Pharyngula

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Lee Picton
    March 31, 2009

    It would be nice to think we are gaining on the forces of darkness. Fighting the forces of unreason is like sweeping sand off a hill. It makes me tired.

  2. #2 Stephen Wells
    March 31, 2009

    Slatibartfast: “I’d far rather be happy than right any day.”

    Arthur Dent: “And are you?”

    Slartibartfast: “No. That’s where it all falls down, of course.”

  3. #3 Sven DiMilo
    March 31, 2009

    a thick wad of partially digested, slimy religious pablum

    Aw, jeez with the frackin’ cracker thing again…

  4. #4 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    March 31, 2009

    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.

    Uh oh. You’re going to cause Kwok to launch a campaign of gathering his Twitter followers to throw marshmallows at you for that.

  5. #5 AmericanGodless
    March 31, 2009

    Hurrah, and Thank You, PZ! “Framing” is nothing but PR, which, as you say, is antithetical to science. As someone’s grandmother is supposed to have said when her grandson told her about his new job in PR.. “I know what public is, and I know what relations is.. But relations? In public?”

  6. #6 Glen Davidson
    March 31, 2009

    continually growing body of evidence for evolution need not be in conflict with religious beliefs for many people.

    I’d argue that’s true, mainly empirically. We’re hardly the most religious nation, yet creationism afflicts Mexico relatively little. If it does have problems with creationism in the future, that will likely be due to Protestant inroads.

    I’m not saying that evolution shouldn’t be a large problem in Mexico and in other more religious countries, it just isn’t. Presumably because most people don’t really have a consistent worldview, except, they might claim (I’d dispute), through the magic of religion.

    Still, that’s one thing. In the US there’s hardly much solace, or believability in the thrust of such claims (although the wording is correct). The many religious people who have nothing against science except for religion aren’t likely to be convinced that their religion is compatible with science, simply because many mainline churches accept evolution.

    And, I’ve said it before and will say it again: the fact that evolution isn’t directly opposed to religion at large is an important one for argumentation. It only brings biology into the pragmatically atheistic practice of science. That the last holdout succumbed, and that life was always more important to religion, makes evolution the enemy to many religious people, but not to all of them.

    Science (at least when well understood) is very hard on religion, particularly neuroscience. No one should allow evolution to be some exceptionally religion-threatening part of science, when it is the whole of science that erodes religion.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  7. #7 Paul Lundgren
    March 31, 2009

    Excellent, unapologetic commentary.

  8. #8 shonny
    March 31, 2009

    Sadly, prostitution comes in many forms.
    But maybe we should just count our blessings when not forced to be living in the dark vacuity that is religion, as they did only a few centuries ago, and let the fuckwits remain where they are.

  9. #9 JD
    March 31, 2009

    The argument from “we’ve invested too much in church real estate.” Religion is a business that is indifferent to facts.

  10. #10 Kafir
    March 31, 2009

    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.

    This point cannot be overemphasized. The notion that the fruits of science and the scientific method itself can be accommodational in spirit is dangerous and wreaks of scientific timidity in the US before a mass audience of fundie-mentally flawed laymen. Nobody said the truth should be palatable– least of all, a scientist worth his weight.

  11. #11 sng
    March 31, 2009

    Glen D,

    What you are missing is that evolution is in -direct- and -irreconcilable- conflict with Christianity. The fact that many Christians deal well with this conflict simply means that many Christians deal well with the conflict. It doesn’t make the conflict go away. What you are arguing is that for many people the conflict doesn’t matter or that they can handwave it away. That doesn’t mean that the conflict isn’t there.

    The reason this distinction is important is that it is those Christians who understand that this conflict exist and who either can’t or don’t want to deal with it are the problem. And they aren’t going to go home just because you assert the conflict doesn’t exist. So to resolve the issues with them we need to acknowledge and understand the nature of the conflict and deal with it. Sadly this means one side or the other is going to have to go away. It’s the fundies or us. They know there is a conflict and act on it.

    It would be nice if those Christians who deal well with the conflict could be our allies but history shows us that they will almost always side with their fudnie brethren when push comes to shove so, sadly, we need to stop fucking around and denying the conflict and start fighting for our lives. Cause that is what is at stake.

  12. #12 Mike Caton
    March 31, 2009

    I disagree that framing is just PR and necessarily muddies intellectual waters. It’s a rhetorical device. You express a point in terms important to the audience to make your argument more effective. That’s all. Scientists deal with concepts out of the realm of every day experience and consequently, frequently use analogies with familiar phenomena to illustrate an idea to a naive audience. That’s a form of framing too, and there’s nothing wrong with it.

    Experienced creationist and theist debaters usually have a good armor of rhetorical devices, partly as a forced move – they have no real intellectual firepower and words are all they have. If we come back at them with solid ideas and wordsmithing, we’d do even better in these discussions. So before you dismiss all rhetoric as sleazy tricks, think about the real-world results.

  13. #13 Typo?
    March 31, 2009

    In paragraph 10, inside the parentheses, I think it should be “and give[n] the strength of creationism”.

  14. #14 Bjørn Østman
    March 31, 2009

    I’d argue that’s true, mainly empirically. We’re hardly the most religious nation, yet creationism afflicts Mexico relatively little. If it does have problems with creationism in the future, that will likely be due to Protestant inroads.

    Glen (#6), that’s only because the Catholic Church cleverly opts to do damage control before anything bad happens. They have seen the writing before (e.g. Galileo). But there are of course forces within the Church, and surely among it’s regular followers who give the issue half a thought, who are ready to come out and declare evolution a lie.

  15. #15 gma
    March 31, 2009

    “science provides one way to understand the world, while religion provides millions of ways to misunderstand it”

    All religions at some point raise the “GodDidIt”, “GodsDidIt, “IntelligentDesignerDidIt” or “MyFavoriteSuperNaturalBeingOfTheDayDidIt” dogma.

    Fortunately, all of science refuses to accept any arbitrary edicts to stop searching for verifiable and testable explanations and has an excellent track record of removing these religious hurdles one by one.

    In a way, science keeps opening highly guarded vaults, each time showing there was nothing in the vault: the earth is not the center of the universe, the earth is not flat, natural disasters and disease are not god’s punishment, double blind studies show that prayer does not work, evolution is supported by a mountain of evidence and we do not need a creator to explain how we evolved.

    How can anyone with a straight face claim that science and religion are compatible?

    That is one of the greatest forms of delusion.

  16. #16 JD
    March 31, 2009

    This whole “debate” would be settled if the National Center for Science Education knew about the validity of Leprechaun sightings. In addition, some of the young men in Mobile (see link below) would be candidates for the Nobel Prize by providing qualitative data for the existence of the supernatural. This would effectively destroy all university departments dealing with philosophy, paleoanthropology, molecular biology and theoretical physics.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nda_OSWeyn8

    I wanna know where da gold.

  17. #17 protocol
    March 31, 2009

    Couldn’t agree more. I left the following comment on Nisbett’s post (which he did not address in his response in the comments section):

    O.K. lets summarize some observations about this whole “framing” fracas:

    1) nisbett’s arguments are surprisingly bereft of much evidence as others have pointed out above. For example:

    a) there is no evidence that “Expelled” is the top grossing documentary on the general topic

    b)There is not a shred of evidence, qualitative or quantitative that “framing” science actually has any effect independent of people’s preexisting prejudices, unless these prejudices themselves are being redefined as “frames”. In the latter case I think overcoming those prejudices, not reinforcing them, would seem to be a more worthy task (incidentally much research in political science on political framing has tended to generally support the view that ‘frames’ are indeed another way of playing on peoples’ preexisting prejudices to ‘trick’ them to support policies. Incidentally it is also the case that prejudiced people are not totally bereft of agency here).

    2) So I think scientists’ goal should be:

    a) to challenge prejudices, frames be damned

    b) not act/think like marketers/bullshitters who sell goods (including politicians) by trickery, playing on preexisting prejudices.

    c) connected to (a), and (b) above, therefore try to promote a more reasoning society and culture.

    I think this is an ethical imperative. Unlike Matt Nisbett, I don’t want scientists especially to act like marketers. So I think it is Nisbett who is being ‘unethical’ here. As someone above said, he does not have an argument; he merely dislikes (for his own reasons, whatever they might be; I don’t want to psychoanalyze) what PZ and others have to say.

  18. #18 gribley
    March 31, 2009

    …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

    Nonsense. There are many different ways of saying anything, and some are more or less readily accepted by other people for a number of reasons that are typically personal or social. Figuring out how to tell people true information in a most effective way is critical. This statement falls into the typical science trap of thinking that you are dealing with a population of robots, who make decisions logically, rather than humans, who need coaching.

    For a trivial example, consider the evolution of anti-smoking campaigns. Is putting labels that say “Smoking is bad for you” on packets of cigarettes effective? Not especially, and thanks to a great detail of social/behavioral research, we now know much better means of communication of this information, without changing the fundamental truth of the content.

    Or consider how much we know about toxicity of all sorts of things that are underregulated. The old paradigm, where a scientist publishes the “truth” in a dusty journal and then expects everyone to understand and accept it, is dead. Let’s get over it.

  19. #19 Brian
    March 31, 2009

    What you are missing is that evolution is in -direct- and -irreconcilable- conflict with Christianity.

    Direct, yes. Irreconcilable, no. In the 1600s Christianity was in direct, and presumably irreconcilable, conflict with heliocentrism. Christianity evolves slowly, but it does evolve, and after a century or so few sects had a problem with not being at the center. Much of Christianity has already accepted evolution; the remaining sects will ultimately be forced to follow. Maybe not for several years, maybe not in our lifetimes, but eventually they will.

  20. #20 SC, OM
    March 31, 2009

    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

    …and genuine dialogue, reasoned debate, true respect for the people you’re trying to talk with,…

    I disagree that framing is just PR and necessarily muddies intellectual waters. It’s a rhetorical device. You express a point in terms important to the audience to make your argument more effective. That’s all.

    No, as practiced by Nisbet, that is not at all all. Marketing and advertising != rhetoric, and the framing derived from them is patronizing propaganda.

    If we come back at them with solid ideas and wordsmithing,

    That’s exactly what PZ is doing, and doing honestly.

    So before you dismiss all rhetoric as sleazy tricks,

    Please. No one is doing that.

  21. #21 God Retardent
    March 31, 2009

    During his ninteen year papacy Pius XII once stated that ?Science and religion are heavenly sisters, different manifestations of divine exactness, who could not possibly oppose each other over the long term?.
    When respectfully reminded about the churches bitter opposition to Galileo?s contridiction of the biblical concept of the Solar System, Pius retorted ?One Galileo in two thousand years is more than enough.” Well perhaps one Galileo is enough for Pope Pius, but it is most certainly, not enough for science.
    One does have to recognize the attempts by the Catholic Church and other more moderate religious denominations to reconcile their particular interpretation of theocratic dogma with increased scientific understanding, albeit through clenched teeth. Concession is a humbling experience especially after two thousand years of total autonomy.
    All religionist have left is the gaps god reasoning which amounts to theocratic suicide. When scientific research fills any deity occupied space, Creationist?s are instantly forced into a panicked retreat, searching desperately for another scientifically elusive cubbyhole in which Yahweh can take refuge.

