The Cost of Not Framing

In the comments to yesterday’s post about framing, Damian offers a long comment that doesn’t actually contradict anything I said, but re-frames it in terms more complimentary to the Dawkins/ Myers side of things. I may deal with some of what he says over there (probably not today, though, as I have a class to teach), but I wanted to single out one particular part of his comment for response:

Nisbet has claimed repeatedly, and without much evidence I might add, that PZ and Dawkins are poor advocates for science. For a start, neither PZ or Dawkins has ever claimed to be an advocate (at least, not in the sense that is the goal of Nisbet and Mooney), and what ever one thinks of them, it has not been shown that both men are hurting science education.

The data that we do know of – that of books sold and visitors to blogs – show conclusively that these men have been extraordinarily successful science advocates, as well as framers of science (I guess you could claim that it is for other reasons, but you would have to show that). The problem is that it isn’t the correct audience, although it is rather sad that those who are among the strongest supporters of science are often left out of the equation.

This is a response I was expecting. If I may take the liberty of re-framing the re-framing, this boils down to asking “If what they’re doing is so bad, why is Pharyngula the biggest blog at ScienceBlogs by an order of magnitude or more? What’s the cost of not framing?”

Well, at the risk of sounding self-centered, the cost of not framing is me. Me, and people like me.

On paper, what Myers and Dawkins are selling ought to be right up my alley. I’m a Ph.D. scientist, working in academia, and doing my own science popularization thing (I’m still waiting for comments from my editor, but my pop-physics book should hopefully be out by next year at this time). I’m fairly liberal politically, and strongly opposed to the political abuse of science that we’ve seen in recent years. I’m not personally religious, and I’m strongly opposed to any sort of religious education in schools, and against the promotion of religion in public life.

I ought to be all over their message. I don’t support them, though, precisely because of their rejection of Nisbet and Mooney’s advice. In fact, I am sufficiently disgusted by their behavior, and especially the behavior of the screechy monkeys from the comments at Pharyngula and elsewhere, that I want nothing at all to do with them.

I don’t read or link to their blogs. I don’t pass on their action alerts, or promote their events or causes. I won’t send money to their political organizations, donate to their charities, or even buy their books, lest my beer money find its way to their royalty checks.

Their behavior has landed them in the same basic category as Little Green Footballs, as far as my reading and linking habits are concerned. I’d say that they’re in the same category as the Republican Party, but that’s not true– I can’t say that I won’t vote for them, because at this point, I will vote for absolutely anyone on a Democratic ticket, and my hatred of the modern Republican party has a much deeper basis.

“So what?,” you say. “Pharyngula gets as many hits on a slow day as you do in a month.”

Sure. I’m not half vain enough to think that they notice or care about my lack of support. I might occasionally get their attention for a fleeting second by directly calling them assholes in public, but that’s it.

The thing is, I’m not the only one who feels this way. If I’m offended, as a liberal apathetic-agnostic professional scientist, how do you think this comes off to people who are actually religious? People who aren’t already predisposed to support science? People who are a bit to the right of center politically?

It may turn out to be a moot point. It may be that the stirring rhetoric of Myers and Dawkins et al. will win vast hordes of converts supporters, and the Atheist Revolution will sweep to power on the backs of a billion godless ethusiasts, trampling squishy moderates like me along the way.

It could happen. Good luck with that.

Or, it may turn out that exclusive and alienating over-the-top rhetoric loses a bit of its luster outside of a core population who are already predisposed to like it. It may be that there’s a limit to the popularity of the Dawkins/ Myers brand of atheist radicalism, and once that’s reached, things don’t really go much farther. They might very well turn out to have a band of supporters who are very passionate, but ultimately not numerous enough to effect significant change.

They might very well end up as a sort of Libertarian Party with biology degrees– loud, passionate, and annoying, but ultimately politically impotent.

That’s what Mooney and Nisbet are warning against, and they continue to push this discussion because they very much want to avoid that fate for science. Personally, in my pettier moments, I think it couldn’t happen to a more deserving troop of monkeys.

Comments

  1. #1 Jamie Bowden
    April 4, 2008

    You could be as big as Pharyngula easily. Just start posting in support controversial topics guaranteed to attract the attention of every grepping monkey on the net. We used to call that ‘trolling’ if memory serves.

  2. #2 Brian
    April 4, 2008

    Personally, I’m more afraid of them turning into a sort of Ralph Nader. Crazy, but with some fundamentally good ideas (and a lot of not so good ideas), and splitting the people I agree with into to warring factions that allow the other side to win whatever contest we’re worried about…

  3. #3 etbnc
    April 4, 2008

    Their behavior

    Behavior.

    We react to our perceptions of behavior.

    When I consider that we call ourselves a social species, a species that evolved to interact and to function in social groups, it makes sense to me that we might have some very deeply embedded mechanisms that transmit, detect, and interpret behavior signals. And yet it seems to me we can expend amazing effort trying to work against our evolved social mechanisms.

    Thanks for explicitly describing your perceptions of behavior, and for explicitly stating the consequences of behavior as you see them. It seems to me that demonstrates a healthy behavior, and an important aspect of authentic human interaction.

    Cheers

  4. #4 Duae Quartunciae
    April 4, 2008

    I hear you… but I don’t actually see the “cost” you mention. You find them offensive, okay. That’s not really a big cost (no offence intended… :-).

    I’m quite sure you are correct that their style prevents their message from getting through to lots of folks; but then we have others (like you and me, or better like Ken Miller and Eugenie Scott and Wes Elsberry and Nick Matzke and lots of others) for that. But Myers and Dawkins are getting through to some folks, as you recognize; and they are making a difference. I don’t think it’s good to have all the same approach.

    The question for me is; is the difference they make a net positive, or a net negative, for science education?

    I find that easy to answer. It’s a net positive, by far.

    Full disclosure: I’m a “do-nothing” atheist according to a Pharyngula article from last year: Do-nothing atheists and re-igniting the Enlightenment. I’m Chris Ho-Stuart; it was me PZ was talking about. And he could hardly be more incorrect. I find it hard to account for such a stupid appellation; PZ Myers has all the information available to know that his label was wildly and unfairly inaccurate.

    It’s just that my involvement is a different style, to a different demographic. I interact primarily with Christians directly, at an online forum. My writings are mostly focussed on science. My atheism is open and well known (it’s tagged on all my posts), but it is not my major focus of attention. I do also present my own reasons and apologetics for unbelief, but without denigrating others for disagreement. In debate on science I side with people based only on the accuracy of their science, without a care for their religious beliefs.

    I don’t find any significant downside to the existence of more aggressive atheists like PZ Myers or Richard Dawkins. Indeed, there can even be an advantage, with opportunities to “frame” science discussions so as to encourage Christians to rebut the Myers/Dawkins style of attack by showing themselves as simultaneously recognizing good science while also being Christian.

    Actually, there is a down side, in that it encourages a stereotype of atheists which may lead to negative assumptions being made about me personally, as a declated atheist. But I honestly don’t care about that… in fact I can also make it a positive, and it is so easy to show that the stereotype fails in my case, and in the case of several others in the same forum.

  5. #5 Maria
    April 4, 2008

    I think there is room for both of you. PZ is one of the first (certainly the first I knew) in-your-face, unapologetic atheists, who thinks that the world would be unambiguously better off without religion. His is undoubtedly an extreme position, but I think it serves a role. At the very least, he broadens the spectrum of acceptable behavior.

    I’m fairly liberal politically, and strongly opposed to the political abuse of science that we’ve seen in recent years. I’m not personally religious, and I’m strongly opposed to any sort of religious education in schools, and against the promotion of religion in public life.

    This sounds very moderate… because we have people like PZ. Otherwise, it would be quite an extreme worldview, especially as far as not being religious is concerned (not mixing religion and education is compatible with a very religious population diverse in their beliefs). “Agnostic” sounds moderate only when there are “Atheists” around.

    Of course, this does not mean that you have to make nice with PZ. I just think that he, and Dawkins, and others like him, are and have been useful in getting certain beliefs into the mainstream.

  6. #6 John S. Wilkins
    April 4, 2008

    I think part of the problem is local culture. PZ may be the first atheist many folk have met in the USA, but I grew up with scores of the buggers, none of whom made much of it in public. Atheists were elected to public office, and it was considered bad form for a journalist to ask any questions of a candidate’s religious beliefs or the lack of them (because we had an opposition party that included many old style socialists and communists who thought religion was just embarrassing).

    So for me as an Australian, atheists are another species in the cultural ecology. And some of them are noisy and some (most?) of them are quiet and nobody thinks they have no role in the social fabric. I gather this is also true in many European nations and regions. Sure, theists try, especially if they are influenced by their coreligionists from the USA, to impose their values and constraints on the rest of us, but that’s all part of the democratic process and the good sense (I can’t believe I’m saying this) of politicians has prevented them from succeeding.

    So noisy atheists can be just part of the social fabric, as can agnostics (who in this country, at any rate, rarely get called lazy atheists or Chamberlainists or whatever is the insult du jour), Christians of various stripes and so forth. Onyl when a religion tries to impose its views on everyone else does anyone get het up.

    It’s one of the virtues of a country that has a State Religion that nobody takes too seriously.

  7. #7 ponderingfool
    April 4, 2008

    Shouldn’t PZ and Dawkins be more likened to promoters of an atheist group identity? I see them making space as noted above.

    I look at the Gay Pride Parades in SF. They in the past have offended many a moderate but I can’t help but think that such events have only advanced the cause of gay rights in this country, making it more acceptable to be gay especially in younger populations.

    It is beneficial in this country to have atheists who are loud and proud. Hopefully this gets others atheists to speak even it is to disagree with PZ & Dawkins.

  8. #8 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    April 4, 2008

    Whether you refer to me as a “screechy monkey” or not, I am in the target audience. I am not a scientist, a biologist or a degreed academic in any shape, manner or form. I will say this:

    What sparked my renewed interest in science were claims of the craetionists and intelligent designers. I heard some things from them about specified complexity, fine-tuning, moon dust accumulation and the moon’s recession being too fast for an old earth. I knew they were wrong, I just didn’t know why they were wrong. So, I went to talkorigins.org and from there to the talk.origins newsgroup.

    And in that den of “howler monkeys” I learned. I learned about biology, the philosophy of science, about cosmology. From the howler monkeys I followed trails and links to science sites that taught me how the creationists and ID’ers were completely full of hogwash.

    Who were the people that led me towards understanding the science of origins? John Wilkins, PZ Myers, Larry Moran, Richard Forrest and a great deal many more. They took the abuse of creationists and even theistic evolutionists and came back firing with facts. (While Wilkins argues that science doesn’t lead to atheism, neither is he shy about pointing out the failings of religious interference in science.)

    I also learned a great deal about quote-mining.

    They have led me to think more and more about how science works in ways that I never got in my secondary and post-secondary education. While this is no substitute for a proper science education, it has built my own understanding. I would bet there are many more like me.

    I also learned a great deal about quote-mining.

    What Matthew did was unforgivable. He featured a conveniently edited video from the movie Expelled. The interview was gained under false pretenses. We don’t know the questions that PZ was asked which led his comparing religion to a personal exercise such as knitting. (We can guess, knowing PZ.) Matthew said that the video was evidence that PZ should not allow himself to be seen as a face of science. PZ should instead refer enquiries to the NCSE, where the public relations firms can properly deal with couching science in terms non-offensive to moderately religious people.

