Polling Data on Science and Religion

Chris Mooney has a link to this analysis of recent polling data. The analysis was written by David Masci. The subject: How Americans feel about science and faith. Mooney thinks the data supports the Matt Nisbet line that people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens hurt the cause. I disagree.

Here’s Mooney main comment:

So here’s my contribution: I merely wish to point out a good analysis of polling data over at Pew that strongly supports the broad Nisbet perspective. The gist: The American public doesn’t generally perceive a necessary conflict between religion and science; but if you tell them there is such an either-or conflict, guess which one of the binary options they’re gonna choose?

Yeah, that’s right. White-beard-in-the-sky-guy–or some variation thereon.


The polling data described in the essay is remarkable for a couple of reasons. For example:

Indeed, according to a 2006 survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 42% of Americans reject the notion that life on earth evolved and believe instead that humans and other living things have always existed in their present form. Among white evangelical Protestants – many of whom regard the Bible as the inerrant word of God – 65% hold this view. Moreover, in the same poll, 21% of those surveyed say that although life has evolved, these changes were guided by a supreme being. Only a minority, about a quarter (26%) of respondents, say that they accept evolution through natural processes or natural selection alone.

Are these numbers accurate!? If they are, they would seem to indicate considerable progress in America’s acceptance of evolution. I had always heard it was ten percent of the population that accepts fully naturalistic evolution, and that the percentage accepting “no-changeism” was a lot closer to fifty percent. Meanwhile, only sixty-five percent of evangelicals reject evolution? I would have guessed the number was closer to eighty.

There are also some places where I am not persuaded by Masci’s analysis:

Moreover, Americans, including religious Americans, hold science and scientists in very high regard. A 2006 survey conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University found that most people (87%) think that scientific developments make society better. Among those who describe themselves as being very religious, the same number – 87% – share that opinion.

Thinking that scientific developments make society better is not the same thing as holding scientists in high regard. I am not surprised that even very religious people like a steady supply of new technology and medical innovations, which is usually what people think of when they think of scientific progress. But that doesn’t mean their respect extends to the process that leads to such progress, or the people behind the scenes.

However, these are not the main issues. Instead I recommend pondering this:

When asked what they would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people say they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding, according to the results of an October 2006 Time magazine poll. Indeed, in a May 2007 Gallup poll, only 14% of those who say they do not believe in evolution cite lack of evidence as the main reason underpinning their views; more people cite their belief in Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%) as their reason for rejecting Darwin’s theory.

This reliance on religious faith may help explain why so many people do not see science as a direct threat to religion. Only 28% of respondents in the same Time poll say that scientific advancements threaten their religious beliefs. These poll results also show that more than four-fifths of respondents (81%) say that “recent discoveries and advances” in science have not significantly impacted their religious views. In fact, 14% say that these discoveries have actually made them more religious. Only 4% say that science has made them less religious.

I think these are the paragraphs upon which Mooney bases his case. Sadly, they have nothing to do with the issue at hand. That issue, let me remind you, is whether the books of people like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett help or hurt the cause of promoting good science education. Nisbet says they hurt. I say they don’t.

The analysis says nothing about moderate religious people being driven over to the dark side by strong rhetoric from Dawkins et al, the point at issue in past flare-ups of this argument. Instead it tells us that among people who reject evolution, the large majority do so for religious reasons, and not based on any sober consideration of the evidence. They don’t need Dawkins to tell them that evolution poses a challenge to religion, they have already figured it out for themselves. It is always nice to have hard data, but I suspect absolutely no one is surprised by this finding.

And let us not be comforted by the finding that a relatively small percentage of people perceive a conflict between science and religion. If the data is to be believed, this perceived lack of conflict is not born from any genuine lack of conflict. Rather, it is born from religious people standing with their hands on their hips saying, “Your puny science is no match for my religious biases! I will simply ignore any contrary data you throw at me!”

The data also tells us that more than three-fifths of Americans will accept the teachings of their religion over the findings of science. Reading people like Mooney and Nisbet, you get the impression that in the face of this finding the correct response is just to roll over and cower before the might of people’s religious myopia. I’m picturing the scene from Blazing Saddles where Gene Wilder cautions Cleavon Little, who starts to reach for his gun as he goes to deal with the enormous, physcially formidable villain Mongo, “No, no. If you shoot him you’ll only make him mad.”

The desire to teach creationism in the schools is a symptom. The disease is the attitude of those sixty-four percent of the people who think their invented-from-whole-cloth religious beliefs are more reliable than the findings of science. As long as that attitude persists, there can be no long term victory for the pro-science side of these disputes. All we can do is go running pell-mell around the country, putting down one brush fire after another, patting ourselves on the back every time we manage to get a sane person elected to a red state school board. I don’t mean to disparage the importance of such work, but it is not the ultimate solution to the problem.

Those attitudes, and the unflagging respect for religious faith that they entail, must be weakened. Can that be done? I don’t know. It certainly isn’t easy, but other Western countries have managed to do it.

But I am definitely certain that you can not weaken those attitudes by refusing to attack them.

These polls represent the state of affairs today. What got us here was not the vocal opposition to religion served up by Dawkins and the others. They are newcomers on the scene. Instead, what got us here is years of Republican pandering to the religious right, coupled with Democratic cowardice in the face of increasing challenges to church-state separation (among other factors, of course). As I have written before, it is the nicey-nice strategy of non-engagement endorsed by Mooney and Nisbett that is refuted by these polls. The strategy where you publicly attack bad religious ideas has barely been tried.

Comments

  1. #1 The Ridger
    August 30, 2007

    Amen!

    The alternative seems to be “let’s not scare them with the facts”. Which means … what? What DO we say in Dover if we don’t say “this is religion, it’s not science, get it out of the school”?

  2. #2 Russell Blackford
    August 31, 2007

    If there’s a conflict between well-established science and religious belief then the well-established science will eventually win out.

    Sure, a percentage of religionists will remain so when faced with the conflict, insisting that their religious views take priority, even if they perceive such a clash. Some may even claim that their faith has been strengthened, though I have to wonder what sort of person would say that and whether there was ever any prospect of reaching them and getting them to embrace science. But the historical tendency has been for the tension between religion and science to lead to a mixture of erosion and modification of faith. The fact is that many people in the world’s best-educated societies now either reject religion entirely or believe in a heavily-modified, or very vague, version of it.

    Historically, there has been an impact on religion when well-corroborated scientific findings have conflicted with the religious picture or with the literal meaning of holy texts. The situation in Western Europe is nothing like what it was 400 years ago, when modern science first had to be accommodated.

    Frankly, if we want religious belief to wane in influence over politics and public debate, the best way to cast doubt on it is to demonstrate how strongly it is in tension with scientific findings.

  3. #3 valhar2000
    August 31, 2007

    I agree with Russell. The tendency seems to be not to reject science forever in favour of religion, but to say you will do so, then modify your religion to fit with the science, and then claim that your religion was like that all along.

  4. #4 John Pieret
    August 31, 2007

    I’m picturing the scene from Blazing Saddles where Gene Wilder cautions Cleavon Little, who starts to reach for his gun as he goes to deal with the enormous, physcially formidable villain Mongo, �No, no. If you shoot him you’ll only make him mad.�

    Um … I’m not sure this is the best illustration of your point. After all, the sheriff didn’t shoot Mongo, instead opting for a less direct, non-confrontational tactic. Mongo not only wound up chained to the jailhouse bars but liking the sheriff despite that.

    But Mel Brooks movies (and the meaning of this poll) aside, is it fair to say that Mooney and Nisbet think confronting anti-science is wrong? Aren’t they saying that using in-your-face rhetoric while doing so is counterproductive? After all, isn’t it the common experience — call it folk psychology — that when people hold a belief deeply, telling them that they are stupid for doing so not only doesn’t change their minds but actually stiffens their resistence, that is the deeper truth that makes Brooks’ joke funny?

  5. #5 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    Mooney is making the same mistake that Nisbet makes. He assumes that Dawkins et al are addressing the US only. They are not and therefore any data they use to claim Dawkins is counterproductive needs to reflect that, else people will just think they are narrow minded xenophobic nationalists.

  6. #6 MartinM
    August 31, 2007

    After all, the sheriff didn’t shoot Mongo, instead opting for a less direct, non-confrontational tactic.

    Apparently, the ‘militant’ atheists have been misinterpreting the ‘moderates’ all this time. When the moderates say we’re too confrontational, what they really mean is ‘use more explosives.’

  7. #7 Chris Mooney
    August 31, 2007

    Jason,
    I’m puzzled by your conclusion that the data show we ought to go head on at religion some more.

    To me, they much more strongly suggest that if you want to defend the teaching of evolution, the trick is *not* to define it as an assault on faith–but rather, to explain to people that they can accept evolution while retaining religious belief.

  8. #8 John Pieret
    August 31, 2007

    Apparently, the ‘militant’ atheists have been misinterpreting the ‘moderates’ all this time. When the moderates say we’re too confrontational, what they really mean is ‘use more explosives.

    You mean science isn’t explosive?

    ;-)

  9. #9 Oldfart
    August 31, 2007

    Advice from an old Agnostic:

    I suggest you all keep your mouths shut about religion, keep on pushing back the darkness and, at some point, you will shed enough light so that believers will be forced to admit that the corner in which God was hiding is empty. At that point make sure you have a safe house somewhere. Also, make sure you have something with which to replace God. Otherwise, the backlash will be deadly…… You all, being nerds, are screwing with a human need you do not understand. Like all nerds, you will continue screwing with it until it blows up in your collective faces.

    Religion is not rational, it is not subject to rational argument and the need for it in many many many many humans is not rational. Deal with it.

  10. #10 Stephen
    August 31, 2007

    The initial Pew analysis concludes:

    “So what is at work here? How can Americans say that they respect science and even know what scientists believe and yet still disagree with the scientific community on some fundamental questions? The answer is that much of the general public simply chooses not to believe the scientific theories and discoveries that seem to contradict long-held religious or other important beliefs.”

    I have to disagree. This is too simplistic and assumes the public is schizophrenic and/or ignorant. Of course, Pew could answer their own question by doing a poll: WHY don’t you believe certain scientists’ take on evolution? That would be a good question.

