The Gauntlet is Thrown!

Over at blogfish, Mark Powell has a little challenge for me:

Scientists opposed to “framing” science keep asking for an example of what framing science looks like when done well. Here’s a very good example in Carl Safina’s description of an effort to raise awareness of climate change.

I challenge PZ Myers, Jason Rosenhouse and other haters of framing to consider what Carl is doing and respond. And…for those who say what is this about…the question is how can we get scientific information to play a bigger role in public policy. Some say “frame” the science so people can hear the message. Some others say “framing” is wrong.

See the original for links.

It’s news to me that I hate framing. As a general principle I find it not only unobjectionable, but actually pretty obvious. Framing just means presenting your message in ways that are likely to resonate with your target audience. Who objects to that?

My hostility is not to the general principle. It is to the way certain people, particularly Matt Nisbet, think that the idea of framing applies to the specific issue of protecting science education against creationist attacks. I won’t rehash those arguments here, having recently written at length about them (go here and here).

It is likewise news to me that I ever asked for an example of what framing looks like when it is done well. Nonetheless, let us look at the example to which Mark links.

It is an essay by Carl Safina, recounting a recent trip to Alaska with a group of scientists and evangelical Christians. Here’s the opening:

I’ve just returned from perhaps the most unusual trip of my life. I was part of a small delegation of scientists and leading Christian evangelicals traveling to Alaska to gain, together, first-hand looks at the ongoing effects and implications of climate change (see footnotes for more background on how these people of faith and science came together).

Our group featured some A-team all-stars, including Nobel Prize winner Eric Chivian (he founded the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School), Jim McCarthy (he is president-elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science), famed botanist Peter Raven, and National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson and vice-president Richard Cizik, among others. Rev. Anderson put the trip’s rationale this way for the evangelicals: “Our theology has been in place for 2,000 years, and we’re connecting it to 21st Century science.” Dr. Chivian said, “Both scientists and evangelicals see life on Earth as sacred and share the same deep sense of responsibility about protecting it.” And while some hardliners in the Christian Right are afraid that concerns about nature will undermine their agenda, Cizik told us that more than 60 percent of American evangelicals surveyed actually said they are “concerned” or “very concerned” about global warming.

The essay goes on to discuss global warming at some length. I recommend reading the whole thing.

I think this is all wonderful. Religious leaders and scientists coming together to see first-hand the reality of a serious environmental problem. Terrific! But what does it have to do with framing? As P.Z. puts it:

It doesn’t resuscitate Nisbet/Mooney’s argument — it says more about the importance of engagement between scientists and the community. The power of the lesson isn’t that Safina spins it to suit a political agenda, or that he panders to the biases of his guests (although he does do that), it’s that he shows them directly what they will lose if people don’t act to preserve the environment. The learning comes from the experience and the reality, not the “frame” he throws around it.

Exactly right.

As far as I can tell, the only reason Mark finds this so newsworthy is that it was a group of evangelicals accompanying the scientists. That this fact seems, in Mark’s view, to change an interesting account of the realities of global warming into a big picture post about framing and crossing cultural divides is precisely the problem the “New Atheists” are trying to address. There’s a reason people find it so surprising when evangelical Christians show an interest in science.

In a comment to Mark’s post, Carl Safina writes

Thanks for helping propagate the message. As long as we keep science away from the public, as long as we refuse to talk with people who don’t already agree with us, we get the politics and policies we have. Time for a different approach. A lot of people are sick of the culture wars and the old culture warriors are dying or retiring. We need healing, and we need to get to work to solve the mess we’re in. Your positive response is much appreciated. If you’re ever on the East Coast, let me know.

Who, exactly, is keeping science away from the public? Scientific information is more readily available today than at any time in history. Anyone who wants to can quickly become educated on any issue of interest. That so many choose not to has little to do with any fault on the part of scientists. The hostility to science in American society, and the success of the Republican party in tapping into that hostility has many causes. of course. But an especially big one involves the dominant religious views among evangelical Christians. Any strategy based on leaving those attitudes intact is doomed to failure.

I’m sorry to hear that Carl is sick of the culture wars. For what it’s worth, I’m sick of them too. But such fights are inevitable as long as significant numbers of religious people want to use the power of government to impose their faith on others. Healing is nice, but it is not because of atheists that there are open wounds to deal with. I’m all in favor of making common cause with religious folks when we can agree. I personally believe that evolution and Christianity are utterly irreconcilable, but I am nonetheless happy to have Ken Miller, a Roman Catholic, be one of the mosrt prominent spokesmen for good science education.

What bothers me in comments like Carl’s and posts like Mark’s is the implication that somehow it is the atheists who are the troublemakers in the culture wars. The reality is that it is the religious right that has declared war on secularism. Outspoken atheists are relative newcomers to the fight. Nothing would make me happier than to see that war end. But until it does I’m not going to unilaterally disarm, I’m not going to stop criticizing bad religious ideas, and I’m not going to get overexcited every time a group of evangelicals can be persuaded to take a sensible view of things.

Comments

  1. #1 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    September 11, 2007

    Some others say �framing� is wrong.

    Who has said that? Mostly what I’ve heard from detractors is that
    1) Framing is not new
    2) Framing, at least as practiced by Nisbet, is indistinguishable from spinning

  2. #2 Stuart Coleman
    September 11, 2007

    Isn’t it weird that so many people who should be on “our side” seem to despise us so much? It would be fantastic if the framers would shut up about the “new atheists” and go about their framing. If it works to spread science, fantastic! If it doesn’t, too bad. But the incessant bickering between people who should be on the same side is just silly.