    Matthew is strengthening the frame that science=atheism, whether intentional or not. And he is doing so by referring to the “New Atheist Noise Machine.” He is poisoning the well for anything that PZ says publicly about any subject. “Pay no attention to the atheist behind the curtain.” And the moderately religious are left in a comfort zone, where no one criticizes their beliefs, no one forces them to challenge their own faith. At least we will get the global warming problem solved. Once we do that, we can get back to defending evolution and all of the other niggling little details on what science teaches us about the natural world.

    A faith that daren’t be challenged, to me, is a weak faith. You are here accommodating those who don’t want to be challenged, and apparently it is “for the greater good.”

    PZ has his role. Dawkins has his role. Dennett has his role. Can you tell me wny their roles need to be diminished, other than to allow people to sit back in their comfort zones?

    There are those of us who are not content to sit back and wait while all of the religions resolve their differences before we approach knowledge and its implications. It’s patronizing both to the religious and especially to atheists to tell them that the ties between atheism and science can be safely ignored.

    So, here I am in the target audience, being patronized.

    Thanks, Chad.

  9. #9 JSinger
    April 4, 2008

    “If what they’re doing is so bad, why is Pharyngula the biggest blog at ScienceBlogs by an order of magnitude or more? What’s the cost of not framing?”

    I think you’re making this way too complicated. The real potential cost is convincing a substantive number of Americans that research really is a fundamentally anti-religious activity, and creating a genuinely anti-science segment (as opposed to “anti-science” in the sense of opposing embryonic stem cell creation or some other detail) in a country that now almost universally supports the world’s largest public funding of basic research.

    It’s hardly out of the question that they can antagonize enough people (5%? 10%?) that the Heath Shulers feel uncomfortable with lifting the freezes on NIH and NSF funding growth. At that point, given the disaster already ongoing at NIH from Zerhouni’s bungling of the Clinton-Bush doubling … bad things will happen.

    As far as Myers’ traffic is concerned, obviously, that’s less a concern than a fresh opportunity, but I don’t think that’s the relevant metric.

  10. #10 Jennifer Ouellette
    April 4, 2008

    The commenter Chad quotes hits the nail on the head (inadvertently): it’s about the audience. Pharyngula is mostly “preaching to the converted,” and is the biggest science blog precisely because of its often inflammatory content. Pharyngula taps into a groundswell of anger and frustration among a very vocal subgroup of science-minded atheists (who for some reason refuse to admit they are angry). So you can’t really use that argument to support the contention that they don’t “harm” the public discourse on science. They”re reaching the usual audience for such things, and further alienating the usual extremists on the other side. At best, the overall effect is null because the two sides cancel each other out. :)

    However, Chad is correct that it alienates people like him, or me, or others — including moderate and liberal Christians with a strong respect for science (yes, they exist) — who prefer, shall we say, a calmer style of discourse :) [note that I state specifically it's a personal PREFERENCE]. We are the ones “at risk” of being lost to the cause because of all the inflammatory rhetoric being tossed around. We usually remove ourselves from the debate — in part because we get viciously attacked as tepid “do-nothing” atheists rather than being treated with a modicum of respect for our different views and approaches. Life is short. Who needs that crap? We all love and support science; that common goal should bring us together, but the kind of rhetoric one finds in, say, the Pharyngula comment threads serves to drive many of us away.

    For the record, I like PZ tremendously on a personal level (the same cannot be said for many of his commenters, alas). I read Pharyngula for the cephalod love and science posts, and skip over the rash of religion vs science posts. They don’t interest me, and frankly, I don’t find constant rehashings of the silliness of the extreme religious enterprise to be either surprising or particularly interesting. It distresses me that this accounts for such a hefty percentage of postings at ScienceBlogs.

    I come from a religious fundamentalist background (now agnostic/atheist) and believe me, I know better than most how the extremists in that community can make you want to bash your head into a wall and/or resort to primal scream therapy in record time. [There's a reason I don't live too near my family...] But these are extremist examples, just as the Myers/Dawkins crowd are on the extreme end of the atheistic community. Frankly, their form of atheism strikes me as having strong elements of fundamentalism: you’re either with us, or against us, and we will brook no dissent from the party line. If I had run into that kind of rhetoric in those critical years when I was struggling to move from faith to agnosticism, it may very well have driven back towards the religious community. Fortunately for me, I didn’t.

    I had a lot of anger for a few years about my upbringing, and the various measures to “control” my thoughts, behavior, reading material, etc. I opted for early admission to college just to get out of the house one year earlier. But I eventually acknowledged the anger, and moved beyond it. Atheists are becoming more vocal in public discourse, and in the long run, despite the controversies (and the fact that I find the rhetoric personally distasteful), maybe that will help advance a more scientific mindset. Maybe not. Frankly, I’m not that optimistic. But it definitely won’t happen unless the “screechy monkeys” as Chad so colorfully dubs them, eventually move beyond angry outbursts and broad denunciations they’re currently known for.

    The answer is not for PZ, Dawkins and their ilk to shut up. (I think we can all agree that most of us differ with Matt Nisbet on that score. But it doesn’t invalidate his entire message.) It’s for moderate sorts to SPEAK up, like Chad has. If the “Framing Wars” have done nothing else, perhaps it’s succeeded in forcing those of us who normally just ignore the ruckus to come forward. And maybe, for once, we won’t get drowned out by all the shouting.

  11. #11 DrugMonkey
    April 4, 2008

    Haubrich: They have led me to think more and more about how science works in ways that I never got in my secondary and post-secondary education. While this is no substitute for a proper science education, it has built my own understanding. I would bet there are many more like me.

    You NAILED it. (except there is no reason anyone needs a “proper science education” to enjoy lifelong scientific appreciation and learning).

    This, I hope quite sincerely, is at the root of what science blogging is all about for bloggers and readers.

    Can we back off and remember this? Instead of flailing around with self-aggrandizing statements about our own grandiose preferences as if anyone should GiveACrap?

    so the anti-religion turns chad off PZ’s message–BIG DEAL.

    so the religio-apologist scientists turn readers off THEIR message–BIG DEAL.

    get over yourselves already….go back to enjoying fun stuff about science.

  12. #12 Anna K.
    April 4, 2008

    Mike, the target audience is pretty big. I think you are making a lot of assumptions about religious moderates. One, that they don’t deal with challenges to faith or don’t go out of their comfort zones. Two, that PZ and Dawkins-style attack-polemics is the only way, or even the best way, to promote scientific knowledge among this group.

  13. #13 Anna K.
    April 4, 2008

    Oh yes, and to Jennifer Ouellette and Chad:

    A round of applause, and my sincere thanks for speaking up.

  14. #14 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    April 4, 2008

    Anna, I wasn’t making any such assumptions about religious moderates nor did I ever say that PZ and Dawkins have the only way to communicate science. I get the feeling that you only skimmed my comment if you came to that conclusion.

    I was saying that Matthew’s version of framing makes the assumption that the religious moderates don’t want to be challenged, and that his approach is patronizing. I was saying that it is patronizing to both atheists and the religious moderates to tell PZ and Dawkins to defer to the professional spin-meisters.

    I hope I am more clear on this now.

    I left alone Chad’s comparison to such a crap site as “Little Green Footballs” because I didn’t want to break my keyboard as I was typing a response to what he wrote.

  15. #15 kevin
    April 4, 2008

    I am not a scientist, but I read SciBlogs daily and have been following the framing debate with some interest. There is no doubt that PZ and Richard Dawkins offend a lot of people. There is also no doubt that they are very effective at exposing the lies, the hypocrisy, the misrepresentations, and the logical fallacies of the loudmouthed arm of the Christian right.

    That does preclude you and other moderates from taking a more respectful approach. The religious community, like the science community, allows for a multitude of different viewpoints. The more moderate religious voices suffer from the same affliction you lay claim to—being drowned out by their more vocal and dogmatic brethren.

    If you want to engage theists in a more moderated and respectful debate/discussion then by all means do so. You don’t need PZ’s approval any more than he needs yours.

  16. #16 Anna K.
    April 4, 2008

    Mike,

    Thanks for your clarification. Having had a ringside seat a few months ago to the reaction of a group of religious moderates to some of these anti-religious polemics (Dawkins, in this case), the reaction of this group of people was not: “Gosh, maybe I should question my faith.”

    Instead, they felt strawmanned and insulted, and I suspect these folks will hardly be likely to trust Richard Dawkins as a science educator since — to this group — his anti-religious attack was so offensive. He lost credibility with this group. And that’s too bad, because I think his science writing is brilliant.

  17. #17 John Novak
    April 4, 2008

    Chad:

    The thing is, I’m not the only one who feels this way. If I’m offended, as a liberal apathetic-agnostic professional scientist, how do you think this comes off to people who are actually religious? People who aren’t already predisposed to support science? People who are a bit to the right of center politically?

    More pointedly, people who don’t take religion as an exercise in community, but for whom the communal aspects are a manipulable by-product?

    Jennifer, #9:

    The commenter Chad quotes hits the nail on the head (inadvertently): it’s about the audience. Pharyngula is mostly “preaching to the converted,” and is the biggest science blog precisely because of its often inflammatory content. Pharyngula taps into a groundswell of anger and frustration among a very vocal subgroup of science-minded atheists (who for some reason refuse to admit they are angry). So you can’t really use that argument to support the contention that they don’t “harm” the public discourse on science. They”re reaching the usual audience for such things, and further alienating the usual extremists on the other side. At best, the overall effect is null because the two sides cancel each other out. :)

    Not only that, but there’s a locked-room phenomenon going on, as well. It’s pretty well documented that if you lock a group up which has a mild or moderate predisposition to one or another side of an argument, then they will, after deliberation, be very likely to have deliberated themselves to a position more extreme than most had initially had.

    Setting up preaching-to-the-choir venues is therefore useful for generating and maintaining extreme positions, but it doesn’t do much for generating a tone of discussion that gets other people to listen to them.

  18. #18 Uncle Al
    April 4, 2008

    Science vouchsafes the only sustainable argument – it works, every time, to spec. Anybody who pursues a different path inevitably discovers evolution in action. Evolution is a hoot – if you are one of the survivors.

  19. #19 tincture
    April 4, 2008

    Their behavior has landed them in the same basic category as Little Green Footballs, as far as my reading and linking habits are concerned.

    The category being mentally challenged bigots who have wet dreams revolving around the death of most of the world population?

  20. #20 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    April 4, 2008

    Having had a ringside seat a few months ago to the reaction of a group of religious moderates to some of these anti-religious polemics (Dawkins, in this case), the reaction of this group of people was not: “Gosh, maybe I should question my faith.”

    Instead, they felt strawmanned and insulted, and I suspect these folks will hardly be likely to trust Richard Dawkins as a science educator since — to this group — his anti-religious attack was so offensive. He lost credibility with this group. And that’s too bad, because I think his science writing is brilliant.

    Then, Anna you can excuse me for being a bit put off by Chad’s comparison to an odious website. Why are people who don’t want to insult the religious free to insult atheists? You want to call some of us extremist, fundamentalists and cranks for attacking creationists, for expressing reservations about Evolution Sunday because it often gets the science part completely wrong, for expressing the conclusion that religion is irrational and that by raising children in a particular religion is a form of child abuse (because they don’t have freedom of choice in the matter.)

    Yes, there are commenters at Pharyngula who are jerks, but PZ is not responsible for them. He only deletes trolls who have violated his warnings repeatedly and add nothing to the conversation. He has never deleted Scott Hatfield’s posts, either.

