We've had another framing fight on scienceblogs today. Here's the timeline:
Nisbet beats up a strawman of Atheists comparing themselves to women or blacks or gays in terms of civil rights struggle, and then asserts there are no violations of atheist civil rights - they're just unpopular. The commenters find cause to disagree with him repeatedly. Wait, I know what to do about this - here's the card.
Those fundamentalists (controlling the country) who call them un-American, evil, sinful and hell-bound? Well, they're just
And the problems atheists have? Those aren't real problems like with blacks and women, they're just
And since there is:
How'd I do Chris?
Anyway, Rosenhouse fires back, and this is the critical passage:
Atheists don't face a public image problem because of the books of Dawkins and Hitchens. They face a public image problem because of the bigotry and ignorance of so many religious people. Not all religious people, certainly, as the strawman version of their arguments would have you believe. But a much higher percentage than people like Matthew care to admit. You do not break through such bigotry by polite discussion. You break through it by being loud and vigorous. That's one of the lessons you learn from the civil rights struggles of the past. Social progress is not made when the downtrodden ask politely for their just due. That women, blacks and gays faced greater oppression than what atheists face today does not alter that fact.
Matthew's comment that such discrimination as exists against atheists is caused in part by the writings of Dawkins and Hitchens is nothing more than plain, vanilla blaming the victim. (And it's unsubstantiated to boot). It is an old cliche that gets trotted out every time a minority group starts getting a bit too vocal. The argument conjures up preposterous images of large numbers of non-bigots going over to the dark side when the victims of discrimination start rhetorically attacking the bigots. It is to laugh.
I tend to agree with Rosenhouse, and in particular find fault with the article Nisbet cites which essentially blames minorities for being disliked as some kind of natural state. And that may be the case, but there is a substantive difference between dislike and mistreatment, their denial or minimization of the real problem with religious interference in public life as well as the public intolerance and censorship of atheist expression is disturbing. In the comments at Pharyngula and Evolutionblog they list many real examples of these problems.
Finally, I think this is a historically ignorant argument. Anyone remember Ed Brayton's post on Ellery Schempp?
"I learned that if people were mad at us they would call us 'Communists.' If they were really, really mad, they would call us 'atheists.' When they called us 'commie atheists' they had exhausted their vocabulary - that was the worst they could think of!"
We just emerged from a 40-year cold war in which atheism was identified as synonymous with being a mortal enemy of the country. Really no one in this country was openly atheist. Now fundamentalists are discovering they didn't manage to stomp out all the non-believers through 40 years of aggressive repression they're acting like it's end-times and an assault on the foundation of the country. This is not the atheists' fault, and Rosenhouse is correct, this is blaming the victim.
Consider the polling that shows that atheists are the most disliked and mistrusted group of people in the country - even worse than sex offenders? Or how about the fact that our government uses an office of Faith-based programming to finance religious outreach for public campaigns? Oddly enough the people that come to atheists' defense the most often? The anti-defamation league. Isn't that interesting?
To sum up, I find Nisbet and DJ Grothe and Austin Dacey's arguments to be morally repugnant and ignorant garbage. This is same thing that is seen repeatedly every time a minority group is mistreated - a group of people emerge to deny there is even a problem and if there is one, it's the minority's own fault. If this is "framing", and I don't think it is, I'll have to agree with PZ, you can take your framing and shove it. Maybe that's the sign of a bad job framing an argument there Nisbet.
Those cards may well be the greatest invention of all time. I've never seen anything capable of just crushing an argument so efficiently in my entire life.
It's kinda scary, actually.
I'm with A Random Person. I think those cards describe the situation perfectly. Great post.
OK, I am now using those cards whenever I have a point to make. They are crazy good at destroying arguments.
Well, they are a bit misapplied here since they tend to work best for industry denialism. But I couldn't help thinking that the crux of the Nisbet/Grothe argument is "no problem". This is clearly not the case to many atheists that I hold in high esteem, and are not just whiny little babies who don't like religion.
