Pharyngula

Nisbet and Mooney do it again, with an op-ed in the Washington Post … and I’m afraid they’ve alienated me yet further. I am convinced now that theirs is not an approach that I could find useful, even if I could puzzle out some useable strategy from it. In the very first sentence, they claim that Richard Dawkins gives “creationist adversaries a boost” — it’s the tired old argument that we must pander to religious belief. This is their rationale:

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

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

Good grief, this is bogus beyond belief. Let’s pretend: let’s say I shut down my blog, Dawkins refuses to lecture on atheism anymore, Dennett retires to a grass shack in the South Pacific, and Sam Harris converts to Mormonism. Furthermore, every scientist in the country shies away completely from ever mentioning religion, except of course for people like Collins and Miller, who continue their “I’m a scientist, and I believe in Jeeezus!” schtick. We’ll forget about the odious implications for the freedom of speech for atheists in this suggestion, and just ask whether it would make the slightest difference in accommodating the public to evolution.

The answer is no, except perhaps in the negative sense that the religious would feel freer to push their science-free beliefs on the public, and that some of the sharpest, clearest voices in the argument (I’m not counting mine in that praise) would be silenced. It’s not as if the NCSE and ACLU have been pro-atheist organizations, for instance — both are clearly advocates for very specific issues, and are careful to avoid entangling themselves in the anti-religion struggle — but they still get accused of being atheist organizations. We still get the creationists on the ground banking on those fears of the godless. Candy-coating the implications of science has never worked, and never will work.

And it certainly is true that Dawkins puts an exclamation point on godlessness, and good for him. The path we’ve taken in the past, the cautious avoidance of the scarlet letter of atheism, has not worked. Dawkins represents a different, bolder, more forthright approach — we are staking out a place in the public discourse and openly discussing our concerns, rather than hiding in fear of that old Puritan scowl. We will not go back in the closet.

Even more offensive is the accusation that Dawkins is an example of failure to explain. That is entirely wrong. Dawkins has clearly stated his position, and there isn’t any ambiguity there, either in his statements about evolution or atheism. What Nisbet and Mooney are complaining about is not that he has done a poor job of presenting his ideas to the public, but that they and some members of the public are offended by his ideas. I would have been interested if the object of this discussion was to improve our ability to communicate difficult, uncomfortable views to a wary public, but instead these articles have been a call to suppress a subset of those ideas that they don’t care for.

If they wanted to impress me or win me over, a more interesting exercise would have been to explain how ‘framing’ could help us get our message of the virtues of freethought across to that reluctant public. Instead, we get prescriptions to hide away that part of the story, and worse, to hide away the meat of science.

So in today’s America, like it or not, those seeking a broader public acceptance of science must rethink their strategies for conveying knowledge. Especially on divisive issues, scientists should package their research to resonate with specific segments of the public. Data dumping — about, say, the technical details of embryology — is dull and off-putting to most people.

You know, I’m beginning to feel that this is getting personal, and now they’re targeting my own personal interests. Is that all I do, “dump data”? Who just “dumps data”? The details of any science are important and interesting, and should be discussed at an appropriate level, but telling scientists that their work is dull is going to both alienate the people Nisbet and Mooney need to persuade, and affirm anti-intellectual bigotry in the public at large. Thanks, guys. Good framing. “Science is boring”.

And the Dawkins-inspired “science vs. religion” way of viewing things alienates those with strong religious convictions. Do scientists really have to portray their knowledge as a threat to the public’s beliefs?

YES! YES! YES! Knowledge is a threat to beliefs held in ignorance. What Nisbet and Mooney are advocating, despite their disclaimers, is that we should hide our appreciation of the consequences of science from the public. We know for instance that increasing education in science leads to a loss of faith (in general), and is particularly destructive to literalist religions. Should we lie about that? Sweep it under a rug? Religious people, even those who believe in particularly nutty faiths, are not stupid — they can see through the pretense. If we slap a gag on Richard Dawkins, it won’t change a thing, except that the world will know scientists can be devious and dishonest. I do not wish to hide my agenda like an intelligent design creationist, thank you very much.

Can’t science and religion just get along? A “science and religion coexistence” message — conveyed in Sunday sermons by church leaders — might better convince even many devout Christians that evolution is no real threat to their faith.

No, science and religion cannot get along. They offer mutually contradictory explanations for the world, and it is bizarrely naive to pretend that people who believe that the literal events of Genesis are an account of the original sin of which we must be redeemed by faith in Jesus can accept a scientific explanation of human origins. The ‘frame’ there is that one side has an account of chance and complexity and an oh-so-awkward affiliation with ancient apes that is based on evidence, and the other side has threats of hellfire if you don’t believe in an Eden, a Fall, and a dead god reborn. Evolution is a strong and explicit threat to that faith.

If Nisbet and Mooney think a non-literal religious faith that allows that humans evolved from apes and are apes is going to be acceptable to every church-going Christian in America, they aren’t very familiar with what we are combating. Proposing that we can sneak support for science into the public’s mind by advocating a lesser heresy than atheism is ludicrously absurd.

Once again, though, what I see in this latest op-ed is vague handwaving bolstered by picking an enemy, those uppity New Atheists, and using them as a goad to get people to support poorly explained “framing”, rather than any concrete explanation of how framing can provide a positive method for winning people over to a position. They did not sell framing; this was an article that had nothing to offer except an excuse for complaining about atheists.

Seriously, guys. Love him or hate him, Dawkins has always put up a crystal-clear explanation of his position, whether it’s evolution or religion; the framing people have put up a lot of fluff and waffling that never even spells out what framing is. Is “framing” another word for obfuscation, or dissembling, or pandering? That’s the only message I’m getting so far. That’s probably very poor framing on their part.

The title of the article is “Thanks for the facts. Now sell them.” I’m still waiting for an article that actually tells me how to better sell difficult ideas with a technique other than simply gagging all the atheists to appease the mob.


If you don’t find this article critical enough, read Larry Moran. Or if you prefer the Nisbet/Mooney side, the discussion also continues at Chez Mooney. I get to be the moderate!

Comments

  1. #1 Caledonian
    April 14, 2007

    No, science and religion cannot get along. They offer mutually contradictory explanations for the world,

    This is wrong. Science and religion offer mutually contradictory methods for understanding the world. The explanations each produces may or may not be incompatible.

  2. #2 PZ Myers
    April 14, 2007

    No, that is wrong. They offer different methods, but most people don’t give a damn about how they get their answers. The conflict in the public mind is far simpler: did God design people, or didn’t he? Religion affirms the former, science says no.

  3. #3 ERV
    April 14, 2007

    I cant believe how disappointed I am in Chris. I am so confused right now.

  4. #4 Gordon S
    April 14, 2007

    That’s a little daft, Caledonian.

    The huge majority of religious people in America believe in something derived from the Bible, and to a lesser extent other texts such as the Koran or whatever crap the Mormons believe.

    These books contradict science starkly.

    That’s the battle here. It’s not science versus ‘people who achieve a scientifically correct view of the world through religious means.”

    I’m sure you know that, it just seems odd you’d say what you did, as it has nearly zero relevance to the argument.

  5. #5 raindogzillar
    April 14, 2007

    As outspoken in my own atheism as I am, I do see the need for conciliation on the part of those who can stomach doing so. I mean, with the stats- the 80% godbotherers stat, we can’t expect those folks to just up and see the light based on the cold, hard truth from the mouths of me, you, or Dawkins.

    It may take a Collins- as much as I cringe at his apologetics, to bring the masses along one little increment at a time. Which would you rather have, a majority believing in a god but acknowledging that Genesis is metaphorical, that only science ought be taught in science classes, etc. or that same group digging their heels in and straining in the opposite direction?

    Marginalizing the need for a deity in humanity as a whole isn’t gonna be easy and it isn’t gonna be quick. Jeebus, can you even imagine The God Delusion on the NYT bestseller list even 15/20 years ago? Not to pimp Virginia Slims but we have come a long way baby.

    Nothing (well, besides Mooney et al and who cares what they think?) says you or Dawkins or any of us need to bite our tongues. We just ought to let those who are cut out for that sort of diplomacy have at it without turning the focus of our ire their way.

  6. #6 mndarwinist
    April 14, 2007

    In other words, God is a delusion all right, but let’s not call him that lest with offend some.
    What does PC stand for, again?
    Caldeonian, sorry but PZ is right, the answers ARE contradictory. I would refer you to the book: God, the failed hypothesis, but physicist Victor Stenger.

  7. #7 gwangung
    April 14, 2007

    Frankly, I’m disappointed in YOU, PZ.

    I’ve done a fair amount of social science research and what Mooney and Nisbet says makes a lot of sense to me. Can’t for the life of me understand why you’re not able to see what I’m seeing. And I can’t understand why you’re so inflexible on this.

    If people with fairly close mindsets cannot reach a mutual understanding, how far apart do you think it runs with other people. I think this is instructive….

  8. #8 Christian Burnham
    April 14, 2007

    Sometimes, truth can be incredibly offensive. Part of the problem is that our culture has decided that in many cases it is more important not to offend people than to tell them the truth.

    This is a particular problem with the Left in this country. We need to stop worrying about offending people with ridiculous views.

  9. #9 Hans
    April 14, 2007

    You know, you could get around that whole “data dumping” problem if you sexed your blog up a bit. Fer instance, next to the pic of the encephalic baby, put a pic of a buxom babe. In fact, leave the encephalic baby out of it altogether, you’ll attract a lot more people if you restrict yourself to fluffy bunnies and hooters.

  10. #10 coturnix
    April 14, 2007

    Fight against religion is extremely important. But it is a long-term activity (as in “decades” if you are optimnistic). Loud voicing of anti-religious sentiment by Dawkins, PZ and others is important as it makes the debate legitimate (enough for the media to pick it up). The existemce of such a debate puts a worm of doubt into (young) people’s minds, so later in life they may be able to break free from the shackles of religion.

    None of this is relevant to the politics of the day. Congress and the President need to do something yesterday to start stopping global warming. And to open up stem-cell research. They will never do that unless they are under pressure. They will be under pressure if the public pressures them. If the issue polls high.

    How do you get majority of Americans to put pressure on politicians to do something? By getting them to think that they have a steak in this – a personal reason to see such bills written into law.

    Teaching them evolution won’t work – they just give you an angry look. Moving the discussion over to the religion vs. atheism playing field is counterproductive to say the least.

    That is why others, including liberal theists we disagree with on religion, need to do that kind of persuasion. They speak their language. They have their trust. They can produce results fast.

    In the meantime, we’ll try to work on their kids so in 20 years this entire discussion becomes unnecessary.

    More

  11. #11 Colugo
    April 14, 2007

    I realized after pondering what Nisbet and Mooney’s latest piece that not only are there two kinds of atheists – hardline and appeaser – there are also two kinds of appeaser atheists. Namely, strategic (go slowly or there’ll be a backlash) and reconciled (no way are we going to get rid of God, so we may as well deal with it). Put me in the camp of reconciled appeaser atheists.

    I see what Caledonian is saying about the primary distinction between religion and science being epistemological rather than ontological.

  12. #12 MTran
    April 14, 2007

    The path we’ve taken in the past, the cautious avoidance of the scarlet letter of atheism, has not worked.

    No kidding! This needs to get pounded through some mighty thick skulls out there.

    Whenever anyone complains about “angry,” “militant,” or “fundamentalist” atheists what they are really saying is STFU.

    Prior to Dawkins, et al., there weren’t many best-selling atheists out there. So the believing masses now act as if that long-term silence by atheist authors is the way things should continue to be.

    Unfortunately, so do many milquetoast atheists, giving aid and comfort to the enemies of rationality.

    No, science and religion cannot get along. They offer mutually contradictory explanations for the world

    This isn’t accurate, though. Some science cannot comfortably exist with literalist religions but there are non-literalist believers out there who have no problem with most or any part of science.

    They still can have lots of problems with atheism & atheists, though.

  13. #13 Sastra
    April 14, 2007

    All the emphasis seems to be on how scientists like Dawkins and Stenger are just feeding the Creationists what they want: “See? See? Evolution and science are trying to disprove God!” Why is it so seldom framed the other way?

    “Oh my God, Creationists and the Templeton Foundation are just giving it away to the atheists! They’re agreeing with them that evolution and science have something to say about God! They’re not protecting religion by insisting it’s all too vague and untestable to be examined objectively and rationally as to whether it is consistent with other empirical findings! The atheists must be chortling in glee! This is a disaster!!!”

  14. #14 coturnix
    April 14, 2007

    The Democrats won in November of 2006 because they finally framed the Iraq war correctly, instead of triangulating and being hawkish.

  15. #15 Wes
    April 14, 2007

    Religious people, even those who believe in particularly nutty faiths, are not stupid — they can see through the pretense.

    I saw Michael Ruse speak a few months back, and spoke with him briefly at a coffee shop, and I had a mixed reaction to his approach to the issue. But one of the things it seemed to me that he completely failed to understand is what you’re pointing out right here.

    He and E. O. Wilson, both atheists, have both championed various forms of “reconciling” science and religion. In Darwinism and its Disconents Ruse spends a whole chapter expounding on ways to “reconcile” Christian faith with science. I think he just doesn’t understand that many, many Christians will find an atheist rewriting their religion to be a condescending sham. They might take Ken Miller or Francis Collins a little more seriously, but I don’t see how Ruse and Wilson’s approach could ever hope to succeed. I don’t see how we could expect a significant number of religious people to accept an atheist patting them on the head and saying, “Here’s a new version of your religion that’s compatible with the facts of reality. I made it just for you!” But I can’t help but get the impression that that’s what guys like Ruse are doing. To me it seems like a failed attempt to “frame” from atheists who don’t understand religion very well.

  16. #16 PZ Myers
    April 14, 2007

    So the solution now is triangulating and being anti-atheist.

    That doesn’t seem to be the right answer at all.

  17. #17 TAW
    April 14, 2007

    I think there are two sides to this. One group of people (Mooney and Nisbet) care more about the ends (convert people), while PZ, Dawkins, etc. care more about the means (convert people calling a spade a spade). I think another difference lies with who the targeted audience is.

    If you want irrational people to stop being irrational, you probably do have to go along with Mooney and Nisbet (from now on M and N), because you are not going to get the irrational people to stop being irrational by calling everything they stand for an childish delusion. That just makes people go into the defensive and clinch to their beliefs even tighter. The only people that will listen are the borderline rational people and the closeted atheists. Even Dawkins has said he probably is just preaching to the choir with “the god delusion”.

    This brings me to my second point- who the intended audience is. M and N want to convert the already irrational people, while Dawkins and company simply want more atheists to be more vocal.

    I’m with Dawkins and PZ. More atheists being more vocal will inevitably lead to more conversation about the issue, and I think this is what will make the difference. Martin Luther king and other activists didn’t change public opinion by trying to appease people, they forced the issue to the surface and only then did people really began thinking about it. The old stubborn people didn’t change their minds, but the young flexible people did because they were exposed to different ideas when their mind wasn’t made up yet.

    I doubt anyone will make much of a change with the old generation, it’s the new generation that will be affected. Trying to appease THEM is pointless, because they’re NOT tightly clinching to their beliefs and resisting any change.

  18. #18 RBB
    April 14, 2007

    PZ – I agree that they don’t do a good job of explaining how to do the selling. And they’re not doing a very good job of explicating why framing is so important. The simple version is that, in general, people hold strong worldviews or frames which aren’t capable of being “changed” simply by attacking them with logic and information. To really persuade people and get them to understand something new and threatening (e.g. – evolution for a fundamentalist), the teacher (for that’s what you are) must frame the discussion in a way that takes account of and engages the frame of the person you want to teach.

    This is not just hand waving. This is supported by a lot of good reasearch – in an earlier thread on this topic I recommended the National Research Council’s How People Learn, as a good primer on how misconceptions shape understanding.

    The question is simple – do you want to “win”? Or do you want people who currently disagree with you to understand the science you are trying to teach them? If your goal is to win the contest between atheists and religion, you are pretty much doomed because you’re refusing to use the techniques of teaching and persuasion that are needed to change people’s minds. Your commitment to your frame of atheism gets in the way of persuasion.

  19. #19 PZ Myers
    April 14, 2007

    Gwangung, I am not being inflexible. I’m being dumb.

    Really. I don’t understand what Nisbet/Mooney are suggesting I do, or that anyone else should do. Do you? Can you explain it to me? Can you point to any specific suggestion in either of their recent articles that I can actually use? If I had something to work with other than “don’t do data dumps” and “don’t criticize religion”, something I could actually try to do, I promise that I would attempt to be flexible.

  20. #20 Norman Doering
    April 14, 2007

    Caledonian wrote:

    Science and religion offer mutually contradictory methods for understanding the world. The explanations each produces may or may not be incompatible.

    Well, I know a little bit about the scientific method. Can someone explain “the religious method”?

    What is that? Is that applying hermeneutics to some book arbitrarily claimed to be the word of God by the culture you’re in?

  21. #21 Colugo
    April 14, 2007

    “And it certainly is true that Dawkins puts an exclamation point on godlessness, and good for him.”

    True. Yet …

    Anyone else see a resemblance between these two images?

    Dawkins: Growing Up In The Universe
    http://richarddawkins.net/foundation,growingUpDVD

    Dante: The Heavenly Throng (by Doré)
    http://tinyurl.com/36su72

  22. #22 carl
    April 14, 2007

    PZ,

    Just a short personal story to make my point.

    I’ve considered myself an atheist for some years now, but I never let my parents in on the secret. I just stopped going to church. They never asked why. I guess I cringe a little when you make these statements because although I agree with you on the particulars, I can’t help thinking how this would have affected my parents if I had confronted them with these arguments.

    They were Catholics so creationism wasn’t the problem. They needed to believe in God for their own reasons. They were able to live a good life and raise 8 kids (yes 8, they were Catholic AND Irish). But, they let me learn and live my own life and make my own decisions. Seven of the eight kids are either atheist or agnostic and the only theist amongst us has also managed to live a good life (Despite spending 2 years in a seminary!). I suppose there are many others out there who say they believe in God but will not allow that to interfere with reality, as my parents were able to do. Their belief was entirely spiritual.

    The physical world had no affect on their belief in God. They were fine with evolution, geology, and any other study of the physcial world. Maybe this type of theist is rare, but they are no enemy of science and shouldn’t be treated as such.

  23. #23 PZ Myers
    April 14, 2007

    The simple version is that, in general, people hold strong worldviews or frames which aren’t capable of being “changed” simply by attacking them with logic and information.

    Yes, I understand this. Actually, I understand that far better than Nesbit/Mooney think: I’m pretty sure that what I write here isn’t a drone of facts, but also contains quite a few polemical and emotional elements (you think?). If I had a better mastery of the rhetoric of framing, I could probably cobble up a rationale in those terms for pushing a stronger version of atheism, rather than hiding my beliefs.

    Ultimately, though, the problem here is that Nesbit/Mooney are advocating surrender. They are saying that we can’t change strong worldviews, period…not that there are tools other than “data dumps” that will help us change those views.

  24. #24 Matthew C. Nisbet
    April 15, 2007

    PZ,
    It’s midnight on a Saturday, but I want to respond as best I can given the time.

    We are proposing an answer to a very specific question that many in policy circles and at major scientific institutions are trying to figure out.

    Perhaps this is not your central project, as Coturnix aptly notes, but it is a concern of many.

    The question is this:

    Over the next five, ten, fifteen or twenty years, in a diverse and pluralistic society that has to reach collective decisions relatively quickly regarding political debates over global warming, the teaching of evolutionary science in science class (and only evolutionary science), stem cell research etc…what’s the best way to engage the broader public by way of the media?

    Our answer:

    While remaining true to the underlying science, you have to recast messages in a way that connect to people’s social identity. And yes, in the United States, that means connecting to people of diverse faiths.

    I guess this is our major difference in opinion. If I understand you correctly, you see this as appeasing religion. I don’t see it that way.

    Dawkins will always play an important role. As we write at the Washington Post, we agree with him on evolution and admire his books. Indeed, our credentials as skeptics and defenders of science are well established.

    More importantly, I have devoted large parts of my research program as a social scientist to understanding exactly what happens to science when it moves beyond the science beat and spills over to the political beat, the opinion pages, blogs, cable news etc.

    I have published several peer-reviewed studies in this area, and I have joined with Chris in engaging journalists on the topic at the Columbia Journalism Review and now engaging scientists at Science, and a broader audience at the Washington Post.

    When science reaches the political pages, when the imperatives and the backgrounds of the journalist and the audience change, when new players are given standing in coverage other than scientists and experts, how should scientists cope?

    One tool is to understand how to frame issues–not spin the facts–but recast a complex topic in a way that makes it meaningful to a non-traditional audience. In addition, you have to figure out the media platforms that reach these non-traditional audiences.

    That means for example the religious news beat, entertainment media, blockbuster movies, targeted documentaries, and places on the Web where people are not expecting to find science-related information. It even means reaching people interpersonally, as I layout in my latest column for Skeptical Inquirer Online.

    In these contexts, it is often most effective, to remain true to the science, but sometimes not actually talk about it.

    This doesn’t mean gagging scientists or atheists.

    As we write at the WPost:


    There will always be a small audience of science enthusiasts who have a deep interest in the “mechanisms and evidence” of evolution, just as there will always be an audience for criticism of religion. But these messages are unlikely to reach a wider public, and even if they do they will probably be ignored or, in the case of atheistic attacks on religion, backfire.

    I’m not sure if this answers your questions. As I’ve noted we have different goals in mind in thinking about the communication of science to the public.

    Not all of the themes addressed here can be sorted out in the blogosphere. After all, every medium has limitations. Indeed, Chris and I are trying to work across mediums–including magazines, newspapers, blogs, radio, and public presentations–to raise attention to what we see as a partial answer to a very specific question that a lot of people are trying to figure out.

    We even want to go the old fashioned route and talk about it over beers or over the phone.

    Best,
    Matt

  25. #25 coturnix
    April 15, 2007

    Matt and Chris do not say that Dawkins or PZ need to shut up. Nor do they say that the anti-religion fight is useless – they are for it.

    But Dawkins and PZ are well know enough that they cannot go to address a religious, suspicious audience and talk them into anything – that the sky is blue. Thus, Dawkins and PZ have different roles in the pro-science ecosystem than Ken Miller and Francis Collins who ARE trusted by the religious.

    So, I would not send Dawkins on to FoxNews to try to persuade the FN viewers about global warming. Even if inclined up till that point, they may revert against it just because the messenger is Dawkins.

    What Dawkins and PZ are doing is making it possible to do a critical analysis of religion in the public place – in the media. Something unthinkable 5 years ago, let alone 50. But by being poster children for this part of the fight, they are uniquely unsuited for changing the opinions of the religious on the pressing science-related political issues of the day.

    Thus, other people – scientists, journalists, writers, bloggers – not ‘tainted’ by the vocal atheism tag, need to be recruited and trained to “sell” to the unwilling, uninterested public some politically important ideas.

  26. #26 Wes
    April 15, 2007

    So the solution now is triangulating and being anti-atheist.

    That doesn’t seem to be the right answer at all.

    Not only is it not the right answer, it would be counterproductive. Expecting atheists to play along and pretend not to be atheist is exactly the opposite of the right approach, which is why I’m so doubtful of Ruse’s approach.

    An atheist is an atheist because he believes religion to be wrong. Expecting him not to say so is not going to accomplish anything. We don’t put such expectations on theists.

    I don’t know what to think of Moonie and Nisbet’s “framing” idea. Avoiding offending people’s religious beliefs is almost impossible. If I give an honest statement about what I believe, it’s bound to offend many of the faithful. How is a scientist announcing a discovery which clearly contradicts a certain religious belief (that the mind is a function of the brain rather than immaterial, or that morals evolved rather than being handed down by a deity, or that certain archeological evidence does not fit at all with the Biblical or Koranic account, for instance) going to “frame” it in a way that won’t offend people? How do you “frame” the science in places where it comes into direct conflict with a widely held religious belief, in places where the two can’t be reconciled without completely gutting the one or the other of any of its substance?

  27. #27 TAW
    April 15, 2007

    This is interesting. I find myself agreeing with both sides. Both sides have some very good points to make, and I guess I just want the best of both worlds. For example:

    in a diverse and pluralistic society that has to reach collective decisions relatively quickly regarding political debates over global warming,

    That’s a good point. If, like in the case of global warming, you want people to start respecting science and doing something about global warming right NOW, then I guess I do agree with you Nisbet.

    However, I think in the long run PZ and Dawkins are making a greater contribution to the public’s perception of science/atheism.

    I think there is a place for both of your strategies, and I’d like to see more people doing both.

    How’s that for getting the best of both worlds? :-D

    The general population isn’t just a homogeneous entity. I think that people will listen to the people who they agree with. If they’re religious and not ready to make the atheism jump yet, they’ll listen to scientists who do what M and N are suggesting. If they’re less religious and ready for the atheism jump, they’ll listen to Dawkins and PZ. The key is having BOTH strategies, not just one. Attack the issue from every possible side.

