism” to “naturalism”. Everything is an “ism”, and if it’s an “ism”, then it’s not your religion.

    The point is that saying “evolution” and “atheism” in the same breath invokes the frame, whether it’s Dawkins or Behe who does it.

    So what you need is a good frame. Here’s one that I like:

    Science is coherent, and you can’t ignore just part of it

    I can’t remember who it was who pointed this one out, but it’s great. You can talk about how evolution has practical applications in medicine. Or how the age of the Earth is calculated using radiometric techniques, and if that’s wrong, then everything we know about nuclear physics is wrong and, say, nuclear power shouldn’t work. But it does, and that’s why we can be sure that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old (give or take).

    Make sense?

  9. #9 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 19, 2007

    They seem to think it’s obvious that Richard Dawkins, in angrily condemning religion, hurts the cause of promoting science in the U.S. I’ve never seen the slightest shred of evidence that that is the case.

    Michael Ruse uses that same argument. The evidence he uses to backs it up is a quote from William Dembski. That’s right, his argument relies on taking Dembski at face value.

  10. #10 Blake Stacey
    April 19, 2007

    I woke up this morning from a dream in which fr*ming was mixed up with smuggling conflict diamonds. Maybe I need to take a vacation from the Internet.

    But before I do that, I’d like to remind everybody of Sean Carroll’s remarks:

    I’m sympathetic to the argument that atheists shouldn’t be obnoxious and insulting; in fact, I think it’s a good strategy in all sorts of situations. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, etc. But it does not follow that we should keep quiet about comforting illusions because those are the only things standing between the poor dears and overwhelming existential anxiety. If people ask whether, as scientists, we believe in God, we should respect them enough to tell the truth — whatever we think that is. That doesn’t mean we have to go door-to-door spreading the good word of the laws of nature. It just means that we should be honest about what we actually think, giving the best arguments we have for whatever that may be, and let people decide for themselves what to believe.

    Arrogant or not, as a matter of fact Dawkins and company have done a great service to the cause of atheism: they have significantly shifted the Overton Window. That’s the notion, borrowed from public-policy debates, of the spectrum of “acceptable opinion” on an issue. At any given time, on any particular question, the public discourse will implicitly deem certain positions to be respectable and worthy of civilized debate, and other positions to be crazy and laughable. The crucial part of this idea is that the window can be shifted by vigorous advocacy of positions on one extreme. And that’s just what Dawkins has done.

    Carroll provides some evidence to support this claim, which is nice.

    So, one can justify being a Dawkinsian using sociological concepts, or one can demand that Dawkins shut his yap-hole for sociological reasons. This is an excellent example of the reason why I, despite my interest in human beings, went into physics. As Tom Lehrer once sang,

    They can snow all their clients
    By calling it “science” —
    Although it’s only sociology!

  11. #11 realpc
    April 19, 2007

    ” If people ask whether, as scientists, we believe in God, we should respect them enough to tell the truth — whatever we think that is.”

    Oh yeah, only scientists know the whole truth about the entire universe. Everyone else is just a poor pathetic immature know-nothing. You have to frame the truth so they can swallow it. Make it easy to comprehend, like grinding up food for a baby.

    Now that scientists rule the world. Oh, I forgot, they don’t rule it yet. Just keep on framing away! (It used to be called propaganda, by the way).

  12. #12 Tyler DiPietro
    April 19, 2007

    From this:

    “If people ask whether, as scientists, we believe in God, we should respect them enough to tell the truth — whatever we think that is.”

    The above poster got this:

    “Oh yeah, only scientists know the whole truth about the entire universe.”

    Sometimes you really have to stop and appreciate the utter lack of analytical capability some people have.

  13. #13 SLC
    April 19, 2007

    I think that what Mooney and Nisbet are really trying to tell Dawkins, Myers, Rosenhouse and Moran is they these gentlemen should stop claiming that philosophical naturalism is science. As Barbara Forest testified at the Dover trial, philosophical naturalism is not science, methodological naturalism is science. I don’t think that Mooney and Nisbet have any problem whatever with Dawkins et al espousing atheism (i.e. philosophical naturalism).