The only thing that is keeping more atheists from being singled out and beaten like Mirecki is that atheist can't be identified unless they choose to identify themselves. And Nisbet/Grothe's argument that Dawkins is the problem reminds me of all those people trying to do gays a favor by saying, "you wouldn't have a problem if you just didn't hold hands in public or kiss". Same with women, blacks, whoever, the argument is always, if you just conform and stick to your own kind, you'll be left alone. This is nonsense.
Can I get a set of those cards ? They would be just brilliant to bring out when down the pub and some idiot makes an
I do hope Nisbit has several spare backsides, he has already had several ripped off and handed to him.
Just one complaint. I am now going to have to look at this blog regularly, as if there were not already enough!
Obviously Nisbit isn't the framer he thought he was.
His attempt to cajole atheists into meekness has backfired. On him. With a bang.
If Nisbet knew the first thing about framing, he would present framing to scientists and they would all say, "Yes, of course." When framing is done well, that's how it works. Nisbet is grossly incompetent at the one thing he claims expertise in. All he does with his books and speeches is to provide cover to those outside the science community so they can continue to ignore scientists. I think he means well, but he's proven himself a rank failure.
I'm not even a scientist*, and I can see what's going on here.
If he cares about science communication at all, he should publicly apoligize and give up his public platform to those better qualified.
* I'm a technical writer, and we (at least the good ones) know a thing or two about understanding your audience. Unlike Nesbit.
Those. Cards. Are. Awesome.
I'd say that this post, unfortunately, is a good example of how a clever gimmick can obscure rather than clarify. The very first card is misleading: No Problem? From the article:
"The proper remedy is to educate the public about secularism and scientific naturalism. We do have to stand up and fight. However, we are fighting not for our civil rights, but for our intellectual integrity and moral dignity. Incredible analogies with the plight of the truly repressed will further neither cause."
This is not "No problem." Rather, the gist is, "Let's not make ourselves look ridiculous by inflating our case, which only makes it harder to address the problems that we do have."
I'd say too that interpreting Nisbet as saying "if you just conform and stick to your own kind, you'll be left alone," is substituting PZ's gloss on Nisbet for what Nisbet is actually saying. Excuse me, but "Neville Chamberlain atheists" is sophomoric and polarizing. Dawkins is likening Ken Miller to Hitler when he uses that analogy. Not the fundies, not the IDers, but yes, theistic evolutionists, the people who both believe in God and fight for good science education. Using "faith-heads" as an epithet for the religious is also sophomoric, and looks kind of silly, too. Calling Dawkins on his BS is not the same as saying that atheists should shut up, no matter how many times PZ repeats his excluded middle canard.
Jake backs up Nisbet, because he apparently hasn't found it hard being an atheist in NYC. Hmmm. Try Alabama sometime.
Exactly. I live in Oklahoma, and I roll my eyes whenever I hear someone from NY or Boston or Seattle say, "No one ever bothers me about being atheist."
I think they just simply aren't aware of the atmosphere in the vast majority of the country. All these people should try moving to a rural town in Oklahoma and try being openly atheist there.
I agree that it would be hyperbole to say being atheist is just like being black or gay. Obviously, the oppression visited on blacks and gays is severe, and atheists aren't currently experiencing such oppression (although it wasn't too long ago that atheism could get you burnt at the stake...) But I think there's one thing the people on the coasts just don't understand about the interior of this country: Around here, you have to be very careful about when and where you openly discuss your atheism. Unless you're looking to get your ass kicked, that is. There are many places in town where I wouldn't dream of openly claiming to be an atheist.
Christians, of course, put up billboards, infiltrate schools, put 10 commandment monuments in courthouses, outlaw things which conflict with their religious dogmas, and go about constantly trying to proselytize and convert everyone they see (my next door neighbor has tried to convert me twice in the one year I've been living in the neighborhood). An atheist could never get away with that kind of behavior in Oklahoma. The double-standard is palpable and obvious. It's not "oppression" by any means, and I'm not claiming to be oppressed, but it's certainly something that shouldn't be going on. And it's certainly wrong for people living in more tolerant areas to tell me that it's my fault the fundamentalist Christians think I'm evil.
"I agree that it would be hyperbole to say being atheist is just like being black or gay."