  22. #22 llewelly
    March 31, 2009

    Nisbet, trying to get enough hits to push his blog up from #12 (or #13, or whatever he claims it is) to some higher level of perceived popularity.

  23. #23 AmericanGodless
    March 31, 2009

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: While it is possible to believe in a top-down Divine Intelligence that used mutation (random or divinely directed?) and natural selection (with some divine tinkering?) to create the biota of the world, that view is not compatible with the bottom-up evolution of life and intelligence itself, and does not give direction to any research plan. That is why the scientific study of consciousness, intelligence, and the evolution of morality are already anathema to the more scientifically sophisticated religious believers. That is their real target when they fulminate against “scientism.”

    Evolution, as merely a notebook of observed facts, is not necessarily in conflict with some forms of religious belief (as indeed, no set of facts ever could be). But, evolution and the rest of science are necessarily in conflict with religion, because “methodological naturalism” is not a methodology, but a unifying theory for all scientific understanding of life, the universe, and everything. Is evolution true? probably. Is naturalism true? Probably. The scientific evidence supports both, and both drive the scientific research agenda. The attempt to pretend that the evidence allows a different answer for naturalism is supported by nothing but “framing” and PR.

  24. #24 tim Rowledge
    March 31, 2009

    Please could someone with more knowledge and stomach for argumentation pop over to BoingBoing (specifically http://www.boingboing.net/2009/03/30/dramatic-readings-of.html#comments) and help try to educate a few more ignorant persons? I just don’t have enough energy to keep on banging the hammer of reason on their pointy little skulls

  25. #25 Paul W.
    March 31, 2009

    Here’s a comment I posted on Nisbet’s blog today; dunno if it’ll show up there:
    ——————————————————

    For example, I explicitly note that as a social critic and pundit, there is nothing unethical about Dawkins expressing his personal opinions about religion. Yet when Dawkins and other New Atheists also use the trust granted them as scientists to argue that religion is a scientific question, that science undermines even respect for religious publics, they employ framing unethically, drawing upon the rhetorical authority of science to stigmatize and attack various social groups. It also plays right into the hands of social conservatives.

    Matt, it seems to me that you’re mostly just repeating yourself without actually addressing the major points that have been raised. There are important points about both the content of what Dawkins says, and the strategic value of saying them.

    (1) You are again begging the question of whether Dawkins et al. are right in thinking that the nature and impact of religion are scientific questions which Dawkins can comment on as a scientist expressing his scientific opinion.

    I believe that Dawkins, Dennett, Boyer et al. are correct that belief in god(s) is a kind of popular delusion amenable to scientific study and explanation—and that the scientific evidence indicates that religion fails miserably as a way of knowing.

    If this is true, it is neither unfair nor unethical to say so, though it might be strategically inadvisable. It is also not what you insist on making it out to be—Dawkins using his stature as a scientist to oversell a mere personal opinion.

    Please stop asserting that it’s a personal opinion until you’ve made a good case that it’s not a valid scientific opinion.

    Dawkins has a right and perhaps an ethical duty to express what he believes is a valid and warranted scientific opinion.

    You are begging the the most basic content question again, as you have done repeatedly for years.

    (2) Strategically, most of us are familiar with your basic arguments for what we see as an appeasement strategy, trying desperately to avoid backlash at the expense of telling the hard truth.

    What you don’t seem to get is that we understand and appreciate those arguments but do not find them decisive. There are countervailing arguments, particularly Overton Window arguments, that we find comparably compelling. To my knowledge, you have never really addressed those arguments. That’s really tiresome, too.

    In effect, you are saying this:

    Since (a) Dawkins is wrong about the validity of religion being a scientific issue AND (b) Dawkins is wrong about respect for religion being unwarranted and dangerous and (c) Dawkins is wrong about fighting religion being a worthy activity AND (d) Overton Window arguments are weaker than pro-appeasement arguments, we should all agree not only with your basic arguments, but agree that they trump any countervailing arguments.

    Most of us on science blogs disagree with some of the propositions a through d, and many of us disagree with all of them. You insist on assuming those things, talking past us, and even daring to call people like us unethical for for saying what we honestly think and honestly think is important for people to know.

    If we are right, attacking religious belief and undermining respect for religion is not a scurrilous and unwarranted attack on groups of people. It’s a valid and warranted attack on harmful beliefs—no less ethical than criticizing, say, Republican or Communist ideology that we disagree with.

    And if we are right that there are crucial scientific facts about religion that reflect badly on it, we are no less warranted in criticizing religion on scientific grounds than in criticizing a political ideology based on contrary facts about social psychology, economics, etc.

    You are assuming something like NOMA. We deny NOMA. Either persuade us that NOMA is correct, or stop expecting us to believe conclusions based on NOMA-like assumptions.

    You are also assuming that Overton Window effects are not important or not decisive. Convince us, or stop calling us unethical for taking Overton effects into account in our strategizing, and failing to follow your appeasement strategies.

    Many of us agree with you already that in the short run, saying that science conflicts with religion is counterproductive in terms of defending the teaching of evolution. Dawkins himself says so.

    If you keep glossing over our reasons for agreeing about that, but still disagreeing with your conclusions and prescriptions, that’s deceptive and unethical.

    You are in effect “attacking a group of people” in the same sense Dawkins is, and you are being unethically deceptive by pretending to have addressed issues that you have not addressed.

    You seem to be following one of the ethically dubious strategies often associated with the term “framing”—you focus on your arguments for your position, and simply divert attention from your opponents’ arguments against it, rather than actually addressing their points evenhandedly.

    In certain contexts where stereotypical “framing” is particularly useful, that’s understandable or perhaps even necessary. If you have only a few paragraphs in an op ed or a couple of minutes on CNN to make your case, you often can’t waste time rebutting your opponents’ arguments; you won’t have time to make your positive case.

    But ScienceBlogs is not CNN. You do have the space and time to address your opponents’ objections, and address them thoroughly, rather than repeating the same old spin we’ve heard a bunch of times before.

    You have an ethical duty to do so—to actually engage in the kind of dialogue you say is important, rather than unfairly slandering groups of people who disagree with you by deceptive misdirection.

  26. #26 Laura
    March 31, 2009

    Coincedentally, there’s a TV show coming on in just over an hour in the UK called ‘Did Darwin Kill God?’
    A summary:

    “There are some who believe that Darwin’s theory of evolution has weakened religion, fuelled in part by Richard Dawkins’s publishing phenomenon The God Delusion. Conor Cunningham argues that nothing could be further from the truth. Cunningham is a firm believer in the theory of evolution, but he is also a Christian. He attempts to overturn what he believes are widely held but mistaken assumptions in the debate between religion and evolution.”

    This should be entertaining…

  27. #27 quidam
    March 31, 2009

    NOMA works only if both parties stick to their own magisteria – the afterlife and the supernatural. Science has nothing to say on that magisterium – other than there is (and can be) no evidence to support it and that it’s both useless and unnecessary to understanding the real world. As soon as religion enters the magisterium of the real, natural world by making falsifiable claims then it should not be surprised when they are falsified.

  28. #28 sng
    March 31, 2009

    Brian,

    This is very different from heliocentrism. The irreconcilable difference here is because evolution and common descent strike at the very heart of Christian theology. Even those who “accept” evolution all sooner or later get back to “goddidit”.

    Only time will tell which of us is right but I think this is the rock on which the whole thing will break. Simply because it’s at the very core of the matter and while there are a lot of sects out there that push the conflict far enough away that, in practical terms, it doesn’t matter there are none who fully accept evolution and common descent.

  29. #29 Paul W.
    March 31, 2009

    Nisbet is right that science is compatible with religion, in the sense that most people can manage it, most of the time, in most instances.

    That’s the same sense in which drunk driving is compatible with getting home safe and sound.

  30. #30 SC, OM
    March 31, 2009

    …therefore try to promote a more reasoning society and culture.

    And a big part of the problem with the Nisbets of this world is that they, instead, wish to promote – whatever their immediate stated goals – a less reasoning, more politically passive and manipulable society. Or at least that’s how they act.

  31. #31 Tualha
    March 31, 2009

    This head-in-the-sand approach of pretending that all those fervently-held religions that make anti-evolutionism a central part of their creed [missing predicate here] is precisely the kind of befuddled and condescending obliviousness that has put us in the situation we’re in right now.

    You seem to be missing some text there, PZ.

  32. #32 bunnycatch3r
    March 31, 2009

    Science and religion do offer different approaches to understanding the world. Science presents a purely materialistic view of the cosmos and to say that the scientific method is revolutionary does not go far enough. But religion gets me high. I’m a better person when I’m high (or deluded if you prefer). I actually like other people when I’m in this state. Here -Shakespeare says it better:

    Sonnet 114
    Or whether doth my mind, being crown’d with you,
    Drink up the monarch’s plague, this flattery?
    Or whether shall I say, mine eye saith true,
    And that your love taught it this alchemy,
    To make of monsters and things indigest
    Such cherubins as your sweet self resemble,
    Creating every bad a perfect best,
    As fast as objects to his beams assemble?
    O,’tis the first; ’tis flattery in my seeing,
    And my great mind most kingly drinks it up:
    Mine eye well knows what with his gust is ‘greeing,
    And to his palate doth prepare the cup:
    If it be poison’d, ’tis the lesser sin
    That mine eye loves it and doth first begin.

  33. #33 Lynna
    March 31, 2009

    Excellent post, Paul W. @25. Especially appreciated is the conclusion that highlights the “ethical duty” to engage in dialogue.

  34. #34 sng
    March 31, 2009

    Paul W.,

    Consider that stolen and, hopefully, used well by myself. Brilliant.

  35. #35 AmericanGodless
    March 31, 2009

    There are many different ways of saying anything, and some are more or less readily accepted absorbed without understanding by other people for a number of reasons that are typically personal or social.

    Sorry. That’s what “framing” is for: to provide a context in which the part that the audience does not like is hidden behind the frame, so that they can let the scientists go back to work and never learn a thing.

  36. #36 Rev Matt
    March 31, 2009

    I think Janet’s commentary on Framing today was dead on (the point that most resonated with me was that what Nisbet sees as failure to properly frame on Dawkins’ part is actually failure on Nisbets’ part to recognize that some people have different goals than he does).

    What I would most like to note however is this: “Science and Religion Offer Different Ways of Understanding the World” is based on a complete misunderstanding of Religion, intentional or not. The purpose of religion is most explicitly NOT to understand how the world works, it is rather to explain WHY things are they way they are.

    At it’s core religion is an evolution of the primitive tribal beliefs of peoples who were trying to explain things like lightning and floods, and the world in which they existed. They came up with folk tales that comforted the people, serving what seems to be an innate need for certainty in most people. And those tribal beliefs are no less valid than those of anyone who subscribes to a modern faith, if modern faith is not the oxymoron I suspect that it is. What they most certainly do not do is contribute of even the most limited understanding of the actual world in which we exist.