  28. #28 Sastra
    April 15, 2007

    Matt Nisbet wrote:

    In these contexts, it is often most effective, to remain true to the science, but sometimes not actually talk about it.
    This doesn’t mean gagging scientists or atheists.

    And if atheist scientists who bring up scientific problems with the God hypothesis are not supposed to actually talk about it (because it will “backfire”) — but they are not going to be “gagged,” what’s left? A gentle, rational appeal to please just whisper, and only in certain places?

  29. #29 coturnix
    April 15, 2007

    TAW: excatly. Those are two related, but separate issues. That is what all my posts on the topic are trying to say.

  30. #30 coturnix
    April 15, 2007

    The targets are not only scientists, but evereyone who communicates about science-related matters: journalists, pundits, bloggers, etc. But the onus is on scientists because they communicate to the journalists, or are invited as experts to say something in the media or in congressional hearings.

  31. #31 William Gulvin
    April 15, 2007

    Hmmmm . . . .

    Methinks a wise old girlfriend once said it best: “It takes a crank to turn the wheel!”

    I say “Rant On, PZ!” A forceful argument will erode people’s lithified believes much more rapidly than a slow and gentle flow.

    And anyway, why aren’t the fundies worried about offending the atheists?

  32. #32 Justin Wagner
    April 15, 2007

    Not sure if it’s been mentioned before here, but Michael Ruse wrote an article about this divided house in the latest Skeptical Inquirer, for anyone who is interested: http://tinyurl.com/3cz5v7

    I’m gonna agree with PZ on this one. In my opinion, there is a war for minds going on between the rational and the irrational. We’re not going to win the war by laying down our guns and sneaking into enemy territory to give them hugs. We need our big guns firing loud, straight, and true if we’re going to win ground against the irrational. N&M sound like they’re trying to gain support for a very vague and most likely non-functional war strategy.

    Just my two cents.

  33. #33 CalGeorge
    April 15, 2007

    More than 80 percent of Americans believe in God, after all, and many fear that teaching evolution in our schools could undermine the belief system they consider the foundation of morality (and perhaps even civilization itself).

    Do they think people should emerge from a formal education with their ignorance intact?

    Nuts to that!

    Schools should be a place where latent prejudices are subjected to criticism and unanalyzed notions (like God) are examined (and found wanting).

    Have a remedial reality requirement for all incoming college students. Dawkins’ book at the top of the reading list. Shove it down their throats.

    Enough is enough.

  34. #34 Scott Hatfield
    April 15, 2007

    I find myself agreeing with the sentiments expressed both by PZ and Mr. Nesbit within this thread, but I also have to point out that the way Mr. Nesbit couched his explanation on #28 seems rather different from his article with Mooney, in that it could be read as muzzling the legitimate questions raised by Dawkins and others.

    The impression I receive is that while there might be differences in tactics, there really isn’t a hell of lot of difference between the things Nesbit and Mooney recommend as strategy and the things that excellent science communicators like PZ Myers and Dawkins do, unless one thinks that part of ‘framing an issue’ includes choosing spokesperson who are conciliatory toward religion.

    If that’s the case, then I admit to being conflicted. Richard Dawkins, by his own admission, may not be the best messenger to certain kinds of messages. But he certainly has a vital point of view, one which must be reckoned with, and I think rhetoric that gives the impression that such viewpoints should be muzzled in the interest of ‘framing the message’ properly are short-sighted.

    That being said, I welcome the opportunity to buy y’all a beer. Please, no mockery, beer is a very serious matter, after all. SH

  35. #35 Christian Burnham
    April 15, 2007

    Props to Nisbet for taking time to respond here. I admire it when someone answers strong criticism.

  36. #36 JJR
    April 15, 2007

    Coturnix wrote:
    “That is why others, including liberal theists we disagree with on religion, need to do that kind of persuasion. They speak their language. They have their trust. They can produce results fast.”

    Wrong–No they don’t, No they don’t, and no, they can’t.
    Dominionists and other hard-Right religious movements (with big money behind them) don’t give a damn about liberal theologians and aren’t persuaded in the least.

    TAW wrote:
    “…If you want irrational people to stop being irrational, you probably do have to go along with Mooney and Nisbet (from now on M and N), because you are not going to get the irrational people to stop being irrational by calling everything they stand for an childish delusion. That just makes people go into the defensive and clinch to their beliefs even tighter. The only people that will listen are the borderline rational people and the closeted atheists.”

    I guess I have a different conception of human beings, since it is my view that all human beings are basically rational at some basic level; Irrational beliefs go away in time because of *cognitive dissonance*; this is largely the product of education in general and no coincidence that, generally speaking, the more educated a person is, the less religious they will be; either that or they create increasingly elaborate personal theologies to “massage” the cognitive dissonances–adopting beliefs that would’ve still gotten them labeled “atheist” and burned as heretics in less tolerant ages. The hope is they will get tired of this elaborate “dance” and just say “aw, fuck it” and eventually embrace the real, material world around them, warts and all. A solid grounding in a scientific education encourages this especially well, by ratcheting up the cognitive dissonance, placing an emphasis on the demand for evidence, critical evaluation of truth claims, etc.

    Perhaps there are some so tightly wrapped up in their traditional myths, based on upbringing, or personal crisis in their lives that they made better though adopting religious beliefs and attitudes. If they didn’t so frequently try to seriously f*ck with the lives of their fellow human beings, they’d be genuinely deserving of pity.

    I applaud PZ for writing “we won’t go back in the closet”.
    Damn right.

    Since it’s often used as a metaphor and a parallel, it would do atheists good (and I include myself in this) to study a bit more the history of Gay Liberation. From what little I’ve read, it did not come about though appeasement and making people feel comfortable about their ignorant, bigoted beliefs. It was militant because it had to be, as often a matter of sheer survival. It frequently forced the issue. Called people bigots who deserved to be called that (myself included). When a High School friend came out as gay during my college years, it was genuinely shocking to me, but in the end, I decided that his friendship meant more to me than my irrational beliefs, that without that bedrock friendship in High School I don’t know if I would’ve come out of the experience nearly as well adjusted as I did. It was an experience that helped me confront my own incipient homophobia and work on it. One of the many myriad reasons I divorced my ex-wife after separating from her (and her making a deeply religious turn back to her fundie roots), was I couldn’t stomach her casual homophobic bigotry, based on her deeply held religious ideas. It was coming to understand that some animals exhibit homosexual behavior patterns in nature that helped me enhance further my toleration, and I hope what I believe to be my enlightened acceptance of homosexuality in humans today.

    It was understanding the wide diversity of human development, including all manner of genetic disorders, complications, etc…that made me react with utter disgust towards a Southern Baptist preacher for condemning body piercing, dyed hair, long hair in men and short hair in women as “strange and unnatural”, “contrary to God’s natural order”…I wanted to stand and shout back to the pulpit and say, uh, Reverend, have you actually had a long hard look at the REAL natural order around you, and just how strange/weird/unsettling/wonderful it really is, that you claim your Gawd created? have you??? Because if you had you wouldn’t be able to stand up there and spout that kind of ignorant shit with any conviction.

    Literalist Christianity of the basest sort requires wearing blinders to the wider reality and viewing the reality in front of you in a kind of Hallmark Card caricature (or the inverse, the slasher-horror flick lens; incidentally, ever notice how moralistic a lot of those flicks are–teens having illicit sex, or trying to, always leads to monsters and/or madmen with chainsaws for some reason.)

    Theists will probably always outnumber atheists, because among other reasons, atheism requires an internal commitment to ongoing self-learning and many are too lazy, too incurious to bother. Atheists being generally more scientific minded and scientifically literate understand the global population problem and some deliberately choose not to contribute to it, either by having only small families or forgoing offspring altogether. The religions of the world have all to often joined in chorus to say “don’t trust human reason”, “God has a plan but you are not given to understand it”, “have faith and you will be rewarded”; Human progress has been possible because of the hardy individuals who had the guts and gumption to say “bollocks to that”, and also the more mundane tasks of testing out what works and what doesn’t while scratching out a living in the natural world. Pray for rain or try out different irrigation techniques? (and learn to read weather patterns–which is what the priests were doing–the smart ones who wanted to keep their jobs, anyway).

    I just worry that the material basis for a secular, humanist culture might not be there, or will be much harder to maintain, in a world of increasing energy scarcity.
    I hope that’s a problem people have to deal with AFTER I’m dead, but I’m still fairly young.

    For what it’s worth, I still can’t find an available copy of the Dawkins book (The God Delusion) available at ANY library in Houston, TX without putting myself on a considerable wait list!! All copies are checked out or on hold. I think that’s significant, and I think it’s a good thing (however personally inconvenient it may be for me–I’ll have to make due with Daniel Dennett’s book, which I was able to get)

  37. #37 Uber
    April 15, 2007

    I must say after reading the Mooney/Nesbit column I have lost some respect for both men and their thinking processes. They seem to think people are both stupid and unable to parse things on their own. In addition to being thin skinned and easily offended. They remind me of the pussies who get their ass beat in school and cough up their lunch money on a glare.

    But these messages are unlikely to reach a wider public, and even if they do they will probably be ignored or, in the case of atheistic attacks on religion, backfire.

    This is simply bullshit. In any church there are many actually the majority of pew sitters who have major doubts along the course of their life. Church attendence rarely exceeds 20% ofthe populace on any given Sunday and catholic churches are closing all through the northeast. People in the USA have a more general spirituality and are more than open to common sense speak as provided by Dawkins and PZ than that column gives them credit.I wonder if either men know any church goers. It’s no accident that this blog is so popular and Dawkins books sell so well.

    The polls don’t always show what is really going on and acting like a bunch of sissies will not bring the discussion where it needs to be.

  38. #38 Scott Hatfield
    April 15, 2007

    While I’m feeling conflicted, I have to point out that Caledonian’s brief (comment #1) is accurate, just not all that relevant to PZ’s central point. (Maxwell Smart voice): ‘If only his finely-honed philosophical bent could’ve been used for niceness!’

  39. #39 LiberalDirk
    April 15, 2007

    Actually I think everyone misses the central point that underlies discussions about science/anti-science in the United States.

    It is not that Scientists communicate badly. Many communicate very good. It is that anti-science (and generic anti-intellectualism)is being pushed heavily by by well funded and organised groups who have a deliberate agenda.

    So blaming scientists for what is wrong in the public discourse is rather silly. In fact, it is stupid. Utterly and senselessly stupid.

  40. #40 coturnix
    April 15, 2007

    JJR: nobody is talking about persuading uber-dominionists here! They are unreachable.

    But there are many people who live quite nicely with their cognitive dissonance happily ever after. They are a majority in this country. They are needed for political victories. We need to know how to talk to them, or send those who do to persuade them.

    It’s not about traffic, dammit, but go to my blog and see what I’ve written as well as dozens of other people – all linked from my first post on the topic (some of whom talk in details about framing of global warming):

    – there is difference between short-term and long-term goals.

    – there is a division of labor in accomplishing these goals.

    – framing is not spinning or lying.

    I am glad that we are having this debate – but it’s only been a week. Do you really expect the detailed point-by-point instructions on how to frame each science-related issues at such short notice? After all, commentaries here and all the other blogs debating this are also data that need to be analyzed. The concrete suggestions will come out of this debate later, I am sure. Then they will be tested in the real world. What do you expect in one week?

  41. #41 Ann Homily
    April 15, 2007

    This isn’t about appeasing religion; it’s understanding the psychology of how to effectively communicate and sell ideas to people. I made a similar comment about Dawkin’s approach in a blog entry linking his “Root of All Evil?” documentary.

    Of course Dawkins is a brilliant thinker who occupies a kind of intellectual ivory tower. The average person doesn’t have that kind of background. More often than not, the average person has had some sort of religious upbringing which, rooted in childhood, often has deep emotional meaning for them. A religious person might see Dawkins’ approach as condescending, which is hardly the way to effectively communicate with anyone. More likely they will simply feel insulted and may not even bother to listen to him at all, or worse, rebel against what they might see as blasphemy/cultural uprooting.

    Nor does it necessarily imply that college professors in specialized fields have to dumb down their lectures. High schools and colleges could have introductory courses for a general student population (in science, logic, critical thinking, etc.) with the expectation that they will be dealing with more technical language if they choose to pursue a field more in depth. Maybe what’s needed as well are charismatic personalities like Carl Sagan.

    I come from a background of religious fundamentalist-types and they have their own patented, fear-based methods of resisting and even demonizing the science community. They teach their children that atheists, “evolutionists”, etc. are “tools of the devil”. It’s a very human tendency to think in terms of “us vs. them” and they certainly put that to good effect. (Unfortunately I see you doing it here to a degree, sorry.)

    Like a dog trained on fear, sometimes you have to take a kinder and gentler approach in order to introduce new ideas that go against earlier training.

  42. #42 Colugo
    April 15, 2007

    At what point do Ken Miller and other theistic scientists realize that long-term atheist strategists see them as the advance guard for their own agenda (by making science seem more palatable, and hence bringing the masses a step closer to atheism), become resentful, and rebel?

    Or perhaps they believe that an alliance with atheistic scientists is advancing their own agenda: by convincing the public that they don’t have to choose between faith and science, more theists will adopt evolution while more science-oriented deists, agnostics, and soft atheists will open up to religion.

  43. #43 Interrobang
    April 15, 2007

    PZ, I’m a professional at this “framing” stuff. I’ll write a primer on what to do, how to do it, and why. As you know, I’ve already said quite a bit, but I really can’t explain it all at blog-comment length.

  44. #44 CalGeorge
    April 15, 2007

    So blaming scientists for what is wrong in the public discourse is rather silly. In fact, it is stupid. Utterly and senselessly stupid.

    Exactly. If anyone is to blame, it’s the MSM journos who soft pedal atheism because they don’t want to offend anyone.

  45. #45 MTran
    April 15, 2007

    Really. I don’t understand what Nisbet/Mooney are suggesting I do, or that anyone else should do. Do you?

    Well, every time I run it through BableFish it says: STFU

  46. #46 Bob O'H
    April 15, 2007

    I took home two messages from Nisbet and Mooney’s comment about “data dumping” – science is boring and the public is too stupid to understand anyway.

    Read it again, carefully. “Data dumping” is a technique for trying to communicate science, not science itself.

    And, quite frankly, they’re right. They’re so right that even scientists’ eyes glaze over when they get a data dump. It’s a not uncommon reaction from biologists when someone puts an equation in front of them. On the other hand, present them with a pretty graph, and they’re happy.

    Personally, I find that text crammed full of names of genes and proteins makes me stare into space and wonder who memorises them all. It’s just horses for courses.

    Bob

  47. #47 sparc
    April 15, 2007

    Matt:

    In these contexts, it is often most effective, to remain true to the science, but sometimes not actually talk about it.

    So be true on CO2 and global warming and never ever talk about the consumption of SUVs? This whole framing thing reminds me of Basil in the Germans episode.

  48. #48 Kent Kauffman
    April 15, 2007

    It seems to me that the Nisbet and Mooney’s argument is right on the money…if we lived in the 1980’s or earlier times. Scientists needed to be short and sympathetic to religion when all they had were soundbites on major television and radio shows.

    Now, who gets their news from major news networks? Not my generation (I’m 24). We get it from the internet (and The Daily Show, of course). The internet is the perfect platform for scientists. Not only are they more technically savy then our religious brethren, but if today’s posts don’t captivate, tomorrow’s just might.

    And who’s internet sites do we go to? We google whoever is mentioned in the “normal” news outlet. That means vocal atheist scientists like Dawkins and PZ get our attention, not the mouse in the corner.

    So, PZ, keep ranting, and continue to help atheism be the fastest growing “religious” group in the nation.

  49. #49 Peter
    April 15, 2007

    An atheist is an atheist because he believes religion to be wrong.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. An atheist is an atheist because of a lack of belief in gods. Everything else is an optional extra.

    It is quite possible to think religion is wrong without being an atheist, witness the number of people who’ll say “I believe in God but I don’t like organised religion”.

    People like Alistair Mcgrath, the “ex-atheist” with a fetish for writing books with Richard Dawkins name in the title, seems to fit this group. An upbringing in Northern Ireland resulted in a dislike for religion which he labeled atheism. But, when he went to Cambridge and was exposed to a kinder, gentler form of Christianity, that was the end of his so-called atheism.

  50. #50 michael
    April 15, 2007

    Go, PZ! Your voice is important; let’s keep hearing it.

  51. #51 tomh
    April 15, 2007

    coturnix wrote:
    The concrete suggestions will come out of this debate later, I am sure. Then they will be tested in the real world. What do you expect in one week?

    You mean no one thought of this so-called “framing” technique until a week ago? Seems like I’ve been reading about this sort of thing for a long time and haven’t seen a concrete suggestion yet on how to do it. And while this buzzword “framing” may not be spinning or lying, it certainly is arranging facts in order to manipulate the audience. Should scientists really be spending their time figuring out how to do this? Sounds like a lot of wasted effort to me.

  52. #52 coturnix
    April 15, 2007

    No, not on science blogs.

    And if it is a waste of time, why are religionists winning the culture wars?

  53. #53 Kent Kauffman
    April 15, 2007

    Religionists are winning the culture wars?

    Sorry, but no.

    Christianity how grown 5.3% numerically, and atheists/agnostics have grown 105.7% from 1990 to 2001. And Christianity’s share of the pie has actually gone down 8.5%. Plus, the latest estimates show that atheism just keeps growing faster (though it’s only the fastest growing religious group if you discount immigrants).

  54. #54 Kent Kauffman
    April 15, 2007

    Well, it’s still the fastest numerically, but not as a slice of the pie, and, nevermind.

    Just check out the link. It’s reason to be positive.

  55. #55 grendelkhan
    April 15, 2007

    There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with framing. If you’re an environmentalist group giving a speech to churchy folks, it makes sense to throw in something Biblical about being the caretaker of the outer garden, or something appropriately Christian.

    But it’s a mangling of the idea of framing to suppose that you can use it to appeal to people whose ideas are antithetical to the philosophical structure on which science is based. And it’s insulting to say that people need hand-holding. There’s a difference between being stupid and being wrong; the people in question are the latter, and they’re not going to like your ideas more if you try to make them look nonthreatening.

    Besides, it doesn’t matter what you actually propose, you’re still going to get the whole “they want to indoctrinate our children with atheism!” schtick, which I suppose sounds better than “they want to indoctrinate our children with skepticism and a healthy bullshit detector!”. I had the pleasure of asking Telic Thoughts’s regulars exactly what the dreaded atheist curriculum would entail. Their resident postmodernist (or whatever), Joy, replied to let me know that Richard Dawkins wants to indoctrinate children with atheism. Yes, she answered my question by essentially repeating it back to me. I still want to know what this atheist indoctrination consists of, damn it!

  56. #56 j
    April 15, 2007

    I think Nisbet and Mooney mean to say: the fight is against anti-science, and a positive argument (pro-science) might be more effective than a negative argument (anti-anti-science). I think both are important, but I agree with them that we have not done a great job on positive argument.

    Religion is a major source of anti-science, but there are non-religious sources, too (eg. global warming-deniers). The enemy is irrational thinking, and the solution is making ration thinking appealing.

    For example, I am not an atheist because someone made a compelling argument against my religious beliefs; I am an atheist because my development led me to value rational thought.

    So I think the positive “frame” we’re looking for isn’t just: science is useful and gives us medicine, consumer electronics, and economic growth. Accountants, insurance, and HR departments are useful, too.

    We want something more like: science is awesome and it let us walk on the $*#@ing moon!

    Appeal to utility works for a few specific cases, but progress in general depends on appeal to awe. Of course, the biggest hurdle is likely to be the decaying curiosity of the general public.

  57. #57 coturnix
    April 15, 2007

    Wow – it took 66 comments for the first Creationist troll to appear. They are slow on weekends, I guess. Don’t feed him. He’ll get his wafer in church tomorrow.

  58. #58 Kseniya
    April 15, 2007

    Scott Hatfield ( #44)

    While I’m feeling conflicted, I have to point out that Caledonian’s brief (comment #1) is accurate, just not all that relevant to PZ’s central point.

    Ah, Mr. H., you beat me to it. I don’t believe any sophisticated argument is necessary. Consider this simple example:

        - Religion offers an explanation for why “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”

        - So does science.

    Pharyngulites have often pointed out the latter in response to Christian claims that human morality can exist only as a manifestation of God’s absolute moral authority. The explanations may differ, but they are not incompatible. More to the point, and in keeping with Caledonian’s comment, they are not necessarily incompatible.

    And regarding MTran’s remark (#16), let’s not forget this interesting post.

    But back to the main point. Dr. Myers writes in #27:

    Ultimately, though, the problem here is that Nesbit/Mooney are advocating surrender.

    I agree. It feels as though they’re giving up, giving in to a very vocal special interest group that does not represent mainstream America. It’s very disheartening.

  59. #59 Bob O'H
    April 15, 2007

    sparc –

    However, the position of M&N would require different framings in the US and other parts of the world, e.g. the EU where the numbers of atheists, agnostics, theists, non-church going believers are much higher than in the US.

    Indeed. Makes sense: in Europe we often have different priorities. Pushing an “evolution is true” message is preaching to the converted: it comes over as being condescending.

    In addition I am afraid that this would lead to different cultures of science, …

    You’re confusing science with the communication of science to the general public. Ceci n’est pas une pipe

    Bob

  60. #60 Anton Mates
    April 15, 2007

    Leave aside for a moment the validity of Dawkins’s arguments against religion. The fact remains: The public cannot be expected to differentiate between his advocacy of evolution and his atheism.

    Why not? He’s written plenty of times about how evolution doesn’t prove atheism, how there are lots of believing scientists, and so forth. He endorses Ken Miller in The God Delusion as intelligent design’s most effective opponent, and attributes that largely to Miller’s Christianity. Why don’t Nisbet and Mooney try to help the public make this differentiation, as Dawkins himself is doing, instead of complaining about how impossible it is to do so? We get enough of that from the creationist side.

    More than 80 percent of Americans believe in God, after all, and many fear that teaching evolution in our schools could undermine the belief system they consider the foundation of morality (and perhaps even civilization itself). Dawkins not only reinforces and validates such fears — baseless though they may be — but lends them an exclamation point.

    No, Dawkins deals with such fears and refutes them. He devoted two entire chapters of The God Delusion to the subject of morality and how it neither requires nor is particularly benefitted by religion. Conservative religious leaders, of course, don’t want their flocks to know that–but why aren’t Nisbet and Mooney trying to get the knowledge out there?

    If the claim “Evolution will make you an atheist, and atheists are monsters” is one of the anti-science side’s chief weapons in the Framing Wars, then it seems obvious to me that writing books about how atheists aren’t monsters is a very good thing, framing-wise. Sure, religious scientists should point out that the first part of the claim is also false, but why not attack it on both fronts?

  61. #61 Gordon S
    April 15, 2007

    From the WaPo article:

    “There will always be a small audience of science enthusiasts who have a deep interest in the “mechanisms and evidence” of evolution, just as there will always be an audience for criticism of religion. But these messages are unlikely to reach a wider public, and even if they do they will probably be ignored or, in the case of atheistic attacks on religion, backfire.”

    It has backfired?

    Proof?

    Recent books by Harris, Dawkins and Dennet have been bestsellers.

    I don’t think people are buying them to use as kindling.

  62. #62 Anton Mates
    April 15, 2007

    But Dawkins and PZ are well know enough that they cannot go to address a religious, suspicious audience and talk them into anything – that the sky is blue. Thus, Dawkins and PZ have different roles in the pro-science ecosystem than Ken Miller and Francis Collins who ARE trusted by the religious.

    What makes you think Miller and Collins are trusted by the religious–or, more significantly, by the subset of the religious who discount anything nonbelievers say, even in the scientific realm?

    We know Dawkins and PZ are trusted by liberal believers; we’ve got them commenting in this blog, they’re busy buying Dawkins’ books (unless he’s sold millions purely to the stealth atheist demographic), and so forth. We also know theists who believe in evolution aren’t trusted by conservative believers–e.g. creationists often say that Ken Miller’s not a Christian at all, he’s just pretending. (I haven’t seen them do the same to Francis Collins, but then I don’t want believers trusting him, given his pro-ID stance on stuff like morality.)

    So is there a big slice in the middle of the population, believers who are extreme enough to ignore an atheist scientist but not extreme enough to ignore an arch-liberal Catholic scientist?

  63. #63 Scholar
    April 15, 2007

    In this Battle, we need everyone fighting. We can institute the “atheist draft” if we have to. The point is, we already have a good mix of moderate atheists and firm atheists. I agree with Dr. PZ Myers that there is no reason to back down at all. Let Moonbeam and Nancy do the gentle whispering for all I care, just PLEASE don’t tell PZ to stop writing whatever he wants.

  64. #64 Lee Harrison
    April 15, 2007

    Keep it up, PZ – I’ve been lurking on this blog for a while now and think you have the right way of things with this particular argument. When a religious person can be offended by simple facts, all the framing in the world won’t help you – it doesn’t matter how you put it, some people will always hate the idea of sharing ancestors with apes.

