Pharyngula

Paul Kurtz is an intelligent and interesting fellow who has done commendable work in advancing the cause of skepticism and freethought. He can be rightly considered one of the heroes of the atheist movement, and he’s one of the reasons that the sobriquet “New Atheist” grates — Kurtz has been writing this stuff for decades.

Now, suddenly, he’s being trumpeted as an advocate of “silencing the New Atheist Noise Machine.” This is weird on so many levels.

For one, if he were to announce something like that, I’d be disappointed — Kurtz deserves to be listened to carefully — but ultimately, it wouldn’t matter. There is no atheist pope, not Kurtz, not Dawkins, not Harris, and there never will be. If Kurtz were to take that position, it would mean a ponderously strong voice had been wheeled out into the argument, not that the matter was settled.

For another, Chris Hallquist has doubts that Kurtz’s position is being accurately reported.

Kurtz has never said, and probably never will say, that the work of these religion critics is ?a major self-inflicted wound.? The truth is that Kurtz has dismissed the notion that they are ?too outspoken?.

…If you?re going to say the things you?ve said about Dawkins, have the courage to be consistent and take the next logical step of denouncing Paul Kurtz and everything he works for. Indeed, you should be denouncing Kurtz even more strongly than you denounce Dawkins. Dawkins may have put out one book dedicated to attacking religion, but most of his public work has been about explaining science to the general public, but Kurtz?s number one goal has always been the promotion of a philosophy that explicitly rejects God, and he founded a publishing house for this purpose which has published more anti-religious books than Dawkins will ever write. This should be more than enough for you, since you aren?t just picking a bone with Dawkins use of the word ?delusion? (which Kurtz agrees with in any case) but have also insisted enthralled with this
line of argument, either. I think we’d all welcome an actual, explicit opinion from Paul Kurtz one way or the other, but I’m afraid the question of how we should engage is not going to be settled by the voice of authority, nor should it be.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    September 20, 2007

    Hmph.

    Not that I was expecting better, you understand, but I’m still disappointed.

    I still think “Uppity Atheist Noise Machine” would be a great name for a band.

  2. #2 CalGeorge
    September 20, 2007

    Moreover, like Shermer, Wilson, and Kurtz, I strongly believe that when Dawkins et al. attack moderately religious Americans it alienates our natural allies and is a major self-inflicted wound.

    The moderately religious are not allies of the atheist crowd.

    The moderately religious are as deluded as the fundies.

    All religious people need to wake up, smell the coffee, and stop believing in a bunch of fairy tales.

    The earth is not flat. God does not exist. People don’t fly up to heaven to sitteth somewhere. No amount of pew sitting and mindless chanting is going to make someone’s favorite deity pop into extra-mental existence.

    A hard line is the only line to take with the billions of kooks who refuse to acknowledge reality.

    Wake up!

  3. #3 Brian W.
    September 20, 2007

    i just listened to an interview with him like 2 days ago. I don’t remember him saying anything very negative about Dawkins or Harris. To me he seemed to be saying that they should be doing what they were doing, but should do more positive stuff in addition to what they were currently doing. But not instead of it.

    You can listen here:

    http://www.pointofinquiry.org/?p=127

  4. #4 PZ Myers
    September 20, 2007

    I did not endorse the claim that you lie, and even trimmed out some of the rhetorical excess. I direct people to the post because it makes a good point, that Kurtz has long been a strong advocate of outspoken unbelief; I also make the point that appeals to the authority of Kurtz for either side aren’t going to settle the issue.

    I don’t know Kurtz personally and I get the impression that you do. Maybe he has grumbled his discontent with Dawkins to you in private, for all I know, but it wouldn’t matter — neither Kurtz nor Dawkins dictate my opinions.

  5. #5 Alric
    September 20, 2007

    Paul Kurtz was interviewed at the point of inquiry podcast last friday. He had nothing but good things to say about Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennet. His thesis is that we should not focus on attacking religion as a goal but focus on the positive aspects of rationalism.

    Personally I think it just happens that rationalism is infinitely more positive than religiosity with any need for framing. Matt: you lost me entirely when you said that we should present science without using the language of science itself. My response, as well as many others was: WTF?

  6. #6 MAJeff
    September 20, 2007

    So? The point being missed is that if no one takes the “hard line”, if the position we’re advocating has no voices, no representatives, and no basis in reality, it’s awfully hard to convince anyone that even a nudge in its direction is worthwhile.

    This is a situation where we need a plethora of different tactics, and unfortunately we’ve got people nominally on our side who are more interested in silencing the atheists who openly espouse the values of the secular position than they are in fighting the evangelicals who openly oppose those values.

    Those of us who study social movements talk about it in terms of the “radical flank” effect. We “radicals” make the “moderates” more palatable.

    I’ll draw on my own work and experience in queer movement as an example. I’m a radical and anti-marriage (for a number of reasons that I’m not going into here). My presence also allows for the nice “normal gay people” to say, “See, we’re not like the crazies. We don’t want to transform society. We just want to be let in.” I’m not giving up my radicalism, my attempts to tear down heteronormative practices and institutions and erect other things in their place, but my mere presence is advantageous for those in the middle. Unfortunately, they’re often unwilling to accept that we, too, have a role to play (and might even be right), so they’d rather line up with their oppressors.

    We out, loud, proud atheists have made a difference. Hitchens talks about people coming up to him and saying “I always felt like the only one.” Others of us have heard this as well. It was the same thing when I came out of the closet. Hell, when I lived in Mankato there were people who would not associate with me because I was openly, publicly gay. However, my presence made it easier for them in the long run. I’ve taken the death threats and abuse. And you know what, screw the bigots, and also screw the folks “on my side” who are telling me to shut up. Ain’t gonna happen.

  7. #7 Blake Stacey
    September 20, 2007

    I find myself entirely unmoved by claims that Dawkins and Dennett offer only negative remarks and should parade more “positive aspects” of non-belief. To paraphrase everybody’s favorite book of the Bible, there’s a time to build up and a time to tear down — and when reason and democracy are imperiled by myth, tearing down will be necessary.

    I haven’t waded into Hitchens’ book yet, because, well, I’m not rich, I have work to do and I don’t need to have an opinion on everything right away. (If Deepak Chopra is any indication, I can still review books without having read them, anyway.) I can state, however, that anybody who says that Dawkins has nothing “positive” to offer must have stopped reading midway through.

