Missing the Point

Jason Rosenhouse has a long post up claiming I missed the point in my post a few days ago about the lessons communication science can teach us about the accommodationism spat. The two things I came away from his post thinking were: 1) wow, did he miss my point! and 2) we’re talking about very different things.

First, to the question of whether I “missed the point,” the question posed by Jerry Coyne was not about how to promote atheism. The question I was answering was about whether emphasizing spirituality could help more people accept evolution. At least, that’s what I take Coyne’s “come to Darwinism” to mean; I don’t use the word “Darwinism.”

And I don’t see where, in nearly 3000 words, Jason makes the case that I was wrong about that. Indeed, the closest he comes to addressing the specific question, he basically agrees with me:

If I worked for an organization devoted exclusively to the narrow question of science education then I too would play up the harmonizers (though not to the extent of being insulting or dismissive towards those who demur), simply because I think it is good politics to do so. So far as I am aware, no one is arguing differently. In the context of school board disputes you should not send in people who are going to horrify the locals. That seems perfectly reasonable to me.

All well and good, except 1) I’m not blogging on NCSE time, so my employer is irrelevant and 2) Coyne was arguing against that position. He was dismissing the notion that appealing to shared values, the values that even many atheist scientists attribute to “spirituality,” can help bring people to accept evolution.

I cited one recent paper, and a couple of blog posts by others summarizing and linking to a range of other recent peer reviewed research to point out that this is not only a reasonable expectation a priori, it is also what the best available research shows to actually work. Jason says I’m “LOOKING AT THE WRONG SCIENCE!” and that all I cited were “a few papers breathlessly reporting that people don’t like it when you offend them.” That isn’t what the papers say, the papers aren’t “breathless,” and that isn’t what I claimed the papers said. Not offending people is different from finding shared values with them.

I had written:

Coyne and others are free to disagree with this body of research, but if they truly see themselves as defenders of Truth and of Science as a path to Truth, I don’t see how they can ignore it or simply dismiss it without seriously engaging it.

Now Jason is less prone to pronouncements about Truth than others, so maybe he didn’t count himself among those challenged. But it still would be nice if he engaged the research, rather than ignoring it and dismissing the findings cited.

In answer to my citations of actual peer reviewed research, Jason says I should look at the science of advertising. To back that up, he points to a non-peer-reviewed article (IMHO, a peer reviewed article has more evidentiary value than one that wasn’t peer reviewed). Alas, the extracts he draws on don’t bear on the question Coyne asked.

Advertising which connects emotionally, Jason’s quote explains, works better than more cerebral arguments. I knew that already, which was why I cited research on the emotional biases people bring to bear on evaluating scientific claims. But rather than emphasize that point, which tends to argue in favor of identifying shared values, he boldfaces the statement: “Emphasizing that ‘everyone else is doing it’ also helps.” To which I say, “No shit.” It’s called the bandwagon effect, and everyone knows about it. But the paper I cited pointed out that people discount views of people with differing values, which reduces this bandwagon effect unless you overcome those divergent values.

Every teacher knows that repetition builds retention. I know it because people who taught me to teach told me the same thing over and over. Jason quotes advertising researchers who confirmed the result, which is fine as far as it goes, but it is content-neutral. Do we repeat a message about shared spiritual values, or do we repeat some different message? Some messages are more effective than others, no matter how often they are repeated. Indeed, Jason fails to quote the article’s observation: “Unfortunately, there’s little evidence that simply recalling an ad changes behavior.” Nothing Jason quotes gets at what factors increase acceptance of the message or changes in behavior (even though there’s research on what arguments work for increasing evolution acceptance). Which makes me think I’m not the one missing the point here.

As to the merits of talking about scientists and spirituality, Jason also misses the point. I referred to “the widespread spirituality and even religiosity that scientists report in surveys,” which Jason responds to by noting that 1/3 scientists are atheist, another 1/3 are agnostic, and the theists are almost always theologically liberal. He ignores the finding that a large fraction of even atheist scientists are spiritual, which is the reason Chris and I were talking about spirituality. None of the numbers he cites refutes my claim that spirituality and religion are “widespread” among scientists. They are, indeed far more common than political conservatism, which no one takes as evidence that the Republican Party is epistemically incompatible with science. Still, Jason concludes that “any discussion of the spiritual or religious minority that does not also make clear the general tenor of the numbers is spin at best, and dishonesty at worst.”

I disagree. First, it is false to say that a minority of scientists are spiritual. Not spin, just flat wrong (surely only an honest mistake). Ecklund’s study found that 2/3 of scientists describe themselves as spiritual. One needn’t be a math professor to know that 2/3 is a majority, and a sizeable one at that. And since Chris had specifically put his comments in a context of spirituality, and Coyne was specifically asking about that, and I specifically included spirituality in the comment Jason quoted, it’s odd that he omits any discussion of spirituality’s frequency, and that he referred to a “spiritual minority.”

Second, even if religious or spiritual scientists were a minority, that would not change the merits of my argument. The point is not to that all or even most scientists have religious view X, but to build on what values scientists share with evolution-ambivalent audiences. For spiritual or religious scientists, however common or rare they may be, that spirituality or religiosity can be that bridge. Other scientists will find other bridges.