  14. #14 J. J. Ramsey
    April 19, 2007

    “Joshua (Tobasco da Gama) has looked at data on this.”

    There’s a big problem with the data shown. Let’s start with this:

    “I used Gallup polling data [shown here] that showed belief in Creationism steady at 44% of the population, Theistic Evolution steady at 36% of the population, and Atheistic Evolution on the rise at 15% of the population, versus 9% at the start of the polling data.”

    First, what Tobasco da Gama calls “Atheistic Evolution” was an option that actually read “Man developed, but God had no part in process,” which is a statement that could be endorsed not only by atheists but also by deists or various flavors of neo-pagans or New-Agers.

    Second, the rise from 9% to 15% occurs over seven years (1999-2006), and over much of that time, Dawkins has not been in the limelight, so his recent tactics can’t get much credit or blame for it.

    Third, the poll numbers can’t tell us if Dawkins will depress the trend in the future.

    Onto the next part:

    “There�s greatest support for evolution in the 18-26 crowd. These are precisely the people who were born into a post-Selfish Gene world. They grew up in a world that has always known Richard Dawkins and other vocal atheists like Dan Dennett as public figures.”

    First, saying that the 18-26 crowd grew up in a world that has “always known Richard Dawkins and other vocal atheists” is misleading, since they have only recently been in the limelight.

    Second, this poll does not distinguish between theistic and atheistic evolution.

    Third, the question “Where did the 18-26 year olds learn evolution?” is crucial. If they learned it in high school or grade school as part of their education, then Dawkins can’t take much credit–but possibly so-called “appeasers” like the NCSE can, since they’ve been fighting hard to get evolution taught. If that is the case, and Dawkins is undermining the NCSE’s efforts, the results would tend to show up in the next few generations, which is not a trend that would likely be visible before the next few years.

    In any case, the poll numbers do not support Tobasco da Gama’s conclusions.

  15. #15 Larry Moran
    April 19, 2007

    SLC,

    I think that what Mooney and Nisbet are really trying to tell Dawkins, Myers, Rosenhouse and Moran is they these gentlemen should stop claiming that philosophical naturalism is science.

    Well then, why didn’t they just come out and say that? Why try to hide their opinion behind “framing”?

  16. #16 Explicit Atheist
    April 19, 2007

    SLC, you are describing only one half of Barbara Forest’s argument. Here is a quote from Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection by Barbara Forrest that (IMO, correctly) summarizes the overall relationship between methodological and philosphical naturalism:

    Since the claim that methodological naturalism is compatible with anything other than philosophical naturalism requires the so far indefensible claim that there are an additional but logically compatible methodology and epistemology, the fourth possibility constitutes the only viable relationship between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism, which is this: Taken together, the (1) proven success of methodological naturalism combined with (2) the massive body of knowledge gained by it, (3) the lack of a comparable method or epistemology for knowing the supernatural, and (4) the subsequent lack of any conclusive evidence for the existence of the supernatural, yield philosophical naturalism as the most methodologically and epistemologically defensible world view.

  17. #17 SLC
    April 20, 2007

    Re Explicit Atheist

    That’s all very fine. However, at the end of the day, philosophical naturalism is still not science, as Prof. Forrest testified at the Dover trial. The fact is that philosophical theists can be perfectly good at applying methodological naturalism (i.e. James Clerk Maxwell, Issac Newton), provided that they are willing to admit that their philosophy is not science. In this regard, Ken Miller, Simon Conway Morris, and Francis Collins differ significantly from Michael Behe and William Dumbski in that the latter two refuse to admit that philosophical theism is not science. This is contrary to the view expressed by Prof Moran on his blog that the former three do not differ significantly from the latter two.

  18. #18 Larry Moran
    April 20, 2007

    SLC says,

    This is contrary to the view expressed by Prof Moran on his blog that the former three do not differ significantly from the latter two.