    Evolution in Middle World has ill equipped us to handle very improbable events. But in the vastness of astronomical space, or geological time, events that seem impossible in Middle World turn out to be inevitable. Science flings open the narrow window through which we are accustomed to viewing the spectrum of possibilities. We are liberated by calculation and reason to visit regions of possibility that had once seemed out of bounds or inhabited by dragons. [...] How should we interpret Haldane’s ‘queerer than we can suppose’? Queerer than can, in principle, be supposed? Or just queerer than we can suppose, given the limitation of our brains’ evolutionary apprenticeship in Middle World? Could we, by training and practice, emancipate ourselves from Middle World, tear off our black burka, and achieve some sort of intuitive — as well as just mathematical — understanding of the very small, the very large, and the very fast? I genuinely don’t know the answer, but I am thrilled to be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits.

  8. #8 Doug
    September 20, 2007

    My point of confusion has always been about the objective of the respective atheist camps.

    The way I see it, on the one hand we must address what Chris Mooney describes as the Republican War on Science: Intelligent Design, Global Warming, Stem Cell Research (and the Dems too with Alternative and Complementary Medicines). On the other hand is a broad brush of ridicule and minimization of claims of knowing the unknowable – the undue respect faith and piety over evidence and methodology as espoused by Dawkins, Harris, etc.

    Certainly both objectives have many things in common. If evidence and methodology are given due respect, the other wars against science will be won. But the second objective is extremely long term goal, the first objective is a near term goal.

  9. #9 Tulse
    September 20, 2007

    I rarely see any brave antitheists posting long hysterical screeds against Islam, especially under their real names.

    Dawkins and Hitchens have both written extensively about Islam, and there are various bloggers (including PZ) who attack Islamic creation science. So you’re simply wrong.

    Oh, that’s right, when you insult Christians they turn the other cheek, when you insult the Prophet the Muslims cut off your head. So clearly the flat-earth Baptist fundies are the bigger threat, to be sure.

    It is the flat-earth Baptist fundies and their ilk who are passing legislation and determining public policy in the US — for those who reside there, such folk are indeed a greater immediate threat.

  10. #10 Crom
    September 20, 2007

    “Dawkins and Hitchens have both written extensively about Islam, and there are various bloggers (including PZ) who attack Islamic creation science. So you’re simply wrong.”

    Perhaps I was a bit too sarcastic in my portrayal of the differing attitudes towards the differing religions. I am aware that Dawkins and Hitchens have written on Islam, but I don’t recall their writing having the same vitriol against Islam that Christians receive. Although I am certain that links can be found to venomous anti-Islamic atheistic posts, the better known authors rarely jeeringly mock Mohammed in the same fashion that they do Christ. Case in point, I have seen numerous references here in the few months I have been reading here to “Jeebus” and do not recall anyone coming up with a similar derogatory name for Mohammed or Allah… Or any other deity at all. If someone can link the archives to where this happened I will read them, and if someone really wants to prove me wrong please list the number of times a mocking nickname was used for Allah/Mohammed/Any Other Deity vs. how many times Christianity was mocked in the same time frame.

    Tulse makes a good point in that the Christians proposing legislation here in the US that is favorable to their cause and therefore are seen as the most immediate threat to the cause of atheism. However, SEF’s point about Christian macheteros is silly, because anyone killing people in the name of Christianity is not a Christian. Oh, they can claim that they are and claim the label, but I can also claim that I am the President of Hair Club for Men but that does not necessarily make it so, now does it?

    The sad truth is, it’s simply fashionable to bash Christianity now that it’s influence is no longer as palpable in the American social consciousness.

    While someone may have posted while I was writing this, at the time I published not one single person had answered my question regarding atheism bringing the sword as espoused by some of the readership here. Are you all making the statement that violently converting or killing religious people is indeed the greater good?

  11. #11 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    However, SEF’s point about Christian macheteros is silly, because anyone killing people in the name of Christianity is not a Christian.

    Crom, that’s stupid. First of all, it’s the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy, secondly, on what authority do you claim you’re in any position to tell us who’s a True Crhristian? and who’s not, and thirdly, here’s your own ‘Prince of Peace’ himself on the subject:

    Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39 NASB)

    I bash Christianity because of the obnoxious fools such as yourself that it harbours.

  12. #12 Wicked Lad
    September 20, 2007

    Blake Stacey wrote (#20):

    I find myself entirely unmoved by claims that Dawkins and Dennett offer only negative remarks and should parade more “positive aspects” of non-belief.

    I’m unmoved by such claims, too. Of the books on religion written by Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins and Dennett, I’ve only read Dennett’s Breaking the Spell. I’m puzzled that people would refer to that book as negative. What I took from it is quite positive: religious people claim their religions benefit society, so let’s test those claims and give religions credit where they deserve it. But only where they deserve it. Is that negative?

    I haven’t waded into Hitchens’ book yet, because, well, I’m not rich….

    Me, neither. That’s why I love libraries. But keep it quiet. I’m terrified the digital rights fascists will catch on and ban libraries if they ever hear about them.

  13. #13 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    So much squabbling and bickering! It reminds me of denominational battles amongst believers.

    I suppose it would, only if you knew nothing of the history and formation of various denominations, much of which involved actual persecution, warfare, and exilement.

  14. #14 Blake Stacey
    September 20, 2007

    Louise Van Court:

    You’re free to be reminded of whatever you’d like. Myself, I tend to see the better discussions here in blogo-territory as reminiscent of open debates at scientific conferences. Not all the evidence is in yet, and some big questions remain open, so let’s get together and talk about them. Genuine science thrives on a diversity of viewpoints, because that diversity opens the possibility that some people will be less wrong than others. In a complicated world where the truth is hard to figure out, that’s a good thing!

    Rey Fox:

    “because anyone killing people in the name of Christianity is not a Christian”

    Who died and made you [Crom] the arbiter of Christianity?

    Excellent question. No true Scotsman went to fight in the Crusades. . . et cetera.

    Honestly, now! Nobody here is “bringing the sword” to anybody. We’ve got better things to do, like teaching classes and getting published in scientific journals, not to mention talking like pirates. The weapon we are bringing is the pen.

  15. #15 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    Wrong again, Crom.

    My insults are always coherent.

  16. #16 Bifrost
    September 20, 2007

    Wicked Lad (#37)

    Libraries are wonderful. But there is a form of non sanctioned censorship going on in some communities. Books by Hitchens, Dawkins, and others routinely get “lost” by the fundie that checks them out. Libraries have lost a lot of books that way.

  17. #17 Blake Stacey
    September 20, 2007

    It would be nice, to say the least, if the anti-Uppity Atheists advanced a positive position, rather than ceaselessly declaiming their unhappiness with the Uppity Atheists. Otherwise, how can they hope to succeed? You can’t have a world-view which is entirely negative, after all.

  18. #18 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    It would be nice, to say the least, if the anti-Uppity Atheists advanced a positive position, rather than ceaselessly declaiming their unhappiness with the Uppity Atheists. Otherwise, how can they hope to succeed? You can’t have a world-view which is entirely negative, after all.