    So what if 80% of people when answering surveys say they believe in a creator God – if only 20% are in church regularly, that’s a lot of potential ‘go with the flow’ types who can be convinced. Personally I’d say follow John Stewart’s example – make fun of these a-holes. Mockery is what stopped the KKK in their tracks, after all.

  65. #65 Taylor Murphy
    April 15, 2007

    When a religious person can be offended by simple facts, all the framing in the world won’t help you – it doesn’t matter how you put it, some people will always hate the idea of sharing ancestors with apes.

    The truth is, nobody should attempt to avoid offending the hypersensitive anonymous religious folks anyways. Internet articles are not going to get through to them in the first place, no matter how much we prance around and act all humble and nice. The only way we’re going to get through to those people is to convince their friends who aren’t so sensitive, and those friends might then be able to get through to them.

  66. #66 carl
    April 15, 2007

    VM*r%t9n,
    It’s only 10:30 pm here. Guess you’ve never heard of Hawaiian Standard Time? We are literally about as far apart as you can get!

  67. #67 Madhu
    April 15, 2007

    I’m about to give up on M&N, but I have to ask these experts in framing one thing: why don’t they spend their energies more productively to better “frame” atheists like Dawkins and PZ in a favorable light with the religious, instead of asking them to shut up and go back into the closet?

  68. #68 MartinC
    April 15, 2007

    The whole Nisbet/Mooney policy seems to distil down to an acceptance of the ‘teach the controversy’ stance of the Discovery Institute. We shouldnt come across so strong as to offend the beliefs of the religious. Presumably that entails ‘framing’ the debate in terms to two equally valid viewpoints – that empirical evidence based research is the best way to gain understanding of the natural world versus God did it, so no need to worry.
    If I made my living as a non scientist writing books about these sorts of debates then I assure you I would be all in favor of this strategy too. However, as a research scientist living in a predominantly non religious country (Sweden) I’m afraid I tend to disagree with the idea of pandering to bronze age beliefs held by the fundamentalistic populaces of Saudi, the USA or Afghanistan. Dawkins is not a US citizen either, what gives Nisbet and Mooney the idea that their strategy of appeasing one set of superstitious people should determine his actions ?

  69. #69 Harry
    April 15, 2007

    There’s a difference between trying to sell science, and specifically evolution, and trying to sell atheism; some of the comments seem determined to run them together.

    Here’s a comparison. David Attenborough is perhaps the best-liked public figure in Britain; Richard Dawkins manages to irritate people who agree with everything he believes in. I don’t think it’s a betrayal of intellectual integrity to say that sometimes the Attenborough approach is going to be more productive. If, that is, you’re trying to persuade people about evolution. If you’re trying to persuade them about atheism, it’s a rather different question.

    fwiw, I think there’s plenty of room for both Attenborough and Dawkins and I enjoy the work of both. But there’s lots of ways to skin a cat, and it doesn’t seem such an outrageous observation that Dawkins’s way may not always be the best one.

  70. #70 MartinC
    April 15, 2007

    Kansas gang said
    “The point is that Dawkins makes claims for science that go beyond what it is capable of.
    So that makes him a liar.”

    Strong accusation there.
    What is your specific evidence for this ?

  71. #71 beeline
    April 15, 2007

    The problem is that Mooney et al don’t *like* PZ and Dawkins. That’s all. They can’t make it any clearer, because they either don’t even realise it themselves, or realise that they can’t say something like that in public without dressing it up first.

    The reason their ‘attack’ seems empty of instruction or revelation is that it’s merely a camouflaged ad-hominem attack. They want their heroes to match the public’s appetite for smooth-talking, slick-suited spin doctors, not the reality of passionate, angry polemics. It’s fashionable to ally yourself (especially in the media) with someone who is ‘nice’, and just as fashionable to be seen to be distancing yourself from someone who isn’t. Playground stuff.

    However, people like PZ and Dawkins *do* make themselves heard loudly enough, and with enough passion, to influence others who might have more success convincing people with their own style for decades to come.

    A person is just a person, but their voice and their cause last far, far longer.

  72. #72 Lee Bowman
    April 15, 2007

    First I’ll address some of N & M’s points. They characterize Dawkins as being ‘lucid’ in his characterizations of evolution. I agree, but only to a degree; that of positing easily understandable and logically coherent explanations. I regard Dawkins as an excellent Zoologist, and a great storyteller, but chemist, cellular biologist, or as one who is educated and/or working in a closely related field he is not. His reliance on Occam’s razor, and quite a few questionable dichotomies to make a point fall short of science in my opinion. PZ Myers on the other hand, knows the field of chemical, molecular and genetic sciences, and presents them well.

    I’m afraid that I have to disagree with N & M regarding their criticism of PZ’s blog, which according to my purview has as its primary intent, the airing and discussion of developmental biology issues and progress in the field, with several goals in mind. Foremost would be discussions of the state of the field, new developments and their impact on evolutionary theory. Next, and some might argue that this is primary, would be a venue to critique, critically analyze, and to formulate strategies, and of course to vent frustrations. Where do they get the idea that Pharyngula is in any way a public forum to try to convince opponents of the errors of their ways. As Myers stated, “mechanisms and evidence” are the salient issues here, and he’s right.

    Regarding the ‘small audience of science enthusiasts’ that lurk, and on occasion may participate, a crucial need is met, in forming and maintaining a link to the ‘middle grounders’ who in many cases have diversified backgrounds in science, engineering, politics, education, journalism, and yes, even religion, who may benefit from the exchange. Often, arguments in multiple directions can be presented in an attempt to alter the mindset of the other participants.

    And so I disagree with N & M that “these messages are unlikely to reach a wider public, and even if they do they will probably be ignored …” Far from it. This group is growing, consists of players of all stripes, nurtures the state of the art, and helps to promote mutual understanding. I agree that selling science to the masses is vital, but I feel that Pharyngula has a significantly different purpose, and that goal seems to being met. Insightful, and at times inciteful, but interesting.

  73. #73 John B
    April 15, 2007

    Religionists are winning the culture wars?

    Sorry, but no.

    Christianity how grown 5.3% numerically, and atheists/agnostics have grown 105.7% from 1990 to 2001. And Christianity’s share of the pie has actually gone down 8.5%. Plus, the latest estimates show that atheism just keeps growing faster (though it’s only the fastest growing religious group if you discount immigrants).

    If you see your culture wars as being between secularism and public religion, you will know religion is winning when atheists and religious people begin to feel the need to make confessional statements about their belief in God part of their public identity.

    In a secular society, a person’s religious beliefs are irrelevant to their participation in public discourse, except as unseen motivation, private commitment, etc… This doesn’t mean muzzling athiests or theists. It means providing education in a secular, non-religious discourse, which address people’s needs, which people of diverse background can assent to for their own reasons.

    Look at ‘rights’ language (as over-used as it may have gotten now), ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’ replaced confessional ethical language pretty effectively. You can assent to the notion of human rights regardless of your belief in God, or your cultural background. The fact that a Christian fundamentalist has a different rationale for his assent than an atheist is irrelevant. Yes, that did mean ‘framing’ rights language in a way that both theists and athiests could assent to it.

    It is the secularists’ job to provide the neutral language of public discourse, and to reject the substitution of religious identity for public identity. This is not to defend science, atheism, or ‘the Truth’, but to defend diversity and pluralism.

  74. #74 justpaul
    April 15, 2007

    Thanks for pointing to Larry Moran’s post, it’s a great complement to this one. Keep up the “good fight” PZ. As you and Larry note, years of trying to be “polite” have only made things worse.

  75. #75 Thengel
    April 15, 2007

    I think the main difference between PZ, Dawkins, et. al. and Mooney & Nisbet is in how they perceive the balance of forces. PZ seems to think that most of the public is receptive to a rational and naturalistic worldview–that they’ll just agree with us once we’ve properly explained it to them. Mooney & Nisbet seem to have a better grasp of the actual situation–most of the public is implacably hostile to the freethinking implications of science. Given this array of forces, they think that a frontal charge might not be the wisest of tactics.

    Seriously, this sometimes makes me want to shake scientists! Most of your funding comes from government granting agencies and is not guaranteed in perpetuity. If you ever succeeded in really convincing the public that science education was the path to atheism, the nation would not hesitate to shut down its research institutions and opt wholeheartedly for holiness over knowledge.

    But I don’t think you quite realize that. You guys seem to think that the rotten edifice of religion will just collapse if only someone would give it a good strong push, and so see Mooney & Nisbet’s recommendations as treason–surrender when victory is nearly at hand.

  76. #76 CalGeorge
    April 15, 2007

    If the defenders of evolution wanted to give their creationist adversaries a boost, it’s hard to see how they could do better than Richard Dawkins, the famed Oxford scientist who had a bestseller with “The God Delusion.”

    Where is the proof of this? All I see is Dawkins selling a ton of books, lots more talk about atheism in the press, and creationists and their allies trying (ineffectively) to fight back.

    If the Washington Post wants to do some good, give us a nasty article about Ken Ham. Not this creationist-promoting crap from 2005:

    In Evolution Debate, Creationists Are Breaking New Ground

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/24/AR2005092401262_pf.html

  77. #77 Larry Moran
    April 15, 2007

    Colugo writes in #14,

    I realized after pondering what Nisbet and Mooney’s latest piece that not only are there two kinds of atheists – hardline and appeaser – there are also two kinds of appeaser atheists. Namely, strategic (go slowly or there’ll be a backlash) and reconciled (no way are we going to get rid of God, so we may as well deal with it). Put me in the camp of reconciled appeaser atheists.

    One of the more serious problems with the Nisbet & Mooney stance is it’s parochial assumptions. They seem to think the whole world revolves around the United States of America. I sometimes wonder whether they know that Oxford is not in Kansas.

    This inward-looking attitude can be very harmful.

    Colugo, if you think that America can’t get rid of God then go spend a few months in the UK, France, or Sweden. Heck, even Canada would be an eye-opener for you. There’s no reason to give up hope. Keep up the fight.

  78. #78 Caledonian
    April 15, 2007

    But there’s no inherent reason why the ‘answers’ offered by religion have to be incorrect.

    We can easily imagine a religion in ancient times that insisted the Earth was a sphere, that it went around the Sun, that the Sun was unimaginably bigger than the Earth, and that the stars were actually distant suns themselves.

    What would distinguish this religion from modern science would be their justifications for making the claims, not the claims themselves. If they said that the Earth was spherical, etc., because a raven flew out of a burning bush and informed them of this fact, their beliefs would be incompatible with science.

    It’s also entirely possible that science will one day discover that life on Earth, and even Earth itself, was created by a vast, inhuman intelligence. I don’t consider it at all likely, but it cannot be ruled out a priori. What would make science different from religion in that case would be the same as before: the justification for the claim, not the claim itself.

    but most people don’t give a damn about how they get their answers

    Precisely, which is why trying to get them to back science, when the fundamental thing that makes science different from religion is what they have absolutely no concern about, is a waste of time.

    The sheep are looking for a shepherd, not for ways in which they can become goats.

  79. #79 CalGeorge
    April 15, 2007

    It’s also entirely possible that science will one day discover that life on Earth, and even Earth itself, was created by a vast, inhuman intelligence.

    May they quote you on this?

  80. #80 Mike Haubrich
    April 15, 2007

    If Mooney and Nesbit can in fact come up with actual frames to use that don’t entail presenting scientific concepts inaccurately; “Framing” may be useful for what they want to do. I certainly don’t think that Lakoff’s book relates to concepts as important as some of the issues relevant to science as it refers to re-stating both liberal and conservative viewpoints from a liberal standpoint.

    If “Framing” refers to illuminating the wonders of science so that people accept it alongside other distractions in popular culture, then I think that Dawkins has done a great job of following Sagan. A good example is in Unweaving the Rainbow which reveals the wonders of nature that aren’t made ugly by learning the details but instead are revealed to be “majestic.” I don’t see anything that I have read in his popular works that amounts to “data dumping.”

    The Uppity Atheist writings of PZ, Dawkins, Dennett, Stenger and others is an extension of Unweaving the Rainbow and indeed Pale Blue Dot in showing how the “Intellectually Fulfilled Atheist” doesn’t need to have a supernatural underpinning in order to see the glory and the wonder that is the natural universe. Atheists need to push back against the idea that we need religion in order to make ethical and moral decisions, especially by showing that it is ludicrous to reach such decisions based on irrational beliefs.

    Scientists have been “framing” all along; but not in the Lakoff methodology of using ridicule of conservative policies to shift the debate (e.g. referring to Bush’s Clean Air Act as “No Tree Left Behind.”) They have been doing it by explaining complex concepts in a way which even laypeople such as myself can understand. Sometimes it takes a little work and re-reading to clarify difficult concepts, but that is my responsibility. It isn’t necessary for them to “re-frame” the concepts.

  81. #81 MartinC
    April 15, 2007

    Rather a nicely barbed point made on Effect Measures regarding framing a scientific topic in such a way that it won’t alienate your audience, namely ‘The Republican War on Science’
    Well then Chris, what effect do you think that sort of title will have on potential republican readers ?
    I guess its just scientists that need to follow these framing rules then, not anyone else. Do as I say, eh ?

  82. #82 Caledonian
    April 15, 2007

    There’s no need to quote me on that – it’s the simple truth.

    Any of science’s findings may eventually be overturned by additional information. That is fundamental to the scientific method. Given that, it clearly follows that science might uncover evidence that indicates the claims of some particular religion are correct.

    At this point, it is grossly improbable. But that is not the same as being impossible.

    Again: it’s not the claims that distinguish science from religion in general, it’s how those conclusions are reached that makes the two incompatible.

  83. #83 Austin Cline
    April 15, 2007

    I posted about this and linked to your critique here:

    http://atheism.about.com/b/a/259002.htm

    You and Moran have already pointed out the serious problems in the editorial, but there is an additional theme running throughout that I though deserved attention (I posted this at Moran’s blog, too): Mooney and Nisbet apparently want us to accept their position on faith alone. They offer no evidence for any of their claims or accusations – even though they are making claims which are amenable to testing.

    One of their first sentences is, in effect, the theme for their entire agenda: Let’s leave aside the validity and truth of what others are doing and instead do things completely differently. Because people will like us better. Or something like that. Anyway, I’m not going to tell you what you should do differently, I’m just going to tell you that you’re totally wrong.

  84. #84 Miguelito
    April 15, 2007

    I always think of this in several ways.

    1) If you’re going to use the science-atheism argument at each opportunity, you’re going to drive away those who you are trying to reach before they even listen to your arguments. Religion is a very personal thing. They’re going to think that you’re an arrogant douchebag and never listen to you or others who use science. The audience becomes hostile to science altogether, moving them in the wrong direction.

    2) Think long term, think short term. What’s more pressing? Converting people to atheism? Or getting people better educated and getting people to understand the nuances behind anthropogenic global warming? FFS, once they’re better educated about science in general even without the atheist message, then they’ll be more open to atheism.

  85. #85 llewelly
    April 15, 2007

    Larry:

    They seem to think the whole world revolves around the United States of America. I sometimes wonder whether they know that Oxford is not in Kansas.

    But there is in fact a town named Oxford, Kansas . No important British universities there, however.

  86. #86 Austin Cline
    April 15, 2007

    “What would distinguish this religion from modern science would be their justifications for making the claims, not the claims themselves.”

    So, taking the claims being made by Mooney and Nisbet as examples (Dawkins’ approach is counter-productive, our approach will be better, etc.), which category do they tend more towards: scientific or religious? I’ll assume for the sake of argument that not every claim falls 100% into one or the other and that claims may fall in a grey area is that is closer to one than the other.

  87. #87 writerdd
    April 15, 2007

    The truth is that science does most often lead to atheism. When you learn that there are real, rational explainations for just about everything, you no longer need the pseudo explainations that religion provides. Of course, it does cover that fear of death issue. But I’d personally rather deal with that that cover my fear with fantasy.

    Fundamentalists are right to be afraid that a good education can rob their children of faith. So how does one deal with that? Do we let them all pull their kids out of school and start a giant Amish commune? Or do we water down the education we provide to the general public to stop offending the superstitious and religious students? I don’t really like either option. I’m not sure what others there are.

    I happen to largely agree with Mooney and Nisbet, but I think they’re off base on this point.

  88. #88 CalGeorge
    April 15, 2007

    Any of science’s findings may eventually be overturned by additional information. That is fundamental to the scientific method. Given that, it clearly follows that science might uncover evidence that indicates the claims of some particular religion are correct.

    Yes, but that evidence for religion will be a falsifiable possibility too, so I don’t really see the point in saying that anything is possible.

  89. #89 Adrian Burd
    April 15, 2007

    I have to wonder how Nisbet and Mooney would have advised dear old Copernicus
    about how to frame his idea that the Earth moved about the Sun?

    I can (at a stretch, if I’ve not had my morning cup of tea – Kemun if you must know)understand Nisbet and Mooney’s concerns, but I’m afraid that following the path they advocate would create some hybrid gobbledygook in the minds of the religious. I suspect that these misunderstandings would be more pernicious and harder to correct because those holding them would feel that they affirm, or are at least compatible with, their
    superstitions.

  90. #90 llewelly
    April 15, 2007

    Autine Cline:

    Mooney and Nisbet apparently want us to accept their position on faith alone.

    Not true. See Nisbet’s list of publications at the bottom of his faculty page
    Nisbet is scientist just like PZ is. The trouble here, is that he and Mooney have portrayed vocal atheism as a factor that hinders the promotion of science by lending credence to the negative frames of the enemies of science. If you begin by telling someone they are helping the enemy, they are unlikely to continue to listen for subtle strategic advice. The irony is that in trying to advise scientists on how to frame their work, so as not to alienate non-scientists, Nisbet and Mooney have attached their own work to the pre-existing debate over whether atheists should be subtle or overt, and have alienated those who believe atheists should be overt.
    Nisbet has published plenty of evidence on the reality of frames, and how they work, but in their WaPo article, especially the opening paragraph, they disturbed smoldering embers, resulting in a great deal of fire and smoke, obscuring their message.

  91. #91 Adrian Burd
    April 15, 2007

    Referring to Chet’s comment about Antarctica (#9), there is a chapel at McMurdo, The Chapel of the Snows, with a building number 007 (I don’t know if that’s meaningful or not).

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/adrianburd/102844005

    There’s also a troll under one of the bridges!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/adrianburd/102844063/

  92. #92 inkadu
    April 15, 2007

    Seriously, this is the most idiotic argument I have ever heard.

    Maybe Nisbet and Mooney can explain to my why the last hundred-plus years of silence on God in regard to evolution has not worked to silence dissent against the theory? I don’t remember Darwin writing political tracts against God as companion pieces to Descent of Man. People were still pissed.

    On global warming:

    A strong majority of Republicans discount the science and the issues urgency, while an overwhelming number of Democrats believe the opposite. Once again, the facts aren’t driving opinions here.

    And these are the guys I’m supposed to be taking lessons in framing from? Because it sounds like both Democrats and Republicans are just making up their minds based on some shallow opinions. The reality is that Democrats trust the message that scientists have given us, and Republicans purposely obfuscate reality by censoring government reports. Scientists are doing a GREAT job on global warming, but they’re fighting an uphill battle against enemies that have deep pockets, no respect for the truth, support from the highest corridors of power, and tie-ins to religious fundamentalism. And why should I have to explain this to they guy who wrote the book on it (Republican War on Science)? I’m really confused.

    And third, they write: “Leave aside for a moment the validity of Dawkins’s arguments against religion.”

    Ok. We’ve left it aside for the moment. Every piece I read in mass media about atheism is either full of fluff metaphorical junk from theist, or is an oblique commentary on atheism as a social movement (usually concluding that atheists are big meanies). So, Mr. Mooney and Mr. Nisbett — when can we expect implied article examining the validity of Dawkin’s arguments.

    And fourth, Overton window. I’m somewhat pleased, even though I think Mooney and Nisbett are barking up the wrong tree. Dawkins has done a fantastic job of staking out an “extreme” position. He has a role to play in shaping public opinion. As do Mooney and Nisbett. Dawkins makes foggy-headed positions like deist/evolutionist Miller’s seem less radical and more acceptable. This is how the Republicans have managed to move the country to the right — by giving full voice to the most extreme right wing opinion, thereby forcing “the middle” to the right. Democrats, following similar advice offered by Mooney, aided and abbetted the shift by disavowing their own left wing. Maybe Mooney can explain how this situation is any different.

  93. #93 Austin Cline
    April 15, 2007

    Nisbet has published plenty of evidence on the reality of frames, and how they work…

    Red Herring. I didn’t criticize them for not providing evidence that “framing” doesn’t exist, that “framing” isn’t useful, etc. On the contrary, I make a point of noting more than once that framing can be useful and that, in principle, framing might be useful in the context of these issues. What I criticize them for is not providing evidence for the specific claims and accusation them make. I even create a list of the relevant claims and accusations in my article.

    You say that it is “not true” that Mooney and Nisbet apparently want us to accept their position on faith alone, but the “their position” here isn’t the position that “frames exist” or that “framing can be useful.” The “their position” here is much more specific: what Dawkins is doing won’t work, what Dawkins is doing is counter-productive, our approach will work, scientists don’t communicate well, scientists’ poor communication is responsible for the problem we have, etc.

    If you’re going to insist that it is “not true” that Mooney and Nisbet want us to accept these positions on faith alone, then you’re going to have to point out where they’ve amassed and presented all the evidence for all these claims. Not only have I not seen the evidence, I haven’t even seem them allude to evidence existing elsewhere (which would be reasonable in a short editorial).

    …resulting in a great deal of fire and smoke, obscuring their message.

    Their “message” is obscured by the fact that they make a lot of dramatic claims and serious accusations without offering an iota of evidence in support of them. That is, in fact, an anti-science position to adopt. Even young earth creationists try to offer evidence in defense of their claims — lousy evidence to be sure, but at least they try.

    Maybe Mooney and Nisbet are right. Maybe Dawkins’ approach is wrong, counter-productive, and helping the enemies of science. Maybe scientists are poor communicators whose poor communication and poor framing are responsible for the low acceptance of things like evolution and global warming. Maybe Mooney and Nisbet do have “frames” that will turn everything around, get Americans to accept evolution, and cause the lion to lie down with the lamb. I doubt it, but it’s possible. Right now, though, they are expecting others to believe all this on nothing more than faith — I say that because they offer nothing as a basis for believing it all. Faith is all that’s left. When they do offer evidence, I’ll examine it and take it seriously. Until then, they have nothing of substance to offer – just unsupported attacks on people whose methods they dislike.

  94. #94 xebecs
    April 15, 2007

    Re: “PZ is thinking long-term” — I don’t think that’s it. I think PZ believes that people can see through insincerity, and that there is no substitute for honestly explaining one’s beliefs. Insincerity is harmful both short- and long-term.

    Re: “PZ is more concerned about the means than the ends” — that’s closer, but still not right. PZ does not accept the claim that accomodation will work. It’s about ends AND means, because the wrong means will fail in the end.

  95. #95 inkadu
    April 15, 2007

    Perfectly clear, Austin. You’re argument is also aided by the fact that it’s completely transparent, but still, strangely, needs to be made.

    I’m new to Pharyngula. I have to say, I’m rather impressed by the discourse here. I’m trying to tone down the cussin’.

  96. #96 xebecs
    April 15, 2007

    How does one frame scientific thought relative to theism?

    “Each day, science brings to us a better and clearer understanding of the universe. Look around you. Science proves its worth every second of every day in the technology that surrounds us. It is up to you to decide whether religion makes more sense, or less, in the light of science. But you can’t fight it — science works.”

    I’m sure you guys will shoot this down, but we have to try, don’t we?

  97. #97 inkadu
    April 15, 2007

    That’s as fine as it goes, xebecs, except that you miss what Mooney means when he says, “Framing science.” What he means is, “Shut up about the religion, even if religion is the only reason people give a crap about the science.”

    Or maybe he means we should all adopt Kenneth Miller’s quantum deism and push that?

    I don’t know. I’m starting to get really irritated by these master framers not even framing a single damn issue. I think this whole matter would be cleared up if they wrote a short example article on what a well framed evolutionary argument would look like. That would actually move the argument forward, instead of us leaving us entangled in a debate as to what they really mean.

  98. #98 inkadu
    April 15, 2007

    Ok, this time with 30% less sarcasm:

    Xebecs, excellent framing. This could also work:
    “Evolution says nothing about the origin of life, or the origin of the cosmos. And many believing, devout Christians these days no longer look for scientific answers in the bible, but use it as a source of contemplation of divinity. When this country was founded, it was by rational, scientific men, who believed in God, but acknowledged that man’s reason ws able to unlock some of the mysteries of the universe. Since that time, God has remained a steady part of the private lives of Americans, while science has improved the public lives of millions.”

    Maybe that’s what he wants us to say? I don’t know…. that’s kind of a truce on the religion issue. is that what they want? again, i claim confusion.