    That’s my opinion and I’m perfectly capable of defending it [Theistic Evolution: The Fallacy of the Middle Ground]. What has this got to do with framing?

  19. #19 Science Avenger
    April 20, 2007

    I’ve yet to see one decent example of how to get [biblical literalists] to accept evolution. Dawkins himself claims that these people are lost, unreachable through rational discussion, and its hard not to come to the same conclusion.

    Of course they are lost, because they assume a position that is actively opposed to reality. No amount of evidence can persuade such a mind. They are like the mental patient who believes he is a zombie, claims zombies don’t bleed, and then after being cut and shown his own blood, says “wow, zombies DO bleed”. Not coincidentally, these are also the people loudest about how evil and nasty Dawkins and the rest of us atheists are, which is why the Dawkins-should-shut-up crowd are so off base.

    As mentioned above, we the Dawkins/Myers/Moran crowd stretch the Overton Window so that the Millers and Collins of the world can look so moderate and reasonable by comparison, even though their science is just as ruthlessly atheistic, whatever pretty poetry they wrap around it.

  20. #20 Explicit Atheist
    April 20, 2007

    SLC wrote:
    “In this regard, Ken Miller, Simon Conway Morris, and Francis Collins differ significantly from Michael Behe and William Dumbski in that the latter two refuse to admit that philosophical theism is not science.”

    They all make room for a creator god by inserting him in our knowledge gaps. The difference seems to be that latter two make an effort to increase the size of that gap to try to make room for a more traditional religious belief while the former three adjust their religious belief to better fit our knowledge. However, the issue here is whether or not knowledge through faith makes any sense at all. It does some odd that some scientists keep defending knowledge through faith given that that approach has proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be sterile.

  21. #21 SLC
    April 20, 2007

    Re Moran

    I would appreciate it if Prof. Moran would explain how his views on methodological naturalism differ from the views of Ken Miller on the same subject. Prof. Miller is perfectly content to take the position that philosophical theism is not science; Prof. Moran refuses to take the position that philosophical naturalism is not science. End of story. Just for Prof. Morans’ information, I am also a philosophical naturalist, as are many of those he labels Chamberlainists (e.g. Chris Mooney, Eugenie Scott, etc.).

    Re Explicit Atheist

    Never having read anything by Collins or Morris, I can’t comment on their religious views. I have read Prof. Millers’ book and downloaded a number of lectures he has given. I may be wrong but it is my impression that Miller views religion as outside of science and not amenable to scientific investigation, which is consistent with his view that philosophical theism is not science. Since Miller is not a biblical literalist, the fact that the Christian and Hebrew bibles make obviously scientifically invalid statements is of no relevance to him.

  22. #22 Larry Moran
    April 20, 2007

    SLC asks,

    I would appreciate it if Prof. Moran would explain how his views on methodological naturalism differ from the views of Ken Miller on the same subject.

    I think methodological naturalism is not campatible with miracles. Miller thinks that it’s okay to believe in miracles and still claim there’s no conflict between science and religion.

    What does this have to do with framing?

  23. #23 J. J. Ramsey
    April 20, 2007

    “What does this have to do with framing?”

    Well, you are trying to frame Ken Miller as being insignificantly different from IDers.

  24. #24 Rieux
    April 21, 2007

    If our reader now comes away saying, �Gosh! I want to support good science education but this evolution stuff is obviously just a cover for Christianity,� would Mooney and Nisbet lament the poor framing evident in books by those authors.? Or would they argue that our reader ought to think things through a bit more carefully?

    The latter, because it is unethical to draw unkind conclusions from the fact that an author (here Miller or Collins) expresses Christian ideas; any member of the public who does so is evil and should be disregarded.

    However, it is perfectly all right to draw horrendous conclusions from the fact that an author (here Dawkins or Harris) expresses atheist ideas; any member of the public who does so is responding to the legitimate immorality of atheists and should be commended.

    …All of which actually just means that Mooney and Nisbet are perfectly happy to support the atheophobic hatred in American society. In short, they’re bigots.