    Too many people play the ad hominem game. Matthew and Chad are feeding into the anti-PZ game, the anti-Dawkins game. And so are you, Anna.

    Extremism and polemicism are easy labels to use when you don’t want to deal with the substance.

  21. #21 Winawer
    April 4, 2008

    The thing is, I’m not the only one who feels this way. If I’m offended, as a liberal apathetic-agnostic professional scientist, how do you think this comes off to people who are actually religious? People who aren’t already predisposed to support science? People who are a bit to the right of center politically?

    That should be an empirical question, not a rhetorical one.

  22. #22 RJ
    April 4, 2008

    Just a question.

    Can someone give any actual example of intolerant or otherwise bad behavior by Myers or Dawkins? I just don’t get it. Over the past couple of years, I keep seeing these ‘criticisms’, most of which rely not on what either says, but on absurd extrapolations of what they say.

    I know the critics of M and D aren’t all idiots. So why do they all seem unable to verbalize what exactly is wrong with their behaviors? I’m curious. I want to see an actual example of bad behavior – just one! Not an abstract tut-tut, but an honest-to-gosh example.

    Note: repeatedly saying ‘there is no rational basis for religion’ doesn’t count. If you think it does, you’re part of the problem. Without the possibility of disagreement, there can be no serious discussion.

    As for really offensive statements, comparing Pharyngula to Little Green Footballs surely is one. Unlike LGF, Myers does not advocate violence against those that disagree with him. Unlike LBF vis-a-vis libruls, he never says that as individuals, religionists are stupid or evil simply for being such. Where is the ‘intolerance’? Please refer to the following lists:

    intolerant: violence, advocating revocation of citizenship, intimidation, property destruction, harassment, interfering with employment

    not intolerant: making fun, criticizing, disagreeing (however vehemently)

    I’m disappointed that someone as bright as Chad can’t see the difference between a site unambiguously devoted to hate and one that expresses vehement disagreement. The frequent comparison of M and D to fundamentalists is poisonously metaphorical. Real people are facing job loss, being kicked out of churches, having their kids beat up – this is not hypothetical – through the actions of the sort of people that comment on LGF. And you want to compare this to the behavior of Myers and his commentators? Really, I can’t blame him for the occasional ‘fuck you’.

  23. #23 Anna K.
    April 4, 2008

    I think Dawkins and PZ are more interested in being anti-religion, than in promoting science. As it happens, I think they ARE extremists and polemicists. And I am sure neither one loses any sleep over my opinion.

  24. #24 Nepenthinator
    April 4, 2008

    It’s indicative of the overall tone that both sides are losing me. I’m an atheist, a scientist, and a liberal, and just about everyone involved in this conversation has left a foul taste in my mouth. I imagine that fewer insults and displays of temper all around would likely be helpful if any of the participants want to avoid alienating pretty much everybody.

  25. #25 Maria
    April 4, 2008

    Anna,

    Let’s say that it is true that Dawkins anti-religious positions have compromised his credibility among a certain group of religious people. What other positions would have done it? What if Dawkins had said that he is firmly in favor of abortion at will (I have no idea whether he thinks this, I’m just giving examples)? Or any other policy stance that goes firmly against your friends’ beliefs? I suspect that would have also compromised his credibility – because apparently his credibility did not depend on his credentials, but on his beliefs.

  26. #26 Ahcuah
    April 4, 2008

    I ought to be all over their [Myers' and Dawkins'] message. I don’t support them, though, precisely because of their rejection of Nisbet and Mooney’s advice.

    I’m sorry I keep harping on this but . . .

    Why the heck aren’t you all over Nisbet for ignoring his own advice? He warns, and then committed the same sin himself when he got the chance.

    If he was so good at framing, surely he could have framed his message to Myers and Dawkins in such a way that they would be much more willing to cooperate. Or, Nisbet could advise them on how they could both satisfy their needs for saying what they saw to be the truth and frame it so as not to alienate others. But did he? No.

  27. #27 Art
    April 4, 2008

    What your missing here is that science is not monolithic. There has to be some core commonality in message for those promoting free secular science but there also has to be advocates who are unvarnished enough in their rhetoric to break trail for the overall advance of the cause.

    The GOP advanced their cause by having people out there who would call it as they see it even when it upset people. Limbaughs and Hannities served to advance the edge of the movement and they left behind plowed ground for their cause. Anyone who was even slightly less outrageous could call themselves ‘moderate’.

    Following closely behind were the self-styled ‘even-handed’ media commentators and behind them is an interlocking system of patronage positions on corporate boards, conservative think tanks and well paid book deals.

    A classic method of shifting the culture to the right and a patronage system that cultivates loyalty and both supports and protects agents who infiltrate all major power centers.

    But it is the idealogical brown-shirts who break ground for the advance. PZ and Dawkins are breaking ground. They do it in a far more even and moderate way than the right ever did. But in the end you can’t advance the cause by compromising and making excuses for the other side at every turn. You have to operate on and appeal to the raw emotions. You have to do the dirty work of pointing out how wrong your opponents are and lay it out in uncompromising and stark terms that raises blood pressure and are memorable in their visceral and emotional power.

    Of course the cause both PZ and Dawkins are pushing has real advantages. Science is evidence based. There is always less of a need to ‘spin’ when your message is rooted in reality.

    It also has to be noted that while they advance the cause they avoid the faults of the right’s cheerleaders by being extreme enough to be effective without going so far as to be self-parody. Yes they are harsh, sorry if that offends you, but they are both correct in their analysis and targeted in their aggression in that those who oppose them get the tone of their commentary returned in kind.

    Those who object in good conscience and civility get a nod for their civility and a polite observation that they are still wrong. Those who objection takes the form of personal attack get attacked personally as they are informed they are wrong. Thinkers get noted as thinkers. Nuts as nuts. All fair play in my book.

    If that isn’t your cup of tea there are plenty of other ways to support the larger cause.

  28. #28 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    April 4, 2008

    I think Dawkins and PZ are more interested in being anti-religion, than in promoting science. As it happens, I think they ARE extremists and polemicists.

    Then you haven’t been paying very close attention. I am sure you are a nice person and all so don’t take it as a personal attack.

    My position is that if framing is to be done, then it needs to be focused on what is effective. What is not effective is for Matthew to take the creationist bullseye placed on Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers and paint it with red luminescent paint, and then sharpen their arrows. And here, Chad is moving the firing line closer to the target.

    I think it is a gross mischaracterization to paint Chris and Matt as closet creationists, as some of PZ’s fans have done. I have met them. I liked Chris personally, and I didn’t like Matthew at all. That really has no bearing on my stance, but I think that Chris is sincerely trying to sort it all out while I think that Matthew is on a personal crusade of self-aggrandizement. Take it with a grain of salt, if you wish.

  29. #29 TimJ
    April 4, 2008

    Hi Chad,

    Just a few thoughts from one desktop guy to another (well..my “desktop” was an accelerator, but totally hands on from ion source to target, which is what I loved about it. But, major digression there..:) ). None of this is meant as an attack and I’m really interested in your opinion. As another digression, I came over to PZ’s blog directly from a reference at Cosmic Variance. PZ’s blog (which I still do enjoy) led to science blogs in general, which, lead to yours, which I also enjoy and follow regularly. So, in a sense, PZ did get you at least 1 reader. :) Usually time is too scarce to comment anywhere though and so I remain a lurker. I meant to respond to your religion as cultural heritage post as it reminded me of some Greek Orthodox friends, but alas…

    So, here’s the background I see as a “frame” for the discussion. Forgive the lack of references, but I think most of this is general knowledge or, at least, easily google-able. George Bush Sr. once famously said that atheists should not be considered citizens. Most Americans would not elect somebody for President who was a known atheist. Watt, Secretary of the Interior under Reagan, said that we didn’t need to worry about the environment because Jesus was coming back soon. On you-tube, do a search for “Price of Atheism” to see a video of girl who was eventually taken out of a school in OK for not wanting to take part in pregame prayers on her public school basketball team (I think it was some 20/20 episode or something). We also know that there exists strong sentiment among fundamentalists to push creation/ID into schools undermining a solid science education. Once this is wedged in, one can see you so-called Young-Earthers wanting their view heard in schools with implications reaching towards astronomy, physics (think radiometric dating methods), etc. There is a danger of the whole foundation for a good science education being undermined. In addition, various esteemed people such as Behe, Dembski, et al, (who seem to command respect among intelligent designers and/or creationists) show themselves to be quite immune to awareness of evidence at best, or outright frauds and charlatans at worst.

    Of course, as you implied in a previous post, there are two issues here. One is atheism in America and the other is implications towards education from certain groups who seem intent on taking us backwards. Of course not all Christians belong in the latter group (nor do I wish to imply that all belong in the former either). On the first issue, from the few examples above, we do see discrimination against people simply for not accepting the existence of a God. We also see guidance in thinking about public policy, based not on evidence, but instead, on centuries old stories and myths. Should nonsense not be called out when it is observed? To me, it seems useful to shine on a light on this type of thing (which is what PZ seems to do from time to time) and expose it for what it is. At the very least, it does seem he stretches the Overton window a bit to allow atheism to finally become more mainstream. One can see, I think, how atheists can be quite frustrated in our current situation here in the States. On the science education front, again, it seems useful to me to expose the nonsense to the light for all to know it for what it is (and at times not mince words…). It would be nice to have more of the moderate Christians fighting this battle with us, though I do know there are a few who do. Some are not even aware of the battle. My own father, a deeply religious and highly educated guy I deeply respect thought the days of a literal Biblical interpretation were long gone and was genuinely surprised when my brother and I informed him that no, an extended family member (among many others in our country) believed in a literal world wide biblical flood, ark and all.

    So, I was wondering what your thoughts were from looking at thing from within this background, or “frame”, if you will. I should add that having read “The God Delusion”, I found it to be quite tamer and more polite than internet rhetoric would have made it out to be. Perhaps the part about relating religious indoctrination with child abuse could seem somewhat controversial to the religious minded (though, even as one of the “abused” myself, I would be inclined to agree with Dawkins), but not something one could not get past. Apologies if I rambled on a bit and appear disorganized, but I was firing this off in quick 30 second bursts while in the midst of a hundred other things going on… :).

    Thanks for listening,
    Tim

  30. #30 Chad Orzel
    April 4, 2008

    kevin, #15: That does preclude you and other moderates from taking a more respectful approach. The religious community, like the science community, allows for a multitude of different viewpoints. The more moderate religious voices suffer from the same affliction you lay claim to—being drowned out by their more vocal and dogmatic brethren.

    If you want to engage theists in a more moderated and respectful debate/discussion then by all means do so. You don’t need PZ’s approval any more than he needs yours.

    I do, from time to time. It’s not my main issue, though– there are plenty of other things that get me much more worked up than the latest idiotic statement by some idiotic creationist. I have better things to do with my time than troll through the sewers of the Internet looking for something to take offense at. When I run across something that happens to particularly bug me, I’ll post about it, and I make it a point to promote moderate religious voices like Fred Clark of Slacktivist at every opportunity.

    Quite frankly, though, the atmosphere at ScienceBlogs is such that I’m reluctant to post about religion at all. If I pick some offensive incident and offer a moderate denunciation of it, I quickly find my comments full of people with “FCD” after their names saying things I don’t agree with, or complaining that I didn’t go far enough. If I complain about the extremist response to some incident, I get a bunch of “FCD” comments bitching that I’m a traitor to the cause, or some such. It’s on the list of topics that are more headache than they’re worth.