    One can argue for or against the value of religion as a social good but to claim it contributes to understanding the world is simply untrue.

  37. #37 Matt Heath
    March 31, 2009

    The problem with Nisbet is not that he says science should be communicated in a way that pays attention to the interests and biases of the audience, rather than by simply listing the things that are true. Any scientist who has done any teaching knows that they have to pay attention to these things if they are going to make people understand.

    The problem with Nisbet is not even that he thinks techniques developed by the PR industry may aid public education in science. That seems to work well enough in public health, for example.

    The problems with Nisbet are that a) he breaks every rule he sets others for dealing with a target audience’s way of thinking and b) his first instinct when faced with legitimate disagreement is to try and silence rather than dealing with the points.

  38. #38 T_U_T
    March 31, 2009

    I disagree that framing is just PR and necessarily muddies intellectual waters. It’s a rhetorical device. You express a point in terms important to the audience to make your argument more effective.

    Yeah !
    Example, how to frame science for mice.
    -start with describing CHEESE ! and how the particular area of research relates to CHEESE !
    -say repeatedly “and that means MORE CHEESE !” after each paragraph stating a conclusion,
    -or, “it is important FOR AVOIDING CATS !” before stating a difficult or counter intuitive concept.
    -write “…and that gives us chance for EVEN MORE CHEESE ! and NO CATS” in the concluding paragraph.

  39. #39 frog
    March 31, 2009

    gma: All religions at some point raise the “GodDidIt”, “GodsDidIt, “IntelligentDesignerDidIt” or “MyFavoriteSuperNaturalBeingOfTheDayDidIt” dogma.

    Not universally true. Buddhism (at least the Pali canon) says “I don’t know who did it, and I don’t really give a damn”.

  40. #40 SC, OM
    March 31, 2009

    Speaking of ethics and belief, I shouldn’t miss the opportunity to post, once again, the Allen Wood piece Damian provided months ago:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/fyi.php#comment-981847

    PS: Hey, Paul W.! Haven’t seen you in a while.

  41. #41 sng
    March 31, 2009

    Frog,

    Untrue. Buddhism says the first person to become incarnate at the start of a kalpa did it and that that person became incarnate because of karma. So Buddhism says karma’s agent did it. Just because the Pali cannon doesn’t identify that person doesn’t mean they deny it.

  42. #42 Scott
    March 31, 2009

    I realize the point of “framing” is lost on PZ and most of those here. But I really must point this out.

    As I understand it, the notion of “framing” is not new. The ancient Greeks understood it. There are whole classes in philosophy on this stuff. It boils down to the “persuasive argument”. No matter how “correct” your argument is, it isn’t “persuasive” if it is beyond the grasp of your audience, if you can’t make a connection with your audience. Being “right” is one thing. Convincing someone else you are right is an art. Every successful speaker must take the audience into account if they are going to succeed. No salesman ever made a sale by walking into a client’s office and saying, “If you don’t buy my product, you’re a complete idiot.”

    Sheeze. Lighten up.

    Paul W. is partly right. It’s like drinking and driving. If you tell someone that, if they want to drive they have to give up all drinking, you aren’t going to change their behaviour. On the other hand, if you frame it as letting them drink and drive but not at the same time, then you might stand a chance of them hearing you. If you really want them to give up all drinking, and just want to use the driving as a wedge issue, that’s a lot different than if you just want them to stop drinking while driving.

    If you tell people they have to give up all religion, and they tune you out. Tell people they can have their comforting religion on the weekends, but have to use reason during the week, and you stand a much better chance that they might listen to you. If you really want them to give up all religion, and just want to use science as a wedge issue, that’s a lot different than if you just want them to stop using supernatural explanations on their job.

    What is your ultimate goal?

  43. #43 Glen Davidson
    March 31, 2009

    Glen D,

    What you are missing is that evolution is in -direct- and -irreconcilable- conflict with Christianity. The fact that many Christians deal well with this conflict simply means that many Christians deal well with the conflict.

    Certainly I’m not missing it, or I wouldn’t have written:

    Presumably because most people don’t really have a consistent worldview, except, they might claim (I’d dispute), through the magic of religion.

    And I was simply defending the NAS statement–to a point. They weren’t making claims regarding evolution’s conflict with Xianity, they had written that the “continually growing body of evidence for evolution need not be in conflict with religious beliefs for many people.” It was a carefully qualified statement, which I argued still doesn’t deal with the situation in the US, wherein the problems evolution poses to Xianity are well known.

    Likewise, I noted that it’s fine with me if people want to point out that science erodes religion. I think that neuroscience is rather more problematic (if you read Egnor, UD, and the DI, you can see that they are quite concerned about the conclusions of neuroscience), however, because it strikes against the “eternal soul” that Xianity inherited from the Greeks.

    So while I think that the NAS leaves out a lot of the picture, I also think that those who want to make evolution out to be uniquely problematic for religion do a disservice to science, because evolution is not a unique problem for religion or Xianity, it is simply part of the whole problem that science poses for religion.

    Evolution should be portrayed not as a unique problem for religion, then, but only as what makes science a seamless method of explaining the world. That isn’t framing, that’s simply the truth. Use science to fight religion as much as you want, but it won’t do to pretend that evolution is a unique threat, when the heliocentric spherical earth is as contrary to the Genesis account as evolution is, and when neuroscience almost certainly strikes more deeply at the core of Xian claims than evolution ever could.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  44. #44 Mg
    March 31, 2009

    I do wish militant atheists had a simple understanding of philosophy so they can point out that whenever religious persons say “only religion can tell you how to live” or “only religion can give you morality” they are denying a whole discipline (as well as common standards of justification, which is normally pointed out).

    Frankly the only reason why Darwin is considered the big threat to religion is because you don’t need higher education to have heard of him (and that’s not because, circularly, he’s the big threat to religion). It’s a persistent shot in the foot by atheists that they pretend he is the biggest argument against religion, because he just isn’t – he gives us an explanation of how life came to be without Genesis, but he had nothing to say about all the other arguments for God which are refuted by other thinkers. Evangelicals are perfectly happy to keep the debate centred around Darwin because that way they can use those arguments while ignoring the other thinkers, and PZ and Dawkins make the mistake of letting them do this.

    If David Hume turned up on the back of a £10 note, or Immanuel Kant had whole documentary series turning up every anniversary of his death then they would (rightly) be considered the real threats to evangelical Christianity. And they’d be a lot more effective, as there wouldn’t be any fooling about with this “morality can only come from god” or “what was the first cause” or “religion answers questions better than science” rubbish.

  45. #45 frog
    March 31, 2009

    Let’s call “framing” and PR-based rhetoric what it is: propaganda.

    If you feel that non-scientists have to be propagandized into funding us, then Nisbet is right. Of course, propaganda is shallow; a propagandized population has no resistance to counter-propaganda. People know when they’re being propagandized, and soon they expect that all speech is just propaganda (“I have the right to my opinion”).

    It’s funny — Nisbet complains about the “War on Science” framing, but what he’s doing is a “War for Science”, using the tools of indoctrination and mass-manipulation to advance his agenda.

    So, if it’s clear that he’s using these rhetorical techniques that have been disparaged as insulting and demeaning since the 5th century BC, why should we treat his statements as having credibility? Once you use these techniques, all your statements fall under suspicion as being in bad-faith and insincere. He’s the ScienceBlogs on-staff troll!

  46. #46 ConcernedJoe
    March 31, 2009

    gma #15 yes to you in general

    But modern sane mildly properly educated people who claim religion know in their heart of hearts that most of it is wishful thinking… and a social and cultural construct. They really deep inside believe more in the power of community than the power of god.

    To them science answers or attempts to answer factually questions concerning atoms and stuff like that, or even social subjects, and results in technology or drugs or useful formulas. So be it.

    But religion is the warm feeling of the priest visiting mom and making her feel at peace, or the fun of preparing and watching the kids in the nativity play. That type of stuff.

    To them there is nothing in conflict at all — they exist very separately and non-confrontationally quite well given their every day experiences.

    The fact that science maybe can explain why they experience joy or comfort clinically is not in conflict with the fact that this religion as a social construct makes them feel these feeling.

    In their inner-self they know there is no magic other then the magic of people warmly embracing and caring for each other in some significant or small way. And that is something that science can explain all day long but never really produce.

    I am atheist and not into religion – but the power of community is force for good as well as evil.

  47. #47 T_U_T
    March 31, 2009

    What is your ultimate goal?

    to make people to understand the truth on their own.

    Conning them into accepting your idea, which happens to be true by accident, does thus not advance the goal. No matter how effective the manipulation you are going to use on that purpose is.

  48. #48 Stephen Wells
    March 31, 2009

    @Mg: you appear to be arguing with the wrong people.

  49. #49 frog
    March 31, 2009

    ConcernedJoe: But religion is the warm feeling of the priest visiting mom and making her feel at peace, or the fun of preparing and watching the kids in the nativity play. That type of stuff.

    I’d go further — to most people the doctrine is just a loyalty oath. Religion is a set of rituals people do, songs they sing, dances and festivals. It’s a way to behave in community.

    If we could just convince people to drop the doctrine as a loyalty oath (primarily an invention of Christians inherited by the Muslims), we’d be 9/10s of the way to a saner world.

    That’s why rationally discussing whether religion is “true” or not is really missing the point — the only people who even discuss it are the propagandists and evangelists. Which is also why I find it hard to find any of the religionists posting as partaking in good-faith dialogue.

  50. #50 Marcus Ranum
    March 31, 2009

    Sadly, prostitution comes in many forms.

    Hey, don’t denigrate the prostitutes. They give value for the money.

    Indeed, after spending considerable time with representatives of the PR and marketing community, and a little bit of time with the prostitutes, I am convinced that prostitution is far more valuable to society. I’ve never come out of a marketing meeting or PR tour with a smile on my face. ‘Nuff said.

  51. #51 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    March 31, 2009

    It’s a persistent shot in the foot by atheists that they pretend he is the biggest argument against religion,

    Bah I doubt you’ll find too many that claim that evolution or even more so Darwin is the biggest argument against religion.

    If so they are the uninformed.

    I think you’re building a slight strawman there.

  52. #52 Glen Davidson
    March 31, 2009

    This is very different from heliocentrism. The irreconcilable difference here is because evolution and common descent strike at the very heart of Christian theology.

    That’s true now, five centuries after the heliocentrism controversy started.

    But once upon a time the power of a geocentric cosmos on the religious imagination was great, for the earth was the stage which the gods (and later, God) watched. Some have said that the earth was not so much at the “center” as at the “bottom” of the universe, for earth was dirty and indistinct to, say, Socrates, while the heavens were perfect, shining, and orderly.

    That makes little difference to the importance of geocentrism, however, because the point was that the whole universe was looking at the earth, it was what the universe cared about.