  25. #25 Larry Moran
    April 21, 2007

    J.J. Ramsey says,

    Well, you are trying to frame Ken Miller as being insignificantly different from IDers.

    I happen to believe that Theistic Evolution is no more logical than the Intelligent Design Creationism of people like Michael Behe and Michael Denton–or the Pope. That’s my opinion and I’m doing my best to defend it using arguments that I see as logical and rational. You call it “framing.”

    Do you really think that expressing an opinion is the same as framing? If so, then why would you tell people to frame things differently? Isn’t that sort of the same as telling them to change their opinion? How successful do you think that approach will be?

  26. #26 SLC
    April 21, 2007

    Re Moran

    1. As I stated on a comment on Prof. Morans’ blog, my information is that, based on an interview given in 2002, Denton no longer considers himself in the ID camp and apparently is no longer associated with the Discovery Institute.

    2. Prof. Moran has now admitted that he considers philosophical naturalism to be science. In that sense, then, he agrees with Dumbski, Meyer, Johnson, and Behe. That is to say that methodological naturalism = atheism. Since Prof. Moran keeps insisting that I am avoiding the subject of framing, would he recommend that a scientist appearing, say, before an Anglican or Presbyterian congregation, start off his/her lecture by proclaiming that one cannot be a scientist and a theist? That would not seem to me to be calculated to win the hearts and minds of the audience.

    3. Would Prof. Moran criticize the plaintiff attorneys in the Dover case for calling Ken Miller as their first witness? Would Prof. Moran criticize the plaintiff attorneys for calling Barbara Forrest and Robert Pennock as witnesses, given that they both agree that philosophical naturalism is not science?

  27. #27 J. J. Ramsey
    April 21, 2007

    “Do you really think that expressing an opinion is the same as framing?”

    No, not at all. However, in the process of presenting your opinion on theistic evolution, you spin the facts. Not all framing is spin, but spin is a kind of framing. For example, in your article “Theistic Evolution: The Fallacy of the Middle Ground”, you write:

    “According to Peters, intelligent design creationists believe in a God who intervenes at the species level while theistic evolutionists may not.”

    The statement is true but misleading. Of course, theistic evolutionists may believe that God may dicker with evolution. However, they do not believe that this dickering will manifest itself as biological structures that cannot be explained by the theory of evolution, which is exactly the opposite of what the IDers believe.

    Essentially, you are choosing a frame that masks the differences between theistic evolution and ID in order to claim that they are similar.

  28. #28 Explicit Atheist
    April 21, 2007

    In almost all at least somewhat complicated context there is going to be more than one way to catagorize the situation. In this context we can divide people into those who promote anti-scientific (not just non-scientific) claims to accommodate their religious beliefs and those who don’t (as SLC is doing). We can also divide people into those who adopt faith as a source of knowledge and those who don’t (as Larry Moran is doing). Although the latter perspective is less popular, they are both meaningfull and important distinctions. Both of these perspectives are mutually compatable with each other, they don’t instrinsically conflict. We can force a conflict by taking sides and denying the signficance of the other viewpoint, but I don’t see any merit in doing that.

  29. #29 Explicit Atheist
    April 21, 2007

    SLC, please keep in mind that the claim that god guides evolution is a factual claim, not just a philosophical claim. Either there is a god who so acts or there is not. Interjection of factual claims into science that are not themselves conclusions derived from methodological naturalism is a legitimate target of criticism and such criticism should not be confused with equating science with philosophical naturalism, even though it may seem that way to many theists. It is reasonable (and technically correct) to point out that theistic evolution is not scientific. That theistic evolution can be defined in such a way as to not overtly conflict with evolution (lets put aside disagreements about where to draw this line regarding what is an “overt” conflict) is insufficient to make it scientific. That this viewpoint is unpopular doesn’t change the fact that it is a valid viewpoint and merits being made and being heard, even to audiences who disagree.