    A little more combatively:
    “People throughout history have believed in God. But they also have believed the diseases were transmitted through spirits, that mental illness was caused by demons, and that women were unclean. We in the modern world have a wonderful choice to make: what part of religion still works for us, and what part needs to be discarded in light of new evidencde.”

    These are both far from the Dawkin’s-style frontal assaults, but they also definitely move the ball forward.

  99. #99 Austin Cline
    April 15, 2007

    I misread your comment and failed to see your link to your longer article.

    OK, no problem. Just to reiterate a point made in my article: I think it’s a real shame that Mooney and Nisbet have done such an awful job here because some may end up ignoring or rejecting the utility of frames because of it. There’s a legitimate issue there: different messengers and different presentations for different audiences in different contexts. That’s something most people will recognize as intuitively valid, but people also tend to forget about it and thus end up not making use of this.

    I suspect that there’s a lot of research potential in figuring out how to present something like evolution to different audiences while getting the highest acceptance rates and without really diluting what evolution is. Maybe, for example, you have to get certain audience to accept a couple of other bits of information before you can ever get to evolution? I don’t know, but I also don’t think Mooney and Nisbet know either — and they should, or at least have a reliable idea in which directly the answer lies, before making the claims they do.

  100. #100 inkadu
    April 15, 2007

    Austin – Excellent point. Mooney & Nisbett’s argument seems to be, “Frames exist. I know about frames. I say this frame is the wrong one. Therefore I am right. And it will take years of research to figure out what the correct frame is.” So I think that’s why so many people are taking such umbrage — when you boil it down, the only clear message is to take atheism off the table, and it’s completely unsupported by anything, as you said ably illustrated.

  101. #101 xebecs
    April 15, 2007

    That’s as fine as it goes, xebecs, except that you miss what Mooney means when he says, “Framing science.” What he means is, “Shut up about the religion, even if religion is the only reason people give a crap about the science.”

    I didn’t miss his point, I ignored it. PZ asks M&N for real help on framing science — that’s what I responded to.

    The funny thing is, although my “statement” may seem bland, its intention is anything but. I want science to be in the theists faces everywhere they turn. They say “God said this.”, I say “Whatever. Here’s what science says.”

    What I don’t find particularly useful is the extreme “Your religion is stupid.”, although it’s exactly what I believe. Make the claim, just say it softer.

    To quote from an old SF novel, don’t say “You’re wrong.” Say “That turns out not to be the case.”

  102. #102 bigTom
    April 15, 2007

    IMO the essence of our disagreement is that we are fighting two wars, not a single war. PZ is intersted in the Long-War against irrationality, I think the relevant timespan for it is a century. M&N are more concerned with the Short-War, with issues such as how bad will we allow climate change to get, and how strong will the USA be in science and technology mid century. We have to fight both wars. Some people will be naturally inclined to primarily be warriors for one of these wars to the near exclusion of the other. I hope both types of warrior can appreciate what the other is doing.

  103. #103 Richard
    April 15, 2007

    This is not about spin or fluff. It’s about providing messages that are interesting and convincing to a specific audience.

    There’s a very important truth in selling, especially for anyone involved in selling something complex: “People are most convinced by reasons they discover themselves”.

    Asking questions and helping the audience find answers is far more effective in telling them what the answer is before they have reached that conclusion. The need for the seller to jump ahead and tell the audience what they need to hear is known as “premature elaboration”.

    Fundies aren’t buying so trying to sell directly to them is largely a waste of time. But for the majority of the population in any country, couching the message in ways they understand to provoke their curiosity so that they are interested in a second helping, and a third, is the way to go. If the audience believes twenty things that are wrong about evolution/creationism, a “data dump” to address all their concerns in one sitting will only give them indigestion.

  104. #104 inkadu
    April 15, 2007

    bigTom – It seems that M&N is asking us to withdraw. I’m perfectly happy to let them frame the science issues and educate science. Us Long Warriors have no problem with that. However, the Short Warriors are asking the Long Warriors to hang up our muskets. Also, I think we’re all fighting the same war, with the same people, so the differentiation of battalions isn’t crystal clear.

    Xebecs — Exactly. I think that’s what we all absolutely agree on. M&N’s only real contribution is to attempt to exclude atheism from the debate.

  105. #105 bigTom
    April 15, 2007

    Inkadu: I don’t think the Short-War warriors (count me as one) want or need the Long-War warriors to desist. We want you to at least be cognizant of the possible implications of your actions on the Short-War. A hundred years from now when both wars are of interest primarily to historians, the quality of life will be effected by how quickly the Short-War was won.

  106. #106 inkadu
    April 15, 2007

    bigTom: If Long Warriors, as you state, are cognizant, how would their behavior be different? Are you encouraging us not to discuss religion? Or just to discuss it more diplomatically, instead of frothing at the mouth and using words like “jetard” and “religidiot”? I’m serious, how would you like us to change our behavior so that our missions are more consonant with each other? Be specific. Give examples of public figures that have said something that has hurt their cause. Explain how they could have said the same thing differently without sacrificing the Long Mission.

  107. #107 Scholar
    April 15, 2007

    Good point about Oprah’s website, but really, she seems to be doing fine, IMHCO. She is more like a politician who doesn’t want to alienate any of her main bases. We need to get our butts on her show/website and do the dirty work. She is allowed to sit there and smile if she wants, after all it is Christianmerica isn’t it?

  108. #108 Francesco Franco
    April 15, 2007

    You know what strikes me as missing in all of this discussion: it often (very often) does NOT MATTER where public opinion happens to be at a particular moment with regard to advancing various causes in political discourse. The most revolutionary advances tend to come when ONE or a small group of morally outstanding, courageous and often elitist individuals decide that the nation needs to be fundamentally changes and then IMPOSE progress on the rest of civilization in various ways. This can be done by hunger-strikes and civil disobedience (Gandhi, Martin Luther King) or by such means as the Supreme court decisions (integration, desegregation) and so on.

    A striking example is the death penalty. The death penalty has been abolished probably irrevocably as the result of the decision of small group of people on the European counsel (or Parliament). I don’t remember exactly how it went, but I can assure you that the decision was NOT made by consulting public opinion through some kind of referendum or other process. As many conservatives all over the world love to point it, the abolition of the death penalty was imposed on by a group of enlightened Brussels bureaucrats. Polls which are periodically taken have show that the majority of, e.g. Italians, would reinstate the death penalty if they had the chance to vote on it directly. The almost surely would not have voted to abolish it. However, the percentage of people who NOW support the death penalty is dramatically lower than it was years ago, and, in public discourse, it is unthinkable for even an extreme neo-fascist right-wing political to come out in support of the death penalty.

    So, I seriously believe, and I think there is substantial evidence to back this up but I’m not enough of an historian to defend it myself empirically, that most enlightened policies and serious reforms actually start out with a small group of elite intellectuals or progressive moralists (often just one person) preaching fervently and unabashedly AGAINST the winds of popular opinion. In fact, from my viewpoint, this the THE fundamental role of public intellectuals, whether they be scientists, philosophers, novelists or poets: denouncing the catastrophic injustices and defects of society and politics, even humanity itself, as it now stands. The role of politics is moderation, compromise and realistic pragmatism.

    The two authors of the “Framing” articles are trying to do something extraordinarily dangerous, as I see it. (Of course, they can’t succeed by any stretch of the imagination anyway). But there goal seems to be to make intellectuals (at least scientists, in this case) think and act like politicians!! Think about this carefully, ladies and gentlemen. Do YOU want scientists, philosophers and other intellectuals to become more like politicians, journalists and big businessmen?? That’s what this is all about. Nothing more and nothing less. That’s what is really at stake here, when you take out all the pretences of social science and the manipulative jargon of the communications industry.

    Well, along with Dr. Stockard in Ibsen’s magnificent “Enemy of the People”, I say “I’m sorry, but the water is poisoned. It is POISONEDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD!! POISONEDDDDDDDDDDDD!!

  109. #109 Blake Stacey
    April 15, 2007

    You know what Carl Sagan’s #1 rule was for explaining science to the lay masses?

    Don’t use jargon.

    No kidding. Each branch of science has its own, specialized vocabulary with which scientists can communicate thoughts to one another quickly and precisely. (Aren’t you glad your doctor doesn’t have to describe your problem as “a sick feeling in the tummy”?) An audience not familiar with these terms will only be confused. There’s no reason to talk down to them; just avoid confusing them.

    In one paragraph of The Demon-Haunted World, one can find more practical advice than in this entire “framing” brouhaha.

    Don’t forget, Sagan is the communicator whom everybody admires — the guy Dawkins is supposed to improve himself by emulating!

    (Read The Varieties of Scientific Experience if you think that Sagan was an “appeaser”. Listen to what he says in there: the problem of evil is a big one, you can’t logically jump from the Einsteinian or Spinozan “God” to the Christian, evolution can explain the origin of morality. . . .)

    inkadu suggests the following as “framing”:

    Evolution says nothing about the origin of life, or the origin of the cosmos. And many believing, devout Christians these days no longer look for scientific answers in the bible, but use it as a source of contemplation of divinity. When this country was founded, it was by rational, scientific men, who believed in God, but acknowledged that man’s reason ws able to unlock some of the mysteries of the universe. Since that time, God has remained a steady part of the private lives of Americans, while science has improved the public lives of millions.

    I like this (as propaganda) except for the first sentence. Evolution does have something to say about the origin of life: as soon as molecules were able to make the crudest copies of themselves, natural selection came into play, even though these molecules were not complete cells and only hinted at the possibility of organisms. While many questions about abiogenesis remain to be answered, the division between abiogensis and the development of “ordinary life” — the change from “chemical evolution” to “biological evolution” — is more rhetorical than scientific.

    Sometimes creationists say things like, “Evolution doesn’t explain the origins of life!” The common reply is that that’s the domain of abiogenesis, not evolution, with the implied suggestion that the creationist should go away and quit bugging us.

    That’s a cop-out.

    (PZ Myers)

    Also, what good does it do to say that “evolution says nothing about the origin of the Cosmos”? It’s true, but it’s not helpful. Other scientific discoveries tell us about how the whole shebang got started. Creationists don’t get upset because an idea was described by Charles Darwin; they get upset because the idea conflicts with the invisible force field surrounding the Bible which they revere but haven’t actually read. Whether the heresy comes from a biology book or a physics book doesn’t matter — it’s still heresy.

    Even if we say that natural selection didn’t apply to the first proto-biological molecules — if we stretch the truth in the interests of rhetoric — it won’t do us any good. Creationists have tried for years to poke holes in the Miller-Urey experiment and its successors. Do they care that we put it under a slightly different umbrella than the later history of life? No. They can still tell that it threatens their faith.

    Chemistry, biology, astrophysics? Burn all the books. God will know His own.

    One big problem with this whole “framing” thing is that it presumes the people we’re trying to educate are busy, short-sighted, uninformed but basically honest. But guess what? The honest folk of America have nuclei of pure evil in their midst, professional liars and authoritarian power-trippers who will counter every “reason is a gift of God” with a “Darwinism caused the Nazis.”

    Please tell me how tweaking the phrasing on our press releases will change that.

  110. #110 Caledonian
    April 15, 2007

    In fact, Caledonian, Colugo, Coturnix, and all others whose name start with C who have proposed that religion and science are compatible, are partially, if not completely wrong.

    You really ARE new here, aren’t you.

  111. #111 tinisoli
    April 15, 2007

    Folks, you should also check out David Brooks’ column today in the Times and pile on. He’s peddling the usual misunderstanding of evolution, and we need to let him know he’s a fool who should stay away from evolution until he actually learns how it works. Here’s one nugget of poop:

    “The logic of evolution explains why people vie for status, form groups, fall in love and cherish their young. It holds that most everything that exists does so for a purpose.”

  112. #112 David Wilford
    April 15, 2007

    Slavery was wrong back in 1860, but Lincoln had to face that fact that nearly all white American males were racists when it came to the rights of blacks. So when he framed the issue back in 1858 (in the great debates with Stephen Douglas) and 1860, he didn’t go with a strict abolitionsist stance, but with a position that states and territories should be free to not allow slavery, which ran counter to the ruling in Dred Scott that slaves were property that could be taken anywhere in the U.S. Lincoln was elected in 1860 not on the basis of freeing the slaves, but on stopping the spread of the “peculiar institution” of slavery. Some, like Frederick Douglas, were disappointed that Lincoln wasn’t more fervent on emancipation, but later said that given the fact that the vast majority of whites were racists that Lincoln did the best he could with what he had to work with.

    Now we’re faced with the not-so-great atheist/theist debate, where the vast majority of Americans are theists. Whether Dawkins is right or not (and I think he *is* right), the fact is that Americans have conflated morality with religion, and attempts to prove religion wrong are going to run up against that warm and fuzzy fact. So how do you try and promote a pro-scientific agenda? I think, as Mooney would have it, the frame needs to be placed not on strictly fighting a atheist/theist struggle, but rather on a frame that sticks to the scientific facts which underlie evolution. PZ, you already have a huge stick to beat upon creationists with that does contradict the theistic paradigm and I’m glad you beat them with that. But when you enter into debates about theism itself, the theists are free to lambast you for being mean (and thus implicitly immoral), just as pro-slavery politicians were free to blast William Seward back in 1860 for taking a harder line on the moral wrong of slavery, by appealing to the racism people had. I’ve had conversations with Catholics about how Dawkins and Dan Dennett’s statements on religion are somehow “disrespectful”, which of course they aren’t as both Dawkins and Dennett are very polite in their words on the subject of religion, but the fact that they simply question the notion of the big teddy bear in the sky is seen as being mean. Needless to say, I think a direct frontal assult on faith is impossible because believers themselves will just embrace their beliefs even more as they’re questioned about them directly.

    I think framing the issue of evolution based on a “just the facts m’am” basis works best, because as Jon Stewart might put it, the facts are pro-evolution. Framing it on the basis of “natural theology is wrong” isn’t going to work (even if it is true that natural theology is so much wishful thinking) because people are theists not because they’re strict believers in Creation, but because they’ve conflated morality with religious belief. A better tack to take regarding the validity of theism is as simple as asking the age old question “Is something good because God says it it, or does God say it because it is objectively good?” That’ll eventually lead to some great discussion about the evolutionary roots of morality, and you can whip out some pertinent facts from Frans de Waal on them on the subject. Because as appealing as religious fairy tales can be (and they are good stories, for the most part), what appeals even more to people is actual knowledge. To think that much of our morality has a basis in our evolutionary past is a very powerful fact, and one that a better frame about morality (and thus the basis of theism itself) can be built around.

  113. #113 bigTom
    April 15, 2007

    inkadu:
    I meant essentially what I said. Simply be cognizant of the possible effect. You can make your own judgement as to how or whether a modification of your choosen course should be made. Your course won’t always be optimal, but it will be better than it would have been had you not given the Short-War some thought.

  114. #114 Franesco Franco
    April 15, 2007

    Lincoln was a POLITICIAN, not a scientist!! LOL!!!!!!

  115. #115 Austin Cline
    April 15, 2007

    I think framing the issue of evolution based on a “just the facts m’am” basis works best, because as Jon Stewart might put it, the facts are pro-evolution.

    The facts are also anti-traditional-religious-beliefs. Do you imagine that believers are too dim to recognize this and react accordingly? If they aren’t, then what have you ultimately gained?

    In the end, the question to you is the same one to Mooney and Nisbet: if you think that one approach is so superior, and the other so inferior, that the inferior one must be abandoned in favor of the superior, then don’t you think you have an obligation to provide evidence?

    I don’t think that anyone has suggested that no one should take an approach along the lines of “just the facts, and no direct assault on traditional religious beliefs.” People may not think it will get very far, but no one is saying “don’t do it.” Mooney claims that he isn’t saying that “anybody else ought to shut up or stop talking,” but is that credible? Are we really supposed to believe that he’s saying “If the defenders of evolution wanted to give their creationist adversaries a boost, it’s hard to see how they could do better than Richard Dawkins… and I don’t for a minute think that Dawkins should stop. He’s counter-productive and hurting the cause of scientific literacy, but I don’t think he should stop.” Please…

    I’ve had conversations with Catholics about how Dawkins and Dan Dennett’s statements on religion are somehow “disrespectful”, which of course they aren’t as both Dawkins and Dennett are very polite in their words on the subject of religion, but the fact that they simply question the notion of the big teddy bear in the sky is seen as being mean.

    And doesn’t this suggest to you that perhaps there is no way to frame the argument that won’t elicit negative reactions from those who are so wedded to their religious beliefs that they won’t perceive any questioning of or challenge to those beliefs as a threat? If that is indeed the case, then perhaps instead of worrying about whether people like what we are saying, we should focus first and foremost on whether what we are saying is true.

  116. #116 Francesco
    April 15, 2007

    think framing the issue of evolution based on a “just the facts m’am” basis works best, because as Jon Stewart might put it, the facts are pro-evolution.

    But the whole premise of M % N’s article is that the facts just aren’t enough. In fact, they may be dangerous if they lead to conclusions contradictory to the dogmas of the irrationalist majority: virgin birth is impossible, resurrection and miracles go against all the laws of physics and biology, etc, etc, etc, etc…

    We must “frame” these things differently: let’s see: Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, but we think he may have been a very special person. I’ve tried it….you will be DAMNED to the fiery furnace!!

  117. #117 BlueIndependent
    April 15, 2007

    The only tack that need be taken is to tell (or correct, as the case may be) the history and positive ramifications of evolution, what it actually is and says, and how the knowledge gained from it is used. You don’t even have to propose evolution against religion, unless a religious person or group initiates that comparison. It’s usually a fight the religious choose to pick (because, usually, some church elder has told them they must pick that fight), so it’s typically quite easy to find religion stepping in to try to give its false account of the situation. This false account need only be corrected appropriately through explanation and directing of the critical to resources proving the case. The Creation Claims index is about as good as the resourcing gets, a Wikipedia of sorts on the subject.

    I too do not agree with N & M’s assessment of the situation, as good a book as The Repubican War On Science otherwise is (Mooney’s credit of course). Did the “round-earthers” of the past sugar-coat their assertions against flat-earthers? And what of the solar system vs. Earth-centric view of the cosmos? Not even a hardcore religious person would dare attempt those fights, even now. People accept these facts presently because scientists like Galileo dared to show the previously-accepted notion as what it was: false. We see the creationists/IDers insisting evolution is a wrong-headed, incorrect and dubious approach, all while remaining wholly disinterested in understanding what they are criticizing, and literally formulating false claims as proof, at the drop of a hat no less.

  118. #118 David Wilford
    April 15, 2007

    The facts are also anti-traditional-religious-beliefs. Do you imagine that believers are too dim to recognize this and react accordingly? If they aren’t, then what have you ultimately gained?

    The recognition that evolutionary theory is well-supported by the facts, at that creationism is nothing but a pack of suppositions that’s supported only by fallacious arguments. That’s what picking a scientific frame for discussion, rather than a religious one, will accomplish. I know a PZ and others here have played down the decision in Dover v. Kitzmiller, as being but a minor setback to creationism, but I beg to differ. I think the identification of “intelligent design” as being a variant of creationism has severely set back the creationists, as their great pseudo-scientific hope was seen for exactly what it is and emphatically judged as such in a court of law. That has some force which other school districts who want to flirt with creationism can have their noses rubbed in with the word “litigation” mentioned along with “we will take your sorry asses to the cleaners in court if you try to foist this B.S. on our schools.” It’s one thing to talk about this with fundie morons on the interwebs, but quite another in a court of law.

  119. #119 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 15, 2007

    Initially I expected N&M to give an analysis that yielded some general strategies, and I expected them up front. Or at least an invitation to contribute to what the authors couldn’t produce themselves.

    Even if the original article was behind a pay-per-view wall, and N&M didn’t care to define their version of framing elsewhere, any substance in the analysis would have trickled out. It did not.

    This is the crucial point for me. N&M doesn’t seem interested in definitions, substantiated facts, general strategies or flexibility. They are still rigidly confining their debate to the US social scene, and judging an international agent as Dawkins by those terms. They don’t deliver what they should have, and I no longer expect any more.

    JJR mentioned an old but good example of promoting a difficult social agenda, gay rights. From that single example one can draw many examples of strategies. With the added plus that these strategies are known to be successful.

    The complaint that some strategies are too slow is about as often mentioned and seems as unsubstantiated as Dawkins “failure to explain hot-button issues”. What are the specific time frames?

    And as Dawkins is the favorite example here, how long has it taken him to move the extreme of the debate he engages in? Not very long, I think. (Btw, another known successful strategy. Just saying.)

  120. #120 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 15, 2007

    Initially I expected N&M to give an analysis that yielded some general strategies, and I expected them up front. Or at least an invitation to contribute to what the authors couldn’t produce themselves.

    Even if the original article was behind a pay-per-view wall, and N&M didn’t care to define their version of framing elsewhere, any substance in the analysis would have trickled out. It did not.

    This is the crucial point for me. N&M doesn’t seem interested in definitions, substantiated facts, general strategies or flexibility. They are still rigidly confining their debate to the US social scene, and judging an international agent as Dawkins by those terms. They don’t deliver what they should have, and I no longer expect any more.

    JJR mentioned an old but good example of promoting a difficult social agenda, gay rights. From that single example one can draw many examples of strategies. With the added plus that these strategies are known to be successful.

    The complaint that some strategies are too slow is about as often mentioned and seems as unsubstantiated as Dawkins “failure to explain hot-button issues”. What are the specific time frames?

    And as Dawkins is the favorite example here, how long has it taken him to move the extreme of the debate he engages in? Not very long, I think. (Btw, another known successful strategy. Just saying.)

  121. #121 Francesco
    April 15, 2007

    You can’t be serious, Brian!! But your “hell does not exist” frame and all that dismissive condescension toward nonsense? Won’t that offend many and undermine the short-term war?? (;

  122. #122 inkadu
    April 15, 2007

    bigTom and Blake Stacey —

    I think the question of cosmogenesis is an excellent tool to look at short war v. long war. Blake, you said it’s a non-sequitur. But if you’ve spent enough time arguing evolution, someone will attempt to make the claim that evolution doesn’t explain how the universe was created. This is largely because most arguments about evolution are really arguments about whether God manipulates the universe or not.

    And this is where the short/long warriors might differ. Both would say, “Cosmogenesis has nothing to do with evolution.” A Short Warrior, wanting to focus the debate on on evolution might add, “And even scientists don’t know what happened before the big bang.” That would leave the possibility open for a God. A Long Warrior would further add all the arguments against God as the Prime Mover. However, I have no idea how you fit that level of philosophical complexity into a sound bite.

    But, honestly, Ye Long Warriors, what is wrong with taking someone who thinks he can’t believe in evolution, because he believes God created the universe, and showing him that he can believe in evolution, and yet still believe in God? That’s still movement forward. Unless, of course, that by leaving that door open, we enable our enemies more than we help ourselves… that’s an open question.

    If I seem all over the place, it’s because this very debate itself is ill-framed. If it’s just, as bigThom asks, that we’re all aware of the tactical situation (and this applies to the Short Warriors, too), then all well and good. What any scientists actually says depends on the scientist, the venue, the questions, the context, etc.

    But, to again be super-repetitive, this sturm and drang is a response, valid I think, that one half of our team is being asked to STFU.

  123. #123 David Wilford
    April 15, 2007

    But the whole premise of M % N’s article is that the facts just aren’t enough.

    True, it’s the context the facts are presented in that matters, and I think that’s clear. It’s true that when Dawkins argues against religion that he relies in part on evolutionary theory and fact. I think that’s only fair on Dawkins’ part and that Mooney and Nisbet unfairly use him as a whipping boy for their own framing argument. What is Dawkins supposed to do, if not draw on his own considerable knowledge on the subject of evolution when making his case about religion? What I would have rather seen Mooney and Nisbet do is say that when it comes to the vast majority of believers, it is also necessary to frame a debate about science that isn’t conflated with faith, ESPECIALLY IF THAT”S WHAT THE FUNDIE NIMRODS CHOOSE TO INVOKE WHEN ATTACKING EVOLUTION. In fact, that’s when you can hand their asses to them, ala Kitzmiller v. Dover.

  124. #124 Blake Stacey
    April 15, 2007

    inkadu:

    Once we stop wringing our hands about meta-topics like framing and roll up our sleeves and get to work, we immediately run into some serious problems.

    Yes. Yes. Yes!

    Next question: why has it taken so long for someone to put up a text for “framing”, and why did we have to wait for a random, pseudonymous blog commenter to do it?

    I would like to see two books come out of this. The first is entitled Creationism: The Unholy Lie, and the second is A Guide to Popularizing Science. The Sagans and Feynmans have given us a great deal of practical advice on explaining science to a non-technical audience, and it would be very nice to see that advice collected in one place, along with suggestions on balancing popularization with a research and teaching career.

  125. #125 inkadu
    April 15, 2007

    David Wilford: It’s one thing to talk about this with fundie morons on the interwebs, but quite another in a court of law.