    One could probably argue that the loss of geocentrism had a greater effect on religion than evolution has had. I won’t bother, though.

    What I’ll say is, heliocentrism may not strike as deeply at specific Xian doctrine as evolution does, but it totally shifts the focus and concern of the universe away from us. We forget how important that was to past humans, because we never knew a geocentric cosmos. For educated people in the past, it was indeed, a “revolutionary” shift.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  53. #53 Thoughtful Guy
    March 31, 2009

    I think it would be a mistake for scientist to disengage from the public as Nisbet suggests, however. You should try to find some common ground, instead of always just bashing believers. That has about the same amount of subtly and tactfulness and an Ogre with a wooden club.

    Suggested reading.
    http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/december7/med-pizzo-120705.html

  54. #54 frog
    March 31, 2009

    sng: This is very different from heliocentrism. The irreconcilable difference here is because evolution and common descent strike at the very heart of Christian theology.

    Heliocentrism did strike at the heart of Christian theology. The difference with evolution is that it won — it made it possible to discuss evolution without being staked to a spit and burned alive like Bruno. Our entire world-view has been transformed — Christianity is no longer what it was 5 centuries ago because heliocentrism succeeded in knocking down a core principle of Christianity, that we are the center of the universe, the end all and be all of existence, that our world is the material manifestation of the the transcendant outer spheres.

    Astrology was no joke until heliocentrism. The great chain of being was rooted in a heliocentric model of the universe, where perfection was “out there” being poorly transmitted into the material plane. The right to conscience comes out of the heliocentric revolution — that there isn’t a perfect plane directly realizable in the material world. The possibility of formalizing physics mathematically comes out of a world-view where “out there” is like “here”, which made the scientific revolution possible.

    I think you underestimate the revolution in human identity we’ve seen in the last half-millenium, and it’s rooting in the philosophical speculation tied to empirical findings by a few Italians in the 15th and 16th centuries.

  55. #55 Marcus Ranum
    March 31, 2009

    I do wish militant atheists had a simple understanding of philosophy

    Quite often, we do. Why do you assume we don’t?

  56. #56 ConcernedJoe
    March 31, 2009

    frog #49 — yup you have good points

    I believe you are saying implicitly that adherence to doctrine breeds the real evil — the warm and fuzzy stuff – as unrealistically based as that may be – is just like any mood drug: good aspects and destructive aspects.

    But the “-ism” part of anything — the fact that “-isms” are dogmatic generally – is the danger. Communism, Socialism, Jingo-ism, etc. — all religions in my mind. Have dogmas, loyalty tests, rewards, punishments, coercions, etc.

    The World without “-isms” I think would be a much more serene 3rd Rock from the Sun.

  57. #57 Mg
    March 31, 2009

    @51
    Huh? Last time I checked Darwin (and his theory) is the only person who Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and the like bang on about all the time – and whenever subjects like morality come up even Dennett seems to blag on about evolutionary explanations, which are not in themselves adequate. I understand why Dawkins might give Darwin centre stage, but if he really wants to support atheism then even he needs to expand his vision and start name dropping (it’s important that names, not just arguments, are given) people like Hume every now and again, and make clear that it’s not just on the subject of origins that religion doesn’t give any answers.

    My point was that because only Darwin and his beliefs are visibly put forward by leading atheists, and because he is misrepresented as a great threat to religion (when he’s not), it’s very easy firstly for evangelicals to have as a number of their consistent main arguments arguments concerning things Darwin said nothing about, and secondly for the NOMA guys to say Darwin’s not a real threat (because they’re right). It may not be what PZ truly thinks, but the way it’s consistently being presented (outright stated by some well-meaning atheists here) is that this is simply a battle between Darwin and religion, science and religion, or even the scientific method and religion. It’s not. It’s even more than that, but because there’s so much narrow vision amongst atheists, and only really one idol being put forward, the evangelicals and NOMA guys find it easy to slip into those areas that the scientific method and Darwin genuinely don’t concern.

  58. #58 Paul W.
    March 31, 2009

    Scott@42

    I realize the point of “framing” is lost on PZ and most of those here.

    You are mistaken. Most of us understand Nisbet’s position perfectly well, and even accept certain key principles of “framing,” though Nisbet has given the term a bad name around here.

    I myself have studied framing with George Lakoff at Berkeley, the guy who popularized the term and the basic strategies Nisbet promotes. I think I “get” framing, and I think PZ et al. generally do, too.

    The problem is not that we don’t understand framing, and it’s not just that we have some goals Nisbet doesn’t share. It’s that Nisbet isn’t telling us things we don’t know, and refuses to acknowledge other things we know.

    We disagree on certain key facts, and we disagree on strategy, for good reasons that Nisbet systematically fails to address, in particular Overton Window arguments.

    Nisbet apparently doesn’t get what we’re saying, or refuses to admit it and address our differences.

    I’ve come to think that Nisbet doesn’t believe in NOMA himself—it’s just a convenient stance for propaganda, and he’s not only willing to pretend to believe it, he’s willing to willfully misrepresent other people’s positions.

    I also think that Nisbet systematically refuses to address Overton arguments because he doesn’t have a good rebuttal.

    That’s why this happens over and over and over again. Nisbet doesn’t listen, and doesn’t engage in honest dialogue. Perhaps he really just “doesn’t get it” but either way, it’s not a pretty picture.

  59. #59 Paul Burnett
    March 31, 2009

    “protocol” wrote (#17): “2) So I think scientists’ goal should be: … b) not act/think like marketers/bullshitters who sell goods (including politicians)

    If scientists don’t sell/market science to the politicians > they won’t get money from the politicians > end of science funding. Then what?

  60. #60 frog
    March 31, 2009

    ConcernedJoe: I believe you are saying implicitly that adherence to doctrine breeds the real evil

    That and more. I’m saying that doctrine as the basis for community is a serious evil, not just directly but also indirectly by hiding the real bases of community. The opposition to religion often offers no real alternatives, because they think this is a fight over doctrine rather than a fight over dances and songs.

    What did Communism have to do with Marx’s tomes? It severely deformed the real resistance of poor communities to external domination to feel that if you didn’t “claim” adherence to some poorly understood foreign phrases you were a traitor to your community.

    What does Libertarianism have to do with ideologies of Liberty? It’s mostly a loyalty oath to a group, so you can stick in anything you want — as long as it’s already a principle of one of your allies.

    Ideologies as a basis for community are deforming. They make it impossible to honestly discuss matters without becoming a traitor. But they’re also irrelevant to the real positions of the community, so everything gets twisted into affirming loyalty to the language of the group, rather than discussing the point-by-point alliances and interests being represented by the real positions.

    If we could just get people to form up in groups explicitly by the dance their doing, the expectations of movement and sound, things would be greatly improved — we could actually see how a particular position was related to those rhythms.

  61. #61 Mg
    March 31, 2009

    @55
    My words were poorly chosen but given some posts I’ve read, there are too many who genuinely don’t realize that there is a discipline other than science that talks about those issues which religion claims to have a monopoly on – and this seems to be the case amongst many NOMA supporters and obviously the creationists.

    Despite what my very poor words may have indicated, I don’t think that atheists are philosophical illiterates. I just don’t see why that discipline barely ever shows up, particularly amongst the most public members of the movement. The really good arguments against religion are there, and by limiting ourselves in the eyes of the creationists to Darwin, radical atheism is vulnerable to the arguments put forward by both the creationists and NOMA supporters.

    I obviously don’t think that someone like Hume could feasibly play as key a part in this whole debate, or that PZ or Dawkins should devote half their time to amateur philosophy (science is what they’re best at), but at the very least attempts to raise awareness are needed as a matter of urgency.

  62. #62 rb
    March 31, 2009

    “Science and Religion Offer Different Ways of Understanding the World”.

    I agree this is a very poor statement. Science and religion are two different (and not the the only ways) ways to look at one’s life and purpose. but there are lots of philosophies that offer different views looking at one’s life (and maybe even LOOKING at ONE’S world…as opposed to THE World.). I don’t think religion offers much in understanding the world, esp. with regards to physicality’s.

  63. #63 Matt Heath
    March 31, 2009

    Communism, Socialism, Jingo-ism, etc. — all religions in my mind. Have dogmas, loyalty tests, rewards, punishments, coercions, etc.

    I might grant you The first and the last , but socialism, really? It’s such a broad term. All you really need to believe to reasonably call yourself a socialist is that a large proportion of the economy should be in public and/or workers control. Plenty of people believe that without signing up to a religion-like body of dogma.

  64. #64 Wes
    March 31, 2009

    Contrary to his framing…

    Where’s that “Aw, man. Not this shit again…” picture?

  65. #65 T_U_T
    March 31, 2009

    We disagree on certain key facts, and we disagree on strategy, for good reasons that Nisbet systematically fails to address, in particular Overton Window arguments.

    Exactly. I posted a comment on nisbets blog containing only two words “Overton Window” and it got into the moderation queue, and never came out…

  66. #66 ConcernedJoe
    March 31, 2009

    Frog – again agreed

    Matt Heath – I have nothing viscerally against small “s” socialism.

    But big “S” Socialism makes for movements that become religions (bad ones at that) … Nationalsozialismus comes to mind.

    ANY big letter “-ism” is dangerous – right or left. Requires RWAs and organizes RWAs.

    I am a 100% atheist. I am a secular humanist I’d say also. I am probably left leaning. But I’d run like the real devil was chasing me if Atheism or Humanism or Socialism wanted my membership.

    Note what I – and I think Frog – are saying. “-isms” have doctrines/dogma and thus loyalty requirements and expectations. They are organized movements – with structures to obtain and secure power; they usually make use of radical people that gravitate toward RWA leaders.

    Forget that some of the underpinnings of some “-ism” make sense and are good — the overall deleterious effects of the tribal thinking and blind adherence makes them dangerous constructs.

    Not knocking you at all when I say you took my loosely said example re: Socialism too broadly.

  67. #67 Marcus Ranum
    March 31, 2009

    Mg writes:
    My point was that because only Darwin and his beliefs are visibly put forward by leading atheists,…

    The fact that PZ is an evolutionary biologist and Dawkins is a biologist… probably have something to do with their tack. Hitchens and Harris don’t throw Darwin around.

    You commented that many leading atheists don’t appear to know their philosophy.. It strikes me you don’t know your leading atheists. (shrug) As far as I am concerned the ancient greeks (for me, Democritus) exploded christianity well in advance of it happening. Which, by the way, is an interesting observation about the effectiveness of “framing”

  68. #68 Tulse
    March 31, 2009

    I understand why Dawkins might give Darwin centre stage, but if he really wants to support atheism then even he needs to expand his vision and start name dropping (it’s important that names, not just arguments, are given) people like Hume every now and again

    Have you actually read The God Delusion? Have you seen his references to Russell, and to the refutations of the Ontological Argument offered by Hume, and Kant? If you think that Dawkins only talks about Darwin, you simply don’t know Dawkins or his work.