    On the other hand, the commitment of theistic evolutionists to adjust their religious or faith based beliefs to avoid overtly clashing with science is also important. All you have to do to recognize how important this is is go live in some of the countries where the large majority of people refuse to so adjust their religious beliefs and experience the resulting “scientific education” that people get. We need to acknowledge this also. I would prefer if more fo the people who argue against theistic evolution make more of an effort to acknowledge this also.

  30. #30 SLC
    April 21, 2007

    Re Explicit Atheist

    1. Prof. Millers’ position, if I understand it correctly, is that any intervention in the process of evolution by a supernatural force is undetectable. From a philosophical point of view, one may take issue with it. However, if it is undetectable, it’s rather hard to argue against it from a scientific point of view. Having said that, I think that Millers position that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal is evidence for the existence of god is grasping at straws. He would be better advised to adopt Goulds’ non-overlapping magisteria concept.

    2. The difficult with the Moran/Myers, Dawkins approach is that it provokes a conflict between theists who are scientifically minded that is counterproductive. My position is that these gentleman should feel perfectly free to state their atheistic position but refrain from claiming that science = atheism. I think that this is the approach taken by people like Eugenie Scott, Barbara Forest, Neil Tyson, etc. all of whom are professed atheists and are referred to as Chamberlainists by the Morans of the world.

  31. #31 SLC
    April 21, 2007

    Re Explicit Atheist

    I would point out that Millers’ position relative to the non-observability of supernatural intervention in the process of evolution is not necessarily unscientific. As a for instance, the Lorentz contraction cannot be directly observed because the measuring device will also undergo the same contraction. It is only inferred as an explanation of the Michaelson-Morley experiment. This is to contrasted with time dilation which can be directly observed, e.g. in the decay rate of fast muons.

  32. #32 Explicit Atheist
    April 21, 2007

    Doing away with length contraction would presumeably cause problems for the theory of relativity. I have to hedge here because I don’t the expertise to know this for sure, but I think that is a fair assumption. In contrast, there is no such logical connection in science between monotheism and evolution. Therefore, when monotheism is being imported into evolution then its very likely that there are non-scientific motives behind that. That is why Lorentz contraction is scientific and theistic evolution is not. Again, I must insist that is reasonable to argue from this point of view when discussing theistic evolution.

    Also, “a definitive experiment could involve accelerating spheres of sufficient size so that ultrashort laser pulses could be fired across the spheres as they move. Then, the shadows thereby produced could be measured. The spheres would then have to be slowed down and brought to rest again. By measuring their size, as determined by the shadows of the light, both before, during, and after their motion, a unique measurement could be done concerning length contraction. (The before and after measurements are required in order to ensure that the spheres are not somehow mechanically altered during the acceleration and deceleration processes.) While even that experiment might be questioned (as can any experiment) it would be a far more direct measurement of length contraction than anything done to date. ” said Delbert J. Larson in 2002.

    I don’t think that provocation is counterproductive in and of itself just like I don’t think provocation is productive in and of itself. The substance of the argument is what matters. The arguments will stand or fall on their own merits. It is not fair to minority viewpoints to make disagreement, a.k.a. conflict, avoidance the measure of what is a good or bad argument.

    I can’t speak for Moran or some of the others, but I have read and listened to enough of Dawkins to be confident that Dawkins does not disagree with Forest that science is rooted in methodological naturalism. Dawkins is a “we don’t know for a fact” atheist. I am skeptical that there is as much disagreement about these points among atheistic scientists in general as you appear to think there is. I wouldn’t call Forest “Chamberlainist”, but then I don’t know the details and context behind that comment.

  33. #33 Robert O'Brien
    April 22, 2007

    SLC, you are describing only one half of Barbara Forest’s argument. Here is a quote from Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection by Barbara Forrest that (IMO, correctly) summarizes the overall relationship between methodological and philosphical naturalism:

    blah-blah-blah

    There is a reason why Forrest, like Myers, is at a backwater university.

  34. #34 windy
    April 22, 2007

    Of course, theistic evolutionists may believe that God may dicker with evolution. However, they do not believe that this dickering will manifest itself as biological structures that cannot be explained by the theory of evolution, which is exactly the opposite of what the IDers believe.

