Framing Science

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E.O. Wilson is on a noble mission to bridge the perceived divide between science, religion, and partisanship. In his book, The Creation, by framing environmental stewardship as not only a scientific matter, but also one of personal and moral duty, Wilson has engaged an Evangelical audience that might not otherwise pay attention to popular science books, or for that matter, appeals on the environment.

Shifting his focus to the partisan divide, Wilson employs a similar strategy by penning the forward to a forthcoming book by former Republican Congressman Newt Gingrich. In A Contract with the Earth, Gingrich and his co-author Terry L. Maple argue that environmental stewardship is “a mainstream value that transcends partisan politics.”

As a leading scientist and secular humanist, Wilson’s message strategy is in sharp contrast to that of the New Atheists who draw a line in the sand between the godless and the religious.

In an interview with Bill Moyers (transcript), Wilson passionately argued that if atheists and religious folk “sat down and talked about our deepest beliefs together, we’d come up with more agreements. Agreements on more things than disagreements. And then isn’t it the American way? We could say, ‘Let’s put that aside for awhile and work together when we really have something we need to work together on.’ ”

Wilson said that his goal in writing The Creation was to show atheists and Evangelicals that their common values and interests far out way their differences. Moreover, for the two groups to be constantly at odds is both damaging and distracting. He calls for the godless and the deeply religious to meet at common ground “on the near side of metaphysics.”

Here’s how Wilson defines his central message:

Let us– in the service of a transcendent moral obligation and concern put aside our differences for the time being and not fuss with each other over evolution. In other words where it all came from. Let us agree looking at the evidence that is disappearing. And let us, dare I use the word, gather at the river.”

Come together on common ground where we can exercise the extraordinary power we have jointly. And I argue and few people disagreed with me that science and religion are the two most powerful social forces in the world. Having them at odds at each other all the way up to the highest levels of government and– the popular media all the time is not productive.

Comments

  1. #1 don't wanna get in the middle of it
    September 20, 2007

    Matt,

    I appreciate what you’re trying to do regarding common ground between Christians and secularists. I’m all for that myself, and have worked with various groups to do so. However, your own behavior is still causing further division, and it’s hard to take someone seriously regarding “finding common ground” etc. when recent posts and comments on other blogs have shown that you have no interest in doing so even with others who mostly share your worldview. How can you expect your “new atheists” to really reach out to evangelicals if you refuse to even reach out to them? Are you unable to see their dismissive behavior to evangelicals reflected in your dismissal of, for example, PZ’s commenters?

  2. #2 Matthew C. Nisbet
    September 20, 2007

    I don’t consider as dismissive simply reiterating and further explaining propositions or arguments that I have made, especially in reaction to distortions that I have “lied” about a personal mentor.

    For example, I don’t consider the spirit of this post as dismissive.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/09/you_know_authorities_are_only.php?utm_source=mostactive&utm_medium=link#comment-573852

    Moreover, I see a lot of ideologically driven selective perception going on in terms of how the AAAS panel has been re-defined and in the reaction to the Kurtz post.

    This is part of human nature and there is not much I can do about it.

    –Matt

  3. #3 Derek James
    September 20, 2007

    Wilson says: “Let us– in the service of a transcendent moral obligation and concern put aside our differences for the time being and not fuss with each other over evolution.”

    If we don’t “fuss” over evolution, then what? We reach an amicable compromise with creationists? What exactly does that look like? We show “both sides” of the issue? Or we don’t teach evolution at all?

    Sorry…I’m afraid when the truth is at stake, there’s plenty of fussing to be done. I’m a fan of Wilson’s, but he’s just off-base here.

  4. #4 Houdini's Ghost
    September 20, 2007

    For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Evangelical Christians can be convinced that saving the “Creation” is more important than, say, enshrining their conception of sexual morality in the Constitution. Even better, through soft speech and limited fuss, we convince them to join with atheist scientists to solve problems of habitat destruction and biodiversity. So far, so good.

    But when it comes time to implement solutions to these problems, what are we going to do? Scientists will want to use evidence and reason — including the dreaded “Darwinism” — in determining how to measure the problems, find solutions, and measure effectiveness of solutions. What will the Evangelicals propose as a counterpoint? Prayer? Moving mountains through faith? And where will the middle ground be?

    I haven’t read Wilson’s books yet, so maybe this is all explained, but I think at a certain point a line in the sand must indeed be drawn, if we are to move beyond hand-holding and on to actually solving problems.

  5. #5 Houdini's Ghost
    September 20, 2007

    P.S. Newt Gingrich arguing for transcending partisanship in order to solve big problems is the funniest thing I have heard all day. Granted, it hasn’t been a particularly hilarious day, but still…

  6. #6 Ed S.
    September 20, 2007

    Does this reveal limitations of the frame, or of the framer? Linking to a dismissive remark in another blog and insisting that it’s not dismissive is an odd way to make an argument.

    The E.O. Wilson book is titled after myth (that there was a “creator”) and the quotation urges us not to “fuss” over “…evolution. In other words, where it all came from.” It’s usually the ID Creationists that conflate abiogenesis and descent with modification.

    If only we could shut down this New Framers Noise Machine.

  7. #7 Peter Teiman
    September 20, 2007

    Peter Teiman here.
    E.O Wilson in many ways strikes me like another Steven Hawkins: religious atheists.
    Peter Teiman

  8. #8 chet snicker
    September 21, 2007

    sir,

    case this folly! your case is lost before it is begun! shall you follow this aged man in his quixotic quest? alas….

    sincerely,
    c.v. snicker

  9. #9 Ian
    September 21, 2007

    This is not a battle between atheists and theists. It’s a crusade against science conducted by the creationists and the ID proponents in the name of religion.

    So what, exactly, are atheists required to put aside? Their position that there’s no evidence for any gods?

    And what are scientists going to put aside? Science? Are they going to be required to put aside the Theory of Evolution which the creationists and ID proponents are Hell-bent upon overthrowing? Will they be required to put aside the teaching of evolution or the research into evolution?

    And how much are we to put aside? Freedom from religion? Just exactly how much compromise were the theists prepared to indulge in when they actually were in complete control of things? Did they make the fires a compromising few degrees cooler when they burned the heretics?

  10. #10 MartinM
    September 21, 2007

    Peter Teiman here.
    E.O Wilson in many ways strikes me like another Steven Hawkins: religious atheists.
    Peter Teiman

    Posted by: Peter Teiman

    Did anyone catch who that post was by? I couldn’t quite make it out.

  11. #11 Dave S.
    September 21, 2007

    Actually the most vocal atheists and the Christian fundamentalists already have common ground…they both have little use for those in the middle. Of course that’s not likely a helpful thing.

  12. #12 tha transformerr
    September 22, 2007

    E.O. Wilson is about as culturally relevant in America today as the guy down at my liquor store who is always railing against illegal immigrants. He knows his bugs, but when it comes to society, the old guy is just talking to himself. Let him be.

  13. #13 m. walsh
    September 24, 2007

    You wrote: “Wilson employs a similar strategy by penning the forward to a forthcoming book by former Republican Congressman Newt Gingrich. In A Contract with the Earth, ”

    Er, what Wilson wrote was a “foreword”.

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    December 18, 2007

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    Esenbo?a Havaliman?’nda gözalt?na al?nan Demirta?, sabah saatlerinde Adli T?p kurumuna götürüldü.

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    January 22, 2008

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    January 25, 2008

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