    I wouldn’t’ve posted about this now, if the recent discussion at the Intersection hadn’t turned into “everybody pile on Chris Mooney.” I already watched Rob Knop get driven off ScienceBlogs by the monkey army, and I don’t want to see the same thing happen with Chris.

    Acuah: If he was so good at framing, surely he could have framed his message to Myers and Dawkins in such a way that they would be much more willing to cooperate. Or, Nisbet could advise them on how they could both satisfy their needs for saying what they saw to be the truth and frame it so as not to alienate others. But did he? No.

    As I said numerous times in the other thread, I don’t think this says anything at all about his framing skill. There is, in my opinion, literally nothing he could say that would get Myers and Dawkins to agree with his message, because they do not want the same things.

    Nisbet’s failures here may be indicative of poor judgement, but I don’t think they have any relevance to his ability to get his message out to people who are receptive to that message. Again, he’s had articles published in Science and The Washington Post, and been invited to speak to the National Academy of Sciences. These are the people he’s trying to reach, and they’re considerably more important than a bunch of cranky bloggers on the Internet.

    (And, of course, there’s also the fact that just because he studies/b> framing for a living doesn’t mean he’s good at doing it. You’ll notice a distinct lack of billionaire economics professors, for example…)

  31. #31 Cherish
    April 4, 2008

    Anna (#23)…I tend to agree.

    If they were trying to focus on commonalities, it might be different. Instead they ask why people in the middle don’t stand up for science enough while belittling those same people’s religious beliefs. I don’t get it.

  32. #32 Peter Morgan
    April 4, 2008

    Intelligent Design, if it were not supported by so much money for marketing, might have quietly amassed evidence for 30 years, changed its point of view drastically, numerous times, as it attempted to understand the evidence that didn’t fit its point of view. Instead, it seems as if they did 10 years work before someone started wanting to tell the world that the idea would fly.

    I suspect that ID is now too defensively entrenched for it easily to be used as a basis for a new attempt at scientific theism, although there will be some attempt to comprehend some of the concepts of ID and creationism. Despite ID’s failings, it is striking that it is ever so slightly in better correspondence with the world than the creationism that preceded it. That is some slight scientific progress for you. Scientific Theism III still won’t be in perfect correspondence with what we see in the world, but then the “perfection” of neo-Darwinism has been 150 years in the making, which is in turn founded on hundreds of years of other Science.

    It’s curious to see the attempts that ID has made to drop this or that assumption that has traditionally been seen as an unalterable axiom of religious thought. Some assumptions are currently untouchable by modern-day theists, but others have been dropped. It should perhaps be remembered that the process of removing theist assumptions from Science has been done before, starting 600 years ago, say, but it should be of some interest to scientists to see whether the removal can be done in a different way, and what the consequences of the different way are. Personally, I do not think the ethics, morality, and methodology of Science are perfect, and a rethinking of such fundamentals is justified.

    The way that Science claims that complexity is just more of the same simple-minded Physics as can be perfectly controlled in lab experiments (you, know, Chad, the perfect control you achieve in every experiment) is generally just so much wishful thinking and arm waving, so it seems possible that Science is throwing stones in a glass house.

  33. #33 Adrienne
    April 4, 2008

    I tend to lean more towards the Mooney/Nisbet/Orzel/Orac side on the “Framing vs. not framing for religious people debate”, although Nisbet’s posts on the whole “PZ expelled from Expelled” debacle really turned me off, I must say. Lately I’ve maybe “crossed over” to the dark side of this debate, becoming more aligned with Myers/Moran/Dawkins, I don’t know. But I definitely prefer reasoned discourse to …uh…”screechy monkeys”.

    Anyhoo, I think you, Prof. Orzel, have just done a better job of framing the issue “framing” than Mr. Nisbet has done recently, at least here on scienceblogs.com. I’d like to see you respond to James Hrynyshyn’s comment on “Island of Doubt” about “The REAL Problem of Framing Science”, though.

  34. #34 Chad Orzel
    April 4, 2008

    I tend to lean more towards the Mooney/Nisbet/Orzel/Orac side on the “Framing vs. not framing for religious people debate”, although Nisbet’s posts on the whole “PZ expelled from Expelled” debacle really turned me off, I must say.

    I read very little of that, and I’m actually kind of torn on the question to the response to Expelled. I’m sort of on the Nisbet side generally, in that I think this is just one example of a whole parallel universe of “Christian literature” and “Christian film” made for and marketed to kooks. If it were just ignored, it would circulate within that community, and nobody else would ever even hear about it. Kicking up a big fuss over yet another depressingly stupid “Christian” movie project is just giving them publicity that they don’t deserve.

    That said, I understand that Myers is in the movie, thanks to some deceptive practices by the filmmakers, so I can understand him being especially outraged, and don’t blame him for making a stink. And once they had the police eject him from the theater, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going all Dennis the Peasant over the incident. There’s really no way to spin that that doesn’t make the people responsible look like utter fools, especially since they let Dawkins in.

    So I think Nisbet’s wrong on the specific example of the Expelled incident, even though I think he’s right about the general phenomenon of underground “Christian” entertainment products and the response to them.

  35. #35 Wilson Fowlie
    April 4, 2008

    I would like to see someone (Chad?) answer RJ’s question (#22).

    I think PZ’s “Fuck you very much,” answer to Nesbit telling him to shut up, may qualify. But that was to a specific person’s specific comment about PZ himself. Not that tit-for-tat (well, actually, escalatory) retaliation is an excuse or particularly mature or anything. I just don’t think it’s the sort of thing that RJ meant.

    So, does anyone have anything else? If RJ didn’t seem sincere enough, would a second, sincere request for the same thing help?

    I’d like to point out that Chad did not compare Myers & Dawkins to Little Green Footballs in terms of content. He said, “Their behavior has landed them in the same basic category as Little Green Footballs, as far as my reading and linking habits are concerned.” (Yes, I added the emphasis, in case you don’t feeling like scrolling up to check.) Meaning, simply, he doesn’t like them so he doesn’t read them.

    Or, Chad, did you mean to imply, by association, that Pharyngula and Dawkins.net are on a par with that site? I assumed not, but was I mistaken? (Lucky me, I hadn’t even heard of LGF before reading this post.)

  36. #36 Chad Orzel
    April 4, 2008

    I’d like to point out that Chad did not compare Myers & Dawkins to Little Green Footballs in terms of content. He said, “Their behavior has landed them in the same basic category as Little Green Footballs, as far as my reading and linking habits are concerned.” (Yes, I added the emphasis, in case you don’t feeling like scrolling up to check.) Meaning, simply, he doesn’t like them so he doesn’t read them.

    I have to run to a meeting, but I’ll post quickly to confirm that, yes, this is the correct reading of that sentence. It’s a little more extreme than that– I won’t link them, either– but that’s the gist of it. Lubos Motl’s Reference Frame would be another example of a blog in this category for me, but I don’t think he’s as well known as LGF.

    I was not implying a parallelism between the behaviors, but rather the way I treat the blogs in question, and references to them.

    As for the question of examples of misbehavior, the specific that that made me write Myers off for good took place elsewhere, and I’m not free to talk about it. Dawkins lost me for good when he tried to pretend that “ignorant” is not insulting.

  37. #37 Anna K.
    April 4, 2008

    Mike,

    I’m not taking it as a personal attack, and it’s clear that we disagree on how effectively PZ and Dawkins can communicate about science to religious publics.

    Maria @ #25,

    I suppose an analogy might be, if you thought global warming requires serious policy changes, would you favor the science writing of somebody working for Exxon-Mobil, who has a record of using science to promote Exxon-Mobil’s line on climate change?

    The church I attend is moderate-to-liberal, with a range of political and theological opinions. (It also fired a youth director who attempted to teach YEC to our impressionable young.) The problem with Dawkins’ credibility with this audience is that he has roped science into his broad-brushed tarring of religion. He is using evolution, which is legitimate and proper science, in the service of promoting his atheism, which isn’t.

  38. #38 Dave X
    April 4, 2008

    So?

    If you don’t want to support Dawkins or PZ’s agendas, fine. I think they are fine with that, you are fine with that and I am fine with that.

    Maybe the negative side damages PZ’s dissemination of his scientific results, or socially some of this colleagues avoid interactions with him due to his aura, but you can’t expect to get along with everybody.

    I’m not sure how to frame it non-religously, but I’m perfectly fine with letting people go to hell in their own way. I think that is an important right that people deserve.

    Much of the problem with advising people that they should frame certain ideas in a certain way is that you don’t have a right to control how they speak.

  39. #39 Maria
    April 4, 2008

    Anna,

    I realize this is a bit subjective, but I don’t think the analogy is quite right. I may suspect a scientist when there is a conflict of interest between the potential outcome of his research and his funding source. But I see nothing of the sort in an atheist who claims that science proves that God does not exist. Clearly, some religions accept scientific facts regarding the age of the Earth and the process of Evolution, and they agree on the facts with Dawkins. The difference is in their interpretation.

    If you read one of Dawkins’ books on biology, and look at his CV, it should be irrelevant what his views on religion are. I read “The selfish gene” when I still was a Catholic, and it did not affect my faith. (I am an atheist now, but that’s a different story.)

    Personally, I think most people, most of the time, make up their minds and then look for ways to justify their beliefs. So a very religious person won’t trust Dawkins because they don’t want to, and his atheism is just another excuse. If you’re truly open to being convinced that you’re wrong, you should concentrate on the arguments, not on you prejudice against the speaker.

    Finally, one broader question. I don’t think Dawkins is at this point discussing evolution much. He did that with his initial books, but now he’s in a sort of “anti-religious” campaign. His argument against religion is not based on evolution, and I think there may be a bit of a contextual problem here. Dawkins sees himself as having a global audience, and in most of the world the “Intelligent Design” vs “Evolution” debate is… inexistent. It is only a problem in the US.

  40. #40 RJ
    April 4, 2008

    Chad said:
    …the response to Expelled. I’m sort of on the Nisbet side generally, in that I think this is just one example of a whole parallel universe of “Christian literature” and “Christian film” made for and marketed to kooks. If it were just ignored, it would circulate within that community, and nobody else would ever even hear about it.

    I think this comment is helpful in getting to the heart of certain disagreements under discussion here. Scientists ignored creationism for a long time because they beleived this. The empirical evidence over the last couple of years suggests very strongly that it is utterly false, however. Parallel to this, liberals tried to ignore far-right kooks for a long time, for the same reason. The result was the nuttiest regime the USA has ever seen. [See the blog Orcinus for many details.]

    Chad, Matt, everyone else – you may have your reasons for beleiving that ignoring the kooks will take away their spotlight, but I think you’re wrong, deadly wrong. While you may never come over to my opinion, I hope you at least can accept that it’s a reasonable one.

    One more thing regarding the perception of soft right-wingers. Dollars to doughnuts, you can bet that they tend to view Mr. Mooney in exactly the same category as Dr. Myers. As we speak surely there are many thousands of heartlanders who see a title like The Republican War on Science as hatred towards them. The point already has been made, but I’ll say it again – we’re dealing with people who have abandoned science and reason. Playing nice just isn’t working.

    As to the word ‘ignorant’ – I try to avoid blunt words, but sometimes they’re necessary.

  41. #41 Wilson Fowlie
    April 4, 2008

    Dawkins lost me for good when he tried to pretend that “ignorant” is not insulting.

    Hm. I may have to take issue with you on that one. The word ‘ignorant’ can be insulting, but I disagree that it has to be.