    Blake Stacey wins teh intarwebs!

  19. #19 Crom
    September 20, 2007

    Chet,

    You state in your post that Stalin was an atheist, then claim “Stalin was the leader of a religion, not an atheist leader.” Aren’t these two statements mutually contradictory?

    Unless of course you are claiming – and I believe this to be 100% true – that atheism is merely another religion. It has articles of faith, for example, evolution which has yet to be proven, and there is still that matter of spontaneous life generation from a primordial puddle of goo that has yet to ever be observed, nevermind replicate itself in a controlled environment utilizing the scientific method. It has high priests, Dawkins, Hitchens etc. and atheisms’ adherents believe utterly without solid, observable proof. Believing without total proof is faith. Therefore, atheism requires faith, and faith is the hallmark of religion.

    Sorry, I know that one will irritate many of you.

    As for the haggis, yes please… I will even bring a bottle of 15 year-old Macallan. I knew someone would bring the No True Scotsman fallacy up, because it allows the commenter to avoid answering the question with a pithy riposte.

    I believe I have accomplished my goal in coming here, I was looking to plumb the depths of the animosity of the average atheist and I see that you all have your wacky fundamentalists same as the religious folks do. I don’t see any progress being made, as it is clear that you folks are as entrenched as the theists and appear as ready to do battle for your viewpoint as they are. Thanks again, most of you are articulate and knowledgeable and I appreciate your time.

  20. #20 Siamang
    September 20, 2007

    I agree with Brownian.

    This comment needs a molly at some point.

  21. #21 Matthew C. Nisbet
    September 20, 2007

    Tulse,
    I’m going by his most recent statements. I interpret Kurtz’s position as consistent with the nuanced view that I have been arguing for, first voiced in our op-ed at The Washington Post.

    It’s also consistent with the views of Shermer (SciAm) and EO Wilson (voiced at Bill Moyers’ program, transcript will be up at my blog soon.)

    As I have always argued, I personally agree with Dawkins et al.’s view that there is no credible argument for the existence of God. I also support their right to voice their opinion.

    But in a pluralistic democracy, if we are going to solve collective problems such as climate change and poverty, we have to also raise concern about drawing a bright line in the sand between atheists and anyone who is religious, attacking and denigrating the moderately religiously even though they share almost all of our values.

    As Kurtz argues at Point of Inquiry, the best way forward is to critique religion in its most extreme form while emphasizing the shared values between secularists and the moderately religious.

    This is exactly what Sagan tried to do back in the late 1980s and 1990s on the environment and what EO Wilson is doing today. In my public scholarship efforts bringing to light the relevancy of my research and that of others, I suggest we do systematically what Wilson and Sagan have been so successful at doing intuitively.

    Along these lines, in his interview of Kurtz at Point of Inquiry, DJ Grothe notes that Kurtz has been talking lately more and more about the need to embrace the moderately religious around shared values and concerns.

    Kurtz then goes on to note that he has reservations about Hitchens’ and Harris’ assault on the moderately religious.

    I encourage everyone to listen to the interview at Point of Inquiry, but you can read a transcript at my blog:

    http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2007/09/paul_kurtz_in_contrast_to_the.php#comments

    From the transcript:

    GROTHE: Let’s get back to the liberal religious. You have been more interested I think lately in reaching out to the liberal religious. Not just drawing a line in the sand and saying if you believe in the supernatural, you are my enemy. You’re not fighting that fight. We need to reach out to more liberal religious allies on issues of concern.

    Number one, how do we reach out to them and tell me what some of these issues are.

    [Kurtz replies in detail, naming poverty and the basic principle of democracy and human rights. He also names environmentalism and climate change as issues where collaboration between the religious and non-religious are absolutely necessary.]

    GROTHE: What about the critics that say that the liberal religious are part of the problem, that they give room for fundamentalists to grow?….They make it harder for reason and science to prevail against the cults of unreason?

    KURTZ: I realize that many people have said that. Hitchens says that religion poisons everything. Well some religions have poisoned many things. And Harris says that we need to attack the liberal religionists at the same time. And I think many of the religionists overlook these problems.

    But nevertheless, I think that [liberal religionists] are well meaning, good natured, honest, moral people in the churches, and they want to enter into the modern scientific world. So it is the scientific extremes of religion that need to be attacked.

    I think Kurtz states his current position pretty plainly, despite how people might selectively perceive his past editorial.

  22. #22 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    I believe I have accomplished my goal in coming here, I was looking to plumb the depths of the animosity of the average atheist and I see that you all have your wacky fundamentalists same as the religious folks do.

    Thanks for letting us know you came here with the intent of data-mining to support your a priori conclusions. Have fun discussing the ‘evidence’ with your fundy friends (BTW, keep using terms like ‘proven’ with regard to scientific theories like evolution. It’ll let any scientists you might accidentally encounter know that you haven’t the foggiest what such words mean, and thus save them a lot of wasted effort in discussing such things with you.)

    You won’t be missed here.

  23. #23 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    I believe I have accomplished my goal in coming here, I was looking to plumb the depths of the animosity of the average atheist and I see that you all have your wacky fundamentalists same as the religious folks do.

    Thanks for letting us know you came here with the intent of data-mining to support your a priori conclusions (not that it wasn’t apparent from the get-go.) Have fun discussing the ‘evidence’ with your fundy friends (BTW, keep using terms like ‘proven’ with regard to scientific theories like evolution. It’ll let any scientists you might accidentally encounter know that you haven’t the foggiest what such words mean, and thus save them a lot of wasted effort in discussing such things with you.)

    You won’t be missed here.

  24. #24 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    I believe I have accomplished my goal in coming here, I was looking to plumb the depths of the animosity of the average atheist and I see that you all have your wacky fundamentalists same as the religious folks do.

    Thanks for letting us know you came here with the intent of data-mining to support your a priori conclusions (not that it wasn’t apparent from the get-go.) Have fun discussing the ‘evidence’ with your fundy friends (BTW, keep using terms like ‘proven’ with regard to scientific theories like evolution. It’ll let any scientists you might accidentally encounter know that you haven’t the foggiest what such words mean, and thus save them a lot of wasted effort in discussing such things with you.)

    You won’t be missed here.

  25. #25 Tulse
    September 20, 2007

    Matthew C. Nisbet:

    I think Kurtz states his current position pretty plainly, despite how people might selectively perceive his past editorial.