    Collins is TE but believes that morality can’t be explained by natural processes. I’m sure that he is not completely alone in having such convictions, especially if you go outside evolution and ask if the fine-tuning of the universe or the origin of life can be explained scientifically. Maybe theistic evolutionists just prefer to put God outside their discipline.

  35. #35 SLC
    April 22, 2007

    Re Explicit Atheist

    1. I didn’t say that the Lorentz contraction was not scientific. I said it is not directly observable, unlike time dilation which has been directly observed in the decay rates of muons. A little bit of history here. Lorentz first proposed that if the the arm of the interferometer parallel to the direction of motion was forshortened, this would explain the result of the Michaelson-Morley experiment. This forshortening falls out of Einsteins’ observation that the speed of light was independent of the observer speed. Mr. Explicit Atheist is, of course, correct that the STR would collapse if the forshortening did not occur. That is not the same as a direct observation.

    2. Prof. Forrest would be considered a Chamberlainist by Moran because she does not argue that philosophical naturalism is science. Morans’ position effectively is that anyone claiming to be an atheist and failing to make the science = atheism argument is a Chamberlainist.

    Re O’Brien

    I’m not sure what Mr. O’Briens’ jibe at Forrest and Myers is supposed to signify. For his information, only 14% of the membership of the American Academy of Science professes a belief in a personal god. Many of the other 86% have positions at prestigious
    universities. I would also point out that according to Judge Jones’ own commentary, he found Prof. Forrests’ testimony at the Dover trial to be the most effective of all the witnesses.

  36. #36 J. J. Ramsey
    April 22, 2007

    Me: “Of course, theistic evolutionists may believe that God may dicker with evolution. However, they do not believe that this dickering will manifest itself as biological structures that cannot be explained by the theory of evolution, which is exactly the opposite of what the IDers believe.”

    windy: “Collins is TE but believes that morality can’t be explained by natural processes.”

    That’s why I chose my words carefully and spoke in terms of biological structures.

    I suspect that part of the problem with Collins is that morality is a psychological and sociological thing, so we don’t naturally think of it as biological, even though it’s as biologically based as the mind is, though in different ways.

    “Maybe theistic evolutionists just prefer to put God outside their discipline.”

    I think that theistic evolutionists try to put God’s influence where they think it won’t be falsified, if they don’t just resort to vagueness altogether.

  37. #37 windy
    April 22, 2007

    That’s why I chose my words carefully and spoke in terms of biological structures.

    Do you think it’s fair to accuse Larry Moran of mischaracterising the TE/ID divide, when it requires this careful navigation? Why should he or others necessarily draw the line in the same place you did? In particular, why do you expect a biologist to make a distinction between structures and behaviours?

  38. #38 J. J. Ramsey
    April 22, 2007

    “Do you think it’s fair to accuse Larry Moran of mischaracterising the TE/ID divide, when it requires this careful navigation? Why should he or others necessarily draw the line in the same place you did? In particular, why do you expect a biologist to make a distinction between structures and behaviours?”

    Because the IDers’ schtick is all about biological structures, the flagellum, the eye, etc. Certainly it is unlikely that IDers will disagree with the Moral Law argument. However, that argument is not what they in particular bring to the table. The “careful navigation” is required simply to avoid fallacies of equivocation.

  39. #39 windy
    April 22, 2007

    Because the IDers’ schtick is all about biological structures, the flagellum, the eye, etc.

    So fucking what? Larry didn’t claim that Collins or other TE-ers are members of the modern ID movement and share their exact talking points. He said that he doesn’t see a significant difference in the content of their arguments.

  40. #40 J. J. Ramsey
    April 22, 2007

    “So fucking what? Larry didn’t claim that Collins or other TE-ers are members of the modern ID movement and share their exact talking points. He said that he doesn’t see a significant difference in the content of their arguments.”