Equally flawed is Jason’s claim: “That evolution and traditional religion are in conflict has been obvious to everyone who has ever considered the question.” But lots of people find no such conflict! Some even find that evolution deepens their understanding of their religious tradition. St. Augustine, Maimonides, Pope John Paul II, Francis Collins, 12,000+ signers of the Clergy Letter Project, and millions of members of Episcopalian, Methodist, Congregationalist, Unitarian, Jewish, and other faiths are among the relevant counterexamples. And if the claim here is that the conflict is still “obvious” to those folks, but evolution accepting theists had to move past the obvious, then I retort: “So what?” Lots of things that aren’t obvious are still true. Evolution is one of many obvious examples.

Jason closes with a pitch for further efforts to “mainstream atheism.” Which is a fine goal, and I wish him luck with it. But it isn’t my goal. My goal is to improve acceptance of science (evolution in particular), and to encourage people to take science seriously and apply scientific methods to problems in their own lives and in the policy process. There’s a lot of overlap with the goals of activists for atheism, but I’m not interested in being an advocate for any particular metaphysic. If there’s a link between “mainstreaming atheism” and encouraging science literacy, Jason didn’t argue it, and doing so would be a distraction from the question Jerry asked and which I was answering. Jerry’s question was about science education, not atheism, and Jason’s post doesn’t ultimately advance that discussion.

Comments

  1. #1 Hamilton Jacobi
    October 13, 2010

    Did Darwin travel back in time and explain his theory to Augustine and Maimonides?

    Also, I’m not sure that John Paul’s rejection of human evolution counts as acceptance of evolution.

    Finally, why again is it relevant that people are capable of holding two contradictory propositions in their heads at the same time? It doesn’t make them any less contradictory.

  2. #2 Deepak Shetty
    October 13, 2010

    He was dismissing the notion that appealing to shared values, the values that even many atheist scientists attribute to “spirituality,” can help bring people to accept evolution.

    Uh if appealing to shared values was all it takes why don’t you use the fact that we are all humans, all have families, all love those families, like honesty, etc etc? Why are those shared values less effective than “spirituality”.

    Perhaps the answer is that spirituality is an ambiguous enough term that can pass of as being ‘religious’ and in essence you seem to be admitting that people reject science for religious reasons (and hence you have to appeal to a shared value of religion aka spirituality)?

    And you don’t seem to realize that most religious people usually think a non believer calling himself spiritual is dishonest.

  3. #3 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 13, 2010

    Josh, you wrote:

    The question I was answering was about whether emphasizing spirituality could help more people accept evolution. At least, that’s what I take Coyne’s “come to Darwinism” to mean; I don’t use the word “Darwinism.”

    And I don’t see where, in nearly 3000 words, Jason makes the case that I was wrong about that.

    Did you miss this part?

    Once this is appreciated it becomes clear why Josh’s next sentence, that this minority holds values that are consistent with those of people ambivalent about evolution, is very dubious. Atheist spirituality, such as it is, has almost nothing in common with traditional religion. So far as I can tell, it refers simply to the notion that atheists, no less than theists, can look at nature and be impressed. To suggest that this represents a point of contact between the religious and the nonreligious, which was, after all, the point of Mooney’s original USA Today article and was the issue raised by Jerry in his post, trivializes religion to the point of making it vacuous. People with religious concerns about science are not worried that if they accept evolution they will no longer be able to feel things deeply.

    That looks on point to me.

    Your strategy of emphasizing atheist spirituality will not work because it is not at all the same thing as the sort of religious impulses that lead people to reject evolution. It is almost directly contrary to them, in fact, as suggested by the slogan, “spiritual, not religious.” To try to conflate such spirituality with religiosity, as you did in your original post, is frankly ridiculous.

    Likewise, good luck trying to change the narrative of conflict between evolution and religion. Seriously, good luck. You’re going to need it, though, for reasons I explained in my post, but which you almost completely ignored. Citing articles about framing and changing the narrative is only relevant if the narrative can be changed and if there is an (intellectually honest) way of framing the issue that avoids conflicts with religion. My point was that the narrative of conflict is so obvious that it is a very tough sell to convince people worried about evolution that they are wrong.

    That is why, after addressing your narrow point about spirituality in the first few paragraphs, I moved on to the idea that working within people’s existing religious views is not likely to succeed in the long-term. If there is to be a real solution to this problem it has to come from changing people’s attitudes towards religion. As it happens, if that can be done it would have benefits that would go way beyond the evolution question. That is where I think the NA’s are making a big contribution.

    Finally, stop making such a fetish out of “peer review.” I cited an article from the American Psychological Association, which I think is a pretty reputable venue. The findings I cited were not controversial, as you noted, and they are relevant for the reasons I mentioned. Likewise, I was not challenging the results of the paper you cited. Only their relevance to this discussion. Most of us did not need the latest social science research to tell us that people will be more receptive to your views if you can present them in a way that does not challenge their deeply held beliefs. It’s just that evolution does challenge the deeply held beliefs of a great many people. It does not need any help from Richard Dawkins to have that effect, and all the slick marketing in the world will not change that simple fact.

    Now, are we still meeting up in DC next week, or are we back to seething at each other? :)

  4. #4 Barry
    October 13, 2010

    “That isn’t what the papers say, the papers aren’t “breathless,” and that isn’t what I claimed the papers said. Not offending people is different from finding shared values with them.”