    Matthew, it is precisely this kind of rhetorical move that pissed people like me off — there is no way in hell that the quotes provided are somehow “selective perceived”, unless you can explain the nuance when Kurtz says “What disturbs us is the preposterous outcry that atheists are “evangelical” and that they have gone too far in their criticism of religion“, talks about “fear of offending the little old ladies and gentlemen in the suburbs“, and asks “why should the nonreligious, nonaffiliated, secular minority in the country remain silent?

    Your comment is a truly impressive combination of pomposity and innuendo, along with the obnoxious refusal to identify the “people” to whom you refer (presumably me) . A more honest academic might have said something like “Kurtz’ position in the past does indeed appears to be far more hardline than he is now advocating”, or “It appears that Kurtz views have shifted”, rather than suggesting that those who point out his past very clearly written work are somehow biased or less than honest.

    And a more honest academic might also look at his most recent editorial in the October/November edition of Free Inquiry, where he writes such passages as:

    There are various forms of unbelief in America and the world today. At one end of the spectrum stand the “evangelical atheists” (so maligned by their critics), who focus primarily on the case against God, noting the lack of evidence, the disregarded contradictions, and the atrocities committed in his name.

    Christopher Hitchens’s brilliant book God Is Not Great is subtitled “How Religion Poisons Everything.

    I am astonished by the fact that six books on atheism have been published by five authors (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Victor Stenger) to such vitriolic comment in the press.

    Incidentally, to our list of six books by the so-called five horsemen, we should add a new one, which is perhaps equally significant: An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam, by Taner Edis. I should point out that this book is published by Prometheus Books, which I founded.

    What I find so puzzling is not the outcry of religious folk–which is to be ex­pected–but that of the so-called neutral liberal and conservative pundits of our time. What an unfair assault on the effort to apply science and reason to religion.

    Again, it sure doesn’t sound to me like Kurtz can be counted as a clear opponent of the “New Atheist Noise Machine”, and I think a more careful and/or honest academic would acknowledge that, rather than just name-drop him.

    (To be fair, in this article Kurtz addresses what he calls “Neo-Humanists”, who are folks that address the positive side of religious dissent (be they atheists, agnostics, or even dissenting believers). But I don’t think that anyone is arguing against such a move. I am fine with Neo-Humanism, and I’m sure Dawkins and Dennett and Harris and Hitchens and PZ would be, too.)

  26. #26 David Marjanovi?
    September 20, 2007

    Sorry, totally off topic, but it looks like Tiberius and Pontius Pilate may be getting their day in a Kenyan court. Seems Jeebus should have been tried under jewish not roman law.

    “Should have been”? Power lies at the tip of gladius and pilum.

  27. #27 David Marjanovi?
    September 20, 2007

    Sorry, totally off topic, but it looks like Tiberius and Pontius Pilate may be getting their day in a Kenyan court. Seems Jeebus should have been tried under jewish not roman law.

    “Should have been”? Power lies at the tip of gladius and pilum.

  28. #28 David Marjanovi?
    September 20, 2007

    So Conan the Barbarian worships someone who doesn’t even know what science is and is so kind as to present us with the textbook example of the No True Scotsman fallacy? I’m deeply disappointed.

  29. #29 David Marjanovi?
    September 20, 2007

    So Conan the Barbarian worships someone who doesn’t even know what science is and is so kind as to present us with the textbook example of the No True Scotsman fallacy? I’m deeply disappointed.

  30. #30 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    I believe I have accomplished my goal in coming here

    I bet Neal thought the same.

    at least Crom managed to avoid the allcaps, extra exclamation marks, and random profanities.

  31. #31 Sastra
    September 20, 2007

    Matt Nisbet wrote:

    As Kurtz argues at Point of Inquiry, the best way forward is to critique religion in its most extreme form while emphasizing the shared values between secularists and the moderately religious.

    As long as moderate religionists think that atheism is a bizarre, extreme position without any reasonable case they will be happy to accept our criticisms of the fundamentalists, and then turn around and tell each other “the atheists are just as bad, of course.” Fundamentalists have too much God,, and atheists have no God, but the truth lies in the middle, with just enough God. And they will continue to promote the view that belief in the supernatural is the sign of a reasonable, loving, sensitive person of sophistication, moderation, and nuance.

    We need to make the case that we are not atheists because we don’t like fundamentalists. They don’t like fundamentalists either, and they still believe in God, so they think we’re simply not aware of the ways to reconcile reason and faith. No, we are atheists because we don’t respect faith as a method, and they need to understand why. Otherwise, the respect they have for us as allies will be superficial, and break down. The real common ground is their own respect for reason over faith, when push comes to shove.

    I think we can do both: make common cause with the moderate religionists on collective problems such as climate change and creationism, and continue to point out that the best case for approaching these problems is through reason, not faith. And based on what I’ve read and know about Kurtz, Dawkins, Hitchens, Shermer and Myers, they’d agree.

  32. #32 Rob the Lurker FCD BMWCCA
    September 20, 2007

    Ichthyic, I think you’re onto something…

    Neal – tourettes – CapsLock = Crom.

  33. #33 Stwriley
    September 20, 2007

    For all your protestations, Dr. Nisbet, you conveniently don’t mention here the very first answer Dr. Kurtz gave in his PoI interview (though you do at least include it in your partial transcript):

    GROTHE: …I take it that you wonder how effective evangelical atheists are if all they are talking about is atheism?

    KURTZ: I think they have had a positive impact, and I know most of the leaders, and they publish in Free Inquiry…so they have had positive impact, of course they are criticizing religion.

    However, that is not enough. One has to go beyond that! You can’t talk about abstract atheism, or merely a negative attitude. It is what you are for that counts, not what you are against! So I think on that point, one must affirm a positive humanist morality.

    [Transcript of PoI interview with Dr. Paul Kurtz. Compiled by Matthew C. Nisbet on "Framing Science" at http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/
    2007/09/paul_kurtz_in_contrast_to_the.php]

    There seems little doubt here that Dr. Kurtz is advocating for attacking religion generally but also for presenting a positive message of our own as secularists. Everything he says subsequently in the interview is oriented toward this point, that when we cooperate with religious people it must be on a secular basis and without compromising our secular values or rejecting the general criticism of religion. It seems to me (as a simple historian) that this is not the position you advocate with your “framing” argument, and your criticism of Dawkins, et al is exactly what Dr. Kurtz is rejecting, not only in this interview but in his other statements of the subject as well (as ably cited by other above.)

    “Framing” has always been about spin and modification of message, and that really boils down to one thing: hiding your true beliefs and the facts as you see them in subservience to political expediency. I seriously doubt you’ll get Dr. Kurtz to agree that this is in any way a good idea.

  34. #34 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    just enough God

    Oh man! You MUST flesh that out into an essay with that as the title. seriously, for the sake of the world, you just have to.

    or at least register it as a name for a band.