    And I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I like your stance on this whole issue the best out of any I’ve seen.

  3. #3 Nobody in Particular
    September 11, 2007

    There is the “war on science”, and there is the “war on religion”. One of the central ideas behind ID, creationism, and religious beliefs such as that is that regardless of whether or not they are true, you cannot believe them and believe in your religion at the same time. Moreover, of course, we have that religious beliefs lead to good, pleasant, moral lives, while “evilution” leads to atheism, communism, naziism… whatever.

    Now, one would think the thing to do, if you wanted to rebut this claim, would be to show that no… you can accept scientific truth and still be a religious believer, and that these scientific beliefs do not really impact morality.

    Of course, the “new” atheists don’t follow that line. They actually AGREE with ID followers and creationists on this issue. You cannot (apparently) be both a scientist and a believer, at least not without being intellectually dishonest with yourself (mental gymnastics, cognitive dissonance, whatever).

    So we have both sides saying the same thing. You can either choose religion, and the emotional feelings that that gives you, the moral code that you get with that and so on, or you can choose science. You can’t choose both.

    Is it really that surprising that people choose religion over science?

    Religion offers things. Security, eternal life, moral codes, so on and so forth. People have to think that science offers something that is at least comparable before they will be interested in it.

  4. #4 Matthew C. Nisbet
    September 11, 2007

    On many of the topics discussed here, look for more in a cover article appearing at the October issue of The Scientist, the Sept. 28 panel featuring Nisbet, Mooney, PZ and Greg Laden sponsored by the University of Minnesota, and a panel on science communication and religion that I have organized for the February AAAS meetings. There are also other articles and writings in the works.

  5. #5 Mark Powell
    September 11, 2007

    Here’s the crux of the dispute…Jason, you made a plea in your post, and I think the plea is important. I have an answer to this plea that differs from your answer. So does Matt Nisbet.

    Jason’s plea: “Who, exactly, is keeping science away from the public?

    This is a great plea, and answering is important to the cause(s) we’re talking about here (stronger role for science in public policy).

    First, Jason’s answer: “Scientific information is more readily available today than at any time in history. Anyone who wants to can quickly become educated on any issue of interest. That so many choose not to has little to do with any fault on the part of scientists.”

    Mark’s answer: I think this answer is wrong. It’s not good enough to say “if you build it, they will come.”

    My answer is two-fold: 1. We scientists have neglected outreach, and become susceptible to being “framed” as out of touch elitists, etc. 2. We scientists have been “framed” by the religious right. Now here’s where we differ…ATTACKING THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT WON’T DEFEAT THE FRAME, WE HAVE TO ATTACK THE FRAME.

    How do we attack the frame? By doing what Carl Safina did, that’s why I brought it up yesterday.

    There is something to framing that doesn’t fit in “framing is not new” and “Nisbet’s framing is only spin” which was said in comments above and encapsulates much of the critique of framing.

    But since the f-word is now so loaded, I’m going to use other words for the approach formerly knows as framing.

    We scientists need to put more emphasis on outreach and the relevance of our work. We need to be scientific about it, and be informed by research on how to do that most effectively. Wishing for more Carl Sagan’s is a good start, so long as we invest in people who want to become the next Carl Sagan. We need a farm system like professional baseball, where many people labor and try to become the next MVP.

    And that last paragraph is something we can probably agree on, since it has no f-words, right?

  6. #6 Blake Stacey
    September 11, 2007

    Thought for the day:

    We keep hearing talk that the Mad Legions of Atheist Pope Richard I are hurting “the cause” of science education. Maybe, maybe not — that’s an empirical question which philosophy alone cannot decide, and data on such matters can be hard to collect. So, let’s shift our perspective: why do we value science education, what would good science education look like, and what effects would widespread scientific literacy have on the United States?

    (I’m being deliberately provincial here, just to keep the question focused for now.)

    We turn, therefore, to the essays of Alan Sokal, the books of Carl Sagan and all the other sources which have cataloged the reasons why we need to teach the facts and the methods of science. Among those reasons, we find a very big idea. Sokal puts it like this:

    Thus, I am indeed mildly disconcerted by a society in which 50% of the adult populace believes in extrasensory perception, 42% in haunted houses, 41% in possession by the devil, 36% in telepathy, 32% in clairvoyance, 28% in astrology, 15% in channeling, and 45% in the literal truth of the creation story of Genesis. But I am far more profoundly worried by a society in which 21-32% believe that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001, 43-52% think that U.S. troops in Iraq have found clear evidence that Saddam Hussein was working closely with al-Qaeda, and 15-34% think that U.S. troops have found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. And If I am concerned about public belief in clairvoyance and the like, it is largely because of my suspicion that credulity in minor matters prepares the mind for credulity in matters of greater import — and, conversely, that the kind of critical thinking useful for distinguishing science from pseudoscience might also be of some use in distinguishing truths in affairs of state from lies. (Not a panacea, mind you, but just of some use.)

    Familiarity with both the facts and the methods of science is necessary, it appears, for the healthy operation of a democracy.

    But what would happen if we made lessons in critical thought a part of every schoolchild’s development, if we added Reason to the Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmetic? Imagine every teenager who graduates high school able to debunk the astrologers, the homeopaths and the Moon Hoax fanatics. It’s hard not to wonder if they’ll stop there, or if they’ll move beyond critiquing the channelers and crystal healers. Certainly, some fraction of them won’t — and then, where would we be?