    Josh, this is where you start to look very silly. You already admitted you hadn’t actually read the papers you quoted from, just cherry picked a few quotes, probably from the publisher’s extract. You completely ignored my post on the relevant thread where I pointed out how these papers weren’t claiming what you thought.

    “…my citations of actual peer reviewed research…”

    You were informed on the other thread how “peer review” in social science is very different from the natural sciences, yet you repeat this line as though it carries some significance. You clearly don’t understand this field, and it shows.

    It was when I got to the point above where you disagree with Jason on spirituality. Talk about ducking and weaving!! Jason makes it abundantly clear how the definition of spitituality for many scientists has absolutely nothing at all to do with religiosity. He even states that it references awe in nature. It is disingenuous of you to build your strawman. Jason used the word “dishonest” and you probably feel hurt by it’s accuracy. Read what he says carefully.

    “My goal is to improve acceptance of science (evolution in particular), and to encourage people to take science seriously and apply scientific methods to problems in their own lives and in the policy process.” Great. We all agree. The question is how much of your integrity you are prepared to compromise in order to win over these religious individuals to science. Doesn’t it concern you Josh that the accommodationism as all one way?

  5. #5 Sigmund
    October 14, 2010

    Josh, you’ve dug yourself in so deep with this one that I doubt even a Chilean rescue team could get you out.
    The point about the word ‘spirituality’ is that it is a term that means completely different things to different people.
    You seem to think that this is an advantage.
    To a lot of us on the non-accomodationist side it sounds like ‘mental reservation’ – the technique advocated by the Catholic church to mislead people without outright lying. It is a Clintonesque approach to the truth (“I am not having an affair with that woman”) that, while quite at home in politics or day to day religion, doesn’t fit well with the principles of science.

  6. #6 Josh Rosenau
    October 14, 2010

    Barry: Where did I say that I hadn’t read the paper? Where did you make these fairly ludicrous claims about peer review in the social sciences? I see where you commented, but nothing about peer review and and nowhere did you show that the paper didn’t show what I said it did. I see that you argued, wrongly, that the Kahan paper is not germane. “You don’t learn about successful marriage by studying divorce”? Really? Seems like research that shows why people reject consensus is exactly what leads us to an understanding of why others do not. This was a randomized trial, with appropriate blinding of subjects. The methodological critique doesn’t hang together.

    Yes, spirituality is not identical to religion, and I never said it was. A feeling of awe and connectedness is a place to start a discussion about shared values, and it is hardly “dishonest” to say otherwise. The connections run deeper. From Ecklund: “Spiritual entrepreneurs are both traditionalists as regards their relationship to truth and revolutionaries in their manner of religious understanding and practice. They share with the spiritual-but-not-religious person on the street the same desire to cast off the shackles of religion. But they cling with devotion to the existence of objective and knowable truth. … This is a spirituality characterized by coherence. The scientists do not want spirituality to be intellectually compartmentalized from the rest of their lives; they seek a core sense of truth through spirituality in much the same way that they seek it through their research.”

    If you can’t build a message about shared values with religious people around those ideas, I don’t think you’re trying.

    Alas, you last sentence seems to compromise the English language. If you rephrase it as a real sentence, I’ll happily answer. As I explained before, I don’t think any of this requires me to sacrifice any integrity.

    Jason: See my comments above about spirituality for part of my reply. I’ll note that you quote yourself referring to spiritual scientists as “a minority,” when it’s a majority. I happen to think truth matters, and it’s a small correction, yet you persist in repeating the error. Why?

    More generally, I’d say that since I don’t think you’d classify yourself among the spiritual atheists, I would not expect you to communicate in that mode. But if you accept the results of the paper I cited, and simply want to quibble over the way in which they can be extended to the evolution case, I’m curious how you’d suggest scientists connect with the values of non-scientists audiences. If shared religious or spiritual values are not the way (and you haven’t convinced me, but I’m listening), then what is. Without such a strategy, I don’t see how we break down barriers. Indeed, without identifying common values shared between atheists and theists, I don’t see how your project of increasing acceptance of atheism can be most effective, either.

    That said, I will reiterate that my post was not about “emphasizing atheist spirituality.” It was about emphasizing scientists’ spirituality or religiosity. Yes, some scientists (and non-scientists) are spiritual-but-not-religious. Others are spitirual and religious. I don’t know why you keep leaving that group out of the discussion.

    You and I also have very different views of how most Americans, especially in the swayable middle, view their own religion. I don’t know of survey data that would help us resolve our differences; I welcome suggestions. But my conversations and interactions with folks makes me a lot more optimistic about the ability to use a spiritual sense of connectedness, desire for truth continuous from science to metaphysics, and so forth, can build bridges with moderate religionists and help them find evolution less scary. Anecdotally, I’ve found that describing the range of religious responses to evolution can weaken resistance in talking to swayable, and even mildly creationist, moderates. But anecdotes aren’t data, even if they are consistent with theory and experimental results in other fields.

    My “fetish” for peer review is driven partly by a recognition of the difference between data and anecdote. Advertising research varies widely in quality, and seeing more than a couple of sentences to describe the research methods and results would be helpful. Knowing that other relevant experts had a chance to review the data, techniques, and analysis is also useful, as every field has its special traps that experts can ferret out and help authors fix. There are good reasons I mock creationists when they dismiss peer review, and I know I don’t have to go over those reasons with you.