    If public opinion was decided in a court of law, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    The scientific frame is a fine frame, but there is no media interview that is going to let a scientists get out of an interview about evolution vs creationism without bringing up God, or at least religion. We need to be prepared to fight on that ground as well.

  126. #126 windy
    April 15, 2007

    “Leave aside for a moment the validity of Dawkins’s arguments against religion. The fact remains: The public cannot be expected to differentiate between his advocacy of evolution and his atheism.”

    Funny: people have no trouble differentiating between convenient and inconvenient parts of the Bible (like not eating shellfish or giving away all your possessions). But then they supposedly read Dawkins and say “oh dear, his science appeals to me, but how could I accept just a part of his message!”

  127. #127 Francesco
    April 15, 2007

    But, honestly, Ye Long Warriors, what is wrong with taking someone who thinks he can’t believe in evolution, because he believes God created the universe, and showing him that he can believe in evolution, and yet still believe in God

    I don’t see anything wrong with this. I suspect, in fact, that this is the view of the vast majority of people in Europe (even Italy!!). The real question follows: why is the US so damned different in this question of evolution (if we’re going to stick to that). Please don’t tell me it’s just a question of words and “framing” now. This is a very deep problem with the educational system, the culture of anti-intellectualism, and, well, who the hell knows…

  128. #128 Scott Hatfield
    April 15, 2007

    Blake Stacey wrote: “But guess what? The honest folk of America have nuclei of pure evil in their midst, professional liars and authoritarian power-trippers who will counter every “reason is a gift of God” with a “Darwinism caused the Nazis.”

    Right on. And I think these nuclei need to be split, as soon as possible, by the light of truth.

  129. #129 rjb
    April 15, 2007

    I have to chime in here with a different take on this. The “framing” problem is starting to be posed, at least in this discussion, as one of two diametrically-opposed options. Either the “dumb-it-down” option presented by Mooney and Nisbet, or the “in-your-face” option presented by Myers and Dawkins. There’s a lot more subtlety to the types of options used, and I think we can, and should, use a plurality of strategies. BOTH options can work in different situations by different individuals. I’m glad PZ is speaking out as strongly as he is, and I agree with most of what he says. But I don’t use his approach when I talk to people directly (nor does he, based on what he has said in the past about talking to students). I try not to separate out my atheism from my scientific ideas, so I don’t exactly go in for the Mooney-Nisbet approach.

    I think what needs to be done is that more atheist-scientists, with their varying opinions, need to be out in the open. Right now, the public can make Dawkins into the strawman “evil atheist-scientist”, and then put all of us into a category that doesn’t exist. Why?? Because they don’t know Dawkins. Yet, if their friendly neighborhood scientist, who attends PTA meetings, and helps coach the local soccer team, and goes to the park and talks to his neighbors, family, friends, says “Why yes, I am an atheist,” it will start to cut down the strawman and make more people at least THINK about the details that they are being presented. After all, that is the issue.

    So, for framing, I don’t see the issue is either-or, I see it as “more, more, more”. We need more of us speaking publically, writing letters to the editor, giving talks in schools (and, yes, if appropriate, even churches if they’ll have us). I don’t care if it’s in the middle of Wal-Mart. We need to be vocal, and we each need to do it in whatever way we are comfortable.

  130. #130 Brian Coughlan
    April 15, 2007

    You can’t be serious, Brian!! But your “hell does not exist” frame and all that dismissive condescension toward nonsense? Won’t that offend many and undermine the short-term war?? (;

    I am unquestioningly an acolyte of the Harris-Dawkins-Sagan entity, triune and triumphant, and PZ is their prophet. They will rid the world of this curse, once we have crushed the dissenters and 5th columnists in our midst.

  131. #131 inkadu
    April 15, 2007

    Blake Stacey — I don’t know the answer to your question. But is science ready to be popular again? I’ve read that popularizers are not looked upon fondly by their colleagues.

    Francesco – The reason is the United States believes in a personal God, which evolution completely buggers, while Europeans believe in a clockmaker God. As to why the US God is still a personal God, I have no idea. Pig-ignorance, culture, a lack of religious wars, and the separation of Church and State. Take yer pick.

  132. #132 Blake Stacey
    April 15, 2007

    inkadu:

    I think it’s easier now to popularize, though perhaps not as easy as it should be (where’s the data on this kind of thing?). We have, after all, had some truly inspiring trailblazers.

  133. #133 CalGeorge
    April 15, 2007

    Atheism will never give people the warm, fuzzy feeling they get with religion.

    But it will become more acceptable if more of us are loud and proud about our atheism. We just need to keep talking it up.

    If a religious person asks about my atheism, I’m going to ask them:

    Do you think about God all day long? Or just sometimes? When they say “sometimes,” I will reply:

    I was just like you except that, for me, “sometimes” faded into once a week, then once in a while, then eventually never. And you know what? I’m the same person. I did not become a rat. I did not become evil. I merely shed some thoughts that don’t, frankly, make much sense anymore.

    You can do it too.

  134. #134 Austin Cline
    April 15, 2007

    The recognition that evolutionary theory is well-supported by the facts….

    The same facts which contradict their religious beliefs and, therefore, are rejected already? Sure, go on and pull the other one.

    I notice you have no evidence to offer for the idea that Dawkins’ method is inferior while M&N have a superior one to offer — just as M&N have no evidence to offer.

  135. #135 Damien
    April 15, 2007

    “It may take a Collins- as much as I cringe at his apologetics, to bring the masses along one little increment at a time.”

    Given that the US is among the most religious countries in the First World, how were the masses of all those mostly secular countries “brought along”? The New Atheism isn’t that new; maybe the flaming atheists around 1900 worked elsewhere? Or maybe it was insipid state religions. But I don’t think you can learn much without remembering that the US is only one data point. Why is South Korean 50% non-religious?

    For that matter, the US isn’t just one data point — the masses of LA aren’t the masses of Memphis. Minneapolis isn’t Morris.

  136. #136 Anton Mates
    April 15, 2007

    Here’s a comparison. David Attenborough is perhaps the best-liked public figure in Britain; Richard Dawkins manages to irritate people who agree with everything he believes in. I don’t think it’s a betrayal of intellectual integrity to say that sometimes the Attenborough approach is going to be more productive. If, that is, you’re trying to persuade people about evolution. If you’re trying to persuade them about atheism, it’s a rather different question.

    Thing is, Attenborough doesn’t talk about evolution that much in his documentaries. Life on Earth was the last time he really hammered on the age of the Earth and the structure of the evolutionary tree, and even that’s compatible with ID. (Although he is very strong on calling the other apes our relatives.) So I’m not sure he has persuaded many people about evolution, and I think that may be part of the reason he’s so well-liked–you can watch the pretty pictures of animals doing exciting things and enjoy his personal charisma without having to question your cherished beliefs.

    I’m not trying to dump on Attenborough here; he’s probably my single favorite public figure alive today, and I think he’s much better than Dawkins about not injecting his opinions into scientific questions. But I don’t think he’s even trying to sell evolution to people with a faith-based objection to it, whereas that’s a major goal of Dawkins.

    Incidentally, when Attenborough does talk about theism, he openly agrees with Dawkins that there’s empirical evidence against a benevolent deity:

    “Well, if you ask…about that, then you see remarkable things like that earwig and you also see all very beautiful things like hummingbirds, orchids, and so on. But you also ought to think of the other, less attractive things. You ought to think of tapeworms. You ought to think of…well, think of a parasitic worm that lives only in the eyeballs of human beings, boring its way through them, in West Africa, for example, where it’s common, turning people blind. So if you say, “I believe that God designed and created and brought into existence every single species that exists,” then you’ve also got to say, “Well, he, at some stage, decided to bring into existence a worm that’s going to turn people blind.” Now, I find that very difficult to reconcile with notions about a merciful God. And I certainly find it difficult to believe that a God — superhuman, supreme power — would actually do that.”

    Fortunately, the Brits don’t seem to mind all that much.

  137. #137 Dan S.
    April 15, 2007

    David Wilford: “Court decisions about racial integration come to mind, and there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll never go back to racially segregated public schools now.

    Actually, we are currently going back – in far too many cases, essentially have already gone back. It’s de factosegregation rather than de jure (except in the sense that laws and rulings maintaining integration are being continually challenged and struck down – in-the-absense-of-law segregation, perhaps – what would that be in Latin?).

  138. #138 matthew
    April 15, 2007

    Mike:

    “PZ isn’t even as good an authority on religion as the Pope is on science.”

    Really? I’ve known many a high school student that have a better understanding of science than the pope.

    Pope Benedict XVI: Evolution Cannot Be Proven: http://romancatholicblog.typepad.com/roman_catholic_blog/2007/04/pope_benedict_x.html

  139. #139 Chet
    April 15, 2007

    Mooney and Nisbet have set their sights on seeing a public understanding of science sufficient to support good public policy on issues that turn on science, not on having every church-going American see the light, since they don’t need to get them all in order to achieve their goal.

    Why? Because you say so? It seems pretty obvious to me that in order to achieve the understanding of science you’re talking about, the vast majority of church-going Americans do need an attitude adjustment. For the majority of them, their church represents the greatest obstacle to that understanding.

    Except it doesn’t, only some religion does, but, as it happens, not mine.

    Here we go with the ol’ Theology Tap-Dance. Regardless of what your personal “religion” tells you, it does so on the basis of no good evidence, by definition; thus, it provides cover (+4 AC!) to those who believe other things on the basis of no good evidence.

    It’s precisely that epistemology that prevents a public understanding in the first place. That you employ that epistemology to defend slightly different positions on the basis of no evidence than somebody else, or the specific people PZ was talking about, is immaterial.

  140. #140 Tyler DiPietro
    April 15, 2007

    “Except it doesn’t, only some religion does, but, as it happens, not mine. PZ isn’t even as good an authority on religion as the Pope is on science. But when you don’t have the goods, you make up your ‘facts’ and you shift goalposts all over the field.”

    Translation: WAAAAAHHH PZ’s a meanie for not including my marginal, vague, vacuous and irrelevant nonsense in his general critique of religion. I’ll just pretend that the half of Americans who disbelieve in evolution and an old earth agree with me and fundamentalism is something PZ made up. I’M SAMRT!!!1 FUCK YOU ATHEISTS LOLOLOL!!!!!

  141. #141 steppen wolf
    April 15, 2007

    This Washington Post article is the biggest disservice Mooney and Nisbet could have made to ScienceBlogs and their fellow bloggers: making it look as if bloggers did not have individual stand points, even if often quite close to PZ’s.

    As if all ScienceBloggers and friends thought that “framing turns scientists into guys with suits who have opinions, and puts us in competition with lawyers and bureaucrats in the media”. No offense PZ, but they obviously do not, seeing what a wide variety of responses their article in Science generated.

    They also say that “Myers [...] accused us of appeasing religion”. Well, maybe I missed something, but isn’t that “”science and religion coexistence” message conveyed by church leaders or by scientists who have reconciled the two in their own lives might convince even many devout Christians that evolution is no real threat to faith” a line written purposefully to appease religious believers? Be honest, you are appeasers.

    And for goodness’ sake: is it smart to direct a message to scientists (which are the population with the highest density of atheists) crushing Dawkins in your article? I will let somebody else answer this one.

    Moreover: this is a matter of freedom of speech. Now, because Dawkins is a staunch supporter of education on the theory of evolution, he cannot write a book that is not about evolution, but about atheism and religion in general?

    Nonsense.

  142. #142 Blake Stacey
    April 15, 2007

    It’s interesting that way back, Sean Carroll praised Richard Dawkins for shifting the Overton Window, and now, Mooney and Nisbet are criticizing Dawkins for harmful “framing”. Windows, frames. . . I need a drink. Anybody want to join me in the cold, drizzly, never-voted-for-Nixon state of Massachusetts and investigate some alternate ways of non-knowing?

  143. #143 coturnix
    April 15, 2007

    All those C’s, eh?

    Actually, I am strongly in the Dawkins/Myers camp in the fight against religion:

    Dawkins, Harris and Dennett are changing the landscape of the discourse, forming an environment in which it is possible to talk about atheism and religion on a level field. Without them, we’d be forced to hide our atheism even more than before and allow the fundies to define us as amoral.

    But, I am also strongly in the Mooney/Nisbet camp on framing because it is an entirely different battle:

    Thus, the term ‘framing’ has two meanings and one is discussed by one group and the other meaning by the other group. As the two meanings suggest two different strategies, the two groups think that they disagree with each other.

    But, if you have a hammer, you only see nails. Matt and Chris are not talking about the same battle, about the same fora, about the same audience, or about the same messengers, but if all you care about is how to defeat religion, you will not notice that there are other battles as well. You will erroneously assume that Chris and Matt are suggesting methods for fighting your favorite battle. And of course you will disagree, as the two battles can sometimes negatively affect each other. Fortunately, people selectively choose sources of information, so the target audiences of the short-term and long-term battles are unlikely to see much of the unintended-for-them messengers.

    I doubt there are many bookstores in the Deep South that carry ‘The God Delusion’. He has not sold millions – more like tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thosands at best. Many of those abroad. Others concentrated in big cities and the coasts (I bet the map of his customers fits well with the map of precincts that voted for Kerry in 04). Bible sells in hundreds of millions.

    So, if you live in Europe or New England, your perception of the world is skewed – all those rational people around you! If you only read science and atheist blogs, you get the erroneous feel that there are many more atheists in America than there really are. Take a slow car trip through the North American continent – the middle of it. Gazillions of very nice, smart people who, due to the upbringing and the surroudning culture thing that atheist=Satan. But you want those people to push Congress to do something about global warming, don’t you? Then think strategically how to talk to them about it. Starting out by telling them they are stupid makes the conversation stop before it ever started.

  144. #144 Stogoe
    April 15, 2007

    Yeah, blah, blah, blah. I live out here in flyover country, coturnix. You don’t have to lecture me about the bugfuck crazies. Hell, you don’t have to tell PZ about the fucking crazies. They got them up in North Flyover as well.

    Tell us what these ‘two’ meanings to framing are, or get bent. Because all I’m really seeing is ‘PZ’s fiery tongue has kicked down the closet door, and that makes us uncomfortable’.

    So my response to them is “show me an example of where appeasement worked,” because all the evidence I’ve seen backs the ‘shout it loud and proud’ method.

    Incidentally, the only use for ‘framing’ I’ve ever seen is never call those fucking misogynist godbags pro-life, because they are objectively not ‘for’ life in any manner of speaking.

  145. #145 Colugo
    April 15, 2007

    It might even be really cunning framing for Nisbet and Mooney to publicly razz PZ and Dawkins as overly militant and counterproductive in order to play “good cop.” This would be part of a larger strategy to keep the two tactics (short term: M&N’s framing) and (long term: New Atheists – Dawkins et al.) separate so the New Atheists draw the fire while the magic of framing does its thing.

    But that’s too clever by half.

  146. #146 Anton Mates
    April 15, 2007

    I doubt there are many bookstores in the Deep South that carry ‘The God Delusion’.

    And of those that don’t, how many do you think carry ‘Finding Darwin’s God?’

    He has not sold millions – more like tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thosands at best.

    About 200,000, according to the Times. But that’s just The God Delusion. The Selfish Gene alone has sold over a million copies.

    Many of those abroad. Others concentrated in big cities and the coasts (I bet the map of his customers fits well with the map of precincts that voted for Kerry in 04). Bible sells in hundreds of millions.

    Again, is there a competing religion-friendly science author who’s selling better than the Bible?

    We know many people won’t listen to anything Dawkins says. Many people won’t listen to scientists, period. If Nisbet and Mooney want to claim that Dawkins is “a particularly stark example of scientists’ failure to explain hot-button issues, such as global warming and evolution, to a wary public”, then they better show some actual evidence that some pro-religion scientist, somewhere, is doing a better job of educating and captivating the public.

    I’ve said it before–I don’t enjoy Dawkins’ books very much myself, and I have lots of quibbles with his take on evolutionary theory, but so far as I can see he’s the most widely-read science writer alive. Nisbet and Mooney need to examine what he’s doing right, and encourage other scientists to emulate it.

  147. #147 Paul Sunstone
    April 15, 2007

    Stogoe says:

    “Yeah, blah, blah, blah. I live out here in flyover country, coturnix. You don’t have to lecture me about the bugfuck crazies. Hell, you don’t have to tell PZ about the fucking crazies. They got them up in North Flyover as well.”

    >snip<

    “So my response to them is “show me an example of where appeasement worked,” because all the evidence I’ve seen backs the ‘shout it loud and proud’ method.”

    “Incidentally, the only use for ‘framing’ I’ve ever seen is never call those fucking misogynist godbags pro-life, because they are objectively not ‘for’ life in any manner of speaking”

    Cool! These science blogs are so de-mystifying. I used to think scientists were rational. Even smart and rational. This is great! I’m learning a lot from these blogs about how science is done by our species of chimpanzee.

  148. #148 MTran
    April 15, 2007

    Ackk! I accidentally posted this on the wrong thread. But it was intended for this one, so I’m trying again.

    The New York Times has an article about the rise of secularity among the US Hispanic population.

    For Some Hispanics, Coming to U.S. Means Abandoning Religion

    What sort of “framing” is going on there?

  149. #149 travc
    April 15, 2007

    It is hard for me to say, but Nisbet and Mooney touch on a valid point even if they don’t manage to express it clearly. A narrow sense of science need not threaten religious beliefs, and still be very important/useful.

    An example…
    I was a TA for an intro bio survey course, and when I got to lecturing on systematics and the evolutionary relationships between major groups I managed to completely avoid any creationist complaints by pointing out one simple fact.

    “You can believe that evolution didn’t ‘really happen’, but biology makes sense when we take evolution as a model. That does not me that evolution is ‘Truth’, but it is a very theory regardless.”

    Science isn’t about the ultimate Truth… it is all about models which allow us to understand and predict thing. A religious person can actually believe that god made everything out of play-doh a few thousand years ago, but for some reason everything looks and behaves in a way consistent with scientific models. Science is still damn useful since it lets us organize facts, predict future events, and create technology.

  150. #150 travc
    April 15, 2007

    Oh, I should add that the “Science is about predictive models, not what ‘really happened'” thing is my suggestion for an actually useful ‘framing’.

  151. #151 Tyler DiPietro
    April 15, 2007

    “Cool! These science blogs are so de-mystifying. I used to think scientists were rational. Even smart and rational. This is great! I’m learning a lot from these blogs about how science is done by our species of chimpanzee.”

    Yes, because out of context snips from one poster are clearly indicative of the quality of the entire site. In other news, your not a useless troll with a useless blog. Don’t go to fucking hell, loser.

  152. #152 Paul Sunstone
    April 15, 2007

    Travc,

    That’s a bit like how the notion of ether was dispensed with in physics, isn’t it? If I correctly recall, ether was deemed to be “real” but without any operational meaning. What you seem to be saying is that we should teach creation might be real, but the notion of creation has no predictive value?

  153. #153 Paul Sunstone
    April 15, 2007

    “Yes, because out of context snips from one poster are clearly indicative of the quality of the entire site. In other news, your not a useless troll with a useless blog. Don’t go to fucking hell, loser.”

    Sorry if I give you the impression I’m trolling. I’m not. I’m genuinely fascinated that such smart and rational people behave like you. It wasn’t what I expected, but I’m open-minded enough to adjust my views of the science community according to what I see, rather than according to what I expect to see. Again, I’m sorry my opinion hurts your feelings, but I’ll stick with it until it’s disproven, Mr. DiPietro.

  154. #154 Tyler DiPietro
    April 15, 2007

    “Sorry if I give you the impression I’m trolling. I’m not. I’m genuinely fascinated that such smart and rational people behave like you.”

    Just curious, what exactly is so peculiar and “fascinating” about anger?

  155. #155 KBT
    April 15, 2007

    “In the meantime, we’ll try to work on their kids so in 20 years this entire discussion becomes unnecessary.”

    I DARE you to work on my kids.

    Bring it on.

  156. #156 Chet
    April 15, 2007

    I DARE you to work on my kids.

    IM IN YUR SCHOOLZ TEACHIN YUR KIDZ

  157. #157 JP
    April 16, 2007

    Um…the fellow who wrote The Blind Watchmaker and The Ancestor’s Tale, two of the best books on evolution for laymen (like me) I’ve come across has failed to explain evolution to the general public exactly how?

    Oh, I suppose they think he should go to their homes and explain everything in words of one syllable, and hand out lots of candy.

  158. #158 cbutterb
    April 16, 2007

    Oh, I should add that the “Science is about predictive models, not what ‘really happened'” thing is my suggestion for an actually useful ‘framing’.

    Science has struggled too long and too hard to attain its well-deserved claim on truth to surrender it just because some idiots in the U.S. need to be placated.

    What you’re proposing is the post-modernist’s pipe dream of science dissolving into the great melting pot of different “ways of knowing”. That’s who it would benefit, not the intended fundie/creationist audience, who don’t care about the distinction between successful mathematical model and metaphysical certitude, but who do sense blood in the water when someone doesn’t have the spine to take his own side in an argument.

    You fail at framing.

  159. #159 Kseniya
    April 16, 2007

    1. Homo sapiens is a species of chimpanzee?

    *scribbles furiously*

    Is that going to be on the test?

    2. I assume “work on their kids” means “promote science education for the next generation up to the standards of our peer nations.” And people are objecting to that because… why?

    3. Guess who just went to the bookstore and blew all her madmoney on copies of The Blind Watchmaker and The Ancestor’s Tale? (I wanted The Demon-Haunted World too, but it was out of stock!)

    4. I, like Scott, hope that one day Caledonian can come to grips with the fact that not everyone believes in God and that it’s no reason to get cranky. ;-)

  160. #160 dkon
    April 16, 2007

    This is a little late in the thread, but want to add my thoughts:

    The path we’ve taken in the past, the cautious avoidance of the scarlet letter of atheism, has not worked. Dawkins represents a different, bolder, more forthright approach — we are staking out a place in the public discourse and openly discussing our concerns, rather than hiding in fear of that old Puritan scowl. We will not go back in the closet.

    There’s a strange logical leap here – one strategy hasn’t been entirely successful, therefore a bolder one will? The example of the gay rights struggle brought up earlier is hardly clear: I think the growth in mainstream acceptance owes at least as much to “soft diplomacy” of pop culture, personal experience, and even support from liberal religious organizations, as it does to pride marches.

    Bottom line, where PZ loses me is that thinks that the most persuasive thing to do is to speak the whole truth as directly as possible. This rarely works with humans: consider approaching an attractive person at a party and telling him/her the honest truth: “I think I wanna sleep with you if you’re not too dumb.”

  161. #161 Patrick
    April 16, 2007

    I think that this whole debate is really missing the point here.

    Most people could not be bothered with the ins and outs of evolutionary theory vs Intelligent Design vs Creation Science.

    The science isn’t really the point. People don’t distrust atheists because they hold eccentric beliefs about the origin of the eye, but because they hold mistaken views about the moral relevance of human beings’ origins. They mistrust atheists because they wrongly think that atheists can’t be good people, or that our good behavior is motivated by mere “feelings” or “preferences.” The idea that you could combat this distrust by pointing our that natural selection is really well confirmed scientifically just seems silly.

    That is, religion deals with certain deep seated human concerns: questions of value, the “meaning of life,” and how to be a good person. What we need to do is divorce those questions from religion, and provide compelling answers to those questions of our own.

    Scientists, rightly, think that these questions aren’t really in their purview. And theists, wrongly, believe that a) believing in God makes sense of things being right and wrong and b) that the atheistic worldview is barren, devoid of anything really matters.

    As long as people believe that the cost of giving up their religious beliefs is giving up a world of meaning, purpose, and value, then all the science lectures, blog posts, and Dawkins polemic isn’t going to help.

    What does this mean for atheists? It isn’t about framing the science. It SHOULD be about creating a convincing account of how the atheistic worldview is one that DOES have the resources for morality and value, broadly construed.

    Sagan did a much better job of this than our current crop of atheists, and unsurprisingly it seems clear he was the most convincing polemicist.

    Dawkins and Dennett don’t even try as far as I can tell. Sam Harris engages in New Ages mystical gobbledygook that seems pretty goofy.

    PZ, in response to these questions, basically says “Make your own meaning.” I mean, except if you are a racist, Scientologist, Nazi, fundie Christian, Republican, robber baron…etc (see, find your own meaning, as long as PZ happens to believe that your project is worthwhile).

    It isn’t that PZ’s actual moral views are mistaken. They seem to be fine. Rather, it is the flippant rejection of these kinds of general questions about value as being meaningless or dumb that I think is counter-productive.

    Anyway, the science isn’t the point. It’s the atheistic, naturalistic worldview (of which science is only a part) that needs to be re-framed.

  162. #162 John B
    April 16, 2007

    I, like Scott, hope that one day Caledonian can come to grips with the fact that not everyone believes in God and that it’s no reason to get cranky. ;-)

    … what has been going on in this thread? If someone has managed to frame Caledonian with god-belief… well, i don’t know what to say.