  7. #7 ancientTechie
    September 11, 2007

    I assume that scientifically-minded folks who do not see religious fundamentalism as an actual threat to reason and liberty must live somewhere other than the bible belt. They must not see letters to their local newspapers that, on a regular basis, advocate converting all levels of government to theocracies and all public educational institutions to Christian seminaries. They must not meet fifth graders whose main concern in life is the Rapture or know people who actually send money to television ministries.

    As a rational person living in the bible belt, my viewpoint may well be off-kilter regarding this situation. Having acknowledged that, however, I cannot see any way of framing science to the Pentecostalists and other biblical fundamentalists, other than attempting to convince them that scientific findings are completely consistent with biblical prophesy. Whether that is possible or desirable should constitute a focal point in the framing debate, in my humble opinion.

  8. #8 Mark Powell
    September 11, 2007

    Blake, Nice dream, but what you’re saying is let’s make everyone into Mini-Me. Not everyone wants to be a hyper-Rationalist, and no schoolin’ is gonna change that. In fact, forcing your critical thought program on them will likely turn them off even further. People are different, and let’s work with that instead of trying to create a ScienceBorg population.

    We can reach people with a scientific message, even if they don’t want to be scientists or a reasonable facsimile of one.

  9. #9 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 11, 2007

    Mark-

    We scientists need to put more emphasis on outreach and the relevance of our work. We need to be scientific about it, and be informed by research on how to do that most effectively. Wishing for more Carl Sagan’s is a good start, so long as we invest in people who want to become the next Carl Sagan. We need a farm system like professional baseball, where many people labor and try to become the next MVP.

    Yes, this is something we can agree on. It is unfortunate that science popularization so often has a stigma attached to it in academic circles. Note, incidentally, that Carl Sagan never held back from criticizing religion in vigorous terms.

    I would only add that while we’re chastising scientists for not paying more attention to outreach, we should also save some contempt for the people who insist on holding firm opinions about subjects they know nothing about. At some point everyone is responsible for his own ignorance.

    I also think you’ve done a decent job of capturing our main point of disagreement. You think the perceived hostility between science and religious faith is the result of effective framing by the religious right. I don’t

    I think people are absolutely correct to see a conflict between science and religion. As “Nobody in Particular” points out, I agree with the creationists on that one. I understand completely why so many Christians, especially evangelicals, are unconvinced by the writings of people like Ken Miller and Francis Collins.

    Matthew-

    I’ll look forward to reading your forthcoming articles. Though I think you’re all wet on this particular issue, I always enjoy readin gyour essays and blog entries.

  10. #10 Jeff Hebert
    September 11, 2007

    I’d have more respect for Nisbet if the comments he left on threads like this weren’t just soliciting traffic. The things he’s said lead me to believe that he’s attacking people like PZ mostly because they get the most traffic, and thus lead to the most attention for one Mr. Nisbet. As another commenter pointed out on a different thread, we call that “Trolling”.

    Matt, part of what makes blogging good is interacting with the blogger and their community. If all you’re going to do is duck in and say “Hey come on over to my blog or read this other stuff I wrote!” then you’re not adding anything to the discussion. Proper netiquette would be for you to actually respond to the post in some way other than (and please pardon the expression) whoring out your other sites and articles. If you don’t have anything to add to this specific thread on this specific blog, then just don’t hit the post button.

  11. #11 Nobdy in Particular
    September 11, 2007

    Jason, you say that people are “absolutely correct” to see a conflict between science and religion. Then people are faced with a choice. Am I religious, with all of its attendant stigmas/blessings, or am I a scientist with all of its stigmas and blessings.

    Here is the problem. The religious right have done a great job at framing “science” and evolutionary theory in particular as being a godless, facist, naziistic,…. conspiracy. Moreover, we have religion of course being the foundation of all moral virtue, goodness, mom dad and apple pie.

    Say that this viewpoint goes unchallenged. (As it will if people focus simply on the science of the issue, and maintain this divide). Now you’re a parent in the USA. You have a choice. Do you want your kids to learn “science”? Or do you want your kid to be a morally upright individual.

    Which one do you think people will choose?

    I know many people think that creationists/ID followers are stupid, or incompetent, or something like that. Many undoubtedly are, but the leaders are not. They are simply not doing science. What they ARE doing is being manipulative. They place science as this “changing”, mutable, godless, materialist, evil thing…. and then attempt to cast just enough doubt on science, that the bright, sunny, morally righteous religion seems more appealing.

    As for Ken Miller and Francis Collins, I’m not surprised that people don’t find them convincing (although I do). Scientists have played into the creationists hands so well, and aided in the polarization of this debate so much… that any point that isn’t extreme is rejected to some extent.

  12. #12 Nobody in Particular
    September 11, 2007

    One more thing:

    “Scientific information is more readily available today than at any time in history. Anyone who wants to can quickly become educated on any issue of interest. That so many choose not to has little to do with any fault on the part of scientists.”

    I disagree. Sure, anyone who wants a remedial education in a subject can do so quickly. But do you really believe that someone can “quickly” become educated in biology? (By quickly I mean less than a year of study).

    The problem with smart people is that they think its easy to be smart. As a dumb person, I know its not. It is HARD to get an education in some of these things. At least an education that goes slightly beyond “I’m not longer absolutely ignorant”. Getting an education in quantum physics, evolutionary theory, genetics whatever is HARD.

    Which is another advantage creationists have. Creation “theory” is EASY to understand. All those wonderful analogies and metaphors.

  13. #13 Tyler DiPietro
    September 11, 2007

    “Moreover, we have religion of course being the foundation of all moral virtue, goodness, mom dad and apple pie.”

    “Say that this viewpoint goes unchallenged. (As it will if people focus simply on the science of the issue, and maintain this divide). Now you’re a parent in the USA. You have a choice. Do you want your kids to learn “science”? Or do you want your kid to be a morally upright individual.”