Which was what the article by Groethe and Dacey was saying all along.
BTW, D.J. Groethe responds to Myers.
WES! Where the hell are you? Do I know you?? Stop by the blog, come to the next OK Atheists meeting!
Wes-- Exactly. I live in Oklahoma, and I roll my eyes whenever I hear someone from NY or Boston or Seattle say, "No one ever bothers me about being atheist."
When I first moved down here, I thought it would be wise to tell people I was Jewish, when asked.
Just in case youre wondering, *Jewish* is also not the 'right' answer. *Jewish* is also a very, very wrong answer.
Thank goodness Im in research, where no one gives a shit. My lab is a little island of sanity.
JJ, please allow me to clarify.
I am not jaded by PZ's words, if anything I think he went a little batshit - those framing people clearly drive him up the wall. If anything I'm responding to Rosenhouse most strongly.
The "no problem" refers to the contention that because atheists are not experiencing civil rights abuses like blacks gays women, etc., that they don't have a civil rights problem - only a PR one. The title of Nesbit's post says NOT A CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUE in big capital letters. I can not disagree more.
That is why he gets the "no problem" card. The separate issue - whether atheists are "persecuted" is different. You don't need "persecution" - which would be extreme hyperbole - to have a civil rights problem. The reason atheists aren't persecuted though, is just because they're not readily identifiable - unlike blacks, gays, women etc. I have no doubt if you went into some bar in the bible belt and announced loudly you were an atheist - you might just get stomped. Many examples are cited above of instances in which the knowledge of a person's atheism led to physical abuse, threats, mistreatment in the courts etc.
Yeah, atheists aren't persecuted - but that's because they know to keep their mouths shut. And Nisbet is basically saying that's the solution. Keep your mouths shut.
I'd also like to point out HP's post as the one that gets it best. The guys who are all about framing can't express something in a way that isn't offensive and demoralizing to a great number of people they should be allied with. What does that say about the quality of this framing?
I live in Stillwater. Grew up in OKC, and have spent some time in Pauls Valley as well. Are the meetings in the city? I'm in OKC during the weekends this summer, so I might be able to make a meeting if that's the case. Starting in late August I'll be teaching a class (Logic) at OSU on Saturdays, so I won't be able to be in the city on weekends after that.
As an atheist, I have always symphathized with the Jewish community. They just want to be left alone, when was the last time anyone was prostelized to by someone Jewish, and they get nothing but grief. I think the reason the anti-defamation league is defending persecuted (yes I said it, persecuted) minorities is a premtive attack on the howling hordes who will come for them next. Because dont kid yourself, the same people that are trying to take away atheist's kids in custody battles are the same people that would commit anti-semetic acts. Its the same mindset and christianity is number one on the hit list contributing to anti-semitism. Anyone remember the phrase "christ-killer", atheists didnt make it up for sure!
MarkH: "Yeah, atheists aren't persecuted - but that's because they know to keep their mouths shut. And Nisbet is basically saying that's the solution. Keep your mouths shut."
Except "keep your mouths shut" is not what Nisbet has been saying. That only works if one accepts the idea that saying that Dawkins is a problem is the same as saying that atheists should stop advocating atheism.
Like so many others who innocently entered the groves of academe, Nisbet suffered severe brain damage when he chose (was pushed?) linguistic analysis as a career. He continually and frantically tries to get the reality bee-bee into the eye of the linguistic bear.
MarkH: "You don't need 'persecution' - which would be extreme hyperbole - to have a civil rights problem."
The problem is that while that may technically be true, when one highlights comparisons to the suffrage movement, for example, one is almost inevitably calling to mind the persecutions and other indignities that the movement faced, and it is difficult to keep such a comparison from becoming hyperbole.