    I feel that many people realize there are solid scientific arguments against Darwin’s theory and these arguments are permeating the culture more and more. That’s why they say science is great–medicine, technology, etc–yet the theory of evolution by itself is generally weak. The public isn’t ignoring facts; they’re applying them–and realizing that evolution often comes up short when compared to more experimental fields of science.

  11. #11 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    August 31, 2007

    The first problem i see is that the poll relies on self-reporting. Asking people what they will do if X will not necessarily get you the correct answer.

  12. #12 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 31, 2007

    Chris-

    You can keep telling people that they can have their religion and evolution too, but the fact is that they can’t and they know it. The polling data shows clearly that large percentages of people perceive a direct conflict between evolution and religion. That perception is not misplaced, and it is not the result of anything Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens is doing.

    That said, I’m not saying that evolution should be presented as an assault on faith. The New Atheist books spend almost no time talking about evolution, including Richard Dawkins, who in The God Delusion discusses it primarily as a response to the argument from design and not as a direct assault on religion. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t woo religious moderates when school board disputes come up or that we shouldn’t put a lot of effort into school board elections or not slug it out in court when all else fails.

    What I am saying is that if that is all we do (and for quite some time now that is all we have been doing) we will never really win the battle. The long-term solution is to weaken the hold of religious faith on the American psyche. I don’t know how else to do that except by criticizing religious beliefs whenever the opportunity arises.

    Again, the polling data does not show that people are hostile to evolution because of anything Dawkins is doing. It shows that they were already hostile to it because it conflicts with their religion, and they prefer the religion.

  13. #13 MartinM
    August 31, 2007

    You mean science isn’t explosive?

    Depends on the field. Some of it’s rather squishy.

  14. #14 Jud
    August 31, 2007

    Jason wrote: “Rather, it is born from religious people standing with their hands on their hips saying, “Your puny science is no match for my religious biases! I will simply ignore any contrary data you throw at me!”

    I think this is a mischaracterization of many religious people. I know good, careful, publishing scientists who are religious, whose views I think are probably along the lines of Gould’s “non-overlapping magisteria.” (Call it compartmentalization or something else if you prefer.) While this may not seem like a terribly logical attitude, particularly for scientists, it is far from thinking of science as “puny.”

    I agree with John Pieret that the reasonable version of the Mooney/Nisbet argument is not to keep hands off religious biases, but to try to avoid calling people stupid in the midst of persuading them toward logic. (To be quite fair, there are more than a few articles from Nisbet in particular where I fail to see much evidence of the more reasonable version of the argument.)

    Finally, I think what Russell Blackford and valhar2000 say above is incontrovertible. Over time, religious attitudes must accommodate advances in knowledge. One might well have done a survey with similar results 300-400 years ago regarding heliocentrism. We can only hope (and work toward the goal) that it will not take centuries for evolutionary biology to attain the same level of acceptance.

  15. #15 Jud
    August 31, 2007

    Jason wrote: “The long-term solution is to weaken the hold of religious faith on the American psyche. I don’t know how else to do that except by criticizing religious beliefs whenever the opportunity arises.”

    Further to my remarks about religion eventually having to accommodate advances in knowledge, I think there is at least one other very (perhaps more) effective way to “weaken the hold of religious faith,” or to put it more positively, to encourage the growth of reason. That would be to effectively teach the knowledge we’ve gained. Eventually, whether they completely lose religious belief or not, people will cease to hold religious beliefs contrary to those facts “everyone knows,” such as in the example of heliocentrism I referred to above.

    This doesn’t mean there’s no place for more direct confrontation of religion by reason. I enjoyed “The God Delusion” and Sagan’s “Demon-Haunted World,” and look forward to more books/shows/discussions along these lines.

  16. #16 Todd Anderson
    August 31, 2007

    Reminds me of the wise words of Thomas Paine in the introduction to Common Sense:

    “Time makes more converts than reason.”

    Seems that any change that is worthwhile is going to be a gradual one. Extreme changes are doomed to fad and backlash. For instance, the books by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett and Harris have made me get off the fence and more of an activist on the subject. I have three kids. You can bet that those kids will 1) be able to make up their own mind and 2) will know what science is and how it is different (and better) than religion. Science will win, it’ll just take a little while longer and there is room for all sorts of voices, loud and “Framed” on the subject. Overriding extremes in any direction are bad.

    Of course, this can all be hastened along if the public at least knew what science is (scientific method, critical thinking, peer review, its okay to not know something or be wrong) and why it is far superior to any dogmatic belief.

    Another point… it might be that science has only truly given religion a “run for its money” in the last 50 odd years. Where religion said “science doesn’t know, so look to us for the answers”, now science can say, “Well, actually, we DO know allot more about the universe and can answer some of these questions.” 50 years is not a long time compared to the dug in alternative view; our first attempt at science and philosophy: religion.

  17. #17 Iain Walker
    August 31, 2007

    I feel that many people realize there are solid scientific arguments against Darwin’s theory and these arguments are permeating the culture more and more.

    Uh huh. And what “solid scientific arguments” would these be, then?

  18. #18 Matt
    August 31, 2007

    “Uh huh. And what “solid scientific arguments” would these be, then?”

    Well I suppose we could be charitable and consider the possibility that what he means is that the theory put forward by Darwin has been expanded upon in that we now know the mechanism through which hereditry works, or that we also know about thinks like the founder effect and genetic drift. Somehow though I doubt it, and suspect he really does think there is genuine scientific dispute over the fact evolution happens rather than the relative importance of the various methods.

  19. #19 Jud
    August 31, 2007

    Working on the conjecture that imparting knowledge may work as well as confrontation, I invite Stephen (the fellow who said “there are solid scientific arguments against Darwin’s theory”) to have a look at the following excellent discussion of the scientific status of the theory of evolution today: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/futuyma_theory.html

  20. #20 Matthew C. Nisbet
    August 31, 2007

    Jason,

    You write:

    The long-term solution is to weaken the hold of religious faith on the American psyche.

    End quote.

    As fellow atheists, this is our obvious difference. My goal is to use communication to bring society together to deal effectively with pressing collective problems such as climate change or poverty and to improve education.

    In contrast, your relatively dogmatic goal appears to be to wage a crusade of attacks intended to “weaken the hold of religious faith.”

    Besides distracting from more pressing issues, this is a fatally flawed strategy, since theory and data predicts that such a campaign only backfires.

    Sadly, there are lessons to be learned at the Richard Dawkins School of Communication.

  21. #21 bmkmd
    August 31, 2007

    I think the problem is in the churches, where people go weekly or more often, and are fed bible science so as to protect the literal interpretation of the bible.

    Scientific, rationalist understanding has little if any place to counter the regular, insular pounding of literalism and a devine designer into not-so-open minds.

    The cognitive dissonance is just too much for more open minded people raised in that insular religious environment to overcome. They will be rejected by their religious community if they question the literal bible.

    And if they do, where are they to go to replace all the collateral advantages of family, community, regular social contact and activity, a feeling of belonging? It ain’t easy being rational in a fundamentalist world, but it isn’t warm and fuzzy in a rational world if one “comes out.” What do we have to offer these inbetween people, the people who are rational enough to question and break away from fundamentalist religion?

    Shermer is closer to a solution for this problem than Dawkins, it’s about people not just ideas.

  22. #22 Angrytoxicologist
    August 31, 2007

    RE Jason: “You can keep telling people that they can have their religion and evolution too, but the fact is that they can’t and they know it.”

    I strongly disagree with this point. For instance, two years ago the Catholic church put out a statement saying that they needed stronger teaching of evolution to counter act the creationism that kids were picking up in public (oh the irony!), reiterating the vatican view that “properly recognizes evolutionary theory as firmly grounded in fact” (I may have mentioned this here before). So in many areas of the country the best bet for a primary or secondary scientific education is in a parochial school (to say nothing of Jesuit run Universities like Boston College, Georgetown, Loyola,…etc).

    If any progress is to be made on any so-called conflict it will be made on a issue specific basis (stop arguing atheism vs religion. Keep arguing evolution vs creationism). If you don’t, you lump people in with the problem who aren’t part of the problem and end up pissing them off when you need them as allies.

  23. #23 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 31, 2007

    Jud-

    Just so we’re clear, I wasn’t trying to characterize religious people generally in the statement that you quoted. I was responding to a specific number mentioned in the polling analysis, specifically that 64% of respondents would persist in their religious beliefs even if they were disproved by science. It was those people I was characterizing as standing with their hands on their hips. I don’t know how accurate this polling number is (it sounds implausibly high to me), but I do think it describes a widespread and dangerous attitude.

  24. #24 Stephen
    August 31, 2007

    Someone said:

    “Uh huh. And what “solid scientific arguments” would these be, then?”

    To which a couple others tittered.

    Honestly, if you’re sincere in your question then you may not get my original point. Assuming Darwin hit a bullseye every time in the Victorian Age and could not possibly have gotten anything wrong is rather, well, unscientific and too faith-based for me.

    Not to get into a discussion of the below issues, but if you’ve honestly never heard why The Origin of Species may not actually be the new Bible, do a search on….

    The Cambrian Explosion
    Irreducible Complexity
    Abiogenesis (the impossibility thereof)
    The limits of natural selection
    The tautology of homology
    The coded language of DNA
    etc.
    etc.

    Point being, even if you don’t believe Darwin was fallible, a lot of people are learning he was–sometimes the disciples are the last to jump ship.

  25. #25 Luna_the_cat
    August 31, 2007

    What John Pieret and Oldfart said.

    It is NOT about “roll over and show your belly and don’t confront the irrational religionist beliefs” — it’s about “don’t start the conversation by calling them deluded idiots”. If you start by calling someone a deluded fool, he’ll just firm up his opinion against you before you even get to issues of fact.

    Having said that — as an aside, Stephen, you need to do some reading, as you are repeating “talking points” based on ignorance and misunderstanding which have been refuted about 5 million times a month for the last 100 years. Very few people here have the patience to point out the refutations yet again without getting rude about it. Start at the stephenjaygould.org link which was given to you, read the Talkorigins archive, and read around a bit more on NON-creationist websites if you are genuinely concerned about issues of fact.