  35. #35 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    I’m having a little trouble taking the New Atheism seriously

    gee, Rob, you’re one step beyond me.

    I have trouble taking the LABEL “New Atheism” seriously.

  36. #36 Kevin
    September 20, 2007

    You know what? Matt is a liar. I’ve just read Kurtz article, and not only does he not condemn the tactics of Dawkins, he actually includes himself in the list of “evangelical atheists”. He puts himself in the same category as Dawkins and Harris.

    Matt has gone so far off into his own world, trying to prove his silly little “framing” theory that he is twisting Kurtz and everyone elses positions completely. This is just getting ridiculous. We have the freaking text. You can’t lie about what we can easily read on our own.

  37. #37 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    Sure, a lot of religious activity is pernicious, but that can fought on specific issues without trying to reform the human race.

    how much damage are you willing to personally be responsible for while you wait to decide on the results of specific instances, rather than stem the cause?

    well?

    If someone murders a doctor in the name of religion, are you willing to accept responsibility for that?

    If your kid is forced to go to a public school that has decided to redefine science itself to include creationism and astrology along with physics and biology, are you happy to tell your kid:

    “meh, it’s just one instance; most of the religious are perfectly harmless”.

    hmm.

    ever consider that just such a laissez-faire attitude is part of the problem that has allowed the delusions of the religious to cause such damage already?

  38. #38 Brownian
    September 20, 2007

    It’s quite the fool’s errand to tell people that they are stupid, slavish, and delusional and expect them to respect you.

    Really? The people I’ve respected most in my life have been those who’ve told me outright when I’ve been wrong. And yes, on occasion I’ve felt embarrassed or foolish for it, but far less foolish than I’ve felt when I’ve learned I’d been propagating ignorance because no one respected me enough to correct me. (Relatedly, I also tell people when they’ve got food stuck between their teeth. I know that makes me a mean, outspoken fundamentalist, but surely it’s better than having someone walk around all day with a celery stick hanging off their gums, no?) I liked school for a similar reason; if I’d never been instructed and corrected, I suppose I’d still think the same things I did as a five-year-old.

    But maybe that’s just me. Perhaps everyone else prefers to be surrounded by appeasing sycophants who never disagree for fear of hurting feelings.

  39. #39 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    Matt has gone so far off into his own world, trying to prove his silly little “framing” theory that he is twisting Kurtz and everyone elses positions completely.

    it’s not entirely “silly”; there might be value in framing, perhaps even in the direction Matt wants to take it. the problem is balancing that against the damage it causes to the way science actually works. there is always value in spin, at least in terms of effective application; that much has been proven in the political arena, at least (swiftboating as a great example). that doesn’t make it necessarily a good thing for politics, or science.

    However, I do completely agree that he is doing a textbook case of framing other’s positions so that they fold into his own, and then projecting exactly that behavior onto his critics.

    However, since he’s a cocky new grad with a science paper under his belt, doubtless he won’t be able to see it, at least until some of the rough edges wear off.

    He’ll get a lot of patronizing smiles from the old guard, and eventually he will go off the deep end, or settle down into actually working on collecting data, like he should, and then say much more reasonable things based on the data he collects.

    I disagree with Matt’s conclusions in general, but one thing I can most assuredly agree with is that there has been little formal study of the impact of framing scientific information wrt to public attitudes about science.

    lots of anecdotal evidence, little hard data.

    so, I hope once he “gets his feet”, and puts the opinions to rest for a while (to put it far more politely than I probably should), we will see some interesting research coming from him.

    after all, research costs money, and AFAICT, Nisbet is the one most likely to be able to actually GET money to even begin formal research in this area.

    one can only hope the money will be well spent.

  40. #40 Chris Hallquist
    September 20, 2007

    Most people have already done my basic response to Nisbet for me, but I thought I’d repost what I’ve already said in my own comments section here for the record:

    More from the interview:

    [3:52] Paul Kurtz: Well, I, look, I think they’ve had a positive impact, and I know most of the leaders, and they published in Free Inquiry. So they’ve had positive impact [unintelligible] they’re criticizing religion.

    [4:24] DJ Grothe: Isn’t it a dream come true that so many people are finally talking about atheism when they haven’t been for the last 30 years?

    Kurtz: Yes.

    DJ Grothe: That they’re wrestling with these questions? Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, others have brought these questions into the spotlight.

    Kurtz: Yes, that’s very important, we’ve been trying to do that for years, and now some of the major publishers have published books on that. And that contributes to the dialogue…

    [19:03] DJ Grothe: What do you say about the critics who say that the liberal religious are part of the problem, that they give room for the fundamentalists to grow that by not speaking out against the worst aspects of each of each their faiths, and I’m talking primarily the monotheisms right now, that they actually make it harder for reason and science to prevail against the cults of unreason in society.

    Kurtz: I realize that many people have said that. And, I mean, Hitchens says that religion poisons everything. Well, some religions have poisoned many things. And Harris says that we need to attack the liberal religionists at the same time. And I think that many of the religionists overlooked these problems, but nonetheless, I think there are well meaning, honest, morally concerned people in the churches, and I think that they want to enter into the modern scientific world. So the scientific criticism of the extremes of religion need to be attacked, yes. [Note: This is verbatim, but Kurtz fumbled with his words here a little bit. I'm pretty sure he meant to say that scientific criticism of the extremes of religion needs to happen, and that the extremes need to be attacked]

    DJ Grothe: So that should be the bullseye, the extremist religionists, not just religion in general. Look, I really believe that God, belief in God, is a delusion, is there anything wrong with Richard Dawkins, eminent scientist that he is, actually saying that if he really believes it.

    Kurtz: No, I…

    DJ Grothe: If he has a good argument for it.

    Kurtz: I agree that it’s a delusion, and I think Dawkins is to be applauded for that.

    Against these parts of the interview, Nisbet’s quote is pretty obviously out of context. The things Kurtz nodded along with (not said, just nodded along with) about “limiting coalitions” and “turning off people” was pretty mild language, and doesn’t contradict the much broader statements he made that Dawkins has had a “positive impact,” did something “we’ve been trying to do… for years,” and “is to be applauded for” calling religion a “delusion.” Combine that with the Free Inquiry lead editorial I already linked to, and miscellaneous glowing comments Kurtz has made about Dawkins and Harris (at this summer’s CFI conference, for example) and it becomes clear that Kurtz is no Nisbetite.

    So Matt, why don’t you go ahead and make a post denouncing Kurtz now, m’kay?

    Also, Nisbet says Kurtz’s position is nuaced. Indeed it is–and a hell of a lot more nuanced than the anti-Dawkins table pounding Nisbet deals in, which he wants to associate Kurtz with. Nisbet’s position on Dawkins is that because he’s attacking religion, what he’s doing is bad bad bad bad! Not that he needs to do other things too, not that there are costs to his approach, not even that there are a few things he shouldn’t have said–just that attacking religion is bad.

