Framing Science

If you haven’t seen this clip yet, above is a preview of the central message on how “Big Science” views religion in the documentary Expelled. There’s little work needed on the part of the producers, since the message is spelled out via the interviews provided by PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins.

Notice the very clear translation for audiences as to what supposedly establishment science believes:

A) Learning about science makes you an atheist, it “kills off” religious faith.

B) If we boost science literacy in society, it will lead to erosion of religion, as religion fades away, we will get more and more science, and less and less religion.

C) Religion is a fairy tale, similar to hobgoblins, a fantasy, and even evil.

The simplistic and unscientific claim that more knowledge leads to less religion might be the particular delusion of Dawkins, Myers, and many others, but it is by no means the official position of science, though they often implicitly claim to speak for science. Nor does it stand up to mounds of empirical evidence about the complex relationship between science literacy and public perceptions.

Unfortunately, you couldn’t focus group a better message for the pro-creationist crowd. And this message is already reaching well beyond the theaters, on display most recently with the PZ Myers Affair chronicled at the NY Times.

As long as Dawkins and PZ continue to be the representative voices from the pro-science side in this debate, it is really bad for those of us who care about promoting public trust in science and science education. Dawkins and PZ need to lay low as Expelled hits theaters. Let others play the role of communicator, most importantly the National Center for Science Education, AAAS, the National Academies or scientists such as Francis Ayala or Ken Miller. When called up by reporters or asked to comment, Dawkins and PZ should refer journalists to these organizations and individuals.

If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp, they need to play the role of Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and so many other political operatives who through misstatements and polarizing rhetoric have ended up being liabilities to the causes and campaigns that they support: Lay low and let others do the talking.

So Richard and PZ, when it comes to Expelled, it’s time to let other people be the messengers for science. This is not about censoring your ideas and positions, but rather being smart, strategic, tactical, and ultimately effective in promoting science rather than your own personal ideology, books, or blog. I will have more to say on Expelled strategy in a talk I am giving Thursday night at UWisc-Eau Claire and then next week Monday in a lunch time talk given with Chris Mooney at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.

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Dawkins and Myers: It’s Time to Let Others Be the Spokespeople for Science

Comments

  1. #1 Naadir Jeewa
    March 23, 2008

    Why does Dawkins even hold the chair of the “Public understanding of science” at Oxford anyway?

  2. #2 chancelikely
    March 23, 2008

    So, because a propaganda hit-piece pastes together an interview in such a way to put Dawkins and Myers in a (relatively) bad light, and put them before someone who says, possibly in jest, that religion is ‘evil’, then they should both shut up and sit down?

    Nonsense. The framing that needs to occur is “Creationists lie, and lie regularly.” Darwin’s Rottweiler and Darwin’s Squid manage to make Stein and Mathis look like the liars and hypocrites they are.

  3. #3 6EQUJ5
    March 23, 2008

    Learning about the real world undoes learning about made-up worlds. Science displaces superstition. Learning displaces ignorance. This is common knowledge, not a scientific theory.

    Kids who learn to read will learn more in life than those who remain illiterate. We take that as a commonplace, but there has never been a double-blind scientific investigation of this.

    Spaceflight kills off any belief in a flat Earth. Asserted without proof. Look down from space, see the curvature of the limb, the ‘scales fall from the eyes’. Hell, a good ride on Google Earth rids the mind of lots of stupid old ideas.

    PZ is correct.

  4. #4 eleanor
    March 23, 2008

    Oh come off it Nisbet. That has to be the stupidest screed from you I’ve ever read. You and Mooney should be kicked off the group for this sort of crap.

    3 cheers for Myers and Dawkins. Go guys, let ‘em have it!

  5. #5 Scott Simmons
    March 23, 2008

    Wait–why even have a personal ideology if you’re not going to promote it?

  6. #6 chezjake
    March 23, 2008

    Sorry, Matt, but you and Chris Mooney are dead wrong on this one. Chancelikely is right; this is one more golden opportunity to show the world that creationists can’t deliver their message without deception, bending the truth, and outright lying.

    What’s more, if PZ and Dawkins are right about Mathis and Stein using Harvard video without permission, then the whole Expelled movie can be removed from the market before it’s open to the public.

    Malfeasance should always be confronted, not condoned even by silence.

  7. #7 James F
    March 23, 2008

    I would offer that while the public doesn’t have a great understanding of science, they do understand hypocrisy. A person who went through the proper channels to view a film claiming to protest suppression of ideas – a film in which he appears – was barred from the screening and ordered to leave the premises. I certainly don’t think this needs to be rehashed ad nauseum, but getting it out there shows the public the true colors of the producers of Expelled.

  8. #8 Sigmund
    March 23, 2008

    “A) Learning about science makes you an atheist, it “kills off” religious faith.

    B) If we boost science literacy in society, it will lead to erosion of religion, as religion fades away, we will get more and more science, and less and less religion.

    C) Religion is a fairy tale, similar to hobgoblins, a fantasy, and even evil.”

    Yes, OK……but apart from that, what have the Romans ever done for us?
    Is this page sponsored by ‘The Onion’ ?

  9. #9 J. J. Ramsey
    March 23, 2008

    chancelikely: “The framing that needs to occur is ‘Creationists lie, and lie regularly.’”

    True, but this frame is hamstrung by creationists peddling a lie with which Dawkins and Myers actually agree, namely that the theory of evolution leads to atheism.

  10. #10 Romeo Vitelli
    March 23, 2008

    Can Ben Stein be considered a spokesman for religion as a whole? He is being heard on the topic because he is speaking out about what he happens to believe in. Anyone else can do that as well. P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkinsaren’t the “messengers” for science, just two people who happen to be making public statements about science and religion. Anyone who disagrees is free to do the same. You don’t end a debate by suppressing views you don’t care for.

  11. #11 Iggy
    March 23, 2008

    J.J. Ramsey-> It sure doesn’t lead to jeebus

  12. #12 DV82XL
    March 23, 2008

    As much as it is galling, I have to agree for two reasons. First you are right in seeing that these two are in danger of becoming liabilities. The public is fickle, and the press doesn’t care if it’s supporting you or dissing you, it’s all the same for them. Dawkins in particular is risking overexposure, and if that happens it will not benefit the cause.

    Second, it is time that rejection of ID and other ‘creation science’ is shown to be a broad trend; depending on the same few people to get the message out is a poor long term strategy and one that renders the message vulnerable. Others must step up to the plate, it’s unfair to ask the small group that are holding up the colors do it on their own forever.

  13. #13 DanioPhD
    March 23, 2008

    Vehement, white-hot disagreement, here. To refer to two of the most potent proponents of science and reason as ‘liabilities’ is to diminish what ‘Science’ truly is. Moreover, it devalues the tireless efforts of Myers and Dawkins to futher public understanding and appreciation of science.

    That PZ and Richard have a personal as well as a professional stake in the release of this film should not serve as any justification for calls for silencing them, and I was quite sickened upon reading such a suggestion. We’re supposed to the the team that encourages open dialogue and inquiry–an unbiased processing of the facts at hand, no matter how much we might wish for a different set of facts.

    The producers of Expelled are wholly in the wrong here, from the disingenuous way in which they obtained their interviews in the first place to the loathsome manner in which they are selectively screening their film to sympathetic audiences so as to garner the support that the film, on its own merits, cannot hope to gain. They are manipulative liars, and to suggest that the stronger voices of objection be restrained in favor of soft soothing friendly ones that won’t scare the poor faithful so much is appallingly weak. Science is not a democracy, and if it is presented to the public as such, how can this possibly further anyone’s understanding?

  14. #14 Petra
    March 23, 2008

    My initial thought is that science does certainly not lead to the rejection of religion or of a belief in god in general. It’s just that some people such as Myers and Dawkins seem to make little difference between believing in the existence of any form of supernatural being (or anything supernatural) in general, and believing in the god of the bible or other holy books (or believing in already described and popular gods).

    Or rather, if their position is a different one, they do not make that very clear and often leave a different impression.

    As for the holy books, I do have to agree with them there – in the face of science, a belief in the god of the bible for example, can’t really hold unless you bend over backwards to achieve a consensus. However, for way too many people god’s complete existence seems to raise and fall with the value of their particular picture of god: There is a somewhat true core in claiming that science leads to the rejection of religion.

    In conclusion, I think a very clear difference needs to be made between the rejection of particular religions and the rejection of god in general. They’re not the same things and many people, including Dawkins and Myers, need to learn to always consider that.

  15. #15 fontinalis
    March 23, 2008

    I could be wrong, but isn’ts this kind of like Democrats blaming Ralph Nader for their own failures in losing the last two elections?

  16. #16 Richard Eis
    March 23, 2008

    Remember that PZ Meyers was discussing evolution and religion in what he thought was going to be a completely different program looking at the compatibility of science and religion (or some such nonsense).
    Let’s face it how often have the creationists twisted say…Darwin’s words. These people don’t play fair regardless of what you say and frankly I think Dawkins and PZ are two of the best.
    Plus they were dragged into this mess by the creationsists in the first place.

    Personally I want this movie to come out. If it gets banned for some reason then that would be the worst possible outcome as then it would look like the evilutionists were trying to stop it. Even if it’s the creationists own stupid fault that they tripped over their own lies.

  17. #17 Justin M
    March 23, 2008

    I think some of the comments and some of this post may have things a bit wrong.

    Nisbet is right that one should communicate to the audience, not the choir. The problem here is that PZ and RD were deceived about who the audience was. True, they may have said exactly the same thing if they weren’t lied to, but more likely is that they would have said nothing at all.

    I do advocate a more tempered path (a la Ken Miller), but I still defend PZ and Dawkins on this one.

  18. #18 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 23, 2008

    Even if they were under the impression that the film was a “PBS style” documentary on science and religion, the comments by Dawkins and PZ are just as inflammatory and hurtful to any effort in building wider public trust for science and science education.

  19. #19 woody, tokin librul
    March 23, 2008

    For the ‘faithful, the ‘believers in’ stuff, science’s great sin is that it is agnostic. It doesn’t “believe in” ANYTHING merely on faith. It tests belief. It then records and distributes the results of those tests, for others to test; which results are then subsequently disseminated for further testing. Science, therefore, is always already reflexively testing itself. Belief is comfortable, it never tests itself, albeit it seemingly can be tested. What’s amazing is how often it fails those tests…

    Naughty, naughty Science.

  20. #20 tbell1
    March 23, 2008

    is this some kind of satire? are you kidding with this post?
    i honestly can’t tell

  21. #21 freds
    March 23, 2008

    Oh come on Nisbet, you can’t be serious. Telling Dawkins and Meyers to let others be the spokespeople for science is completely unrealistic. Whatever validity your thesis has about the harm they may do, it isn’t helped by telling them to go away quietly. Maybe the impulse for combative declarations drives all three of you????

  22. #22 Ahcuah
    March 23, 2008

    “The PZ Myers Affair is Really, Really Bad for Science”

    OK, so, if this is true, how can we tell?

    Let’s try to address the question in a scientific manner. What sort of tests can we set up to see if it is true? What sort of aftereffects ought we be seeing, and how would those aftereffects be different that if the Affair weren’t really, really bad for science?

    The big question for Science is, how can we tell if we are wrong? So, how can we tell in this case which side is wrong?

    (And if we can’t tell, then I guess this question is really just a matter of, . . ., well, . . ., faith.)

  23. #23 baley
    March 23, 2008

    Actually the video is correct, since people who are scientific literate do not take the religious myths they happen to believe as factual and bulletproof information about the universe.

    I don’t know if the statistical data back me up on this, but it seems to me that the less scientific literate populations tend to be the less religious they become. Maybe they are not atheist but tend more or less towards agnoticism!

    And finally religion it can be evil simply because it’s myths mixed with political power.

  24. #24 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 23, 2008

    Dawkins and Myers: It’s Time to Let Others Be the Spokespeople for Science

    So what’s stopping the “others”?
    Dawkins has a best-selling book. Myers has a top-rated blog. They reach a lot of people. People are interested in what they say.
    The idea of letting the Expelled charlatans carry on their crap without opposition for fear of upsetting Joe Average is disgusting to me. It is cynical and cowardly.
    Expelled is going to get publicity among the fundies anyway so why worry about them?. I think most non-deluded people can recognize hypocrisy and deceit, so why not expose it as much as possible?
    There’s an old saying that as far as I know has not reached its expiry date: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing”. I guess this would be considered poor framing or bad PR or some such similar nonsense.

  25. #25 Richard Eis
    March 23, 2008

    To be honest I thought PZ’s comments were rather tame actually. Quietly witty, if a little condescending. No doubt there are people already praying that he burns in hell for all eternity for comparing their religion to knitting but really…

  26. #26 Tulse
    March 23, 2008

    Funny, Matt, but Martin Luther seemed to think that rationality was the enemy of faith — are you telling me that he was wrong?

    And if so, like Ahcuah, I’d ask for the data. Is it in fact the case that Myers and Dawkins are wrong, that science education has no impact on an individual’s religious belief? On the face of it that seems preposterous and supremely counter-intuitive to me, and certainly goes against all the anecdotal instances I know, so if you’ve got contrary data, I’d be happy to see it. But, if you don’t have such data, then you’re simply pulling this claim out of your butt.

    You routinely make pronouncements about what would be the most effective way to alter public opinion without providing any hard data that supports your claims. Honestly, if you expect scientists to believe you and change their behaviour, you have to provide evidence. Otherwise, you’re just a concern troll.

  27. #27 Crow
    March 23, 2008

    I’m solidly with Nisbet on this one.

    Not only is Myers’ message dangerous, but his naivite in front of the camera is embarrassing. The film makers have played him like a fiddle not only in what he says, but also in how he says it. They use an old trial lawyer’s trick of having the questioner at a 90+ degree angle from the viewer (the jury or, in this case, the camera). As Myers struggles to make eye contact with both, you see his eyes shifting side-to-side somewhat uncertainly. This uncertain, shifting gaze is of course a classic indication that we use to judge untrustworthiness in our face-to-face interactions.

    Myers — and many others, I suspect — are babes in the woods when it comes to this sort of thing. From a purely tactical point of view, scientists need to be trained to recognize these very basics of public speaking, film, interview, body language, etc., before they go up in front of even neutral audiences, let alone place themselves in the hands of hostile ones.

    -Crow

  28. #28 Wrought
    March 23, 2008

    A) Learning about science makes you an atheist, it “kills off” religious faith.

    B) If we boost science literacy in society, it will lead to erosion of religion, as religion fades away, we will get more and more science, and less and less religion.

    C) Religion is a fairy tale, similar to hobgoblins, a fantasy, and even evil.

    Well done! You’ve learnt three things today.

  29. #29 Jim Harrison
    March 23, 2008

    Shorter Matt Nisbet: “It’s O.K. We’re just going to be deloused.”

    I don’t think that atheism is much of an accomplishment for anybody a high school education–how hard is it to notice that the world isn’t in fact haunted?-but nonbelievers are routinely treated as second-class citizens. The Hell with that.

    Incidentally, if frank atheism were really so favorable to the Baptist Taliban, they wouldn’t be so anguished about it. In fact, America once had a tradition of vocal skepticism. PZ and the others are just taking up where Mark Twain and Ingersoll left off. It’s about time.

  30. #30 divalent
    March 23, 2008

    Jeeze! Who died and made you king?

  31. #31 Kerry Maxwell
    March 23, 2008

    A cowardly proposal for capitulation.

  32. #32 borehole
    March 23, 2008

    Yeah, passionate voices should definitely stifle themselves for the greater good. I’m just concerned that you haven’t laid out the overall strategy for combatting creationism–how can we get anything done without luminaries such as you and Mooney dictating our actions?

    God DAMN I’m sick of ineffectual tools with zero track record of success telling everyone “back off, we’ve got this.”

  33. #33 Steindor J. Erlingsson
    March 23, 2008

    Concerning Matthews’ plead to PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins that “when it comes to Expelled, it’s time to let other people be the messengers for science”, it is worth pointing out that in a recent interview Dawkins admitted the following:

    I am not a good politician and I may get things wrong and this is particularly true in the creationism-evolution debate in America … I am not politically good in that battle and I admitted that. [moderator] You are a recruiter for the other side? In a way I am �

  34. #34 Andrew
    March 23, 2008

    “This is not about censoring your ideas and positions, but rather being smart, strategic, tactical, and ultimately effective in promoting science rather than your own personal ideology, books, or blog. I will have more to say on Expelled strategy in a talk I am giving Thursday night at UWisc-Eau Claire and then next week Monday in a lunch time talk given with Chris Mooney at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.”

    Ha I love, berate them on using Expelled to generate more readers to their books and blogs, while in the next sentence use the same POS Film to peddle your own lectures. I can’t be the only one to notice that gem. Do as I say not as I do, right Mr. Nisbit.

  35. #35 Randy Olson
    March 23, 2008

    Matt – You’re dreaming. If there was an official Evolution Defense Team with a command headquarters, huge budget, and army of strategists standing around a map table covered with model tanks and airplanes then yes, the rogue actions of PZ and Dawkins would be bad news. But there ain’t.

    The large organizations don’t want to get involved with the real politics of defending evolution, and there is no coordinated effort other than producing lots of brochures and editorials. There is a need for the occasional individual efforts. You talk like there’s a science to all this stuff, and there is to a limited extent, and you’re good when you’re speaking to that. But you need to get out on the streets a little more and realize there are some non-ivory tower dyanmics to this issue that have to be addressed in less academic ways. PZ is to be commended for having brought a human dimension to what is generally perceived by broader audiences as a relatively dull academic issue.

  36. #36 hermit
    March 23, 2008

    “The simplistic and unscientific claim that more knowledge leads to less religion might be the particular delusion of Dawkins, Myers, and many others, but it is by no means the official position of science,”

    So please tell us what is the official position of Science?

    You are the one who is deluded in thinking that you know better.

  37. #37 Norman Doering
    March 23, 2008

    If you guys really want to violate the framing protocols why don’t you pop on over to the screen writer for Expelled’s blog and tell him what you think of the PZ expulsion. He says he wants to give us a hug. Let’s give the lying sack of shit a huge group hug:
    http://kevinwrites.typepad.com/otherwise_known_as_kevin_/2008/03/chris-mooney-ge.html

  38. #38 Eric
    March 23, 2008

    building wider public trust for science and science education.

    Sheesh… I’m waiting for the “We must not offend the Geocentrists and Flat Earthers!” post.

  39. #39 waldteufel
    March 23, 2008

    Your posting here, Dr. Nesbit, more than anything reminds me of Neville Chamberlain waiving his umbrella and bleating “Peace in our time!. . . . ”

    We need much more direct attack on superstition, not less.

    Appeasement and hand wringing have done nothing to keep the looming theocracy at bay.

  40. #40 Nullifidian
    March 23, 2008

    The simplistic and unscientific claim that more knowledge leads to less religion might be the particular delusion of Dawkins, Myers, and many others, but it is by no means the official position of science, though they often implicitly claim to speak for science.

    Science has official positions? Wow, now I feel as if I really don’t know what’s going on. I have published before; perhaps they were only going to tell me after I got my Ph.D.?

    The problem that you, Mooney, Olson, et al. don’t seem to grasp is that the fundamentalists already have a ready answer for theists who accept evolution: they’re deluded by Satan. If the idea is not to scare off creationists before we can cram some knowledge in their heads, that is going to be a fruitless endeavor. The ones who are running scared run just as scared from theists as they do from atheists. Getting Ken Miller, Francisco Ayala, Keith Miller, or anybody else on board here is not going to help because their statements are already suspect. “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose”, as Shakespeare put it, and the fundamentalists believe that the theistic evolutionists’ sugared words hide a spiritual poison that is all the more dangerous because it’s made to look ostensibly inviting.

    Since this is the intended audience for the film Expelled, nothing PZ has done or said is going to make a blind bit of difference. I’ve seen the film. It’s inept. It’s boring. It drives one to distraction. They need to invest in a Steady-Cam and a narrator who doesn’t sound like he’s on a permanent IV drip of Novocaine. It is, in short, straight-to-video creationist pablum and the only people who are going to care are the ones who are already unreachable even by theistic evolutionists.

  41. #41 Nullifidian
    March 23, 2008

    Sheesh… I’m waiting for the “We must not offend the Geocentrists and Flat Earthers!” post.

    I think a more exact analogy would be to Biblical archaeology. This field poses significant challenges to the faith of Biblical ‘literalists’ so what we clearly need to do is not offend them by shutting up deranged wackos like Ze’ev Herzog, who speaks blithely of Yahweh having been believed to have a female consort and there never being an Exodus, and make sure that our message is being presented by someone they already trust: Ron Wyatt.

  42. #42 Idlethought
    March 23, 2008

    If you’re right – this blog post is even more damaging.

  43. #43 island
    March 23, 2008

    As long as Dawkins and PZ continue to be the representative voices from the pro-science side in this debate, it is really bad for those of us who care about promoting public trust in science and science education.

    Wow, somebody with a brain meets up with a bunch of antifanatical zealots… ;)

    I agree, let PZ and Richard speak for atheists side of the political culture war that they are actually most interested in, but not as representatives for science, and I recommend that physicists, like, Sean Carroll, (and whatever that popularizer, Blake Stacey claims to be)… and every other scientist who openly supports this line of attack, jump on the same bandwagon of non-science and be proud of it.

    My turn to get burried with crap.

  44. #44 jayh
    March 23, 2008

    “the comments by Dawkins and PZ are just as inflammatory and hurtful to any effort in building wider public trust for science and science education”

    What do you mean by “building trust”? Pretending that all is peachy and that religion (as generally practiced) is just happy with science?? You can’t go far into science without disproving the major tenets of most religions; leaving nothing but de-fanged moral advice, and colorful rituals. Shall we also argue that science does ont undermine astrology because somewhere there ‘might’ be some pattern that we cannot discribe in the univers.

    If we want to get anywhere, we must be honest. Theology can co-exist with science (it does not require actual ‘factual’ belief) but religion in all but it’s vaguest, new agey spirituality terms cannot. Don’t pretend otherwise.

  45. #45 boom-chika-wow-wow
    March 23, 2008

    hah, good luck. The biggest pompous egotists will voluntarily downplay a chance to be seen as some type of “leading spokesmen for science”? Yeah and monkeys might fly out me arse. Most fanatical atheists and evolutionists, as seen by the comments here, are too stupid to realize how fanatic they look to ordinary people. They are nerds on a mission and will get all hot and bothered if you dare to suggest that their fanatical anti social attitude and meesage is anything but totally righteous and cool. Nerds, that’s the biggest problem with you guys, you’re socially moronic and uber egotistic.

  46. #46 ken
    March 23, 2008

    Dr. Nisbet, you seem to be a bit confused about something. The scientists who blog here aren’t running for office this November and they don’t need to pander to the base so that they can win. Nor do they need to “move to the right” to gain a stronghold in the general election.

    The general public does not get to decide science and when they think they do, they don’t (see Dover)

  47. #47 Endoff
    March 23, 2008

    After reading through the comments to Nisbet’s post a rerun of an old anthropology film flashed into my mind. There are two stone age tribes standing in an open field yelling, hurling insults, shaking their primitive weapons at each other. After several rounds of bluff charging each other, one of the tribesmen is, by accident, seriously wounded. At which point they all packed up their families and leave for home. Each side feeling that they had somehow once again verified their position and defended their honor.

    Apparently no one, even the self-proclaimed leaders, paused long enough to formulate a long term strategy for success. Each tribe simply repeated what had happened in the countless prior confrontations by countless prior generations.

    Thank you, Nisbet, for your suggestion. However, it is apparent that the tribesmen are more interested in their traditional method of issue resolution.

  48. #48 J. J. Ramsey
    March 23, 2008

    Nullifidian: “I think a more exact analogy would be to Biblical archaeology. This field poses significant challenges to the faith of Biblical ‘literalists’ so what we clearly need to do is not offend them by shutting up deranged wackos like Ze’ev Herzog, who speaks blithely of Yahweh having been believed to have a female consort and there never being an Exodus, and make sure that our message is being presented by someone they already trust: Ron Wyatt.”

    If the analogy were to hold, people like Wyatt would be analogous to creationists and be lambasted, while the serious biblical archaeologists would be divided into those who believe the findings of biblical archaeology are fatal to faith and those who don’t. AFAIK, that’s pretty much the current state of things.

  49. #49 Brandon
    March 23, 2008

    I do agree, quite strongly, that angry atheist rhetoric is not good for getting people to accept evolution. It amazes me how somebody can think that screaming, “There is no God, you’re all corrupt and deluded, and you’re just like Osama bin Laden!” is going to get anybody to listen to you. I think that Nisbet is far more helpful to the cause than Myers or Dawkins. Go read, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie, if you don’t agree with me.

    That being said, I think Myers and Dawkins are in the right here. Regardless of their views on religion, they’ve both been exploited by this movie, and they have every right to speak out against it. And I don’t think they’re really doing as much damage as you say they do. I, personally, have never heard PZ Myers’ name uttered outside the context of Scienceblogs or the Expelled movie, and I have rarely seen Expelled mentioned outside the context of Scienceblogs. Dawkins may be more popular, but it’s not like he has millions of people swaying to his every whim. In a year or so Expelled will fade into obscurity, PZ Myers’ 15 minutes of fame will be over, and everything will be just as it will before. They have every right to be a mouthpiece for atheists who are fed up with religion, but they are not going to make any real impact on the evolution vs. creationism debate.

    And wow, apparently thinking things through isn’t popular anymore. A couple points:
    1: Saying that something is “by no means the official position of science” does not imply that an official position of scienec exists. I’m pretty sure Nisbet was being sarcastic there.
    2: Nisbet is not trying to censor Myers and Dawkins. He is requesting or suggesting that they censor themselves. Whether Nisbet is right or not, he does not believe that somebody indeed died and made him king.
    3: Nisbet has nothing to do with Nazi sympathizers. God, I can’t believe that even has to be clarified.
    4: Equating science with atheism is horrible, horrible publicity. Reconciling evolution and religion is a good tactical decision and has nothing to do with tolerating creationism or fundamentalism.

  50. #50 Those Pesky Darwinists
    March 23, 2008

    So in other words, whoever “understands” Darwinian evolution automatically abandons not only religious beliefs, but science as well, even if Darwinian evolution is flawed scientifically or without substantial hard-evidence. We can safely say Dawkins is no scientist, neither is PZ Myers, scientists put hypotheses to the test, long before it becomes a theory (ie: fact). If those two represent science then I rather learn about Computer Science at my local church. They make great leaders for the drooling atheist animals, nuff said!

  51. #51 HadasS
    March 23, 2008

    “A) Learning about science makes you an atheist, it “kills off” religious faith.

    B) If we boost science literacy in society, it will lead to erosion of religion, as religion fades away, we will get more and more science, and less and less religion.

    C) Religion is a fairy tale, similar to hobgoblins, a fantasy, and even evil.”

    Well, since I agree with all of the above, I disagree with you…I think both Profs. should continue to speak up loud and often, and spread the word.