  26. #26 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    Stephen,

    I am not sure where or when you learnt your biology but Origins was first published in 1859. In the odd 150 years since biologists have not stood idle.

    The Cambrian expolision is understood. See Gould.

    IC is a non-issue. It has been dealt with numerous times as a google search would tell you.

    Abiogenesis is just a silly comment from you showing your profound ignorance of the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution does NOT seek to explain how life began but how it changed, and continues to change, once it started.

    The limits of natural selection: As I pointed out we now know more than Darwin did. We know about founder effects and genetic drift for example. You really do need to learn about advances in biology made in the C20th.

    “The tautology of homology”: No idea what you are crapping on about.

    DNA: We do no as yet fully understand how DNA evolved although it seems likely RNA was a precursor. Not knowing every detail however does not invalidate what we do know.

    As you biologists not thinking Darwin was fallible, I have no idea where you got that idea from. It certainly was not from reading what biologists have written. Even those accused of being “ultra-darwinist” like Dawkins do not deny Darwin did not get everything right. To give one example, Darwin got the mechanism of heridirty totally wrong.

  27. #27 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    Luna,

    Given that people who believe in a non-existant god are deluded, can you explain what term can be used to say they are deluded without actually using the word ?

  28. #28 mlf
    August 31, 2007

    Matthew C. Nisbet,

    Do you think that faith (defined as belief in-the-absence-of/regardless-of evidence) is the underlying problem? If so, shouldn’t it be eradicated using varying techniques, since people vary? Don’t you think that these battles will never end unless the biggest underlying problem is finally eradicated?

    I mean, lets say your methods work in that you convince all religious people that the experts behind global warming, poverty and education are correct. Well, we know from history that next time a new important issue comes up that contradicts what their religious leaders/texts have told them, they may use their faith yet again to dismiss it and you have to start all over. When will it end? How are you satisfied simply treating the symptoms of faith, but not instead eradicating the hereditary tumor that it is?

  29. #29 Luna_the_cat
    August 31, 2007

    How about not saying “you are [anything]“.

    Seriously, are you in a relationship?

    I’m married, 14 years now. If there is one thing that I have learned from living with someone I frequently don’t agree with, but am not prepared to leave, it is that when we’re having a discussion (or a quarrel) over something where, seriously, he’s just flat wrong, the way to do it is NOT to say “you’re an idiot” or “you’re deluded” or “you’re mislead by gratuitous and deliberate ignorance”. It’s to say something more like, “ok, if I understand you, you believe this because of [x,y,z]. But here’s the thing; [a,b,c] exist which flatly contradict [x,y,z], and besides, [x,y,z] don’t have a single interpretation — you can interpret these in a multitude of different ways. I don’t see things the way you do, and this is why. And the way I see things has worked a lot better.”

    I’m not rolling over and caving; I’m confronting the belief, and the reasons for the belief; and yet, I haven’t said a word about him. And whether or not you think it should, in reality, that works a heck of a lot better to get the point across.

    In the case of larger society, there actually ARE the truly delusional, the hardcore idiots, and the people you wouldn’t want to associate if they paid you to. However, these are generally outnumbered by a majority of reasonable and normal people who just happen to not see things the way you do — and you can’t leave them or ignore them because they vote. So if you want to get a point across, it’s probably best not to start with a personal attack on their character, rationality, or other attribute which they very likely value about themselves. Whether or not you think they are fooling themselves, they are productive, responsible members of society who almost inevitably see themselves as worthy of some respect — and if you open a conversation by demonstrating that you think they are deluded, contemptible, or otherwise deserving of no respect at all, all you will get is a “f** you too, then.” This is largely unproductive all around.

    To make this shorter and to the point:
    “You’re delusional” is an attack on the person and will earn you nothing but hostility.

    “Belief in a deity makes no sense in the light of all the evidence against the existance of deity” is not an attack on the PERSON, and can lead to actual discussion — and people are a lot more likely to think about what you’re saying if they are not being attacked.

    YES, of course there are the frothing irrational, but they are not the majority of people, and will never be your audience anyway. Believe it or not, most people will respond to the above exactly the way I predict.

    But hey, don’t take my word for it. Ask psychologists.

  30. #30 Stephen
    August 31, 2007

    “The Cambrian expolision is understood. See Gould.”

    Thanks, I have. Specifically, his Scientific American article of 1995 and Wonderful Life detailing the Burgess Shale. Not sure that I’d say Gould has an evidentiary explanation, but he certainly dismantles Darwin in the attempt to rescue him.

    “IC is a non-issue. It has been dealt with numerous times as a google search would tell you.”

    Hmmmm. Yes, I’ve read all that–Kenneth Miller and what not. Not sure anyone has adequately defused IC and it continues expand in application.

    “Abiogenesis is just a silly comment from you showing your profound ignorance of the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution does NOT seek to explain how life began but how it changed, and continues to change, once it started.”

    Well I certainly wish that were the case, but every biology text I’ve consulted keeps pointing me to the Miller-Urey experiment, with lots of creative artists renditions thrown in, in order to explain how the show got started. Would you favor deleted the whole abiogenesis thing from the texts? If so, I’ll join you.

    “The limits of natural selection: As I pointed out we now know more than Darwin did. We know about founder effects and genetic drift for example. You really do need to learn about advances in biology made in the C20th.”

    Yet we keep getting variations within species, never any evidence of “crossing borders” into genera, families, etc.
    No one disagrees that there is variation WITHIN species. Notice, too, how you slowly slip into insults and ad hominem attacks. Not entirely necessary.

    “”The tautology of homology”: No idea what you are crapping on about. ”

    Homology proves common descent because common descent predicts homology. Common design is an equally valid inference–but inferences aren’t fool-proof no matter which side of the aisle they come from.

    “DNA: We do no as yet fully understand how DNA evolved although it seems likely RNA was a precursor. Not knowing every detail however does not invalidate what we do know.”

    True enough. But we do know that DNA transfers information via a series of specific codes. Meaningful information does not evolve from matter–it requires conscious thought.

  31. #31 Scholar
    August 31, 2007

    Nisbet, I am not buying any *snake oil* from you, ever.

    Please leave attacking Richard Dawkins to the professionals.

    We need to strengthen the *Ignore Matthew C. Nisbet* campaign, if we ever want the nation as a whole to come together as one, under the umbrella of science *and* morality.

  32. #32 Matthew C. Nisbet
    August 31, 2007

    Scholar,
    Apologies for causing you so much cognitive dissonance.

    –Matt

  33. #33 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    Calling someone who believe in god delusional is not an attack, it is a statement of fact. The same way the Catholic church’s position on gay rights is bigoted and the creationists are ignorant about science (not just biology but chemistry and physics as well).

    Here is my problem. Mooney, Nisbet, Brayton, and you, say that calling belief in god a delusional is counter-productive. At least one of those people happily calls those who seek to deny gays the same rights as the rest of us bigots. Why is it that calling people delusional is counter-productive but calling people bigoted is not ? And who are these “moderate” theists ? The catholics ? Maybe, when it comes to evolution, not when it comes to gay rights though. The Anglicans ? The same Anglican church of which a clergyman today said he refused to allow his church hall to be used by a yoga teacher ? If those are the moderates just how fucked up does someone have to be to be called hardline ?

  34. #34 Scholar
    August 31, 2007

    Not as much fun when you can’t censor my comments eh?

    — Scholar

  35. #35 Scholar
    August 31, 2007

    Matt: I am simply going by what the data suggest. The data could be wrong, but that is unlikely.

  36. #36 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    Stephen,

    Clearly you need more help in understanding biology than I can give you.

    “Hmmmm. Yes, I’ve read all that–Kenneth Miller and what not. Not sure anyone has adequately defused IC and it continues expand in application.”

    I am sure. That you are not reflects on your intellectual capacities, not mine.

    “Well I certainly wish that were the case, but every biology text I’ve consulted keeps pointing me to the Miller-Urey experiment, with lots of creative artists renditions thrown in, in order to explain how the show got started. Would you favor deleted the whole abiogenesis thing from the texts? If so, I’ll join you.”

    Maybe you would like to provide some examples.

    “Yet we keep getting variations within species, never any evidence of “crossing borders” into genera, families, etc.
    No one disagrees that there is variation WITHIN species. Notice, too, how you slowly slip into insults and ad hominem attacks. Not entirely necessary.”

    Clearly you are not aware of these things called fossils. Yo u would also seem to be unaware that speciation events have been observed, not just in the fossil record but in extant species.

    As for being insulting, well you are ignorant and you chose to insult us by coming here and making such stupid comments.
    It does not then behove you to complain about it.
    “True enough. But we do know that DNA transfers information via a series of specific codes. Meaningful information does not evolve from matter–it requires conscious thought.”

    Says who ? You cannot just make such a statement and expect it to be taken as a fact. Show us your supporting evidence.

    Stephen, I am sorry you cannot comprehend what modern biology is about, and I am sorry that what biology you have learnt seems to come from no later than 1859 but there really is no excuse for your ignorance.

  37. #37 Matthew C. Nisbet
    August 31, 2007

    MLF,
    Religion is a “hereditary tumor”? As a fellow atheist, I find your dogmatic scorn for religion disturbing.

    -Matt

  38. #38 Luna_the_cat
    August 31, 2007

    Matt Penfold says:

    Calling someone who believe in god delusional is not an attack, it is a statement of fact.

    And I’m calling you an intolerant idiot. It’s just a statement of fact, as far as I’m concerned. What’s your reaction?

    Ok, now what WAS your reaction when you read that? Was it, “maybe I *am* intolerant — I wonder why she says that.” Or was it “No, I’m right and SHE’s the idiot.” Yeah, I know which one I’m betting on.

    There is an interesting difference between the issue of gay rights or racism, and the issue of religion and belief in deity. The fights for racial equality, and even the fight for gay rights, have progressed to the point that a substantial proportion of the population (a majority in the case of race, although perhaps not a large majority) have accepted that the more “traditional” beliefs about inferiority actually harm people.

    The issue of belief in God is nowhere near that. The vast majority of the population is agin ye.