    “Which one do you think people will choose?”

    I can’t speak for everyone (which is a power a non-trivial portion of those who engage in these sorts of discussions always seem to assume they have). But my own opinion is that most people will choose religion, given the criteria you set forth. Unfortunately, we’re speaking in an inappropriate tense here. Read the polling data covered in the recent archive of this blog, people are already choosing religion over science. And this is a phenomenon that long predates the publication of modern atheist bestsellers.

    Indeed, we’ve had this problem when conciliatory attitudes toward religion and science were the dominant strategy, even from scientists and science-advocates who were open atheists and physicalists (the NCSE’s Eugene Scott fits this description). And let’s not forget that, just a few years prior to the publication of The End of Faith, the dominant theme in the mainstream press (e.g., Newsweek, WIRED, etc.) was not only that science and religion were reconcilable, but that such a reconciliation was well underway (Victor Stenger’s largely obscure book, Has Science Found God?, was an early attempt to turn the tide on this trend).

    And yet, through all of that, the cause of science education has remained in its poor state, with creationism enjoying a pretty constant level of popularity. So what are we doing wrong, not sucking up enough?

    My own opinion is more or less that of Jason’s. We keep on ignoring the real problem and hoping it’ll just go away if we dress up the same repetitious message the right way. The real problem is that religion enjoys an undue hegemony in our society, and it’s about time that a few great minds have devoted themselves to a vigorous effort to undermine it.

  14. #14 J. J. Ramsey
    September 11, 2007

    Jason Rosenhouse: “Note, incidentally, that Carl Sagan never held back from criticizing religion in vigorous terms.”

    And yet we have Sagan saying this:

    “The chief difficulty I see in the skeptical movement is in its polarization: Us vs. Them–the sense that we [skeptics] have a monopoly on the truth; that those other people who believe all these stupid doctrines are morons.”

    This is exactly the kind of issue that Mooney and Nisbet have been talking about. Sagan was certainly critical of religion, but he wasn’t coining nonsense like “faith-head.”

  15. #15 Nobody in Particular
    September 11, 2007

    ——————–
    And yet, through all of that, the cause of science education has remained in its poor state, with creationism enjoying a pretty constant level of popularity. So what are we doing wrong, not sucking up enough?

    My own opinion is more or less that of Jason’s. We keep on ignoring the real problem and hoping it’ll just go away if we dress up the same repetitious message the right way. The real problem is that religion enjoys an undue hegemony in our society, and it’s about time that a few great minds have devoted themselves to a vigorous effort to undermine it.
    ————–

    No, the real problem is that good science education has very little to do with how much you suck up to religion. Good science education has to make science interesting and meaningful. If people don’t want to learn science, they won’t. That’s the problem.

    As for a few great minds… Christianity has survived Russell, Voltaire, Hume, Hitler, Stalin… well the list goes on. Do you really think that Dawkins, Harris, Dennett will succeed where these failed?

    One thing I find that most skeptics don’t understand about religion is that it thrives on persecution. It thrives on attempts to “undermine” it. Such attempts actually VALIDATE Christianity.

  16. #16 Tyler DiPietro
    September 11, 2007

    “No, the real problem is that good science education has very little to do with how much you suck up to religion.”

    Of course this is true, on a certain level. But as far as what I’m talking about (the larger political/social situation) it’s a red herring. If all you are talking about doing is making science interesting, all the more power to you! And I can of course assure you with near certainty that not a single “New” Atheist or any of their sympathizers here will disagree with you. But ignoring the interference of religion in the pertinent matters here (especially evolution, and much biomedical research) is to ignore the elephant in the room.

    “As for a few great minds… Christianity has survived Russell, Voltaire, Hume, Hitler, Stalin… well the list goes on. Do you really think that Dawkins, Harris, Dennett will succeed where these failed?”

    Hitler, a Roman Catholic whose Reichstag speeches and private correspondences were rife with religious (and usually specifically Christian) references, was not discernibly atheistic, so he doesn’t belong on that list. But that being said, you’d have to be a complete fool to ignore the effect that the Enlightenment had on weakening the hegemony of religion in Western (especially Western European) politics. Dawkins, Dennett, etc. are picking up where they left off, not starting with a clean slate.

    Mind you that I’m not talking about eliminationism (as your reference to Stalin seems intended to imply), I’m talking about a broader social change where religion is not assumed to be inherently virtuous, necessary and benign, much like previous efforts to undermine emphasis on “racial purity” or male dominance.

  17. #17 Matthew C. Nisbet
    September 11, 2007

    On Sagan, both of his biographies recount his trip to the Vatican with Gould and other scientists to discuss nuclear winter with Pope John Paul. Both biographies note that Sagan came away recognizing the need for scientist-atheists and religious leaders to work together around common goals rather than engaging in a Cold War of criticism. That’s exactly the point I have been making, and a strategy I think that E.O. Wilson demonstrates so effectively.

  18. #18 Blake Stacey
    September 11, 2007

    Mark Powell:

    Blake, Nice dream, but what you’re saying is let’s make everyone into Mini-Me. Not everyone wants to be a hyper-Rationalist, and no schoolin’ is gonna change that.

    Nice strawman. Am I a “hyper-Rationalist”? I don’t think so; to me, that term conjures up the image of a person who finds no value in art, music and other such areas of human endeavor which are effectively orthogonal to scientific inquiry and will remain so for the foreseeable future. I’m just saying that where facts matter, we should pay attention to facts. While we’ll never agree on “ought” questions, science can help us get better and better answers to the “is” questions — and if we don’t get better at rooting out the bunk answers to “is” questions, our society is going to get in progressively worse trouble.