    You write: “My point was that the narrative of conflict is so obvious that it is a very tough sell to convince people worried about evolution that they are wrong.” Maybe, but convincing people to abandon their religion will be a tougher sell, but at least it doesn’t require a wholesale replacement of religious views, just a fairly modest adjustment of how people perceive the relationship between science and religion (a topic that is hardly central to most people’s religious practice).

    You write: “It’s just that evolution does challenge the deeply held beliefs of a great many people.” And it does not challenge the deeply held beliefs of a great many other people. People move between those groups for a variety of reasons that we don’t fully understand, but that I have some ideas about based on social science research which you unjustifiably denigrate as “breathless.”

    As to DC: Yes, and I’m looking forward to seeing you. I’m not seething at you, I’m trying to figure out the best way to defend and improve science education. And I know that’s one of our shared values.

  7. #7 Josh Rosenau
    October 14, 2010

    Sigmund: “Spirituality” does indeed mean different things to different people, which is why implementing the strategy I described would take more that saying “I’m spiritual, you’re spiritual, let’s talk about evolution.” You have to explain the values that motivate your interest in science, and to do so in ways that connect with your audience. Spirituality is a term that many scientists seem to use to describe many of those values, and exploring what spirituality means could well be a useful first step toward breaking down the barriers to evolution-acceptance. That’s true even if spirituality means something different to everyone, because some (probably most) of the values wrapped up in those divergent spiritualities will surely be shared.

  8. #8 Sigmund
    October 14, 2010

    “Spirituality is a term that many scientists seem to use to describe many of those values, and exploring what spirituality means could well be a useful first step toward breaking down the barriers to evolution-acceptance.”
    Well I work as a research scientist at a fairly high level institution outside the US and have never heard anyone in my profession talk about spirituality in the way you describe.
    Indeed apart from Elaine Howard Ecklunds study are there any other sources to back this claim about “many scientists” using this term? Even one study?
    Doing a google search for scientist and spirituality gives plenty of links to Ecklunds work and to various new age Indian ‘spirituality’ sites but I don’t think ‘aligning our chakras’ is really what either of us has in mind.
    And if it is fine to use terms that mean different things to different people why stop at ‘spirituality’?
    Why not claim that the majority of scientists are in favor of “Family Values”? Won’t the fact that we get christian conservatives to look at us in a new light mitigate the fact that the ‘Family Values’ that scientists are in favor of are not the anti-gay, pro-life reactionary values of the conservatives, but are, in fact, liberal inclusive values that include respect for gay families and reproductive choice for women?

  9. #9 Rob Knop
    October 14, 2010

    “That evolution and traditional religion are in conflict has been obvious to everyone who has ever considered the question.”

    Josh, there’s something you have to realize about the New Atheists. They hold to this statement as a matter of faith. When they find somebody, especially a scientist, who claims otherwise, they dismiss that person as intellectually dishonest. (I have yet to see somebody make the argument otherwise without that argument being dismissed by New Atheists as simply not viable on the face of it.)

    Holding to the statement that anybody thinking can’t really accept religion and science at the same time (without at least compartmentalizing or being intellectually dishonest or some such) is a matter of faith fundamentally important to the New Atheists. In the same way, not accepting the Bible as literal truth means that you haven’t “really” accepted Jesus is a matter of faith among certain fundamentalist Christians. In each case, by the definition of “accepting Jesus” or “intellectually honest”, you must have come to exactly the same philosophy as them. To one, “intellectual dishonest” means “claiming to accept science without rigidly accepting strict philosophical materialism”, and to the other, “immoral” means “not fully accepting the Bible as the literal word and truth of God”. Both are so convinced in the absolute correctness of their philosophy that, as best I can tell, they are not capable of conceiving of somebody who is (in one case) intellectually honest or (in the other case) moral who disagrees with them on that particular point of philosophy.

    I just wish we could ignore them. (Both of them.) Alas, in society, the Fundies are too loud, and in the science communication arena, the New Atheists are too loud.

  10. #10 Ender
    October 14, 2010

    “Why not claim that the majority of scientists are in favor of “Family Values”?”

    Because the majority of those who are rejecting science are not doing so because they believe it involves the rejection of Family Values.
    They do believe it involves renouncing your spirituality.
    They are wrong.

    @Rob, you make a good point. Many of those who oppose building any common ground do so because they believe that there is no common ground. That you cannot be spiritual and scientific, if you really think about it. That there are no religious beliefs that do not contradict science.
    They are also wrong.

  11. #11 Sigmund
    October 14, 2010

    Rob, you are mischaracterizing the New Atheist position. Listen to the Point of Inquiry debate between PZ Myers and Chris Mooney. Myers clearly states that not every form of religion is problematic for science. In fact he agreed with Mooney that vague deism is compatible with science.
    I notice you shifted the goalposts in your post above.
    You post a quote suggesting that New Atheists have a problem with “traditional religion” and then switch tracks to say they have a problem with all religion – a point contradicted by Myers and Mooney in their debate.
    I think the New Atheist position is rather clear. If your religion involves miracles that require the supernatural suspension of the laws of physics then it will be problematic for science. This is what is meant by “traditional religion”.
    A lot of New Atheists were brought up in traditional religious households and are very much aware of things like the Nicene creed – something that is still part of current Catholic and many other ‘traditional’ Christian faiths and involves many points of dogma that contradict scientific experience.
    If you call yourself a Christian and you regard all the miracles of the bible as pure metaphor and subscribe to some sort of NOMA – a belief that there is no contact between the natural world and any possible supernatural world – then I don’t think you have much to worry about on the New Atheist front. If, however, you believe Jesus was born of a virgin, brought people back from the dead and rose from the dead himself before flying up to heaven, I guess ignoring the New Atheists is probably a wise choice.