  163. #163 Felattin' Brayton
    April 16, 2007

    Atheism is the only reason for creationism. Now to go pull down Eddie’s pants…

  164. #164 Ian H Spedding FCD
    April 16, 2007

    Although as an agnostic I still hold that agnosticism is the the most defensible position philosophically – although it is mainly a question of definition – on the much narrower question of religion and the position of atheists in US society I have to agree with Dawkins, Dennett, PZ et al (whoever he is).

    There are many competing claims on public attention so only the loudest, most demanding and most insistent tend to get paid much. I also suspect that, partly for that reason, society as a whole will ignore minority groups until they are able to raise their profile to a level that can no longer be ignored.

    This is exactly what Dawkins and the other militant atheists have recently succeeded in doing. And not only are Mooney and Nisbet’s criticism a measure of that success but it also undermines the authors’ own position.

    Not only have militant atheists been far more successful than other strategies in raising the profile of atheism and forcing it into the arena of public discourse, they have also, by their honesty and unwillingness to trim their views to suit religious sensibilities, freed themselves of any taint of political posturing and ambition.

    The hard fact is that religion and science are bound to clash where religion makes claims about the natural world which science is able to test and find insupportable. Pretending otherwise in order to avoid offending some groups is simply dishonest. This does not mean you have to ram it down their throats but where the conflict appears the truth should be told. Besides, it is also a fact that, in Christianity at least, faith – as in belief held in the absence of evidence – is regarded as a virtue.

    It is probably true that Dawkinsism will have no effect on fundamentalist believers but then neither will anything else. It is also probably true that militant athiests will have little effect on the much larger constituency of more moderate believers. But at least they’ve got them talking about it – and in a way that the less aggressive tactics of M & N have not.

    For an unfairly disadvantaged group to have its claims considered – rather than being patted on the head and told to go away and not bother people – it must first be noticed. It happened with slavery, it happened with women’s suffrage, it happened with civil rights. That is what the non-church militants have done for atheism and science.

  165. #165 Tulse
    April 16, 2007

    I find it supremely ironic that those folks telling scientists to be better communicators and tailor their message to their audience seem to be supremely unconvincing to large sections of their target readership. You’d think they could have “framed” their position better for scientists.

    And I really don’t understand what they are on about as far as public policy and atheism. I have never seen a climate scientist invoke atheism as a reason to believe in global warming — quite the contrary, it is the deniers who often have a Biblical justification for their intransigence. Likewise with stem-cell research. Likewise with HPV vaccines. Likewise with sex education, and AIDS research, and etc. ad nauseum. The only scientific issue where atheism seems to come up on the science side with any regularity is evolution, and while important, that is hardly a short-term survival-threatening public policy issue.

    So, to be clear, while scientists could communicate better about those issues, the whole Uppity Atheist issue is completely separate. That is indeed a Long Warrior issue, but has nothing to do with global warming or stem cells or AIDs education or the like. It is Nisbet and Mooney who are drawing that parallel, not the scientists.

    And yes, scientists could communicate better, but so could economists, and architects, and doctors, and any other profession involving complex topics. Being good at those professions entails skills that are not necessarily the same as those used in effectively explaining things to a lay audience. That is why popularizers, specific people with those specific talents, are so important and valuable.

    Finally, let me add my agreement to those who think that N & M’s position is, in a sense, pandering. While people may not like to hear the content of PZ’s and Dawkins’ arguments, in a very real sense they have a deep respect for the intellect of the people they are trying to reach — they believe in honest, engaged argument with their foes, and see value in treating the beliefs of the individual seriously and addressing why those beliefs are wrong with argument and evidence. It may not be “respectful” (i.e., deferential) as far as the specific beliefs go, but it is profoundly respectful of the individuals that hold them.

    N & M, on the other hand, seem to think that people can be bamboozled and soothed with some fast talk and handwaving. It’s like a kinder and gentler Oz — “no folks, no need to look behind the curtain at the atheist there, just pay attention to the warm fuzzy Non-Overlapping Magisteria!” It avoids offending the sensibiilities of the target audience, but only by treating them as idiots to be manipulated. It is a far more cynical and pessimistic view of humanity than PZ and Dawkins have.

  166. #166 Chris
    April 16, 2007

    That is, religion deals with certain deep seated human concerns: questions of value, the “meaning of life,” and how to be a good person. What we need to do is divorce those questions from religion, and provide compelling answers to those questions of our own.

    The problem with this approach is that it immediately becomes apparent that the universe is BYOV – Bring Your Own Values. There really *isn’t* any meaning and purpose and moral truth “out there” – meaning and purpose are the creations of *minds*, and we have to build our own if we want to have any.

    This is hard for some people to accept, so they swallow *someone else’s* meaning and purpose and believe it is a universal truth. (For example: the book The Purpose-Driven Life is not about how to find your own purpose and drive your life accordingly.) It isn’t. It’s something someone made up. That isn’t necessarily a condemnation – so are all the other systems of meaning and purpose and morality, too – but you ought to at least know what you’re dealing with.

    As long as people believe that the cost of giving up their religious beliefs is giving up a world of meaning, purpose, and value, then all the science lectures, blog posts, and Dawkins polemic isn’t going to help.

    Well, it *is*, in a way. Discarding your illusions means facing the reality that meaning, purpose and value are not things you can find, they are things you have to make. Or someone has to make, at least. And you always have to wonder if whoever made them, made them wrong.

    For some people that’s just as frightening as the realization that death is real and it’s going to happen to you – or even more so. Little wonder that two of the main motivations for adopting religion are that it permits you to dodge both of those inconvenient truths.

    It isn’t that PZ’s actual moral views are mistaken.

    How do you know? How does anyone know? What does it even mean for a moral view to be “mistaken”? What methods can you use to distinguish moral views which are mistaken from those which are not?

  167. #167 Kseniya
    April 16, 2007

    John B:

    … what has been going on in this thread? If someone has managed to frame Caledonian with god-belief… well, i don’t know what to say.

    It started with a simple misunderstanding by a newbie named Scholar that resulted in some unintentional amusement and a few wry responses. Be of good cheer, Scholar, it could happen to anyone, and it gave some of us a grin yesterday. :-)

    By the way, John B…

    Sometimes when I contemplate the American zeitgeist and glance into some possible futures, I see Jefferson, Madison, et al (hmmm, there’s that guy again) appearing as minor footnotes not only in world history, but in American history. This notion depresses me profoundly. But your post (#87) on the role of secularism in public discourse and its importance in maintaining a diverse and pluralistic society really tinkled my chimes. Though it did not address the framing issue in depth, it did touch on some simple but vital truths about what this nation is supposed to be about.

    Spread the good word, brother.

  168. #168 Anton Mates
    April 16, 2007

    What does this mean for atheists? It isn’t about framing the science. It SHOULD be about creating a convincing account of how the atheistic worldview is one that DOES have the resources for morality and value, broadly construed.

    Sagan did a much better job of this than our current crop of atheists, and unsurprisingly it seems clear he was the most convincing polemicist.

    Dawkins and Dennett don’t even try as far as I can tell. Sam Harris engages in New Ages mystical gobbledygook that seems pretty goofy.

    Not so. As I said earlier, two chapters of The God Delusion (“The Roots of Morality: Why Are We Good?” and “The ‘Good’ Book And The Moral Zeitgeist“) are devoted to arguing that morality is not dependent on religion and is often harmed by it. Dennett, I know from references in TGD, discusses the topic in Breaking the Spell. Harris, pseudo-Buddhist goofiness aside, examines correlations between religious belief and morality in Letter to a Christian Nation. All told, I think the current crop puts much more work into demonstrating atheist morality than Sagan did.

    I think Sagan’s writings on the subject are also rather weak from a scientific PoV; think of The Dragons of Eden and all that stuff about the aggressive reptilian part of the brain contesting with the altruistic mammalian part. I loved it as a kid, but it doesn’t bear much resemblance to neurological/psychological reality AFAIK. As for who’s more convincing…dunno, but I don’t particularly recall Sagan’s work kicking off a global era of atheism-acceptance, or even making freethought a major topic of public discussion as Dawkins et al. have done.

    PZ, in response to these questions, basically says “Make your own meaning.” I mean, except if you are a racist, Scientologist, Nazi, fundie Christian, Republican, robber baron…etc (see, find your own meaning, as long as PZ happens to believe that your project is worthwhile).

    It isn’t that PZ’s actual moral views are mistaken. They seem to be fine. Rather, it is the flippant rejection of these kinds of general questions about value as being meaningless or dumb that I think is counter-productive.

    I’m not sure what you mean by the above. PZ explains his ethical reasoning on various issues, and analyzes the reasoning of others, quite often. What else is there to do?

  169. #169 Anton Mates
    April 16, 2007

    There’s a strange logical leap here – one strategy hasn’t been entirely successful, therefore a bolder one will?

    If something doesn’t work, try something else. Seems pretty logical. And of course in this case, both strategies can be followed in parallel; if believers think Dawkins is a jerk and turn to that nice Michael Ruse instead, it’s still a win IMO. That’s the point of moving the Overton window.

    The example of the gay rights struggle brought up earlier is hardly clear: I think the growth in mainstream acceptance owes at least as much to “soft diplomacy” of pop culture, personal experience, and even support from liberal religious organizations, as it does to pride marches.

    I disagree; the pop culture references and the liberal religious support and even most of the personal experiences came after the marches began. The most important thing the pride movement did was simply demonstrate that there were a lot of gay people. Then people became reconciled to the idea that someone they loved might turn out to be among them; and liberal churches had to accept them, because liberal believers don’t like the idea of excluding any large group; and pop culture started depicting them regularly, because pop culture incorporates any group its consumers have all heard about. But none of that could happen until everyone knew there was such a group.

    Bottom line, where PZ loses me is that thinks that the most persuasive thing to do is to speak the whole truth as directly as possible. This rarely works with humans: consider approaching an attractive person at a party and telling him/her the honest truth: “I think I wanna sleep with you if you’re not too dumb.”

    I’d be flattered, personally. And if that is an honest description of your motivations, better they know now than later.

  170. #171 Greg Byshenk
    April 16, 2007

    Let me suggest an alternative way of framing this discussion/debate. I do not suggest
    that this is original, as several other comments have hinted or suggested something
    similar, but have not (so far as I have seen) explicitly stated this.

    It seems to me that there are two different approaches being discussed here, based on
    two different types of goals. And by this I do not mean “atheism vs. anti-atheism” or
    “atheism vs. religion”, but something different: what I will call here “action” vs.
    “understanding”.

    From the “action” side, represented by (for example) Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet,
    the most important matters are seen to be the (more or less) immediate public policy
    concerns, such as action on global climate change. From this perspective, the most
    critical goal is to bring people to support one’s position (one can even assume that
    this is the “correct” position) by the most expedient means. This is not necessarily an
    unreasonably position. Rather like the scene from the film “Pleasantville”, in which
    Tobey Maquire’s character runs to the fire department yelling “fire!” without result,
    and then changes his shouts to “cat!”, causing the fire team to spring into action. If
    one sees the problem as immediate and dangerous (like an out-of-control fire), then the
    most important thing is to do whatever is necessary to move people to act (to put out or
    control the fire), regardless of whether they truly understand the situation.

    On the other hand, from the “understanding” side, represented by (for example) P.Z.
    Myers and Larry Moran, it is precisely understanding that is seen as most important.
    It is true that science figures in more and more public policy issues, but in order to
    make an informed decision on those issues, or to cast an informed vote that might be
    related to those issues, the public must have (at least in some minimal way) some kind
    of understanding of those issues, or at the very least some basic understanding of the
    reason- and evidence-based methods of scientific thinking, and why they are valuable.

    Let me add that I do not intend to paint this contrast as absolute. I do not
    mean to suggest that those supporting “action” are opposed to “understanding”, nor that
    those supporting “understanding” are opposed to “action”, but only to highlight what
    seems to be a difference in what is seen as most important.

    I believe that the “understanding” position is more valuable, but that does not
    mean that the “action” position is necessarily wrong. If there is a truly dangerous
    situation that demands immediate action, then it may well be that the best option is to
    do whatever it takes to produce action — at least in that particular situation. The
    problem is that such can be only a rare occurrence, as there are great risks involved.
    The danger is not only that such a “whatever it takes to produce action” course does
    not lead to understanding (after all, it is not intended to do so), but more importantly,
    that it can hinder the development of understanding.

    That is, by using whatever tools might be required (“spin”, rhetoric, etc.), a
    scientist not only reinforces the validity of those tools (in contrast to reason and
    evidence), but further runs the risk of undermining his or her legitimate authority
    that is based on reason- and evidence-based scientific thinking. If one adopts the
    methods of the marketers, then one’s voice becomes nothing more than that of another
    marketer — even if one’s product is a good one. Or, to put it differently, one
    cannot promote reason- and evidence-based thinking by engaging in something else.

    In relation to “framing”, the problem (as someone else has already pointed out) is
    that it is precisely the reason- and evidence-based “frame” of scientific thinking that
    makes science valuable. Thus, “reframing” scientific matters for the public is throwing
    out the baby while keeping the bathwater. Thus — unless there is, on some rare occasion,
    some immediate and extreme danger requiring immediate action — the appropriate use of
    “framing” must be to pull the general public into the reason- and evidence-based frame
    of science, rather than hoping to pull in the rubes by reframing science.

  171. #172 Kevin Miller
    April 16, 2007

    Just wanted to respond to something PZ said at the beginning of this comments section: “The conflict in the public mind is far simpler: did God design people, or didn’t he? Religion affirms the former, science says no.”

    I would agree with the first part of this assessment, that the debate is over whether or not God designed people. However, I disagree with the second part. Religion definitely affirms this view in principle, even though it doesn’t claim to know how God did it. But science can’t say one way or the other whether God designed people, because science is the study of material processes, and God, according to most definitions, is immaterial. So scientists can describe how human beings are formed, and they can say they see no evidence of some unseen, immaterial intelligence tinkering with our DNA. Fine. But that still doesn’t preclude the possibility that God is somewhere beyond our ability to observe and that he/she/it saw fit to set up the universe so that it would eventually develop the ability to form human DNA. Science cannot confirm or disconfirm what it cannot observer. Any philosophy 101 or biology 101 student knows that.

    Which makes me wonder: Why make such grand, sweeping philosophical statements in the name of science when you know full well there is no way you can substantiate them empirically? Why not just stay out of religion and philosophy the same way you want religious people to stay out of science? That’s the problem with people like you and Dawkins, PZ–your philosophy wouldn’t pass muster in a philosophy 101 class, and yet it’s broadcast far and wide with the full backing of the scientific establishment. It’s as ridiculous as someone who only knows the Bible walking into a science class and making grand pronouncements about science based on his or her knowledge of Scripture. That’s exactly how you come across whenever you make statements like this.

  172. #173 Kevin Miller
    April 16, 2007

    PZ: Once again, I couldn’t agree with you more–right up until you said this: “It does rather clearly leave that unnecessary god completely out of the picture.”

    If you read my post, I wasn’t disputing science’s ability to fully comprehend the mechanisms and processes that brought humans into existence. I was merely questioning whether such knowledge enables us to make definitive pronouncements about God’s existence. Any reasonable person can see that it doesn’t. That would make about as much sense as studying the mechanisms and processes that lead to the production of a Ferrari and then concluding that, seeing as you now understand the production process, you can safely conclude that there was no designer behind it. Once you change from an emotionally charged context to a more benign situation, it’s plain to see your reasoning doesn’t hold up.

    Speaking of emotionally charged, you go on to say, “If you want to argue it, show evidence otherwise.” This challenge shows that you’re missing the point entirely, PZ. I’m not proof-texting my evidence against yours. I’m merely saying that you are extrapolating way beyond the evidence and making definitive truth claims. As the poster above says, doing so is a losing proposition. And when you do this, you’re no better than the creationists you oppose. You’re entitled to your opinions, PZ, but don’t conflate them with the facts. That’s what Mooney was getting after you about.

  173. #174 Greg Byshenk
    April 16, 2007

    Ben, it is true that there is nothing in principle wrong with speculative
    hypotheses — provided that they are at least not inconsistent with the
    evidence already available. The problem with the “god” hypothesis is to come up
    with one that is both a) not disproved by the available evidence, and b) non-vacuous.
    For example, the non-interventionist, Deist, “creator of the universe” ‘god’ is
    certainly possible, and not in any way inconsistent with what we know about
    the universe. The problem is that such a ‘god’ hypothesis is vacuous, because,
    so far as we can know about such a ‘god’, its existence is precisely equivalent to its
    non-existence.

  174. #175 Patrick
    April 16, 2007

    Anton, I believe you missed my point.

    I am not saying that these “militant” atheists never talk about morality, use moral terms, or discuss the relationship between morality and religion. It is rather that they do not really provide a thorough discussion of a)how our lives can be meaningful in the face of our apparent insignificance and b)what our morality is based on besides preference.

    The religious person hears Dennett or Dawkins use a moral term and just shrugs his shoulders: it is just an expression of preference (or so the religious person says).

    And glib responses like Chris’s just make it worse. The universe is “bring your own values” and “make your own values.”

    What does that mean exactly? Does it mean that the Nazis have their values and we have ours? And neither of us is right? People like Chris BUY INTO the claim that atheism demands moral relativism.

    But many of us are more confident that there is something REALLY wrong about slavery and genocide than we are that God doesn’t exist (though I must admit I am fairly confident of both propositions). If the cost of atheism is that there is nothing really wrong with slavery, then that seems like a fairly high cost

    People like Chris might assert that it is just “obviously true” that there are no objective values in the atheistic worldview. But that isn’t an argument. And it is a deeply impoverished view of the world when stated as a bumper sticker.

    –Nota bene: As a Kantian constructivist, I do think that something like “We make our own values” is true, but I don’t think it implies relativism. The point is that there are alternatives out there, and atheists should be making this point more forcefully.

  175. #176 windy
    April 16, 2007

    If you read my post, I wasn’t disputing science’s ability to fully comprehend the mechanisms and processes that brought humans into existence. I was merely questioning whether such knowledge enables us to make definitive pronouncements about God’s existence. Any reasonable person can see that it doesn’t. That would make about as much sense as studying the mechanisms and processes that lead to the production of a Ferrari and then concluding that, seeing as you now understand the production process, you can safely conclude that there was no designer behind it. Once you change from an emotionally charged context to a more benign situation, it’s plain to see your reasoning doesn’t hold up.

    What an intellectually dishonest comparison to make. We know exactly how the car designer contributes to the process of making a Ferrari.

    Would you agree that since we understand the chocolate making process, we can safely conclude that Oompa Loompas are not behind it?

    (Safely = with the usual scientific caveats, while not losing any sleep over it)

  176. #177 windy
    April 16, 2007

    If the cost of atheism is that there is nothing really wrong with slavery, then that seems like a fairly high cost.

    That seems to be a cost shared with every major religion on the planet, with the possible exception of Buddhism (although even here the historical record says something else).

    What is it that you want, anyway? For the universe to step in and say “slavery is wrong, mmkay?”

  177. #178 MTran
    April 16, 2007

    There’s a strange logical leap here – one strategy hasn’t been entirely successful, therefore a bolder one will?

    Well, given the clear fact that quieter strategies have gone nowhere, yes, it does make sense to try something a little different. Maybe something that can actually be heard.

    Bottom line, where PZ loses me is that thinks that the most persuasive thing to do is to speak the whole truth as directly as possible.

    Yeah, people don’t like to be told they are wrong. What else is new?

    I once heard a woman on a call-in radio medical program blast the host for telling parents not to put newborns on bean-bag chairs because of high potential for death by suffocation.

    The caller’s infant had died that way and she resented the implication that it was her fault. The doctor was hurting her feelings! Better stay quiet about that stuff, better for babies to die than mothers to feel bad.

    The example of the gay rights struggle brought up earlier is hardly clear

    Okay, so let’s drop the gay rights movement, which had portions of both intellectual discource and in your face demonstrations.

    How about looking at a few different analogies: Drunk driving laws and no-smoking ordinances.

    Arrogance and ignorance supported unrestricted smoking in the workplace and an attitude of “boys will be boys” perpetuated drunk driving until a whole bunch of people got howling mad. First they were marginalized but, after many years of LOUD and continuous effort, substantial shifts in social attitudes and the law were made.

  178. #179 Kevin Miller
    April 16, 2007

    Windy:

    There was nothing intellectually dishonest about my comparison. Of course we know how the car designer contributes to the making of a Ferrari. The point is, just because we know how something works, does that allow us to dispense with the designer? Definitely not. Your Oompa Loompa example is completely spurious.

  179. #180 windy
    April 16, 2007

    Of course we know how the car designer contributes to the making of a Ferrari. The point is, just because we know how something works, does that allow us to dispense with the designer?

    No, because designers are a necessary part of the explanation for the occurrence of cars. Not so for the occurrence of humans.

    Your Oompa Loompa example is completely spurious.

    So do you feel it’s safe to exclude Oompa Loompas, or not?

  180. #181 Kseniya
    April 16, 2007

    Hey! Leave my Oompa Loompas alone! I’ve seeeeeen them!

    The point is, just because we know how something works, does that allow us to dispense with the designer?

    If we know how something works, why should we assume a designer? Why? Why, when the designer leaves or offers no evidence whatsoever of his existence, and our knowledge of how something works includes the knowledge that a designer is neither indicated nor required, why should we NOT dispense with the notion that there must be a designer?

    Allowing for the possibility of discovering the designer is, as Caledonian and others have pointed out many times, built into the scientific method. If the designer shows up, then we modify the knowledge base and start building a “credits” page. But until then, why bother? Why?

    (Yes, I am six years old.) :-)

  181. #182 Anton Mates
    April 16, 2007

    Some very prominent scientists, particularly, physicists have offered up hypotheses regarding “multi-verses” and extra-terrestrials. Even Crick offered up the “panspermia” hypothesis.

    None of these have evidentiary support — yet they are not dismissed as quackery. They are investigated, discussed and debated as unproven hypotheses.

    Sure, they have evidentiary support. Evidence for multiverses includes, for instance, the successful predictions of quantum theory (coupled with parsimony arguments for the many-worlds interpretation). Evidence for panspermia and ET life includes the presence in space of large quantities of organic compounds, the ubiquity of planetary systems, and the vastness and age of the universe.

    This isn’t dramatically persuasive evidence, and in some cases there seems to be much more evidence for an alternative hypothesis, but it is evidence, and roughly a billion times stronger than the evidence for the universe being created by an all-powerful, all-wise intelligence that existed outside and before all laws of nature. Moreover, the scientists who play with these notions generally don’t claim to believe in panspermia/multiverses/whatever. They just consider the possibility significant enough to explore.

    Same with God. If scientists hold out the posibility, that we will one day obtain evidence of extra-terrestial life or evidence of another universe, then they cannot entirely close the door to obtaining such evidence about God.

    I think the monotheist God’s general omni-ness means that the parallel doesn’t hold; no conceivable evidence could prove the existence of a being with dominion over all material reality.

    Pushing atheism is a losing proposition, when so many scientists, implicitly, if not explicitly, propound unproven, untestable hypotheses.

    If many scientists really do propound unproven, untestable hypotheses, then they should be encouraged not to do so. More scientists speaking out again the unproven, untestable God hypothesis would be a good first step in this regard.

  182. #183 Anton Mates
    April 17, 2007

    I was merely questioning whether such knowledge enables us to make definitive pronouncements about God’s existence. Any reasonable person can see that it doesn’t. That would make about as much sense as studying the mechanisms and processes that lead to the production of a Ferrari and then concluding that, seeing as you now understand the production process, you can safely conclude that there was no designer behind it.

    Why would you conclude that? The mechanisms and processes leading to the production of a Ferrari involve a bunch of humans sitting at drawing boards and computers, designing it. If you study said processes, you’ll see ‘em. If Ferraris regularly just grew out of the ground or something, it would be quite reasonable to conclude there’s no designer.

    Under what conditions would you say you can safely conclude there’s no designer of some object? If none, doesn’t that strip the statement “X was designed” of all meaning?

    Speaking of emotionally charged, you go on to say, “If you want to argue it, show evidence otherwise.” This challenge shows that you’re missing the point entirely, PZ. I’m not proof-texting my evidence against yours.

    But PZ’s original point was that the average American–remember, this is about the “public mind”–is making use of their evidence. Most people do not believe in a God who is completely undetectable and provides no evidence for its existence whatsoever but, hey, you can’t prove it’s not there. Most people believe in a God who demonstrates its existence through historical miracles and angelic visitations and inexplicable healings and all sorts of stuff. Hell, even Ken Miller, who’s frequently declared that God is orthogonal to science, believes in things like the virgin birth–and he recognizes that this is scientifically nonsensical but says, “Well, that’s why it’s a miracle.”

    If you tell people, “You can have your gods, you just have to accept that they’ve never done anything to announce their presence,” and they listen, that’s terrific. But I don’t think most people will listen. If they did, Bishop Spong would be the Pope of America by now.