    In the case of calling someone a bigot, you are not so much addressing them as you are appealing to a larger audience around them, mustering forces of social disapproval. Bigotry is already accepted as being wrong, as being a bad thing. It is in the face of social disapproval from a surrounding population that people are more likely to rethink it, and the groundwork for social disapproval is already laid.

    In the case of calling everyone who identifies with a religion and believes in a deity delusional, the forces of social disapproval will be mustered against you, not your target. Belief in religion and deity are not seen as wrong or bad by society at large. The “delusional” part can thus be comfortably passed off by the populational majority as being no more than your opinion, not a fact.

    So you can’t use that tactic, of mustering social disapproval; on the simple pragmatic side, you are still working on building up more of a population who agrees with you. This means that you are still at the point of having to talk to people about their beliefs directly, not at the point of getting social pressure to do the work.

    Can you see what I’m saying, at all?

  39. #39 mlf
    August 31, 2007

    Matthew C. Nisbet,

    Did I say religion? No, I said faith. Do you believe that the two mean the exact same?

  40. #40 J. J. Ramsey
    August 31, 2007

    Nisbet: “In contrast, your relatively dogmatic goal appears to be to wage a crusade of attacks intended to ‘weaken the hold of religious faith.'”

    Let’s save the word “dogmatic” for those atheists who demonize theists in about the way that fundies demonize atheists, shall we? Our host does not fit that description, even if he is fond of some others who do.

    It would also help if you cited more of the “theory and data” that “predicts that such a campaign only backfires.” Judging from the Point of Inquiry podcast to which you linked, I suspect that you have sources like Leon Festinger in mind, but it would be nice to see them outright.

    Rosenhouse: “You can keep telling people that they can have their religion and evolution too, but the fact is that they can’t and they know it.”

    Considering that there are those who do have religion and evolution too, this statement is empirically false.

    And the claim that “The strategy where you publicly attack bad religious ideas has barely been tried”? Ever heard of Robert Ingersoll?

    Matt Penfold: “Given that people who believe in a non-existant god are deluded, can you explain what term can be used to say they are deluded without actually using the word ?”

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. (With apologies to Rob Reiner.)

    And Stephen: http://talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html

  41. #41 Stephen
    August 31, 2007

    Ah well, I can see I’m in hostile territory.
    I’d wished the conversation didn’t deteriorate into “You’re stupid and ignorant,” and I’ve tried to stay above such silliness.

    I enjoy debating both the specifics and the underlying assumptions of evolution (and creation science and intelligent design as well), but I rarely find a Darwinist who doesn’t immediately circle the wagons and hurl personal insults whenever they get uncomfortable. It’s unfortunate. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the majority of Americans don’t embrace the theory. Just a thought.

    Oh well, I hope everyone has a great holiday weekend. Thanks for the conversation.

  42. #42 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    The difference Luna, as you well know, is evidence.

    There is zero evidence for a god. Well call people who believe in things for which there is no evidence deluded. It is what the word means. A person who thinks they are being visited by aliens is deluded, and I suspect most people would agree with me. The reason that person is deluded is exactly the same reason someone who believe in god is deluded. I, and some others can see that. You for some reason cannot or will not.

    You may not like the fact I use the word, but your disliking it does not change reality. In effect you want me, Dawkins et al to lie. Well sorry, I do not like lying. If asked about how I view the religious I will give my honest opinion. I dislike even more those who think I should lie. People like you.

    I would also ask you to tell me where all these “moderate” theists are. Even confining yourself to christians you will have a problem finding some. Catholics are out, clearly not moderate. Methodists like wise. Baptists ? No chance. Anglicans ? Some, but then the Bishop of Carlisle tells us that the recently flooding in the UK is punishment from god and pushes Anglicism back to the middle ages.

  43. #43 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    Stephen,

    Good bye. You will not be missed.

    I note your abject failure to apologise to us for inflicting your ignorance on us.

  44. #44 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    J.J Ramsey,

    It means exactly what I think it means.

    From Wikipedia:

    A delusion is commonly defined as a fixed false belief and is used in everyday language to describe a belief that is either false, fanciful or derived from deception.

    Webster:

    something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated b : a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary; also : the abnormal state marked by such beliefs

    So it seems one meaning of the word means exactly what I think it means, and accords with my, and Dawkins, use of the word. There are other meanings, including the one used in psychology. However from the context you will be aware I was using in the same way Dawkins does, and having read “The God Delusional” you will know how he defines the term.

  45. #45 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    Matt Nisbett,

    You seem keen on data, so I am puzzled why you dismiss the term “hereditary tumor”. As I am sure you know the biggest single detiminant of a person’s religion is their parent’s religion. In that respect religion can be said be herditatary, although clearly not in the evolutionary use of the word. Likewise many consider religion to either cause or exacerbate many of the problems we face in the world today. In the that regard the use of the world tumor would be apt.

    I fail to see what is intolerant about the term.

  46. #46 Explicit Atheist
    August 31, 2007

    M Nistbeth wrote:

    “In contrast, your [Jason's] relatively dogmatic goal appears to be to wage a crusade of attacks intended to “weaken the hold of religious faith.”

    I don’t think Nisbeth would deny that there is a tendency for public school textbooks and teachers to dilute or avoid coverage of topics that people consider a challenge to their religious beliefs and that this happens because of the hold religious faith has on public opinion. Or, to put this another way, I doubt that Nisbeth would deny that if the hold religious faith has on public opinion was weakened that one result would be that citizens would receive a better education and would be more generous in respecting the civil rights of atheists, Wiccans, homosexuals and other minorities. So on this ground I don’t think calling such a focus “relatively dogmatic” is accurate, its just a logical extension of the desire for a better educated citizenery and more resopect for minority civil rights. Religious faith is signficant source of one or more significant problems here, so we are justified in focusing on addressing that.

  47. #47 J. J. Ramsey
    August 31, 2007

    Matt Penfold: “There is zero evidence for a god.”

    Let’s see now. There is what parents and other trusted authority figures say. There is the matter that almost everyone else believes in God.

    What, you say? That’s not very good evidence? Well, you are right. However, following one’s parents and authority and the crowd are heuristics that work for a lot of things. Like all heuristics, it has its weaknesses, and religion is one of them. However, reasoning by heuristics is not delusional.

    Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface of the various reasons people buy into religion and haven’t even gotten into why one might convert to a religion when older. However, behind much of these things are garden-variety human cognitive biases, rather than anything extraordinary.

  48. #48 Luna_the_cat
    August 31, 2007

    All right, mr. rational, please present to me exactly where and how I said you, Dawkins, or anyone else ought to “lie”.

    My point seems to have passed you by completely. Basically you are down to misrepresentation and namecalling. Color me unimpressed.

  49. #49 Matthew C. Nisbet
    August 31, 2007

    Matt Penfold,
    One of the lessons that needs to be learned at the Richard Dawkins School of Communication is that words have meaning and need to be chosen wisely.

    Going around referring to religion as a “hereditary tumor” will only appeal to fellow militant atheists. In fact, such words backfire.

    In popular discourse, they will only be used to reinforce the stereotype that atheists are intolerant, insulting, abnormal, and irrationally exuberant in their crusade against religion.

  50. #50 MartinM
    August 31, 2007

    As fellow atheists, this is our obvious difference. My goal is to use communication to bring society together to deal effectively with pressing collective problems such as climate change or poverty and to improve education.

    In contrast, your relatively dogmatic goal appears to be to wage a crusade of attacks intended to “weaken the hold of religious faith.”

    Ooh, I see what you did there. I communicate, you argue, (s)he wages a crusade of attacks. This is one of those framing things, isn’t it?

  51. #51 Luna_the_cat
    August 31, 2007

    In popular discourse, they [such words and phrases] will only be used to reinforce the stereotype that atheists are intolerant, insulting, abnormal, and irrationally exuberant in their crusade against religion.

    Mmyep. That’s exactly what I’m coming away with, and I’m not even writing in defense of religion.

  52. #52 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    Luna,

    You want me, Dawkins etc to stop calling people who believe in god delusional. However we really do think they are delusional.

    You want us to be silent about that view, thus not sating our true views. In otherwords, lie.

    I do not like you telling me to lie.

  53. #53 Luna_the_cat
    August 31, 2007

    MartinM — actually, this is simple analysis of the goals and the methods. Can you handle that?

  54. #54 MartinM
    August 31, 2007

    ‘d wished the conversation didn’t deteriorate into “You’re stupid and ignorant,” and I’ve tried to stay above such silliness.

    Well, you didn’t do a very good job of it, then.

    Honestly, if you’re sincere in your question…

    Assuming Darwin hit a bullseye every time in the Victorian Age and could not possibly have gotten anything wrong is rather, well, unscientific and too faith-based for me.

    …if you’ve honestly never heard why The Origin of Species may not actually be the new Bible…

    …even if you don’t believe Darwin was fallible, a lot of people are learning he was–sometimes the disciples are the last to jump ship.

    If that’s your idea of reasonable discussion, I’d hate to see you acting like a complete jackass.

  55. #55 Luna_the_cat
    August 31, 2007

    No, Matt. Just…no. You’ve (deliberately?) missed the point entirely.

    And do not conflate yourself with Dawkins. Having read Dawkins, I have some respect for him; I have also noted that Dawkins, in his writing, is able to attack beliefs without attacking the people, a concept that you seem pathologically incapable of grasping.

  56. #56 MartinM
    August 31, 2007

    MartinM — actually, this is simple analysis of the goals and the methods.

    “wage a crusade of attacks” is a neutral, calm, objective characterization of Jason’s position? Give me a break. It’s self-serving spin.

    Can you handle that?

    When done honestly, sure.

  57. #57 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    Matthew Nisbett,

    One thing you have not bothered to learn at your school of communication is that Dawkins in “The God Delusional” makes it very clear he is NOT addressing believers. He is addressing fellow non-believers in a call to arms to stand up against the imposition of faith and superstition over reason. Unlike the parochial view adopted by you Dawkins looks at the the situation in the world as a whole, and not just the US.

    Another issue your school fails to take into account is that this is not just a battle over evolution/creationism. You may have noticed that in both the US and Europe gays are pressing to be allowed the same civil rights as their heterosexual neighbours, such as the the right to marry. The main opposition to this comes from the religious and not only the religious who espouse creationism. The Catholic church accepts evolution but it very active in seeking to deny gays civil rights. Clearly the Catholic church cannot be considerate “moderate” in anyway, yet these are people who want onboard in fighting creationism. Has it not occurred to you in doing do you weaken the fight against their anti-gay crusade ?