    The plain definition of it is simply, “The condition of being uninformed or uneducated. Lacking knowledge or information.” By that definition, I know I’m ignorant on a lot of topics. Not so ignorant on others, I hope. I’m not proud of being ignorant and I am doing what I can to change it, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are things I don’t know because I haven’t been taught or been exposed to them. Until today, I was ignorant about the Little Green Footballs site.

    The problem is that words, besides having denotations, also have connotations. The usual connotations of the word ignorant are a) “willfully ignorant” – actively trying to avoid learning something – or b) “ignorant of social graces”; i.e. crude. Both of these can reasonably be considered insulting.

    Used precisely, however, ‘ignorant’ doesn’t necessarily mean either of these things.

    I don’t deny that Dawkins may have been “pretending that ‘ignorant’ is not insulting.” Not having seen – and therefore being ignorant of – the exchange that led to your opinion, I can’t judge the particular context that caused you to think he was using the term insultingly, nor the terms in which he denied the intent to insult.

    But from what I’ve read – which is far from everything he’s written, and possibly far less than you’ve read (again, I’m ignorant on the matter) – he strikes me as one to use a term precisely and intend by it only a factual statement, rather than a value judgment. I think that if he wants to call someone stupid or incompetent or irrational, he’ll do so directly (as he did in his review of Expelled, for instance), rather than use the connotation of a less-appropriate word to do so.

    It is certainly easy to be insulted by being called ‘ignorant’. I was yesterday, by a friend, who then hastened to assure me that he did not mean it pejoratively, but “as one who lacks information about something” (his words). I still had to break through the connotative emotional baggage that the word caused, but I could then recognize that my friend did not intend to insult me by using it.

    If Dawkins can’t see (or can see but won’t admit) that the word can give unintentional insult, that’s one thing. If he says insult was not intended, I don’t think that’s pretense.

    Hope your meeting went well!

    (By the way, none of this even considers the fact that British English is different, in ways both subtle and overt, from U.S. English (and they’re both different from Canadian and Australian English!), and that to a British speaker, ‘ignorant’ may simply be less insulting than it is to a U.S. or Canadian one. I’m ignorant of whether this is actually true, though.)

  42. #42 Anna K.
    April 4, 2008

    Maria,

    I am less interested in the global status of ID/evolution debates, than in promoting science literacy at my own church. If I read you correctly, you seem to think that being truly open means overlooking someone directly telling you that you are ignorant and irrational, misrepresenting and strawmanning your views, and finally, capping it off by telling you that what you believe in and value, and how you raise your children, is stupid, wrong and evil. Who is close-minded, here? Who is prejudiced against whom? Why on earth should a group look to be educated about science by someone who expresses such wide-ranging contempt for them, and is so eager to co-opt science as a weapon against them? Again, this is not a group that is inherently hostile toward science; but some science writers sure are hostile toward them.

    Fortunately for my admittedly narrow purposes, there are other science writers.

  43. #43 M.
    April 4, 2008

    “In fact, I am sufficiently disgusted by their behavior, and especially the behavior of the screechy monkeys from the comments at Pharyngula and elsewhere, that I want nothing at all to do with them.”

    At the risk of being relegated to the “screechy monkey” category, can you elaborate on what, exactly, do you find so offensive?

    It is true that PZ and Dawkins do not compromise on their position towards religion, but that is something they are certainly entitled to. I have not seen an example of their behavior that would in any way warrant disgust. You can disagree with them, but there is really no reason to be disgusted with them.

    You talk about the cost of not framing. I can talk about the cost of framing. Your description of yourself could be copied almost word-for-word to describe me – with an addition of “I’m non-religious, but I’m married to a devout Catholic”. I certainly don’t believe in, or practice, bashing religion. Yet I like PZ. He says what he thinks, in no uncertain terms. And when he says something I disagree with, I disagree. And that is it.

    But you, the so-called “moderates” have lost me. I was friendly to the idea of framing, but now that I have seen what it actually means, I want nothing to do with it.

    Your entire argument against PZ and Dawkins, to the best of my understanding, boils down to: “I don’t like them for saying that religion is unreasonable, and that makes it ok for anyone to spit into their face. And they better take it, and say thank you, and ask for more, or we will be severely displeased.”

    For instance, you are displeased at how strong their language is, but you see nothing amiss in calling them (and anyone who may support them) “monkeys”.

    It is this message that annoys the hell out of me. It is ok to spit and stomp on atheists for saying their opinion, while at the same time we have to be oh-so-careful not to offend the poor religious evangelicals. Saying “religion has no rational background” is an example of horrible framing that is going to destroy science, but saying “people who support PZ are screeching monkeys” is a perfectly acceptable frame which expresses reasonable disgust at…what?

    ****

    And, additionally, why is it so hard to understand that the complaints against Mooney and Nisbet have little or nothing to do with atheism? Or even PZ, or Dawkins?

    Nisbet isn’t warning against some (highly unlikely) atheist-apocalypse of science. He is insisting that he, personally, should be the ultimate arbiter of what kind of expression is appropriate for scientists. In the course of doing this, he writes what is essentially a front-page article for the creationists. He supports their frame, in its entirety, enforcing the idea that atheists are evil, and that evolution means atheism.

    And you support him? How? How in the world can that kind of behavior be good for science? How can that not disgust you?

  44. #44 M.
    April 4, 2008

    Anna K. “If I read you correctly, you seem to think that being truly open means overlooking someone directly telling you that you are ignorant and irrational, misrepresenting and strawmanning your views, and finally, capping it off by telling you that what you believe in and value, and how you raise your children, is stupid, wrong and evil.”

    You mean…that we who are atheists should not ignore evangelical Christians and creationists when they directly tell us that we are evil and willfully ignorant of God’s love, when they misrepresent and strawman our views, and finally, cap it off by telling us that what we believe in and value, and how we raise our children, is stupid, wrong and evil?

    But what should we do, Anna?

    We can smile and nod, and that is indeed what most of us usually do.

    But if we speak up? If we tell the evangelical where he can stick his opinions?

    Well, then you’ll get very angry at us. You’ll come out here, and tell us that you are glad that not all scientists are as horrible as we are.

    Here’s an idea: use those other scientists to promote scientific literacy in your church. Good. I agree that this is the best way for you to achieve your goals.

    But tell me, what do you suggest to those of us who don’t have those narrow goals? What should we who don’t believe do the next time we are told that Nazis are our fault, and that we are just as evil as Stalin? How do we frame our response so as not to offend you?

    Do we even get to respond?

  45. #45 Todd Suomela
    April 4, 2008

    As someone who has been reading both you and PZ since before there was a ScienceBlogs empire I am sorry to see that the framing/atheism debate has divided two blogs that seem to have much in common. I’m glad you chose to comment on this question, even if it isn’t something you normally blog about. Your points seem reasonable and well considered.

    Just as an alternative point of view I continue to read both blogs on a regular basis. I probably read more of the science and academic posts here at Uncertain Principles than the atheism posts at Pharyngula but that is my particular taste. I guess I just don’t see the same costs to the heated rhetoric of Dawkins or Myers as you do. Maybe I don’t read enough comment threads or encounter the ‘screechy monkeys’ as often as you do. I also agree that the framing supporters have important things to say. Unfortunately we’ve boiled this controversy down to an either/or when it should be a both/and.

    In the end I just want to say thanks for the interesting comment about this tempest in the Sb world. Keep posting the pictures of cool looking lab equipment and continue the good fight to bring AMO physics to the rest of the world. If you repeat it often enough I may even manage to remember what AMO means for longer than two weeks. Best wishes.

  46. #46 alkali
    April 4, 2008

    M. writes:

    Do we even get to respond?

    How about this: defend yourself when someone picks on you. Don’t pick fights yourself, unless you’ve got an especially urgent reason to do so. And in any case, don’t fight with people you don’t really mean to be fighting with. It’s not so hard.

  47. #47 MH
    April 4, 2008

    Ponderingfool (#7) wrote: “I look at the Gay Pride Parades in SF. They in the past have offended many a moderate but I can’t help but think that such events have only advanced the cause of gay rights in this country, making it more acceptable to be gay especially in younger populations.”

    In the past, were there members of the gay community who were critical of the outspoken gays? If so, what do you think their motivations were, and have their numbers increased or decreased as being gay has become more widely accepted?

    Chad (OP) wrote: “I don’t support them, though, precisely because of their rejection of Nisbet and Mooney’s advice. In fact, I am sufficiently disgusted by their behavior, and especially the behavior of the screechy monkeys from the comments at Pharyngula and elsewhere, that I want nothing at all to do with them.”

    Specifically, which advice from Nisbet and Mooney did Myers and Dawkins reject? Specifically, what behaviour of Myers and Dawkins has disgusted you to the point of wanting “nothing at all to do with them”? And what is the definition of ‘screechy monkey’? I hope it isn’t: people who agree with people who I disagree with? Do you think that using such a term is productive? Do you think that “two rights make a wrong”?

    And for your information, the term “ignorant” (French, from the Latin ignorare not to know) doesn’t have the pejorative associations here in the UK that it seems to have in the US. I therefore wouldn’t get too upset about Dawkins using it.

    And finally, what the heck do you have against people adding FCD after their name when commenting on blogs? You do know what it stands for, right?

  48. #48 Maria
    April 4, 2008

    Anna,

    My question is: how does “The God Delusion” detract from “The Selfish Gene”? Or from any other of Dawkins’ Science books? If you acknowledge the fact that he was a well known biologist before he became a vocal atheist, it doesn’t.

    Furthermore, how does it detract from any other number of popular science books that are not written by him? As I said, if someone does not want to be convinced of something, they won’t. In this case, saying that one or two or a thousand extreme and vocal atheists also believe that evolutionary processes have shaped the Earth as we know it is not a good reason to ignore the evidence. And to say that atheists think that the scientific method is the right way to find answers to questions about the world is no reason to reject the scientific method. That is what I meant.

  49. #49 hellblazer
    April 4, 2008

    De-lurking, mainly to encourage Chad and say I’m in broad agreement with his attitudes (though perhaps not his reading of the events, simply because I don’t know the details myself). Comment #30 sounds about right to me though.

    But I couldn’t let this last comment pass:

    MH #47

    And for your information, the term “ignorant” (French, from the Latin ignorare not to know) doesn’t have the pejorative associations here in the UK that it seems to have in the US. I therefore wouldn’t get too upset about Dawkins using it.

    I think you’re stretching the point, mate. Calling some one ignorant is an insult, or at the very least uncivil — for *your* information — in the UK just as in the USA. Try it in a pub in Wallsend and see how far appeal to etymology gets you… ;-) As far as I understand it, the distinction is between saying that someone “is ignorant of X” (but this is still rather brusque; why not use the word “unaware”?) and saying someone “is ignorant”.

    Same goes for comment 41 above. Really, the point is not what the dictionary definition of “ignorant” is, but on how it is interpreted in colloquial or lay discourse. As a fine expository writer, Dawkins would recognize that (or at least circa The Blind Watchmaker he would have).

  50. #50 MH
    April 4, 2008

    hellblazer (#49) “Try it in a pub in Wallsend and see how far appeal to etymology gets you”

    What do Geordies know about the English language, anyway? They’re worse than the Americans.

    ;-)

  51. #51 Science Avenger
    April 4, 2008

    There is, in my opinion, literally nothing he [Nisbet] could say that would get Myers and Dawkins to agree with his message, because they do not want the same things.