  69. #69 frog
    March 31, 2009

    ConcernedJoe: Note what I – and I think Frog – are saying. “-isms” have doctrines/dogma and thus loyalty requirements and expectations. They are organized movements – with structures to obtain and secure power; they usually make use of radical people that gravitate toward RWA leaders.

    They hide their power structures behind dogmas — that’s where the RWA comes in. All social groups have structures — you have a chorus, you have a lead, you have an audience, you have soloists, etc.

    The problem is when you change it from “We enjoy it this way” or even “Well, this is just the way we’ve always done it” to saying “No, there’s no power structure at all, or the power structure is just a side effect of the doctrine”. I’m the boss because we all believe in Liberty, and if you disagree you’re against Liberty!

  70. #70 windy
    March 31, 2009

    Huh? Last time I checked Darwin (and his theory) is the only person who Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and the like bang on about all the time – and whenever subjects like morality come up even Dennett seems to blag on about evolutionary explanations, which are not in themselves adequate

    Dennett is a philosopher, and Dennett happens to think that the philosophical implications of evolution are a lot greater than just “how life came to be without Genesis”. You don’t have to agree with him, but please be honest.

  71. #71 Lowell
    March 31, 2009

    Last time I checked Darwin (and his theory) is the only person who Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and the like bang on about all the time

    I can’t comment regarding Dennett and Harris, but Dawkins discusses a good deal of philosophy in The God Delusion (off the top of my head, Hume and Russell).

    Have you read it?

  72. #72 isaac
    March 31, 2009

    Why should anyone care what Nesbit thinks about how “new atheists” should frame their arguments?

    After all, he has spent much time and energy framing *his* argument to us, and still has made no visible headway. The number of people he has convinced appears to be negligible. I could be wrong about that, of course, but I’ve seen no evidence that I am.

    He may have a communication degree (so do I), but he has done an atrocious job of framing his own argument, from where I sit. I don’t see him making any headway unless and until he actually confronts the many valid criticisms that he has met in the course of his crusade to get us to be good, silent little atheists and to stop making the theists cry.

    From all indications I’ve seen, Nesbit’s framing of his argument to outspoken atheists has so far been an epic fail.

  73. #73 tmaxPA
    March 31, 2009

    Accommodation and framing are anathema to science, true. But they are neither of them sins, and they are both requisite parts of communicating about science to the public. I think the NAS was showing good management when they looked to the audience, not the eggheads, in constructing this publication.

    The NAS emphasized, quite accurately, that science does not necessarily conflict with religion, while PZ focuses on the fact that science does conflict with religion. Both claims are true.

    I think what is necessary, PZ, is not just for the religionists to recognize that their myths, and even their metaphysics, must always give way to science. It is more about dealing with the ‘scary and capricious’ truths that science reveals to us in this all-too-uncomforting universe-without-woo that you espouse. You want to show them the awesome ugly reality at the same time you’re stripping them of all the tools their psych has ever had to deal with it? No wonder we’re not getting anywhere.

    There is nothing in science or that will ever be in science that could ever possibly contradict the informing moral narrative of the universe I have in my head. We all have them, even those of us atheists who have “deluded” themselves into denying it. It apparently comes standard equipment as part of the neural anatomy.

  74. #74 Tulse
    March 31, 2009

    The NAS emphasized, quite accurately, that science does not necessarily conflict with religion

    In other words, it was being weaselly, and making a statement that while technically accurate, does not convey to the average person what it technically means. The statement is intentionally misleading, and that is a profoundly dishonest thing to do, and damaging to the goal of communicating the truth of science.

  75. #75 Sastra
    March 31, 2009

    Years ago at the library I picked up a nice, big book on the brain put out by Reader’s Digest magazine. It was filled with short, readable stories on neurology, and lots of glossy pictures. But the first chapter was devoted, not to the brain, but to God, and religion. It was basically nothing more than a long, drawn out reassurance for its readers not to worry. Yes, you were going to see a lot of things that would seem to imply that the mind is the activity of the brain. It will look as if materialism is being supported, and dualism undermined.

    But nothing could be further from the truth! None of this science-stuff should make you doubt either the existence of the human soul, or the disembodied mind that is God. Look, here we even found some quotes by neurologists and brain surgeons who believe in God and souls and an afterlife, and they say that the wonders of the human brain only made them realize how really, really amazing God is! Neurology can strengthen faith! There’s no conflict! Yay!

    Framing.

  76. #76 abb3w
    March 31, 2009

    Antithetical to science as philosophical discipline, but not as traditional anthropological practice.

  77. #77 Shadow
    March 31, 2009

    Rev Matt @36:

    Yes, religion can trace its roots to the primitive tribal beliefs. They would have remained fol tales – just so stories if there weren’t those who figured out how to make an easy living pretending to ‘intercede’ with the god(s) on behalf of the tribe (Shamans, priests, etc.).

    After all, why hunt/gather food for yourself when you can get a cut of the bounty by ‘blessing’ the endeavor?

  78. #78 Shadow
    March 31, 2009

    folk tales – not fol tales.

  79. #79 T_U_T
    March 31, 2009

    Antithetical to science as philosophical discipline, but not as traditional anthropological practice

    .

    so science as as traditional anthropological practice

    includes manipulation and propaganda ? WT… ?
    And what is science as as traditional anthropological practice
    supposed to be anyway ?

  80. #80 T_U_T
    March 31, 2009

    blocquote and copy-paste fail :-(

  81. #81 James F
    March 31, 2009

    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.

    “Is not” would be incorrect, that’s true. “Need not” is actually just the right word; if your church is preaching creationism, then yes, it’s in conflict. However, many major faiths have declared they have no conflict with evolution and the Clergy Letter Project has over 12,000 signatories. The NAS booklet was not written for scientists, but for non-scientists with questions about evolution. Realistically, no one reading the booklet would come in thinking an atheist would have a conflict with evolution, but it’s very likely they’ve heard that you can’t be any sort of Christian and accept evolution. Thus, the NAS counters with the “need not” language and statements from religious scientists like Francis Collins, Ken Miller, et al.

    Now, this shouldn’t be extended into an official position that science never erodes faith; the NAS should stick to the facts, that science is practiced and taught under the neutral philosophy of methodological naturalism (the term does not come up when I search the document, so I think this is a major oversight). If the pendulum were to swing in the opposite direction and the official NAS position was to equate science with philosophical naturalism, creationists could argue that a public school is violating the Establishment Clause.

  82. #82 tmaxPA
    March 31, 2009
    The NAS emphasized, quite accurately, that science does not necessarily conflict with religion

    In other words, it was being weaselly, and making a statement that while technically accurate, does not convey to the average person what it technically means.

    In other words, they are well aware that religion is weaselly, and is quite capable of conforming itself to and continuing in a society which is far more scientifically-aware than ours. It conveys exactly what the NAS was trying to, which may or may not be what you wish they would say. But don’t confuse what you wish they would say with what is true.

    But certainly the statements smack far too much of political method. Like the Krugman V Obama matchup, however much I respect PZ, I’ve gotta go with the politics. “What can we get done” is more important at this point than “what do we want”.

    It’s good to have reliable leftists to vocally provide the academic perspective, though. Sort of a win-win.

  83. #83 tmaxPA
    March 31, 2009

    Shadow: And if my aunt had a shlong she’d be my uncle. ;-)

  84. #84 tony
    March 31, 2009

    PZ

    I agree with everything you wrote, except for one phrase near the end:

    market research, which is all about tailoring the message to what the audience wants to hear

    In my view, market research can help to tailor a message to use language appropriate to the audience. That does not mean necessarily crafting a message the audience wants to hear, it is crafting the message in a way that the audience can hear.

    That is uncomfortably close to framing, but framing is what we do all the time when we communicate. It’s not always wrong. I completely disagree with Mooney’s particularly accomodationist approach to framing to the exclusion of all else, but the activity of framing is not itself wrong.

    Using what you know of your audience to craft the message you want to convey is the right way to communicate effectively. Crafting only messages that your audience will readily accept is, however, completely wrong. In this we are in complete agreement.

  85. #85 druidbros
    March 31, 2009

    …”horrific rhetorical thrust”…

    Are you sure it was rhetorical?

  86. #86 Ichthyic
    March 31, 2009

    thinking of the “head in the sand” approach some of the larger scientific orgs seem to be utilizing, I wonder if it isn’t past time for some decent satirical comic art of it?

    Maybe a nice pictorial representation of Collins with his head up his ass, while the NAS “looks” on with their heads in the sand, and a large group of us standing and voicing complaint; pointing at Collins while the NAS mumbles: “What’s wrong? Why are you lot complaining about Collins?”

    I think we’re at a turning point in the “culture wars”, and it would be great to see some satire in art form to preserve the moment.

    who would be the artist to do such a representation?

  87. #87 Ichthyic
    March 31, 2009

    “Need not” is actually just the right word; if your church is preaching creationism, then yes, it’s in conflict. However, many major faiths have declared they have no conflict with evolution and the Clergy Letter Project has over 12,000 signatories.

    conclusion:

    The NAS targeted the wrong audience.

    those “faiths” that signed the clergy letter project were never the ones that needed convincing, and those that DO, the creationists, will NEVER be convinced by rational argument (surely, anyone who has spent any time actually arguing with or, for fucks sake, DEBATING them knows this already). They simply feel too much is at stake to take their fingers out of their ears. No matter what you say or present, even if they admit at the moment you are right, they simply “reset” the very next day as if you had said nothing.

    so, the NAS is literally spinning its wheels here, and should have simply left off saying anything about compatibility with religion at all.

    let the responsibility for figuring out if religion is compatible with science lie where it belongs: with the religious themselves.

    let the clergy letter project speak for itself. NAS, AAAS, or any scientific organization should NOT EVER be responsible, nor ever try to be, for reconciling religion with science.

    It’s a bad idea all around.

    that said, another confusion seems to be that when PZ or Dawkins speaks, that somehow the likes of Nisbet seem to think that rather than speaking as CRITICS, they are speaking as representatives of scientific organizations all by themselves.

    this is simply not the case. Opinions should ALWAYS be voiced, otherwise there is no chance to explore what their implications are.

    Nisbet is simply too green, and too ambitious, to realize this.

  88. #88 James F
    March 31, 2009

    Ichthyic #87

    If it’s Don McLeroy or Ken Ham, I agree – you can lead that kind of creationist to all the evidence in the world but you can’t make them think. For the rank-and-file churchgoer who hasn’t given it much thought beyond assuming that evolution=atheism, I disagree – they can discover the vast amount of evidence supporting evolution and, look at that, it’s not the same as atheism (which is why they ought to describe and emphasize methodological naturalism first and foremost, not claim that you can generally reconcile science and religion).

    Practically speaking, the NAS booklet (or similar statements) recently had an impact in the Texas state board of education debate. Board member Geraldine Miller cited the point that Christians can accept evolution and statements by religious scientists as part of her defense of the science standards; if she were swayed by the creationist argument that evolution education is really anti-religion instruction, we could be looking at “strengths and weaknesses” and even worse amendments in the science standards.