  12. #12 Michael Fugate
    October 14, 2010

    Here is what scientists mean by “spirituality” according to Ecklund http://religion.ssrc.org/reforum/Ecklund.pdf

    “a vague feeling that there is something outside myself”
    “a deep and other-centered worldview that directs how research and interactions with students are conducted”
    “having a larger purpose or meaning that transcends daily concerns”

    Wow, that is really profound – I am surprised it is not 100% of scientists claiming to be spiritual if that is all it means. I have much more than a vague feeling that I am not the entire universe and I care about other people.

  13. #13 Deepak Shetty
    October 14, 2010

    @Rob

    Alas, in society, the Fundies are too loud, and in the science communication arena, the New Atheists are too loud.

    Wow those books and those blog posts are really deafening aren’t they?. Have you tried reducing the font size on your browser?
    Can you travel back to about 1990 where there was no such term as a New Atheist? What happened then? Things were all just fine and all the religious gladly accepted evolution and stayed out of science education and communication, right?

  14. #14 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 14, 2010

    Rob —

    “That evolution and traditional religion are in conflict has been obvious to everyone who has ever considered the question.”

    Josh, there’s something you have to realize about the New Atheists. They hold to this statement as a matter of faith. When they find somebody, especially a scientist, who claims otherwise, they dismiss that person as intellectually dishonest. (I have yet to see somebody make the argument otherwise without that argument being dismissed by New Atheists as simply not viable on the face of it.)

    Do you really not understand the difference between a conflict and a contradiction? There is a conflict between evolution and Christianity in the same sense that there is a conflict between evil and suffering and Christianity. Many people think they have arguments for resolving the conflict, but just about everyone acknowledges that evil is a theological problem in need of solution. It is the same for evolution.

    I do not believe that people who defend both evolution and Christianity are being dishonest. I believe simply that they make very implausible arguments, as I said in my post, and I think many of the Christians who worry about evolution are entirely reasonable for rejecting them. My reference to intellectual honesty was in the context of how we present evolution to other people. Frequently the version of Christianity defended by reconcilers is different from the version held by those we are trying to reach. I specifically used the example of John Haught, whose process theology is considerably different from traditional views of Christianity. I could also have used many liberal versions of Christianity to make the same point. To tell people simply that evolution and Christianity are compatible, while concealing the fact that it might require massive reconsiderations of what Christianity means (which is something I think often happens) is intellectually dishonest.

  15. #15 Sigmund
    October 14, 2010

    Elaine Howard Ecklund suggested a solution to the very real issue that evangelicals are virtually absent in science. She suggested that they need not worry that they are going to lose their children to atheism if they become scientists – they could instead become other types of Christians! Even she recognized that the data showed that being an evangelical and a scientist is incompatible.
    I think this does not exactly show an understanding of the evangelical mindset. For many of these the idea that their children might convert to some sort of liberal episcopalianism is not too far removed from atheism – they both end up in the same flame decorated eternity.

  16. #16 Saikat Biswas
    October 14, 2010

    Josh : “And it does not challenge the deeply held beliefs of a great many other people.”

    And in almost all of these situations, people never actually elaborate upon why that is the case. What exactly is the nature of their belief? Have they actually examined their belief or considered its implications to their scientific knowledge? Is it so vague and “spiritual” as to elude description? Or is it so devoid of actual content that there’s really nothing to challenge in the first place?

    I’m yet to hear a coherent and well-reasoned argument from a devout Christian who really (and sincerely) believes that there is no contradiction in believing that a loving and benevolent god had a “guiding hand” over a manifestly cruel and wasteful process like evolution. Francis Collins, for example, has never bothered to respond to this. For him, the stunning diversity of life on this earth by itself is evidence enough that the Christian god (he never fails to emphasize this) is the indisputable creator.

  17. #17 J. J. Ramsey
    October 14, 2010

    Jason Rosenhouse: “To tell people simply that evolution and Christianity are compatible, while concealing the fact that it might require massive reconsiderations of what Christianity means (which is something I think often happens) is intellectually dishonest.”

    And who is concealing that?

  18. #18 Eric MacDonald
    October 14, 2010

    Josh, I haven’t posted here before, so you won’t know me. But it occurred to me when I saw the title of your post, that it is a double entendre. Missing the point — got it? You seemed to have missed the point of Jason’s post. While I hope you are not seething at each other, surely you can see that it is all very well to encourage dialogue, but what if you’ve got nothing to talk about? That seems the position you’re in (as Jason himself says in a very perceptive response to yours). As someone who played the religious game for years and years, let me give you a hint. You can talk to some, but you simply can’t talk to all, and if you pretend you’re all smiles, and still come out with evolution, you’ve lost, and your smiles won’t make any difference. Can’t you see that? That was true in June 1860, and it’s true now. You really think you can change Bishop Wilberforce? Forget it. His mind is made up forever. The only way to convince people is to be honest and up front with them. Come at them with a hidden agenda, and they’ve spotted the brief in your skivvies before you’ve opened your mouth. Trust me!