  52. #52 Nullifidian
    March 23, 2008

    If the analogy were to hold, people like Wyatt would be analogous to creationists and be lambasted, while the serious biblical archaeologists would be divided into those who believe the findings of biblical archaeology are fatal to faith and those who don’t. AFAIK, that’s pretty much the current state of things.

    Only if one assumes that reaching out to people of faith is the issue. It isn’t. Most people of faith don’t really care one way or the other about what their children learn in school, nor do they know who Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers are. Most people don’t read any books, let alone those of Richard Dawkins. The only places you’ll see this kind of hand-wringing are among the relatively well-educated crowd who are worried about the reception Dawkins and Myers will have on theists. But who are the theists who they are worrying about? Not the average theist, certainly; the theists who know who Dawkins and Myers are are creationists or well-read liberal theists. The well-read liberal theists don’t need to be told their faith doesn’t conflict with science, and the creationists won’t believe if it if you do tell them.

    I grew up in rural West Virginia, and it seems to me that Mooney, Nisbet, Olson, etc. aren’t knowledgable about that tradition. It’s very insular, clings to itself and its own understandings, and is resistant to anyone who tells them anything different from what they already ‘know’. That anyone includes theists. The theists who accept evolution have been deluded and damned by Satan. They don’t need to be listened to, they need to be proselytized to turn aside from a path which will lead straight to their damnation. If they refuse to see the obvious truth of a literal six-day creation week, then they are the devil’s minions and will be defeated in the coming End Days.

    That’s what you’re dealing with here, and this is the audience which Expelled is playing to.

  53. #53 John Morales
    March 23, 2008

    As long as Dawkins and PZ continue to be the representative voices from the pro-science side in this debate, it is really bad for those of us who care about promoting public trust in science and science education.

    So, Dawkins and PZ are representative voices from the pro-science side in this debate.

    But these particular representative voices being so is really bad for “those of us who care about promoting public trust in science and science education”.

    Aren’t you implying Dawkins and PZ are not part of “those of us who care about promoting public trust in science and science education”?

    I sense animus.

  54. #54 Jeff Dee
    March 23, 2008

    Dear Professor Nisbet:
    If you believe that “framing” is so effective, then don’t you use it when attempting to communicate with folks like PZ Myers? Surely, using framing, you ought to be able to present the dangers you foresee in a way that he can understand?
    Or was this post meant to be a “framed” message to Myers? If so, it failed rather spectacularly.
    Or does “framing” only work on stupid people?
    Or perhaps framing doesn’t work on anyone who is already sure they’re in the right? If so, it seems unlikely to offer much hope of coming to terms with anti-science theists.

  55. #55 Josh
    March 23, 2008

    I like the way Neil deGrasse Tyson put it:

    If you’re going to tell me that Noah had dinosaurs on his ark, I am sorry, you are ignorant and scientifically illiterate. And you don’t belong in the science classroom…. You want to teach that in Bible school, I’m not going to go knocking on your door to stop you. By the way, there is no tradition of scientists beating down the door of Sunday school, saying, ‘That might not necessarily be right.’ Yet, you have fundamentalist religious communities trying to knock down the door of the science classroom. And that asymmetry there bothers me…. [T]he moment you take your religion and put it into the science classroom and claim something that is demonstrably false, I’m going to be up in your face, telling you, “Go learn about how the universe works.”

    What would Nisbet say? I have proof that story is false, but I wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings. You want to teach it to your children during homeschool science time? Go right ahead. You are going to help fight global warming, though, right??

    Grow some grapes, Nisbet. Science doesn’t have “positions.” Science has truth. So long as PZ and RD are out there telling the truth, and you’re slinking around worried about making enemies of the evangelical hippies who might help fight global warming, they will always get more attention and get more results than you.

  56. #56 doctorgoo
    March 23, 2008

    I’m sorry, but doesn’t this seem totally obvious? We see this all the time:

    An ID/creationist says that evolution is anti-Christian, and the preacher presents it to his congregation as a dichotomy… either choose a ‘belief’ in evolution or a belief in Christianity.

    The way to fight such a technique is NOT to agree with the fundamentalist that this dichotomy is correct, which is basically what PZ does with way too much frequency. The way to combat that is to point out that many Christians also support evolution.

    PZ is a powerful and popular voice. I just think he has his priorities mixed up. Instead of pushing his lofty goal of making atheism the predominate viewpoint in America, I wish he’d push for the more reasonable goal of improving science education by demonstrating how fun and entertaining it can be. This, in my opinion, has always been his strong point anyway.

  57. #57 J. J. Ramsey
    March 23, 2008

    Nullifidian: “Most people of faith don’t really care one way or the other about what their children learn in school,”

    Oh really? The members of the NCSE then must just sit on their thumbs all day. It’s not like they have to worry about school boards in Texas and Kansas being run by creationists, or Floridians trying to loosen standards so that teachers can misinform children. And it certainly isn’t as if they didn’t have to prepare for any landmark case in Dover, Pennsylvania about teaching children ID.

  58. #58 MarkH
    March 23, 2008

    It’s amazing how effective Dawkins and PZ are as communicators. They both have huge audiences, dedicated followings, and are very eloquent and engaging speakers and writers. Why would we tell these men to be quiet about anything? Their feelings on religion aside, the empirical data are in. PZ and Dawkins are framings things in a way that results in one of the most popular blogs in the internet (certainly the #1 for science) and best selling books respectively. All the evidence is that these two men reach the intended audience, that they communicate science, and have been exceedingly effective in changing the communication about the DI and ID movement. After all, look at the NYT coverage. Was intelligent design even mentioned? No! They called them what they were, creationists.

    Why do you think this is? Because we have been opposing their bullshit, and people like Dawkins and PZ in particular have been effective in unmasking the BS behind the new creationist attack on science.

    At a certain point I have to say, where is your evidence? Where is the proof these men are bad for science? This clip where they speak honestly about their beliefs? Hardly.

    Your continued attacks on two of our best communicators in the name of improving science communication really only demonstrates to me you wouldn’t know your best assets in this fight if they sat on your head.

  59. #59 A Lurker
    March 23, 2008

    Matt, I will agree that we need the non-atheist scientists and educators to be front and center and getting press attention. But any attempt to try to “hush up” and “cover up” Dawkins will backfire as it is clearly dishonest and no one will believe it. Failing to exploit a clear demonstration of the creationists’ true colors will not help either.

    Sure it might have been nice of Dawkins and Myers were apathetic towards religion when it comes to school board battles, but they are not. That ain’t going to change.
    One might point out that if they are so certain that understanding of science destroys religion then why do they feel the need to attack religion in the first place? Simply teaching science would be enough. On the other hand one can point that the creationists want to say science destroys belief in God then they simply have no faith and are indeed providing reason to believe their religion is false. To both sides here: oh ye of little faith…

    The best way to deal with those with religious concerns is not to cover up Dawkins, but to admit in full honesty that there is a full range of religious beliefs. That many fully accept God and scientific fact of evolution disproves the idea that one must accept one or the other.

  60. #60 doctorgoo
    March 23, 2008

    MarkH, it’s just too bad when PZ and Dawkins spend their time (and blogging skills) bashing ALL religion (not just the wingnuts) instead of popularizing science.

    Sure, the moderate and liberal Christians will laugh along with the atheists when we point out the absurdities and the hypocrisies of the so-called “PZ affair”.

    But when PZ insults all religious persons in 3 ways Matt pointed out in this post, it just plays into their hands.

    I don’t want PZ to be quiet about popularizing science, I just want him to quit giving the other side ammo when it comes to polarizing their side against science!

  61. #61 poke
    March 23, 2008

    Even if they were under the impression that the film was a “PBS style” documentary on science and religion, the comments by Dawkins and PZ are just as inflammatory and hurtful to any effort in building wider public trust for science and science education.

    So if PZ and Dawkins are asked to describe their personal beliefs by documentary filmmakers they should refer them to a “science communicator”? It’s a fact that there are many scientists who think that “religion is a fairytale” (the majority in some forums). There are also many who have lost their religion after having been exposed to science. Are you saying they should avoid ever being caught on video?

  62. #62 JT
    March 23, 2008

    So, you think they should just stay in the closet? Fair enough, I suppose you’re doing your part by making sure to exclude them and anyone else who disagrees with you on the “atheists should just shut up” perspective from your framing discussions.

    It’s interesting that you didn’t even mention that they were filmed under false pretenses. When faced with such anti-science propaganda the first thing you do is attack the people who are willing to admit they don’t get warm fuzzies whenever someone talks about religion. You leave the whole anti-science angle alone completely, and even go so far as to call this anti-science propaganda film a “documentary”. It’s almost like you’re not fighting for science at all.

  63. #63 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 23, 2008

    Mark,
    You seem to be late to the conversation. See the blog posts here about the National Academies report on evolution, the posts about the AAAS panel on science and religion, or my recent interview on Point of Inquiry.

    I have always maintained that Dawkins and PZ are great communicators *for their relatively small audience* of atheists and science enthusiasts. What they do for this audience is intensify their beliefs while providing them talking points for expressing their worldview and attacking religion. Indeed, among the atheist netroots, PZ’s preferred brand of Don Imus atheism has become very popular, spreading all sorts of wrong headed myths that religious people are stupid and that science literacy will set them free.

    But when your goal is to communicate about evolutionary science to what the National Academies calls the vast wobbly middle of Americans who might be moderately religious and unsure of the differences between evolution and intelligent design, as the video clip shows well, PZ and Dawkins only provide rhetorical fodder for the creationists.

    Right now, in the movie and in the news coverage of Expelled, PZ and Dawkins are the stand ins and representative voice of science. In fact, in agreeing to do interviews for Expelled, whether they were tricked or not, they make it very easy for the producers to use them as straw men, painting all of science and all scientists as atheists and extreme critics of religion.

    As such, what they end up doing really, really well is drive a wedge between the few atheist Americans who agree with them *and everyone else.* For turning moderately religious people off to science and evolution, you couldn’t have focus grouped a better video clip or campaign commercial than the one displayed above.

    If Dawkins and PZ actually cared about an effective communication strategy on Expelled, they would admit that they screwed up, lay low, and defer all interviews to organizations such as NCSE, AAAS, National Academies, or scientists such as Francis Ayala and Ken Miller.

    Well crafted messages from these organizations and scientists that focus on the overwhelming consensus view on evolutionary science, its role as a building block for medical and social progress, and the strong support for evolution from many religious traditions, is the right counter-message. In fact its the message that the National Academies researched and tested in focus groups and polling, as they describe in the current issue of CBE Life Sciences Education.

    In the process, these organizations should also underscore that the rhetorical straw men shown in the film (i.e. Dawkins, PZ, et al) do not speak for science and are not representative of the views of scientists.

  64. #64 J. J. Ramsey
    March 23, 2008

    MarkH: “It’s amazing how effective Dawkins and PZ are as communicators.”

    Communicators to whom? Sure, to an audience that thinks it’s funny to describe believers as “pious twits” and “little old ladies who faint at the sight of monkeys,” or who like it when the religious are likened to a Hitler-like menace, they are popular. Even to those who don’t like that sort of thing find it has sort of a train wreck appeal. It doesn’t follow from this that they are effective at reaching whose who might be persuaded to accept evolution but aren’t yet convinced.

    Why do you think that those who believe that science leads to atheism are going to be too good at reaching the religious?

  65. #65 DamnDirtyApe
    March 23, 2008

    Let’s not forget the core issue here: This film is a dishonest underhanded piece of garbage. The makers Lied to Meyers and Dawkins and others. This reeks of a smear campaign, and it looks like its totally backfiring on those Expelled jerks.

    I don’t see why they should ‘lay low’. Expelling PZ from expelled is the icing on the cake of their hipocrisy. All they have to do is point at it with the biggest pointiest stick they can find.

  66. #66 Stuart Dryer
    March 23, 2008

    Last I heard this is a free country, and Meyers and Dawkins can say whatever they want to. In fact, as a working professional scientist, I kind of resent someone who is NOT a professional scientist — that would be you, Dr. Nisbet — telling me or my colleagues how we should react to aggressive and dishonest proponents of a medieval world view.

    Frankly, any objective observer of politics since around 1980 will have discerned that attempting to triangulate one’s public position so as to keep the ignorant and superstitious from having the vapors is a losing proposition.

    By the way, one can be smart and deluded at the same time.

  67. #67 heddle
    March 23, 2008

    A) Learning about science makes you an atheist, it “kills off” religious faith.

    Except when it doesn’t. How many counter examples are required?

  68. #68 Lev
    March 23, 2008

    Oh, I see…

    Previous blog entries: 2 comments, 1 comment, 0 comments, 13 comments, 0 comments, 0 comments, 3 comments, 0 comments.

    But, with a rebuke of Myers and Dawkins (a double wammy) you’re well on the way to a century. That goes some way to disproving your point. What use is framing a message that’s never heard?

  69. #69 gleaner63
    March 23, 2008

    if Darwinists are upset about this film it’s only because the general public will see what is really behind so-called objective scientists like Dawkins and PZ. Simply put, they are NOT scientists who deal strictly with data and then go home at night; rather they have a non-scientific agenda to push, undergirded by their antagonsims against religion. I think they are embarrased because they’ve been caught. As the late Dr. J. Allen Hynek once observed; “…science is not always what scientists do…”.

  70. #70 doctorgoo
    March 23, 2008

    You know heddle, most of the time I take swipes at you for being an incredibly rude and self-indulgent asshat… lol… (like I’m doing right now just for giggles)

    But probably my very favorite comment of yours that I’ve read was the one where you proposed the thought experiment of providing 5 real scientific papers written by scientists who are atheists, and 5 written by scientists who happen to be Christians… and then see if people can tell which papers were written by Christians based on their religious beliefs, which according to some, must make it impossible to perform real science.

  71. #71 Anonymous
    March 23, 2008

    “It’s a fact that there are many scientists who think that “religion is a fairytale” (the majority in some forums). There are also many who have lost their religion after having been exposed to science. Are you saying they should avoid ever being caught on video?”

    There are many THEOLOGIANS who fall into that camp. Who love the history of religion and belief, and the implications of the old tales… but who don’t actually believe this stuff is actual history.

  72. #72 Dale Husband
    March 23, 2008

    This is really one of the dumbest blogs I’ve ever seen. PZ Myers noticed it too and slammed it to the wall:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/03/im_supposed_to_sit_down_and_sh.php

    Telling people to shut up because you don’t like their style gets you only insults from them, and well deserved ones too!

  73. #73 jayh
    March 23, 2008

    anonymous above (about theolgians) is me. hit enter too fast.

  74. #74 Pierce R. Butler
    March 23, 2008

    The simplistic and unscientific claim that more knowledge leads to less religion might be the particular delusion of Dawkins, Myers, and many others, but it is by no means the official position of science, though they often implicitly claim to speak for science.

    Dr. Nisbet, please report to the Remedial English Composition classroom first thing Monday morning.

  75. #75 Neil B.
    March 23, 2008

    A reminder to those who like to talk about how “falsifiability” defines science, meaningfulness, etc: “Probability” is not falsifiable per Popperian constructs! Probability is a very important parameter in science but “meaningless” by strict construction of the standard of falsifiability! For example, given a claimed 50/50 chance, no particular run of heads or tails could be given as dispositive of that claim – it would just have 1/2^n chance of happening, along a continuum of lesser chance. You could make an arbitrary decision that you couldn’t find the claim credible anymore, but you couldn’t justify drawing the line just there (or at all really, as I explained.) Tough luck! So I don’t want to hear anyone say, “If it’s not falsifiable, it isn’t science” without acknowledging this big fly in the ointment.

  76. #76 William Wallace
    March 23, 2008

    Wow. This entry sent the foul mouthed Paul Z. Myers off the deep end.

  77. #77 Pierce R. Butler
    March 23, 2008

    Dr. Nisbet, here’s one of the questions I came here to ask:

    What is the goal of calling on people not to do what they are already doing and will surely continue to do?

    On a purely rhetorical-tactical level, you’re setting yourself up for a loss; on an informational level, you’re wasting your readers’ time.

    This sort of call makes sense as a rallying cry for your posse, and possibly supplies some meager psychological gratification, but its value as communication otherwise seems close to zero.

  78. #78 szqc
    March 23, 2008

    As noted above by 2 commenters, one correct idea is trying to get more than the usual suspects to lead the charge. As other commenters noted however, there’s been a dearth of effective people to do that.

    On the rest I think Prof. Nisbet is indeed wrong for reasons Mark H., John Lynch, and Brian Switek (plus several commenters noted). As others have said, one way to “frame” this is indeed to note that evolution is supported by atheists and theists (Richard, PZ, Ken Miller) alike whereas (in spite of spin to the contrary) ID pretty much is indeed supported by fundamentalist religion – mostly Christian but some from Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. It’d be nice if all evolutionary biologists and like minded scientists and thinkers could indeed focus only on the science. But the opponents are tangled up in religion; that makes the frame one of religion in part and hard to ignore. Especially if one participates, as PZ and Richard did, in a faked-out docudrama which is supposed to address religion and science but is actually a stealth attack on evolution and science in general. Naive? Perhaps. But the resultant fallout does expose the mendacity of ID and its cheering squad in the constant lies. As again noted on the Pharyngula threads, “there is no such thing as bad publicity” is false. If you get caught being a hypocrite you lose. Ask former Gov Spitzer…

  79. #79 xcdesignproponentsists
    March 23, 2008

    With all due respect, Dr. Nisbet, I think you’re way off here. The main message that the public needs is that scientists just like other human beings have their own opinions.
    Intelligent Design propagandists will no doubt focus on the views of the so-called militant atheists, but that’s a part of their propaganda. As far as a genuine public understanding of science goes, the message should be clear. Scientists of all faiths and all belief systems accept evolution, and the key point is that ultimately it is the science that matters, not their religious beliefs. After all, attempting to temper individual scientists’ views on religion only gives credence to the false notion that science panders to religious ideologies.

  80. #80 Crow
    March 23, 2008

    I totally fail to see why so many people get so very upset by a post like this, and why so many accuse Nisbet of helping the other side by even raising the issue.

    See, I’m a committed, even passionate Democrat. But no one goes around accusing me of being a closet Republican when I raise the issue “Is Hillary Clinton good for the Democratic party?” In fact, that’s exactly the conversation that the Democrats need to be having right now.

    Just as this is exactly the conversation that those in the scientific community concerned with public education need to having right now.

    -Crow

  81. #81 Pierce R. Butler
    March 23, 2008

    Dr. Nisbet, here’s the other question:

    Can you name any worldview/ideology/cultural shift/etc that has won a place in the sun by framing strategies and without deliberate and aggressive confrontation?

    The only such examples I can think of are trivial, such as advertising campaigns. Neither grand ambitions, such as the End to Superstition, nor practicable social goals, such as better science education, seem amenable to the techniques used by Pepsi to supplant Coca-Cola.

    But I’m a lowly street activist, doubtlessly bent by decades of conflict, and perhaps hysterically blind to historical instances of transformation by unaugmented cognitive therapy.

    Since I’ve already burdened our host with two futile challenges, is there anyone in the posse who can point me toward the specimen event(s) being requested?

  82. #82 Chris Clarke
    March 23, 2008

    Know what? Considering the reaction to this spectacularly insulting and ineptly written post, you couldn’t focus group a better message for the anti-framing crowd.

    As long as Nisbet and Mooney continue to be the representative voices for “framing,” it is really bad for those of us who care about conveying scientific information to the general public.

    Mr. Nisbet, it’s time to let other people be the messengers for framing. This is not about censoring your ideas and positions, but rather being smart, strategic, tactical, and ultimately effective in promoting science communication rather than your own personal ideology, blog, or public appearances.

  83. #83 CleveDan
    March 23, 2008

    Maybe Nisbet is right. It would be much better framing for PZ to teach out of a book like say ….”Of Panda’s and People” for his Biology classes. The general public would enjoy that much more. We could teach astronomy students by showing them “The Privileged Planet” too

    The Framing argument reminds me of “pan & scan” in home movies….they are trying to make it ‘one size fits all’ but they just end up cutting out 1/3 of the info and still having a crappy looking product nobody is happy with

  84. #84 Pierce R. Butler
    March 23, 2008

    Crow: I can’t resist answering with my # 1 Talking Point this season -

    Hillary Clinton is the most Republican of all the Democratic candidates:
    * she has voted the Bush line more often,
    * has sought and received more corporate bribes, and
    * has run the nastiest campaign.

    Pass it on.

  85. #85 Rules For
    March 23, 2008

    “A) Learning about science makes you an atheist, it ‘kills off’ religious faith.”

    Feynman said essentially the same thing, and he’s one of the best science communicators that ever came along.

  86. #86 Coturnix
    March 23, 2008

    Chris Clarke wins the thread.

  87. #87 MarkH
    March 23, 2008

    I have read all those things Matt, and I don’t recall having PZ and Dawkins shut up was part of any of those documents.

    Despite your attempts to limit the relevance of PZ and Dawkins, some up us do remember that PZ is the #1 scienceblogger in the freaking world by various metrics, and that Dawkins is an author with multiple bestsellers both inside and outside the atheist book market.

    Your framing attack on these two excellent communicators has, like I said, shown you wouldn’t know your two biggest assets if they sat on your head. If you really think they should be doing something different you better learn to frame your arguments so they’ll listen, because they’re the ones you’re going to have to convince to change. They’re not going to shut up because the framers ask. In fact, their contempt for you is so great all you’ve done is guarantee they’ll talk louder. Nice framing.

    So far you’ve failed. Miserably. In fact, all you’ve done is piss a great majority of us off. That’s also not good framing.

    Finally, this hypothetically well-framed scientific apparatus isn’t up and running and generating data of superior efficacy to what we’ve been working on. Look at the NYT article. They called the DI creationists! How perfect is that? Who’s responsible for that? Was it you? Was it some master of framing? No, it was the agitators like PZ and others who have insisted from the beginning we call these atrocious little liars out for the scum that they are.

    I think you guys actually have a point about scientific PR. I’ve given you credit for it multiple times. I just don’t believe you’ve demonstrated any competence in implementing it or practicing it yourselves.

  88. #88 Russell Blackford
    March 23, 2008

    I’ve formed the view that Nisbet is an opponent of the party of reason. Sure, he may wish to popularise his concept of science. But his view is something like: “Religion is here to stay so to popularise science we have to sanitise er adjust er frame it to make it palatable to the religionists.”

    Religion in some form may turn out to be here to stay, but not necessarily – it’s certainly not the experience in a lot of Western and Asian countries (Norway, Japan, etc., and even the UK, Australia, and New Zealand to an extent). And even if we’re always going to be stuck with religion of some kind, it can be put under pressure, and perhaps it will mutate into something more benign (like Unitarian Universalism or the nicer strains of Anglicanism).

    In any event, the various religions are (1) most often, cults of misery that need to be opposed and (2) at least in tension with the worldview arising from science. It is very Zeus-damn difficult to reconcile the scientific image of the world with the image of a loving, providential (and all-powerful, all-knowing) God.

    I submit that those of us who form the party of reason should be saying this loudly and clearly. If someone keeps telling us to shut up, I am no longer going to consider him a friend of the party of reason who just doesn’t “get” a few things. I’m going to see him as an opponent.

  89. #89 MPW
    March 24, 2008

    Naadir @ first comment:Why does Dawkins even hold the chair of the “Public understanding of science” at Oxford anyway?

    Assuming you’re not being ironic… Because he’s extraordinarily good at conveying science to the public. And he’s very famous and respected in that capacity – at least, outside of the benighted, religion-and-creationism-besotted environs of the USA, that is. In the UK, from what I’ve read, he tops polls of respected public intellectuals, so apparently he isn’t the kiss-of-death poison to average, reasonable people that you and folks like Nisbet seem to think.

    With regard to the original post:

    I’m with PZ and Dawkins in thinking that: a) there are no gods; b) the scientific method and its way of approaching knowledge leads inexorably to this conclusion, if one is intellectually honest about following its implications; and c) this is an important truth for humanity to grasp. Plenty of intelligent people disagree with us on this, and they’re free to express that disagreement, and if they do so intelligently, I will respect them despite our disagreement.

    What we have here is another situation entirely. You’re simply yelling, “Shut up!” Why on earth someone who believes the three propositions outlined above should simply shut up about it, or would want to, still utterly escapes me, despite your ongoing yammering, Matthew. I cannot respect the intellectual integrity or tactical wisdom of someone who insists that we should do so, and so with this post, your blog has finally jumped into the trash bin as far as I’m concerned.

  90. #90 Jackie
    March 24, 2008

    I posted this on PZ’s blog, but I think both sides could do with reading this:

    http://cosmicvariance.com/2008/03/23/politicians-and-critics/

  91. #91 Quidam
    March 24, 2008

    The one thing that would reinforce the Expelled message is for “Big Science” to organise “official spokesmen” to which all questions should be addressed and suppress dissenting voices in case opinions outside the party line are heard.

    Yup that would show those Expelled people they’re wrong.

    If you (Nisbet) have something to say then stand up and say it. Myers and Dawkins aren’t stopping you.

  92. #92 Kevin Miller
    March 24, 2008

    Great piece, Matthew. I see it drove PZ to expletives, but what you’ve said here is very important for people on all sides of the debate.

  93. #93 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 24, 2008

    Great piece, Matthew. I see it drove PZ to expletives, but what you’ve said here is very important for people on all sides of the debate.

    Posted by: Kevin Miller | March 24, 2008 12:40 AM

    Well, that says it all, doesn’t it?

  94. #94 Scott Hatfield, OM
    March 24, 2008

    Matt, you are just so wrong on this point that I, a theist, have to say so.

    Look: it makes believers like me uncomfortable to see the tenets of our faith challenged by those who would wield unpleasant facts from the natural world. I don’t care for everything PZ or Dr. D says, obviously. We have our differences!

    But that doesn’t make the unpleasant facts any less factual. The most recent contretemps isn’t even about science, Matt. It’s about truth-telling. PZ and Dr. D were LIED to. If they don’t have a right to challenge the mendacity of Stein, Mathis and Company, who does? Essentially, your position tilts the playing field in favor of the lying creationist over the impolitic, but honest critic of creationism. That’s just not going to fly. I have to say that I’m with Randy Olson, who has a lot of ‘on-the-ground’ experience observing the creationists. Randy, addressing you, writes:

    Matt – You’re dreaming. If there was an official Evolution Defense Team with a command headquarters, huge budget, and army of strategists standing around a map table covered with model tanks and airplanes then yes, the rogue actions of PZ and Dawkins would be bad news. But there ain’t.

    The large organizations don’t want to get involved with the real politics of defending evolution, and there is no coordinated effort other than producing lots of brochures and editorials. There is a need for the occasional individual efforts. You talk like there’s a science to all this stuff, and there is to a limited extent, and you’re good when you’re speaking to that. But you need to get out on the streets a little more and realize there are some non-ivory tower dyanmics to this issue that have to be addressed in less academic ways. PZ is to be commended for having brought a human dimension to what is generally perceived by broader audiences as a relatively dull academic issue.

    To which I simply add, right on.