    Now if all you guys who think PZ and Dawkin are so mean and nasty will accept that the same is true of the evolution-deniers you guys think we’ll convert with “framing”, we’l be OK.

    I too waited patiently to hear an answer to RJs original request for specific examples of what PZ and Dawkins do that warrants such offense at what they say, and as usual, we got squat. They may have lost you, but you are losing your share as well, and count me among them. If the only thing you have to make your case happened in private, you have no case.

  52. #52 Daryl McCullough
    April 4, 2008

    MH writes:

    Specifically, what behaviour of Myers and Dawkins has disgusted you to the point of wanting “nothing at all to do with them”?

    I can answer that question in the case of PZ. I used to be a big fan; he was actually the first of the scienceblogs that I ever read. But day after day, the relentless attacks on religion, on religious people, on “Neville Chamberlain” atheists just wore me down. His blog became thoroughly unpleasant for me to read in exactly the same way that it’s unpleasant for me to read a blog that never stops deriding the French, or the Jews or liberals. It wasn’t the fact that he was an atheist—I suppose I’m an atheist when you get right down to it. It was the fact that he was that he was so intolerant, so self-righteous, so smug about his beliefs. I know that atheists hate to be compared with fundamentalists, but PZ had all the personality traits that I disliked about fundamentalists. Reading his blog became a matter of wading through bile to get to his good posts about science, or about compassion.

    What in particular did I object to? I don’t remember a lot of them, but I certainly had a hard time with his post about Julia Sweeney’s “Letting Go of God”. He ends it with the following words:

    “Religion identifies people, roots them in a tradition bigger than themselves, reminds them to be compassionate. I get that.”

    I don’t see the reminder to be compassionate in religion at all.

    I can understand believing that religious people are ignorant or misguided or deluded. I can understand believing that religion has caused more harm than good, when you consider all the wars, inquisitions, witch-hunts, etc. But how can some honestly say that he doesn’t see the reminder to be compassionate in religion at all? Habitat for Humanity, the Christian Children’s Fund, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, the Dalai Lama, the Jewish civil rights organizations, the Quakers… these groups are all about compassion. If you can’t see that, you are blinded by your hatred.

    I have to say that I think that PZ is a good person, a dedicated advocate of science and of humane policies. But I can’t stand to read his blog anymore.

  53. #53 Mary Kay
    April 4, 2008

    I see Myers and those like him as a necessary corrective to folks like that horrible horrible man who runs the Catholic League. I don’t think that a religionist taking umbrage should be able to get 2 bloggers fired from their jobs on a political campaign. Religion is in a highly privileged position in American society and that seriously needs to change. I don’t think religious views should get any more weight than a candidates exercise habits for example. We have a long way to go to get there and folks like both PZ Myers and Fred Clarke will be part of it. I read them both.

    MKK

  54. #54 Chad Orzel
    April 4, 2008

    “Science Avenger” I too waited patiently to hear an answer to RJs original request for specific examples of what PZ and Dawkins do that warrants such offense at what they say, and as usual, we got squat.

    And you’ll continue to get nothing.

    This is what I think of as the “You haven’t read the right Heinlein” game, from my days on Usenet. People would turn up, and comment that they didn’t like some book by Heinlein, only to be told “No, no– that’s not the one you should read, you should read this other book.” And when the original poster didn’t like that one, either, there was another one, and another one, and another one… The man wrote a whole lot of books, so this could go on for quite a long time.

    The same bullshit game has been going on with Mooney and Nisbet and “framing.” They write a perfectly clear post, and people make a big show of not understanding it. They follow up with another perfectly clear post, and it’s still somehow mystifying. They give examples, and the examples aren’t specific enough. They give more examples, and those don’t apply for some reason. And on, and on, and on.

    The game never ends. I’m sure the Hoofnagles have a card for it when this crap is pulled by global warming denialists– it’s the same pathetic routine. No mountain of proof, no list of examples will ever suffice, and at the end of the day, the person being beseiged has spent hours battling picayune objections, but still “hasn’t given any evidence to support the claim.”

    The only way to avoid losing is not to play. So feel free to skip right to the part where you tell everyone I’m an irrational meanie who hates Myers and Dawkins for no good reason, and stop wasting my time.

  55. #55 Bubba Sixpack
    April 5, 2008

    Seems like your argument for framing is that you have a strong hatred for all things Dawkins and Myers. I don’t agree with Myers’ opinion that you just have to throw scientific info out there and they will come. Also, unlike Myers, I think that framing is necessary to win over people.

    But I do agree with Myers that Nisbet’s approach to framing is naive, and a losing game at best, in that he has taken the stance of being afraid to use any frame other than the opponent’s frame. He is like the movie executives who feel that they have to stick with stereotypical characters and stereotypical stories to make a good movie, as those have been extensively focus-group-tested, and then wonder why indy movies win the most acclaim.

    But I can see why you would fall for this stereotype thinking, as you have no problem stereotyping Myers’ commenters as “screechy monkeys”. Congratulations for the ad-hominem thinking.

  56. #56 MH
    April 5, 2008

    Chad, in conversations with creationists, they often say something like “I don’t believe in evolution because of it’s full of holes”, and then when you ask them to be specific, they something like “what’s the point of telling you. You’re a brainwashed Darwinist”. To which I think “how convenient”. It’s not an impressive argument, and neither is yours about it being pointless to provide examples of the behaviour of PZ and Dawkins that disgusts you, because it’ll never convince the ‘screechy monkeys’ (and I’d still love to hear if you think that phrase is offensive, and if you do, why you continue to use it; seems like double-standards).

    Chad, as scientists, we know that if we make a statement, we should be able to provide data to justify it. I trust I’m not asking too much of you?

  57. #57 Chad Orzel
    April 5, 2008

    “Bubba Sixpack”: But I do agree with Myers that Nisbet’s approach to framing is naive, and a losing game at best, in that he has taken the stance of being afraid to use any frame other than the opponent’s frame.

    On the contrary, I (and, I think, Nisbet and Mooney) would argue that Myers is the one playing into the opponents’ frame, by insisting that science is necessarily atheistic. It sets up an all-or-nothing situation where the only options are atheistic science or fundamentalist wing-nuttery. This is exactly the argument put forth by fundamentalist wing-nuts.

    In the real world, however, science is perfectly compatible with moderate religious belief, as demonstrated by the large number of successful scientists who are also relisious. What Nisbet is advocating is breaking the creationist frame by reaching out to those people, and providing a choice that goes beyond the all-or-nothing frame of Myers and the creationists.

    MH: Chad, as scientists, we know that if we make a statement, we should be able to provide data to justify it.

    That assumes that the statement is about something objectively measurable, and that both sides are arguing in good faith. To the best of my knowledge, there is no generally agreed upon objective standard of “this behavior pisses me off,” so listing examples of things that piss me off isn’t going to do any good– they’ll just be waved away as “not that bad,” and more examples will be demanded. Which is a bad-faith argument technique frequently employed in these discussions, enabling people to “win” through Proof by Attrition.

    The end result will be the same, so I’m just skipping to the end, and leaving myself a few extra hours of my life to spend on more pleasant things, like clearing trash out of my garage.

  58. #58 MH
    April 5, 2008

    Well, Chad, it’s your prerogative to say that you find the unspecified behaviour of people you don’t like insulting, whilst repeatably insulting other people yourself. It’s just not very impressive. I’m sure you’d agree if you stepped back a little.

    But don’t worry, I won’t challenge your assertions (or if you prefer, ‘screech’) here any more.

  59. #59 DrT
    April 5, 2008

    A few thoughts:

    1) In a free society, whenever you have one extreme group arise, you will have another opposing extreme group arise. I believe that is inevitable. I also believe that its needed so that those of us uncomfortable with being counted in either of those extreme groups can survive without oppression.

    2) It’s dangerous to lump people into groups. Once you do, you tend to view them as “objects” not individuals. My past experience includes being lumped into a couple of different groups and being accused of beliefs or prejudices I didn’t have because of either my gender, birth state, or occupation. If this has happened to you, you know it can cause you to resent the person or group doing it. Ironically, you may actually share the beliefs of the ones insulting you yet reject their cause because of those insults.

    3) The majority of people just don’t understand science at all. They don’t understand the process. They don’t know that we are always trying to disprove things, constantly test things, constantly trying to observe or generate data that lead to a better understanding. We need to do a better job of educating “the process of science” to everyone. You can understand that without having to understand all the cool “geeky” stuff that we scientist thrive on and that a lot of other people fall asleep hearing.

  60. #60 Damian
    April 5, 2008

    I apologize for another lengthy screed, first and foremost.

    Chad, I’m honoured that you have placed my words in lights, as it were, even if I do have to wear the metaphorical dunce cap. ;-)

    Look, I don’t necessarily disagree with anything that you have said. However, as I don’t support the over-generalization of religious believers, or anyone else for that matter, I do think that it’s a mistake to do the same to those who agree with people like PZ and Dawkins on some issues, but certainly not all. I rarely comment on any blogs, and I don’t pay a great deal of attention to the endless anti-religion stuff, so I guess that I am not your average Pharyngula reader, in many respects.

    This exchange has actually forced me to consider how much I over-look when reading some sites, in search of the more interesting stuff. There are probably quite a lot of things that I don’t agree with – or at least, that I wouldn’t dream of saying myself – but that’s true for many sites on the internet, and I like the fact that there is such diverse opinion.

    My views have certainly evolved, as well, from the time that I first started reading various science blogs. From personal experience, I have found that many of the more mature individuals (in their thinking) completely dismiss those who haven’t quite found the same level of understanding. That’s a mistake because, as I mature in my thinking, I find that I gravitate more and more towards the attitudes of people such as yourself, but it has to be a natural process. Reading criticism of PZ and Dawkins line of attack has helped, even if I have never really been rude to anyone in the first place.

    There is probably a sentimental aspect to this, as well. PZ and Dawkins are fantastic science writers, and I can thank them both for firing my interest in evolution, which has lead to the discovery of, and passion for, others areas of science, and for making non-belief a topic of conversation, what ever the perceived downfalls of that are. Again, those who are comfortable in their thinking have never needed non-belief to be a topic of conversation, but there are many others who have. Don’t simply dismiss that, even if you disagree with almost all of what has happened. I’ve come across too many people whose lives really have been changed as a consequence. Some parts of America are absolutely soaked in religion, after all, and it can be quite suffocating for those who live in that atmosphere. They do matter, and I am sure that you would agree with that.

    I have great sympathy with what you have said, vis-à-vis offending religious believers and non-believers alike, and I am about the least offensive person that you could meet, anyway. The problem that I do have, though, is that I am simply not the type of person that is offended by words, except for in the most extreme cases. I find it very difficult to relate to those who are, if I am honest, though I do try, and I struggle to understand how anyone could be so sensitive that they would literally discount anything that a person has to say, simply because they don’t like a particular aspect of their message. In some respects, I find that attitude slightly offensive in itself.

    I’m still confused about where the balance should lie. It’s very different in the UK, where robust discourse about almost any subject is considered the norm. We have a long tradition of making fun of/mocking all aspects of life, with the desired effect being that it forces people to realize just how trivial most of our concerns really are. Some may consider that to be cruel, but there is no question in my mind that it has created a very different attitude to that which I see from the United States. It is too easy to manipulate opinion in that climate.