  19. #19 Saikat Biswas
    October 14, 2010

    @10 Ender : “They do believe it involves renouncing your spirituality. They are wrong.”

    Wrong about what? That there is no “spiritual” aspect to evolution? Or that accepting the truth about evolution necessarily involves renouncing their own brand of “spirituality”?

    If I’m guessing you correctly, you do mean the latter. And in that case, emphasizing the “spirituality” of those do believe in evolution is to get it all wrong. Who cares if some evolutionary biologist also happens to be “spiritual”? That has absolutely no bearing on the truth of evolution itself. There’s nothing even remotely “spiritual” about evolution. And no serious scientist can claim to derive “spiritual” feelings through an understanding of evolution.

    Evolution through natural selection works. End of story. Nobody cares if you keep your “spirituality” or renounce it.

  20. #20 Josh Rosenau
    October 15, 2010

    Jason: I agree that conflict != contradiction. But Jason, your assessment of what theology is plausible seems like it would be influenced by your feeling that theism is implausible. Theology is an area that strikes me as fairly subjective, and lots of Christians find process theology quite plausible. I’m not Christian, I’m not a process theologian, and I don’t think there’s a way to resolve solely theological conflicts, so I try to steer clear of them (this is why I’m an apathist agnostic).

    I look forward to chatting about the nature of religion over a beer next weekend. We won’t solve anything, but I prefer not to have this discussion while entirely sober. But I don’t think a switch towards process theology or any of the other non-conflict perceptions of science/religion would require most lay Christians to do much reconsideration of what Christianity means. And for those that it does force a reconsideration, maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s a shift like quantum mechanics forced on physics, deepening and improving the field. If theology studies an objective aspect of reality, it might bring theology more closely in line with that objective truth, and if not, then people’s subjective beliefs change all the time, and that’s neither good nor bad.

  21. #21 Barry
    October 15, 2010

    Josh
    “Where did I say that I hadn’t read the paper?” I retract that. It was the Pape paer you claimed not to have read.

    “Where did you make these fairly ludicrous claims about peer review in the social sciences?” I didn’t say that I made the comment on peer review in social science and psychology, but I could have been more helpful in pointing to the correct thread – it was Galwayskeptic, here http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2010/10/suicide_bombing_is_not_about_r.php

    “Seems like research that shows why people reject consensus is exactly what leads us to an understanding of why others do not. This was a randomized trial, with appropriate blinding of subjects. The methodological critique doesn’t hang together.”

    You have no idea on this issue. You completely misunderstand how such studies work and that is why you link me to a study on failed marriages that actually makes my point better than I can. The way to identify the factors that make successful marriage is to study successful marriage – not to study failed marriages and assume that doing the oppostite leads to success. This doesn’t mean that the study of divorce is not important – just that it doesn’t tell you waht success looks like. This is the methodological flaw in each of those papers. By not including this line of study in their samples means that you cannot draw the conclusions that you do. It is easy to see why I thought you hadn’t read the paper.

    “If you can’t build a message about shared values with religious people around those ideas, I don’t think you’re trying.”

    You reference a quote about spirituality that is so detached from the reality of most religious believers to be almost useless. As Jason said above, this “trivializes religion to the point of making it vacuous.” So if I understand, you are asking whether we can engage in a dialog around shared values based on how a sense of “awe and wonder” generate a feeling of spirituality? Where, exactly, does this get you in your arguments with creationists Josh? You see, the study you need to be able to cite, is the one which studies the successful outcomes of accommodationism to at least point to some evidence that your thesis here has any potential.

    “Alas, you last sentence seems to compromise the English language. If you rephrase it as a real sentence, I’ll happily answer. As I explained before, I don’t think any of this requires me to sacrifice any integrity.”

    I never realized using “accommodationism” as a noun would have caused such difficulty in cognition. So let me remove the one word that might be troubling you and see if that makes it easier for you.

    Doesn’t it concern you Josh that accommodationism is all one way?

  22. #22 Josh Rosenau
    October 15, 2010

    Eric: I suppose that makes your comment a triple entendre, because you missed my point. There’s a reason I repeatedly refer to communication strategies for the “evolution-ambivalent”: it’s because I know full well you can’t convince everyone. But somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 the public are swayable, and lots of evidence suggests that science/religion issues are a big part of what makes them ambivalent (strictly defined not as unsure, but as simultaneously experiencing contradictory feelings). Hard-core creationists may be convinceable, but it’s a different challenge.

  23. #23 Sigmund
    October 15, 2010

    “somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 the public are swayable”
    I am interested in how you reached this figure, particularly in terms of the evolution question.

  24. #24 J. J. Ramsey
    October 15, 2010

    Barry: “Doesn’t it concern you Josh that accommodationism is all one way?”

    Even with that all in English, that hardly makes sense. What is particularly “one way” about the message, “You don’t have to be an atheist to accept scientific facts or to do science”?

    Heck, suppose that we look at NOMA (which not all accommodationists buy into). The NOMA idea basically tells believers that religion that makes empirical claims is faulty religion, and that proper religion restricts itself from dealing with such claims, which are the turf of science. That’s not “one way” either, since under NOMA, believers have to give up something that has historically been part of religion’s purview.

  25. #25 Sigmund
    October 15, 2010

    I actually agree with that last comment about NOMA.
    I think that is the reason there are so few religious people that advocate it.
    Francis Collins explicitly rejected NOMA in his last book for being too restrictive on religion for that very reason. In fact I dont recall any religious figure advocating NOMA for their own religion. It is, however not uncommon to find NOMA used as an argument against atheist scientists who comment on religious claims.