  95. #95 ZekeCDN
    March 24, 2008

    Personally I’m done soft-peddling reality so as not to rile the fundies. And I can only imagine how much more difficult it is for those who live so close to the eye of the storm, like Myers and Dawkins. Considering how much each of them has done for both science and the public understanding thereof, I think you should retract your petty grievance.

  96. #96 Jim from San Diego
    March 24, 2008

    Great piece, Matthew. I see it drove PZ to expletives, but what you’ve said here is very important for people on all sides of the debate.

    Posted by: Kevin Miller | March 24, 2008 12:40 AM

    Matt – Look who’s on your side. From my point of view, I would you have damaged the credibility of science. Perhaps you should ask Dr. PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins for advice.

  97. #97 Philip
    March 24, 2008

    Ambassadors of Evolution, Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers are personally responsible for undoing any good will created by Atheism over the last 150 years and are doing more damage to their causes than any IDer could ever possibly achieve. They continuing to project Atheists as cold-blooded, bigoted, arrogant, soul-less supremacists while dragging science down with them!

    What evolutionists dont understand is that millions of movie viewers will see their cherished beliefs being ridiculed AND SERIOUSLY THREATENED by these insensitive slimeballs. They brought to the forefront of the general public’s mind, a relatively obscure issue that was not emotionally charged…UNTIL NOW!

    90% of all Americans will now NOT be so trusting of science and they will be far more diligent in their watch for EVOLUTIONISTS attempting to quash their religious faith!

    These two Clowns are a Public Relations nightmare, and they have helped fuel a war that they cannot and will not win!

    Way to go Guys!!!!!

  98. #98 KenGee
    March 24, 2008

    I think Nisbet is just sore we are not hanging on his every word. Funny I found this thread from Uncommonly dumb link thats got to tell you something. What Nisbet seems to be saying is we prodarwinist should do the samething that the ID’st are doing. You know lying and the don’t ask don’t tell stuff like the young earth and old earth crationist not talking about the age of the earth until after they have won the war against the evil Drawinist.

  99. #99 M.
    March 24, 2008

    You know what’s the saddest part?

    Framing was an idea that has some merits. I heard yours and Moony’s talk at the NY Academy of Sciences, and it was very interesting. It was an example of using good framing to frame your own message about framing to other scientists. And framed messages could be used as a part of a multi-pronged approach to science education.

    Unfortunately, Matt, you have killed it. Killed it dead.

    You have reframed framing. Framing now appears to mean “it doesn’t matter how successfully you communicated something, you didn’t consult Matt Nisbet, and therefore you are destroying science”.

    So, Matt, here’s a suggestion: it’s time to let others be the spokesperson for framing.

  100. #100 annalemma
    March 24, 2008

    PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins were entirely correct with their actions on the Expelled movie. Not standing up to liars and bullies will only allow them to dish out more of the same. The only way to bring down liars is with the truth. The only way to bring down hypocrites is to expose them for what they are and continue with ruthless ridicule. Not standing up to creationist lies and hypocrisy shows the creationists and observers that they can bully scientists into submission, which is really one of their political goals.

  101. #101 Mark Witt
    March 24, 2008

    Dear Professor Nibset:

    I applaud your insight and the fine points to which you put your arguments. It is clear that you have the proper background and education to understand the hermeneutics of the post-objectified neo-Darwinian position as well as its ramifications vis-a-vis the trust-based conflict between the neo-Darwinians and the Intelligent Design Movement – with its important effects on the public perception of science and religion! It would be an honor to have you address the Institute of Theory in New Haven in the new facility next year. The Faculty of the Institute of Theory sincerely hope to have further discussions with men of caliber, standing and erudition – to this end, further contact is desired.

    Sincerely,

    Mark Witt

    Intelligent Design,
    Institute of Theory
    New Haven, CT

  102. #102 Joel
    March 24, 2008

    Personally I’m done soft-peddling reality so as not to rile the fundies. And I can only imagine how much more difficult it is for those who live so close to the eye of the storm, like Myers and Dawkins. Considering how much each of them has done for both science and the public understanding thereof, I think you should retract your petty grievance.

    Posted by: ZekeCDN | March 24, 2008 1:46 AM

    I agree with this.

    These people refuse to read Harry Potter because it glorifies witchcraft. No amount of logic, reason or understanding will fix that.

  103. #103 Indignantatheist
    March 24, 2008

    What the funk are you talking about? PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins are surely the greatest forces for good operating in the world today! Their ferocity of logic – combined with an awe inspiring capacity to comfortably tolerate the labyrinthine complexity of minutiae and subtleties in their opponents position – leads to an unparalleled example of the power of righteous, generous human discourse. They are also unashamably handsome men.

    The behaviour of the producers of Expelled is vomit-inducing to the reason-loving cognoscenti of this backward looking country of ours. So what if all the questions were handed out well in advance? So what if their contributions were presented fairly, without editorial distortion? So what if IDiots such as Dembski and Behe (incidently ugly men, especially when compared to those bronzed Homeric warriors Dawkins and Myers) were treated far, far worse by the producers of BBC’s Horizon program “The War on Science” (a title which was not used during the time of interview, and in which their arguments were incorrectly stated and they were not allowed the right of reply against their critics).

    Sometimes I think we atheists do not deserve such angel of reason to serve in our midsts.

  104. #104 Moses
    March 24, 2008

    Get over yourself Nisbet. You’re the Neville Chamberlain of the Creationism/Science debate.

    The framing is:

    (1) Creationists lie. Creationists lie some more. And, then they lie again. And they’re wrong even when they’re not lying.

    (2) Scientists don’t care what you believe on an individual basis. Until you try to use your bronze age beliefs as a weapon to control others: including them directly and their children who are in public school because being poorly paid relevant to educational level, they’re generally stuck with public schools.

    In other words, there is no problem when creationists are being honest and respecting the rights of others to not be entangled in their fairy-tales.

  105. #105 Samantha Vimes
    March 24, 2008

    Think Overton Window, please. The extreme voices are of value to science in the debate with religion.

  106. #106 Moses
    March 24, 2008

    After reading through the comments to Nisbet’s post a rerun of an old anthropology film flashed into my mind. There are two stone age tribes standing in an open field yelling, hurling insults, shaking their primitive weapons at each other. After several rounds of bluff charging each other, one of the tribesmen is, by accident, seriously wounded. At which point they all packed up their families and leave for home. Each side feeling that they had somehow once again verified their position and defended their honor.

    Apparently no one, even the self-proclaimed leaders, paused long enough to formulate a long term strategy for success. Each tribe simply repeated what had happened in the countless prior confrontations by countless prior generations.

    Thank you, Nisbet, for your suggestion. However, it is apparent that the tribesmen are more interested in their traditional method of issue resolution.

    Posted by: Endoff | March 23, 2008 6:26 PM

    Oh. Anthropology. Yes. I’m thinking of a different anthropology film.

    In this film a Catholic leader of a deeply bigoted nation that has dehumanized its neighbors, and a large part of its own population, starts a global war that includes six million Jews dying in concentration camps. The man on the other side waves a piece of paper and is heard saying “peace in our time.”

  107. #107 Moses
    March 24, 2008

    I’ve formed the view that Nisbet is an opponent of the party of reason. Sure, he may wish to popularise his concept of science. But his view is something like: “Religion is here to stay so to popularise science we have to sanitise er adjust er frame it to make it palatable to the religionists.”

    Posted by: Russell Blackford | March 23, 2008 11:59 PM

    Lots of persecuted minorities have tried that. It doesn’t work.

    Here in America, the Indians tried to be acculturated into the US. Many groups gave up much, but not their religious practices, and formed states and applied to become part of the United States. The Indians were rejected out-right for socio-political reasons, most of which were tied up with the history of religious practice in America.

    The Jews tried it in many countries throughout Europe. It lead to a predictable and oft repeated cycle of: exploitation, persecution then expulsion. The Mennonites (and Amish) tried it in many European countries, with the same results so it wasn’t even necessarily an ethnic issue — just intolerance of the majority and the threat the minority encompassed.

  108. #108 oriole
    March 24, 2008

    Mr. Nisbet, I had never heard of you before PZ posted your condescending lecture to Dawkins and himself on his website. If you’re attempting to “frame science”, you’re doing it in some alternate universe which only comes into contact with ours when 11-dimensional branes accidentally collide and produce another big bang, so when that happens, please let us all know, and we’ll be glad to look for the press release from your pointless ineffectual framing society, which offers about as much useful resistance to ID’ers as the similarly pitifully framing 2002 Dems offered to the Iraq War.

    Thanks for sharing your concerns, now dip your delicate fingers in your bowl of rosewater again and get out of the way of PZ and Richard and others who are willing to get their hands dirty in this important fight for civilisation and the values of the enlightenment.

  109. #109 Susan Brown
    March 24, 2008

    I think by speaking up, Dawkins & Myers can encourage others to do the same, in our own ways. What they are saying may not persuade my fundamentalist relatives, but they’ve spurred me to action in my own realm of influence — trying to persuade my fellow Texans and the SBOE that the teaching of creationism/ID don’t belong in the science classroom.

    We need more people promoting science and reason, not fewer.

  110. #110 hermit
    March 24, 2008

    “Ambassadors of Evolution, Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers are personally responsible for undoing any good will created by Atheism over the last 150 years and are doing more damage to their causes than any IDer could ever possibly achieve.”

    Here we go again….please give me ONE example of “atheististic good will” at any point during the last 150 years. Remember, to qualify, this has to be something creationists considered as “good will” from atheists.

    I’m waiting, but not holding my breath.

  111. #111 Pyre
    March 24, 2008

    Matt, such concern-trolling might look better in verse:

    Well, yes, the film lied in your face, but who was really rude?
    No, not the ones who told the lies, but those who hissed and booed.
    They should have sat there silently and sadly wrung their hands,
    And let the liars claim their film uncontradicted stands.

    Let’s not show Churchill’s courage, or Tom Jefferson’s insight
    That error’s safe if only truth is also free to fight;
    Let’s let the lies be shouted, but then make the truth be mute,
    For only then can error stand, its rule made absolute.

    We must all keep our heads down, cower, whimper, and obey,
    For that will surely make the bullies stop and run away.
    No more of nasty bwutish men like Dawkins and P.Z.;
    If there’s to be “peace in our time”, let’s vote for Neville C.!

  112. #112 Neil B.
    March 24, 2008

    Just a quick summary of a good point often made by critics of militant atheists/skeptics etc: I think they are right that “shrill” and contemptuous activists mostly harm whatever good could otherwise come from their cause. If you care about a cause, you know that your first responsibility is to make a good case in a mature way, and above all appeal to moderate, wavering observers. Your major responsibility is not about entertaining and throwing red meat to your most rabid supporters in the manner of Rush, Ann Coulter, etc. Dawkins, PZ, et al must come across to many in “the audience” somewhat like Rev. Wright when unleashing as he sometimes did. (BTW, critics of him avoid the issue of how often he sounded like that, likely not much but I wouldn’t know…)

  113. #113 Daniel Murphy
    March 24, 2008

    though they often implicitly claim to speak for science.

    Dawkins and Myers don’t “speak for science.” They speak for themselves. When have they ever claimed to “speak for science”?

    What a weasel word that “implictly” is!

    that would be you, Dr. Nisbet — telling me or my colleagues how we should react to aggressive and dishonest proponents of a medieval world view.

    Framed! What, Nisbet, is/are the proper reaction(s) to “aggressive and dishonest proponents of a medieval world view”?

  114. #114 thm
    March 24, 2008

    Pierce R. Butler asks:

    Can you name any worldview/ideology/cultural shift/etc that has won a place in the sun by framing strategies and without deliberate and aggressive confrontation?

    The first example comes from (American) death penalty opponents, who for years tried to argue, with virtually no success, that the death penalty should be abolished because killing people is wrong. Most everyone involved in the anti-death penalty movement still believes that, but they’ve had substantially more success by arguing that the criminal justice system is flawed and that innocents have been and could be killed by the state. This line of reasoning led, for example, to (Republican) Governor George Ryan’s moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois.

    The second is Ronald Reagan’ pronouncement that “government is the problem,” which killed the prevailing New Deal/ Great Society viewpoint that government was a positive force to improve society. A subset of this is that the use of the phrase “tax relief” to frame any discussion of appropriate tax rates, that the word “relief” automatically implies that “tax”es are something from which one needs relief.

    Although late to this thread, I generally agree with Nisbet but, if I may quote scripture here, it should be apparent that this is a case of “Physician, heal thyself,” which is to say that getting scientists to understand what framing is all about is just about as daunting a task as getting the wobbly middle of America to understand what science is about. But this goes to show that getting the whole framing business correct takes lots of work, which is why Luntz and Norquist do the work they do.

  115. #115 Keith Eaton
    March 24, 2008

    Please let the demoniacs pee wee myers and doggins continue as well as other militant atheists who make up 95% of the evo crowd.

    Let Expelled illustrate, publish the TO blog widely , etc. so decent people know what western civilization is facing in the darwin crowd.

    Don’t muzzle the sewer people. Let them have full voice in every public venue appropriate.

  116. #116 Mike T.
    March 24, 2008

    Speaking as someone who knows the difference between Intelligent Design (reasonable to consider) versus fundamentalist creationism (to be avoided at all costs), I became positively gleeful upon reading the rabid responses to Mr. Nesbit’s altogether reasonable suggestion.

    Blind devotion to the idea that design simply cannot be considered makes you folks downright silly. Furthermore, I find the mantra that “creationists lie” to be wildly hypocritical. I see constant misrepresentation, straw man attacks, and ad hominem attacks on the likes of Behe, Dembski, etc. The pot is surely calling the kettle black. The mere use of the term “creationism” as a synonym for Intelligent Design is a lie. Intelligent Design makes NO attempt to identify the designer(s). Intelligent Design has no hard connection to any religion. That is has potential metaphysical implications is obvious and the fundies do their best to benefit from it, but Intelligent Design is NOT creationism. Deal with it. It simply observes life and its myriad complexities and infers that random chance events isn’t sufficient to the task. The same techniques are found in forensics, archaeology, SETI, cryptography, etc. Math and science are used in those fields to detect the difference between chance events (death by natural causes, for example) and designed events (murder, for example). That you guys don’t allow for even the possibility of design detection within biology makes you look inconsistent, arbitrary, and silly — and it exposes what’s really going on here: your dedication to the philosophy of materialism has rendered you incapable of expressing healthy skepticism regarding the origin and development of life. You’ve left the realm of science and are now firmly embedded in the philosophical.

    Truth is the friend of the Intelligent Design camp. The more the mainstream understands about how folks like Dawkins, Meyer, etc. really think, the better it is for us. The more the mainstream understands about the fossil record and the multiple “big bangs” of complexity found therein, the better it is for us. The more folks understand about the unlikely arise of complex systems found within DNA and sub-cellular life, the better it is for us. The more the mainstream understands about cosmology and the incredible fine-tuning found within various attributes of this universe, the better it is for us. I say bring it all out. We want the public to know MORE about evolution, life, and this universe — not less.

    The more the “black box” of life is opened and understood, the less likely it is that undirected mutations and natural selection alone can do it all.

    The more the mainstream understands the philosophical (rather than scientific) underpinnings of the anti-religion and anti-Intelligent Design movements, the better it is for us.

    I am giddy that you folks are too arrogant and self-assured to ask yourself hard questions or wage a good public relations campaign. Sweet!

  117. #117 Indignantatheist
    March 24, 2008

    Oh. Anthropology. Yes. I’m thinking of a different anthropology film.

    “In this film a Catholic leader of a deeply bigoted nation that has dehumanized its neighbors, and a large part of its own population, starts a global war that includes six million Jews dying in concentration camps. The man on the other side waves a piece of paper and is heard saying “peace in our time.”

    Posted by: Moses | March 24, 2008 8:21 AM”

    Except that the “Catholic” leader was really an anti-Christian rationalist/atheist (or at most vague Deist) who said whatever his audience wanted to hear. If you don’t believe me, consult his secretary Traudl Junge’s autobiography or his “Table Talk”. See http://www.davnet.org/kevin/essays/hitler.html for more information on this important matter.

  118. #118 Luna_the_cat
    March 24, 2008

    Thank you, Mike T., for providing us with yet another example of the kind of smug, self-congratulatory, and yet remarkably deep ignorance of the actual field of [biology|evolution|science-in-general] that actual scientists are up against.

    I would suggest, if you are so interested in science education, that you could do worse than start with yourself. There is a reason why ID is universally shunned by working biologists, and you might try finding out why that actually is, as opposed to what you tell yourself it is.

  119. #119 hibob
    March 24, 2008

    I’ll chime in with Jeff Dee and T. McNeely. If Nisbet’s vision of framing is as powerful as he thinks it is, please show us it’s success when it is confronted with the pride, fear, and tribalism that are so often intertwined with a religious view of the world. How has Mr. Nisbet used Framing to successfully convince Myers and Dawkins to come over to his point of view?

  120. #120 ddr
    March 24, 2008

    I can’t help thinking about Nazi Germany and England before WWII. The English made a pact with Germany, thinking that they would be left alone if they only showed how non-threatening they were. We know how that ended up.

    I don’t think there is anyway to play nice between science and religion. Science is willing to just ignore religion and get on with its work. But the opposite is not true. Religion seems to be always hammering at the door saying “hey, leave that alone” “no, you can’t teach that, that is not what we believe.”

    I understand your point about PZ’s statements inflaming the fears of the religious right that knowledge equals atheism. And your right it will. But no matter how you frame science, they will believe that anyway. They just think that we are lying to them when we tell them we are not the enemy and everything will be ok. They want to believe in god, but they know that too many facts make that harder. You can try and frame it in a “look how this glorifies god great creation” way. But that only goes so far. They will never trust the science people and they will always seek to limit and control the knowledge and the teaching.

    The lay low, don’t offend policy seems like wisdom. But if you do that long enough, then the other side gets used to you going out of your way to not offend and they push harder and take more ground.

    At some point you have to say that your sorry it offends them, but this is how it is. Our way is the future, their way is the past. Your children can live in the future or the past, but take a good hard look at how the past really was before you decide.

  121. #121 random net guy
    March 24, 2008

    Why is Matt Nisbet even on scienceblogs.com? He’s got nothing of any use to contribute. Just whiny unsubstantiated “you guys are too meaaannnn” drivel. I would dearly love to see him kicked off the network.

  122. #122 Skeptic_Al
    March 24, 2008

    Aha, an alumnus of the Neville Chamberlain School for Scientific Integrity. :S

    Arsehole.

  123. #123 the real CosMo Framer
    March 24, 2008

    OH NO!! My ohhh my…you have incurred the wraith(s) of the sciborgs! Whatever will you do without their endorsement!!??

    Megalo-maniacal shameless self promotion is such a turn off, and I think you called this one correctly to a large degree, as Meyers fits that bill. Worse,these guys seem to feel that they know better than the PR guys–which is dangerous….

    re: “This is not about censoring your ideas and positions, but rather being smart…. and ultimately effective in promoting science rather than your own personal ideology, books, or blog.”

    Some of those stuck in the eighties, dogmatic faux-progressive guys over there know all about censorship–funny how the vultures came home to roost on them this time–and they sure can’t seem to take good advice from the media profesionals–I guess they fit the “know it all scientist” frame? ;-)

  124. #124 MalumRegnat
    March 24, 2008

    Perhaps, instead of trying to silence a message you don’t like, you should shout your pro sience message just as loudly as they shout theirs.

  125. #125 notsobad
    March 24, 2008

    This guy is a professor? …

  126. #126 MH
    March 24, 2008

    MalumRegnat wrote: “Perhaps, instead of trying to silence a message you don’t like, you should shout your pro sience message just as loudly as they shout theirs.”

    You’re presuming he has one. I’ve seen no such evidence.

  127. #127 FtK
    March 24, 2008

    “Why is Matt Nisbet even on scienceblogs.com?”

    Interesting…as I was reading through all the comments here and watching as PZ’s posse went on attack, I started thinking…wow, this Nisbet guy is being circled by a pack of wolves. How long will it be before they “expel” him from Scienceblogs or start contacting his employer like they do so many other people who don’t heed the status quo. As I read a little farther through the comments, I found that I was right on target. If he doesn’t conform, he’s at risk…

    “Why is Matt Nisbet even on scienceblogs.com?”

    Simply unbelieveable.

  128. #128 Eric
    March 24, 2008

    Oh shut up FtK. No one here thinks you have anything relevant to add. Go back to your sandboxed reality at UD and practice deleting unfavorable replies with your intellectually challenged cronies.

  129. #129 spurge
    March 24, 2008

    I see FTK is extending the long creationist tradition of cherry picking.

  130. #130 factician
    March 24, 2008

    I think if you were to interview 1000 atheist scientists, many of them would tell you the same story that PZ told. They were raised in some religious tradition. As they learned more and more about science, they discovered that more and more of the stories they’d been told weren’t true. Once they had discovered that 99% of the stories they were told weren’t true, there wasn’t much reason to hold onto that last 1%.

    Whether PZ’s story offends you or not, it’s a pretty common story.

  131. #131 factician
    March 24, 2008

    In the process, these organizations should also underscore that the rhetorical straw men shown in the film (i.e. Dawkins, PZ, et al) do not speak for science and are not representative of the views of scientists.

    What? Is there an official spokesman for science now? Would you be so kind as to tell us who our pope is?

    And really, they *are* representative of scientists. It might hurt your feelings, but 60% of us are atheists. Go figure.

    When you train as a scientist, you get trained to doubt. You doubt professionally. Professional doubters aren’t really all that good at mindless faith.

  132. #132 Matt Penfold
    March 24, 2008

    The data I have seen does seem to indicate that academics are much less likely to be religious than the general population, and scientists are more likely not to be religious than academics in general.

    This would certainly seem to suggest that education reduces religiosity and that having a scientific education reduces it even more.

    I guess Nisbett et al would rather such data be hidden from the public lest they worry that sending their sons and daughters off to university will turn them into atheists. You know what, in some cases it will.

  133. #133 factician
    March 24, 2008

    I guess Nisbett et al would rather such data be hidden from the public lest they worry that sending their sons and daughters off to university will turn them into atheists. You know what, in some cases it will.

    It did for me.

  134. #134 J. J. Ramsey
    March 24, 2008

    ddr: “I can’t help thinking about Nazi Germany and England before WWII.”

    Maybe you’ve just been exposed to too much of Expelled. :p

    Seriously, though, how does this whole Neville Chamberlain thing work? Nisbet and Mooney appease the creationists by contradicting their talking points about the link between evolution and atheism, so that there is less reason for believers to embrace creationism, and, and, … uh, how does this link to Chamberlain?

    Ah, the heck with it. Who says references to Hitler have to make any sense?

  135. #135 scotth
    March 24, 2008

    You totally blow it by here: “The simplistic and unscientific claim that more knowledge leads to less religion might be the particular delusion of Dawkins, Myers”

    This claim may be simple, but it certainly *is* a scientific claim. (It is also most likely true).

  136. #136 Anna K.
    March 24, 2008

    Hoooooly Guacamole. I just saw that clip.

    Matt Nisbet, you are absolutely right: PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins are going to be the gift that keeps on giving to anti-evolution school boards everywhere. There are a number of people at my church who are in science-related careers, and who would likely roll their eyes at the tactics of Expelled.

    However, I can think of several other people at my church who fit this category you described in the comments: “what the National Academies calls the vast wobbly middle of Americans who might be moderately religious and unsure of the differences between evolution and intelligent design.”

    I’ve already gotten emails from people who plan to see the movie. Ben Stein knows his audience and is definitely getting his message out, tailoring it as he is to questions over academic freedom and free speech. (I’ve got to admire his PR skills.)

    I hope other scientists who disagree with Myers and Dawkins about religion do speak out against this movie, because I suspect it’s already gaining traction with the “wobbly middle.”

  137. #137 Chris P
    March 24, 2008

    You are not even a scientist. Go pick on journalists that suck up to religion. Don’t tell us how to market science – that’s something journalists have already screwed up.

    Typical example at the weekend on MSNBC – “What would God say about money and investing”. The author described what different religions had to say.

    Excuse me but if they cannot get the story straight then that proves there is no god or gods.

    PZMyers and Dawkins are dong the right thing to stand up against relgious stupidity because the JOURNALISTS AREN’T – they keep reporting religious crap without questioning it.

    They are the ones who have miseducated the American public.

    It’s your guys fault.

  138. #138 Anonymous
    March 24, 2008

    In all seriousness, I think we should defer judgment on this film until the official spokesman for Science, Bill Nye the Science Guy, has had a chance to watch it and post his officially sanctioned review.

  139. #139 eric
    March 24, 2008

    In all seriousness, I think we should defer judgment on this film until the official spokesman for Science, Bill Nye the Science Guy, has had a chance to watch it and post his officially sanctioned review.

  140. #140 Armchair Dissident
    March 24, 2008

    Nisbett: Dawkins, and people like him, understand science. They know it so well, they can communicate it to the public, and the public – those who never had the chance to get an A-Level, degree or PhD. And those people – people like me – understand it through people like Dawkins, and people like PZ – and, for that matter, people like Phil Plait.

    I’m an atheist in part thanks to people like Dawkins, and I’m damned grateful for it.

    It is not a bad thing for scientists to express the view that the scientific way of thinking may naturally lead to atheism. Or would you prefer that I had continued to live a life as a christian?

    When I did computer science, there was a saying. “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach communications”. I don’t agree with the second clause, because of people like PZ and Dawkins, but I sure as hell agree with the last.

  141. #141 jre
    March 24, 2008

    Prof. Nisbet — Among your audience here at ScienceBlogs, the tide of opinion seems to be fairly strongly against you. But that does not necessarily mean that you are wrong. As several (including you) have noted, your position could, at least in principle, be supported by objective measures:

    In fact [it's] the message that the National Academies researched and tested in focus groups and polling, as they describe in the current issue of CBE Life Sciences Education.

    I have had a look at that issue, and (for me at least) it is not obvious to which article(s) you are referring. Please do us a favor: point to the material, and explain how it helps your argument. Thanks!

  142. #142 DavidONE
    March 24, 2008

    For many, Dawkins and Myers have *earned* their place at the table. What they say and how they say it are just fine and dandy … no false deference, no mealy-mouthed platitudes – just calling out idiocy where it rears its pimply head.

    Tip-toeing around religious sensibility hasn’t worked too well over the last few hundred years and many of us think it’s time they were pummelled with sound logic and reality-based argument. PZ and Richard do that job admirably.

    P.S. “C) Religion is a fairy tale, similar to hobgoblins, a fantasy, and even evil.”

    It is. Have you not been paying attention? I’d recommend Myers and Dawkins – they’re very good.

  143. #143 Mecha
    March 24, 2008

    I know for a fact that I’m just speaking into the wind, but this entire conversation, on every single blog, has frankly sickened me.

    A point I’ve been seeing a lot of people conflate. Atheism is not science. Science is not atheism. Atheism’s minority issues should not involve being silent. Moses, above, has analogies from minority that are appropriate on that front. However, they do not apply here, because this is not about being a minority. This is about the very simple and reasonable observation that in that movie clip, and then in bringing more attention to the film, PZ and Dawkins have one-two punched the pro-science anti-ID movement.

