The criticisms must have stung, because Matt Nisbet has put up short replies on Russell Blackford’s and Jerry Coyne’s blogs. Unfortunately, in response to the substantial criticisms of the idea of compatibility between faith and science, Nisbet only offers a feeble and wrong correction to a minor point.
A correction is in order on Blackford’s post. Contrary to his framing, market research was not used to decide the position of the NAS, nor the 20 professional scientific organizations in the editorial at FASEB that endorsed the themes in the booklet. These organizations have had a long standing position on science and religion that has emphasized compatibility. The audience research indicated that emphasizing this long standing position was an effective way to communicate about evolution.
I suggest taking a look at what NAS staffers wrote in an article at Life Sciences Education about how they used public opinion data and evidence-actually listening to their audience-before trying to communicate with them about a complex and sometimes controversial area of science.
The most severe insult offered in this comment is the part where he accuses Blackford of framing. Is that actionable, I wonder? Did Russell weep hot wet salty tears of shame when he was lanced with that horrific rhetorical thrust?
The serious issue he’s addressing is the National Academy of Sciences useful little booklet, Science, Evolution, and Creationism. When it came out, I said good things about it — it’s a handy short introduction to evolution for the layman. However, it also contained a rather objectionable section that perfectly represents the problem that Larry Moran and I have been complaining about for years, and that Jerry Coyne has recently torn into: it also pukes up a thick wad of partially digested, slimy religious pablum claiming that “Science and Religion Offer Different Ways of Understanding the World”.
You know how much I detest that phrase.
It’s not true, and it’s also unrepresentative — there is a significant (and growing) strain of scientific thought that finds the claim objectionable. That argument is completely omitted from the NAS booklet. As I wrote in my original comment,
Do science and religion offer different ways of understanding the world? Sure. One is verifiable, testable, and has a demonstrated track record of success; the other is a concoction of myths that actually leads to invalid conclusions. Perhaps it ought to be rephrased: science provides one way to understand the world, while religion provides millions of ways to misunderstand it.
What the NAS published contained an intentionally one-sided version of the state of affairs in science — it emphasized only the accommodationist view that religion and science are compatible, soliciting comments on the subject from the usual subjects, people like Collins and Miller and Ayala. These are good people and good scientists, but dear dog, they are a poor reflection of the attitudes of the scientific community. If the only people these organizations ever put up as the face of science were Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, everyone would see the problem immediately…but Collins and Miller have become the reassuring tranquilizing narcotic that scientists fire into the faces of the public, to fool them into thinking that science really doesn’t offer any world-changing perspectives on comfortable old myths.
It’s a lie. Science will make you uncomfortable. It will change your ideas about the universe. It will force you to confront awkward facts and difficult consequences. It is not a balm to reinforce the status quo, and if you try to present it as if it is, you’re doing it wrong.
What does Nisbet offer in his brief reply? His defense is that the NAS did not use market research to define their message. They used institutional tradition (which, I would argue, ought to be more accurately called institutional inertia, and give the strength of creationism in the US, ought to be rejected as a failure), and gives us a link that shows…the NAS used market research in composing the booklet!
It’s not like you have to read between the lines to figure that out. It says it plainly.
…this new edition was shaped to a large extent by a careful program of audience research.
There’s a section entitled “Listening to intended audiences” even. They come right out and say that whole sections were rewritten: they cut out any emphasis on the Dover decision, because, they say, “the public does not readily understand the role of the courts in such matters”. They admit that they expanded the section on science and religion, and solicited statements from various religious denominations and religious scientists. And it repeats something that many people, atheists and theists alike, have been saying is a lie.
It makes clear that acceptance of the overwhelming and continually growing body of evidence for evolution need not be in conflict with religious beliefs for many people.
It “need not”? But it is. This head-in-the-sand approach of pretending that all those fervently-held religions that make anti-evolutionism a central part of their creed is precisely the kind of befuddled and condescending obliviousness that has put us in the situation we’re in right now. Face it. Reality erodes faith-based belief, and science is all about dredging up reality and rubbing your faces in it. Nothing in science supports religious beliefs, and all those acclaimed scientists who are trotted out to issue their homilies about the importance of their faith are operating in defiance of reason.
I would also argue that market research, which is all about tailoring the message to what the audience wants to hear, is antithetical to science, which should be about telling people what they need to know, no matter how uncomfortable it makes them.