  41. #41 Anton Mates
    September 20, 2007

    Tulse,

    Surely you will grant that his editorial is somewhat at odds with that stance. It is not clear to me whether his position has changed, or whether he holds a complex of both views, but either way, I don’t see him as fully in the anti-New Atheist camp.

    I don’t think Kurtz’s position has changed; it’s quite clear from the interview that he strongly supports New Atheism.

    GROTHE: I take it that you wonder about how effective evangelical atheists are, if all they’re taking about is atheism.

    KURTZ: Well, look, I think they’ve had a positive impact. And I know most of the leaders, and they’ve published in Free Inquiry. So they’ve had positive impact, of course, they’re criticizing religion. However, that is not enough. One has to go beyond that….One has to affirm a positive humanist morality.

    GROTHE: Look I really believe that God, belief in God, is a delusion. Is there anything wrong with Richard Dawkins, eminent scientist that he is, actually saying that, if he really believes that, if he has a good argument for it?

    KURTZ: No, I agree that it’s a delusion. And I think Dawkins is to be applauded for that. But only one shoe has dropped. We need to drop the other shoe.

    He has, apparently, two main criticisms. One, that a focus on attacking theism is insufficient in itself, and so positive arguments in favor of humanist morality should be added to it. Not, you’ll notice, that attacking theism is harmful to the cause; in spite of Kurtz agreeing that vocal anti-theists can limit the ability of secular humanists to form coalitions with liberal believers, he still considers them to have a net positive impact.

    GROTHE: And I take it if some of these people decrying God belief, as true as you think they are, you are saying that they limit coalitions. That they turn off people who might be able to work with us around certain issues of concern?

    KURTZ: I think that is true, so we have to put another step forward.

    And two, he disagrees with Hitchens and Harris that liberal believers hurt more than they help (although I’m not sure Harris would go that far anyway). But, again, he doesn’t say that this turns H&H into a liability for the cause.

    GROTHE: And I take it if some of these people decrying God belief, as true as you think they are, you are saying that they limit coalitions. That they turn off people who might be able to work with us around certain issues of concern?

    KURTZ: I think that is true, so we have to put another step forward. But I think I should point out that we have been attacked, very much so, people have condemned us and blamed us, for all the ills of America. But I think we really go beyond that, if we can, and I think we can. For example, and on this point, EO Wilson has led the way, and he is a secular humanist.

    I hesitate to call Nisbet a liar on this, but at minimum he is a very poor reader. Kurtz doesn’t think the New Atheist methods are a “self-inflicted wound”–he “applauds” them and praises their positive impact! He simply thinks somebody should also be taking other approaches.

  42. #42 Tulse
    September 20, 2007

    Matt, I agree that Kurtz’ position is somewhat nuanced, in that he makes a very good case for the utility of positive aspects of “Neo-Humanism”. That said, as Stwriley points out, the specifics of his position don’t seem to match up all that much with the specifics of the positions you have espoused, and in that sense I think it is inappropriate to tout him so strongly as your intellectual ally.

    As an example, comparing his overall approach to yours, in the original Science article you and Mooney state:

    “Messages must be positive and respect diversity. As the film Flock of Dodos painfully demonstrates, many scientists not only fail to think strategically about how to communicate on evolution, but belittle and insult others’ religious beliefs ”

    However, as Kurtz proudly points out in his latest Free Inquiry editorial, his press has published a book attacking the treatment of science by Islam (An Illusion of Harmony), an act that would seemingly be at odds with the notion of “positive” messages that “respect diversity”.

    Kurtz also seems to have a far greater respect for the work of Dawkins, Harris, et al. than you do — as I noted above he has called Hitchens’ book (perhaps the most contentious of the lot) “brilliant”, and has called attacks of these authors’ works “an unfair assault on the effort to apply science and reason to religion.” I seriously doubt that Kurtz would endorse a phrase like “New Atheist Noise Machine”, or be at all comfortable with the kind of strident attacks on Dawkins et al. that you have espoused on your blog.

    True, Kurtz clearly thinks that there are some values common to both the moderate religious and the secular humanist, and that progress on specific policy issues can be made by harnessing such values. This is somewhat similar to some things you have said, but here as well there are serious differences as I see it. First off, Kurtz is by no means saying that Dawkins et al. shouldn’t take the approach that they do (he has, after all, warmly endorsed this approach), merely that there are other approaches that others might take. In other words, Kurtz seems happy to have various people play various roles in a Big Tent, and emphasize different aspects of the pro-science approach. By contrast, you seemingly argue that the only way to properly promote science to the public is by not criticizing religion.

    Additionally, I don’t see Kurtz advocating for what seems to be the heart of your position, at least as I see it, which is that “scientists should strategically avoid emphasizing the technical details of science when trying to defend it” because “facts will be repeatedly misapplied and twisted” — in other words, that scientists shouldn’t emphasize the science in their work, but should instead spin it for various audiences. On the contrary, when Kurtz speaks warmly of the Neo-Humanists, he says “Distinctively, neo-humanists look to science and reason as the most reliable guide to knowledge, and they wish to extend the methods of science to all areas of human endeavor. They believe that critical thinking and the methods of reflective intelligence should guide our behavior. Neo-humanists appreciate the arts as well as the sciences, and they draw upon the literature of human experience for inspiration. Neo-humanists, however, seek objective methods of corroborating truth claims, not poetic metaphor or intuition. [...]They attempt, wherever possible, to negotiate differences rationally and to work out compromises using science, reason, and humanist values.” In other words, it appears to me that Kurtz emphasizes the positive aspects of science, and that it is that which needs to be communicated to and fostered in the public at large, and not some attempt to use marketing spin.

    You’re welcome to disagree with my analysis, of course, but if you do I would really appreciate it if you would engage with the substance and specifics of the arguments, rather than repeat generalities.

  43. #43 Sastra
    September 20, 2007

    You know, at some point, sooner or later almost all us atheists will decry “extremist” atheists, and define our own position as moderation. That’s because there’s almost always someone we know who really goes overboard with the anti-religion stuff. Irrational arguments, in-your-face rhetoric, disturbing people unnecessarily, gratuitous and unmerited insults. Picketing churches and burning Bibles. Every movement has its nuts.

    But to whom is this “extremist” label being applied to? Richard Dawkins using the word “faith-head” once or twice in an otherwise scholarly work? Or the “fuck the skull of Jesus” crowd? Finding some atheist leader deriding “those who go too far” isn’t necessarily going to support the point the “frame” crowd wants to support.