    So, no, I don’t consider myself a “hyper-Rationalist”, and I don’t think I’ve met anybody who actually fits that description, unless rationalism is so far removed from contemporary discourse that advocating moderate skepticism makes one a hyper-empirico-scientism militant fanatic.

    In fact, forcing your critical thought program on them will likely turn them off even further. People are different, and let’s work with that instead of trying to create a ScienceBorg population.

    I thought I had mentioned my expectation that people won’t all take to any lesson to the same degree. But is it really sensible to say that teaching Sagan’s “baloney detection kit” and Darrell Huff’s How to Lie with Statistics will make students shut their brains down completely? (The reductio ad absurdum limit of that reasoning would be that teaching basic reading skills motivates children to stay illiterate.) On the contrary, I think that including in math classes lessons on the abuse of statistics, and in English classes a study of manipulative language, would get more students to engage in the material. Some people do like to know when they’re being lied to.

    Which will capture the attention of a greater fraction of high-school students: calculating the area of a dining room, or knowing how to tell when you’re being fed a line of bullshit?

    I’m not proposing anything new: this lesson plan goes back to Bertrand Russell. I’m just trying to make the point that the well-nigh inevitable result of effective science education is more teenagers acting like Richard Dawkins.

    Teaching skepticism isn’t a way to make everybody all alike. (Are all scientists alike, even during regular business hours when they’re deep in their scientific pursuits, instead of indulging in their individual artistic tastes?) It’s a way to handle differences intelligently.

  19. #19 Tyler DiPietro
    September 11, 2007

    hyper-empirico-scientism militant fanatic”

    ^^ Best word ever invented.

  20. #20 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 11, 2007

    Matthew-

    Now you’re just being silly. No one disagrees that scientists and religious people should work together around common goals. Not me, not P.Z. Myers, not Richard Dawkins. Nobody. I said this very clearly in my post.

    But what you steadfastly refuse to recognize is that there are certain issues where science and certain popular forms of religion do not have common goals. They have contrary goals. Keeping creationism out of science classes is one of them. Many social issues like abortion, stem cell research and gay rights are others. In these cases it is the religious views themselves that are the problem, and it is those religious views that must be marginalized if progress is to be made.

    As for Sagan, he was as steadfast in his opposition to organized religion as Richard Dawkins, and he was, and continues to be, vilified every bit as much in the evangelical literature. J.J. found an interesting quote, but the attitude expressed there is not borne out in Sagan’s books. The simple fact is that the basic principles of scientific skepticism are simply at odds with certain tenets of evangelical faith (sola scriptura comes to mind as an example). Endorsing one over the other is polarizing whether you want it to be or not.

  21. #21 Tyler DiPietro
    September 11, 2007

    Sorry, allow me to issue a slight correction regarding diction.

    “hyper-empirico-scientism militant fanatic”

    ^^ Best phrase ever invented.

  22. #22 Blake Stacey
    September 11, 2007

    Jason Rosenhouse:

    As for Sagan, he was as steadfast in his opposition to organized religion as Richard Dawkins, and he was, and continues to be, vilified every bit as much in the evangelical literature.

    And rightly so. Even in The Demon-Haunted World, the book which everybody cites to prove that Sagan was an “appeaser” or a “Neville Chamberlain” (or whatever damn stupid word is in season), he gives a lengthy list of empirical claims made by major religions, claims which could or have been tested by observation and experiment. Once upon a time, saying that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist was only symbolic could get you killed: a proposition which makes the microscope a deadly instrument.

    Uncle Carl tried very hard to be nice to people, but he also called a spade a shovel when he needed to.

  23. #23 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 11, 2007

    Nobody in Particular-

    The problem with smart people is that they think its easy to be smart. As a dumb person, I know its not.

    Don’t be so modest! You read this blog, therefore you are highly intelligent. Isn’t logic fun?

  24. #24 Jud
    September 11, 2007

    Nobody in Particular wrote: “One of the central ideas behind ID, creationism, and religious beliefs such as that is that regardless of whether or not they are true, you cannot believe them and believe in your religion at the same time….

    “Now, one would think the thing to do, if you wanted to rebut this claim, would be to show that no… you can accept scientific truth and still be a religious believer, and that these scientific beliefs do not really impact morality.”

    Here’s a problem with that formulation: As Jason notes, the believer’s decision-making is not taking place in a vacuum, it is taking place in the context of a war on secularism. The preacher and peers in the believer’s church are saying that religion and science don’t mix (ever see that bumper sticker with “TRUTH” swallowing “Darwin”?), while scientists he distrusts are saying “Oh no, it’s OK, not a problem.”

    Did the serpent say to Eve, “I’ve gotta give ya a disclaimer on this apple here, it may really screw things up for you and the hubby”? The believer knows how to deal with friendly-seeming entreaties from those he understands would change his way of life.

    ISTM therefore that “framing” science as not inherently opposed to religion is equally or more unlikely to make inroads with believers as would being more forthright and saying science has a long history of contradicting received authorities, including religious ones, and all indications are it will continue to do so.

    Being forthright, after all, can be considered a form of framing, and sometimes it works better than more concerted attempts to meet the “other guy” halfway. (Contrast the relative success among Republicans of McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” in 2000 with the abject failure of the more conservative tone of his 2008 campaign.)

    ISTM the essential ingredient may not be so much casting information in maximum possible harmony with the hearer’s world view, as it is simply showing respect for the hearer as a person.