  58. #58 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 31, 2007

    Matthew Nisbet-

    As fellow atheists, this is our obvious difference. My goal is to use communication to bring society together to deal effectively with pressing collective problems such as climate change or poverty and to improve education.

    In contrast, your relatively dogmatic goal appears to be to wage a crusade of attacks intended to “weaken the hold of religious faith.”

    I don’t think this is really an accurate description of our main disagreement (and I also don’t appreciate your use of the word dogmatic here.) Our difference is that I see religious faith as a hindrance to the sort of communal problem solving we would both like to see. Not all forms of religious faith, I must tediously add for the benefit of those who would lecture me about overgeneralizing about religious belief, but certain popular forms of Christian belief, especially evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

    I don’t understand how you or Chris can look at these polls and conclude that the problem is Richard Dawkins driving otherwise pro-science people over to the wrong side. What they actually show is that lagre percentages of people allow their irrational religious beliefs to trump a rational contemplation of the evidence. It is that way of thinking that is the main problem. You can not just work around this attitude. You might score an occasional, temporary victory here and there, but the larger battle will never be won so long as this attitude remains prevalent.

    As for Dawkins, I have no doubt that he drives some people away. I just think that number pales in comparison to the number of people exposed to non-religious world views because of Dawkins and the rest. This good done by this exposure outwieghs the hearm of driving a few people away.

  59. #59 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    “No, Matt. Just…no. You’ve (deliberately?) missed the point entire”

    No, I have got your point all to well from your point of view. You want me to stop calling people who are deluded, deluded. You have failed to offer an alternative word so sorry, I will continue to use the word.

    “And do not conflate yourself with Dawkins. Having read Dawkins, I have some respect for him; I have also noted that Dawkins, in his writing, is able to attack beliefs without attacking the people, a concept that you seem pathologically incapable of grasping.”

    I lack Dawkins’ civility, it is true. However I cannot claim credit for being the first to call believers deluded. I am not sure who was to be honest, but of late it is Dawkins who has popularised that use of the world in that context.

  60. #60 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 31, 2007

    J.J. Ramsey-

    Rosenhouse: “You can keep telling people that they can have their religion and evolution too, but the fact is that they can’t and they know it.”

    Considering that there are those who do have religion and evolution too, this statement is empirically false.

    For heaven’s sake J.J., don’t you think you’re being a bit literal! I am perfectly aware that there are people who accept both Christianity and evolution. I was merely expressing my opinion that they achieve this rapprochement only by making serious compromises, either in their understanding of Christianity or in their understanding of science. According to the polls, large percentages of Christians see things the same way I do.

  61. #61 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    Jason,

    As far as I can tell the current tactics in the US used to fight creationism is to find a school district where creationism/ID is being pushed onto the curriculum and take legal action and win the case, and repeat after a while.

    That tactic may be required as a holding action but that is all it is. The attacks still keep coming, from a different direction and in a different guise, but coming none the less. What I do not see from Drs Nisbett, Mooney et al is any idea of how bring about an end to the attacks. I do see you, Dawkins et al offering a way. I suspect it will take a long long time, but at least it is better than sitting there waiting for the next attack. After all, if the current policy was working so well surely there would be some change in the number of Americans who think the earth is a mere 6000 years old. The evidence suggests there is none, and thus we must conclude no minds are being changed using the current policy.

  62. #62 bmkmd
    August 31, 2007

    I think the problem is in the churches, where people go weekly or more often, and are fed bible science so as to protect the literal interpretation of the bible.

    Scientific, rationalist understanding has little if any place to counter the regular, insular pounding of literalism and a devine designer into not-so-open minds.

    The cognitive dissonance is just too much for more open minded people raised in that insular religious environment to overcome. They will be rejected by their religious community if they question the literal bible.

    And if they do, where are they to go to replace all the collateral advantages of family, community, regular social contact and activity, a feeling of belonging? It ain’t easy being rational in a fundamentalist world, but it isn’t warm and fuzzy in a rational world if one “comes out.” What do we have to offer these inbetween people, the people who are rational enough to question and break away from fundamentalist religion?

    Shermer is closer to a solution for this problem than Dawkins, it’s about people not just ideas.

  63. #63 Luna_the_cat
    August 31, 2007

    Matt Penfold — I find it ironic that you can be condescending towards a creationist because of the creationist’s use of dishonest tactics, and then turn around and use the same tactics yourself on a different subject.

    I gave you alternatives to calling people delusional, several times. It is YOUR issue that you did not read or understand the alternative. You also devolved to personal attacks against me very quickly. You are not having a discussion in good faith, even with other atheists; you are being dogmatic and insulting towards people who don’t agree with you because by damn you know you’re right. This is not a winning tactic, honestly.

    MartinM — when Jason wrote “As I have written before, it is the nicey-nice strategy of non-engagement endorsed by Mooney and Nisbett that is refuted by these polls.” I believe he was making his position clear on a level similar to “wage a crusade of attacks”. However, I grant you that overall Jason was sticking with a straightforward analysis of how he disagreed and why, not spin. But is every characterisation of someone else’s actions then spin if it goes for even mildly colorful language? Is “nicey-nice strategy” spin, or is it a “neutral, calm, objective analysis of position”? If it isn’t, then why is “wage[ing] a crusade of attacks” spin, if in fact the position being advocated is to attack the base concept of faith? Just wondering how you define “spin” here, mostly.

    Jason — I agree that it would be unfair to characterise you as particularly dogmatic, but how would you characterise Matt Penfold?

  64. #64 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    Oh that’s right Luna you did offer an alternative:

    “Belief in a deity makes no sense in the light of all the evidence against the existance of deity”

    In other words, that belief is delusional. I prefer brevity over being verbose. In addition that is not an accurate statement of what I think. It would be better rephrased as: “”Belief in a deity makes no sense because there is no evidence that such a deity exists”. In this I disagree somewhat with Dawkins. I think it is possible to be both an agnostic and an atheist. I am an agnostic because I do not think there is anyway to know if the kind of god usually worshipped exists or not, although it is possible to test specific claims made about such a god. Since it is not possible to know it makes no sense to me to consider the possibility that such a god does exist. I hold the same position about invisible pink unicorns. Putting god into things complicates matters, and is something that rather than explaining anything becomes something that needs explaining. There is no need for such an entity so we can dispose of it and not consider it further.

  65. #65 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    “What do we have to offer these inbetween people, the people who are rational enough to question and break away from fundamentalist religion?”

    How about the wonder to be found in learning what the universe is really like ?

    You do however touch slightly on another issue I have with the Nisbett/Mooney strategy and it is that they are being patronising to believers. They do not believe but they pat “moderate” believers on the head and say “Ok, you believe in god which maybe silly to me but hey, at least you ain’t a creationist”. Dawlkins at least has the honesty to come out and say religious belief and a rational viewpoint are not compatible.

  66. #66 Luna_the_cat
    August 31, 2007

    Matt Penfold — {{APPLAUSE}} !

    That paragraph was rational. It made perfect sense. It expressed your beliefs clearly. And it did not involve a single personal attack on anyone. That is precisely what I was talking about. And believe it or not, I find myself in perfect agreement with what you think. How’s that for result?

  67. #67 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    Luna,

    At last!

    But one thing puzzles me. I have not said anything different in that paragraph. The wording may have changed but the sentiment is exactly the same. If I was believer I would find that just as objectionable, or not.

  68. #68 Luna_the_cat
    August 31, 2007

    Matt Penfold — I really thought I had addressed the difference, but I will try one more time.

    A. “Everyone who believes in God is delusional.”

    B. “Belief in a deity makes no sense because there is no evidence that such a deity exists.”

    Sentence A is a direct attack on the person who believes in God. “You are delusional.”

    Sentence B is an analysis of, and even an attack on, the belief. It is not about the person. Most people will not, genuinely will NOT react with the same hostile defensiveness, that they will inevitably react with to “you’re delusional”.

    This is very simply a psychology thing. It’s an interpersonal interaction thing. Seriously, spend some careful and detailed observation on how everyday conversations and disagreements go.

    Unfortunately, I’ve got to go, myself. It is getting very late here. This has been interesting….

  69. #69 Greta Christina
    August 31, 2007

    I keep thinking about a conversation from the TV show The West Wing. One of the White House Staff is bemoaning a recent polls showing that most of the country disagrees with the White House position on gun control. he says, “The numbers have spoken. I guess we have to dial down the rhetoric.”

    And a political consultant they’ve hired says, “Maybe it means you have to dial it up. Maybe it means you’re not getting through.”

    The atheist rhetoric has only recently begun to be dialed up. And as Jason points out, while we’re still in the minority, some of our numbers are going up.

    But I have to say, I agree with Luna the Cat. In debates with believers, it’s possible to say things like “I think you’re mistaken” and “I’m sorry, but your position is self-contradictory and isn’t supported by evidence,” without saying “You’re stupid and crazy.” It’s not lying, it’s not dishonest — unless you think that honesty requires you to say everything that pops into your mind the minute you think it (in which case, remind me not to invite you to any dinner parties). And it’s more likely to keep people listening.

    And frankly, I personally find it *more* honest. Most of the time, it *is* the belief or the opinion that I have a problem with — not the person.

    That’s not to say I think we should soft-pedal. I don’t. I just think we can hard-pedal (is that a word?) without resorting to personal insults.

    Of course, if it’s true that two-thirds of believers state openly that they’d hold on to their religious views even if they were proven wrong… boy, is that depressing. I guess we’re trying to reach that other one-third.

  70. #70 Explicit Atheist
    August 31, 2007

    Luna_the_cat wrote:

    ‘I’m married, 14 years now. If there is one thing that I have learned from living with someone I frequently don’t agree with, but am not prepared to leave, it is that when we’re having a discussion (or a quarrel) over something where, seriously, he’s just flat wrong, the way to do it is NOT to say “you’re an idiot” or “you’re deluded” or “you’re mislead by gratuitous and deliberate ignorance”. It’s to say something more like, “ok, if I understand you, you believe this because of [x,y,z]. But here’s the thing; [a,b,c] exist which flatly contradict [x,y,z], and besides, [x,y,z] don’t have a single interpretation — you can interpret these in a multitude of different ways. I don’t see things the way you do, and this is why. And the way I see things has worked a lot better.”