    I certainly didn’t mean to suggest in my original post anything other than that PZ and Dawkins have crafted a niche for themselves, and that it is necessary for others to do the same. Popularity does not necessarily equate to quality, and I do worry that our cultures reward controversy – be that manufactured or not – at the expense of talent and hard work, all too often. But I also find that many of the detractors of people like PZ and Dawkins haven’t taken the time to appreciate that there is much more to the two men than there attacks on religion, and I would place the blame for that on both sides, personally.

    Finally, even someone as mild mannered as I am can become quite angry at just how far some people (this isn’t unique, of course) will go to in their attempt to poison the well concerning science education. I have literally been blown away by the sheer dishonesty of many of those who wish to deny that life has evolved. It simply can’t be dressed up in any other way, and it is incumbent on all of us to do something about that. The really innocent people in all of this are the children whose education is put in jeopardy. Sure, it is my job to remain calm in amongst all of that, but it really does test your patience. Somebody has to attempt to stop them, and I have great admiration for those who do.

  61. #61 Anna K.
    April 5, 2008

    Maria @ #48,

    It looks like we are talking past one another. I’ve read and enjoyed Dawkins’ earlier scientific writing and I’ve also enjoyed some of his book reviews (though if you’ll notice, even back as far as ‘The Selfish Gene,’ he links his science with his metaphysics). I am not sure how you got the idea from my previous posts that I have a problem with popular science writing in general, or that I reject evolution or the scientific method, or that I encourage anyone else to do so. (In fact, I have actually conducted grant funded, peer-reviewed scientific research myself; for all that claim is worth coming from a semi-anonymous internet poster.)

    My beef with the Myers/Dawkins brand of atheism is exactly the same as my beef with religious yawpers who say that garden variety atheists are this-close to becoming sociopaths, because they think that people can’t be moral without being religious, and they think that the existence of Stalin and the Khmer Rouge “proves” that atheism is inherently evil.

    That’s not a challenge to atheism; it’s a series of cheap shots. If someone were to mount a challenge to atheism, I would expect them to do their homework on free-thinking philosophies and free thinkers and doubters. I would expect them to engage with the history and philosophies and people that provide counter-examples to their own thinking.

    Richard Dawkins is presumably familiar with the idea of falsifiability, and a similar principle is at work in the humanities: the principle of charity, meaning that anyone who wants to make a serious intellectual challenge must engage with the very best that the opposing side has to offer. This is what keeps scholarship honest, and this is what I don’t see happening with Dawkins and Myers. If they cannot grapple with these issues with intellectual honesty and rigor, and if they cannot be bothered personally to employ the kind of thoughtful reasoning they claim is so much in danger, then I am with Chad Orzel: I prefer not to fund their work with my beer money. (Okay, in my case, wine money.)

    M @ #44,

    In response to your question about what to do when confronted with a religious yawper who insists that atheists must be evil, I can only tell you what works for me.

    I have limited time and patience, and no one is paying me to be a mental hygienist for the culture at large. Therefore I have a personal policy of not getting into slinging matches with ideologues, fundamentalists, drunk people, my fourteen-year-old daughter, or pseudoscientists. It doesn’t work and it just energizes them. Instead, I find allies who are capable of reason and I keep in mind this proverb: “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”

    You didn’t state what your broader goal is, but just as you advise me to work with other scientists to promote science literacy at my church (and that is indeed part of my plan, as you foresaw), I would advise you to seek out and work with thoughtful and reasonable people, some of whom may also be religious, to promote tolerance for pluralism, which I am assuming is your broader goal.

    Damian @ #60

    I’ve often wondered at the difference between debating styles in the U.K. and the U.S. My own (science-free!) speculation is that in the U.S. we have a history of distinctly different groups all having to learn to live together with different languages, religions, cuisines, civic and political ideals, etc., which multiplies opportunities for misunderstanding. Maybe it’s easier to enjoy lively public debates when most of the public also shares a long history and culture? I truly don’t know.

  62. #62 Bubba Sixpack
    April 5, 2008

    Chad Orzel:
    “On the contrary, I (and, I think, Nisbet and Mooney) would argue that Myers is the one playing into the opponents’ frame, by insisting that science is necessarily atheistic. It sets up an all-or-nothing situation where the only options are atheistic science or fundamentalist wing-nuttery. This is exactly the argument put forth by fundamentalist wing-nuts.”

    Funny, because Nisbet has been playing into the opponents’ frame that atheists are evil and/or undesirable elements in society, by demanding that they refrain from speaking out. Couple that with the fact that there are indeed many scientists who are atheists, and the inescapable conclusion to those following the frame and the statistics is that science is evil and/or an undesirable element in society.

    A far better tactic, but one that seems to escape the framers, would be to have atheists and religious moderates speak out together in one voice against creationism. In fact, they should appear together, and have someone like Miller introduce atheists as friends who just have different religious viewpoints than him. They should go on the attack united in public, and not stay silent hoping the other side will just go away.

  63. #63 Maria
    April 5, 2008

    Anna,

    I did not for one minute think you personally don’t believe in the scientific method, or don’t enjoy popular science. I was talking about the people who don’t trust Dawkins on science because he’s an atheist (you claimed such people exist, if I didn’t misunderstand you).

    In other words: if people get offended by Dawkins’ views on religion, and this prevents them from believing/trusting Dawkins’ work on biology, then I think they did not want to be convinced in the first place. Another way of saying that: reasonable religious people (such as you, from all appearances) will take issue with Dawkins’ message on atheism, but will enjoy The Blind Watchmaker. If Dawkins’ loud atheism keeps someone away from science in general… well, I would not respect that someone’s intellectual honesty. I see how it may be necessary to cater to that bias (ie “frame” the message) in order to persuade them to let their children learn Evolution, but I won’t blame the bias on Dawkins.

    I don’t agree with all of Dawkins’ and PZ’s positions or statements. I read The God Delusion and didn’t think it was particularly enlightening. But I’m grateful that they exist and think they bring something to the table – as I said before, they make room for moderate atheists.

  64. #64 Anna K.
    April 5, 2008

    Maria,

    Okay, I see what you’re getting at. I agree with your points. The issue at my church is that we have some people who have strong scientific backgrounds, and we have other people who sincerely don’t understand why ID isn’t science. There’s been a small degree of interest in ‘Expelled,’ and it’s possible someone may want to add it to the church library or propose showing ‘Expelled’ to the youth group, in which case I (and I am sure, others) will object. Apart from that, we are developing some education programs and I am on that committee and am really, really hoping to address science/religion issues and science literacy in a more sustained way.

    The Dawkins thing was actually unrelated to any science discussion. It was part of a discussion about religion and different viewpoints, and I just was struck by people’s reactions to it. I don’t think I said anywhere that people went on to criticize his science writing, or that they wouldn’t be interested in science because they were offended by Dawkins.

    That’s interesting that you think Dawkins and PZ make room for moderate atheists. I have to say, I think Pat Robertson types make it harder for moderate religious people.

    . . . and I suspect I’ve been on this thread overlong as it is. :-)

    Thanks for a thoughtful discussion. I’ve enjoyed it.

  65. #65 Anna K.
    April 5, 2008

    Maria,

    Whoops, you’re right, I did say that I thought Dawkins might have lost credibility with that group as a science educator, but that was my speculation, not from anything anyone said in particular.

    (Chalk it up to my being very nervous about the potential appeal of ‘Expelled’ . . . )

    :-O

  66. #66 Daryl McCullough
    April 5, 2008

    Bubba Sixpack writes:

    Funny, because Nisbet has been playing into the opponents’ frame that atheists are evil and/or undesirable elements in society, by demanding that they refrain from speaking out.

    Nisbet didn’t say that atheists shouldn’t speak out. He didn’t say that atheists are evil. He is an atheist. It seemed to me that what many people are objecting to is not atheism, and is not atheists speaking or publicly declaring themselves to be atheists. People are objecting to atheists equating rationality with atheism. For them to say that if you are not atheist, then you are deluded or mentally crippled in some way.

    Basically, the problem is with people being jerks (or screechy monkeys, as Chad puts it). As long as one makes it clear that he is being a jerk in spare time, it’s fine. But it’s not good (in my opinion) to go around saying that being a scientist and being a certain type of jerk go hand in hand. That turns people off from wanting to be scientists.

  67. #67 Bubba Sixpack
    April 5, 2008

    McCullough:
    “Nisbet didn’t say that atheists shouldn’t speak out. He didn’t say that atheists are evil. He is an atheist.”

    And I did not say that Nisbet thinks atheists are evil. Please read again.

  68. #68 Tulse
    April 5, 2008

    anyone who wants to make a serious intellectual challenge must engage with the very best that the opposing side has to offer. This is what keeps scholarship honest, and this is what I don’t see happening with Dawkins and Myers. If they cannot grapple with these issues with intellectual honesty and rigor, and if they cannot be bothered personally to employ the kind of thoughtful reasoning they claim is so much in danger, then I am with Chad Orzel: I prefer not to fund their work with my beer money.

    In what way do Dawkins and Myers not grapple with the issues with intellectual honest and rigor? They may be forceful, they may be aggressive, but I certainly don’t see them as dismissive. Quite to the contrary, they are some of the few folks who have the intellectual respect to actually take the claims of religion seriously, and to argue regarding those claims, rather than to patronizingly pat the religious on the head and say, “Don’t you worry, science and religion are completely compatible, ” or to tell others in the sciences “Whatever the truth actually is, don’t get those religious folks riled up by suggesting they might be wrong”.

    As I see it, it is precisely the intellectual rigor and honesty that so many folks find upsetting about many of the New Atheist writers, as they have broken an unwritten detente that said science should not speak ill of religion, no matter how scientifically wrong its claims were. Science was supposed to seek compatibility, social accommodation, no matter how intellectually dishonest such accommodation was. Now that a few uppity writers have violated that one-sided agreement, people think they’re rude and dishonest and lack rigor, confusing those qualities for the reality that they’re just not being silent anymore.

  69. #69 Maria
    April 6, 2008

    Anna,

    It’s been a pleasure :)

    As to the people who want to show Expelled… It would be really good, I think, to have a showing, and then a Q&A with a scientist (or someone with scientific background from your church). Hiding it makes it seem like there is *something* to hide.

    Good luck!

    M

  70. #70 Michael Norrish
    April 6, 2008

    On the contrary, I (and, I think, Nisbet and Mooney) would argue that Myers is the one playing into the opponents’ frame, by insisting that science is necessarily atheistic.

    I think this is seriously unfair. Myers repeatedly stresses in all of the posts I’ve seen him make that when he teaches science to his students, he doesn’t talk about religion at all, because he knows it is irrelevant. Recently, for example, he reiterated this when talking about the religious background of textbook authors.

  71. #71 Andrew
    April 7, 2008

    I think the main problem is not so much the screechy monkeys referred to in this blog entry but the opposing screechy monkeys such as the author of this blog responding with incoherent screeches of their own.

    There has, is and hopefully never will be a monolithic Science Viewpoint on how to communicate about science. Such an idea to me seems as ludicrous as suggesting there is or should be a single religious or political viewpoint on issues. The underlying science is one thing but this bruhaha is not about the underlying science, it is about the surface level politicking.

    Of course, no one is required to like and appreciate how Dawkins or PZ do things, just as they are not required to like or appreciate how you, Nisbet, Mooney or whoever else does things.

    Just think though, when you make a blog entry slamming others for being a screechy monkeys, doing it wrong and generally acting like trolls, ask yourself this – how exactly are you being any different?

    Or to use the proper internet terminology, how does your contribution add to the debate in such a way as not to be effectively dealt with by a simple “MLYP”? Because this could potentially go on forever but it’s not going anywhere.