  25. #25 Matthew C. Nisbet
    September 11, 2007

    Jason,
    Sorry, you’re wrong and you continue to ignore polling data, equating religion with evangelicalism, when in fact there are a diversity of views about science across religious traditions. Your tendency is all too common to the New Atheist rhetoric and ideology that reduces issues into a black and white conflict between science vs. religion. I also encourage you to go back and read Sagan and to read the two biographies on his life, he is nowhere as militant and dogmatic as Dawkins is in drawing a bright line between the world of science and religious publics.

    On stem cell research, multiple poll trends (Gallup, Pew) show that a majority of Catholics and mainline Protestants support expanded funding. Why? Because scientists and patient advocates figured out how to reframe the issue around shared common values of social progress and economic development (see Nisbet, 2005). Moreover, when asked generally about science, a majority of religious Americans offer strong support and great optimism about the ability of science to improve life (see GSS 2006).

  26. #26 Pierce R. Butler
    September 12, 2007

    Blake Stacey: But what would happen if we made lessons in critical thought a part of every schoolchild’s development, if we added Reason to the Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmetic?

    You’d have a whole bunch of smart-mouth teenagers challenging Authority (not least in the form of thoroughly compromised curricula in “social studies”, history, etc), and a school administration based on the core principle of Do Not Rock the Boat would suffer massive spasms of sea-sickness. The experiment wouldn’t last one semester.

  27. #27 Mark Powell
    September 12, 2007

    I have experience as an advocate in approaching people who are part of groups that oppose my public policy goals. Quite often, it’s possible to find that the individuals who make up the group are very diverse and not all of one mind on issue I care about.

    Carl Safina’s excellent adventure in finding common ground with evangelicals regarding global warming is a great example of finding common ground in places others might view as unlikely.

    Such efforts won’t be helped by lying, spin, or other phoney baloney. They certainly won’t be helped by heaping scorn on the unlikely allies. But they are typically helped by careful framing of the message used.

    I don’t mean to be insulting, but I wonder how many people speaking about this subject have actual experience or knowledge of how to implement public policy that is informed by science. Are you all practitioners of this difficult art? Do you study the success of such efforts? Do you have other means of really knowing how to do this type of work? Or, if none of the above, what is the basis for these strongly-held opinions?

    I ask because I’ve met many scientists who assume that advocacy is trivial. Since they’re scientists, they often believe that they know how to advocate for science-based public policy. With all due respect, it’s not true. I’ve learned as an advocate that science training doesn’t teach you to advocate for science-based public policy.

  28. #28 Kristjan Wager
    September 12, 2007

    Sorry, you’re wrong and you continue to ignore polling data, equating religion with evangelicalism, when in fact there are a diversity of views about science across religious traditions

    Matthew, the very polls that you yourself have linked to in the past shows that a very large group of Americans, perhaps even a majority, will reject science that shows some aspect of their religion is wrong.

  29. #29 J. J. Ramsey
    September 12, 2007

    Jason Rosenhouse: “As for Sagan, he was as steadfast in his opposition to organized religion as Richard Dawkins, and he was, and continues to be, vilified every bit as much in the evangelical literature.”

    I don’t know about that. Just to get a rough feel for how the fundygelicals see Sagan versus Dawkins, I went to the site of a conservative apologist, and a YEC, to boot, who isn’t shy about saying that he thinks someone is talking nonsense (whether one really is or not). His treatment of Sagan was unsurprisingly damning with faint praise, but the faint praise looks like this:

    “Sagan showed a great deal more humility, on the surface, than the great preponderance of skeptics we have encountered …”

    By contrast, to the extent that he talks about Dawkins at all, much of it is stuff like this: “Annoying evolutionist with bad logical capabilities.”

    Of course, that’s only one person, but from what I’ve seen of him–and perhaps to my embarrassment, it has been quite a bit–he is more or less representative of evangelical thought.

  30. #30 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 12, 2007

    Mark-

    I’m sure everyone here is terribly impressed with your numerous public policy successes. But implementing sound public policy isn’t just about trolling for allies in unlikely places. It is also about working around the people who are dead set against you, and firing up those who agree with your view but have generally been apathetic in the past.

    Kindly refrain from throwing around terms like “lying, spin or other phony baloney” without also giving specific examples to back them up. The ice you are on is far too thin to support the sort of arrogance and boasting you showed in your last comment. Your initial post on this subject showed a complete lack of apprehension of the issues in dispute, and your comments here have mostly shown a complete unwillingness to engage anything I have actually said. Instead you act as if I recommend hammering evangelicals as the proper approach to settling public policy disputes, even though I have specifically said otherwise a number of times.

    By all means, when the issue is, say, a school board election in Kansas, I am all in favor of presenting things in ways that are likely to resonate with Kansans. My point is simply that if that is all you do you will never have a long-term success on these issues. The reason people are surprised when you find support among evangelicals for pro-science causes is that the central tenets of evangelicalism do not lend themselves to such support. It’s nice that you can find a decent percentage of them who will tell a pollster that they are concerned about global warming. The fact remains that the lions’ share of them then go on to vote for the political party that is hostile to science, and do so largely because they agree with that hostility. And when the issue is evolution, gay rights, abortion, or stem-cell research, they don’t even bother to give the pollster the correct answer.

    You are thinking far too short-term. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of constantly having to pander to evangelicals to get them to favor a pro-science cause, we could simply reduce their numbers and their influence? Weakening the hold of destructive religious views is also part of implementing good public policy. That is what Dawkins, Hitchens and the others are doing. The enormous success of their books shows that there is craving for their sort of message. The polls show that things are moving in the right direction. The polls do not suggest that any significant number of would-be allies are so weak-willed that a bit of harsh rhetoric from a handful of people is enough to drive them to the anti-science side.