  44. #44 Matthew C. Nisbet
    September 20, 2007

    Guys,
    I stand by my interpretation of Kurtz’s latest interview. I never said he didn’t offer praise for Dawkins et al. and obviously that is part of the transcript at my blog.

    I did, however, call attention to his concerns that Hitchens and Harris have gone too far in singling out moderately religious Americans who share many common values with secular humanists, in the process possibly alienating these allies.

    That’s the exact same argument I have applied since the original publication of our Science article.

    I bought Dawkins book the day it went on sale, enjoyed it, and generally agree with his worldview. I support his right to voice his opinion.

    But I also know as a social scientist who studies the media that his message comes with certain risks, specifically in working with diverse publics on solving collective problems.

    Indeed, this is the great indirect and unintended consequence of the “Noise Machine,” defined as the heuristics, short cuts, frame devices, and fleeting bits of information that moderately religious people might pick up by way of the conflict driven media.

    Translated in the press and twisted by opposing interest groups, the low information signal is that science is at odds with what moderately religious Americans value.

    By definition if we end up alienating natural allies on issues such as the teaching of evolution, poverty, the environment, or stem cell research, it is an unfortunate self-inflicted wound.

  45. #45 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    By definition if we end up alienating natural allies on issues such as the teaching of evolution, poverty, the environment, or stem cell research, it is an unfortunate self-inflicted wound.

    *yawn*

    wake me up when Nisbet is able to view an argument from outside of his own narrow perspective.

    nobody is going to get this guy to budge an inch from his projection of himself onto the “framing issue”.

    it’s just a matter of time.

    save what Nisbet says now, and see how much it will change in about 2 years, once he hopefully gets a chance at some funding to do the research to collect the hard data that he himself points out is lacking in the literature.

  46. #46 Janus
    September 20, 2007

    I think Kurtz’s stance is pretty much the same as Dawkins’ and PZ’s. Dr. Nisbet seems to be laboring under the delusion that what “new atheists” want is to “draw a line in the sand”, declare all religious believers our enemies, and never collaborate with them on anything. Of course that’s not the case. As PZ must have repeated a thousand times, we’re all in the favor of joining forces with religious moderates to protect the environment, the teaching of good science, etc. The Nisbet camp is trying to silence us, but we aren’t trying to silence them. After all, why wouldn’t we be willing to collaborate? There are Republicans and Democrats who disagree on almost every political subject, but that doesn’t stop them from collaborating for the good of the USA in many cases, does it? Why should things be different with theists and atheists?

    Obviously, because _theists_ might not want to collaborate. The Nisbet camp’s fear isn’t that atheists will draw a line in the sand, it’s that our uncompromising refusal to state anything but the truth will lead _theists_ to draw a line in the sand. Theists are the ones who are susceptible to do such a thing because they have an emotional attachment to their faith-based beliefs. They are the ones who might refuse to collaborate because their beliefs are dogmatic. All it means is that, once again, faith is the root of the problem. Not “evangelical atheism”, not “polarizing”, not even religious fundamentalism. Faith. Dogma. The refusal to let go of one’s belief, and therefore the obligation to do anything to hang on to them, including deluding oneself about climate changes, and going up against science.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean that PZ is right and Nisbet is wrong, but it does make a few things perfectly clear. The “new” atheists are not opposed to collaboration, theists are, and it’s the new atheists who are attacking the root of _that_ problem, not people like Matt Nisbet. The Nisbet camp is a camp of appeasers, not matter how much they try to deny it. They refuse to go after the root of the problem; instead they prefer to deny (in public, at least) that there is one, in the hopes that religious believers won’t draw that line in the sand. The hilarious part is that if they do draw that line, the Nisbet Camp will lay the blame at _our_ feet.

    Before I click the Post button, let me raise a few questions:
    The Nisbet camp is thinking short-term by going after the more extreme forms of religion while the Dawkins camp is thinking long-term by going after the root of the problem, faith. It seems to me that long-term thinking should always be prioritized unless the short-term problems are immensely important (or unless you’re a selfish bastard who’s only concerned with your own little life).
    - Are things like the teaching of evolution so important that long-term thinking should temporarily be put on hold?
    - If so, just how long _will_ it be put on hold? When does the Nisbet think it will be appropriate to really go after faith itself?

    I wrote above that theists will draw the line because of their dogmatic attachment to their beliefs, but I’m sure it isn’t true that all theists will do that. Surely at least some theists will be able to accept that yes, atheists think they’re irrational and yes, they want to get rid of religion, but nevertheless it would be a good thing to collaborate on important issues.
    - If uncompromising atheists are “allowed” to bash religion all they like, what percentage of theists will nevertheless accept to join forces with us?
    - If that percentage is reasonably big, doesn’t it mean that Nisbet’s fears aren’t warranted and that there is no good reason not to be uncompromising atheists?
    - Isn’t it incredibly condescending to theists to refrain from telling them what we really think about their beliefs in order to avoid scaring them away? Aren’t they adults who should be able to endure a little criticism and even ridicule?

  47. #47 rjane
    September 20, 2007

    Molkien, Ichthyic, Brownian,
    Thanks for the comments. We have quite different takes on the seriousness of general religious attitudes versus specifically pernicious activities. First of all, vociferous atheism is good against creationists — there at least the issues meet head on. I don’t see it working that way with abortion clinic bombings, that case is much muddier. Atheistic evangelism isn’t going to stop the Rudolph’s of the world. It’s not going affect the fundalmentalists who support him. The so-called moderate Christians — they, mostly, I imagine, IIRC various commentary, find him reprehensible. Will militant atheism sway them in our direction? — more likely the opposite for the reasons I have mentioned. One of the reasons is that these are socio-economic and cultural phenomena as well. I think the “let’s have a rational debate about this” approach is much better suited to academia. You’re not just telling believers they’re stupid and delusional, you’re telling them from a somewhat elitist, specialized platform quite removed where and how they live their lives. I actually don’t think people are generally stupid — but the kind of disciplined and informed thinking that leads to the appreciation of atheistic points of view expects a lot from people who must perforce operate on a more concrete and immediate plane. Remember, the favorite trope of the mountebanks pushing the ugliness to the believers is that some godless elite is looking down on them. I’ve met that attitude plenty.

    Accuse me of egregious moderation, sure, but there is a really vital and unique contribution that the scientific community makes to our national debate — which will be increasingly important. The religious miscreants out there would like nothing more than to handicap the community’s ability to influence society (and I don’t view that at heart as a religious issue per se — it’s more about their politcal power, cloaked in religion). Just ’cause their despicable, doesn’t mean they’re not cunning. Don’t make their tasks easier.