    Almost nobody is paying attention to the people with experience dealing with PR. They’re instead insulting Sheril for being too shril (and other anti-female based comments), insulting Nisbet for being just like someone who let Hitler stomp all over them (which is no way problematic, oh no), and insulting Mooney for being Nisbet’s shadow (and therefore having no intellectual value of his own.) This entire exercise in treating Nisbet, Sheril, and Mooney like they’re engaged in evil evil censorship is ridiculous and beneath the vast majority of good fucking human beings with logic, but everyone’s too busy picking their pet issue and turning the complaint meter up to 11 to care.

    Atheism. Is. Not. Science. Science doesn’t need to be popularized by people who will berate anyone who doesn’t agree with their personal point of view on god’s existence. Is that even vaguely analogous to the scientific method? Or is it more like having a religious test to be a good person?

    It’s funny in a way that turns my stomach. Generally, atheists don’t think that there is a relation between morality and religion, and that having any sort of requirement to prove that you are religious before you’re allowed to do X is stupid. But the ‘angry atheists’ demand that there be a relation between science and religion. And anyone who isn’t atheist isn’t good enough. Isn’t a real scientist.

    When someone does something which is wrong for the cause, you ask them to step back. PZ did something Nisbet and others believe is wrong for the SCIENTIFIC cause, and he asked him to step back. But PZ and other angry atheists would rather scream about how Nisbet is telling him to shut up, sit down, not talk about the ATHEIST cause, and how they’re trying to shut up minorities? Which you can only really believe if… yes, you assume that science and atheism are one and the same.

    And the people who are arguing that PZ and Dawkins aren’t acting like the de-facto voices of science? Get real. PZ does, in fact, present himself as the voice of science. The people advocating for his PoV? Also doing so, screaming about how these framers don’t believe in TRUTH(tm). Greg Laden, _on his blog_, said that PZ and his position was the position of RIGHTEOUSNESS. That’s right. He used a word which is not only about him and PZ being absolutely and unarguably right, he used one loaded with RELIGIOUS SUBTEXT to make it clear that he and PZ were in the right, and Nisbet was in the wrong. If you do not think that PZ, Dawkins, etc, are set up by both themselves AND the media as ‘Leaders of the Science Community’, I don’t know what world you have been paying attention to. And Expelled played right into that, by having the ‘leaders of the science community’ treat religion like crap. Credibility: Destroyed.

    Nisbet presents a straightforward argument here, with evidence of how people step right in it. Most anyone with PR experience says, ‘Uh, yep, that’s exactly how it works, you done screwed up.’ He even offered part of a positive plan (which is to say, let other people do the science work, and name said people), yet people are screaming, over and over, as if it would make it true, ‘Why don’t you do something positive? Why don’t you have a plan!’

    I saw a very clear plan. National Centers for Science Education. AAAS. Etc. And step one was getting PZ and Dawkins to step back from linking Atheism and Science. Because trying to do anything with them doing that sure seems like a waste of time. It’s certainly been a waste of time over the last day, hasn’t it?

    You people, every single blasted last one of you, should be better than this. Better than making the post about Sheril asking people not to treat eachother like crap the second most active post because you want to tell her she’s stupid and feminine. Better than conflating things which do not need to be conflated, except in how they advance the moral superiority of atheism and its rightness at great cost to science and its perceived value. Better than this. Be better than this, people.

    And a final note, to Nisbet: For chrissakes, the Ferarro example may have been relevant and recent so people could easily call it to mind, but it was both racially AND politically charged, and given that almost nobody wants to listen to you anyway, there are better examples, or at least you could have generalized. You keep detonating your arguments by picking trivially bad examples or phrasings. Even if people are going to pick apart your stuff and treat you like a worthless non-scientist, and you know it, you can do better too.

    -Mecha

  144. #144 Mark Probst
    March 24, 2008

    Dear Mr. Nisbet,

    I’ve learned a lot about biology from Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers while I’ve yet to learn anything about science from you.

    PS: How do you like being cheered at on Uncommon Descent?

  145. #145 Anna K.
    March 24, 2008

    Mecha,

    I enjoyed your post. That makes two of us, I guess. :P

    If the discourse in these comments is typical of the kind of response scientifically educated people think will be effective against ‘Exposed,’ I predict Ben Stein will be very successful in getting his message across.

    jre,

    I don’t know if this was what Nisbet was referring to, but I downloaded the following from this issue, about how the National Academies used focus groups to develop an educational brochure on creationism and evolution:

    Jay B. Labov and Barbara Kline Pope
    Understanding Our Audiences: The Design and Evolution of Science, Evolution, and Creationism
    CBE Life Sci Educ 2008: 20�24.

    Very interesting reading.

  146. #146 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 24, 2008

    Anna,
    That’s the article I was referring to. I discuss it a couple posts down on my blog from this entry.

    Best,
    Matt

  147. #147 Anon
    March 24, 2008

    Nisbet:
    Have you thought about how much Expelled can benefit from the rivalry within its oppposition (i.e. the Evolution camp) that you have fuelled?

  148. #148 island
    March 24, 2008

    I hope other scientists who disagree with Myers and Dawkins about religion do speak out against this movie, because I suspect it’s already gaining traction with the “wobbly middle.”

    Yes, it is important to counterbalance the fanatically warped world-view of extremist fundamentalists, with the equally distorted belief system of “neodarwinian bullies”.

    This way, the “wobbly middle” gets the right idea about both sides of the debate, which gives hope to the belief that the mainstream will get the right message, by maintaining a certain healthy distrust for both sides.

    If you look at it historically, then you will find that the fundamentalists have been incessant since time began in their effort to interject their own religious/ideological/moral/etc… belief system into science.

    If you look at it historically, then you will also find that scientists have dogmatically over-corrected in a strictly anticentric manner since copernicus freed us from geocentrism.

    But this equally extreme and non-observed reactionary tendency literally destroys all hope for proper scientific investigation into middleground theories that include higher purpose in nature, but without god or any other form of intelligent intervention.

    See: James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis for just one valid example.

    Lynn is also the person who coined the above quoted phrase, “neodarwinian bullies”, for this reason.

    The result is that the arrogant nitwits on both sides lose the ability recognize is that our actions must *necessarily* *belong* to the self-regulated ecosystem that enables our existence, and even the “wobbly middle” can *inherently* sense that something isn’t right about purely copernican-like expectations that put us completely outside or above the guidance of this highly deterministic natural process.

    They can’t even imagine such a thing!… as proven when the they auto-react against god when anyone brings up evidence for “higher” purpose in nature.

    yep… both sides serve a purpose alright, but it may very well have little to do with anything that either of them beleive that the evidence is telling them.

  149. #149 Mike T.
    March 24, 2008

    Thank you Luna_the_cat for a post devoid of anything other than an accusation. You’re so sure you’re right that you don’t have to respond with substance. In doing so, you unwittingly demonstrate all the traits you accuse me of.

    Folks like you can’t take the idea of design detection in the biological sciences serious enough to muster anything other than ad hominem attacks. And, as I alluded to in my original post, it’s why you are losing the public relations battle.

    The rabid nature of your post and most of those on this blog simply make Nesbit’s point for him. Most of the Darwinist crowd is 1) too busy being sure they’re right and 2) unnecessarily conflating Intelligent Design with creationism to reasonably respond to anything from the Intelligent Design crowd.

    I know you guys love to deal with straw man arguments but here’s a broad definition of Intelligent Design:

    BROAD DEFINITION: Intelligent design is not the same as creationism, since ID relies on scientific evidence rather than on Scripture or religious doctrines. ID makes no claims about biblical chronology, and a person does not have to believe in God to infer intelligent design in nature. ID does not tell anyone the identity or nature of the designer, so it is not the same as natural theology, which reasons from nature to the existence and attributes of God. ID is not an argument from ignorance; it cannot be inferred simply because the cause of something is unknown, any more than a person accused of willful intent can be convicted without evidence. ID does not claim that design must be optimal; something may be intelligently designed even if it is flawed (as are many objects made by humans). ID does not claim that all species of living things were created in their present forms, and it does not claim to provide a complete account of the history of the universe or of living things. ID consists only of the minimal assertion that it is possible to infer from empirical evidence that some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent agent. It conflicts with views claiming that there is no real design in the cosmos (e.g., materialistic philosophy) or in living things (e.g., Darwinian evolution) or that design, though real, is undetectable (e.g., some forms of theistic evolution). Because of such conflicts, ID has generated considerable controversy.

    If you can’t stick to this definition when discussing Intelligent Design, then just admit that you’re not involved in a rational debate but are instead just emotionally reacting to those of us that dare to question the dogma of Darwinism.

    As I said previously, the evidence is not leading to random chance as being able to accomplish much of anything. The evidence is pointing to multiple big bangs of complexity within the fossil record (something that would make Darwin roll over in his grave). Furthermore, Darwinism says NOTHING about the origin of the first life-forms. Until you have a self-replicating system like DNA, you don’t have a way for natural selection to preserve anything in the first place (a modern-day chicken and the egg conundrum). So, how did the first life-form develop? You don’t know. But you and your type wave your hands in the air and declare it not to be a problem. Fantasize much?

    The dirty little secret is that Darwinism is in a state of ongoing erosion. Given the stubborness routinely displayed by those that are committed to any dearly held paradigm, you Darwinists will be the last to recogize it (if ever). Your emperor is naked. Enjoy it while it lasts.

  150. #150 Geoff
    March 24, 2008

    Nice Matthew. Couldn’t help but notice you substitute the word ‘religion’ for ‘creationism’ and ‘intelligent design.’

    My hat is off to Myers and Dakwins for “deframing” intelligent design.”

    You’re not the only one with a communications degree you know.

  151. #151 jre
    March 24, 2008

    Anna, thanks.
    Now that you’ve pointed it out to me, here’s a link to Labov and Pope.
    And this is the post in which Prof. Nesbit discusses that article. I have the NAS’ booklet Science, Evolution, and Creationism at home, but I was unfamiliar with the communications science that went into its design. After I’ve read Labov & Pope, I may or may not agree that their work helps Prof. Nesbit’s criticism of Myers and Dawkins. But I expect to get more out of it than I am from this food-fight.

  152. #152 Jason
    March 24, 2008

    Matt,

    I wonder if you know of any empirical evidence that directly addresses PZ’s point – namely, that the more one learns about science (and biology in particular), the less likely one is to be religious.

    This seems like a plausible enough claim given the predominance of atheists and agnostics in the National Academy of Sciences (especially relative to the general public) – of course, that could be due to selection. Do you know of any study that investigated this issue? I’d be interested to know whether each of: a high school biology class, an undergraduate degree in biology or a PhD in biology have a causal effect on one’s religious beliefs.

    It seems plausible enough to think that PZ is right and the answer is yes – but perhaps you are aware of empirical evidence which contradicts this claim?

    Jason

  153. #153 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 24, 2008

    Jason,
    On science literacy and public perceptions, do a quick search of the journals Public Understanding of Science or Science Communication for the varying results on this relationship. Despite the overwhelming belief that to know science is to love science, the studies show that science literacy has only a small positive relationship with more support for science, while social values account for a much greater amount of the variance. In fact a recent meta-analysis was published at Public Understanding of science on this topic.

    There are also often interactions between social predispositions and the application of knowledge to a topic. See most recently this study and blog post:

    http://nanopublic.blogspot.com/2008/02/religion-and-nano-what-data-show.html

    On whether or not higher ed science education leads to less religion, see the abstract below of the most comprehensive study to date. Basically shows that non-religious people select themselves into a science degree and career, rather than science education “burning” away their faith.

    Dawkins, PZ et al have claims and assumptions, but somewhat ironically, they apparently have never looked at the peer reviewed research in the area.

    Social Problems
    May 2007, Vol. 54, No. 2, Pages 289–307
    Posted online on May 29, 2007.
    (doi:10.1525/sp.2007.54.2.289)

    Religion among Academic Scientists: Distinctions, Disciplines, and Demographics

    Elaine Howard Ecklund ?
    University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
    Christopher P. Scheitle ?
    The Pennsylvania State University

    The religiosity of scientists is a persistent topic of interest and debate among both popular and academic commentators. Researchers look to this population as a case study for understanding the intellectual tensions between religion and science and the possible secularizing effects of education. There is little systematic study, however, of religious belief and identity among academic scientists at elite institutions, leaving a lacuna of knowledge in this area. This absence of data exists at a time when the intersection between religion and science is reaching heightened public attention. Especially with increased tensions surrounding teaching evolution in the public schools, understanding what kind of resources scientists have (particularly in terms of their own religious beliefs and practices) to transmit science to a broader religiously-motivated public is crucial. Using data from a recent survey of academic scientists at twenty-one elite U.S. research universities, we compare the religious beliefs and practices of natural and social scientists within seven disciplines as well as academic scientists to the general population. We find that field-specific and interdisciplinary differences are not as significant in predicting religiosity as other research suggests. Instead, demographic factors such as age, marital status, and presence of children in the household are the strongest predictors of religious difference among scientists. In particular, religiosity in the home as a child is the most important predictor of present religiosity among this group of scientists. We discuss the relevance these findings have for understanding issues related to current theory and public debate about the intersection between religion and science.

  154. #154 island
    March 24, 2008

    It conflicts with views claiming that there is no real design in the cosmos (e.g., materialistic philosophy) or in living things (e.g., Darwinian evolution)…

    Uh, no, that’s a “neodarwinian evolution”.

    Darwinian evolution can easily allow for a universe that necessarily requires a mechanism that enables it to evolve to higher orders of the same basic structure, (like we did), which most certainly does include a real “design”, rather, “law”, “in the cosmos”, but in this case it is *perpetually inherent* to the thermdynamics, for the above mentioned energy-conserving reasons, in this case:

    http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/2007/02/our-darwinian-universe.html

  155. #155 me
    March 24, 2008

    The rabid nature of your post and most of those on this blog simply make Nesbit’s point for him. … The dirty little secret is that Darwinism is in a state of ongoing erosion. Given the stubborness routinely displayed by those that are committed to any dearly held paradigm, you Darwinists will be the last to recogize it (if ever). Your emperor is naked. Enjoy it while it lasts.

    Way to go Matt, your frame has been turned inside out. Creationists are now your biggest cheerleaders.

  156. #156 blue
    March 24, 2008

    I don’t know why I’m bothering with this.

    Mike T:

    Please provide empirical evidence for Intelligent Design. Remember, according to your definition, this should not just be a recounting of something for which ‘the cause is unknown’.

    As a working biologist, I can assure you that ‘Darwinism’ is doing just fine. No signs of the ‘state of erosion’ you mention.

  157. #157 Datasmith
    March 24, 2008

    I am not a scientist, but I did study chemistry and physics in university, and I read widely. I find it incredible that Mr. Nisbet believes that anyone “speaks for science”. Science is not a political movement, like the creationists, it is an approach to understanding the physical world. No one can speak for that, and it is shocking that anyone would even suggest that there could be an “official spokesperson” for science. Mssrs. Myers and Dawkins are individual members of Western society, not spokespersons for science. Any attempt to tell them to shut up is the most egregious of anti-democratic demagoguery.

    As far as the video clip is concerned, they are explaining how their own individual intellectual development occurred, and suggesting that it might be the same for others. But I have encountered many scientists who are counter-examples, in that learning science did not cause them to lose their religious beliefs. It may have caused their beliefs to become more philosophically sophisticated and less literal, but it did not vanquish them. In this regard, I think Myers and Dawkins are probably mistaken, but that is no reason they should stop expressing their perfectly logical points of view.

    Shame on you, Mr. Nisbet, for your small-mindedness and politicization of serious intellectual debate.

  158. #158 Barry
    March 24, 2008

    American University?! That’s really impressive! You’re sooo much more intelligent than Myers and Dawkins. Who do those guys think they are? Scientists or something? Pssshhh. I don’t need scientists telling me about the world. I need a professor of communications from American University!

  159. #159 GuLi
    March 24, 2008

    On whether or not higher ed science education leads to less religion, see the abstract below of the most comprehensive study to date. Basically shows that non-religious people select themselves into a science degree and career, rather than science education “burning” away their faith.

    I don’t read that conclusion at all from the abstract. Maybe it’s me. Anyone?… Anyone?

  160. #160 rjb
    March 24, 2008

    As someone who is mostly in the Myers/Dawkins camp, I have a serious question for people here. I am an atheist. I agree with PZ and Dawkins that MY atheist stance is definitely influenced by my scientific background. I am also a professor who works with colleagues who are religious. I speak out very strongly in favor of atheism on my campus, both to students and to colleagues. I may not be perceived as being as strident as PZ, but my views are nearly identical to his. I do not directly denigrate my colleagues or students who are religious, but I do find their religious beliefs confusing to me… I really don’t understand how someone can be religious and be a research scientist. Clearly, though, people can be both. I accept that. So, what would others recommend that I do? I think it is extremely important to be an “out” atheist, and an advocate for science and rationalism.

    This is my big problem with the “framing” argument as I understand it. It means that those of us who are atheists have to be silent about something that, for many of us, is directly tied to our rationalist, materialistic worldview. I refuse to do that. And this, as I understand it, is the argument that PZ is trying to make.

  161. #161 Boko999
    March 24, 2008

    Maybe we could have a whip round and fund the ‘Matt Nisbet Chair for the Public Understanding of Flakery.’

  162. #162 rjb
    March 24, 2008

    Matt,

    Are you familiar with the work of Greg Graffin (lead singer for the band “Bad Religion” and a PhD biologist with a degree from Cornell)? He did a survey of religious views of evolutionary biologists that was actually a quite detailed analysis of what many leading research biologists feel about evolution and religion. It’s available at http://www.cornellevolutionproject.org. This seems to address the exact question that you brought up in your last comment. For example, among his survey respondents, 83.89% said that they were not religious, while only 14.09 said they were. He has detailed notes about his methodology, his survey recipients, and everything at this website.

  163. #163 Chris
    March 24, 2008

    You accuse PZ and Dawkins of operating under the delusion that “More science leads to less religion”, yet the article you link to does not argue against this idea. Merely it argues that religious people ‘support’ science. This says nothing about whether they understand or accept the validity of scientific conclusions. Note for example the video recently posted on PZ’s site showing YEC’s declaring that “Evolution is not Science, it is a matter of faith.” You can support ‘science’, just define the parts you don’t support as ‘not science’.

    Of course you know all this, it’s basically your argument for why we need to emphasize the practical results of evolutionary theory to have it gain wider acceptance.

    However, to claim that the hypothesis “More science leads to less religion” is unscientific seems somewhat odd. We could, say for example, find groups of people, measure their level of understanding of science, and ask them to describe their level of religious belief. PZ seems to be suggesting that there will be a correlation between understanding of science and religiosity. The prevalence of atheists among scientists lends credibility to this conclusion. As does the generally lower levels of religiosity in Europe, and higher levels of acceptance of evolution. PZ is arguing that if people understand science, (which if someone is claiming that evolution is ‘just a theory’ they obviously aren’t), you will see an increase in atheism.

    It may very well be a wrong conclusion, but it’s certainly something that can be tested. However, arguing that people “support” ‘science’ even when religious, does not contradict this argument, given that what counts as ‘science’ differs from person to person, even among pro-science individuals. Also, it’s probably another example of ‘The Brussel Sprouts Effect’ seen in mathematics education: “Yes, I think my children should be competent in math. I hate math, however, and don’t believe it’s relevant.”

  164. #164 Efogoto
    March 24, 2008

    If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp, they need to play the role of Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and so many other political operatives who through misstatements and polarizing rhetoric have ended up being liabilities to the causes and campaigns that they support.

    So you’re encouraging them to be liabilities? Or you’re not communicating clearly. This piece should have been written with less emotion and more thought.

  165. #165 Chris
    March 24, 2008

    Matt,

    Sorry, didn’t see the post 10 above me. Thank you, this looks like a much better study.

    Chris

  166. #166 Jason
    March 25, 2008

    Matt,

    Thanks for the references. I disagree with your interpretation of the Ecklund study.

    This study does not show that “that non-religious people select themselves into a science degree and career, rather than science education ‘burning’ away their faith.” I realize you were just trying to give a rough idea of what they said and didn’t mean your description to be precise – but I think their results actually suggest that the opposite is true. To make the point you suggest, they would have to show that controlling for covariates, being in a scientific discipline has no effect on the probability of religious belief. They never present such results but the regression results they do show make it extremely unlikely that any of the covariates they consider fully explain the large disparity between scientists and the general population shown in Table 4. It’s difficult from their paper to know for sure since they don’t give statistics comparing scientists and non-scientists on their degree of religiosity as children but given the magnitude of the logit coefficients, the disparity would have to be huge even conditional on childhood denomination if selection were the sole explanation for scientists religious beliefs.

    The conclusion I take from their paper is: there is selection going on, but PZs story is also probably right: scientists are more likely than the general public to come from secular backgrounds, but this doesn’t fully explain their lack of religiosity – so peer effects and the effect of scientific training on belief must also play a role.

    Of course, the study does not conclusively demonstrate the latter the claim; to do that, one would need to consider a natural experiment in which some individuals were “randomly” given more science education than others and I have not seen such a study (one possibility for conducting it would be to use threshold cut-offs in admissions to scientific programs and look at disparities between people above and below the cut-off).

    Jason

  167. #167 Efogoto
    March 25, 2008

    Mike T, you wrote “ID consists only of the minimal assertion that it is possible to infer from empirical evidence that some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent agent.”

    That’s a starting hypothesis, but is there any evidence that this assertion might be true? What features of the natural world are there that are best explained by an intelligent agent? Even one example would be nice.

  168. #168 rmp
    March 25, 2008

    rjb, to keep things short and sweet, …. Yea, what you said.

    This is my big problem with the “framing” argument as I understand it. It means that those of us who are atheists have to be silent about something that, for many of us, is directly tied to our rationalist, materialistic worldview. I refuse to do that. And this, as I understand it, is the argument that PZ is trying to make.

  169. #169 rmp
    March 25, 2008

    Is it just me or does it seem likely that including the picture of PZ at the end of the post was supposed to provide that subliminal message that PZ is, let’s see, how to say this delicately, … not very photogenic.

    Good framing there Matt.

  170. #170 Jim Lippard
    March 25, 2008

    Matt Nisbet wrote: “On whether or not higher ed science education leads to less religion, see the abstract below of the most comprehensive study to date. Basically shows that non-religious people select themselves into a science degree and career, rather than science education ‘burning’ away their faith.”

    Why, if that’s the case, then we need to work hard to convert people to atheism to ensure that we’ll have enough scientists, especially in physics and biology, two domains where religious believers are in the minority.

  171. #171 Jim Lippard
    March 25, 2008

    Mecha: “But the ‘angry atheists’ demand that there be a relation between science and religion. And anyone who isn’t atheist isn’t good enough. Isn’t a real scientist.”

    Well, of course there is *a relation* between science and religion, there’s just disagreement about the extent to which they must be adversarial. But I’ve not seen anyone defending the last two sentences of yours I’ve quoted above. I think that’s a straw man. Even P.Z. Myers agrees that religious believers can do good science and be real scientists.

  172. #172 vb
    March 25, 2008

    Matt,
    Grow up. Your promoting that scientist just stand back and take it. Dawkins and PZ are fighting the fight. No one listens to the responses from the Leading science organizations. Frankly they are too soft and politically correct to combat this problem.

  173. #173 Mister Snitch!
    March 25, 2008

    “If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp, they need to play the role of Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and so many other political operatives who through misstatements and polarizing rhetoric have ended up being liabilities to the causes and campaigns that they support”

    Uh, don’t you mean they need to STOP doing that?

    Here’s the bottom line, though, and I’ll do my best to express it in a scientific fashion:

    The premise of EXPELLED is that it is dangerous to take certain positions (re God) in the scientific/academic community.

    The release of the film indeed produces the very storms of vitriol and mob behavior that the EXPELLED producers cite in their film as the threats to livelihood and professional advancement.

    The excuse for this PUBLIC display (usually the threats are more implied) was the ouster from the premiere of one particularly disruptive element of the scientific community. You yourself know that this guy lives for attention, and certainly was going to the theater to disrupt the proceedings, and in doing so of course draw attention to himself.

    The reason given for the bitter outrage was merely an excuse to act out what EXPELLED purports to be an undercurrent in academic life. If you’re going to claim otherwise in the face of the evidence of recent events, you’re not much of a scientist – and less of a diplomat. Congratulations – the scientific community and its adherents is a mob of screaming, irrational, bloodthirsty yahoos. Proof? Just check out Myers’ ‘EXPELLED’ post(s) and the comments that follow. But stop blaming Myers. He was only cheering the mob on, he wasn’t the whole mob. And he knew they were there all along, and just what it would take to set them off.

    Let’s hear less about the “pro-creationist crowd”, and more mea culpas. Haven’t heard a single one yet, BTW. If you want the “pro-creationist crowd” to hear a word you say, try listening first to what you are actually saying. Otherwise, hey, keep beating them over the head. Something that scientific and persuasive is bound to work eventually.

  174. #174 Lee
    March 25, 2008

    Nesbit, you have just managed to jump your promotion and reinforcement of one of the strongest creationist frames there is right onto the front pages of Uncommon Descent.

    Russell Blackford said this in the comments over at Orac’s blog:

    “Personally, I think we’re lost once we begin to think this way. For a start, we’re lost if we take seriously the idea that good, established science is as scary as something like transhumanism (even if it is to a certain American demographic).”

    Bingo. In fact, what Nisbet and Mooney are doing is GIVING IN to the creationist frame, rather than reframing it. The creationist frame is (in part) “science and scientists are amoral and scary” – Nisbet responds to that frame by acknowledging it and advocating running in fear from it by hiding any scientist who might be even a little bit scary. Nisbet goes further and admonishes ‘scary” scientists to shut up BECAUSE THEY ARE SCARY.

    This isn’t framing, no matter what Nisbet argues. It is acquiescence to the opponents frame – precisely what someone who understands communication and framing should never do.

    Nisbet’s argument is on the front page of Uncommon Descent today precisely because he has just issued a forceful reinforcement of one of the strongest creationist frames. Good going.

  175. #175 Lee
    March 25, 2008

    Another major frame is in play in that videoclip.

    The IDists are trying to push the frame that “ID is science.” And yet, a movie in support of ID spends all this time talking about religin, decrying anti-IDers as being anti-religion. That video clip exposes a major part of the ID fame to get a stake driven through its heart – and both Myers and Dawkins are in fact poised based on their inerviews to do exactly that, and fequently ÎO do exactly that.

    But Mooney jumps in and loses that opportunity by making this about the IDist/creatinist frame of ‘scary scientists’ rather than ‘ID as defended by IDists is about religion.” Fail.

    Read Lakoff’s works on framing, and the primary, overarching, clear massage in them is “do not accept or even argue against your adversaries frame – replace it with your own” Nisbet would do well to revisit that foundational message before he engages in any more epic fails in the framing arena.

  176. #176 Strakh
    March 25, 2008

    Matt:

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but there are no “spokespersons for science,” and that, my poor, put-upon child, includes you.