    ….

    But hey, don’t take my word for it. Ask psychologists.’

    Yes, it is my understanding that this has been studied and the consensus of researchers is that a non-confrontational style is more effective, at least in some contexts such as spouses and children. If you can convince Matt Penfold to tone down some of remarks here then good. Clearly, based on measures such as book sales and TV audience, however, in those contexts there is some advantage in a somewhat confrontational approach also. It attracts more attention and brings in more money for authors and pundits. Polite arguments are boring and fights are exciting, its probably in our genes. Moral of the story is that we shouldn’t necessarily model our arguments in non-profit contexts after what we see, hear, and read in the for-profit contexts.

  71. #71 Explicit Atheist
    August 31, 2007

    Actually, non-profit versus for-profit is probably not the right distinction. Its may be more of a distinction between non-entertainment contexts and entertainment contexts. The more there is of the latter, as defined by what the actual and potential audience is seeking, consciously or unconsciously, the more advantage confrontation may have. The profit factor is just added incentive.

  72. #72 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 31, 2007

    John Pieret-

    Um … I’m not sure this is the best illustration of your point. After all, the sheriff didn’t shoot Mongo, instead opting for a less direct, non-confrontational tactic. Mongo not only wound up chained to the jailhouse bars but liking the sheriff despite that.

    As I recall, the sheriff subdued Mongo by giving him a fake candygram. When the cnadygram was opened, it exploded in Mongo’s face, knocking him out. Sounds pretty confrontational to me!

  73. #73 Matt Penfold
    August 31, 2007

    Lun:

    I get what you saying, I just do not think you are correct. In both the message is exactly the same. Were I a believer if I found one offensive I would find the other offensive.

    Further, the argument being made by Nisbett et al is not that it is why the message is being said is wrong, it is the message itself. They do not want Dawkins to go around saying that belief in god in not compatible with being rational. My impression is that what upsets the believers is their being told their belief in a god is not rational, and that is what Dawkins’ message is. Dawkins does not think, like Nisbett, Mooney et al that it is possible to believe in god and hold a rational worldview without having to make some serious compromises. So I am afraid even if Dawkins’ stopped saying that religious belief is delusional that would not stop the criticism of him as his central message would be unaltered and it is that which Nisbett et al take issue with.

    I am not sure if Nisbett et al really do think that belief in god is rational but it seems they are willing to go along with the idea it is in order not to upset “moderate” theists. Of course the idea that Dawkins’ cannot get along with “moderate” theists is simply untrue. You only have to look at the friendships he has with a number of senior and less senior figures in British religious life to see that. Not does Dawkins have problems working with religious people on issues of mutual concern, such as the teaching of creationism. A year or so ago he along with other scientists and leading Anglican, Methodist, Catholic and Jewish figures wrote and open letter the the government calling on them to ensure creationism was not taught in UK schools.

    Greta:

    “But I have to say, I agree with Luna the Cat. In debates with believers, it’s possible to say things like “I think you’re mistaken” and “I’m sorry, but your position is self-contradictory and isn’t supported by evidence,” without saying “You’re stupid and crazy.”

    You destroy your own argument there. Dawkins is NOT addressing believers in “The God Delusion”. He makes that very clear. The people he is addressing are atheists. The book is a call to arms for atheists, NOT an attempt to change thiests into atheists. Therefore your criticism is not valid. Can I ask, have you read the book ?

  74. #74 Science Avenger
    August 31, 2007

    Nisbet is one part Dembski, one part all those babbling tools that sold us “Team Building Exercises” in the 90’s. It’s all self-promotional fluff and no substance, with lot’s of talk of data, but little forthcoming, assertions, assertions, assertions, galore, and always with loaded terms. If his labeling of Jason as dogmatic wasn’t enough to demonstrate to everyone that he tosses around these inflammatory terms without regard to their accuracy, I don’t know what would.

    I actually hold out hope that he is intentionally playing a huge joke on us by portraying himself, in his writings with and on atheists, as the kind of closed-minded, arrogant, foul-mouthed jerk he claims people like Dawkins and Myers are. At least that would have some purpose. The alternative is to accept that’s really the way he is, and I hold out higher hopes than that for PhDs (shrug).

  75. #75 Greta Christina
    August 31, 2007

    “In both the message is exactly the same. Were I a believer if I found one offensive I would find the other offensive.”

    The message isn’t exactly the same. The denotated content of the message is very similar, but the implicit “This is my attitude towards you” content is not the same at all. And not everybody is you.

    “You destroy your own argument there. Dawkins is NOT addressing believers in “The God Delusion”. He makes that very clear. The people he is addressing are atheists. The book is a call to arms for atheists, NOT an attempt to change thiests into atheists. Therefore your criticism is not valid. Can I ask, have you read the book ?”

    Yes, I’ve read The God Delusion. I’m not talking about the specific question of whether Dawkins should have written The God Delusion differently. (And I’m not defending either Mooney or Nisbet.) I’m talking about the more general question of how atheists should present our atheism and engage with believers, and whether we should focus our criticisms on the beliefs or the believers.

    And in fact, when I was reading The God Delusion, I noticed that while Dawkins was often very inflammatory in the way he discussed religious belief, he was very careful (usually) to not discuss religious believers in that way. I think we can speak very strongly and passionately about religious belief, without resorting to personal namecalling towards believers.

    If some of them hear a critique of their religion as a personal attack on them… well, that can’t be helped. But I think we increase our chances of reaching people if we don’t call them delusional morons.

  76. #76 SLC
    August 31, 2007

    Re Matt Penfold & Stephen

    As Mr. Penfold has discovered, it is a total waste of time to argue with a born-again. Their minds are made up, the facts are irrelevant. However, a couple of points raised by Mr. Stephen should be addressed.

    1. The origin of life, including the Miller-Urey experiment, has nothing whatever to do with the theory of evolution. Period, end of story. The fact that Mr. Stephen refuses to accept this is proof of his non-interest in the facts.

    2. Mr. Stephen seems to be fixated on the possibility of error on the part of Mr. Darwin. This only shows his total ignorance of the history of science. It was, I believe, Enrico Fermi who once stated that a scientist who has never been wrong has contributed nothing to the advance of knowledge. For the information of Mr. Stephen, the most important scientists who have ever lived have occasionally been wrong. The three most important scientists who have ever lived are, by the almost unanimous opinion of historians of science, Issac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein. Each of these worthy gentlemen were occasionally wrong. Newton was wrong about diffraction and interference in that he thought that a particle theory of light could explain these phenomena. Darwin was wring about inheritance; he though it was an analog process when it actually is a digital process. Einstein was wrong about the possible existence of black holes which are predicted by his general theory of relativity; he wrote a paper claiming to prove they couldn’t exist, which was wrong as black holes have been inferentially observed.

  77. #77 Rhonda Hubbs
    August 31, 2007

    Has anyone noticed that the more science challenges religion, the more it mutates. There is no consensus among the believers and they can and do change the rules in debate. On top of that, they claim atheists are not playing fair. Geez! What can a rational person do?

  78. #78 J. J. Ramsey
    August 31, 2007

    Rosenhouse: “For heaven’s sake J.J., don’t you think you’re being a bit literal! I am perfectly aware that there are people who accept both Christianity and evolution. I was merely expressing my opinion that they achieve this rapprochement only by making serious compromises, either in their understanding of Christianity or in their understanding of science.”

    And to put it bluntly, you were expressing it in an obfuscatory fashion. You are right that if the science isn’t compromised, then religious people have to compromise in order to accept evolution. But that itself a step in the right direction, and you hid that by phrasing yourself so absolutely.

    Just making that compromise alone mean a change in mental habits, as it means that one is thinking in terms of adjusting one’s beliefs to fit reality–which is partly what we want. Ok, we’d like the adjustment to be done in a less ad hoc and inelegant fashion, but it’s a start.

  79. #79 J. J. Ramsey
    August 31, 2007

    Rhonda Hubbs: “Has anyone noticed that the more science challenges religion, the more it mutates. There is no consensus among the believers and they can and do change the rules in debate. On top of that, they claim atheists are not playing fair. Geez! What can a rational person do?”

    How about encouraging that kind of mutation? A religion is at its worst when its ideas stay fixed.

  80. #80 Tyler DiPietro
    August 31, 2007

    Jason said: “You can keep telling people that they can have their religion and evolution too, but the fact is that they can’t and they know it.”

    J.J. said:“And to put it bluntly, you were expressing it in an obfuscatory fashion.”

    Not to speak for Jason, but there was nothing obfuscatory about what he said. It is pretty clear to me at least that he was talking about a specific set of religious people, and his statement was absolutely true of that set. As even I will admit, not all “religious” beliefs are equal. You are indeed being too literal.

  81. #81 MartinC
    August 31, 2007

    Evolution is a ham sandwich. Of course religious people can accept it. Just not people of every religion, unless they are prepared to change their religion.
    It is easy to say that you can be religious and accept evolution yet this really only applies to a setting of a particular religious nature – for instance a roman catholic or moderate anglican population that ‘accepts’* evolution as a valid theory (* = grudgingly admits that science has kicked their ass over this one, just like the heliocentrism question).
    It is rather disingenuous to suggest that being religious or even being evangelical (such as Francis Collins) is no barrier to acceptance of evolution since certain shades of religion WILL preclude acceptance in an analogous way that some religions preclude the eating of that ham sandwich.
    It just so happens that the USA happens to have a substantial proportion of its population who are members of the shades of religion that cannot accept evolution.
    Are Nisbet, Mooney et al really suggesting that these people can simply change religions to a more moderate branch of christianity?
    As for the term ‘delusion’ in regards religious belief I notice that it is no problem for many people to label other religious people as delusional or worse – look at how most people regard Fred Phelp’s Westboro Baptist Church for instance, even Fox News shouted them down.
    Remember, when Dawkins said that belief in ‘God’ was a delusion he had defined what he meant by the term ‘God’.
    This was defined as a personal deity, a God as described by dogmatic religions who claim to know His thoughts and wishes. It was not the God of Einstein or Spinoza (or even Ed Brayton, if he is a deist as some have suggested).
    I doubt that many atheists have significant problems with the idea of Einstein’s God or would particularly consider it a ‘delusional’ belief. It is belief in religious dogma that a lot of us consider delusional. ‘The Dogmatic Religion Delusion’ might have been a better title for his book (for those that haven’t read it and have missed his definition of God), its just not a very snappy title.