    Bottom line, the NAS position could and should be described more accurately, but they’re not just spinning their wheels by making some statement relating to religion.

  89. #89 'Tis Himself
    March 31, 2009

    Nisbet has been making his “don’t upset the poor theists” framing arguments for years. For a professional, PhD communicator, he’s lousy at communications, because it doesn’t seem like too many scientists and atheists are buying his ideas. If he can’t even sell his framing assertions to us, how can we expect his contentions to be successful in selling science to theists?

  90. #90 Ichthyic
    March 31, 2009

    the NAS booklet (or similar statements)

    NO. not the same thing.

    one can cite opinions of individuals like Miller as evidence that one can be a scientist and be religious too.

    this simply is not the same thing as an organization representing science itself claiming that religion and science are compatible.

    individuals, like PZ or Miller, can voice personal opinions on the matter.

    scientific organizations like NAS have a duty to represent science as it IS, not play capitulation games. The responsibility needs to fall to religious organizations themselves to make statements “reconciling” faith with science.

    you appear to be missing the point of the entire criticism of Nisbet’s mode of framing that has been debated here for almost 2 years now.

    here, read this, as I think it does the best job of summing up what the criticisms actually are far better than I could in a single post:

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

    …and that was over a year ago.

  91. #91 gruebait
    March 31, 2009

    “Opiate of the masses” is the phrase that keeps coming to mind. An odd prescription, coming from the NAS.

  92. #92 www.10ch.org
    March 31, 2009

    @#12 Mike Caton
    “Experienced creationist and theist debaters usually have a good armor of rhetorical devices, partly as a forced move – they have no real intellectual firepower and words are all they have. If we come back at them with solid ideas and wordsmithing, we’d do even better in these discussions. So before you dismiss all rhetoric as sleazy tricks, think about the real-world results.”
    The difference is that the rhetoric to which you referred is not dishonesty. Pretense is rhetoric which is nothing more than dishonesty.

  93. #93 Russell Blackford
    March 31, 2009

    Nice to see that this continued overnight, my time. :)

    I answered Nisbet’s comment at some length, which kept me up to 2 am, but I now see that PZ has responded here at even greater length and done a more thorough job.

    However you look at it, it’s the NAS which is up to something ethically dodgy in taking a stance on a highly controversial issue among both philosophers and scientists. Even if there is some sense in which science and religion are compatible – because religion can adapt and ultimately fall back on a rarefied theism, or because individual scientists can compartmentalise their thinking – the NAS has made a statement that is controversial within the community of American scientists, and very philosophically contentious, and which it really had no business making. You can say it is simply wrong, or that it’s a massive and misleading oversimplification, or that it’s weasel words. However you interpret the statement, no such body should be trying to make such a statement for such reasons as it did.

    Yet Nisbet wants to find some ethical impropriety not in what the NAS has been doing, but in what Dawkins has been doing. Wtf? It’s absurd.

    I think Nisbet is so committed by now to his crusade against Dawkins that he is no longer merely wrong. Even if he exercised some good judgment early in this debate a few years ago – which many might doubt – he’s no longer doing so. He’s totally lost any sense of perspective and proportion. I urged him in my reply to his reply to think it over and revise his chapter taking these points into consideration, but of course I’m not hopeful.

  94. #94 www.10ch.org
    March 31, 2009

    If Matt Nisbet wanted to use framing in order to convey his message that framing is good, he has not succeeded.

  95. #95 Russell Blackford
    March 31, 2009

    Oops, that’s what I get for writing in a hurry. I actually meant to say “a rarefied deism”, not “a rarefied theism”. Though I suppose there might be a theist position so rarefied that it is indistinguishable from deism for any practical purposes – a God outside of time that acts in such a way as to ensure that the traces of its activity can never be detected, or some such thing.

  96. #96 Ichthyic
    March 31, 2009

    I think Nisbet is so committed by now to his crusade against Dawkins that he is no longer merely wrong. Even if he exercised some good judgment early in this debate a few years ago – which many might doubt – he’s no longer doing so. He’s totally lost any sense of perspective and proportion.

    dead on, Russel.

    Nisbet has become exactly what he accuses Dawkins of being: an ideologue.

    I for one do NOT want to see this man heading up any more “discussions” sponsored by any official scientific organizations regarding this issue.

    In fact, I find it entirely remarkable that organizations of the likes of NAS and AAAS would even consider letting him head such a meeting, given he’s so damn green (just got his PhD less than a year before being offered to head the meeting I refer to).

    I can only infer that there is much “headless chicken” syndrome within these organizations now, and the desperation has lead to some rather silly mistakes being made.

    Hopefully, these mistakes will not come around to bite us on the ass too hard. It is inevitable, however, that they will to some extent.

    Nisbet needs to grow the fuck up.

  97. #97 James F
    March 31, 2009

    Ichthyic #90 and Dr. Blackford #93,

    The NAS is completely within its rights to describe science as being practiced and taught under the philosophy of methodological naturalism, though, correct? Are they also within their rights to not only explain evolution but also debunk creationism?

  98. #98 Sam C
    March 31, 2009

    Quote of the NAS quote:

    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.

    ‘Fraid they are correct in that, whether you like it or not. Do what you say and take a reality check: in many countries, and for long periods, people have been happily religious and church-going while accepting scientific truths.

    It might be inconsistent, it might not even seem plausible from your position in the USA, but it is a fact that many worshipping Christians are wholly comfortable with evolution. Should they be or not? That’s a separate issue; it’s a fact that they are comfortable with both.

    The fundamentalist rejection of evolution is a USA-based thing and is primarily a political movement. But your prejudices don’t let you see that. It ain’t about the science, it ain’t about the religion, it’s politics.

    It is your view that science and religion should be incompatible, but it is a observable fact that they aren’t.

    Me, I’m an atheist of many decades, and I can’t fit them together. But that doesn’t stop me seeing that other people do. Reality is a better guide than prejudice!

  99. #99 Ichthyic
    March 31, 2009

    The NAS is completely within its rights to describe science as being practiced and taught under the philosophy of methodological naturalism, though, correct?

    nope.

    you said it right there: philosophy.

    there is no need for the NAS to even begin to try and explain a philosophy basically involving terms made up by the religious themselves, and that includes both philosophical and methodological naturalism (yes, that’s right, those terms never came from ANY scientist – go look it up).

    This is not the same as describing the actual practice of science itself, which IS appropriate for any scientific organization (example: describing how a scientific hypothesis is formulated and tested). Determining whether or not this represents “methodological materialism/naturalism” falls in the realm of philosophy, and should not be addressed by NAS.

    Are they also within their rights to not only explain evolution but also debunk creationism?

    again, it is unnecessary and unwarranted for NAS to directly “debunk” creationism. The NAS’s job is to present the scientific evidence as it is. The evidence alone debunks creationism to anyone with a sane mind.

    It is the job of individuals then to collate that into a reasoned attack on creationism itself, and many, many individuals (scientists and not) have already done that. The NAS presents the data, and groups like the clergy letter project interpret what the implications are for the religious.

    again, it’s simply not, nor should it be, the job of scientific organizations to interpret the religious or philosophical implications of scientific information.

    There are many individuals that can express reasoned opinions on the issue, without the NAS or AAAS becoming involved at all.

    It is dangerous for a scientific organization to set itself up as the football in a philosophical debate!

  100. #100 Kel
    March 31, 2009

    It is your view that science and religion should be incompatible, but it is a observable fact that they aren’t sometimes can coexist peacefully in an individual.

    Fixed.

    The problem I see here is that atheists are effectively being told that their philosophy is unwelcome. That while Christians and other religionists are allowed to talk of the compatibility, that atheists are not. And what I don’t get about this is who is honestly going to listen to Richard Dawkins when it comes to belief if they are already a devout theist? Surely if they have already reconciled God and evolution in their own minds, it’s not going to matter one bit what Dawkins says. “I believe in God, but Dawkins thinks they are incompatible so I won’t believe in evolution any more…” Or even still, those who wouldn’t give Dawkins the time of day are going to be swayed by his opinion on religion as opposed to the scientific evidence. It’s simply unrealistic to expect anyone’s atheism to have an effect on believers. At best it’s going to be used as confirmation for already-held beliefs.

    It’s again playing the game of “blame the atheist”, that while preachers and followers are spending week after week talking of the incompatibility, that families are indoctrinating their children with the notion that evolution means atheism means eternal hell, that in that environment one thing an atheist says is suddenly going to make it worse. This amounts to nothing more than telling anyone who disagrees with the cultural zeitgeist that their opinion is not wanted – that it’s unhelpful and that it should be silenced. Should Miller or Collins be allowed to say that God is compatible with evolution, but Dawkins not? What beyond the prevailing cultural zeitgeist makes one statement ethical and the other not?

    An open marketplace of ideas should allow for the free exchange of concepts, that philosophical implications of science are up for discussion. It seems almost contemptuous to think that believers cannot handle anyone speaking out against their God, that they do not have the ability to think about the issues and implications for themselves.

  101. #101 Ichthyic
    March 31, 2009

    (yes, that’s right, those terms never came from ANY scientist – go look it up).

    I’m going to reclassify that and say that “methodological/philosophical materialism” definitely have religious sources, not sure about “naturalism” as much, but highly doubt any scientist ever came up with that either.

  102. #102 Sastra
    March 31, 2009

    James F #97 wrote:

    The NAS is completely within its rights to describe science as being practiced and taught under the philosophy of methodological naturalism, though, correct?

    This question wasn’t addressed to me, but I’ll answer a qualified ‘no’ to it. It’s also controversial. There is nothing in the methods and approach of science which makes any distinction upfront about what can, and can’t, be studied — or what it will, or won’t find.

    If the supernatural is defined as “that which is outside of science’s ability to know about” then I suppose methodological naturalism pretty much follows. But there are other definitions of ‘the supernatural’ which would include such things as mind/body dualism, vitalistic energy fields, ghosts, psychic mind power, and various forms and styles of magic — and there’s no reason these couldn’t, in theory, be tested and accepted by scientists.

    Dawkins himself gives an example of a message coded into DNA saying “I am God and I Created you” or some such thing. If this were discovered, you wouldn’t see theologians shrugging their shoulders and waving their hands, saying “oh, ignore this — science has nothing to say about the truths of religion.” They’d be ringing the church bells.

    Naturalism is scientifically falsifiable. That means that there is no such thing as “the philosophy of methodological naturalism.” Invoking this as a principle is simply a way to sooth the religious, explain why there’s no scientific evidence for the supernatural or paranormal (yet), and keep Occam’s razor away from their hypotheses. The term comes out of the NOMA crowd. Many atheists argue against it.

  103. #103 Kel
    March 31, 2009

    It is your view that science and religion should be incompatible, but it is a observable fact that they aren’t.