    And I’d say that the biological structures issue is a significant difference. That covers almost everything in biology except (more-or-less) the behavior of non-human animals, and allows TE-ists to be competent in their fields and publish in peer-reviewed journals. It’s why you can put TE-ists on the stand as expert witnesses and have them still talk sense. Their religious views simply don’t do nearly the violence to the data that the IDers do, and the TE-ists work at keeping it that way.

    Actually, the structures issue is more a side-effect of the more fundamental difference between TE-ists and IDers. Someone like Michael Behe abuses the science in his own field and goes out of his way to do so. Stephen Meyer bypassed peer review in order to get his article in a normally peer-reviewed journal, PBSW. TE-ists, by contrast, don’t garble the science in their own fields.

    TE-ists are also not a political movement the way ID is. They have no common talking points. They don’t try to subvert school boards into teaching their religious beliefs as science. There are no TE textbooks, nothing analogous to Of Pandas and People. This lack of coordination blunts the worst that the TE-ists have to offer.

  41. #41 Explicit Atheist
    April 22, 2007

    SLC: If theism becomes incorporated into a theory of evolution or some other theory just like Lorentz contraction is incorporated into STR then we can claim that theistic evolution is scientific. Derivation by logical necessity from a theory that is directly confirmed does qualify as science. There is no double standard here.

  42. #42 windy
    April 22, 2007

    You just don’t get it, do you, Ramsey? Of course the political goals of ID and TE differ, and ID’ers are much ‘worse’ for science. Nobody is saying that Ken Miller has a hidden agenda to destroy science.

    But when looking at their similar claims for divine intervention, why should TE’ers (and the Pope) get a free pass, and ID’ers and creationists not? You are asking for people to engage in ad hominem when judging the content of their arguments.

  43. #43 Explicit Atheist
    April 23, 2007

    SLC: By undetectable supernatural force I assume you don’t mean that the effect is unobservable. “Intervention” is presuming something about the nature of the phenomena which would require rather unusual and spectacular sort of evidence to establish. Could you give an example of evidence that establishes a phenomena as an “undetectable supernatural force intervention” in the context of evolution? Maybe the sort of events that occur in the fictional series about Harry Potter?

  44. #44 J. J. Ramsey
    April 23, 2007

    “why should TE’ers (and the Pope) get a free pass, and ID’ers and creationists not?”

    They shouldn’t. However, pretending that there is almost no difference between IDers and the scientists who

    * don’t abuse the science in their fields,
    * have wildly differing and uncoordinated opinions about what gaps in which God might fit, if they bother with gaps at all, and
    * don’t need any gaps to justify the basic contention that they commonly hold, which is that acceptance of evolution does not require the wholesale abandonment of religion,

    is barking nonsense. If you attack the poor arguments that Miller, Collins, and Morris offer, TE still stands. You can’t say that about ID.

  45. #45 matthew
    April 23, 2007

    Jason,

    “Framing, by contrast, is supposed to represent an effort to help people focus in on what’s important. Rather than present the facts in a misleading way, you are helping people distinguish the really important facts from the less important side issues.

    I have understood CM&MN to be saying that framing should be done in such a way to convince people of a certain position via presenting facts that are especially important to them (the audience), EVEN if this means emphasizing and concentrating on facts that may NOT be THE most important facts on the matter. This is (IMO) one of my biggest problems with their debate and it doesn’t seem like you have noticed this point because of your quote above. Evidence of this can be seen in the very first citation within the Science article in which the author gives a single semi-specific example of how to frame:

    “They [scientists] can use pictures of charismatic megafauna even while understanding that insects might be more important.”

  46. #46 J. J. Ramsey
    April 28, 2007

    “If you attack the poor arguments that Miller, Collins, and Morris offer, TE still stands.”

    A clarification:

    I would say that if one treats TE as “innocent until proven guilty,” then showing that the particular arguments of Miller, Collins, and Morris fall flat is insufficient to show TE as “guilty,” because TE is simply a belief that God somehow used evolution as a means of creation, and the nature of that “somehow” is just not that important. TE, however, does depend on whether the case for theism itself is viable (which, IMHO, it is not).

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