  82. #82 Tyler DiPietro
    September 1, 2007

    “This was defined as a personal deity, a God as described by dogmatic religions who claim to know His thoughts and wishes. It was not the God of Einstein or Spinoza (or even Ed Brayton, if he is a deist as some have suggested).”

    And I also note that there is often a particular equivocation implicit in those who argue a more accommodationist position on the religion/science issue, which appears to be that the “moderate” varieties of religion are akin to Spinozan abstractions and are thus more science-friendly than they really are. That greatly overrates this so-called “moderation”. A good example is the Catholic church, which begrudgingly accepted evolution under the recently concluded papacy of John Paul II, but drew the line at physicalistic understandings of the mind and cognitive functioning as “incompatible with the truth about man.” I suspect many, if not most, evolution-friendly theists would agree with this assessment, to say nothing of potential conflicts over neurological treatment and recent conflicts over embryonic stem cell research.

  83. #83 386sx
    September 1, 2007

    This was defined as a personal deity, a God as described by dogmatic religions who claim to know His thoughts and wishes.

    Whatevah. Dawkins was going after supernatural gods, period. Einstein’s “god” was a natural one. I duuno about Spinoza.

    And I also note that there is often a particular equivocation implicit in those who argue a more accommodationist position on the religion/science issue, which appears to be that the “moderate” varieties of religion are akin to Spinozan abstractions and are thus more science-friendly than they really are.

    Right. The moderates talk all “moderate” on page one… then on page two they talk a bunch of Bible verse crap.

  84. #84 Matt Penfold
    September 1, 2007

    “The message isn’t exactly the same. The denotated content of the message is very similar, but the implicit “This is my attitude towards you” content is not the same at all. And not everybody is you.”

    Sorry but you are wrong. The message is identical. The delivery differs. It is not the delivery that Nisbett et al criticise, it is the substance of the message which is this: Belief in god is not compatible with a rational worldview. It is that message Nisbett et al what Dawkins and the rest of us to shut up about. It is also the substance of the message that the thiests seem to object to.

  85. #85 nbm
    September 1, 2007

    Matt wrote: “The theory of evolution does NOT seek to explain how life began but how it changed, and continues to change, once it started.”

    I am not a scientist, not a religious believer and not a resident of the USA. As this thread is muchly about non-scientists, such persons should be allowed to comment, seems to me. The sentiment quoted above is key when I discuss these things with Christians. Adam and Eve are a lovely picture of life arising, first with asexual reproduction, thereafter sexual. Did it take 6 days or many millions of years? Who cares. The main point is that science hasn’t been able to combine lifeless components with sunshine and make life. To scientists (and me), it’s a mystery. To the religious, God did it. If they can accept that life forms change and I can accept that no one knows how life first happened, we have no argument. I’d hope that something like this is the future resolution of the whole controversy. (Feeling uncharacteristically optimistic today.)

  86. #86 MartinC
    September 1, 2007

    nbm, it might be a nice fuzzy mystery to you but for a molecular biologist like myself its rather different. When I imagine the first life I picture a very basic system, perhaps minerals self catalyzing in an ocean or deep within the earth.
    Its probably something that happens all the time at the moment but it is at such a level that we are unaware of it. Through gradual processes of organic chemical accumulation on the planet it seems likely that eventually the conditions arose that allowed RNA or similar oligonucleotide molecules to form in a situation where the individual nucleotides were present, thus allowing some sort of self catalyzed replication to occur. From then on in it gets easy but it probably still took hundreds of millions of years before we reached a replicating structure that was recognizable as the sort of life we know today – a cell with DNA proteins and RNA.
    The Adam and Eve story sounds such a weak cop-out compared to the probable reality of abiogenesis.

  87. #87 J. J. Ramsey
    September 1, 2007

    MartinC: “Are Nisbet, Mooney et al really suggesting that these people can simply change religions to a more moderate branch of christianity?”

    I think they are saying that it is relatively easier to get people to modify their religious beliefs rather than chuck them altogether.

    Yes, it would be nice if we could root out the problem of religious belief. IF that could be done, the problems with creationism would be solved, obviously. The problem is that this is a big “IF,” and we have plenty of evidence in the form of research on cognitive dissonance that direct criticisms of religion–and unfortunately this includes nonfrothy sane criticisms, too–aren’t up to the task of this monumental job. Good grief, there are convicts acquitted by DNA, and several of the prosecutors who put them in jail won’t admit they made mistakes. And you expect a mass of people to get rid of beliefs more deeply held than “All my convicts are guilty”? We’ll get some converts, but most people will react by blowing us off.

    On the other hand, creeping apathy towards religion works, as seen in Western Europe. If we can find ways of getting people to care less about their religion, then we may have the success that Western Europe has had. In the meantime, we need to keep the long-term goals from interfering with the short- and medium-term goals of getting kids to not be lied to by their schools about science.

  88. #88 Richard
    September 1, 2007

    As long as religion is treated with the deference it now receives in the U.S., the fight to keep it out of public school classrooms will truly be an eternal one. The silliness of supernaturalism has been talked about in the U.S. media more in the last 10 months than in the previous 10 years. Does that show the tactic is not working? For an idea to be eventually accepted, it has to be a part of the discussion. Being nice and quiet got us the poll numbers that Nisbet refers to. Nothing deflates an idea or belief (like supernaturalism) more quickly than making is seem silly. A lot of people out there are saying “you know, religion really is silly, and I’m not going to worry anymore about saying so”.

  89. #89 Richard
    September 1, 2007

    and furthermore…

    I think even Nisbet would acknowledge that the greatest barrier for the acceptance of science, and the scientific method, is an individual’s religious beliefs. All of the polls show this. I don’t understand, therefore, why he want to avoid the topic of religion (or supernaturalism). How is that going to work in the long term?

  90. #90 Tulse
    September 1, 2007

    Matthew C. Nisbet:

    One of the lessons that needs to be learned at the Richard Dawkins School of Communication is that words have meaning and need to be chosen wisely.

    Such as “New Atheist Noise Machine”, or “your relatively dogmatic goal” or “wage a crusade of attacks”, or, for that matter “the Richard Dawkins School of Communication”.

    For someone who claims to understand framing, Nisbet seems to have an uncanny knack to choose language that pisses off his opponents. Completely disregarding the substance of his claims, his language is certainly no more temperate than Dawkins’. You’d think a person who complains about how hostile wording fails to convince would actually take his own advice.

  91. #91 mlf
    September 1, 2007

    mlf said:
    “When will it end? How are you satisfied simply treating the symptoms of faith, but not instead eradicating the hereditary tumor that it is?

    [Notice I said "faith" and not "religion." If I meant "religion," I would have used "religion."]

    Matthew C. Nisbet said:
    Religion is a “hereditary tumor”? As a fellow atheist, I find your dogmatic scorn for religion disturbing.

    [Notice how Matthew deliberately twisted what I said and thus the meaning of what I said. At first, I figured he simply misread what I wrote. Then I wondered if he thought the two words meant the same thing, thus my following reply.]

    mlf said:
    Did I say religion? No, I said faith. Do you believe that the two mean the exact same?”

    [Matt Penfold (on his own) then made the argument that religion is indeed like a hereditary tumor.]

    Matthew C. Nisbet said:
    “One of the lessons that needs to be learned at the Richard Dawkins School of Communication is that words have meaning and need to be chosen wisely.

    Going around referring to religion as a “hereditary tumor” will only appeal to fellow militant atheists. In fact, such words backfire.

    In popular discourse, they will only be used to reinforce the stereotype that atheists are intolerant, insulting, abnormal, and irrationally exuberant in their crusade against religion.

    Does anyone else find it ironic and disturbing that Matthew C. Nisbet, a PhD assistant professor in a school of communication, is lecturing about the meaning of words and choosing them wisely after purposely twisting what I said to make it mean something else, and then using that twisted interpretation to attack both Dawkins and myself? Not very impressive Matthew.

  92. #92 ponderingfool
    September 1, 2007

    Yes, it would be nice if we could root out the problem of religious belief. IF that could be done, the problems with creationism would be solved, obviously. The problem is that this is a big “IF,” and we have plenty of evidence in the form of research on cognitive dissonance that direct criticisms of religion–and unfortunately this includes nonfrothy sane criticisms, too–aren’t up to the task of this monumental job. Good grief, there are convicts acquitted by DNA, and several of the prosecutors who put them in jail won’t admit they made mistakes. And you expect a mass of people to get rid of beliefs more deeply held than “All my convicts are guilty”? We’ll get some converts, but most people will react by blowing us off.
    ********************************************************

    The thing is religions over time have changed. They have to. The reality is that religions make claims about the material world, how the universe works. Science can test these claims and has & will continue to do so. Science by its nature can not halt research into these ideas. It must march on. Most people don’t believe in a warm blanket concept of a god but rather the one found in the world’s religions which do make claims. These claims are getting tested and many are not standing the test of science. It is not science which has created the conflict. It is those who want to keep their religion as is and don’t want to be exposed to the facts that are pushing to have religion taught in science courses for example. Dr. Myers doesn’t proclaim or teach “atheism” is his courses. He teaches the science. Religions have had to change in the past as we learned more about the universe.

  93. #93 J. J. Ramsey
    September 1, 2007

    ponderingfool: “The thing is religions over time have changed. They have to.”

    Very true, but that was beside my point, which was that rooting out religious belief wholesale is not likely something that can be done by direct challenge. Of course religions can mutate, and Mooney and Nisbet are trying to take advantage of this. That very approach of letting religious people bend their beliefs so that they can accept the facts on certain scientific issues is what is being called accomodationist or an act of appeasement.