    By all means be exultant and clamorous atheists. Do it ’cause you like it. That’s far more likely to break the bonds of delusion, or at least aerate its soil a bit, then explaining to people that they are stupid.

  48. #48 Ichthyic
    September 20, 2007

    The Nisbet camp is thinking short-term by going after the more extreme forms of religion while the Dawkins camp is thinking long-term by going after the root of the problem, faith.

    yes, there is a difference of approach there too, but it goes beyond that into the actual message science itself should send to the public.

    frankly, we don’t need to frame science for moderates; by and large they already seem to be on our side, which is a good thing.

    framing the issue to try to reach those who are unwilling or unable to see beyond their own projections can only end up making your message chaotic to everyone.

    this is a long, long, running debate, and despite Nisbet’s splash in the pool, and the adoption of more recent terminology, the “framing” issue is entirely an ancient debate.

    I also think that how science is “framed” within the scientific community itself has had the distinction of having been molded from hundreds of years of experience in trying to communicate scientific information. a model, that frankly, doesn’t need to be fucked with to accommodate temporary external influences that could change on a whim.

    but, it’s not like this is new.

    what would be new is what data results from actually studying the issue of framing scientific information for public consumption, and again, Nisbet is correct there really is little hard data on that.

    regardless of what is found, I doubt it would change my opinion on the efficacy of science’s already tested and proven ability to communicate information effectively, but it would be interesting, from a pure curiosity standpoint, to find out exactly what the public appears to expect in terms of “tabloid science”.

    bottom line, the framing issue should not affect how scientific information is communicate in journals, and I also rather doubt it will affect the way science is taught in the classroom either.

    it might have some effect on how science is presented on Oprah, though.

  49. #49 David Marjanovi?
    September 20, 2007

    Buddy, we don’t use swords. We use the pen: an elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.

    Actually, it only looks like a pen. It’s a laser pointer. :-P

  50. #50 David Marjanovi?
    September 20, 2007

    Buddy, we don’t use swords. We use the pen: an elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.

    Actually, it only looks like a pen. It’s a laser pointer. :-P

  51. #51 Chris Hallquist
    September 20, 2007

    The most recent comment from Nisbet actually comes off as more reasonable, in comparison with his previous attacks on Dawkins. However, if he really liked Dawkins’ book and is concerned with Dawkins work being “twisted by opposing interest groups,” why on Earth has he promoted such a negative picture–frame if you like–of Dawkins? I’m certainly concerned with twisting of Dawkins’ statements too, and my impression is this feeling is shared by PZ, Jason Rosenhouse, and indeed Dawkins himself. However, our response to such distortions is to correct them, not conclude that they somehow reflect badly on Dawkins. If Nisbet actually likes Dawkins and is concerned about how what he’s doing is “framed” for the public, he should be investing his energy in disseminated a concise explanation of why what Dawkins is doing is good. Paul Kurtz actually provides a pretty good model of this:

    What disturbs us is the preposterous outcry that atheists are “evangelical” and that they have gone too far in their criticism of religion.

    Really? The public has been bombarded by pro-religious propaganda from time immemorial–today it comes from pulpits across the land, TV ministries, political hucksters, and best-selling books.

  52. #52 John Morales
    September 21, 2007

    Having followed this AAAS panel/framing issue, it seems to me Dr. Nisbet hasn’t shifted his position at all over the past week, though his rhetoric has become more conciliatory.

    I find Ichthyic (#107) extremely persuasive, and the exegesis of Kurtz’s interview (#108,#110) equally convincing.

    I do consider Communicating Science in a Religious America a good title, though. It says a lot.

  53. #53 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    September 21, 2007

    This is one of those threads where you feel like a squished tomato trying to make catch up.

    Not as squished as Nisbet must feel however. Great comments all around! Too great, all what can be said about Nisbet and his framing …, um, tactics specifically is already said.

    Maybe some points on the general issue though:

    I also think that how science is “framed” within the scientific community itself has had the distinction of having been molded from hundreds of years of experience in trying to communicate scientific information.

    This is AFAIU the greater sense of “framing”, and I agree on the context.

    What I would like to explore would be the smaller sense of spin, such as using terms and similes like “the tragedy of the commons” or “star stuff”. I’m sure that we can frame a more alluring message without sacrificing the information. Perhaps also a more positive spin. Kurtz’s message is well taken.

    If it makes much of a difference, we don’t know. Which is why we come to:

    what would be new is what data results from actually studying the issue of framing scientific information for public consumption,

    Heartily agreed. This was my second disappointment with Nisbet’s framing of framing, that he couldn’t present data. (The first was the concentration on the smaller sense of framing. The US-centricity, Dawkins/Uppity atheist bashing, negative message, et cetera are all collateral damage.)

    But I think that secondary to this the new context of instantaneous world wide communication transforms social movements as well. There are new actors, audiences, and purposes around on the arena of scientific pursuit and its interaction with society, as well as for atheism on its part. While we wait for rough, tough data we could at least analyze what we would like to achieve and possible ways to do that.

    Scientists have their positive frame of facts, progress, robust morals and utility. Uppity atheists would have their positive frame of facts, progress, robust morals and a long term view. More?

  54. #54 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    September 21, 2007

    This is one of those threads where you feel like a squished tomato trying to make catch up.

    Not as squished as Nisbet must feel however. Great comments all around! Too great, all what can be said about Nisbet and his framing …, um, tactics specifically is already said.

    Maybe some points on the general issue though:

    I also think that how science is “framed” within the scientific community itself has had the distinction of having been molded from hundreds of years of experience in trying to communicate scientific information.

    This is AFAIU the greater sense of “framing”, and I agree on the context.

    What I would like to explore would be the smaller sense of spin, such as using terms and similes like “the tragedy of the commons” or “star stuff”. I’m sure that we can frame a more alluring message without sacrificing the information. Perhaps also a more positive spin. Kurtz’s message is well taken.

    If it makes much of a difference, we don’t know. Which is why we come to:

    what would be new is what data results from actually studying the issue of framing scientific information for public consumption,

    Heartily agreed. This was my second disappointment with Nisbet’s framing of framing, that he couldn’t present data. (The first was the concentration on the smaller sense of framing. The US-centricity, Dawkins/Uppity atheist bashing, negative message, et cetera are all collateral damage.)

    But I think that secondary to this the new context of instantaneous world wide communication transforms social movements as well. There are new actors, audiences, and purposes around on the arena of scientific pursuit and its interaction with society, as well as for atheism on its part. While we wait for rough, tough data we could at least analyze what we would like to achieve and possible ways to do that.

    Scientists have their positive frame of facts, progress, robust morals and utility. Uppity atheists would have their positive frame of facts, progress, robust morals and a long term view. More?

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