    The state of affairs in which evangelicalism is a major social force is not a permanent reality that we must passively accept. It can be changed, but only by long-term advocacy and a willingness to criticize bad ideas.

    Reflect, please, on the fact that the only reason; the only reason; we don’t have creationism taught in virtually every public school in the country is that the courts will not permit it. Ever put it to a vote and evolution will lose overwhelmingly. That’s not because masses of people are in thrall to a bad frame. You can go have fun trying to persuade folks that humanity can simultaneously be the intentional creation of a loving God and also be the accidental byproduct of billions of years of evolution by bloodsport. But I don’t think I’m the naive one for thinking that approach is not a long-term solution to anything.

  31. #31 J. J. Ramsey
    September 12, 2007

    “Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of constantly having to pander to evangelicals to get them to favor a pro-science cause, we could simply reduce their numbers and their influence?”

    Yes, it would, but I think that you overestimate the ability of Dawkins et al. to take us there. At some point, the message of “Theists are stupid/deluded/blah-blah-blah, and here’s our half-baked scholarship to show it” is going to have diminishing returns. After you reach the frustrated atheists relieved that their views are getting attention and the sympathetic fence-sitters, where are you going to go?

    “The polls show that things are going in the right direction”

    Really? Let’s play “Fun With Polls”:

    Harris Interactive does a poll in December 2006, where the number of reported atheist and agnostics is 18%. Okay, there is this little thing about the poll not being “based on a probability sample” so “therefore no theoretical sampling error can be calculated,” but we won’t worry about that right this minute.

    Newsweek in March 2007 does a poll in March 2007 where the number of reported people who don’t believe in God is 6% plus or minus a 4% sampling error. Wait, the number of nonbelievers went down?!

    Maybe not. If I took the poll results that seriously, I wouldn’t have called it “Fun With Polls.” To be fair, there is a Pew poll released in March 2007, and whose results date from Dec. 2006-Jan. 2007, that indicated not only that the total number of people who are atheist, agnostic, or no religion (which is not the same as being a non-theist!) is 12%, and that the percentage of those who are atheist, agnostic, or no religion increases with decreasing age. Whatever trends are causing that (and they are trends that pre-date the New Atheists, since the trend is determined from polls dating from 1987, 1997, and 2006-7) should be fostered, if we can only figure out what those trends are. I noticed in the poll that for each generation, the number of people who are atheist, agnostic, or no religion stays about the same across the years: for pre-Boomers, it’s about 5%, for Boomers, about 10%, and for Gen-X, 14%. There is some reason for optimism, but I’d be cautious about trumpeting poll numbers.

  32. #32 Sastra
    September 12, 2007

    From what I can tell, evangelical Christians, including the fundamentalists, love and respect science. They consider it a very reliable method. But they are also very certain that signs of God’s existence are abundant in Nature. Therefore, science should be discovering them. Scientists who claim it isn’t — that science is “neutral” — must be doing bad science.

    The problem isn’t that the religious hate science. It’s that they’re used to thinking of “science” as the outcome, instead of the method — and so they embrace pseudoscience. It makes no sense to them that there are two truths, and two separate ways of knowing it. When they talk about faith, it’s faith “based on evidence” — and they’ll compare it to having “faith” that the sun will rise tomorrow. No vague handwavings for them.

    They apparently take God seriously, as a confirmed theory. They’re on a collision course with reality — and its not the atheists who have set them there. They were set on that path by the clear and obvious evidence that science actually works.

  33. #33 J. J. Ramsey
    September 12, 2007

    BTW, the last poll that I mentioned is here: http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=312

  34. #34 Mark Powell
    September 12, 2007

    Jason, I didn’t mean to accuse anyone of “lying, spin, or other phoney baloney.” What I meant to say was that, in a hypothetical attempt to recruit allies, they would likely see through lying, spin and phoney baloney.

    I can see that you didn’t answer my question (basis for strongly held views), rather you got defensive. My friend, was the question really that offensive (question quoted below).

    My question: “I don’t mean to be insulting, but I wonder how many people speaking about this subject have actual experience or knowledge of how to implement public policy that is informed by science. Are you all practitioners of this difficult art? Do you study the success of such efforts? Do you have other means of really knowing how to do this type of work? Or, if none of the above, what is the basis for these strongly-held opinions?”

  35. #35 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 12, 2007

    Mark-

    I got defensive because I was being attacked. Funny how that works.

    As for your question, the answer is no, I have not been directly involved in public policy advocacy. I have observed the tactics of those who have and have not been overwhelmed by the policy successes of the pro-science side.

    Sadly, you still refuse to address the real issue. So here’s one more try. Short-term public policy disputes and scoring victories in local school board elections is only one small part of the battle. Nobody, but nobody, is advocating going into Kansas, say, and running on a platform of atheism and religion-bashing. By all means, frame to your heart’s content in the context of such disputes.

    But why do you find it so hard to recognize that there is a bigger picture here? The state of affairs in which evangelical Christianity is a major social force is what exists today, after decades of silence from atheists and humanists, and decades of relentless advocacy on the part of Republicans. It has not been the case for most of recent American history and it does not have to be a permanent state of affiars. Instead of walking on eggshells around these desturctive religious views, trying to pander to people who are mostly not going to be on your side anyway, the smarter approach is to attack bad ideas, wake up people who have been apathetic, and work around those who steadfastly refuse to get on the right side of the issues. It’s not as if there’s no precedent for this sort of approach being successful.