    Most Americans, according to every poll I’ve seen, want a God that does stuff.

  183. #184 Anton Mates
    April 17, 2007

    I am not saying that these “militant” atheists never talk about morality, use moral terms, or discuss the relationship between morality and religion. It is rather that they do not really provide a thorough discussion of a)how our lives can be meaningful in the face of our apparent insignificance and

    Dawkins philosophizes about the significance of the individual life all the time. See, for instance, the section entitled ‘Inspiration’ near the end of TGD. I’m not sure what you mean by “thorough”–convincing to you? Personally, I know how my life can be meaningful–my mind makes my meaning, so who cares how insignificant the rest of the universe considers me?

    b)what our morality is based on besides preference.

    See TGD, Chapter 6 in its entirety. Evolutionary origins of morality; experimental attempts to find universals of human moral behavior; and a subsection entitled “If there is no God, why be good?”

    The religious person hears Dennett or Dawkins use a moral term and just shrugs his shoulders: it is just an expression of preference (or so the religious person says).

    Such a religious person does not change his opinion on this matter if the atheists protest that their morals are solid and objective. Have you noticed that Kantian or Objectivist or utilitarian atheists are particularly more accepted or liked by believers? I haven’t.

    And glib responses like Chris’s just make it worse. The universe is “bring your own values” and “make your own values.”

    What does that mean exactly?

    Does it mean that the Nazis have their values and we have ours?

    Yup.

    And neither of us is right?

    We think we’re right; the Nazis think they’re right. Both of us behave accordingly. That includes, for instance, us fighting very hard to enforce our differing values on the other. Notice that the actual outcome, in terms of the way we all think and behave, is indistinguishable from the case where the Nazis are objectively actually right, or we are.

    Thus, asking who’s “really” right is no more meaningful than asking who’s really right in a candy/crap taste test, you or a dung beetle.

    People like Chris BUY INTO the claim that atheism demands moral relativism.

    No, not as I think you’re using the term. “Moral relativism,” as used pejoratively, generally means the idea that it’s right for different people/cultures/faiths to do what they think is right, even if we find it abhorrent. Which, you’ll notice, is a morally objectivist position (and internally inconsistent, which is part of why almost nobody actually holds it.)

    My position, at least, is that “it’s right to do X” doesn’t mean anything in the first place when divorced from a particular mind. Different people/cultures/faiths do think different things are right and wrong, and they behave accordingly. Some of those things fit with my own values, others don’t, and I support or oppose them accordingly.

    And no, I don’t think atheism demands this; I think the arguments for subjective or objective morality stand or fall on their own, regardless of whether you think there’s a god.

    But many of us are more confident that there is something REALLY wrong about slavery and genocide than we are that God doesn’t exist (though I must admit I am fairly confident of both propositions).

    What of that? Many of us are also more confident that God does exist than that he doesn’t.

    If the cost of atheism is that there is nothing really wrong with slavery, then that seems like a fairly high cost

    If you believe in objective morality, what does the above even mean? If slavery is “really” wrong, how could you erase that fact by converting to atheism?

    And as others have noted, virtually every religion on the planet has formerly claimed that there’s nothing really wrong with slavery, so we’re kind of out of luck there. Fortunately, if you’re a moral subjectivist, you don’t have to worry about whether your god or priest or political leader has condemned slavery yet; you can simply observe that you find slavery morally repugnant, then have the courage of your convictions.

    People like Chris might assert that it is just “obviously true” that there are no objective values in the atheistic worldview.

    I dunno about him, but I would assert that there are no objective values in any worldview. Religious viewpoints often include the belief that someone very big and wise and powerful is telling you to follow their values, but that doesn’t make them any more or less objective. One of Dawkins’ main arguments aimed towards, for instance, Abrahamic believers, is that they already don’t follow the values objectively laid down on their sacred texts, but modify them to suit the modern zeitgeist. I don’t see much need to claim that atheists are just as morally objective as believers, if you can demonstrate that believers are just as morally subjective as atheists.

    But that isn’t an argument. And it is a deeply impoverished view of the world when stated as a bumper sticker.

    Your main objection, it seems to me, is that not enough prominent atheist authors actually agree with you about morality being objective. So why not write something to persuade them, or plug the works of atheist authors who are moral objectivists, or something?

    Heck, why not try to persuade us? If I’m wrong about morality being subjective, I’d like to know about it; and even if I’m right, well, as you say, there’re some believers out there who would be reassured to know one more atheist believes in objective values.

  184. #185 Peter Kemp (Aussie Lawyer)
    April 17, 2007

    “But he stands as a particularly stark example of scientists’ failure to explain hot-button issues, such as global warming and evolution, to a wary public.”

    Failure to explain evolution indeed! When the likes of Pat Robertson and other loony theists are poisoning and corrupting the wells of US education? WTF, these guys expect Dawkins et al with few and far between soundbites on liberal mass media outlets to explain evolution–to the f###en rednecks who’d never buy a scientific book???

    To put this in perspective, this is a problem in the US and other nations where fundamentalism is prevalent.In Australia for example church attendance is about 5% and the Discovery Institute offshoots (whatever) have little influence. With my 1969 Biology 101 [part of a failed engineering degree] (Professor Birch), I have no trouble shooting the ID crowd here down in flames eg:

    “Populations where antibiotic resistence developes, when reintroduced to wild strain cultures, are wiped out by Natural Selection.”

    My reply:
    THE HARPIC THEORY OF NATURAL SELECTION:
    ‘ROUND THE BEND’ AND IT PUTS THE MORE FIT,
    INTO THE SH**.

    (Harpic and ‘goes right round the bend': English advertisement for a toilet cleanser)

    I have been an avid reader on this site and “holy” shit, have you guys a fight on your hands (and mine too with respect to http://www.atheism). I am in awe of the depth of knowledge exhibited here in so many aspects of biology and could not hold your candles scientifically but this I know: there can be no accomodation to “framing” the evolutionary message to make it more ‘palatable.’

    (A bit like a prosecutor asking me to agree with the suspension of the rules of evidence because the jury is already prejudiced against my client.)

    “We will not go back in the closet.”

    Indeed JPZ, full frontal attack ladies and gentleman: these guys do not play by the rules of the Marquis of Queensberry and while science is not a profession of deception and lies strategy demands that in the face of that IMHO that compromises will not serve us well.

    As Dawkins says, fundamentalism thrives in the midst of the moderates–We must shout from the rooftops concurrently: evolution is truth, religion is bullshit.

    (So much more I want to say but chateaux rouge el cheapo has dulled my mind)

  185. #186 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    Ksenyia: Why bother postulating about a designer? Because it gives people’s lives meaning beyond the cold hard facts. But that’s still not the point of my objections to PZ’s rant. As you’ve said, “Allowing for the possibility of discovering the designer is… built into the scientific method. If the designer shows up, then we modify the knowledge base and start building a ‘credits’ page.” I’m fine with that, but PZ does not seem to share your views about the limits of the scientific method. His scientific method seems somehow capable of rendering decisions on things he cannot observe.

    Windy: You’re purposely muddying the waters here. So you don’t like my analogy. Fine. The structure of the argument still stands.

  186. #187 PZ Myers
    April 17, 2007

    His scientific method seems somehow capable of rendering decisions on things he cannot observe.

    It sure does. When people tell me invisible unicorns are dancing in my yard, and I look outside and don’t see them, my very own personal scientific method, not shared by anyone else on the planet, allows me to decide that those people are hallucinating or lying.

    Does everyone else’s scientific method, in those same circumstances, encourage them to say that invisible unicorns might be dancing in the yard? Maybe they ought to adopt mine.

  187. #188 windy
    April 17, 2007

    You’re purposely muddying the waters here. So you don’t like my analogy. Fine. The structure of the argument still stands.

    No, I love your analogy since it exposes your muddled thinking. Seriously. What part of “designers are a necessary part of the explanation for the occurrence of cars. Not so for the occurrence of humans” don’t you get?

  188. #189 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    PZ: I know you’re pretty much in love with your public persona as a ferocious atheist, but you’re verging on becoming a caricature of yourself. You have absolutely no respect for people who don’t share your point of view, and you’re the poorer for it. I worry that people like you and Dawkins have become more interested in cultivating your image as radical dissenters than finding truth.

    Do you really equate people of faith with someone who envisions unicorns dancing in their yard? If so, you have never given any serious study to the schools of thought you oppose, and that’s the definition of ignorance. You’re preaching to the choir on this blog, so I’m sure your peanut gallery all think you sound mighty brilliant. But all you’re really doing with your grand pronouncements is blaring your ignorance to the rest of the world.

    I agree, if anyone made such an outlandish claim as unicorns dancing in their yard, I wouldn’t have think very long and hard to determine that they’re one brick short of a load. But that’s not at all like the claims religious people make. For example, have you ever bothered to read Alvin Plantinga’s arguments for how belief in God is like belief in the past or belief in other minds or how all beliefs–even scientific beliefs–are completely circular because there is no way to verify them outside of the belief-producing mechanisms that created them? If so, do you have a rebuttal to such arguments? Or is foul invective the best you can offer?

    You’re good at posturing, PZ, but you’re severely lacking in well reasoned arguments.

  189. #190 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    Windy: Let’s get away from cars for a moment, because that seems to be a stumbling block. My argument is this: Does our ability to understand how something works negate the need for a designer? Whether we’re talking about cars, humans, or venus flytraps, all I’m saying is that the best science can tell us is how something works and potentially how it came to be. It can tell us nothing why something exists. Take the universe, for example. Science can pretty much describe it’s entire history. But it can tell us nothing about what initiated that history. Science can speculate, but it can say nothing definite beyond the big bang singularity. So all I’m saying is that there are some questions science can’t answer.

    Is it then appropriate to insert God as the answer to those questions? Religious people have certainly got into a lot of trouble for doing that in the past. But I don’t personally believe that the only room left for God is in the shadows of science. I’m not arguing for God-in-the-gaps. I’m just arguing against scientific overreach. Science is very good at answering some questions, but it can’t answer every question.

  190. #191 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    I have intellectual deficiencies? Steve, you’re the one arguing that it’s rational to reject something you don’t fully understand. According to your logic, is it then okay for me to reject Darwinian evolution based on my ignorance of that theory? Is that rationally defensible? Or would you prefer that I become well versed in the theory first to determine whether or not it has any merit?

  191. #192 Steve LaBonne
    April 17, 2007

    Steve, you’re the one arguing that it’s rational to reject something you don’t fully understand.

    Evidently we can add poor reading comprehension to the list of your problems. Try reading what I actually wrote. I understand Christianity- its beliefs and its history- better than you do, beyond any doubt.

  192. #193 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    Hey, I’m glad to see we’re making some progress here, Steve. So at least someone admits there are questions that lie outside the domain of science. I think I just heard PZ’s hackles go up.

    Religion can answer a number of questions, Steve, such as the most important one: Why is there something rather than nothing? It can also tell us things about the meaning of life, why humanity seems to be so messed up, and how to deal with that situation.

    My concern is that people like you, PZ, and Dawkins only ever caricature religion. They treat it as nothing but a fairytale with no evidential basis. If that’s all religion were, I wouldn’t want any part of it. But religion is more than blind faith. It has an evidential basis that forms the foundation of faith. You may choose to reject that evidential basis, but you should at least know what it is before you reject it.

    It’s safe to say I have read dozens of books on Darwinian evolution. I’m just an amateur, but I have more than done my homework. And yet I still feel the theory lacks explanatory power. My main stumbling block? I fail to see how random mutations and natural selection can produce information. The best I can see is that is merely shuffles or loses information. I’ve looked at a lot of arguments that claim to show how evolution can produce information, such as the Avida computer simulation, but it always comes down to the experimenters unwittingly introducing information along the way. The evolutionary algorithms themselves are incapable of producing it.

    But evolutionary computing is a side issue. The main point is, I can see how natural selection can act on naturally occuring variations within a population, but I fail to see how it can produce anything new. That’s what it all comes down to for me. And even if you were able to convince me that the process works, I still don’t see how you can leap from understanding the origin of species to nullifying the existence of God. Understanding how a system functions tells us nothing about the origin of that system–or the origin of the physical constraints in which that system functions.

  193. #194 Steve LaBonne
    April 17, 2007

    I think I just heard PZ’s hackles go up.

    No, you didn’t- you’re also too stupid to understand his position. Go play in traffic.

  194. #195 Chet
    April 17, 2007

    The most important higher cognitive skill is the ability to inhibit limbic activation long enough for the frontal cortex to complete logical evaluation. Without that skill, people’s thinking is overwhelmed by emotional preferences; the result is that they use satisfying but fallacious mental shortcuts to come to illogical and generally-incorrect conclusions.

    Like Sam Harris I think it’s well past time to “retire facile oppositions between cold rationality and juicy aesthetics, between truth and beauty, between reason and emotion, etc.” People don’t fail tests like the Monte Hall Problem or the Wason test because of a surfeit of emotion; they fail because human reason in the best of times is a heuristic.

    Can you doubt my arguments without feeling doubt? Can you think I’m wrong without also feeling that I’m wrong? I don’t see how. I don’t see how it undercuts inquiry into the natural world to feel, simultaneously, awe of the natural world.

    If we’re going to restrict the debate (any debate) to those who have no reason to feel strongly about it, I don’t understand who you imagine will be left to speak. Or maybe you’d just rather talk to yourself, Caledonian. The Spock-like ideal of a permanent, emotionless state leading to perfect reason is a strawman, a characture of thought. And consider for a moment that the people who do lack emotion are not the world’s greatest thinkers; they’re generally reprehensible psychopaths.

  195. #196 Chet
    April 17, 2007

    The evolutionary algorithms themselves are incapable of producing it.

    Actually it’s been proven that they’re more than capable.

    Unless, of course, you’re defining “information” as “that which evolutionary mechanisms are incapable of producing.” Which you seem to be.

  196. #197 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    Now you’re getting nasty, Steve. That’s okay. I won’t take it personally. I’ll just assume it’s a sign of your growing awareness that you’re standing on very weak epistemological ground.

    Once again, I came here looking for a debate ABOUT THE ISSUES, not a bunch of snarking invective. Is that the best you guys can offer?

  197. #198 Steve LaBonne
    April 17, 2007

    1. Because things move there must be a First Mover. Nope, conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise.
    2. Similar argument and response about causation.
    3. There cannot ever have been nothing, so a neceesary being must exist. Premise is false.
    4. There must be a greatest being. Why? And what makes you think everything can be ranked?
    5. The argument from design. I think that gets handled pretty well around here. ;)

  198. #199 Kseniya
    April 17, 2007

    So Plantinga is a solipsist?

    Sure, it’s a fun philosophical game to question the objective nature of anything and everything (hey man, is there anything left in that bong?) but at some point everyone makes a determination where the line is between “objectively real” and… not. Entire cultures make that determination, by consensus, and it becomes common knowledge that there are no fairies in the garden and that thunder is a natural phenomenon not produced by a guy with a wicked cool hammer. The methods used to arrive at these determinations are understood, and accepted by consensus, by a vast majority of the society.

    And yet, when it comes to determining the objective realness of the critical parts of the religion practiced by a significant majority of the same society, consensus on the legitimacy of those methods is thrown out the window.

    Why?

    (Disclaimer: I am not implying that Plantinga, or anyone here, is a drug user.)

  199. #200 Chet
    April 17, 2007

    Once again, I came here looking for a debate ABOUT THE ISSUES

    Which issues? It seems like you just came here to misrepresent PZ’s stance on a whole bunch of stuff, and then say stuff about evolution that a freshman biology student could refute. (Like your question of “how does natural selection produce anything new?” That’s some serious nonsense right there.)

  200. #201 Steve LaBonne
    April 17, 2007

    Is that the best you guys can offer?

    To a fool like you? I’m afraid so, since you’re so incapable of understanding the responses.

  201. #202 Chet
    April 17, 2007

    For the record, I would define information as a code or instructions that allow a system to perform organizational work.

    Then I’d direct you to the Hall experiments, performed in the 80’s:

    Hall, B. G. and T. Zuzel. 1980. Evolution of a new enzymatic function by recombination within a gene. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 77(6): 3529-33.

    But imagine the following scenario – one mutation duplicates an already functional gene. An additional mutation alters the function of that gene. The result is an additional gene that performs a function the organism could not perform, before.

    Now, you may think that altering a gene isn’t new information, and that duplicating a gene isn’t new information. But since you can get new information when both happen, clearly it’s not accurate to assert that mutation cannot result in new genetic information.

  202. #203 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    Chet: I’m not misrepresenging PZ. I started yesterday by quoting him verbatim. He says science can determine the God question. I’m disagreeing. How is that a misrepresentation?

    And how am I stupid just because I disagree with you people? I don’t think you’re stupid just because you disagree with me. However, I am well aware that even though we tend to think we hold to our positions for rational reasons, virtually all of us hold to them for emotional reasons. That’s why I think there is so much emotion coming from your side today. I’m treading on your worldview, and it’s annoying. Sorry. And sorry for psychoanalyzing you. Go ahead, rage on.

    Kseniya: You seem to be the most articulate of the bunch, and the most gracious. I’d love to chat over coffee sometime, because I suspect there wouldn’t be fire coming out of your eyes. For the record, I’m not trying to question the objective nature of anything, I’m just bringing up Plantinga as an example of someone who has done some serious thinking about epistemology from a religious perspective, and who has some serious questions about the limits of scientific enquiry. Too often I feel that people in the atheist camp assume anyone with a religious disposition is a backwoods cousin-lover. I’m trying to communicate that there is a lot of good thinking going on in the religious camp, and if we could all put our swords down for a moment, we just might learn something from each other. Religious people want to learn about science, but the first message they get from people like PZ is that only stupid people turn to religion. And that is just not true.

    Steve: I’ll give you half marks. You came up with the arguments but your responses hardly amount to a rebuttal.

  203. #204 Kseniya
    April 17, 2007

    Chet, I agree with the gist of your post but I feel (!) the need to defend Caledonian’s statement, because I think the real strawman is your unintentional misrepresentation of it.

    Read, if you can, his words again (the passage you quoted) the way I did:

    He’s saying not that it’s necessary to completely cut oneself off from emotion, but that it’s important to be able to reason without being “overwhelmed by emotional preferences” – a statement that is nowhere near as absolute as you make it out to be, as he’s not explicitly advocating a) a completely emotionless state, or b) a permanent state of null or suppressed affect. Those were your, umm, additions to his idea.

    Otherwise – as I said – I agree with what you say, particularly that last sentence, with one qualification: If we can correlate lack of affect with lack of empathy, then we can correlate lack of affect with sociopathy. Off the top of my head I’m not sure we can make that first correlation. I’d have to look it up. :-)

  204. #205 Steve LaBonne
    April 17, 2007

    And how am I stupid just because I disagree with you people?

    That’s not the problem. The problem is your cocksure promotion of utter rubbish and your readiness to attribute all sorts of stupid straw men to unbelievers.

  205. #206 Chet
    April 17, 2007

    He’s saying not that it’s necessary to completely cut oneself off from emotion, but that it’s important to be able to reason without being “overwhelmed by emotional preferences” – a statement that is nowhere near as absolute as you make it out to be, as he’s not explicitly advocating a) a completely emotionless state, or b) a permanent state of null or suppressed affect. Those were your, umm, additions to his idea.

    If that’s what he’s saying, then he’s just committed the Two-step of Terrific Triviality, as previously detailed.

    The context of the discussion was living as a Spock-like emotional cripple, not simply not being overwhelmed by emotion. But you’ve made his little two-step abundantly clear, for which I thank you.

  206. #207 Chet
    April 17, 2007

    Chet: To clarify, it was Steve who called me stupid.

    Well, then, maybe it would serve you better to refrain from sweeping generalizations about the intellectual character of a blog from the statements of one commenter. But it’s fairly common for people to show up at science blogs, make comically inaccurate and arrogant statements about scientific topics, and then tell all their buddies “ZOMG I got called names by scientists who are supposed to be so rational and shit” just because one person was a little less than accommodating.

    You claim that you’re interested in discussion of the issues, but you’re being deliberately provocative and arrogant, and concentrating on the static you’re getting in response instead of the content of the rebuttals. Typically people interested in debate show a little more humility than you have. Which makes me think you’re deliberately provoking insults so that you can ignore rebuttals and claim victory by virtue of the moral high ground. Maybe I’m wrong, but if you really want to talk about the issues, you’ll ignore people who you think are insulting you, instead of focusing the debate on their comments.

  207. #208 Steve LaBonne
    April 17, 2007

    Emotion is necessary to the proper functioning of reason. See Antonio Damasio’s Descarte’s Error.

  208. #209 PZ Myers
    April 17, 2007

    I think I just heard PZ’s hackles go up.

    “Hackles” do not make noise. I think perhaps you heard my grackles go up. Grackles. I always release a swarm of noisy birds when a theist says something foolish, as a token of my appreciation to the sky-god of atheists.

    My concern is that people like you, PZ, and Dawkins only ever caricature religion. They treat it as nothing but a fairytale with no evidential basis. If that’s all religion were, I wouldn’t want any part of it. But religion is more than blind faith. It has an evidential basis that forms the foundation of faith.

    Oh, yes. The evidence for god. That’s very interesting, but do you notice what you’ve just done? You castigate us for expecting good, reasonable evidence for the unusual phenomenon of god before we’ll believe, and you complain and complain about that scientific mindset that refuses to accept that which cannot be seen…and then to defend your religion, you say you’ve got evidence. Thank you for stepping onto our turf, and surrendering.

    Either you don’t need evidence, or you’ve got evidence. Which is it?

    I’ll bet it’s that you don’t have any evidence.

  209. #210 Steve LaBonne
    April 17, 2007

    What do you expect from someone who seems to think the cosmological and ontological arguments are valid?

  210. #211 Rey Fox
    April 17, 2007

    “It has an evidential basis that forms the foundation of faith.”

    While I suspect here that the “evidence” is largely arguments from incredulity and the aforementioned Gaps, I have to ask: if there really is evidence, then why is the faith necessary?

    Sure, “religion can provide answers”. But they’re not necessarily right. What’s more, there are no reliable methods arising from religious thought to tell whether they’re right.

  211. #212 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    Steve: I didn’t say I believed in those arguments, I just wanted to know if you knew them.

    PZ: As I said yesterday, you’re still missing the point by trying to pit your evidence against mine. If you’ll do some reading of Plantinga’s argument for how belief in God is similar to belief in the past or belief in other minds, you will see that we don’t arrive at such beliefs through evidential argument. These are starting points for thought. The same goes for reason. We have no way of knowing if reason is accurate except through reason. The same goes for the scientific method. We have no way of testing its accuracy except through the thing being tested. So your belief in the veracity of the scientific method is completely untestable via the scientific method. It’s merely assumed to be true, because we have to start somewhere. That makes it a matter of faith.

  212. #213 Uber
    April 17, 2007

    I’m trying to communicate that there is a lot of good thinking going on in the religious camp, and if we could all put our swords down for a moment, we just might learn something from each other

    This is the stuff that often floors me from people. Atheists are far more often than not very knowledgable in the ‘religious’ camp thought the inverse is rarely true.

    I am well aware that even though we tend to think we hold to our positions for rational reasons, virtually all of us hold to them for emotional reasons

    The difference is the atheists’agnostic side IS more rational. You can think your position so but that isn’t the case.

    who has some serious questions about the limits of scientific enquiry.

    Thats fair but what makes you think then that any religious thinking would produce any knowledge that science couldn’t. Your creating a false dicotomy.

  213. #214 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    Have you ever read Plantinga, Steve? Thanks for the tips. I’ll look these guys up.

  214. #215 Steve LaBonne
    April 17, 2007

    Therefore, the debate between IDers and other scientists should be decided on the quality of the evidence presented, not on the quality of the worldview that motivates the science.

    “Other” scientists? With the possible exception of Behe (though he has really long since cesaed being one, and I also dont’ think he even believes half the things he’s paid to say) there ARE no scientists on the “ID” side, and there is no evidence, indeed there is not even any clearly stated hypothesis for which evidence could even in principle be offered. Other than that your’e doing just great, keep up the good work. ;)

  215. #216 Uber
    April 17, 2007

    and a religious worldview is a means of making sense of that knowledge

    How does using superstition help one make sense of the world? If by means of deluding oneself that one has the answer when you clearly don’t- ok I agree with you. But this sort of false idealism is simply unsatisfying when dwelled upon.

    Likewise it’s clearly an unnecessary step given the millions who do NOT use superstition to ‘make sense of the knowledge’. It’s superflous to them.

  216. #217 Steve LaBonne
    April 17, 2007

    I’ve sampled what’s available here: http://tinyurl.com/gnljq
    and its quality (state of the art ca. 1250 CE) does not encourage me to waste time and money on any of his books.

    Have you ever read any real philopsohy?

  217. #218 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    Come one, Steve. You may want to believe there are no scientists on the ID side, but you’re going to run smack into cold, hard reality.