    On the flipside of this, it’s an observable fact that science and religion are incompatible. Just because some individuals say that they are accepting of science, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a wider problem where dogma and scientific inquiry have an irreconcilable point. Just look at the market for creationist propaganda – book after book, ministeries and ministers dedicated to the notion, museums, television programs and continuous proselytism attesting to the world being 6000 years old. And even when there are those who say they believe in evolution, seldom is there a theist who takes the position that evolution works without intervention. Very seldom is God framed as a transcendent deity – the creator of the universe, and from there the laws of nature apply but it’s an eternal tweaker, one who constantly needs to intervene in nature.

    The god that is compatible with science is a hands-off deity, otherwise it’s a suspension of natural law i.e. a miracle. This deist interpretation is not compatible at all with most dogmas and most interpretations of those dogmas. Those who say they are compatible are turning a blind eye to all those times when it’s evident that it’s not. “Attempts to reconcile God and evolution keep rolling off the intellectual assembly line. It never stops, because the reconciliation never works.” – Jerry Coyne

  104. #104 Ichthyic
    March 31, 2009

    OT @ Kel:

    Have you finished Coyne’s book yet?

    Was sick this weekend and just now getting back to it.

    I sent you a reply email regarding the selection of GULO issue in Ch3.

    cheers

  105. #105 Kel
    March 31, 2009

    Haven’t quite finished it yet, partway through chapter 7 now so not too long to go. I’m actually amazed by how well Coyne is explaining things, there hasn’t been anything that has stood out in my mind that I’m unsure of (besides not having the indepth knowledge on the topic).

    I’ve been meaning to reply to your email, that’s come down to partly my laziness and partly that gmail is blocked for me at work. So by the time I get home I’m too buggered to send an email you. I’ll try to do it tonight, I do have an answer for that question.

  106. #106 Sastra
    March 31, 2009

    By the way, here’s an interesting article on a conference of Catholic bishops condemning reiki “because it lacks scientific credibility and is dangerous to Christian spiritual health.”

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gRnVd7ssDm6nhpNvSJG50KROQ5Cw

    It’s another case of competing magic systems for them, because they certainly do believe in the power of prayer to heal — which lacks scientific credibility as well.

    Reiki is both pseudoscientific, and religious, a form of supernaturalism. It claims that the natural world is based on an underlying “‘universal life energy’ that is subject to manipulation by the natural human power of thought and will.” It also claims effects that are very testable — and which fail well-designed tests. Like the miraculous power of prayer, it only passes tests designed to see “if it works.”

    Are we going to say that reiki can’t be tested, because science can only use “methodological naturalism” and not allow for mysterious universal life energies? Or can science test it anyway, and throw it out for lack of support?

  107. #107 James F
    March 31, 2009

    Ichthyic #99, #101 and Sastra #102

    “Methodological naturalism” was coined by philosopher Paul de Vries in 1986. I first encountered it through Eugenie Scott’s description:

    [M]odern science operates under a rule of methodological naturalism that limits it to attempting to explain natural phenomena using natural causes.

    I would argue that it is thus a useful “neutral philosophy” that helps the non-scientist understand how science is practiced without getting into the Nisbettian framing hubbub. Invoking supernatural causation as a conclusion has been the province of the ID crowd thus far; as far as the hypothetical ghosts and apparent messages from the Almighty go, I think the best we would be able to do is say “we don’t yet know the cause” until some natural explanation can be studied. I do see where you’re coming from now, though.

    I maintain that, as a body that advises the government on scientific and technological issues affecting policy decisions (at least via the National Research Council) the NAS is within its rights to comment on a matter like creationism. As you said, Ichthyic, “The evidence alone debunks creationism to anyone with a sane mind,” I just think it’s useful to lay it out against the common creationist arguments for the general public.

  108. #108 Scott
    March 31, 2009

    Paul@58

    Hi Paul, I appreciate your explanation. I’ll take you at your word for your position. It’s hard though to reconcile that with things like this at the end of PZ’s original post:

    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.

    That doesn’t sound much like working from where your audience is. I’d say that “market research” would be useful, not to find out what the audience wants to hear, but rather what the audience can hear. If you’re a university professor, I guess you can just flunk anyone who can’t understand what you’re saying. But if you’re trying to reach the great unwashed, making “correct” arguments, “no matter how uncomfortable it makes them” is simply a non-starter with a good percentage of them. It’s like trying to convince a jury of the validity of DNA evidence when they have already self identified with the knife wielding perp. It doesn’t matter how right you are. OJ is still going to walk.

    I can’t say I have a good answer, but standing on the pedestal of TRVTH and shouting doesn’t seem like an effective method as the only method.

    I’m guessing that it is better to have a whole range of arguments made by a range of people. Grab those of the unwashed who can be persuaded from where they are, and gently move them along to the next argument on the path. PZ makes fine arguments, but he isn’t going to be the one to sway that first convert if he were to walk into a tent revival meeting.

  109. #109 Ichthyic
    March 31, 2009

    I would argue that it is thus a useful “neutral philosophy” that helps the non-scientist understand how science is practiced without getting into the Nisbettian framing hubbub.

    hmm, let me try this:

    As you point out, this is the attempt of an individual (Eugenie Scott), to utilize language intended for a specific target audience. I don’t agree that what Eugenie does is a necessary implication for what an organization representing science itself should do. In fact, I have seen several creationist websites bite on the very philosophical terminology she is using to imply that science is all about “materialism” (naturalism=materialism in their minds), and thus they utilize her own argument to say that science is thus anti-theistic in nature. Regardless of the fact that this is a gross strawman of the argument Eugenie is making (conflating “philosophical” with “methodological”), the door was left open to them to interpret it in such fashion.

    Now, you might say that such language caters to those “on the fence”, to which I would again say that fence-sitters aren’t the real problem here, but rather the problem comes from the ones that are almost guaranteed to take a philosophical argument that naturalism=materialism. Now, if you set up an entire organization that is devoted to science to now having to defend the philosophical position that naturalism!=materialism, you have defeated the purpose of your organization. Instead of explaining science, you are now wasting energy debating philosophy, which of course is exactly what the creationists want. In fact, it is a favorite technique of the Discovery Institute.

    While it is fine for an individual like Genie to make statements like that that she can personally defend, again, I say, it is not the job of the NAS or AAAS to make philosophical interpretations. Like Genie, there are plenty of individuals that can and do act in that role, regardless of whether they are speaking to the public at large, any specific part of it, or to any government body.

    I hope what I have said is clear enough. It is, after all, just an opinion. However, at this point, I can’t see going back and forth on this issue more will clarify anything further.

  110. #110 Ichthyic
    March 31, 2009

    I’d say that “market research” would be useful, not to find out what the audience wants to hear, but rather what the audience can hear. If you’re a university professor, I guess you can just flunk anyone who can’t understand what you’re saying.

    as a teacher, one gets feedback during office hours as to what specific individuals are having problems with. It is then easier to figure out how to present information to them so that they understand it better.

    It is impossible, necessarily, to do this for an entire group at once.

    It isn’t the teacher’s job to read each student’s mind and come up with a lesson plan that caters to their individual learning styles. It is up to the student to express what they don’t understand directly to the professor.

    that said, this really isn’t an issue of what the general student population doesn’t understand, but rather, what some have already decided they don’t WANT to understand. They will not bother to go to the professor to ask questions that will lead to their understanding objectionable material better.

    changing the message will not reach these people, and for those that actually DO want to understand, they will ask.

    It’s like trying to convince a jury of the validity of DNA evidence when they have already self identified with the knife wielding perp. It doesn’t matter how right you are. OJ is still going to walk.

    and yet, you aren’t implying we ignore the DNA evidence, right?

    Should it be the DNA experts’ job to try and convince the jurors they shouldn’t identify with the defendant?

    not hardly.

  111. #111 Kadin
    March 31, 2009

    Different ways of understanding the world? I don’t know, it doesn’t sound so bad to me. The primary difference being, of course, that one is correct and the other is not.

  112. #112 James F
    March 31, 2009

    I hope what I have said is clear enough. It is, after all, just an opinion. However, at this point, I can’t see going back and forth on this issue more will clarify anything further.

    Agreed. I enjoy having my opinions challenged; even if I don’t change my position I invariably learn arguments and nuances that hadn’t occurred to me before. I will just close, only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, by saying that William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, and J. P. Moreland are all on record as opponents of the concept of methodological naturalism, so it’s got that going for it.

  113. #113 Larry_boy
    March 31, 2009

    “It’s like trying to convince a jury of the validity of DNA evidence when they have already self identified with the knife wielding perp. It doesn’t matter how right you are. OJ is still going to walk.”

    While I admit that there are racist people in the world, I sincerely doubt that OJ Simpson was acquited because the jury ‘self identified’ with him. The jury members at the time indicated in their statements that it was possible that OJ Simpson was guilty, but concern over the conduct of the police investigation cast reasonable doubt on this conclusion.

    I would think the fact that the majority of the public is divided by racial lines over this verdict should indicate to you that a little more is going on here then people of one race being totally irrational while people of a different race are magically rational.

    (Discloser: I’m white and I think O.J. Simpson is probably guilty.)

  114. #114 Kel
    March 31, 2009

    (Discloser: I’m white and I think O.J. Simpson is probably guilty.)

    You racist ;)

  115. #115 Scott
    April 1, 2009

    Ichthyic@110

    It’s like trying to convince a jury of the validity of DNA evidence when they have already self identified with the knife wielding perp. It doesn’t matter how right you are. OJ is still going to walk.

    and yet, you aren’t implying we ignore the DNA evidence, right?
    Should it be the DNA experts’ job to try and convince the jurors they shouldn’t identify with the defendant?

    Correct. I’m not saying the DNA expert should ignore the DNA evidence. What I’m saying is that one needs to use the right tool for the right job at the right time. In this analogy, it is the prosecutor’s job to recognize that the DNA expert is irrelevant to whether the case is lost or not. Don’t sweat the accuracy of the DNA evidence when you haven’t convinced the jury that the cops didn’t plant it in the first place. Likewise, don’t send PZ into a Baptist church and expect any converts to come out. You need to get them in a more receptive mood first.

    No, I’m not going to argue that PZ or Dawkins should shut up. If nothing else, they are both very educational and often entertaining. But to say that the likes of Ken Miller are lying to people is disingenuous. Until you can get people to lower their force-10 defense shields, they aren’t even going to hear your arguments, let alone think about them. People are only going to lower those shields if they feel comfortable with the person bringing the message. Sure, science asks uncomfortable questions. But that comes later.

    Think of it as a counselor or psychologist trying to help a distraught or angry person. Before any constructive engagement can occur, the counselor has to gain the trust of the patient. Sure, they’ll get to those very uncomfortable sciency questions. Later. Start by building the trust. Does that mean the counselor is lying, or has to lie to the patient? No. You can’t build that trust by lying.

    Or you can just bitch slap the patient and say, “Snap out of it you idiot”. That might work for some folks, it might make you feel good (and I’ve been sorely tempted), but I wouldn’t recommend it as a front line strategy.

  116. #116 Kel
    April 1, 2009

    But to say that the likes of Ken Miller are lying to people is disingenuous.

    Are they saying that Ken Miller is lying to people, or that they feel the way he tries to reconcile science and religion doesn’t work?