  26. #26 Barry
    October 15, 2010

    J.J. Ramsey “Even with that all in English, that hardly makes sense.” You might not agree with it, but what don’t you understand? Please describe exactly how a religious person takes that first step towards accommodating science when evolution (for example) directly contradicts their world view? Show me where the religious are reaching out to science (other than to undermine it). Help me understand what religion has to offer science? The issue isn’t whether religious people can do science, or even accept it, but whether they are prepared to modify their beliefs when science shows them to be wrong, and whether there is any evidence that accommodationism is bringing this about…or more likely to bring this about.

    “The NOMA idea basically tells believers that religion that makes empirical claims is faulty religion,…” Really? Is transubstantiation an empirically testable claim or not? This is a pretty important question given that it’s a central catholic belief. The Pope likes NOMA. The religious look at NOMA as religion-friendly because it keeps the prying eyes of science at bay. Some religious scientists like NOMA because it helps them avoid those awkward questions where they have to reconcile irreconcilable positions. So give me a precise example of something the religious have to give up under NOMA. A distraction from accommodationism, I know, but you did bring it up.

  27. #27 J. J. Ramsey
    October 15, 2010

    Barry:

    Please describe exactly how a religious person takes that first step towards accommodating science when evolution (for example) directly contradicts their world view?

    Obviously an abbreviated answer to your question is that a religious person may reinterpret their own beliefs as some flavor of metaphor and/or ditch belief in inerrancy (if such a belief was held to begin with). However, unless you are living under a rock, I’m sure that you have anticipated such a response. Anyway, if you really want answers to that question and aren’t being sarcastic or willfully ignorant, I suggest that you start at the NCSE’s web page on Science and Religion and start browsing.

    Barry: “Is transubstantiation an empirically testable claim or not?”

    No. The bread and wine aren’t expected to be outwardly different from what they appear to be.

    Barry: “So give me a precise example of something the religious have to give up under NOMA.”

    Here’s an obvious example: God created the world in six days about 6,000 ago. That can’t fly under NOMA.

  28. #28 Sigmund
    October 15, 2010

    Any religious claim that involves revelation falls foul of NOMA since the
    supernatural realm cannot make contact with the natural realm.

  29. #29 Marshall
    October 15, 2010

    Josh…. “My goal is to improve acceptance of science (evolution in particular), and to encourage people to take science seriously and apply scientific methods to problems in their own lives and in the policy process.” Defeating religion is a different goal, and not on a short path to achieving acceptance of science. One gets the idea that if religious people did have a revelation about science, people like Jerry and Jason would go looking for a new stick to beat them with.

    I’ve been thinking for a while about this thread at Jason’s place about an “awful essay”, which proposed the theological position that the “Word of God” (sacred scripture) and the “Work of God” (natural science), properly understood, can’t be in conflict since they arise from the same source. This seems to give any peer-reviewed Darwinian all he could ask for: We religious people say…. you’re right! Science is True! … yet Jason calls this attitude “more infuriating that the Creationists”. Apparently acceptance of science is at best a lesser goal for him; he rejects the argument because he doesn’t like where it goes. Poor science, I say.

    Why spill so much ink insisting on sharpening differences? Except that we humans enjoy forming teams and fighting. I say, there’s enough fighting already. Yea Josh.

  30. #30 Marshall
    October 15, 2010

    Josh…. “My goal is to improve acceptance of science (evolution in particular), and to encourage people to take science seriously and apply scientific methods to problems in their own lives and in the policy process.” Defeating religion is a different goal, and not on a short path to achieving acceptance of science. One gets the idea that if religious people did have a revelation about science, people like Jerry and Jason would go looking for a new stick to beat them with.

    I’ve been thinking for a while about this thread at Jason’s place about an “awful essay”, which proposed the theological position that the “Word of God” (sacred scripture) and the “Work of God” (natural science), properly understood, can’t be in conflict since they arise from the same source. This seems to give any peer-reviewed Darwinian all he could ask for: We religious people say…. you’re right! Science is True! … yet Jason calls this attitude “more infuriating that the Creationists”. Apparently acceptance of science is at best a lesser goal for him; he rejects the argument because he doesn’t like where it goes. Poor science, I say.

    Why spill so much ink insisting on sharpening differences? Except that we humans enjoy forming teams and fighting. I say, there’s enough fighting already. Yea Josh.

  31. #31 Rob Knop
    October 16, 2010

    It’s not right to claim that science is only compatible with religion that claims that there are never supernatural things that happen. Philosophical materialism is only compatible with those sorts of religions — but, again, some of the comments above seem not to get the point that accepting science and accepting philosophical materialism are two very different things.

    Science can only, if you really get down to it, set upper limits on the incidence of miraculous things — obviously things outside science aren’t happening very often, or we’d have statistical evidence for them. And, some of the things science can’t explain are obviously, from a quick look at the history of science, simply things that science can’t explain *yet*.

    However, it’s possible to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and *still* accept science without being in contradiction. That comes from the fact that science cannot prove that miracles *never* happen. The amazingly successful track record of science indicates that science is at least an extremely good way of describing and understanding the reality of nature. But it doesn’t prove that science must be the one perfect way to understand the reality of nature. No, miracles don’t happen very often, and there’s no good scientific reason to believe that they happened ever. And, it seems silly from a purely scientific point of view to think that one ever did happen. But it’s not inconsistent to fully accept science, and still yet believe in a relatively small number of miracles.