    It is the DUTY of every intelligent, educated individual, male, female, young, old, to put stupidity in its place. All ID-ers are all wrong (about ID and the “conspiracy of Darwinists”)and they need to be put in their place (into their gutters of stupidity) often and loudly.

    It is a sad measure of your ignorant complacency that you do not (or chose not to) understand this. So be it. But do not, I repeat, DO NOT compare yourself to ANY intelligent, educated person while you attempt to defame men whose feces you aren’t fit to gobble.

    Say, isn’t that Haggard calling you?

  177. #177 Nicole
    March 25, 2008

    I’m with Nisbet and Mecha on this one. While there may be a strong correlation between science and atheism, there are many forms faith can take, and not all conflict with science. I can understand why PZ doesn’t frame science as a way to “learn about the wonderful world God created,” but depicting it as some sort of atheist recruiting tool also shows a bias. I doubt many people would start exploring science with the objective of changing their religious views, so the fact that it has that effect on some scientists isn’t really a selling point, esp. in terms of PR. Surely we can appreciate science as being inherently good for its own sake, and recognize that many people pursue knowledge for reasons other than needing material for their religious/spiritual/atheist construct.

    I would also love to hear PZ explain more about his main dish vs. side dish analogy. Is he simply referring to an authoritative source he can derive a belief system from, or does science also satisfy a spiritual need? I imagine this might occur through the contemplation of the elegance of mathematics and the order that arises from evolution or a lessened sense of uncertainty about the way the world works.

  178. #178 Julie McIntosh
    March 25, 2008

    Uh, why is PZ even being compared to Dawkins?

    Has he even published one book?

    PZ is the detriment, not Dawkins.

  179. #179 Anonymous
    March 25, 2008

    “The simplistic and unscientific claim that more knowledge leads to less religion might be the particular delusion of Dawkins, Myers, and many others, but it is by no means the official position of science, though they often implicitly claim to speak for science.”

    Why is this claim unscientific? Is it not based on the oft-repeated finding that higher levels of education are accompanied by lower levels of religious belief? Obviously this is not the official position of science but it certainly seems that the more you immerse yourself in education the less likely you are to cling to superstition. Dawkins and Myers are rightly proud of this fact.

  180. #180 Martin
    March 25, 2008

    I’m frankly shocked by how far the ScienceBlogs crowd seem to have gone up their own arses, not just about this but generally. Ditto with Dawkins and those like him. As I’m said elsewhere, I’m a huge fan of Dawkins and his writing, and I’m equally a fan of many of the ScienceBlogs writers.

    Watching these people try to engage the public though is like watching the Spice Girls on a U.N. diplomatic mission. They just don’t understand what’s required. I’m not saying I do, but at least I don’t go around making grandiose claims about the importance of my fellow bloggers and I.

    The impression that the average Joe in Texas will have of Dawkins is that he’s that guy who’s really harsh on Christians. That’s how Dawkins has framed himself – a kind of militant atheist. PZ seems intent on framing himself the same way.

    Now, I do disagree with you Matt about this particular incident. I think they were right to point out the hypocrisy surrounding this film. However, I think they’ve grossly over-estimated their impact. What do they think they’ve achieved exactly? PZ’s post after he got kicked out reads like something a naughty child in a playground would say. And nobody outside of SB gives a shit, frankly.

    But as with the rest of the S.B. crowd, there seems to be this increasing delusion that reaching, what, a few thousand or so visitors a day(?) means that you’re having any impact at all on the public debate over science. Hell, the entire pro-science blogosphere combined probably barely has an impact compared to creationists so well organized and funded they can fight local elections ffs.

    I’m not saying I have the answers, and I’m not saying Matt’s post here is particularly right, I’m just sick of this “we’re so great” attitude that seems to pervade certain aspects of SB these days.

  181. #181 Luna_the_cat
    March 25, 2008

    I think that, in this instance, EVERYONE ought to be focussed on the incredible hypocrisy and dishonesty of the Expelled producer(s). This is neither the time nor the place, nor the right way, to be critical of Myers and Dawkins. And some of your arguments — for example, “no publicity is bad publicity” — are simply flat wrong (for heaven’s sake, there most certainly is such a thing as bad publicity, and trivial observation suffices for this. Just because a saying is trite, doesn’t make it true). And calling for Myers and Dawkins, as people who were conned into contributing material under false pretenses and blatantly manipulated to produce a certain effect in the movie, to “lay low” — that’s just daft, I would think having them step up and be vocal is better NOW than at any other possible time; people don’t tend to notice when official bodies issue policy statements, but they do notice when victims step up and say, “I was lied to.” But these arguments with the substance of your suggestions aside, you have, in fact, framed this extremely badly, blown the situation up, and provided ammunition to the enemy — the camp that wants the focus off the bad behavior of Expelled and on the bad behavior of the Evil Scientists.

    Having said that, Mecha is completely, 100% right, on all counts. Too many people are gleefully and thoughtlessly flaming over strawmen, trivialities, and nasty stereotypes, while avoiding any thought whatsoever about issues, ideas, and substantive arguments over how communication works best. And it is such a gleeful little stompfest on you, that no one has to think about your criticisms seriously at all. But part and parcel of this problem, yikes, you have not exactly embodied the successful practice of your principles, have you….

  182. #182 HeartlandLiberal
    March 25, 2008

    Actually, by logical extension, we could just have an agenda that diminishes the importance of learning to read in our schools. This would lesson the chance that any tender minds would be corrupted by Myers and Dawkins, since the mass media are unlikely to adequately or accurately allow them air time. Print time won’t matter as much, remember, since fewer people read. South Carolina particularly and other slave states had statutes to insure that it was illegal to teach slaves to read. This helped keep them in their place, as it were. Of course the creationists might say it was going to far that some of those statutes also forbade slaves owning Bibles. Always the chance they might misinterpret the scriptures and figure out they were being screwed. Less literacy and science teacher also plays into the hands of the religious leadership, helping make them the contemporary Popes of the right wing churches, caretakers and keepers of the flames of truth; as expressed in the Bible, of course

    All in all, absolutely let’s all go after Myers and Dawkins for speaking out against the creationists so forcefully. It is just so painful, after all, I am sure the creationists really just want to get along with scientists if given the chance. Right?

    Oh, was it Myers that got thrown out of the preview of the new creationist propaganda film? But they did not recognize Dawkins, who got to remain in the audience? I guess if there are no books to burn, we will have to turn to burning films that don’t agree with dogma. With people like Myers and Dawkins soon to follow, of course.

  183. #183 Anna K.
    March 25, 2008

    In response to rjb’s March 24, 8:52 pm post:

    As a religious person with a science and research background, here’s my serious answer to your serious question: I’m going to assume that promoting science and atheism are equally important to you. I’m also going to assume that you want to get your ideas across to people who don’t already share your views. If you don’t know it yet, you need to understand that saying things like science somehow disproves religion, or that religion can be equated to belief in fairies or should be seen as a hobby like knitting, just shows, at best, philosophical innocence.

    Science-educated people who are familiar with philosophical and religious thinking on the matter will dismiss you for sloppy thinking (which was the reaction to ‘The God Delusion’), and religious believers without strong science backgrounds will assume that your problem with ID is that you are threatened by the religious implications. The problem I see with many people who advocate for both science and atheism is that they don’t understand that science, critical thinking and rationality are completely compatible and intellectually coherent with many forms of religious thinking. And this damages their credibility with thoughtful religious people, and also damages their ability to communicate what good science is, with people who are religious moderates without scientific backgrounds.

    PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins are such a gift to Ben Stein. Stein’s not making scientific arguments. He’s making political and philosophical ones, and he’s going to win them with most people outside of the science=atheism bubble, because he knows exactly how to play Myers and Dawkins to a broader audience. He is totally using them, and that’s why he wanted them for his movie. Considering Ben Stein’s target audience (which is not people here), he couldn’t have written better money quotes if he made them up himself.

    And that’s why framing is so important, because Ben is going to win hearts and minds with this movie, and you guys hardly seem to know what happened.

  184. #184 spurge
    March 25, 2008

    “Science-educated people who are familiar with philosophical and religious thinking on the matter will dismiss you for sloppy thinking (which was the reaction to ‘The God Delusion’), and religious believers without strong science backgrounds will assume that your problem with ID is that you are threatened by the religious implications.”

    The whole problem with ID is about its “religious implications”

    ID is religion. It is not science. That is the problem.

  185. #185 NMcC
    March 25, 2008

    “Even if they were under the impression that the film was a “PBS style” documentary on science and religion, the comments by Dawkins and PZ are just as inflammatory and hurtful to any effort in building wider public trust for science and science education.”

    Er……let’s get this right. Even if Dawkins and Myers were operating with the belief that this future ‘movie’ was featuring the subject of science and religion, they should not have given their views as to how their scientific knowledge impacted on their own previously held religious views.

    You mean they should have said, “Well, the more science I learnt, the less credence I could give to religious claims. But I’m not allowed to say that because it’s bad framing, so I’ll say this instead….” And then go on to explain that, of course, scientific knowledge had no impact on their religious views at all. In other words, LIE!

    Get a grip, Matt.

    Also, I see you have Atkins’ tongue-in-cheek remark that religion is evil in italics to impart emphasis. Has it really not ocurred to you that:

    a) Atkins is laughing when he says that, as if he’s jokingly saying: “There, isn’t that what you wanted me to say”

    b) The angle of the camera has been deliberately chosen to be included in the ‘movie’ because it almost conceals Atkins’ laughter. In other words, yet more duplicity from these despicable lying creationist hypocrites.

  186. #186 Mick
    March 25, 2008

    How can you say to Professors Myers and Dawkins that “this is not about censoring your ideas and positions” while simultaneously asking them to do precisely that?

  187. #187 Jim Lippard
    March 25, 2008

    Anna K: “As a religious person with a science and research background, here’s my serious answer to your serious question: I’m going to assume that promoting science and atheism are equally important to you. I’m also going to assume that you want to get your ideas across to people who don’t already share your views. If you don’t know it yet, you need to understand that saying things like science somehow disproves religion, or that religion can be equated to belief in fairies or should be seen as a hobby like knitting, just shows, at best, philosophical innocence.”

    I can’t speak for rjb, but I can speak for myself. I wouldn’t say that promoting science and promoting atheism are equally important to me, however, I am an openly atheist person who thinks that it is quite clear that religions make claims that are falsified by science. Some liberal theists have reinterpreted their religions to eliminate most, if not all, conflict between religion and science, but only by retreating from the ontological claims made by “less sophisticated” religious believers. While they still claim to “believe” the holy books that make the same falsified claims, they say that those claims are not to be interpreted except as poetry, myth, or as pre-scientific theorizing designed to carry some non-scientific message that still holds.

    Science *does* cast serious doubt on things like talking snakes and donkeys, people walking on water, human beings resurrecting from the dead, and the independence of consciousness from a physical brain (and its survival of death).

  188. #188 factician
    March 25, 2008

    Anna K,

    There is a broader problem of science and religion. Science is about doubt. Doubting everything for which there is no evidence. Most Western religions (I confess to knowing very little about Hinduism, and Taoism) focus on faith without evidence. There is a conflict there.

    Some religious folks are able to compartmentalize their science and their religion (my father was able to). But separating the two merely masks that their is an inherent conflict. My father chose to “turn off” the science part of his brain when thinking about God and religion. I used to do that, too, but I’ve found it increasingly difficult to do so.

    People *can* reconcile science and religion, but it requires some rather daunting hurdles, and mental acrobatics that seem to me more based on desire than on logic. Science taken to its logical conclusion results in atheism. (Not in the popular sense of the term atheism: “Belief that there is no God”, but in the original sense of atheism “Absence of belief in God”).

  189. #189 Richard Nadeau
    March 25, 2008

    Mr. Nisbet, you really should stop telling scientists what they can and cannot do. It makes you look like a twit.

  190. #190 rjb
    March 25, 2008

    Anna K:

    The problem I have with that argument is that it is, unfortunately, not a two-way street when it comes to understanding the philosophical underpinnings of different religious vs. nonreligious points of view. Why is it that the atheists have to be well versed in the relatively esoteric philosophical underpinnings of advanced theological thought, but not the other way around? Having read Dawkins “God Delusion”, I agree that his arguments against god are relatively simplistic, but I think that’s also the key point. Most of the more complex theological ideas start with a basic assumption… that there is a first cause. As an atheist, I reject that basic assumption, so, to me, all of those arguments are flat the moment they begin (and that’s the critical point… this is MY view, not what has to be the view of others). It’s kind of like the dualist views of Descartes. They work on a basic assumption that he tries to demonstrate with a logical argument: that the mind and brain are connected, but separate, entities. There are very few working neurobiologists who accept this claim at face value (ie, the mind and brain can at some level be separated). This view has been overturned by science. For example, one of his lines of argument for the separation of mind and body was basically a description of phantom limb pain. If the mind can perceive a limb that’s not there, then the mind must be different from the body. We now know that there are physical, “brain” related explanations for this phenomenon. Why is it that science then cannot be used to address theological reasoning in a similar way?

    Hume had a hard time with the concept of first cause. Science (and evolution and cosmology in particular) have provided a basis where first cause is no longer necessary. Thus, one can be an intellectually, morally fulfilled atheist without the need for theological explanations, and these ideas CAN be rebutted by science. Some people choose not to accept those explanations and continue with their religious beliefs. But those of us who are atheist scientists NEED to speak up. The more people find out about us, the less we appear like the stereotypical bogeyman that wants to eat babies.

  191. #191 rjb
    March 25, 2008

    Just a follow-up. I realize that the argument I made is not going to play on the streets of middle america (who is this Hume guy you speak of). But what does play is for those of us who are atheists to speak up. Here’s the way that I see it, through the eyes of many of my students who come from religious backgrounds and are trying to deal with the propaganda that is thrown at them about the religion vs. science divide:

    1: We teach them that there is no divide necessary. Many people reconcile their views (as some of my colleagues have) so that they are both religious and scientists. Rational thinking is taught first and foremost in the science class.

    2: We show them that many of us have rejected religion. Science allows us to do that from a point of view that is reasoned, logical, and fulfilling. You don’t have to become evil (ie, the Hitler zombie) if you reject science. You can still have the same moral values regardless of your acceptance of religion.

    3: We smack down the groups (like Expelled) for suggesting that atheism/evolution is necessary for evil. ALL of us speak up. Don’t silence any groups, but come together under the rational banner. We may disagree on some topics, but on this we agree. I think PZ and Dawkins would support this idea.

  192. #192 moondancer
    March 25, 2008

    Creationism belongs in theology class. It will pass the test there. Simply move the argument out of the Halls of Science. Period.
    The argument must stop. Allow the creationist to go wild, let them join forces with the flat earthers, just draw a line at the door to the lab. End the faux debate once and for all.

  193. #193 Jim Lippard
    March 25, 2008

    Here’s my best argument in *support* of Nisbet’s general position:

    Suppose U.S. demographics on belief and nonbelief were reversed, so that atheists made up 80%+ and those who explicitly believed in God were about 4-5% of the population (with the difference filled by agnostics, closeted believers, etc.). Suppose further that demographics of believers in science were reversed–with most physicists and biologists being religious believers, who commonly said things like “the Big Bang shows evidence of a beginning of time, started by a creator God,” and “the intricate design of biology shows the hand of God.”

    Presumably Nisbet would tell those religious scientists that they shouldn’t say things like that in public, even if they firmly believe them to be true, because they would cause the atheist majority to stop listening to the part that’s actually science. And I think he’d have a point. To the extent that Dawkins and Myers go beyond the science into areas like philosophy and normative ethics, they are making non-scientific claims that are not entailed by the scientific evidence (though I happen to agree with them that atheistic views fit much better with the evidence than religious views). A division *can* be drawn, and if your goal is persuasion, *somebody* needs to draw the division and communicate with the audience that otherwise wouldn’t listen without including the nonscientific parts that will turn them off.

    But, contra Nisbet, that somebody doesn’t need to be everybody, or Dawkins or Myers in particular.

  194. #194 Jim Lippard
    March 25, 2008

    BTW, in addition to my last comment–William Dembski and Kevin Miller say that they support Nisbet and Mooney’s position in this controversy, but I don’t really believe them. In my reversal of demographics scenario, I suspect that they would be strongly supportive of the religious equivalent of P.Z. Myers.

  195. #195 Luna_the_cat
    March 25, 2008

    To rjb — I think one of the major issues here (which gets obscured by all the fury around the concept of “framing”, and the false perception that it means you have to LIE) is that you can focus the arguments against belief in God as arguments against the rationality of BELIEF in God; what is too often done is that the arguments are focused against the rationality of the BELIEVER. That doesn’t net you a thoughtful response, it nets you a knee-jerk defensiveness.

    No, I’m not talking about talking to fundamentalists, here, I’m talking about talking to thoughtful, educated moderates — of which there are legitimately quite a few.

    I’ve tried making this point before, but if you look at the dynamics of conversation (and don’t believe me, talk to a psychologist, counsellor or professional mediator), there is a huge difference in effect between saying (for example)

    I cannot believe in God because I cannot find consistent physical evidence for God’s existence, and no philosophical need, and because I cannot reconcile this belief with the need for rational evaluation of physical evidence in understanding the rest of the world; and it confuses me how and why you have reached the conclusion that there is a God.”

    or (as Myers has been known to say)

    “Anyone who believes in God is delusional.”

    By implication, this translates to “YOU are delusional for this”, and it disallows the possibility that they can be sane and rational.

    If your goal is to get reasonable people, who you have to work with professionally, to think without simply starting to dislike you, then the first approach is going to work a heck of a lot better than the second…don’t you think?

  196. #196 Edward
    March 25, 2008

    I happen to think Matthew is spot on. What he says here is the conclusion I came to myself several years ago. It is also a position that has been articulated by the NCSE: defending evolution by trying to tear down religion will not win the public on evolution.

    I also don’t buy the argument of atheists that “more science leads to atheism.” (That is a separate point from how to best defend evolution before the public). The atheists’ arguments seems to be predicated on the false assumption that all religion, at its core, is equivalent. I was raised by agnostic parents, who taught me to question. I became a scientist and hold a faculty position at a major research university. Along the way, out of a general curiosity, I looked at various different belief systems, including various religions and types of atheism. I found I had major issues with most major religions – I realized that it would be dishonest of me to join these religions since I had fundamental disagreements with many of their positions. However, at the same time, I found the arguments advanced by various atheists lacking. For a time, I was studiously agnostic. Then I came across a religion that was generally consistent with my beliefs, encouraged me to question, and didn’t insist all it’s members hold identical beliefs. As a result of my scientific questioning, I now describe myself as religious.

    I agree with most of Dawkin’s and PZ’s critiques of FUNDAMENTALIST religion, but I feel they lack understanding when they try to paint me with the same brush as the creationists. The point here is that the creationists are extremists, but what Dawkins and PZ (and their supporters on this board) fail to understand is that they are ALSO extremists, but of a different sort. Just as I don’t think the answer to fascism is communism, I don’t think the answer to creationism is atheism. If we let the extremists frame the debate and present their views as “the two possibilities,” then everyone looses.

  197. #197 Kevin Miller
    March 25, 2008

    Has anyone here read Dave Scot’s story about Expelledgate over on uncommondescent.com? He claims that PZ did indeed sneak into the screening uninvited, and I think he makes a pretty strong case.

  198. #198 LarryE
    March 25, 2008

    Okay. Dawkins and Myers are supposed to “lay low,” keep quiet, and if asked directly for comment should refuse to give one but instead send the questioner elsewhere. They should stop being “messengers for science.” In short, shut up.

    However, “this is not about censoring [their] ideas and positions.”

    I admit to being a little vague on the difference.

  199. #199 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 25, 2008

    To be on record here:

    Expelled is a propaganda film for creationism. In that I am in strong agreement with PZ, Dawkins, and many others.

    Where PZ, Dawkins and I obviously disagree is on communication strategy in response to the film. In news coverage and elsewhere, if they remain the dominant voices of the pro-science side, they feed the controversy that Expelled is trying to create.

    In order to diffuse that controversy and dampen down attention to the film, over the next couple of months, they should let NCSE handle the media interviews etc. This is not censorship but just the type of smart strategy that any public affairs professional would recommend.

  200. #200 PeteK
    March 25, 2008

    I think Profs Myers Dawkins and Atkins simply mean that, as far as they are concerned, religion, as they define it, is fantasical. Some scientists conclude that the universe needs no explaining, that it is self-existing and self-explanatory. Others indulge in metaphysics and contend that science may explain everything in the universe, but that ultimately the universe itself needs explained by a self-explained agency. Others are content to worship the traditional old-man-in-the-sky type deity…

    Science by definition is the study of the natural world, trying to explain everything as far as possible by natural processes.

    God(s) etc are supposed to be supernatural, and hence beyond science. However, religions regularly have it both ways by claiming religious entities are amenable to scientific analysis.

    Who should play the role of communicator? Why not all scientific opinions, opinions from the NCSE, Ayala, Miller AND Dawkins, PZ, Atkins et al. Throw all the opinions into the cauldron, scrutinise their scientific validity, the extent to which they agree with experiment (as Feynman said.)

    Julie: PZ has written the equalivent of several books. He blogs as much as 4 or 5 people combined. And it’s a blessing! Be glad such intelligent, humane people are willings to share their thoughts and expertise with you, and that you can access their pearls of wisdom, and comment on them!

  201. #201 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 25, 2008

    Kevin,
    Thanks for the attempt to promote a confusing “he said-he said” strategy on what happened with PZ, feeding your preferred controversy frame.

    BUT PLEASE, take your publicity stunts elsewhere.

  202. #202 eyelessgame
    March 25, 2008

    In your opinion, would there be any forum in which their comments would have been appropriate?

    If so, please say what forum, keeping in mind that they thought they were speaking to a different audience than they actually were, because of the lies of the filmmakers.

    If not, please admit that that’s what you think — you simply find it unacceptable for anyone to say out loud, anywhere, that they think religion is wrong, or a bad thing.

    If what you’re saying is that there should be more, and more diverse, advocates of science, well, you will find few who disagree with you. But you’re not being one, not when your “advocacy of science” includes trying to shout down other advocates of science. You can dissociate yourself with their views on religion easily enough, if you want.

    Keep in mind that if Carl Sagan were still alive — remember that he was unfailingly respectful of religion, even as he rightly mocked weird superstitions and creationist idiocy — the filmmakers would have used editing, misrepresentation, and context to make the identical point by interviewing him instead.

    The other side of this debate is a group of liars and cheaters. Quit complaining that people on our side are honest.

  203. #203 Mecha
    March 25, 2008

    Jim Lippard: Actually, PZ has taken many, many, MANY people to task for having religious beliefs at all (Remember Rob Knopp? Who PZ and friends repeatedly berated for not being a scientist? For his views not being ‘good enough’? His religion not being ‘religiony-enough’ to be a REAL religion, but still making him a lesser being who didn’t deserve to be on Scienceblogs, and who should fucking THANK PZ for being nice enough to recommend him to be on Scienceblogs (even as PZ mocked him for having beliefs) and all that other crap? And then PZ’s commenters piling on with agreement in every forum they could find?)

    Furthermore, he implicitly and explicitly supports his commenters who make the same crappy arguments. When these framing debates come up, Matt, Chris, and Sheril are all decried as non-scientific, worthless, stupid, appeasement oriented. It’s all about smashing down the people. And he’s cool with that. Red meat to the base.

    It’s not a strawperson argument to take peoples’ actual actions and the systems/actions they support (IE: beating the crap out of anyone who disagrees with PZ in any way they can, and PZ not telling people ‘that’s not cool’ when they do it). PZ can be better than he is. He isn’t either because it serves his purposes, or because he doesn’t realize what he’s doing, and to not realize what he’s doing, he has to explicitly ignore and argue down all the people pointing out, ‘Hey, PZ, uh, you’re doing something!’

    And also, read Matt’s post/the video. That argument, while not explicitly necessarily made by people all the time, is the implication of what PZ/Dawkins does, and what they reinforce. If they do NOT believe it, then they should step down off the high horse and listen to people who are pointing out them espousing bad behavior.

    I have no trouble saying that Nisbet is not doing the best job of making his points. But for chrissakes, nobody’s even ADDRESSING most of his points anymore. Just beating the crap out of him and his apparent allies.

    Anna, Nicole, Luna: Thank you for the kind words. The entire situation has me sick to my stomach, and even opening the thread to check is a bit harrowing. ;)

    -Mecha

  204. #204 Jim Harrison
    March 25, 2008

    Just to remind everybody: the framing strategy of insisting that evolution doesn’t really create problems for traditional religions is not a new approach. It’s utterly banal. Which is why the witnesses for the biology side in court cases involving creationism were so often clergymen. For generations, spokesmen for evolutionary biology have endorsed the right of piety to dominate public discourse even as they meekly suggested that evolution could fit in with an appropriately Godly way of life. Thus the Nisbit line amounts to doing the same thing again while expecting another outcome. Framing isn’t a solution. It’s how we got in this mess in the first place.

    With the exception of some of the Fundamentalists and old school Catholics, almost everybody in this country endorses absolute freedom of belief, at least in public. Freedom not to believe, however, is much less secure. It has to be fought for. That doesn’t mean that atheists can’t make alliances with religious people. Indeed, I’ve thought for a long time that we ought to give up on the “we secretly agree” with you line and take up the “we have common interests” approach, which has the advantage, important to some of us, of being honest. Atheists are a despised minority who have every reason to defend freedom of conviction. We can’t protect our rights without protecting the rights of others. We should remind the center that if there’s anybody the religious right despises more than atheists, its liberal protestants. And they’ll get around to the Jews eventually.

  205. #205 Luna_the_cat
    March 25, 2008

    PeteK:

    …PZ has written the equalivent of several books. He blogs as much as 4 or 5 people combined. And it’s a blessing! Be glad such intelligent, humane people are willings to share their thoughts and expertise with you, and that you can access their pearls of wisdom, and comment on them!

    Boy, you are something in danger of lending support to the “sycophant” charge, there. Puh-leeze.

  206. #206 Voting Present
    March 25, 2008

    Oh, come on – you really can’t figure out who the good guys and the bad guys are?

    Tristero is right, these are the American Taliban, and we absolutely need PZ and everyone firing away every chance they get. No negotiations, no compromise.

    Pour the ridicule out over these “Expelled” guys like a barrel of boiling oil in a medieval siege!
    .

  207. #207 Paul W.
    March 25, 2008

    Matt,

    I think you screwed the pooch when you dismissively said that PZ and Dawkins are deluded.

    If you wanted to make a case for a rhetorical strategy, rather than get into a fight about the content, that’s just not “the type of smart strategy that any public affairs professional would recommend.”

    A dismissive F-bomb in reply is about the best you can expect if you’re so smug and condescending.

    BTW, I do see the apparent irony here. PZ and Dawkins do themselves say that the religious are delusional, so perhaps turnabout is fair play?

    I happen to agree with them. Either way, I think they argue that position well enough that even if they’re mistaken, they’re not themselves deluded; the irony is only apparent.