  117. #117 Scott
    April 1, 2009

    Larry_boy@113

    Larry, it was a loose analogy. Don’t get hung up on the details.

    But to your point, my understanding is that, at the time the trial was going on, independent pollsters did mock trials with ranges of different kinds of juries. They found that the racial and gender make up of the actual jury was the least likely to convict, and was the most immune to any evidence; such a jury refused to convict even if there was direct video of the act.

  118. #118 Scott
    April 1, 2009

    Kel@116
    From PZ’s original post above:

    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.

    Sounds to me like he’s calling Miller a liar, who is used by scientists to fool the rubes into believing what they want them to believe based on falsehoods.

  119. #119 Kel
    April 1, 2009

    Sounds to me like he’s calling Miller a liar

    That sounds way too much like Comfort for it’s own good. Pushing a “lie” has nothing to do with the act of lying. If someone truly believes what they are saying, does it make it a lie if it’s a falsehood?

  120. #120 Scott
    April 1, 2009

    If someone truly believes what they are saying, does it make it a lie if it’s a falsehood?

    That’s always a fine point. Miller probably doesn’t see it as a lie. But PZ certainly does, and is calling him on it.

  121. #121 PZ Myers
    April 1, 2009

    Nope. I think Miller is entirely sincere.

  122. #122 Kel
    April 1, 2009

    That’s always a fine point. Miller probably doesn’t see it as a lie. But PZ certainly does, and is calling him on it.

    To be honest, I see it as a lie as well. The findings of modern science should be very unsettling – and that’s a good thing. It does seem a falsehood to say otherwise, but if someone is genuine in their belief that it’s not then they are’t liars for saying so.

  123. #123 Ichthyic
    April 1, 2009

    Nope. I think Miller is entirely sincere.

    …and if you called Miller a liar, why, John Kwok would… he would…

    ummm…

    oh wait, I guess we already know what he would do.

    :p

  124. #124 Lurky
    April 1, 2009

    I love that quote on 2#! Thank you!

  125. #125 ConcernedJoe
    April 1, 2009

    I tried to say back quite a few posts that we should not conflate this thing called religion with absolute belief in the god as presented by religion.

    In modern world religion is to many a powerful and useful social construct for interaction and comfort.

    The god stuff and supernatural – well old habits die hard. Comes with territory and is accepted but not embraced in any real practical sense. In other words – not many really really let the sky-daddy do the talking and acting when the temporal world’s chips are down.

    To most modern people there is no conflict between RELIGION and science because to them the former is a social construct and the latter is a method to understand material things and achieve advanced technologies. What’s to conflict? “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” so to speak.

    Sure they mostly espouse god belief etc. but again that is just denying to themselves that their faith is – well – shaky.

    How many of us really would admit in public forums things society deems somehow taboo or otherwise have traditionally officially derided.

    Example: To married adult man or woman: “When you masturbate do fantasize about making out with your own sex?” Response: “Whatever gave you the idea that I masturbate!!??” Taboo fear is powerful force.

    Many people – even those otherwise smart, accomplished, grounded – are scared to admit to themselves let alone in public that they doubt god exists or operates in real world. So they minimize god in their own mind – maybe subconsciously – but they still cling to the social traditions and social warm and fuzzies that organized religion offers.

    My point again – many “religious” people scoff at us for even thinking there is a conflict .. to them it is an esoteric and very bounded discussion that assumes “religious” people really believe fervently in all that religion promotes re: the supernatural.

    They know deep down they want to believe — but would not let that want get in the way of reality. Your conflict is a non-issue to them. And the THEM is most people in modern world.

    And don’t bring up the stupid surveys on evolution verses creationism. They are just that .. stupid surveys. People may not even have thought about it and the embarrassment of surfacing taboo doubts is always present. So answers suspect. Look around. Most people accept science over the supernatural in their lives. They just do. And they feel no conflict and go to mass on Sunday.

  126. #126 ConcernedJoe
    April 1, 2009

    Addendum:

    There is conflict in the political arena when leaders use religion (doctrine, dogma, structures) to impose their political agendas. This conflict real and worthy of battle.

    There are 2 groups of people that make this conflict scary: (1) those that REALLY believe and expect us all to follow suit (about 20% of us), and (2) leaders who will use that fervent force as base to enhance their power and agendas.

    If we are complacent that base of 20% becomes the majority in elections etc.

  127. #127 Deen
    April 1, 2009

    @ConcernedJoe #66

    But big “S” Socialism makes for movements that become religions (bad ones at that) … Nationalsozialismus comes to mind.

    Actually, you can argue quite easily that it was the “nationalism” part that caused the problems, not the “socialism” part.

  128. #128 ConcernedJoe
    April 1, 2009

    Deen – no argument there — the more virulent in the couple was “nationalism.”

    But a major substrate for the virulence was the economic depression and worker devaluation. The socialist workers that bought into the strict dogma (their Socialism) that there should be a managed economy neither in the temple of capitalism nor of communism, once provided with the push and power of nationalism, created the combo-ism (Nazism) we so rightly abhor.

    I am way out of my league and ought to stop with my historical thoughts.

    Suffice to say I agree with what I think you meant Deen but stand also by my broader point: all “-isms” – even ones with some truth and value are dangerous because:

    they are born of dogma and doctrine,

    they demand allegiance,

    they punish critical thinking and counter ideas and actions,

    they will combine with other “-isms” of convenience to advance their aims regardless of impacts, honesty, and justice,

    they develop structures to serve the dogma and doctrine,

    their structures almost always end up serving RWA leaders that seek their own ends at our peril

  129. #129 Ferris Bueller
    April 1, 2009

    all “-isms” – even ones with some truth and value are dangerous

    Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism’s in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.” Good point there. After all, he was the Walrus. I could be the Walrus. I’d still have to bum rides off people.

  130. #130 windy
    April 1, 2009

    Sounds to me like he’s calling Miller a liar, who is used by scientists to fool the rubes into believing what they want them to believe based on falsehoods.

    No, he’s calling the NAS liars, and anyone else who is using Miller and Collins as the only acceptable scientist-posterboys.

  131. #131 Robocop
    April 1, 2009

    “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.”

    When Coyne’s mentor Lewontin says that naturalism needs to be maintained irrespective of any contrary evidence and when Dawkins says (at the end of TGD) that he would reject per se any evidence that contradicts naturalism (a waving Madonna is his example), they are acting in a way that is utterly antithetical to science (following the evidence whereever it leads) in the very same way Ray Comfort does. Top-down ideology controls the interprative process in both types of cases.

    “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.”

    Nice idea, but the execution is more than a bit spotty. I suppose grant requests have nothing whatsoever to do with telling an audience what it wants to hear…?

  132. #132 Ichthyic
    April 1, 2009

    I suppose grant requests have nothing whatsoever to do with telling an audience what it wants to hear…?

    the ideal and the reality don’t always match up. The point is it shouldn’t stop us from pursuing the ideal.

    surely that was the actual point you wanted to make?

    otherwise, you would seem more than a bit… stupid.

  133. #133 Stephen Wells
    April 1, 2009

    @131: I think you’ve misunderstood Dawkins, though I can’t speak for Lewontin. The point is that if you’re a scientist there can’t ever be a point when you say “Oh, that’s a miracle” and stop inquiring. If we have a confirmed case of a waving Madonna, _we ask how that happens_, we don’t just say “Oh, it must be God doing it”.

  134. #134 Robocop
    April 1, 2009

    “the ideal and the reality don’t always match up. The point is it shouldn’t stop us from pursuing the ideal.

    surely that was the actual point you wanted to make?

    otherwise, you would seem more than a bit… stupid.”

    Since my English was plain enough (“Nice idea, but the execution is more than a bit spotty”), it must be your second language. Otherwise, you would seem more than a bit…stupid.

    “I think you’ve misunderstood Dawkins, though I can’t speak for Lewontin. The point is that if you’re a scientist there can’t ever be a point when you say “Oh, that’s a miracle” and stop inquiring. If we have a confirmed case of a waving Madonna, _we ask how that happens_, we don’t just say ‘Oh, it must be God doing it’.”

    I don’t think so, but you can read TGD (again?) yourself. Lewontin is crystal clear, however.

  135. #135 windy
    April 1, 2009

    I don’t think so, but you can read TGD (again?) yourself.

    Yes, you misunderstood it. Dawkins is talking about a possible, but very improbable, naturalistic explanation for a waving statue. He says nothing about rejecting the evidence per se.

    Lewontin is crystal clear, however.

    So? Lewontin’s position is completely different from Dawkins and Coyne, and also bizarre. Why do you try to lump them together?

  136. #136 Talented Chimp
    April 1, 2009

    “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.”

    Hear, hear.

  137. #137 Ichthyic
    April 1, 2009

    but the execution is more than a bit spotty

    well, see, here your implication is that grant writing is mostly about spin, which is utter bullshit.

    I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, but now I can rest assured…

    you ARE stupid.

  138. #138 Ichthyic
    April 1, 2009

    Lewontin’s position is completely different from Dawkins and Coyne

    Lewontin has been a contrary bastard all the way back to the days when Hamilton was a grad student.

    Is he still an advocate of group-level selection models these days, or has he dropped that one too?

  139. #139 Marion Delgado
    April 2, 2009

    You know, I’m more in their herd most days than the one PZ’s in, and even I had to comment that Matt was “deeply unethical” and “unfit to judge the ethics of other people commenting on science.” my internal greasemonkey killfile script has already clicked “kill” on him.

  140. #140 frog
    April 2, 2009

    robocop: When Coyne’s mentor Lewontin says that naturalism needs to be maintained irrespective of any contrary evidence and when Dawkins says (at the end of TGD) that he would reject per se any evidence that contradicts naturalism (a waving Madonna is his example), they are acting in a way that is utterly antithetical to science (following the evidence whereever it leads) in the very same way Ray Comfort does. Top-down ideology controls the interprative process in both types of cases.

    What are you even trying to suggest here? That there exists some kind of theory-free evidence — that it is possible to look at the world without any kind of necessary preconceived notions?

    Are you a philosophical moron who has no grasp of epistemology, and how it precedes knowledge? Or a self-centered little twerp who thinks he can look at the world through putative God’s eyes’ view?

    Are you incapable of understanding that theoretical constructs must be self-consistent — therefore certain kinds of explanations are incoherent in a scientific context?

    And where is the “top-down” authoritarianism? Is there a threat that the Dawkins militia is going to execute statue-worshipers? Or the the Lewontin brigade is coming to arrest the incoherent? Do you know the difference between an argument and a dogma?

  141. #141 MrFire
    April 22, 2009

    Hi Tim,

    Are you related to Jim Tanger, who was trolling around on a thread a few weeks ago?

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/04/another_texas_compromise_with.php

    Say it ain’t so!

  142. #142 MrFire
    April 22, 2009

    whoops, wrong thread :) how sad am i?

  143. #143 kingfurniture
    January 17, 2010

    Invoking supernatural causation as a conclusion has been the province of the ID crowd thus far.