    To say otherwise is to misrepresent science as philosophical materialism. And, of course, it’s really philosophical materialism that is the bigger point of conflict with the greater number of the religious. You’re never going to convince the fundamentalist creationists (although you might get their kids), but the “swayable middle” are the ones who are going to be convinced to be look poorly at science if science is portrayed as being exactly the same thing as philosophical materialism.

  32. #32 SocraticGadfly
    October 17, 2010

    Doesn’t Mr. Buddhism Lover, and New Atheist toast of the town among people who don’t know better, Sam Harris, defend “spirituality” without using that word by being Mr. Buddhism Lover? #samharrisfail

    Beyond that, the problem is … defining “spiritual.” It’s such a muddled word. For many nonscientists, it still carries metaphysical overtones.

  33. #33 Barry
    October 17, 2010

    J.J. Ramsey: “Anyway, if you really want answers to that question and aren’t being sarcastic or willfully ignorant, I suggest that you start at the NCSE’s web page on Science and Religion and start browsing.”

    My question was genuine, but your answer wasn’t an answer. I didn’t think it was that difficult a question.

    “No. The bread and wine aren’t expected to be outwardly different from what they appear to be.”

    Is that a scientific response or a theological one?

    “Here’s an obvious example: God created the world in six days about 6,000 ago. That can’t fly under NOMA.”

    But your first steps in accommodationism are towards “friendly” religious people aren’t they? Why pick from the lunatic fringe when all I want you to respond to is what a moderate religious person has to concede under NOMA? My guess is nothing. Hence the accommodationism being one way. But please go ahead and respond if you think I’m wrong.

  34. #34 J. J. Ramsey
    October 18, 2010

    Barry: “My question was genuine, but your answer …”

    … addressed the concerns that you brought up without belaboring the point. Of course, your words “Please describe exactly …” were a potential trap, since any answer could be dismissed as insufficiently exact, no matter how pertinent it was.

    Barry: “Is that a scientific response or a theological one?”

    It’s a response that reflects what the official Catholic doctrine on transubstantiation is supposed to be, namely “that there is no change in the empirical appearances of the bread and wine.”

    Barry: “all I want you to respond to is what a moderate religious person has to concede under NOMA?”

    You had asked, “So give me a precise example of something the religious have to give up under NOMA.” Once I gave you an example, only then did you ask what a “moderate religious person” has to concede. That’s shifting the goalposts.

    You didn’t bother to do even minimal research on a doctrine that you bring up (transubstantiation), and you’ve played games with your goalposts.

  35. #35 Barry
    October 18, 2010

    J.J.Ramsey:”…your words “Please describe exactly …” were a potential trap, since any answer could be dismissed as insufficiently exact, no matter how pertinent it was.” I requested “exactly” because I expected imprecision in response. Even you must accept that a vague direction to read a website is no answer…and you have still no answer.

    “It’s a response that reflects what the official Catholic doctrine on transubstantiation is supposed to be, namely “that there is no change in the empirical appearances of the bread and wine.”” Why did you omit the previous sentence? You know, this one – “the change by which the substance (though not the appearance) of the bread and wine in the Eucharist becomes Christ’s Real Presence—that is, his body and blood.”? Perhaps you can explain the difference between “substance” and “empirical appearance”? And I repeat, is this a scientific or theological statement?

    “You had asked, “So give me a precise example of something the religious have to give up under NOMA.” Once I gave you an example, only then did you ask what a “moderate religious person” has to concede. That’s shifting the goalposts.” I am told by accommodationists that their aim is to win the support of moderate religious folk to the cause of science. NOMA is one of the strategies put forward in that aim. I’m just asking you for an example within that context. Throwing back the “6000yr old earth” is hardly a position accepted by the moderate relious person. I don’t move the goalposts, just stick to the point under question.

  36. #36 J. J. Ramsey
    October 18, 2010

    Barry, you refuse to accept that the answer to “Is transubstantiation an empirically testable claim?” is “No,” even when a link supporting that answer was given. Given such willful pigheadedness, further argument with you would be a waste of time.

  37. #37 Barry
    October 19, 2010

    J.J.Ramsey :”Barry, you refuse to accept that the answer to “Is transubstantiation an empirically testable claim?” is “No,” even when a link supporting that answer was given. Given such willful pigheadedness, further argument with you would be a waste of time.”

    I’ve refused nothing, just asked a question twice that for some reason you won’t answer. Cherrypicking part of a quote from a link raised my eyebrow and I see you still have no answer to the part you excluded.

    But thank you for the “pigheadedness” compliment. I take this as a sign of the “polite engagement” that accommodationists accuse NA of? Josh would approve I’m sure.

    And thank you for completely ducking the NOMA issue. There’s clearly no limit to the questions you won’t answer.

    Bye.

  38. #38 J. J. Ramsey
    October 19, 2010

    Barry: “Cherrypicking part of a quote from a link raised my eyebrow and I see you still have no answer to the part you excluded.”

    Translation: “I refused to accept the plain meaning of ‘that there is no change in the empirical appearances of the bread and wine,’ so I made a false accusation of quote mining.”

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