  94. #94 Leni
    September 1, 2007

    Tulse wrote:

    Such as “New Atheist Noise Machine”, or “your relatively dogmatic goal” or “wage a crusade of attacks”, or, for that matter “the Richard Dawkins School of Communication”.

    For someone who claims to understand framing, Nisbet seems to have an uncanny knack to choose language that pisses off his opponents. His language is certainly no more temperate than Dawkins’. You’d think a person who complains about how hostile wording fails to convince would actually take his own advice.

    Not to confirm the foul-mouthed stereotype (because we all know how hyper-aware of stereotypes we should all be at all times) but bing.fucking.go.

    It’s almost as if he expects more from atheists than he does from these fragile, sensitive and easily “turned-off” theists, isn’t it?

  95. #95 bad Jim
    September 1, 2007

    All this talk about framing, and nobody mentions the Overton window. Vigorous public discussion of atheism can be expected at the least to make non-belief a more respectable position.

    Mooney and Nisbett seem to have different goals than Dawkins and Myers. The former are telling us how to sell policy while the latter are teaching science. Attempting to change religious beliefs is hardly the most expeditious sales technique, but it may be the only way to get some people to accept evolution.

  96. #96 J. J. Ramsey
    September 1, 2007

    Leni: “It’s almost as if he expects more from atheists than he does from these fragile, sensitive and easily ‘turned-off’ theists, isn’t it?”

    Maybe he does.

  97. #97 J. J. Ramsey
    September 1, 2007

    bad Jim: “All this talk about framing, and nobody mentions the Overton window.”

    It’s been done: http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2007/04/atheism_feminism_and_the_overt.php

  98. #98 bad Jim
    September 1, 2007

    Coturnix used it as well, and also made one of the points I was making.

  99. #99 DuWayne
    September 2, 2007

    Matt Nisbet –

    Jason,

    You write:

    The long-term solution is to weaken the hold of religious faith on the American psyche.

    End quote.

    As fellow atheists, this is our obvious difference. My goal is to use communication to bring society together to deal effectively with pressing collective problems such as climate change or poverty and to improve education.

    In contrast, your relatively dogmatic goal appears to be to wage a crusade of attacks intended to “weaken the hold of religious faith.”

    I think that it’s very important to weaken the hold of religion on the American psyche, not necessarily individuals, but on society. Religion, in many regards, has a stranglehold on public policy. This includes, in many regards, the list you present. People can and will retain a hold on religious beliefs, I do myself. This is fine, as long as religion is kept out of public policy.

    The unfortunate reality is, that people take their personal religious beliefs and try to foist it off on everybody. Thus we have a constant battle, to ward off attacks on education, personal liberties, equal rights and even environmental issues. This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of religious people that take up the fight in one or more of those arenas, but too many are on the wrong side in one or more of them. We can argue about the effectiveness of various strategies, but make no mistake, to achieve the goals you espouse, the stranglehold that religion has on the American psyche must be broken.

  100. #100 Ophelia Benson
    September 2, 2007

    “Does anyone else find it ironic and disturbing that Matthew C. Nisbet, a PhD assistant professor in a school of communication, is lecturing about the meaning of words and choosing them wisely”

    mlf: you bet: I do. First Nisbet substituted ‘religion’ for your ‘faith’ – then you pointed out the substitution – then he did it again. He ignored your correction and used the wrong word again. And this is the expert in framing and communication! Jeez. I’ve been quarreling with Nisbet’s pandering approach for years, but that really takes the biscuit.

    Matthew! Do the decent thing! Go back through the comments, find the places where mlf said faith and the places where you substituted religion, and then apologize.

    To be clear. Here is what mlf said:

    “How are you satisfied simply treating the symptoms of faith, but not instead eradicating the hereditary tumor that it is?”

    Here is what you said:

    “MLF,
    Religion is a “hereditary tumor”? As a fellow atheist, I find your dogmatic scorn for religion disturbing.”

    You owe mlf 1) an admission that you misrepresented what mlf said and 2) an apology, including an apology for ignoring mlf’s correction and repeating the misrepresentation. No need to ‘frame’ anything, no need to ‘communicate’ – just admit and apologize.

    (This is not a trivial issue, by the way. ‘Faith’ is a different thing from religion, and many of us think ‘faith’ is the real harm. Religion can (with considerable strain) accomodate a certain amount of reason; ‘faith’ is the opposite and the enemy of reason.)

  101. #101 John Pieret
    September 2, 2007

    Jason:

    As I recall, the sheriff subdued Mongo by giving him a fake candygram. When the cnadygram was opened, it exploded in Mongo’s face, knocking him out. Sounds pretty confrontational to me!

    Sorry to bring this back up at this late date but I was busy yesterday. Like all metaphors, it will break down if you try to ride it too hard but, no, I think the candygram is a fair metaphor for what Mooney and Nisbet mean by “framing.” Putting science in a non-theatening candygram (compared to going for a gun) might get some people to “open it up” and really examine the arguments, where science’s immense power might explode their anti-rationalism.

    Science is altogether it’s own best argument … if you can get people to open it up. It doesn’t need flashy (more often than not, cheap) rhetoric, the main effect of which is to make the people you want to convince fear it … and you.

  102. #102 David Fredericks
    September 2, 2007

    What many in this thread need to understand is that evolution is among the strongest of scientific theories — with thousands of facts to support it. Evolution is a much stronger theory than that of light, gravity, or the cause of mass. No biolgist of any merit questions it; it is the organizing principle of modern biology and many cures and vaccines use its truth to save the lives of millions.

    For the most part we inherit our opinions. We are the heirs of habits and mental customs. Our beliefs, like the fashion of our garments, depend on where we were born. We are molded and fashioned by our surroundings. Environment is a sculptor — a painter. If we had been born in Constantinople, the most of us would have said: “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.� If our parents had lived on the banks of the Ganges, we would have been worshipers of Siva, longing for the heaven of Nirvana. � Robert G. Ingersoll

    I believe that we do not invent ourselves by choice and free will, but are the stamped-out products of our genes, time, and place. I further believe that we are the captives of our culture, never shedding its effects on our being . . . no matter how far we travel. I believe that those things in which we take the deepest pride, give ourselves the most credit, and swear our greatest allegiance are attributable to the most accidental aspects of life. That these accidents include our parentage, our core intelligence, our physical attributes, our native talents, and the country and religion of our birth–the accidents for which almost all citizens of earth will sacrifice all.

    I believe also that we do have a core of creative free will that lets us make important choices within the boundaries of our inherited existence. We may, for example, conclude that the faith of our father does not ring true. And, if fate has been sufficiently kind, we may develop our talents, educate our minds, seize opportunities where they exist, and gain more and more individual control over our destiny.

    But always, we can go only where our minds take us. How, after all, can one think other than one thinks?

  103. #103 J. J. Ramsey
    September 3, 2007

    Ophelia Benson: “First Nisbet substituted ‘religion’ for your ‘faith’ – then you pointed out the substitution – then he did it again.”

    When Nisbet “did it again,” he was responding to Matt Penfold, who, as mlf noted, “(on his own) then made the argument that religion is indeed like a hereditary tumor.”

    Considering that “faith” (in whatever sense one means it) is inherited from parents by piggybacking on the parent’s religion, and that “faith” is often used as an outright synonym for “religion”, depending on the context, and that one other person–Matt Penfold–treated “faith” and “religion” as synonyms in that context, your indignation rings hollow.

  104. #104 Dave
    September 3, 2007

    Ophelia, you said:

    ‘Faith’ is a different thing from religion, and many of us think ‘faith’ is the real harm. Religion can (with considerable strain) accomodate a certain amount of reason; ‘faith’ is the opposite and the enemy of reason.)

    I think you’re drawing your battle lines too clearly. Faith is, really, all the stuff that isn’t included in science. Since science has a slow, tedious, lumbering way of going about things, in everyday life we have beliefs, hunches, and opinions that we’ll never live to see scientifically endorsed, views ranging from “my uncle is a scallywag” to “string theory seems like a load of rubbish to me”, to all kinds of stuff.
    Taking on faith as an enemy is to declare war on the wind.

  105. #105 Leni
    September 3, 2007

    JJ Ramsey wrote:

    Leni: “It’s almost as if he expects more from atheists than he does from these fragile, sensitive and easily ‘turned-off’ theists, isn’t it?”

    Maybe he does.

    Or maybe he just has a hard time following his own advice.

    Who knows what darkness lurks in Nisbet’s heart! All I can do is marvel, and maybe sometimes point and laugh, at the things the man says.

  106. #106 Ophelia Benson
    September 3, 2007

    Dave,

    Faith is, really, all the stuff that isn’t included in science. Since science has a slow, tedious, lumbering way of going about things, in everyday life we have beliefs, hunches, and opinions that we’ll never live to see scientifically endorsed, views ranging from “my uncle is a scallywag” to “string theory seems like a load of rubbish to me”, to all kinds of stuff.

    No, that’s opinion, not faith. Of course there are all sorts of opinions that we can’t ground or justify, but that doesn’t make them faith. The two specific examples you give are really not ‘faith’ at all.

    It is true that there are some kinds of faith that are not anti-rational because they’re not anti-evidence; they’re more like a kind of hope. Faith in humanity, faith in progress, faith in democracy, faith in the future – those are all about the future of various uncertainties, so they don’t require an actual concealment or denial of evidence or the lack of evidence. Faith in supernatural entities however does.

  107. #107 mlf
    September 4, 2007

    Dave said: “Taking on faith as an enemy is to declare war on the wind.”

    Faith is the enemy. And exactly because the word is flexible, I clearly defined which defintion I meant at the outset (something science writers like Nisbet and Mooney should get into the habit of doing).

  108. #108 mlf
    September 7, 2007

    Seems that Nisbet has grown bored of this thread…

  109. #109 Trae
    September 23, 2010

    I just wanted to submit to your minds a quick question.. What concrete evidence have you to push the THEORY of evolution as you do? I mean honestly in all my years and in all of the scientific texts I’ve read, I’ve gotten little more than “this is what all good scientists believe and we have some hunches as to why it’s true.” Explain to me why you continue treating evolution as a LAW rather than a THEORY. Simply put, as a scientist I should be entitled to question a theory without severe backlash from the community.. Why is this theory so different?

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