  72. #72 Daryl McCullough
    April 7, 2008

    Tulse writes:

    In what way do Dawkins and Myers not grapple with the issues with intellectual honest and rigor?

    I gave an example: PZ flat-out stated that “I don’t see the reminder to be compassionate in religion at all.”

    That’s not honest. That is not showing any intellectual rigor.

  73. #73 Daryl McCullough
    April 7, 2008

    Andrew writes:

    I think the main problem is not so much the screechy monkeys referred to in this blog entry but the opposing screechy monkeys such as the author of this blog responding with incoherent screeches of their own.

    Perhaps it is impossible to be objective in separating the “screechiness” of a statement from one’s own degree of disagreement with it, but I think you are completely wrong here. Chad’s post was perfectly coherent and non-screechy to me.

  74. #74 Gingerbaker
    April 7, 2008

    Funny.

    I like Pharygula not only for P.Z. but because I find many of the contributors to the comments sections to be some of the most truly amusing and well-informed folks on the web.

    Note I said “many” not “all”. The many is a pleasing enough ratio for my tastes.

    And I have gotta say, in reference to a point made early in this thread, that Dr Dawkins is a pussy cat.

    Any religious-minded person who feels too offended by the words of Dr Dawkins to listen to what he has to say, is, in my opinion, not truly interested in hearing anything new anyway.

  75. #75 Randy Olson
    April 7, 2008

    I get sick of the screechy monkey voice from time to time, but then I get a dose of the stupid monkey voice of the intelligent designers and creationists, and suddenly find the screechy monkey thing sounds like pretty decent music. Here’s to PZ.

  76. #76 IanR
    April 7, 2008

    On the contrary, I (and, I think, Nisbet and Mooney) would argue that Myers is the one playing into the opponents’ frame, by insisting that science is necessarily atheistic.

    But Chad – science is necessarily atheistic. You can’t invoke theistic explanations and still be doing science. You can have a theistic worldview and still do science, but you still need to do science without God. And that is atheistic. And that, I believe, is the problem with the framing issue. Science is not necessarily anti-religious. But you can’t do science unless you do it without God. The slur of “atheistic” science is identical to the slur of “naturalistic” science. The statement is true on the surface, but it communicates a lie.

    And I say that as a scientist, Christian, and fan of PZ’s.

  77. #77 Brian
    April 8, 2008

    Re: Chad:

    “I read very little of that, and I’m actually kind of torn on the question to the response to Expelled. I’m sort of on the Nisbet side generally, in that I think this is just one example of a whole parallel universe of “Christian literature” and “Christian film” made for and marketed to kooks. If it were just ignored, it would circulate within that community, and nobody else would ever even hear about it. Kicking up a big fuss over yet another depressingly stupid “Christian” movie project is just giving them publicity that they don’t deserve”

    Really, Chad? The total US sales of all trade books (i.e., the kind of books you find in bookstores) was $7.8 billion in 2007. The sales of “religious” books was $876 million (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/04/23/MNGEQPDM0J1.DTL). I can’t find how much of the religious books were specifically Christian, but even though I’m not a betting man, I’ll wager you my car that more than 95% them were. I guess “Christian literature” is an underground universe in the same way “fiction” is.

    You don’t have to look at it, but it’s a large part of this country, and ignoring the wingnuts doesn’t make them go away. If you’re not going to do anything about it, as you’ve stated, at least stay out of the way of those who will.

    (Lest I be accused of screechy monkery, I’m not a fan of Myers’ blog, which I find highly repetitive and really lacking in in-depth discussion. But way to deflect “content-free” criticism with a content-free statement).

  78. #78 outeast
    April 8, 2008

    Chad,

    Came to this post via Nisbet’s; I followed his link largely because I was surprised to hear that you – whom I had thought of as a generally moderate voice – were responsible for the obnoxious ‘screechy monkey’ label.

    I had been ignoring this whole framing thing, but now I’m trying to catch up on the wars since you can’t move in SB without getting hit by flying spittle on the issue. And I really think that posts like this one would have been better left unwritten: you insult large numbers of people simply for falling on one side of a debate (thus very effectively reinforcing the polarization that you claim to deplore).

    There’s always a reasonable amount of noise on the PZ comments channel, but I’ve read some really perceptive and insightful analysis on the whole debate from several commenters. It’s true that most of the really vituperative stuff I’ve read has also come from the commenters – but this post comes close to capping even the most egregious of that.

  79. #79 TTT
    April 8, 2008

    Mr. Orzel, in response to a request for specific examples of Myers/Dawkins’ bad behavior you wrote:

    You will continue to get nothing… The same bullshit game has been going on with Mooney and Nisbet and “framing.” They write a perfectly clear post, and people make a big show of not understanding it. They follow up with another perfectly clear post, and it’s still somehow mystifying. They give examples, and the examples aren’t specific enough. They give more examples, and those don’t apply for some reason. And on, and on, and on. The game never ends. I’m sure the Hoofnagles have a card for it when this crap is pulled by global warming denialists– it’s the same pathetic routine. No mountain of proof, no list of examples will ever suffice, and at the end of the day, the person being beseiged has spent hours battling picayune objections, but still “hasn’t given any evidence to support the claim.”

    Global warming has been part of mainstream science discussion for at least 25 years; “framing” showed up, what, 20 months ago? It isn’t “denialism” to expect proof of something that’s actually new. And the general reaction from the bloggers here is that none of them had ever heard of Nisbet before he showed up as an apparently self-proclaimed diction coach and ombudsman for everybody else.

    Anyone here who is a science teacher or writer (which I suspect is a majority) has already successfully learned to “tailor the message to the audience,” so to me that bit of advice seems about as remarkable as the Monty Python Theory of the Brontosaurus, which is that it was very long and narrow at the front end and then much bigger in the middle and then long and narrow in the rear again.

  80. #80 TTT
    April 8, 2008

    And as for their “mountains of proof,” they have yet to present a shred of evidence that atheists hurt the communication of science. They have assumed so, because, well, because because, so there. Argument from intuition and “common sense,” now THAT is the tool of the denialist.

  81. #81 island
    April 8, 2008

    On paper, what Myers and Dawkins are selling ought to be right up my alley. I’m a Ph.D. scientist, working in academia, and doing my own science popularization thing (I’m still waiting for comments from my editor, but my pop-physics book should hopefully be out by next year at this time). I’m fairly liberal politically, and strongly opposed to the political abuse of science that we’ve seen in recent years. I’m not personally religious, and I’m strongly opposed to any sort of religious education in schools, and against the promotion of religion in public life.

    I ought to be all over their message. I don’t support them, though, precisely because of their rejection of Nisbet and Mooney’s advice. In fact, I am sufficiently disgusted by their behavior, and especially the behavior of the screechy monkeys from the comments at Pharyngula and elsewhere, that I want nothing at all to do with them.

    I feel the same way, (as an atheist and a darwinist), because I don’t support them for the same reasons, although my own encounters indicate that it goes much deeper, to the point that auto-reactionism causes them to miss, willfully ignore, dishonestly embelish, and it even makes them work against their own cause, simply because they perceive any and every-thing that creationists say or do, to be some kind of foot in the door for creationism.

    For example, I have been keeping close tabs on the recent debate in Florida over the science standard and the new “academic freedom” bill that has also been introduced. The result of the first push was that creationists were able to successfully place the phrase, “scientific theory” into the standard as some kind of a backfired wedge strategy, since the sharpness of its edge was compromised by the qualifying term, “scientific”, in order to get the term, “theory” into the standard. Everybody knows that this was originally innitiated so that creationists can say, ‘see, it’s only a theory’, but it turns out that this terminology actually makes evolutionary theory even stronger in the standard, since teachers are required to give a detailed explanation of the difference between a scientific theory and pop terminology.

    The paranoia that festerd from the knowledge that creationists were behind this change was too much for radical proponents of evolutionary theory, and similarly predispositioned board members fought tooth and nail through the final hour to keep the word, “theory” out of the standard, even with the disarming, “scientific” compromise, which is a lot like saying that they don’t want creationists making evolutionary theory stronger in the science standard, because evolution is somehow the first step over the edge of some imaginary “slippery slope” of creationism. The logic for their completely unyeilding position simply isn’t there, because there is no question that the compromise to call it a “scientific theory” was absolutely the highest compliment that anyone could ever pay to evolutionary theory in the science standard, and Florida deserves an A+ for going beyond the national standard, instead of being discredited and demeaned for actually working it out!

    I also have to wonder if they aren’t doing it again as they frantically oppose the academic freedom bill, (which has also seen compromise to remove any possibility that “creation-science” can be abused), because science would welcome valid, peer-reviewed scientific challenges to some of the more weakly defined mechanisms of the theory, since this always only serves to strengthen a good theory by every scientific measure that exists. Unsupported paranoia alone does not supercede the legal protection that is being guaranteed by these compromises that the creationists are making, so again, the logic for rejection does not appear to be there as much as reactionary antifanaticism does.

    I don’t think that you are representing the full spectrum of the problem though, Chad, because “screechy monkies” stereotypically include the extremes of the ideological slant that you support, and I could never say that I am on either side of this culture war, because the distortions are equally dishonest on both sides, and over a wide spectrum of science, including the CrEvo debate.

    The “righteous knowledge” that extremist creationists and/or far-right-winged republicans, are wrong, is not enough to justify the kind of non-scientific reactionism that this brings about from “normally” moderate people, and this is only because the noise level of anti-fanatics that are abusing science to fight their culture war is so high that everybody that is even mildly predisposed to either side, automatically assumes that the loudly expressed reasoning is the proper position for them to advocate, so every last word from the “other side” is automatically wrong. But that’s not even close.

    As an agnostic atheist who supports a very strong but strictly materialist’s (thermodynamically-oriented) anthropic principle, I can tell you from experience how unscientifically predispositioned extremists work to overwhelm the rationality of moderates, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many times that I have been called a creationist as a result. I have had to deny christ so many times that I’m surely going to hell if by some cruel irony my lack of super-observational capabilty is all my fault… ;)

    Let the typically irrational name-calling begin…

  82. #82 Samia
    July 14, 2008

    You know…I read stuff like this and suddenly become hyper-aware that there are still cold and hungry children suffering around the world.

    I don’t care for Myers’ or Dawkins’ style, so I don’t really read ‘em unless there’s a cool picture of a gecko in a chicken egg involved. :) It’ll be okay, guys. I promise.

  83. #83 TTT
    July 14, 2008

    July update:

    “Screechy monkeys” is still an intellectually dishonest slur, and Nisbet still invokes it to petulantly defame his critics after he has erased their messages.

  84. #84 Aaron Baker
    January 2, 2009

    I’m late to the fray here; but I wanted to add to the discussion that, though I find P.Z. Myers wonderfully stimulating much of the time, it crossed a fairly obvious line to toss out a consecrated communion wafer and boast about it. (It was also a bit much to be aggrieved afterwards at the angry response; if you play provocateur, you shouldn’t complain later that people have had the nerve to be provoked.)

    Though an unbeliever, I think I have much less contempt for religion (and the religious) than Myers does. You really have to despise someone before you can think that offending him just for the sake of offense is a good thing.

    So yes, I think “screeching monkeys” is a good appellation.

  85. #85 whoopsie
    January 28, 2009

    Myers is a fracking swine who demogogically panders to his slavering, sycophantic horde of Already True Believers. Calling his cheering section a bunch of “screeching monkeys” is a bloody understatement.

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