  36. #36 MK
    September 12, 2007

    I would love to know who is lying, spinning and pushing other phoney baloney?

    Exactly who?

  37. #37 Kevin
    September 12, 2007

    dang I just lost a long post.

  38. #38 Kevin
    September 12, 2007

    “I’m sorry to hear that Carl is sick of the culture wars. For what it’s worth, I’m sick of them too. ” – Jason

    This is the same as when David Brooks, Joe Lieberman and John McCain decry the “partisanship” in politics. I certainly want to have a partisan voice speaking for me when we have such FUNDAMENTAL differnces in the course of action we should take in this country.

    http://thinkprogress.org/2007/09/11/lieb-hannity-concert/

    There is no compromise with these people. We have to beat them and take back our country.

    and in the same vein, religious fanatics are always ready to both infringe on your privacy and complain about your attacks.

    see Tony Fratto. He is an expert in the judo flip of answers.

  39. #39 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 12, 2007

    Matthew-

    Can you show me where, exactly, I equated religion with evangelicalism? Throughout this entire exchange I have been crystal clear that I am talking about evangelicals specifically, or else I have used phrases like “certain popular forms of religious belief.” Nowhere have I suggested that the religious community is monolithic on this issue.

    And I’m delighted that there is data showing that many Catholics and mainline Protestants will tell pollsters they support stem-cell research and agree that science can improve people’s lives. The fact remains that by large majorities they vote for the anti-science party when they get into the voting booth. That’s the only poll that actually matters.

  40. #40 Mark Powell
    September 13, 2007

    Jason, I respect what you’re doing or I wouldn’t be here! Take that as a starting point. I don’t comment on blogs where I find nothing of value.

    I am interested in your bigger picture. I do think there is a big anti-science problem that needs to be addressed. I admire people, including you Jason, who are dedicating their personal energy to upholding values that I hold dear.

    Here’s my take on the bigger picture, and it’s partially formed by my experience trying to change the world in my area of work, conservation.

    I want to aim high, seek the big success of changing the world so that I don’t have to fight a million tiny battles against people who want to degrade my world and take away my rights.

    I think there are ways to push for big change that have a better chance of success, and ways that have a poor chance of success. What’s the difference? I think a strategy with the essential focus of tearing something down is unlikely to make big gains. In contrast, a strategy that has the essential focus of building something has a better chance of making big gains.

    How is this relevant to the framing science debates? I think many scientists want to tear down a society that isn’t rationalist, and remake it in their image. That’s got a building aspect, but it’s mostly about tearing down our current culture and world, and in my view it won’t work. Because people recognize the essential focus on tearing something down and don’t like it.

    I think careful reconstruction of how science relates to society can build something better than we have now, without the need to tear down so much of what we have now. It will shine through to people as a gain, a benefit, and something worthy of the noble goals being sought.

    I worry that some of the movement that we’re debating is focused on a great argument or a powerful shout-down or a victorious tearing down of some rotten edifices. I’m not certain, but I worry about that. To feel better about the movement, I want to see more emphasis on building something that lots of people see as valuable, at the same time as we’re tearing out the rotten ideas.

    Pollyanna? Maybe. But here’s my reason for bringing up experience in changing the world. Standing on a soapbox and shouting feels good, but it rarely changes the world. Changing the world feels even better than standing on a soapbox and shouting. Without experience in changing the world, it’s hard to appreciate how much better that feels than the shouting. Victory in changing the world is sweet, much sweeter than the rush of a great argument or a powerful shout-down.

    Hmm..rambling, perhaps not making sense…

    I’ll try an analogy. Some of what I see from Dawkins and PZ seems like junk food. Quick, yummy, and fun, but not ultimately satisfying. It produces a rush, a good feeling, because it’s honed by experience to produce a rush. What i want is a nutritious, healthy, satisfaction. Full of nutrients and vitamins and building the health of the consumer.

    Don’t know if that helps or not.

    Sorry for attacking, that’s not my intent. There are very few things that I want to attack and you’re not one of them. Mostly I want to attack the basket on the fast break and finish with authority when I’m playing basketball. That’s where I get my rush.

    Mark

  41. #41 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 13, 2007

    Mark-

    Jason, I respect what you’re doing or I wouldn’t be here! Take that as a starting point. I don’t comment on blogs where I find nothing of value.

    Well, I’m glad we’re friends again! :) Thanks for your comments on this thread, and thanks for your initial post on the subject.

  42. #42 Nobody in Particular
    September 14, 2007

    One thing that seems clear to me is that you can’t just encourage “critical thinking” and expect that to work.

    Why? Because critical thinking on bad facts, is just as a bad as bad critical thinking.

    One of the main rhetoric points of the ID, creationist movement is that they are the ones thinking critically about the facts while everyone else is just stuck in dogma. And if you accept that the facts are as they say they are, and you think critically about them, I think you would draw the same conclusions that they draw. The main issue seems to be that they don’t represent the facts accurately.

    But then again, I am a religidiot.

  43. #43 wmwebtr dll seo yar??mas?
    November 8, 2007

    Matthew-

    Can you show me where, exactly, I equated religion with evangelicalism? Throughout this entire exchange I have been crystal clear that I am talking about evangelicals specifically, or else I have used phrases like certain popular forms of religious belief. Nowhere have I suggested that the religious community is monolithic on this issue.

    And I’m delighted that there is data showing that many Catholics and mainline Protestants will tell pollsters they support stem-cell research and agree that science can improve people’s lives. The fact remains that by large majorities they vote for the anti-science party when they get into the voting booth. That’s the only poll that actually matters

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