Also, on the issue of atheist bashing, I think that Nisbet, Groethe, and Dacey have been accused of malice when ignorance is closer to the case. What's scary is that I forgot about the Mirecki case. It was in the blogs, and even got as far as being swiftboated by conservative pundits, but it fell off my radar. I suspect that the same is true for Nisbet et al. Probably the main difference between me and them is that I remember an atheist bashing mentioned in the comments of Mixing Memory, and I gave Chris, the author of the blog, heck for downplaying it. The point is that the comparison is to the experiences between blacks and gays looks far more hyperbolic if the bashings are not in evidence, which is part of why Nisbet et al and also Jake--who's lucky to be in New York--are as dismissive as they are. The problems that they see are mere inconvenience, rather than the signs of a more grim underlying tension that sometimes snaps and leads to beatings.
That said, I do agree that this underlying tension is due to an image problem. So long as atheists are thought of as arrogant, immoral nasties with horns under their hats, the tension will remain. Dawkins has given atheism a higher profile, but doesn't do a very good job at undermining the false image of atheists. He's no Julia Sweeney.
How are we expected to take you seriously when you don't put your post titles in ALL CAPS?
Hey, four twos is a pretty good hand. I guess someone might get suspicious that two of them are the same suit...
Odd to think of crushing someone with a house of cards.
When I first moved down here, I thought it would be wise to tell people I was Jewish, when asked.
Culture shock. Note to self: Apparently Americans ask each other what religion they are.
Culture shock. Note to self: Apparently Americans ask each other what religion they are.
In certain parts of America, yes. And then they invite you to their church.
I waited tables a few years back, and pretty often my customers would try to convert me. I even had one lecture me on creationism! People would leave their tips wrapped up in a brochure from their church. Right after ordering their chicken fried steak and sawmill gravy they'd ask me if I had accepted Jesus to be my lord and savior. Customers would ask me if I attended church and, if so, where.
It's a different kind of environment from what you'll find in other parts of the civilized world.
Matt Nisbet apparently holds to a fairly common way of thinking about religion: that it is an irrational choice with no connection to reality. He seems to include atheism as a special case of this. He pretty much says so in one of his comments.
The, erm, unforgiveable sin in this worldview is to proselytise, especially on the basis of a claim to validatability, which I think is what both evangelicals (who moved the stone etc.) and Dawkins and PZ do.
What atheists should do, in this view, is stick up for their right to their space like all other religions, not go around upsetting the basic arrangements by saying that the other guy's religion is empirically wrong. In effect, saying your religion is wrong is 'sophomoric' bcause mature people merely compare ideas.
I think there is sort of a genuine point behind the rudeness, though it's not perhaps what he thinks it is. It's that if we can demonstrate conclusions regarding religious choice from empirical observation, the American separation of church and state will be revealed for the temporary truce it is. After all, if you could show that a given religious position is untenable empirically, wouldn't it be a good idea to disbar people who were incapable of following that logic from pblic office? I can see why the likes of Matt Nisbet might be reluctant to open that can of worms.
. After all, if you could show that a given religious position is untenable empirically, wouldn't it be a good idea to disbar people who were incapable of following that logic from pblic office?
Then couldn't we also ban people from office for having illogical political or economic or legal philosophy?
If that's what Nisbet is worried about, I don't think he has anything to worry about at all. I'm not familiar with any atheists calling for religious people to be banned from office. I certainly wouldn't support such a measure. People with illogical beliefs--whether political or religious or legal or whatever--have the same civil rights as anyone else. I'm not familiar with any proposals to bar holders of beliefs deemed illogical from public office.
And I don't see why criticizing religion as irrational shoul lead to those kinds of fears. Many of the claims religious people make are testable claims, and it seems like a special pleading fallacy to claim that they shouldn't be tested simply because they have the label "religion" slapped on them. Prayer is a testable claim--and it doesn't work. That doesn't mean that I think people who pray should be barred from office, but just like with people who consult astrologers I don't think it's "rude" or "militant" to point out that it's all a bunch of bunk that conflicts with the evidence. Pointing out that prayer is empirically untenable is no different from pointing out that astrology is empirically untenable. Neither necessarily implies barring the person from public office, though.
David: "Matt Nisbet apparently holds to a fairly common way of thinking about religion: that it is an irrational choice with no connection to reality. He seems to include atheism as a special case of this. He pretty much says so in one of his comments."