  218. #219 Steve LaBonne
    April 17, 2007

    Right. Name some actual prcaticing biologists other than Behe who are “on the ID side”, then. (And don’t bother trying to pull a fast one with the likes of Collins or Ken Miller, who whatever their other delusions have no time whatsoever for ID.)

  219. #220 windy
    April 17, 2007

    “Hackles” do not make noise. I think perhaps you heard my grackles go up. Grackles. I always release a swarm of noisy birds when a theist says something foolish, as a token of my appreciation to the sky-god of atheists.

    Crebain from Pharynguland! Hide!

  220. #221 Uber
    April 17, 2007

    Actually Kevin Steve is very much right here. I am a biologist and there are very few who don’t see throught the charade of ID.

  221. #222 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    You know, Steve, if I really thought you were a genuine seeker of truth, I’d continue this dialogue. But all you seem interested in doing is insulting my intelligence. So I’m going to sign off here. I’m sure your day will be better for it.

  222. #223 Steve LaBonne
    April 17, 2007

    Yes, even the stupidest trolls eventually figure out that they’re being pnwed and take a powder, giving some such excuse. Too bad it took you so long. Sayonara, idiot.

  223. #224 windy
    April 17, 2007

    Brave, brave, brave Sir Kevin!

  224. #225 Chet
    April 17, 2007

    But all you seem interested in doing is insulting my intelligence. So I’m going to sign off here.

    Surprise, surprise. The creationist ignored meaningful rebuttals and used snark as an excuse to retreat under a flag of victory.

    I don’t mean to pile on Steve, of course. Doubtless ol’ Kevin could have manufactured offense in any comment.

  225. #226 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    Over 150 biologists have signed the Discovery Institute’s list of “Scientists who doubt Darwin.” I don’t know how many of those biologists also accept ID, but it clearly shows that a significant number of scientists find Darwinian evolution wanting.

  226. #227 Chet
    April 17, 2007

    but it clearly shows that a significant number of scientists find Darwinian evolution wanting.

    Wouldn’t 150 be, like .001% of practicing scientists? That doesn’t strike me as significant.

  227. #228 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    Chet: It’s probably close to the same percentage of scientists who initially accepted Darwin’s theory.

    As for manufacturing offense, I don’t know where you get that from. Ol’ Steve up there is calling me a stupid idiot. I don’t have to manufacture anything. I’d never call Steve and idiot. I actually think he’s pretty bright. Arrogant as all hell, but bright just the same.

    I have no quarrel with you, Chet. You may think I’m an idiot, but at least you’re keeping things civilized.

  228. #229 Chet
    April 17, 2007

    Ol’ Steve up there is calling me a stupid idiot.

    Yes, I know; you’ve talked about nothing else for some time now. Which is what makes me think you’re just here to martyr yourself in front of the “Darwinists”, not to discuss issues in a meaningful way.

  229. #230 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    Not true, Chet. It’s just my frustration showing through.

  230. #231 PZ Myers
    April 17, 2007

    The “scientists who doubt Darwin” petition was so fuzzy as to be meaningless, and relies on the dishonest conflation of Darwin with modern evolutionary biology. I could have signed that petition in good conscience, except that I knew it was a PR stunt by the DI.

    I’m going to circulate a petition title “Christians who doubt that God is a white bearded caucasian in the sky”, and I’ll be able to get so many church-going folks to sign it that I’ll be able to pretend America is an atheist nation.

  231. #232 Kseniya
    April 17, 2007

    Uh-oh, now Caledonian’s gonna be miffed at my attempt to speak for him. :-D

    So I’ll speak for myself, then. Chet, I disagree with your assessment. There has been no two-step.

    The context of the discussion was living as a Spock-like emotional cripple

    The intial context, perhaps. Let’s retrace our steps (paraphrases mine):

    1. Someone posts, in response to angry replies to his whatever-it-was, that he thought scientists were supposed to be smart, and rational (as opposed to emotional, and capable of anger).

    2. You counter smartly with: acquiring knowledge through reason does not turn you one into a robot, and only someone who thinks Spock embodies the scientific method would think that.

    3. Caledonian follows with: but acquiring knowledge through reason does require a degree of dispassion sufficient to prevent emotional interference in the reasoning process.

    4. You interpret (3) as advocation of the Spock ideal.

    5. I offer another interpretation that I believe is somewhat more accurate.

    6. You get pissy about my proposed correction.

    Did I miss anything? ;-)

    You were talking about the effects of the process: “Learning how the world works doesn’t turn you into an emotionless robot.” Right?

    Caledonian was talking about the process itself: “Ironically, learning how the world works requires a type of dispassion that is far closer to Mr. Spock than I think you would like.”

    I don’t see how that equates to Caledonian saying, “In order to learn how the world works, you must live as an emotional cripple.”

    Maybe your idea of “far closer” doesn’t match his, and maybe what he thinks “you would like” is way off-base, but I don’t see any conflict between your statement and his. To me, they seem complementary: “Although it’s important for reason not to be overwhelmed by emotional responses, this by no means implies that regular employment of reason will limit or impair ones capacity for emotion.”

    If we’re going to restrict the debate (any debate) to those who have no reason to feel strongly about it…

    You can shoot me down here and now by showing me where it was that Caledonian said or implied that.

    The point is not that all emotion should be excised, but that emotion should not be allowed to dominate. In lay terms, IQ typically drops when passions rise. However, having strong feelings about something (for example, that good science education should include evolution and excluded creationism) should NOT be conflated with the kind of transient emotional responses that inhibit reason. They are not the same thing.

  232. #233 Tulse
    April 17, 2007

    I’m going to circulate a petition title “Christians who doubt that God is a white bearded caucasian in the sky”, and I’ll be able to get so many church-going folks to sign it that I’ll be able to pretend America is an atheist nation.

    I wouldn’t count on it, PZ — I think many Christians in the US believe exactly that.

  233. #234 Rey Fox
    April 17, 2007

    Just checked Project Steve, and they’re up to 796 scientists named Steve who defend evolution.

  234. #235 Kevin Miller
    April 17, 2007

    I hear you, Kseniya. Thanks anyway for the restraint.

  235. #236 Kseniya
    April 17, 2007

    Kevin, I haven’t had to exercise restraint in my responses to you. *shrug* But, you’re welcome.

  236. #237 Uber
    April 17, 2007

    It’s probably close to the same percentage of scientists who initially accepted Darwin’s theory.

    While it may be truein terms of numbers(which I doubt) your conflation of the sham of ID with the legitimate theory of evolution is rather, well, embarrassing. I don’t know which bible college your attending but if you think ID has merit in comparison to evolution and how it came about I think you need to change majors and/or campuses.

    It appears you have swallowed the ‘evidence’ for ID hook line and sinker. Your actually thinking it is something new and scientists will somehow forget about evidence and the sci method. Wake up fella.

  237. #238 Kseniya
    April 17, 2007

    Chet,

    Ah-hah! So here is the root cause of our disagreement. Only Caledonian can tell us whether or not he meant it as a rebuttal. He very frequently does post rebuttals, contradictions and corrections, and in this case the use of the word “ironically” and the ostensibly contradictory nature of the content could easily lead to the conclusion you reached.

    Which doesn’t mean the conclusion is correct. But honestly, I don’t know. I can only offer my interpretation of what’s there.

    Regardless, even if you’re exactly right about the intent of the post, I am having trouble (a lot of trouble) agreeing that it’s an example of the dreaded Two-Step, especially in the absense of any evidence that he’s hopping madly from one foot to the other. ;-)

    Perhaps I don’t grasp the concept.

    Finally, I’d say that to think of this in strict terms of agreement or disagreement may not be useful. I see it as extending what you said in a “Yes, but consider, also, that…” way, which I wouldn’t characterize as disagreement.

  238. #239 Chet
    April 17, 2007

    I see it as extending what you said in a “Yes, but consider, also, that…” way, which I wouldn’t characterize as disagreement.

    I wouldn’t either, but the critical difference is that that post would begin “I agree, but..” or “Yes, but..”, not “Ironically, the truth is closer to the position you were arguing against.”

    Cal gave every indication he meant to disagree with me, so I interpreted his ambiguities in that light. If he meant to defend something trivially obvious that no one had attacked, then he’s engaged in the Trivial Two-Step.

  239. #240 Blake Stacey, OM
    April 17, 2007

    Kevin Miller:

    Over 150 biologists have signed the Discovery Institute’s list of “Scientists who doubt Darwin.” I don’t know how many of those biologists also accept ID, but it clearly shows that a significant number of scientists find Darwinian evolution wanting.

    How many of them were named Steve?

  240. #241 Tulse
    April 17, 2007

    Religion can answer a number of questions [...] It can also tell us things about the meaning of life

    Only if you think that your life’s meaning is derived from some other being telling you what to do. My parents might have wanted me to be a doctor, but even though they brought me into the world, I don’t feel morally obligated to do as they ask. If the disingenuous ID claim that we could have been designed by aliens were actually true, I still wouldn’t feel that that informed by life’s meaning. And I sure as heck don’t think that an entity that routinely demands its followers slaughter other humans, and very often does so itself, is any good guide to moral conduct or source of meaning for one’s life. I suppose that those who get off on authoritarianism might find this compelling, but I sure don’t.

    So explain to me why, even if it is true that God made everything including me, I should take my life’s meaning from that fact.

  241. #242 Scholar
    April 17, 2007

    See, I told you PZ should be awarded an honorary Molly. This time for the Grackles response. I am starting to suspect that PZ is actually The One watching over our every thought, not God.
    Blake, good link except that it almost got “me grackles in a bunch” thinking you were talking about Steve (Labonne).

  242. #243 Nathanael Nerode
    April 18, 2007

    I have two additional hypotheses as to why accomodationists are failing where Dawkins and the like are succeeding.

    Fundamentalists are looking for rigid, fairly black-and-white structures. A pure empiricist/rationalist scientific view of the world provides to some extent, certainly more than the “can’t we all just get along” message. But it has the advantage of being true. :-)

    Fundamentalists are largely brainwashed. Brainwashing can be broken through only by fairly harsh words. This makes Dawkins more effective than a mellow message.

    Relativist, pro-diversity arguments are both uncomfortable and heavily attacked in fundamentalist circles. Dawkins-style argument is neither.

    —-

    Now, I must comment on the “only stupid people turn to religion” idea. Very much not true, I think no thoughtful atheist would think so, and perhaps we should emphasize this more, but these are the main reasons people turn to religion:

    (1) Brainwashed as children. Not their fault, also not rational. I read _Leaving the Fold_; it has a quick (but long) list of standard Christian brainwashing techniques.
    (2) Brainwashed as adults. Slightly less common, because adults tend to be harder to brainwash. Ever wonder why most religions demand that your children be raised in them?….
    (3) For the community. The actual religion is totally irrelvant here: your local bridge club serves much the same function.
    (4) For the philosophy. But the Humanist Society or Ethical Culture is equivalent or possible better.
    (5) For ritual. We haven’t provided a lot of non-religious rituals, unfortunately, which we should address. (Birthdays are the most popular.)
    (6) God is superficially plausible. It’s not a dumb idea. But the same is true of special creation, and of the flat earth. Once you really start to look into it, a theistic God hypothesis usually turns out to be full of holes. (These holes are papered over by irrational arguments called apologia, probably largely due to the above brainwashing.)
    (7) Abdication of responsibility to authority. This is really nice at first, but comes with serious, lasting psychological damage.

    I consider these all important, non-trivial reasons. 3-5 are basically good reasons to join a religion, but not good reasons to have faith or believe in God. (Become a Unitarian or a Buddhist or something.) 1,2,and 7 are really bad reasons, but extremely powerful reasons.

    For some reason we always end up arguing about 6, I guess because we are empiricists and rationalists. 6 is essentially the reason why religion was really really common in the past and is becoming less common over the centuries.

    Perhaps there has been some confusion: although I’ve never heard an atheist imply that “only stupid people turn to religion”, I think more than a few would say “Religion is stupid.”

  243. #244 Steve LaBonne
    April 18, 2007

    Blake, good link except that it almost got “me grackles in a bunch” thinking you were talking about Steve (Labonne).

    Actually I do have the honor of being one of the Steves- very undeserved compared to many of the genuinely distinguished scientists on the list.

  244. #245 sparc
    April 18, 2007

    Blake:

    How many of them were named Steve?

    Currently there are nine Steves and Stephens listed. Please note that the current Steve-o-meter value is 796.

  245. #246 Steve LaBonne
    April 18, 2007

    Steve LaBonne: Not just valid – he (presumably) thinks they are sound!

    I should be more careful about using logical terminology when I know there are philosophers reading this blog! ;)

  246. #247 Steve LaBonne
    April 18, 2007

    P.S. And I notice there’s another interesting entry in the lexicon:

    alvinize, v. To stimulate protracted discussion by making a bizarre claim. “His contention that natural evil is due to Satanic agency alvinized his listeners.”

  247. #248 Davol
    April 18, 2007

    I’m concerned with the ignorance that is becoming more and more rampant from all this proper framing going on. When the cold hard facts are gagged we can’t be far from a new dark age of ignorance. Religion is poised to fill that void, but I’ve never known religion to not sacrifice honesty for a “truth”, to not be obsessed with mind controlling our opinions, and to not cater to ignorance. The fundamentalist interpretation of scripture obscures a more profound non-historic truth to be found there. I fear this is just another symptom of an impending dark age.

  248. #249 Janus Daniels
    April 19, 2007

    Nisbet and Mooney do not understand the idea they argue from. To “frame a debate” we want more proponents at the far end of the spectrum, to force recognition of larger frames, as in, “large enough to include more reality”.

  249. #250 Norman
    May 24, 2007

    I read a few comments here from atheists. It’s sad that I must correct them on what they are. Atheists pride themselves in their reason and logic but what they claim to know is based in neither. Atheists and Believers in a religion are 2 sides of the same coin. Both are based on faith. One BELIVES in the existance of a supreme being based on nothing concrete the other BELIEVES in teh non-existance of a supreme being based on nothing concrete. Both sides are based in FAITH. If atheists were to be honest with themselvs they’d say “I don’t know.” Because there is no real way to determine the existance or non-existance of a supreme being such as the one worshiped by the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Both sides are the result of the human ego not liking to admit there are things it can not know/understand so it makes something up. Saying “I don’t know” doesn’t mean you acknowledge the existance or non-existance of something. It just says you do not have enough evidence to say anything conclusive.

  250. #251 Norman
    May 24, 2007

    I read a few comments here from atheists. It’s sad that I must correct them on what they are. Atheists pride themselves in their reason and logic but what they claim to know is based in neither. Atheists and Believers in a religion are 2 sides of the same coin. Both are based on faith. One BELIVES in the existance of a supreme being based on nothing concrete the other BELIEVES in teh non-existance of a supreme being based on nothing concrete. Both sides are based in FAITH. If atheists were to be honest with themselvs they’d say “I don’t know.” Because there is no real way to determine the existance or non-existance of a supreme being such as the one worshiped by the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Both sides are the result of the human ego not liking to admit there are things it can not know/understand so it makes something up. Saying “I don’t know” doesn’t mean you acknowledge the existance or non-existance of something. It just says you do not have enough evidence to say anything conclusive.

  251. #252 Norman
    May 24, 2007

    I read a few comments here from atheists. It’s sad that I must correct them on what they are. Atheists pride themselves in their reason and logic but what they claim to know is based in neither. Atheists and Believers in a religion are 2 sides of the same coin. Both are based on faith. One BELIVES in the existence of a supreme being based on nothing concrete the other BELIEVES in the non-existence of a supreme being based on nothing concrete. Both sides are based in FAITH. If atheists were to be honest with themselves they’d say “I don’t know” because there is no real way to determine the existence or non-existence of a supreme being such as the one worshiped by the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Both sides are the result of the human ego not liking to admit there are things it can not know/understand so it makes something up. Saying “I don’t know” doesn’t mean you acknowledge the existence or non-existence of something. It just says you do not have enough evidence to say anything conclusive. It reminds me of a comment made by a “scientist” about black holes. He actually said black holes can not exist because he himself can not fully comprehend what they are and their implications. What kind of intellectual honesty is that?

  252. #253 Rey Fox
    May 24, 2007

    Fine, Norman. As long as all believers admit that they don’t know if their God exists. I see no reason why atheists should be the only ones who have to attach unnecessary qualifiers to their religious status.

    Unless, of course, this is all about making our position seem weaker to you so that your God belief doesn’t seem as threatened. The part about faith is a dead giveaway. Atheists don’t have “faith” in anything. They believe there are no gods because of lack of evidence for them as well as logical inconsistencies in the way people define their gods.

  253. #254 Norman
    May 24, 2007

    I read a few comments here from atheists. It’s sad that I must correct them on what they are. Atheists pride themselves in their reason and logic but what they claim to know is based in neither. Atheists and Believers in a religion are 2 sides of the same coin. Both are based on faith. One BELIVES in the existence of a supreme being based on nothing concrete the other BELIEVES in the non-existence of a supreme being based on nothing concrete. Both sides are based in FAITH. If atheists were to be honest with themselves they’d say “I don’t know” because there is no real way to determine the existence or non-existence of a supreme being such as the one worshiped by the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Both sides are the result of the human ego not liking to admit there are things it can not know/understand so it makes something up. Saying “I don’t know” doesn’t mean you acknowledge the existence or non-existence of something. It just says you do not have enough evidence to say anything conclusive. It reminds me of a comment made by a “scientist” about black holes. He actually said black holes can not exist because he himself can not fully comprehend what they are and their implications. What kind of intellectual honesty is that?

  254. #255 Norman
    May 24, 2007

    @Rey Fox:

    Sorry but no. If your beliefe is not based on any hard facts then it’s based on faith. And this is what is so true about both Atheists and Theists

  255. #256 Rey Fox
    May 24, 2007

    Look up Bertrand Russel’s teapot orbiting Mars. Or think of leprechauns. I’m guessing you don’t believe in them. Would you consider that to be a faith-based position? No gods have ever been accounted for with “hard facts”, therefore it should be considered a default position that they don’t exist. We’re not the ones making things up. Therefore, no faith is required. Unless you’re playing fast and loose with the word “faith” to score some sort of nebulous rhetorical point.

  256. #257 kmarissa
    May 24, 2007

    Norman,

    Do you believe in unicorns and fairies?

  257. #258 kmarissa
    May 24, 2007

    Norman,

    Do you believe in unicorns and fairies?

  258. #259 Norman
    May 24, 2007

    Nothing fast or loose here. If you believe in the existance of something w/o ANY proof what so ever then what are yuou basing it on? FAITH. Pretty simple. This seems to bother you but it is what it is.

  259. #260 Kseniya
    May 24, 2007

    Norman.

    You equate belief with non-belief. Your entire argument is based on the presumption that the two are identical, synonyous, interchangeable. They are not. This is why your argument fails.

    While I agree that claiming absolute knowledge of the existence or non-existence of god or gods does take a certain amount of faith in the state of ones own knowledge, you are wrong on the other points.

    The atheistic “belief” is based in this hard fact: There is no incontrovertible (or even suggestive) evidence for the existence of god or gods. The refusal to believe in something for which there is no evidence whatsoever is not “faith.” You can play whatever pseudological and semantic games you like, for as long as you like, and this will not change.

    Take a look in the mirror.

    Does your disbelief in the Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy quality as faith? If not, then why? Oh, because you “know” it was your parents all along? How do you know? You saw them? Ok, how about Apollo, Zeus, and Thor? Do you disbelieve in them? Why? Is your disbelief an act of blind faith? If not, then why?

  260. #261 Norman
    May 24, 2007

    Nothing fast or loose here. If you believe in the existance of something w/o ANY proof what so ever then what are yuou basing it on? FAITH. Pretty simple. When you believe something unless you knwo first hand of it’s truth you are taking it’s truth on faith. It’s like being pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. Tehre is not middle ground here. No shades of grey.

  261. #262 kmarissa
    May 24, 2007

    Wow. Not only was that entirely unresponsive, it was also entirely incoherent!

  262. #263 Norman
    May 24, 2007

    I fail to see the difficulty you are having with this. Lack of evidence is not evidence of non-existance. Do you believe we are the only life in the universe? By your argument you must since there is ZERO proof of life elsewhere. This is a belief based on faith not fact. Logic tells us there must be life out there but that is again based no nothing but a gut feeling. It would be fact if you were able to survey the universe and find no other life. Since you can’t you are basing your belief on your very limited ability to test. So you are taking the validity of your tests on faith. In other words you are basing your assumtions of the conditions of the rest of the universe based on what you can observe from our planet. To me it sounds like you are getting hypothesis/theory confused with fact/truth.

  263. #264 Norman
    May 24, 2007

    I fail to see the difficulty you are having with this. Lack of evidence is not evidence of non-existance. Do you believe we are the only life in the universe? By your argument you must since there is ZERO proof of life elsewhere. This is a belief based on faith not fact. Logic tells us there must be life out there but that is again based no nothing but a gut feeling. It would be fact if you were able to survey the universe and find no other life. Since you can’t you are basing your belief on your very limited ability to test. So you are taking the validity of your tests on faith. In other words you are basing your assumtions of the conditions of the rest of the universe based on what you can observe from our planet. To me it sounds like you are getting hypothesis/theory confused with fact/truth.

  264. #265 Rey Fox
    May 24, 2007

    I amend my comment from earlier: cheap rhetorical point. Guess I’ll just back to work here in the faith-based Matrix.

  265. #266 Norman
    May 24, 2007

    So. Norman. Thor? Apollo? Zeus?

    You said it yourself. No shades of grey. No middle ground. Do you believe in these gods, or not? If so, why? If not, why?”

    Do I believe they are real? I have to say IDK. I see no reason tehy can’t possibly exist or existed at some point in time but again since I don’t know anything for sure it’s going to have to be I Don’t Know. Pretty simple really. Do gremlins exist? Haven’t a clue. Does Santa exist? I Don’t Know. Does he live at the North Pole? I feel we have surveyed the north pole enough to safely say no he does not live in the north pole. Tooth fairy? I can say no tooth fairy every came to visit me when I was little. It was mom and dad leaving money under my pillow for my teeth. The same goes for the Santa question btw. Does this mean I can say there is no such thing? If I am to be completely honest then I will have to say no. It’s like saying all money is fake becasue you found one fake.

    Ok back to your greek gods question. You wanted to know why I say “I don’t know.” It’s again very simple. Since I can not go back in time and vary their existance all we have are stoories. Stories from peopel who lacked teh level of understanding of the physical world we live in. Sure it’s easy to make “educated” guesses as to why they believed in these gods but that does not mean we know if these “gods” ever really existed.

    The shades of grey was about belief or non-belief. I say I don’t know. Which means I do not have enough information to say I know w/o a doubt which is true.

    Let’s look at another example. Let’s say I have a gun. I walk up to you and a freind of yours and tell you I can kill with this gun. Let’s assume you have never seen or heard of a gun in your life. You will either believe me, disbelieve me, and ask for varification. Since I have not demonstrated the life taking ability of the gun all you will have to base your belief on is my word. If you believe me or disbeleve me it’s based on faith not fact. If you don’t know what to believe you are looking at the situation realisticly. Even if you correctly believe I can kill with the gun it’s not based on fact. Now if I point the gun at your friend and shoot him dead THEN your belief in the killing ability of the gun is based on fact.

    There is nothing difficult about this.

  266. #267 Norman
    May 24, 2007

    Many people seem to be afraid to be honest and say they do not know. Try to remember lack of proof is not proof. Especially when we are talking about a subject like religion. Most of the time the being people are worshiping are not from here. This makes it virtually impossible to prove or disprove. How do you empirically test for the existence of a being which does not occupy our reality? So be 100% sure such a being doesn’t exist based on the fact that we can’t test for it is foolish. It’s just as silly as the belief we’d know what to look for in our search for life on other planets. We only know of life here on this planet. To assume life can only take the familiar forms we know here on earth is ridiculous.

  267. #268 Kseniya
    May 24, 2007

    You answer “I don’t know” to virtually every question I asked. No grey areas, huh? LOL.

    (Aside: Why is it that so many of these religious discussions with theists culminate in gun metaphors where the point is proven when one of the hypothetical characters dies?)

    Do one or more gods exist? I don’t know. Is there any evidence for them? Not that I’m aware of. Now let’s say I’m an atheist. Do I believe in something for which there is no evidence whatsoever? No. Should I?

    Your analogy to life on earth vs. life elsewhere in the universe is flawed. We can extrapolate the possibility of life on other planets from some things that we can know or approximate, such as a) we know for a fact there is life on Earth, and b) we can calculate that the universe contains 10^24 stars. Even assuming, arbitrarily, a staggeringly low probability (say, one in one billion) of a star system containing an earth-like habitable planet, and an equally low probability of a habitable planet containing life, we can still expect that the universe will contain approximately one million enhabited earth-like planets. You correctly point out that life may exist on planets that are not earth-like, so that raises our expectation by some arbitrary amount.

    Explain to me now how “faith” enters into this extrapolation. Compare and contrast with the faith required to believe in an omnipotent, omniscient being who exists outside of our reality.

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