    I think you owe PZ and Dawkins an apology.

    Perhaps I’m wrong about that, but even so, you shouldn’t stoop to that sort of inflammatory rhetoric when you’re trying to tell them not to engage in that sort of inflammatory rhetoric.

    If you want to argue with PZ about whether religion is delusory, do it. If you want to argue about rhetoric, do that.

    Just don’t casually call somebody delusional on the way to advising them about rhetoric. That’s extraordinarily bad framing, a.k.a. flame bait.

  208. #208 Orac
    March 25, 2008

    In order to diffuse that controversy and dampen down attention to the film, over the next couple of months, they should let NCSE handle the media interviews etc. This is not censorship but just the type of smart strategy that any public affairs professional would recommend.

    There’s only one word for your statement: Bullshit.

    You’ve lost me with your clueless statements over this issue. Say bye-bye to a former ally. You might be able to win me back, as I still think framing probably has value, but not by telling others to shut up. It’s become apparent that you have no practical understanding on the ground of how to do it, and, worse, you’re arrogant as hell about telling others what to do. All of this strikes me as the classic “ivory tower” syndrome.

  209. #209 Jim Lippard
    March 25, 2008

    Mecha wrote: “Actually, PZ has taken many, many, MANY people to task for having religious beliefs at all (Remember Rob Knopp? Who PZ and friends repeatedly berated for not being a scientist? For his views not being ‘good enough’? His religion not being ‘religiony-enough’ to be a REAL religion, but still making him a lesser being who didn’t deserve to be on Scienceblogs, and who should fucking THANK PZ for being nice enough to recommend him to be on Scienceblogs (even as PZ mocked him for having beliefs) and all that other crap? And then PZ’s commenters piling on with agreement in every forum they could find?)”

    Can you point me to that? If it’s as you say, I wouldn’t back P.Z. on that, but I’ve disagreed with him on other similar issues. For example, when I was President of the Internet Infidels, I endorsed a proposal to allow theists to be moderators on the scholarly forums of the Internet Infidels Discussion Boards. P.Z. quit as a moderator in protest when that was put into effect. I don’t think atheism should be a requirement for ScienceBlogs membership, nor an official position of ScienceBlogs.

  210. #210 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 25, 2008

    Orac,
    I regret you feel so strongly about this. There is nothing Ivory Tower about the strategy, I can assure you.

    –Matt

  211. #211 PeteK
    March 25, 2008

    Luna: I was half joking anyway 8-)

  212. #212 Ant
    March 25, 2008

    Nisbett:

    “There is nothing Ivory Tower about the strategy, I can assure you.”

    In my eyes, that is exactly what there is. You have a model of the American public – of how it reacts, of how it “thinks”. And you are predicting some kind of behavior based on this model. And you see the actions of PZ and RD as forcing functions that are perturbing your system. Looks extremely Ivory tower to me.

    you may be right, or you might be wrong. I do not know. However, I do know that the stupid mistake that Mathis made could be valuable, as it reveals how self-centered, impulsive, incompetent and generally simple-minded he is. I do not know what is the optimal message to create out of this, but remaining silent does not seem as an intelligent thing to do.

  213. #213 Paul W.
    March 25, 2008

    Jeff Dee asked whether framing only works on stupid people.

    I think it works best on relatively ignorant people, who are not (necessarily) stupid but are not well-versed in the subject, and don’t have a particularly strong commitment to their existing position. (The “wobbly middle”.)

    Most people have a mass of conflicting beliefs and intuitions, and haven’t really worked out how to resolve them.

    Framing is largely a matter of playing up the beliefs and intuitions that lead to the conclusion you want, and avoiding activating the beliefs and intuitions that would lead to disagreement. (Lakoff’s book “Moral Politics” is worth reading.)

    That’s not necessarily dishonest. It’s just playing to your strengths. Ideally, once you get people to seriously entertain your position, they’ll see that it makes sense, and it will survive the clash of beliefs and intuitions down the road. One goal is to avoid sounding crazy and turning people off before you can make your case.

    The big problem for PZ and Dawkins (and you and me) is that promoting atheism while promoting evolution leads to “unnecessary” conflict. If you just want to fight for evolution, it may pay to avoid the inconvenient truth that science really does often lead to atheism, for as long as possible.

    Arguably, it may even make sense if your main goal is to promote atheism in the long run. I think Dawkins is right that understanding evolution makes it easier to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, but it may still make sense to convince people about evolution before trying to play the atheism card. Baby steps.

    (I personally don’t believe that. I think the Overton window effect is about as important. We need more atheists to come out, so that it doesn’t seem as much like a crazy, fringe belief. It’s polarizing, but arguably worth it. It’s a double-or-nothing gamble, but atheists staying in the closet worked out very well, and likely It’s Time to start pushing our views publicly.)

    Matt has a couple of framing problems here on ScienceBlogs.

    One is that many of us do see a very strong tension between science and religion, and do not accept the frame he prefers as an honest presentation of our position. (I, for one, can’t say I think that science and religion are really compatible, or that evolution doesn’t conflict with mainstream, popular Christian theology. It simply does, no matter how much liberal theologians desperately try to work around it and reinvent Christianity to avoid the conflict.)

    I guess one reason Matt tells PZ and Dawkins to shut up is that he can’t realistically expect them to mouth his preferred (no-conflict) frame—they can’t do so honestly, and they’re honest guys, so if they can’t say something nice, they shouldn’t say anything at all. In itself, that’s not an unreasonable suggestion.

    The problem with telling them to shut up is that he can’t convince them (or many of us) that (1) sacrificing out atheism for evolution in schools is necessary or worth it in the short term, or (2) that it’ll get us where we want to go in the long run.

    Another problem is that this a public forum. Not really the ideal place to discuss political strategy and how to compromise on a “united front” against the forces of unreason. (All grassroots net-organizing has that problem.)

    Anything P.Z. says in his blog—which is mostly for atheists and scientists—can be pulled out and used against him. If he talks about the Expelled affair, that will draw attention to the movie. Should he self-censor in his blog? I don’t think so, for Overton window reasons, and it’s just not a reasonable thing to expect.

    Likewise, anything Matt says in his blog about P.Z. or Dawkins’ views draws attention to the very views that he wants to downplay. Calling them “delusions” is a good way to get an argument that they’re not delusions.

    Whee. Matt seems to be having trouble with it. That doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t substantial truth to what he’s saying. Framing is hard.

  214. #214 Hume's Razor
    March 25, 2008

    If there was no conflict between science and religion we would not be having a conversation about how science must be framed especially for religious believers in order to allow them to accept it. As I see it there really is a zero-sum conflict between religion and science, and it is not limited to evolution vs. creationism or even naturalism vs. supernaturalism. The deeper conflict, as i see it, is not between different conclusions at all, but different ways of reaching conclusions – in short: right vs. wrong reasons to believe. Wrong reasons are reasons that don’t discriminate between true and false propositions, such as authority, tradition, revelation, old habit, wishful thinking, “gutfeelings” etc. To believe as they do religious people have no choice but to rely on wrong reasons (that’s what “faith” means) because no other reasons are available.

    I often hear the argument that we should refrain from being too openly critical of religious faith to avoid alienating the believers (they are doing a great job of alienating me…) and get a chance to “promote scientific literacy” or “teach critical thinking”, but what i call “scientific literacy” and “critical thinking” is incompatible with believing anything for such bad reasons. And if that message don’t get accross, then whatever else you might be able to concey, is not scientific literacy or critical thinking. If someone denies this, then we mean different things by “scientific literacy” and “critical thinking”. If mr. Nisbet’s version of “science” is perfectly compatible with believing things strongly for such hopeless reasons, i can hardly see why we should want to promote it at all. If religious believers are only going to accept the findings of science on the condition that they can be “framed” (forged in my opinion) to not contradict what bad reasons requires them to believe, then whatever else we might get them to accept hardly has any value anyway.

    I see the harmful and antiscientific effects of religion as mere accidental side-effects of belief for the wrong reasons. What the likes of Nisbet are in effect saying is “Just keep all the wrong reasons as long as it doesn’t happen to lead to any undesirable conclusions”. Furthermore we already know that the strategy they are advocating doesn’t work for the simple reason that it is basically what we have been doing all along, and it has been the mother of all failiures. To me Nisbet’s whole message boils down to: “Get back in the closet and return to the approach that has already failed in the past.”

    …And i used to be such a nice person :(

  215. #215 michaelf
    March 25, 2008

    Matt,
    So if we all show up here and tell you to stop talking about framing will you take our advice? This seems to be what you are telling PZ and Richard. Our country is run by PR consultants and expressing an honest opinion about a subject is a dying art. Do I completely agree with PZ and Richard about religion and science? No, but they are honest.

  216. #216 Anna K
    March 25, 2008

    Whew! I was really surprised to see so many responses to my post. Thank you for all your thoughtful comments.

    @ spurge, 3-25, 9:13 a.m., who wrote: “The whole problem with ID is about its “religious implications.” ID is religion. It is not science. That is the problem.” Yeah, absolutely, agreed. I know that, and you know that. But the target audience for ‘Expelled’ doesn’t see WHY it doesn’t count as science, especially after Ben Stein “shows” that mainstream scientists are repressing the people he presents as legit scientists. Here’s the kicker: Ben Stein AGREES with you that mainstream science leads to atheism. That’s why creationists promote “alternative theories.” If they didn’t feel that there was a conflict between religion and legitimate science, creationists would have no reason to contort things. And if science is always cast as something that kills religion, people will search for more palatable (to them) alternatives.

    @ Jim Lippard, 3-25, 9:47 a.m.: “Some liberal theists have reinterpreted their religions to eliminate most, if not all, conflict between religion and science, but only by retreating from the ontological claims made by “less sophisticated” religious believers. While they still claim to “believe” the holy books that make the same falsified claims, they say that those claims are not to be interpreted except as poetry, myth, or as pre-scientific theorizing designed to carry some non-scientific message that still holds.” Okay . . . but now you’re doing theology. You’re claiming that nonliteralist, nonfundamentalist reading of religious texts is bad theology. On what grounds?

    @ factician, 3-25, 10:07 a.m.: “There is a broader problem of science and religion. Science is about doubt. Doubting everything for which there is no evidence. Most Western religions (I confess to knowing very little about Hinduism, and Taoism) focus on faith without evidence. There is a conflict there.” Again, it depends on your theology, doesn’t it? Western religious traditions address and accommodate doubt quite a bit: that’s how they survive. Don’t mistake fideism for what many religious people mean by the concept of faith.

    factician again: “People *can* reconcile science and religion, but it requires some rather daunting hurdles, and mental acrobatics that seem to me more based on desire than on logic. Science taken to its logical conclusion results in atheism. (Not in the popular sense of the term atheism: “Belief that there is no God”, but in the original sense of atheism “Absence of belief in God”).” What do you mean by science taken to its logical conclusion? I think there’s a leap of faith in there somewhere, namely with the notion that scientific methodologies alone allow us access to reality. How would you test that assertion scientifically without resorting to circular reasoning?

    @ rjb, 3-25, 10:37: “The problem I have with that argument is that it is, unfortunately, not a two-way street when it comes to understanding the philosophical underpinnings of different religious vs. nonreligious points of view. Why is it that the atheists have to be well versed in the relatively esoteric philosophical underpinnings of advanced theological thought, but not the other way around?” Given the thousands of books cranked out on apologetics, philosophy of religion (which also deals with atheism) and theology which addresses issues around natural theology and metaphysical naturalism, what makes you think it only goes one way? If we are both agreeing that Dawkins didn’t really do his homework, then I suspect we can also agree that Dawkins is only preaching to the converted. If that’s what you want to do, you can certainly get a good following and make a lot of money that way, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. I’m opposed to intellectual monocultures, myself. But it depends on your goal. If you want to defend good science among people who have different beliefs about the way things are, you will need a different approach than Dawkins takes, because he is not reaching a diverse audience. It’s important to understand why. Let me add that I might very well be barking up the wrong tree. But it’s an interesting question, why the Dawkins/Myers approach is such a failure with religious people, given that that’s the thinking they say they want to change.

    rjb again: “Most of the more complex theological ideas start with a basic assumption… that there is a first cause. As an atheist, I reject that basic assumption, so, to me, all of those arguments are flat the moment they begin (and that’s the critical point… this is MY view, not what has to be the view of others).” Actually, that argument is flat to me too. I’m not religious because of that.

    @ rjb, the sequel, 3-25, 10:45: I don’t disagree in general with what you’ve put forward in the three approaches, although I would hope in philosophy, ethics, theology or comparative religion classes students would also get exposed to ideas that support the case for religion. btw I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughtful posts.

    @ Jim Lippard, 3-25, 11:07: “To the extent that Dawkins and Myers go beyond the science into areas like philosophy and normative ethics, they are making non-scientific claims that are not entailed by the scientific evidence (. . . ) A division *can* be drawn, and if your goal is persuasion, *somebody* needs to draw the division and communicate with the audience that otherwise wouldn’t listen without including the nonscientific parts that will turn them off.” Yes! Yes! Halleluia — er, I mean, Eureka! That’s it. That’s exactly the issue. Believe me, I am expecting someone at my church to propose a screening of ‘Expelled’ for the youth group — and I want to be able to oppose it, without getting my message shut out.

  217. #217 Pete
    March 25, 2008

    I don’t agree with Nisbet on this, mostly because no reasons or logical connections are ever given! He says this is “really, really bad for science” – but how does he know? He never bothers spelling out how we go from point A (PZ and RD speaking out) to point B (bad for science). Why can’t the professor of communication communicate step by step to those 200+ posters who remain unconvinced, just why he is correct? Is there a body of theory, or empirical trends in similar cases, that support Nisbet’s case? Without actual support it really does sound like “Trust me, I know what I’m talking about” – yes, that really goes over well with a skeptical audience.

  218. #218 Pierce R. Butler
    March 25, 2008

    thm: Thanks for the reply, and for the straightforward attempt to provide two examples of successful framing in political issues.

    Unfortunately, of your two examples, only one is right – and it’s only half right. Opponents of the death penalty in the US have made some (limited, but very respectable in the current retrograde political climate) headway by emphasizing the prospect of innocent people being wrongly convicted.

    The gap in your argument (relative to my question, at least) is that this is not purely a matter of framing, but of making smart use of the continued trickle of headline-making cases where DNA analysis has proven that innocents had been put on death row. The wrongful-conviction argument is hardly new to DP opponents: the lab work backing their claim is, and that’s made more of a difference than changing the theme of talks and press releases.

    As for your other example: I’m tempted to use downright Oraclian, or even Myersly, language. Reagan and his handlers achieved their political success primarily by lying – if that’s what you mean by framing, please stuff it up the most prominent orifice of the nearest communications professor.

    More specifically: Reagan’s anti-government spiel, though delivered with a folksy smile that most used-car salespeople would kill for, was only part of a well-orchestrated strategy that involved a massive media echo chamber, thorough disregard of all differing viewpoints, and a horde of attack twits vocally demonizing the poor, environmentalists, pro-choicers, Nicaraguans, civil libertarians, Cubans, gays, pot smokers, apartheid opponents, Russians, and a long list of other scapegoats.

    You do the cause of framing no good at all to link it to corrupt and dishonest (and war-criminal) politicians — but maybe not, as it seems to suit them well, and they may appreciate and exploit it more than scientists or atheists ever could.

  219. #219 wagonjak
    March 25, 2008

    I’m not a scientist myself…and I fall clearly in the camp that supports PJ and Dawkins here.

    I must say though that your misguided column has led to one of the most intelligent and well reasoned threads I have had the pleasure to read anywhere on any subject.

    Thanks for being the catylist for that Matt!

  220. #220 Skeptic4u
    March 25, 2008

    What is the correct way to promote science?

  221. #221 Tulse
    March 25, 2008

    Paul W. :

    Framing is hard.

    Let’s go shopping!

  222. #222 Mecha
    March 25, 2008

    Jim Lippard: Well, Rob’s blog is slowly disappearing into the mists, because he is no longer active as a blogger on Scienceblogs due to various changes in life among other things. (Also, I added a p to his name as I often do. So bad with names.)

    Here and here are two such posts, although Rob had others. In the second post you can explicitly see him talking about how people are saying that he can’t be a good scientist, and the dogpiles of people screaming at him. His other posts involved him reconciling religion and science, and were roundly treated like crap.

    This involves a ‘discussion’ with Rob in his comments, which also happens to illustrate PZ saying (minus his dancing around it by substituting it in someone else’s quote): “The real underlying issue is that religion is incompatible with higher education” in the main post. It is him literally espousing that religion and involved in higher education (of which many/most? scientists are) and religion are incompatible. It’s no mystery where observant watchers get it from.

    This and this also illustrate Rob and PZ disagreeing, and the first one of those refers to now-deleted/lost to time posts on Rob’s part.

    It seriously isn’t hard to find strong evidence of PZ holding the position that religion is disease, delusion, and incompatible with science. Given that, it seems pretty damn reasonable to at least want him to step back from putting a bad face on scientists everywhere.

    (The Pharyngula stuff is easily searchable via ‘Rob Knop’ on the search bar for PZ’s blog, which is the only reason I even took the time to do this. I’d have sent you it in a mail, but I didn’t see your e-mail off of your blog. :/ Sorry for the not wholly OT, everyone else.)

    -Mecha

  223. #223 Slothrop
    March 25, 2008

    First I’ll establish my bone fides by saying that Expelled is a reprehensible piece of manipulative claptrap that is designed, from the beginning, to speak to the fears and biases of a creationist (or at least Christian/religious) audience. No amount of “framing” on the part of PZ or Dawkins could have improved this film. Their clear meaning would have been stripped and reshaped until the film’s directors point of view, his frame, was all that remained.

    OK, having said that, I’ve got to say that almost everyone here posts as if the last 50 years of History of Science scholarship, Science & Society scholarship, etc. have never happened. Why is there a problem with acknowledging that science is a social system of beliefs that is built on a “frame” of justifications and assumptions? It’s a GREAT way to understand the world, but it is not outside of society.

    Myers and Dawkins certainly have a scientific worldview (a frame) that is consistent with what scientists know about biology. They speak from within that frame. They assume that their audience accepts the same kind of evidence they accept, that they believe in a primarily material universe free of supernatural causes, etc.

    So – are we talking about the movie (where they were used and they would never be allowed to successfully frame their arguments to make a difference), or are we talking about actually trying to teach people who are ignorant of science and the scientific worldview about how to understand evolution from a scientific perspective? ‘cuz those are very different things.

  224. #224 Nana
    March 25, 2008

    I am stunned that you would take this approach. With all the wonderful talking points dropped in your lap free of charge and you choose this way to frame it?
    Mathis expels PZ from line and you run over to (symbolicaly)stuff a gag in his mouth!

    What were you thinking?

    This is worse than anything PZ said in the film!

    I just can’t get over it.

  225. #225 PZ Myers
    March 25, 2008

    Actually, PZ has taken many, many, MANY people to task for having religious beliefs at all (Remember Rob Knopp? Who PZ and friends repeatedly berated for not being a scientist? For his views not being ‘good enough’? His religion not being ‘religiony-enough’ to be a REAL religion, but still making him a lesser being who didn’t deserve to be on Scienceblogs, and who should fucking THANK PZ for being nice enough to recommend him to be on Scienceblogs (even as PZ mocked him for having beliefs) and all that other crap? And then PZ’s commenters piling on with agreement in every forum they could find?)

    Oh, please. Quite the contrary, Rob Knop charged in within a few days of signing on here with attacks on me, not vice versa. Nor did I ever suggest that he did not deserve to be on Sb, that he was not a scientist, or that he was a “lesser being” … I had no problem with him being here (similarly, I’m not too keen on the comments here about kicking off Nisbet). Of course I argued with him and mocked his silly beliefs — I disagreed with his position vehemently. Are we not allowed to do that any more?

  226. #226 Jim Lippard
    March 25, 2008

    Anna K: “Okay . . . but now you’re doing theology. You’re claiming that nonliteralist, nonfundamentalist reading of religious texts is bad theology. On what grounds?”

    I said no such thing, despite my suspicion that all theology is bad theology. I personally don’t find such views appealing, and it doesn’t seem to be something that the general public finds appealing, either. The sorts of churches that promote such theology are the ones with declining membership, losing it to the “hot” religious groups like the Pentecostals.

    “Yes! Yes! Halleluia — er, I mean, Eureka! That’s it. That’s exactly the issue. Believe me, I am expecting someone at my church to propose a screening of ‘Expelled’ for the youth group — and I want to be able to oppose it, without getting my message shut out.”

    And I wish you the best in doing so–but it doesn’t make sense to criticize P.Z. Myers on the basis of the fact that he’s not in a position to do that, or to somehow infer that he will be to blame if your message does get shut out. I made the point in this 1992 book review for Skeptic magazine that old-earth creationists may be in a better position to persuade young-earth creationists to change their minds than skeptics and evolutionary scientists. The “Overton window” point that Paul W makes, above, suggests that P.Z. Myers may also be critical to your success by defining a more radical position that your audience can safely reject when adopting yours.

  227. #227 Mister Snitch!
    March 25, 2008

    “I think that, in this instance, EVERYONE ought to be focussed on the incredible hypocrisy and dishonesty of the Expelled producer(s). This is neither the time nor the place, nor the right way, to be critical of Myers and Dawkins.”

    You mean, this is the time to manage and censure the opinions that can be expressed here. Yeah, no irony there. None at all.

    This will be the second comment I have tried to post to this forum. The first was unceremoniously (and quietly) dumped. No irony there, either. We’ll see if this one goes through. If not, perhaps I’ll give the NY Times a call. They might like a follow-up story.

  228. #228 Anna K
    March 25, 2008

    Good points, and thanks for the link.

  229. #229 D.J. Grothe
    March 25, 2008

    Nisbet’s general point in this post seems *so* uncontroversial to me, but I’m impressed at all the passionate defenses of our heroes (Dawkins & Myers) here. Nisbet’s point is so uncontroversial that none other than Dawkins seems to agree that when he is battling against religion, he is making it harder for those who have the chief goal of science and evolution education — but he says that he is just more concerned with the larger war against religion than the smaller battles for science education. He said all this very openly in an interview on Point of Inquiry a while back.

    If Dawkins and Myers have a different priority than just science education, so be it. But for science, they arent always the best spokes-people to the general public when they’re railing against religion, and at least Dawkins gets that and is fine with it — he wrote some of the most beautiful books on science out there and when he writes one as an esteemed scientist about how everyone’s deeply held belief about God is delusional (which may or may not be a book about science), of course he’s making it harder for the NCSE types who want to separate religious belief (and atheism) from education about evolution. And of course Myers’ and Dawkins’ comments in this creationist documentary couldnt have been scripted better for the opposition to use. Its all a matter of priorities — sometimes it is going to be a choice between fighting against religion and fighting for evolution education. And not everyone has the same priorities, nor should they.

    The sciblogs community really went frothing rabid over this post of Nisbet’s, and its largely I think because of the deeply felt admiration for PZ Myers and Dawkins. As if criticizing either of them in terms of their impact on science education is the worst thing you can do in this community.

  230. #230 Monado, FCD
    March 25, 2008

    Not all publicity is good. When Leona Helms slapped her assistant, when Larry Craig got caught cruising the public washrooms, or when Ted Haggard was outed as a drug-using, gay-bashing, gay, it was bad publicity. Craig and Haggard were shown to be lying, posturing, hypocrites and Helms a bully.

    My impression of the American people is that they honor fair play; and the producers of Expelled are showing themselves to be cheating hypocrites who don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to their main argument about freedom of debate or their secondary point about the “science” of Intelligent Design.

    I might just be an optimist, but I think this is the character-revealing turning point of the story. The ID people have stomped on their own frame; let’s not let them sweep the pieces under the rug.

    Let’s remember that we’re all on the same side here. I really enjoyed attending the science blogs conference and hearing Chris Mooney speak.

  231. #231 Pierce R. Butler
    March 25, 2008

    D.J. Grothe: Myers has been lied to (and about), expelled from an event he registered to attend according the the sponsors’ process, threatened with arrest – and he’s supposed to stuff a rag into his own mouth because … his opinions haven’t been focus-group tested?
    atheists are supposed to stay quiet in the back of the bus? NCSE will be overwhelmed by creationist backlash?

    Maybe you & the posse will understand better if I try to put it into media marketing-speak: This time it’s personal!

    If you or Dr. Nisbet should try to intrude into any of my brawls (particularly any of those involving cops), rest assured you will afterwards understand just how civil and restrained Drs. Dawkins & Myers have been.

  232. #232 jen_m
    March 25, 2008

    Some people are all worked up that Myers dropped an f-bomb. I, however, have come straight to the source to chide you for worse language. You write, and study language, for a living. How could you possibly fail to hear the off-note in the order, “Lay low”? When it’s used in the imperative mood, “lay” always takes an object: “Lay me down in the tall grass”; “Lay down your arms”; “Go lay an egg”. If you were trying to murmur a suggestion that Myers keep himself close to ground, you meant to say, “Lie low for a while, and let others do the talking.”

    Ugh. It’s like biting tinfoil. I’d rather hear a dozen cusswords strung together.

  233. #233 Pierce R. Butler
    March 25, 2008

    jen_m: a dozen cusswords strung together can be quite admirable: see http://sonic.net/maledicta/

  234. #234 D.J. Grothe
    March 25, 2008

    Pierce R. Butler: I dont think Nisbet’s post touches on the dishonest tactics of the filmakers, nor the lunacy of their expelling PZ from a screening of a film named “Expelled.” Nor do I see him arguing that PZ should be “muzzled” in fighting his personal fight with one producer of a shoddy piece of propaganda (not that I think PZ is even aiming for such a personal fight).

    Nisbet was merely making the uncontroversial point that PZ and Dawkins, when they suggest science leads to atheism (a position I personally lean towards) could be hurting science education. I think thats true — and I for one think its just fine, since theirs might not be primarily a science education goal — science education certainly is not the only priority one could have as a pro-science type. But *if it is your priority*, surely you’d admit that PZ and Dawkins give such perfect ammunition to those who oppose the teaching of evolution out of fear it will lead to atheism (a strategic point Dawkins admits, as I mentioned above). This is especially the case as regards the things they say in this documentary, even if they thought it was just a documentary about science and religion at a “Crossroads” (as it was originally and dishonestly portrayed to them), and not this pap Ben Stein spews. Again, its a matter of priorities. Some of us care more about advancing atheism than advancing science education.

    But if advancing atheism is your priority over science or evolution education, it doesnt make sense to me that you’d get all wound up if someone argues youre not the best voice for science education.

    As amazed as I am by how dumb the creationist producer was to expel Myers (it had a sort of beauty to it), I am also amazed by the nastiness the sciblog community explodes on anyone who criticizes Dawkins or Myers, even on points that Dawkins himself seems to agree with. (In the posts in this thread, there have been personal attacks and even calls for Nisbet himself to be expelled from the sciblog community!)

    It just goes to show you what a loyal following Dawkins and PZ have garnered by being successful and vocal atheists-as-scientists and how the scienceblog community loves having a champion in each of these men. But surely, as science types, we can have atheist champions and at the same time admit to the reasonable argument that they might not be the best communicators of science to a religious — or at least not-atheistic — public.