Errm, that's not even remotely what he said. What he said was that atheists, like every single human being on the planet, are cognitive misers, using heuristics and short cuts to make up their minds. Atheism may be a rationally justifiable position in and of itself, but given human nature, it doesn't follow that atheists in general have arrived at that position as rationally as they think they have. Considering that in coming to atheism for myself, I had to skirt around a lot of bad arguments, I'm inclined to agree.
Believer: "I believe that the Universe is a creation designed for the edification of the population, dictated by I don't know who but you can bet It means business, so watch your step."
Non-believer: "I suspect that the Universe is pleasantly disposed to beings such as we for no better reason than that we find ourselves suffering one another, really."
From my point of view, the argument for Invisible Supernatural Spooks of any sort excuses itself. Ungraciously. Tough shit. Next case . . .
I'm not gonna get involved in the substantive argument here yet (though I may well write about it on my blog at some point), but I just wanted to make a slight correction: the quote was from Ellery Schempp, not Emily Schempp. But it's a delightful quote and supports your argument perfectly.
hear hear! Nisbet/Grothe and Dacey all fail to have researched the legal history of atheist persecution. In fact, until about 1960, atheists were denied the right to vote, hold office, testify in court, and other basic civil rights. Even a cursory look would have demonstarted that but for a supreme court decision, atheists now would continue to be so persecuted by various states. Moreover, the current SCOTUS could well put us back to that pre-Torcaso place.
Of course it was legally allowable to violate the civil rights against atheists until way back in 1961, and that was obviously wrong (thank God it was legally corrected) but the point I get from at least what Grothe/Dacey are saying is that atheists were not in a wholesale way denied their basic civil rights like blacks, women or gays have been. Who in the world can disagree with this? Grothe/Dacey propose different ways of advancing the atheist position in society than by waging an all-out civil rights struggle. This feeding-frenzy at SciBlogs is about things the writers never actually said. Has anyone read their original articles in Free Inquirer? It appears not.
Some of you actually seem to believe that atheists need Marches on Washington, and a massive civil rights movement all their own. But atheists do not suffer massive poverty and lack of opportunity because of violations to their civil rights, like it could be said blacks do. Atheists are not routinely bashed, like gays are, nor are they kept from family visitations at end of life scenarios. Atheists do not make a fraction of what believers make in the workforce, like women do compared to men.
Atheists do not face laws that focus on their discrimination on par with blacks, women or gays and they are actually protected by the exact laws that make discrimination based on religion belief illegal. This is not to say their rights dont need defending, especially with the current makeup of the Court. It is only to say that they dont need a movement focused on securing their civil rights (which is what people like Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, says they need. See the comments over at Pharyngula.) Again, it appears no one has even read the original Grothe/Dacey essays.
Another form of discrimination: organizations such as the American Legion, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Freemasons continue to exclude atheists from membership. These organizations all insist that members believe in a supreme being, although they don't care about which supreme being or what beliefs are held about it. Since these are not government organizations, they have the right to admit whom they choose, although some of these organizations depend on government condonement.
Gah! This blog ain't big enough for two Davids. (Check urls.) I'll try to think of a decent replacement moniker.
JJ, Wes, yeah, I was a bit OTT about separation of church and state - leave it to the electoral process. But I still think Nisbet's using the 'miser' argument as a sort of blanket ad hom: "nobody can think straight so nobody should claim to know anything."
David: "But I still think Nisbet's using the 'miser' argument as a sort of blanket ad hom:"
Then you haven't been following him very well. One of his big points is that everyone is a cognitive miser, and we use heuristics and short cuts to make many decisions because we don't have the time and energy to do otherwise.
I've been an atheist in Tennessee and Texas! Texas, for Whowever's sake! I've always been an open and vocal atheist too (I used to argue with street preachers). And I've had absolutely no problems, unless you consider a narrowing of the dating pool a problem (and seriously, who wants to date fundamentalists anyway?). I lived in the south most of my life, and I've known plenty of atheists there, and I none of them have had any problems. Finding a few, highly isolated examples, just won't cut it. I'm sure you'd have no problem finding a few isolated examples of people discriminating against just about any group.