  235. #235 the real CosMo Framer
    March 25, 2008

    Hold your ground Nisbet: you are right on this one. I was in slight disagreement with you at times on the last framing debate, but you have definitely nailed something this time.

    The proof of that is in all of the irrational, off-putting negativity that some of these sciborgs have directed at you–proving the point again and again.
    To whit, the general attitude of : “Don’t tell us how to market science – that’s something journalists have already screwed up.”
    which demonstrates absolutely zero knowledge about what IS happening in journalism and PR, and 100% mere opinion–framed as science!

    So when you said :
    “studies show that science literacy has only a small positive relationship with more support for science, while social values account for a much greater amount of the variance”

    –it peaked my journalistic curiosity, and also affirmed what I have personally observed with these sciborg blogs, especially PZ: Their opinions are oft conflated to be scientific knowledge, and as such, packaged neatly for the snarky and bitter faux-left leaning identity politocos crowd, but do little else to enlighten others, especially the rational observers of these debates.

  236. #236 Orac
    March 25, 2008

    The sciblogs community really went frothing rabid over this post of Nisbet’s, and its largely I think because of the deeply felt admiration for PZ Myers and Dawkins. As if criticizing either of them in terms of their impact on science education is the worst thing you can do in this community.

    You appear not to know very much about the ScienceBlogs community, then. PZ and I have gotten into it before; indeed, I often find PZ’s anti-religious rants tedious and annoying to the point where I tune them out. Moreover, I’ve on more than one occasion expressed puzzlement at the extreme reactions against the concept of “framing” that folks like PZ and Larry Moran express seemingly whenever it is brought up. Many of the ScienceBloggers who are now defending P.Z. are ones who have gotten into it with him on this issue before. In fact, I felt as though I was one of the few ScienceBloggers who in general supported Matt’s and Chris’ idea and wrote about it several months ago. I even had a conversation when I was in D.C. for a meeting in March 2007 with Chris Mooney about this very concept, and we had fairly broad agreement.

    That being said, Matt is simply wrong here. Moreover, he’s high-handed and arrogant in telling PZ and Dawkins to “lie low” and let the pros spin this incident (presumably him). It should be very telling indeed that someone (like me) who’s defended the Mooney/Nesbit idea of framing in the past has now turned against them over this incident. It has nothing to do with my like or dislike, my admiration or lack of admiration, for PZ and Dawkins. It has everything to do with Nisbet taking a PR debacle for the movie’s producers and doing his best to switch the frame back to the creationists’ preferred frame. It has everything to do with Matt snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on this particular issue.

  237. #237 Orac
    March 25, 2008

    As amazed as I am by how dumb the creationist producer was to expel Myers (it had a sort of beauty to it), I am also amazed by the nastiness the sciblog community explodes on anyone who criticizes Dawkins or Myers, even on points that Dawkins himself seems to agree with

    Again, you reveal your ignorance about the SB community. We don’t all leap to Myers’ defense. Sometimes we even gang up on him. As for Dawkins, some of the most critical things about Dawkins you will ever see have appeared right here on ScienceBlogs, a couple written by me.

    You are clearly judging the entire community by this one incident, which is not typical of how things run around here from day to day. In fact, that it is untypical should tell you something.

  238. #238 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 25, 2008

    Jen M.,
    Your suggestion about the usage of “lay low” is interesting, so I checked with a number of sources. Apparently the usage of the idiom is interchangeable with “lie low.” References in classic literature go all the way back to Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer:

    http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/lay+low

    Tom didn’t feel no more intrust in him neither, only curiosity to know what come of him; but he said we’d lay low and keep dark and it wouldn’t be long till the dogs or somebody rousted him out.

    Also:

    http://bits.westhost.com/idioms/id367.htm

    stay out of sight; out of circulation

    The escaped prisoner planned to lay low for a few days.

  239. #239 Tulse
    March 25, 2008

    Let others play the role of communicator, most importantly the National Center for Science Education

    And what has their response been to the “PZ Myers Affair”? On the NCSE’s “Expelled Exposed” webpage, their official counter to the film, of the three major sections of the page, one has the heading of “Biologist PZ Myers expelled from Expelled screening”. Of the thirteen substantive links in total on the site, four of them are directly related to this issue — three under the above-mentioned section, and one a direct link to Dawkin’s own review of the film, which of course also relates the incident, and is titled “Lying for Jesus”, a title the NCSE site reproduces in its link to the piece. (If we’re just including links about Dawkins and Myers in the film in general, the number of links would be six, as we would add the linked NYT piece that interviewed, among others, Dawkins and Myers, and the Popular Science article that mentions Myers and the controversy over the film.)

    So, to recap, on the site where the film is officially responded to by the NCSE, the organization that Matt himself identifies as ideal for communicating about the film, one third of the topics, and over 30% of all the links are about this incident, and over 46% substantially mention Myers.

    I guess they didn’t get the memo.

  240. #240 Brad Hudson
    March 26, 2008

    D.J.– I think you understate Matt’s assertion. He doesn’t claim Dawkins and Meyers “could” be hurting science education — he claims they are “really really bad for science.” The way you phrased it is fairly uncontroversial. But that’s not how he phrased it. The controversy that Matt’s actual post touched off is pretty good evidence that his post is, well, controversial. And I’m afraid neither you nor I nor Nisbet nor Meyers knows whether what Nisbet asserts is, in fact, correct.

    Would you agree that the following proposition is uncontroversial: a quality education in science will, in fact, result in some people rejecting the supernatural in all of its forms? If the proposition is true, why are we running from it? Do you think it will really help the cause of promoting science education to try and hide what I suspect we would all admit when among friends? And if you try to hide it — to shove Meyers and Dawkins and other scientists who openly reject the supernatural into a closet, as if they were some crazy uncle that we are ashamed of — do you really think the attempt won’t be noticed and exploited by the anti-science folks?

    It’s not really hard to figure out the playbook: the issue would be framed as “scientists know that science promotes atheism. We know it because we can prove they are trying to hide it.” And what will be exhibit A? Posts just like Nisbet’s. “See, they have to tell the atheist scientists to ‘lay low’ so they can continue teach their atheistic Darwinsim to innocent children.”

    The folks in the anti-science camp aren’t nice — they are schoolyard bullies who don’t play fair. In their minds, any tactic is justified by their unquestionable rightness. I think that Oreske’s talk on the history of global warming denial is pretty instructive. It doesn’t matter who you put out as the friendly face of science education, these folks will set out to personally and professionally destroy him or her if they think it will advance their cause. Ask James Hansen. Or Michael Mann.

    And walking on eggshells to avoid faux outrage is a sucker bet. Sooner or later the eggshells break and the outrage begins anyway. Do you really want to use the Samantha Powers case as a role model for scientists — calling someone a “monster” becomes a firing offense? At the first hint of faux outrage, you throw the “offender” under the bus?

    Expelled’s frame appears to be: Big Science suppresses any idea that doesn’t fit within its orthodox consensus. Telling Dawkins and Meyers to shut up because their ideas don’t fit with the orthodox consensus on how to promote science sends exactly the wrong message.

    I’m not passionate about Meyers or Dawkins. I am passionate about science. And I am increasingly concerned that the road Nisbet wants to take science down will do more damage to the cause of promoting science than Dawkins or Meyers ever could.

  241. #241 Sigmund
    March 26, 2008

    Sorry DJ but you are so wrong here.
    Nobody is questioning whether the Dawkins-Myers stance is helpful as a means of encouraging large numbers of evangelicals to accept evolution – it quite obviously isn’t. What they are questioning is the idea that they should be silenced so that religious scientists can take up the task and, through their example, demonstrate that evolution and evangelical christianity are compatible.
    For a start it is quite simply a lie (or at the very least a contemptible half-truth)to say that they are compatible. I’ve made the analogy before that saying religion is compatible with evolution is like saying religion is compatible with eating a ham sandwich.
    It really depends which religion you are talking about.
    Ken Miller, poster boy of the religious evolution brigade, is hardly a good spokesman to encourage evangelicals to accept evolution. He’s a catholic for heavens sake! He might be good at explaining why catholicism allows the acceptance of evolution but every time I hear his explanations of why creationism is wrong all I hear is him saying that evangelical interpretations of the bible are wrong and that they should change. I suspect that the idea of changing to an Miller acceptable interpretation is not substantially different to suggesting that they convert to catholicism. Why anyone would imagine that this would be any more successful than the in your face strategy of Dawkins-Myers is a mystery to me.
    Wait a second.
    I lie.
    Its not a mystery.
    Those who suggest it know it has little chance of success but nevertheless continue suggest it for political reasons. My view is that Nisbet’s priority is climate change and evolution is pretty far down the list and an expendable. He needs the evangelicals on board and if it means temporarily sacrificing good evolution education then so be it.
    Finally I have to wonder why so many people here try so hard and apparently so successfully to silence Miller, Collins, Ayala, Conway-Morris etc from speaking out on this issue?
    What was that?
    They don’t?

  242. #242 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 26, 2008

    Sigmund,
    Strategically, on this issue generally and with Expelled specifically, Catholics and mainline Protestants are probably the most important audience group to engage with. Many evangelicals comprise a base that will be mobilized by the film. Not much to do about that.

    It’s the moderate middle to protect against, and having as the stand-ins for science people who are quoted in the film as comparing religion to knitting or saying science kills off faith, is not helpful in engaging the moderate middle. Try focus grouping that clip sometime, observe the emotional reaction that occurs. It’s a very powerful and alienating effect.

  243. #243 Sigmund
    March 26, 2008

    Matt, I’m in Sweden – focus group that clip here and most would agree with it. There are still churches here, and religious people too, indeed state TV regularly shows church services. It’s just that things have moved on enough that religious people realize that their views are not the ‘norm’ of society, merely one of many competing and valid ways of looking at issues. Honestly, how big do you think the percentage of the US population that will be mobilized by this upmarket version of a Kent Hovind youtube clip?
    Personally I wonder what effect this will have on the Discovery Institute. I get the distinct impression that this is a last ditch kamikaze attack on materialistic science from them. They cannot be unaware that the whole move explicitly ties the Intelligent Design movement to religion and what that means in future legal terms (unless of course there is another right wing Supreme Court appointment that swings things back an enlightenment or two).

  244. #244 Tulse
    March 26, 2008

    It’s the moderate middle to protect against, and having as the stand-ins for science people who are quoted in the film as comparing religion to knitting or saying science kills off faith, is not helpful in engaging the moderate middle.

    So why does the NCSE, the group you argue understands this issue best, provide a prominent link to Richard Dawkins’ review of the film, a review entitled “Lying for Jesus”? Why are they giving him and his site attention, if such attention is so disastrous for the cause?

  245. #245 BM
    March 26, 2008

    Nisbet,

    A) True B) True C) True. What’s the problem. You can never go wrong arguing the truth.

    To some of the other commenters,

    You’ve got the Swift Boat issue backwards. It was Kerry that was lying and that’s why he lost the debate. We have yet to learn the full truth because he won’t release his military records.

    Being an atheist I really would like to vote for a democrat but the party keeps electing candidates that are awful. Kerry was practically a traitor with his siding with the Vietcong and lying (not under oath) in the Senate hearings on what he had witnessed. Obama seems to be an admirer of an open racist and another America hater. Clinton can’t open her mouth without lying and disparaging the military. They both seem to hate capitalism.

    I hate McCain just like I hate Bush but then again McCain looks like less of a risk than the democratic candidates.

    Work on not appearing to hate America and you’ll have better success here. Accept that the military is going to have some loose cannons and don’t promote incidents as if the US has bad intentions all the time.

    Abu Ghraib was about a couple of those loose cannons and is not what the US military is about. Iraq is not about rapine and despoilation. At worse it’s about wasting US taxpayer money. The Lancet study is a fraud perpetrated by Soros so stop quoting 600,000 dead civilians. It’s just anti-US propaganda. No Bush didn’t lie if you actually read the speech and compare it to what was known at the time, and was being promoted by Democrats, theirs video.

    The Iraq war is one of the most successful military operations ever by almost every metric, especially death toll, which is running about the same level as the Clinton years, peacetime numbers. Plus stop waving body counts for our side, it’s in bad taste, and you’d be offended if we kept a kill count on insurgents, Iraqi military, civilian terrorists, and illegal combatants.

    Nobody likes a defeatist even if they are against the war.

    Dawkins and Myers both have a tendency to tick me off when it comes to discussing US policy. The Republicans are not the devil incarnate.

    Myers posted just the other day wondering why the US electorate is not up in arms. I’ll tell you why. It’s because people like him are promoting the wrong message. People can get behind the “why waste our resources” or “the US military is for US defense not foreign liberation” messages. They can’t get behind “The US sucks” and “Our president is the debil” messages.

  246. #246 jb
    March 26, 2008

    LOL!!!! What a silly spectacle! All I want to know is how much of a cut PZ’s getting from the expelled producers for helping them to promote this film nationally and internationally.

    Point: if PZ is NOT getting paid well for his antics and considerable promo efforts, he’s the idiot and fool. This is not difficult at all for anyone watching to figure out.

  247. #247 Matti K.
    March 26, 2008

    Prof. Nisbet said:

    “This is not censorship but just the type of smart strategy that any public affairs professional would recommend.”

    I know that organizations have these kind of professionals. However, I seldom have seen their memos on public domains.

    If I think someone’s actions are “really, really bad” for some perceived common cause, my first action is to discuss privately with that seemingly inconsiderate person. If that would have no effect, I would think at least twice, if public accusations of beeing “really, really bad” for the cause would themselves be good for the cause.

    But then again, I am not a public affairs professional and do not pretend to know how they do their job. In academic public debate, however, it is not customary to tell other participants to shut up for some perceived common good.

  248. #248 Mecha
    March 26, 2008

    PZ: Well, if you don’t approve of them calling for Nisbett (or Rob’s, at the time), expulsion, why don’t you tell them so in a top level post? (Or, if you’ve done so before, re-link/re-bring it up?)

    Be honest with yourself. You have blog clout and name recognition. Your sarcastic post about how nobody is representative of science is belied by the fact that there are a huge number of ‘named’ scientists all through history who, in fact, are representatives of what science involves and means.

    And heck, on your own post mocking the concept of you as a leader or representative of science, , down at 76, you have a guy who says that Nisbet should be kicked off. I will accept that you have a busy life and might have missed that, or ignored it for whatever reason, _but aren’t you the one who says that if you disagree with something, you should speak out loudly and proudly_? Aren’t you? Now that it’s been brought to your attention on your own blog, not just on other peoples’ blog, I suppose the ball’s in your court.

    Around here, you speak to a group of peoples’ concerns, and their thought processes. You can either try to lead them, lift them up, dare I say, be _constructive_ to the people who listen to you, or you can let them go around stomping anything Matt, Sheril, or Chris says that disagrees with you into the ground with a thousand responses, most of which are meaningless attempts to tear them down (seriously, how was Sheril’s simple post on asking you to not tell Matt to fuck off still #5 on popularity? Why do you think so many people responded so violently to the concept, even after she clarified that it’s not about profanity? Oh, and they all want her to go to. While using feminizing insults on her and Chris. Very classy stuff, these people who felt a burning need to defend you for some reason while you never responded.) I realize that humility is a scientific virtue in many senses, but don’t deny the truth of how many people see you as their leader, or their guide, or whatever, and how many people may see you as a general spokesperson for science.

    -Mecha

  249. #249 Tulse
    March 26, 2008

    if you don’t approve of them calling for Nisbett (or Rob’s, at the time), expulsion, why don’t you tell them so in a top level post?

    Geez, he responded directly and unequivocally in the thread where the suggestion was made — honestly, what more would be reasonable? Wouldn’t a top-level post on his blog saying “I don’t want Nibset thrown off of ScienceBlogs” be hugely pretentious and pompous, and simply stoke the controversy all the more?

    This issue is getting way too meta — perhaps all involved should go back to their labs (at least, those who have labs…)

  250. #250 Pierce R. Butler
    March 26, 2008

    But *if it is your priority*, surely you’d admit that PZ and Dawkins give such perfect ammunition to those who oppose the teaching of evolution out of fear it will lead to atheism…

    Their point is that the teaching of science, or even the basics of critical thinking, will increase the incidence of atheism. This seems generally true, and those who advocate the reconciliation of the two “magisteria” need to devise a better response to this inconvenient fact than futile attempts to silence the messengers.

    This point will not go away on its own – the pro-superstition crowd will bring it up at every opportunity.

    The occasion for the present “explosion” of criticism was not that someone had the temerity to hassle Dawkins or Myers, it was that some armchair quarterback is fool enough to tell those at the center of a highly newsworthy incident that they have no legitimate voice in same – even as reporters are clamoring for interviews.

    Go to Pharyngula or the Dawkins blog, and you will see them criticized all the time, with the regulars responding in due proportion: reasoned comment on the reasonable critiques, piling on against the trolls. Assertions as spectacularly dumb – see my “rhetorical-tactical” comment above – as the present attempted intervention, utterly wrong from every angle, are thus subject to attack from all angles.

    Or do you think criticisms of atheism should be as immune from fault-finding as Nisbet & Co. apparently believe religion must be? There is an assumption of special privilege here, whether based on some notion of “sacredness” or fear of purported majoritarian backlash, that deserves a clear examination. It may even have a degree of validity – but as long as the anti-evolutionists insist on aiming their rhetoric (and shoddy stunts) explicitly against specific individual atheists, just how could anyone expect those atheists in particular to “Lay low and let others do the talking”?!?

  251. #251 Monado, FCD
    March 26, 2008

    I agree with Matt & Chris strongly about one thing: ranting at convinced religious folk is as useless and rude as teasing someone who has an irrational fear of dragonflies. Religion, superstion, prejudice, and phobias all spring from ideas inculcated in small children.

    But I want schools and broadcast media to speak up, without ranting, and say that numerology is nonsense, homeopathy won’t cure, and dragonflies can’t sting.

    From that point of view, I feel that I was cheated. In my growing years and young adulthood, nothing that came my way acknowledged that there’s no historical evidence for, say, Jesus and plenty of circumstantial evidence that his biography ws a late addition to a spiritual ideal. Most of the time, news media still tiptoe around our very own Sacred Cow.

    Who was it who crowed after the Scopes trial that it would be the death of religion? One of the younger Huxleys? Now there’s someone who should have kept quiet, because his boasting statement was used to rally a huge countermovement against evolution and science that is still going on. By now, the anti-evolution crowd is already convinced that all “Darwinists” are atheists.

    Let’s get the people in the middle. I point out that Darwin never saw a jet plane, either, but that we are not stuck with steam engines. And that our knowledge of evolution has advanced just as much, and the modern theory of evolution is a jet plane – a working jet plane – compared to what Darwin had. Use this kerfuffle to let that view trickle out into public consciousness. It’s working already – news stories are acknowledging that ID has no mechanism and is not on a par with a real theory.

  252. #252 Monado, FCD
    March 26, 2008

    Jen M, thanks for that! I agree that seeing lay/lie misused is grating.

    And Matthew, your first two examples are of dialog by an uneducated person. It’s supposed to be wrong. Your third is, descriptive, not normative, and is in the same category as noting that some people say, “Me and Fred are going to the store.”

    /Grammar police off

  253. #253 Mecha
    March 26, 2008

    Tulse: “Geez, he responded directly and unequivocally in the thread where the suggestion was made.”

    Tulse, really? I gave you a specific thread in which the suggestion was made that Nisbet leave, on PZ’s blog. It is currently at post #111. Post #76 is the one that involves Nisbet leaving. Unless PZ’s posting under another name, he did not, in fact, directly respond, even in comments.

    If you are thinking of a different example in the Nisbet case, by all means, link me. Because the ‘Sheril, Chris, and Matt should fuck off of Scienecblogs’ posts are still coming on every relevant thread.

    And, as a side note, if you want to tell people something important, such as ‘Espousing the complete silencing of debate by telling people they should no longer be allowed to be part of the community when they disagree with you’ (which is different from ‘please don’t be the face on this for a couple days’, nach), it seems to me you might want to treat it with importance. Otherwise, people might get the wrong impression. Just maybe. Sorta. In posts all over Scienceblogs. I’m sure PZ could find a way to say it that had a larger message. If he wanted to say it. But he hadn’t even done it as a response in his own blog.

    -Mecha

  254. #254 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 26, 2008

    Monado,
    It’s an idiom. There are multiple uses and forms. Take a look at the links and other online dictionaries. Or google it, and see its colloquial forms from rap music to articles.

  255. #255 MartinM
    March 26, 2008

    If you are thinking of a different example in the Nisbet case, by all means, link me.

    There are at least two examples right here; just Ctrl-F for ‘kicked’ to get them.

    Now, were there actually a realistic possibility of anyone getting kicked out, I’d agree that a top-level post would be in order. But it’s just not going to happen. Calls for such kicking are going to be seen as the pointless wankery they are and summarily ignored, I suspect.

  256. #256 jen_m
    March 26, 2008

    I am not entirely convinced you intended the idiom – the tone of your piece is considerably more formal than that, and you weren’t couching the usage as a folksy aside or a contrast to your general tone. I still think you just made a mistake, and I originally contended that it damaged your message.

    Of course, my argument was annihilated by the fact that the phrase “lay low” is the one that people all over the web have cited from this post. It’s the emotional fulcrum of this essay and the linchpin of the trackback essays. So. I was wrong.

  257. #257 Physicalist
    March 26, 2008

    Dear Dr. Nisbet,

    With the benefit of hindsight, I thought we might try to learn a lesson from your recent exchange with Dr. Myers. I think your message had some valuable content, but (I’m sorry about irony — no sarcasm intended) that message could have been better framed.

    I’m not interested in criticizing, but I think it is worth exploring what alternative frames might have been used. Here’s one suggestion for how your message might look if framed differently:

    Title: PZ Frames the Expellers!

    The recent accounts of PZ’s ironic expulsion from a showing of Expelled (a showing he was legitimately signed up for) reveal the frame that the movie is trying to set to undermine evolution. Their goal is to portray evolutionary biologists as intrinsically and irrationally opposed to all religion: to convince the public that scientists are actively trying to convert students to atheism in the science classroom.

    This is presumably part of the reason that they set their sights on PZ and Dawkins, who are prominent atheists as well as being biologists, and lied to them to get interviews for their movie. It worries me that having PZ and Dawkins in the limelight during the debate over Expelled will help Stein, Mathis, et al. push forward their frame. I’d prefer it if Francis Ayala or Ken Miller could be in the spotlight (together with the National Center for Science Education, AAAS, and the National Academies), since this would more effectively undermine the film’s intended message that much of current science is really atheism in disguise.

    But if the current fiasco by the Expelled folks is any indication, maybe I shouldn’t worry. They’re going to have trouble shaking the frame that they (and anyone associated with them) are a pathetic bunch of dishonest buffoons who deserve no trust whatsoever. PZ and Dawkins are doing a great job right now of pushing the “Science = Honesty & Truth, and Creationism = Lies & Stupidity” frame.

    Let me point to some of the advantages of this frame:

    1. While it cautions PZ (and Dawkins) that the “science leads to atheism” theme is a message that is counterproductive in this fight, it packages it in a palatable way: You aren’t setting up a conflict between yourself and PZ, instead you’re on PZ’s side against a common enemy: Stein and Mathis. You’re not saying that he should watch his mouth because you say so, or because if he doesn’t then he doesn’t really “care about promoting public trust in science and science education.” Instead you’re just pointing out the attack of your common enemy (while opposing that attack with your comrade PZ), in a way that makes your point about the most effective way to counter that attack.

    2. It doesn’t presume to place yourself above someone who is already up to his waist in the battle, and who was sucked into that battle against his will by the dishonesty of the Expelled folks. PZ really can’t lie low (even if he wanted to, which he doesn’t) because he’s in the movie. The new frame doesn’t present you as lecturing someone who (many think) is extremely successful in countering creationist nonsense and promoting science.

    3. It promotes the message that the creationists are idiots and have lost a major battle. This episode is (or at least might be) a huge opportunity to show the public what stupid liars the Expelled crew are. You worry that the publicity could help the film succeed, but there is absolutely no opportunity now to prevent such publicity. What you can do is help prevent their PR folks from putting a positive spin on the episode. They really screwed up in a huge way (imagine how much you’d be sweating if you were in their shoes), and they know it — they’re in big-time damage control mode. Now is not the time to divert that message by attacking the heros of the story.

    4. The new frame doesn’t compare scientists who have devoted their life to discovering and communicating the truth about the world with politicians whose words are to be judged only by popularity. Indeed, the earlier comparison is made all the more insulting by the suggestion that these politicians are morally superior to the truth-speaking scientist. And again, it avoids the frame of “if you were as intelligent as I am, you’d know that you should shut up and let me and other smart (or at least non-selfish) people do the talking.” That’s a frame that most people don’t like.

    5. It focuses on the positive rather than the negative. It praises PZ for his successes, and tries to push him in a desired direction; it doesn’t say that his actions are “Really, Really Bad for Science.” How do you feel when someone tells you that what you’re doing is really really bad for your chosen cause? (Note that many people above actually hold this opinion. Is it productive?)

    6. It tries to offer some constructive advice on framing. It suggests a frame that might help the common cause of science education. It avoids slipping into the “be quiet and don’t speak your mind” frame (it is a theme of Expelled that this frame dominates science). You can express your wish that others be the spokespersons without suggesting that PZ (& Dawkins) should refuse to grant interviews or speak their minds when asked direct questions. You might suggest some messages for them to try to communicate in interviews (carefully framing your suggestions so that it doesn’t seem like you’re lecturing your seniors), such as the message that many scientists are theists, that in the movie they were speaking of their own personal histories, that science itself is neutral on many religious issues, that scientists have a very strong sense of ethics — especially when it comes to issues like honesty, and that Expelled is thoroughly dishonest . . .

  258. #258 Mecha
    March 26, 2008

    MartinM: I did catch the examples here. It, and it happening every other time it comes up, two or three times, every time someone disagrees with PZ ‘enough’, I initially complained. But again, the kicker: PZ doesn’t care enough to deal with it on his own blog, even as a NON top level post. Why not? Why bury it, in a parenthetical, in the midst of 250 posts of peoples’ attempts to silence Nisbet via shouting while whining about how he’s trying to censor PZ? This is very simple stuff. For people who argue ‘If we don’t fight the creationists everywhere they pop up, then we’ll be overrun’, there’s not much in the way of keeping ones own house clean, or trying to keep ones’ arguments right. Especially when the calls for decorum get people called weak women.

    And it’s only pointless wankery to say people must be removed from the community when there isn’t tacit agreement and people standing by and attempts to make people less and less and less of the community, until they are no longer welcome at all. Hrm. I wonder if anyone’s ever seen or heard of that happening… no, actually, I don’t. That is, in fact, how you run people out of communities. Like gays, atheists, communists, and other supposed societal undesirables. It’s good people know how it works, but various types trying to use it? Yeah. I think we can all be better than that.

    -Mecha

  259. #259 Tulse
    March 26, 2008

    Mecha, you yourself note that PZ says, in this thread:

    I’m not too keen on the comments here about kicking off Nisbet

    That doesn’t count as a repudiation of that sentiment?

  260. #260 Pierce R. Butler
    March 26, 2008

    Mecha: Especially when the calls for decorum get people called weak women.

    Uh-oh, my sexism detector must need recalibration.

    Could you please direct me to the relevant thread and comment, so I can tune it properly? Because at present, the needle points only toward you.

  261. #262 Matti K.
    March 27, 2008

    Nisbet comments:

    “It’s the moderate middle to protect against, and having as the stand-ins for science people who are quoted in the film as comparing religion to knitting or saying science kills off faith, is not helpful in engaging the moderate middle.”

    I think moderate people generally understand that science is not monolithic. Moderate people also tend to tolerate dissidents, like f.ex. atheists.

    Of course, I might be wrong. After all, even some enlightened university proferssors seem to regard science as a monolith and think that a few outspoken individuals destroy the credibility of science in the eye of the general public.

  262. #263 Monado, FCD
    March 27, 2008

    Bravo, Physicalist! It’s a communicator’s rule of thumb that in e-mail you have to be 40% nicer than you really are just to sound normal. That makes it almost impossible to resolve disputes and is why online forums are NOT recommended for issues. I think it’s the same reason people in cars tend to be ruder than pedestrians – they are facing a faceless machine instead of a vulnerable person.

    To solve online disputes you have to take it up a notch and be not only nice, but patient, generous, and truly gracious.

  263. #264 Monado, FCD
    March 27, 2008

    Oops, I dropped a clause during editing.

    Online forums are not recommended for issues where people tend to get passionate about different solutions.

  264. #265 Paul W.
    March 27, 2008

    Matt,

    I’d like to clarify what I said above about your being smug and condescending, throwing the conversation with PZ into flame mode. I’d like to give a couple of specifics.

    When you listed the propositions A, B, and C that would alienate religious folks, that was fine. If you’d simply said those points were scary and counterproductive to bring out in a pure short-term defense of evolution, even if they’re true, it wouldn’t have made pretty good sense to just about everybody.

    It would have been clear that you were making an argument PZ and like-minded folks should take seriously, even if we happen to think A, B, and C are true.

    Unfortunately, you followed that with

    The simplistic and unscientific claim that more knowledge leads to less religion might be the particular delusion of Dawkins, Myers, and many others, but it is by no means the official position of science, though they often implicitly claim to speak for science.

    That’s the flame bait. To cast our position as “simplistic and unscientific” brings up the issue of whether we actually are. Maybe we are, maybe we’re not, and maybe it’s a straw man—maybe you didn’t state A, B, and C quite correctly, making it look like we’re not when we are.

    Those are big subjects we could have a whole separate discussion (or flame war) about. For example, consider claim A:

    Learning about science makes you an atheist, it “kills off” religious faith.

    This is obviously false on some construals and everybody knows it. It is not the case that everybody with some science education becomes an atheist, or that everybody with a good or even outstanding science education becomes an atheist.

    It’s also clear to some of us that it’s not an accident that the large majority of outstanding scientists are “atheists” (nontheists)—especially the ones working in fields relevant to religious propositions, such as evolutionary biology or cosmology. (And the same is true for professional philosophers.) We don’t think that’s an accident that you can glibly dismiss with the kind of condescending take-my-word-for-it paragraph you wrote.

    We have to wonder why you’re stating simplistic, ambiguous propositions, where it’s not clear what the intended quantifiers are—often? necessarily? always? ideally?—and then telling us in an equally simplistic way that they’re just delusions.

    There’s a lot of wiggle room in proposition A, but notice one thing. Dawkins and PZ are preferentially engaged in exactly the kind of science education that does in fact often lead to atheism. Not just because they have an atheist axe to grind, but because they work in a very relevant area and honestly think they’re correcting a theistic bias in the teaching of science. They illuminate awkward truths that are usually glossed over—the obviously very real conflicts between science and the large majority of religious people’s beliefs. They also don’t want to gloss over the less obvious conflicts they see between religion in general and science in general.

    One reason why religion often does survive learning (some) science is that a whole lot of people like you go way out of their way to ensure that it can. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that you are actively trying to ensure remains self-fulfilling, by muting the clash of ideas.

    (For good reasons, arguably, but when we see that sort of thing going on, some of us get very, very wary.)

    It’s not like PZ and Dawkins haven’t written many blog posts and/or articles and books that make it dead obvious that they know some people manage to learn a whole lot of science and yet be religious in some sense.

    Surely you’ve read things like PZ’s critiques of people like Francis Collins. How much more obvious could it be that your dismissal of PZ’s position is itself simplistic to the point of being wrong. There might be some refutation that would fly, but you haven’t even approached that, and you seem to think you have license to condescend.

    In the quote above, you say “they often implicitly claim to speak for science.”

    WTF?

    In some sense, of course they do. Anybody who makes an argument about scientific stuff or philosophy of science, “implicitly claims” to “speak for science.” (You’re soaking in it; I’m doing it right now.) And in some sense, of course they don’t. Nobody with any sense—and that includes at least PZ and Dawkins—thinks there’s any clear sense in which they “speak for science” except that they’re making arguments about science and its implications.

    Now let’s put the shoe on the other foot for a while. When people like NCSE or especially AAAS issue statements to the effect that there’s no conflict between science and religion, they are the ones implicitly claiming to speak for science in a much clearer way than PZ or Dawkins. They are, after all, organizations rather than individuals, and AAAS is an elite big-deal pontificator for science if there is one. Part of its job is indeed to try to “speak for science” to the extent that can be done.

    And they are wrong. They downplay the conflicts between science and religion for exactly the reasons you want them to. They want to reassure them that science isn’t threatening, and they can have their cake and eat it too.

    And you want it exactly that way. Your dismissal of PZ and Dawkins as legitimate spokespeople for science is partly in service of your favoring different spokespeople for science, who make a much stronger “implicit claim” of being the real spokespeople “for science.”

    You like those spokespeople’s “implicit claims,” which are no more legitimate than PZ’s or Dawkins’s or yours or mine unless their arguments are sound. (And if you’re providing the arguments, as you seem to be trying to do, some of us have to be very wary about that.)

    Surely, AAAS has a certain deserved cachet that PZ and Dawkins don’t. It consists of a bunch of outstanding scientists, not just a couple of individuals. But it is also a political group with its own axes to grind, or to avoid grinding—and if anybody in the world should know that, it’s you.

    So please, if you want to offer rhetorical advice, don’t start with silly simplistic accusations against the people you’re advising—especially when it seems to many of us that you are more guilty of those very things than they are.

    The other major thing I want to clarify is that you have not done a good job of showing that you understand or care about where PZ and Dawkins (and many of us) are coming from.

    PZ and Dawkins have as a goal the erosion of respect for religion. The do indeed want to promote reasonable versions of your propositions A, B, and C.

    You don’t seem to think that’s important. To you, it’s only an obstacle in the way of achieving another goal, the shared goal of promoting evolution.

    Why, then, should they listen to you about strategy, if they’re working toward different goals?

    Rather than respectfully arguing that their goal is not achievable, or not worth the cost in terms of defending evolution, or best deferred while other goals are pursued in the short term, you instead say that they’re deluded.

    You manage to do this sort of insultingly dismissive thing several times in one short post.

    For example, you start a sentence with “If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp…”

    The Expelled camp has more than one message, and PZ and Dawkins seem to care about more of them than you do.

    You could politely make it clear what the shared and non-shared goals are, and make a strategic argument about shared short-term priorities despite differing long-term goals. Instead you choose to act as though PZ and Dawkins just don’t get it, or just don’t care, when it appears plausible to many of us that they simply don’t have the same priorities you do. They care about protecting the teaching of evolution and they care about criticizing religion.

    It’s not as if PZ and Dawkins don’t know it was a mistake to do the Expelled interviews. It’s obviously not the fairest forum for the views and goals that they do share with you, much less the ones they don’t. That’s why deception was necessary to get them to do them.

    It is not clear that you are willing to take their goals and priorities into account in offering strategic advice. Do you have a plan for their long-term project to erode respect for religion? If not, you’re fighting an uphill battle to get them to listen to you. You must show respect for their beliefs and goals and convince them that your short-term plan (for defending evolution) is also part of a good long-term plan for them.

    You have to either argue them out of thinking that eroding respect for religion is a good thing—good luck there—or that your short-term strategy doesn’t conflict with it too much.

    I don’t think you will do a very good job of that, because you don’t want to be seen giving good advice on how to “destroy religion” in the long term. You probably sincerely don’t want them to succeed, and in any event you probably shouldn’t go there publicly.

    Maybe you are just the wrong spokesperson to be giving PZ and Dawkins strategic advice in public. You cannot afford to show them the proper respect for their goals, and if you don’t, you won’t communicate clearly and effectively, and you’ll get a flamewar.

    Or maybe, just maybe, if you’re very careful, you can do it. You can couch your advice with proper hedges and counterfactuals, like this:

    Even if my major long-term goal was to promote a rationalistic view directly in conflict with religiosity, I would avoid saying X and Y at time T in forum F because the collateral damage would be too great.

    You don’t have to say that X or Y is false or delusional, even if you think so, if that’s not the argument you want to make.

    Follow basic framing advice:

    1. Work from shared values.

    2. Don’t create unnecessarily conflict, and

    3. Decide what your message is, and stay on it.

    These things are vastly harder to do in practice than they seem from superficial discussions of framing. In this case, you may not be able to do #3 without violating #2 and messing up #1.

    And if so, follow your own advice:

    4. Do no harm. If you’re not the right spokesperson, step aside.

    Maybe you can find an intermediary that you can influence, who can influence PZ and/or Dawkins, but if you can’t stop being such a lightning rod, just stop.

  265. #266 Cassandra
    March 28, 2008

    Dr. Nisbet:

    Via this medium, I can’t adequately express my enthusiastic agreement with your post. To get an idea, imagine lots of nodding, grinning, and fists waving in the air.

    As a scientist (and a gainfully employed one, at that), I couldn’t be more disheartened or embarrassed by the prospect of having the general public drawn to conclude that these atheist zealots speak on behalf of the majority of us.

    Sadly, it appears that these noisy few might truly represent the majority of those who feel compelled to respond to ScienceBlogs posts. I’d argue emphatically that, while ScienceBlogs has its purpose, this venue does NOT provide an accurate depiction of the range of attitudes toward religion espoused by the greater scientific community.

    I spent a frustrating evening once before, responding to posts on PZ’s blog. I had expressed concern over his combative strategy regarding the Intelligent Design movement…mainly attempting to point out that his militant anti-religion stance was bound to offend and alienate the sizeable proportion of US citizens who are people of faith, who will be eligible to vote in November, and who would not otherwise deem scientific inquiry (or straight science curricula in public schools) as threatening to their religious beliefs.

    I was snidely accused of being “tolerant” (!) and Dr. Meyers himself asked “So, Cassandra, what do you propose that we do? Should we all simply stop criticizing religion altogether?” My answer: why not? I think that there are a number of strong arguments for why Creationist (or ID) philosophies have no place in natural science classrooms. These arguments do not falter under any attempted counterpoints by religious fundamentalists.

    However, those who aspire to provide convincing arguments that God does not exist, or that religious faith is misguided, are NOT true scientists. Science can NEVER prove what does not exist…it can only demonstrate what has been observed to actually exist, and such observations are only relevant when they conform to an acceptable level of statistical significance. Any squawking about opinions or presumed observations (or non-observations) that don’t meet these criteria is just squawking, and should NOT be misconstrued as representative of a position held by the greater scientific community.

    Fanatical atheists, please DO step aside.

  266. #267 Matti K.
    March 28, 2008

    Cassandra: “I was snidely accused of being “tolerant” (!) and Dr. Meyers himself asked “So, Cassandra, what do you propose that we do? Should we all simply stop criticizing religion altogether?” My answer: why not?”

    I understand the attitude of PZ very well. Why is it OK to criticise, say, communism, but not religious ideologies? Because someone says that as whole, religion is beneficial?

    Cassandra: “However, those who aspire to provide convincing arguments that God does not exist, or that religious faith is misguided, are NOT true scientists. Science can NEVER prove what does not exist…it can only demonstrate what has been observed to actually exist, and such observations are only relevant when they conform to an acceptable level of statistical significance.”

    One cannot prove that there is no luminiferous ether filling the universe and there actually seems to be a minority of people who believe in its (ethers) existence.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luminiferous_aether

    Although the existence of ether cannot be disproven, physicists do not double-check their results in the light of the ether-hypothesis. If a scientist is allowed to explain to laymen why he/she thinks there is no ether, why should one not be allowed to argue why he/she thinks that supernatural beeings do not exist? If gag order for atheist scientists is necessary for PC reasons, should astronomers also take it easy with their criticism of astrology? After all, there are many, many people who take horoscopes very seriously.

    There are so many religions and ideologies around that contradictions in between them and between them and scientific knowledge is inevitable. Why should discussion about these contradictions be off limits?

    Cassandra: “Fanatical atheists, please DO step aside.”

    You probably mean PZ and Dawkins. What should they do? Stop publicly arguing for atheism and against religion?

    There are many religious scientists who tell us in long articles, even books, how their religious beliefs and scientific work are in perfect harmony. I think that’s fine, but if is a no-no for a scientist to out his/her opinons on religion/atheism, why are religion-friendly
    comments not a problem?

    It seems to me that this framing business is purely politics. It is not about science, not about logic, not even about ethics.

  267. #268 windy
    March 28, 2008

    However, those who aspire to provide convincing arguments that God does not exist, or that religious faith is misguided, are NOT true scientists. Science can NEVER prove what does not exist…it can only demonstrate what has been observed to actually exist

    As a scientist, you should know that ‘providing convincing arguments that x does not exist’ is not equal to ‘proving that x does not exist’, and in science the first one is very much allowed. Consider the Michelson-Morley experiment and what followed it.

  268. #269 windy
    March 28, 2008

    Heh, I didn’t see that Matti had already used the same example…

  269. #270 Lee Harrison
    March 28, 2008

    “However, those who aspire to provide convincing arguments that God does not exist, or that religious faith is misguided, are NOT true scientists. Science can NEVER prove what does not exist…it can only demonstrate what has been observed to actually exist, and such observations are only relevant when they conform to an acceptable level of statistical significance.”

    Cassandra – I would point you toward Victor Stenger’s book God: the failed hypothesis for a good discussion of this idea. He comes down dead against what you have just stated and with good reasons – read the book, he says it better than I could reiterate it.

    My issue with this portion of your comment is fairly simple. I really, really wish that scientists and the scientifically minded would stop buying into the religionists’ frame of “Science can’t prove otherwise.” Science isn’t about proving anything. People say science can’t prove a negative as if that meant something, when the simple fact is that science can’t prove a positive either! What it can do is hypothesise based on evidence, test, discover more evidence, predict, etc until we reach a point were disagreement with an idea would be simply perverse because it is so well supported and useful (ie it has reached the status of Theory). At that point, however, it remains unproven – and regardless of how well evidenced, it always will be unproven.

    Remembering to keep this in mind for a positive claim helps us remember that the less evidence there is for a claim, the less good reason there is for accepting the claim as true.

    How much good evidence is there for the claims of the religious? Forget that there’s no proof that they are wrong and remember that what matters is that there is no evidence that they are right.

    What religionists, AltMed’ers and now many scientists have done is effectively state by fiat that some claims don’t need evidence and that all that matters is that they can’t be proven false. This is anti-science – it erodes our respect for evidence, along with our ability to handle tentative conclusions. It also defeats the generally agreed (I would hope!) long term goal of increasing scientific thinking (not just knowledge) among the public. It does this by providing an escape clause that can be used by anyone wishing to convince others (or themselves) of nonsense – an escape clause that science seems to be going along with.

  270. #271 ngong
    March 28, 2008

    science education certainly is not the only priority one could have as a pro-science type. But *if it is your priority*, surely…

    Dr. Nisbet’s directive to Myers and Dawkins was not conditional. No “if” to be seen. He’s telling them what they “need to” do. As he has on several other occasions.

  271. #272 michaelf
    March 28, 2008

    No wonder Cassandra likes Matt she has a similar lack of tact. I love the way she slanders everyone disagreeing with her and Matt by accusing them of being unemployed nonscientists – as if she has any idea who is responding on this or any other blog. She clearly shows – as pointed out by others – she has no real understanding of science.

  272. #273 Matti K.
    March 28, 2008

    It seems that Nisbet doesn’t trust non-PC scientists. Scientists, again, might have problems trusting a self-proclaimed PR manager who tells their peers to shut up.

    In this kind of atmosphere, what are the chances for a fruitful co-operation to advance scientific education and communication? After all, one needs experts in science for that, right?

  273. #274 Physicalist
    March 28, 2008

    Nisbet: Well it looks like there’s another PZ incident that will need some framing. Here’s my amateur suggestion (attempting to make constructive suggestions): Expelled should be framed as a personal attack on a small handful of atheist scientists. The whole thing is just a personal feud between Mathis & Stein on the one side, and Dawkins & PZ on the other. It actually has nothing to do with biology as a whole in the U.S.

  274. #275 island
    March 29, 2008

    PZ Meyers betrayed his true motives in typical Meyers fashion when he erroneously attacked Paul Davies for pushing god in a New York Times article that Davies wrote. In fact, Davies was not talking about god at all, but was actually talking about the potential maleability of the forces, and our “belief” that they are fixed.

    Did Meyers recant a single word after Davies clarified these points?… Yeah, right after hell froze over…

    I was dismayed at how many of my detractors completely misunderstood what I had written. Indeed, their responses bore the hallmarks of a superficial knee-jerk reaction to the sight of the words “science” and “faith” juxtaposed.
    -Paul Davies

    Give it up, Paul… they’re like rabid dogs on crack… and you can’t do science in the middle of their culture war without getting an earful and then some, even though Meyers quite obviously knows less about the subject that you were discussing than most creationists do.

  275. #276 Nullifidian
    March 29, 2008

    Oh really? The members of the NCSE then must just sit on their thumbs all day. It’s not like they have to worry about school boards in Texas and Kansas being run by creationists, or Floridians trying to loosen standards so that teachers can misinform children. And it certainly isn’t as if they didn’t have to prepare for any landmark case in Dover, Pennsylvania about teaching children ID.

    This is an unworthy level of dishonesty from you, and it does nothing to refute my claim. I was in Kansas when the state school board had its kangaroo court and revised the science standards. Every single creationist on that board ran as a stealth candidate. So if most parents supported creationism being taught in their classes, why the secrecy?

    I’m certainly glad to see that I’m on the side of the “framing” debate that doesn’t feel the necessity to lie and misrepresent to make a point.

  276. #277 J. J. Ramsey
    March 29, 2008

    Wait a minute, Nullfidian. First, you write “Most people of faith don’t really care one way or the other about what their children learn in school.” Yet if the parents didn’t care what their children learned, then it would follow that they wouldn’t care whether their children were taught creationism or not. Then you write, “So if most parents supported creationism being taught in their classes, why the secrecy?” which implies that you believe that the parents don’t support creationism and are not apathetic about it. So which is it?

  277. #278 Nullifidian
    March 29, 2008

    Wait a minute, Nullfidian. First, you write “Most people of faith don’t really care one way or the other about what their children learn in school.” Yet if the parents didn’t care what their children learned, then it would follow that they wouldn’t care whether their children were taught creationism or not. Then you write, “So if most parents supported creationism being taught in their classes, why the secrecy?” which implies that you believe that the parents don’t support creationism and are not apathetic about it. So which is it?

    It’s option the third: you’re a dishonest shit.

    Anyone who was even had a passing familiarity with the Kansas case would know why the creationists ran as stealth candidates, and why they continue to run as stealth candidates elsewhere, and that is because they got publicly ridiculed the first time around and the reputation of the state suffered with them. For Kansas, this occured in 1999, when the state BoE changed the curriculum standards. Hence the fact that a school board candidate running on an openly creationist platform would not have stood a chance in 2004.

    I’m virtually certain that you know this, which means that I have every reason to believe that you were deliberately distorting history for the purposes of winning an argument on the internet. Pathetic.

    You may have whatever last word you like, since as far as I’m concerned it’s all too obvious what Nisbet’s up to, and it’s reflected in the company he keeps. I feel dirty by having stopped by again.

  278. #279 J. J. Ramsey
    March 30, 2008

    Nullifidian: “Anyone who was even had a passing familiarity with the Kansas case would know why the creationists ran as stealth candidates”

    What I mainly have heard about Kansas is that it is rather backward with regards to science education. I had not been so optimistic about the Kansas citizens not being creationists themselves, and I got the impression that the creationists were stealthy in the “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” sense, where everybody knew what was really happening but didn’t say anything publicly for legal reasons. If I’m wrong about that, thanks for correcting me. That said, I was pointing out contradictions in your accounting of events, rather than relying much on my own recounting of history.

    You are still not making a lot of sense here. You said that the parents were apathetic about creationism being taught to their children, yet say that an openly creationist school board candidate wouldn’t stand a chance in an election, which would imply that the parents are concerned enough about the candidate’s stance on evolution to vote him/her down.

    Nullifidian: “You may have whatever last word you like, since as far as I’m concerned it’s all too obvious what Nisbet’s up to”

    What we were talking about had little to do with Nisbet, especially not his comments on PZ, and far more to do with whether you were right to say that most parents were apathetic on whether their kids were taught about creationism. And it’s not exactly as if I’m still all that impressed with Nisbet anymore.

  279. #280 Dark Matter
    March 30, 2008

    Matt Nisbet said:

    If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp, they need to play the role of Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and so many other political operatives who through misstatements and polarizing rhetoric have ended up being liabilities to the causes and campaigns that they support. Lay low and let others do the talking.

    Or maybe they can just keep talking, and you can keep flinching
    like a battered wife whenever the K Street Thugz running the
    “opposition campaign” start to make threating noises again.

    Get thee to a domestic violence shelter.

  280. #281 Dark Matter
    March 30, 2008

    Matti wrote:

    It seems to me that this framing business is purely politics. It is not about science, not about logic, not even about ethics.

    Yep, it’s all abo

  281. #282 Dark Matter
    March 30, 2008

    Matti wrote:

    It seems to me that this framing business is purely politics. It is not about science, not about logic, not even about ethics.

    Yep, it’s all about packaging and selling Darwin as the new
    Willie Horton, to scare the fundies into pushing the right (Red)
    button in congressional and presidental elections.

    I suspect as soon as some over-excited creo extends the attack
    to relativity and quantum electrodynamics (but relativity in
    particular) the reins will be pulled in double-quick….

  282. #283 trrll
    March 30, 2008

    How much good evidence is there for the claims of the religious? Forget that there’s no proof that they are wrong and remember that what matters is that there is no evidence that they are right.

    A fundamental principle of science is that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    When doing science, we adhere to Occam’s Razor–we do not add complications to our hypotheses until we have evidence that they are needed. But Occam’s Razor is not a law of nature nor a way of distinguishing truth from falsehood–it is an merely a practical, empirical rule of thumb for ordering hypothesis for testing.

  283. #284 Lee Harrison
    March 30, 2008

    A fundamental principle of science is that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    Thanks for bringing that up – this quote has always bugged me. It would be more coreect if it were rendered, “Absence of evidence is not proof of absence but it is good supporting evidence of absence.”

    Of course, this doesn’t make for a snappy one liner, but then I don’t think people’s understanding of science should be based on aphorisms anyway.

    As for Willy of Occam’s excellent razor – William’s own religiosity notwithstanding, religion is exactly the sort of beard that the razor is built to shave. Nothing multiplies postulates like religion.

  284. #285 Lee Harrison
    March 30, 2008

    ‘coreect’ – is it a tribute to my squorgulous word-making-up skills, or is it a cock-up? You decide!

  285. #286 Paul W.
    March 30, 2008

    A fundamental principle of science is that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    No. Where evidence would be expected if a hypothesis was true, absence of evidence is evidence that the hypothesis is false.

    I think you missed the point of the Michelson-Morley experiment mentioned by others, above.

    And Lee is correct that

    religion is exactly the sort of beard that the razor is built to shave. Nothing multiplies postulates like religion.

    Apologists and compatibilists like to make it sound like “everybody knows” that such principles don’t apply to theological propositions.

    Most top scientists and philosophers managed to miss that memo. Rightly or wrongly, they disbelieve religious propositions for the same kinds of reasons they disbelieve in other bad explanations and arcane pseudo-explanations.

  286. #287 Magpie
    June 24, 2008

    Every time I encounter Nisbet’s stuff, every single time, I’m struck by what a bloody awful communicator he is. He seems like a nice feller, and smart too. But he can’t “frame” to save his life. Every time his fingers waggle on the keyboard what he says is either ignored by, or offensive to, the people he’s trying to reach. Honestly, could you make a post more likely to annoy the “vocal” atheists if you tried?

    (Unless his intent was not to change behaviour, but to troll. In which case, bravo sir.)

    I mean, FFS – his three points of dreaded new-atheist “unscientific” dogma:

    A) Learning about science makes you an atheist, it “kills off” religious faith.

    B) If we boost science literacy in society, it will lead to erosion of religion, as religion fades away, we will get more and more science, and less and less religion.

    C) Religion is a fairy tale, similar to hobgoblins, a fantasy, and even evil.

    …ARE backed up by science.

    A)There is a correlation between education level and lack of religious belief. This is easily measured, and has been, multiple times. And yes, as per the paper cited above, educated parents tend to raise educated kids, and both groups grow progressively more atheist as a trend (that is, parental religiosity is a large, but not the only factor – education keeps ‘em atheist, and nabs a few more from the other side).

    B) Point B is just a train wreck. The first half is just a restatement of point A. Most of it boils down to, uh, “as we get more science and less religion, then we’ll have more science and less religion!” Oh the COMMUNICATION! The tiny nugget of point is the only bit possibly unsupported by science: that less religion will mean more science – though I think you could argue that at least some of the “god did it” crowd would be inspired to test if they could be convinced it was worthwhile. And in any case, I’m not sure PZ and Dawkins have ever said anything of the kind.

    C) Religion IS (from a scientific point of view) a fairy tale – it’s just as untestable as a “sufficiently innoculated” hobgoblin. Whether something is “evil” is, I think I can safely say, always a judgement call and recognised as such. I don’t recall anyone claiming to be able to distill it in the lab just yet.

    Silly fellow.

    …and is it me, or is the photo caption at the bottom just a little pathetic? (Dawkins and Myers: It’s Time to Let Others Be the Spokespeople for Science – his bold). “If only those handsome devils were out of the picture, people would listen to me! Listen to me! LOOK AT ME! I’M A COMMUNICATOR!”

    I really don’t want to be mean – I wasn’t lying when I said that he seems like a nice guy, and he’s probably smarter than me – but he just needs to stop chasing this white whale of his. Just… drop it. Go do something else. If they really are doing damage to “the cause”, recognise that you can’t stop them, and just go work harder at the stuff you do well.

    Because shaking your finger at these guys is NOT what you’re good at.

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