Thursday, April 19, 2007

Orzel Is Confused

 
On his blog Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel posted on "framing" [The Final Word on Framing. He said,
That's a thought, but I think the answer is much simpler: PZ and Larry Moran are not primarily interested in promoting science.

"That's crazy," you say. But here it is from the horse's mouth, Larry Moran in Chris Mooney's comments:
I think religion is the problem and I'll continue to make the case against religion and superstition. One of the many ways where you and Nisbet go wrong is to assume that people like PZ, Dawkins, and me are primarily fighting for evolution. That's why you argue that in the fight to save evolution it's "wrong" (e.g., not part of your frame) to attack religion.

When are you going to realize that our primary goal in many cases is to combat the worst faults of religion? Asking us to stop criticizing religion is like asking us to give up fighting for something we really care about. That's not "framing," it's surrender.
That's the beginning and end of the problem. The entire problem with "framing" is that Nisbet and Mooney are looking for the best way to promote science, while PZ and Larry are looking for the best way to smash religion. The goals are not the same, and the appropriate methods are not the same-- in particular, Nisbet and Mooney argue that the best way to promote science would be to show a little tact when dealing with religious people, and that runs directly counter to the real goals of PZ and Larry.
It's not a simple as that Chad. I try to do both things. I try to write about science with the hope that I'm telling people something they don't know. If you would take the time to look at my blog I think you might see the occasional posting on science-related topics. Religion isn't mentioned.

On the other hand, there are times when I post about the conflict between rationality and superstition. I think there's a problem there and religion is a big part of it. Quite frankly, I don't find the arguments of the Theistic Evolutionists the least bit effective. Why should I ignore them when they spout their silliness?

Telling me that I should not criticize religion because it's not helping science education is just nonsense. It's like telling me to abandon something I feel very strongly about just because you don't like it. If that's what framing is all about then I'm not interested.

The problem with the framers is that they get terribly confused about issues. For some reason they think I'm a one dimensional person who's only interest is science education. They think that when I criticize superstitious nonsense I must always be wearing my science education hat. That's why they tell me and Dawkins and PZ not to criticize religion if we're trying to educate people about science.

Well, I got news for them. We are involved in several issues. One of them is teaching science. One of them is fighting superstition. There are others. Don't tell me not to fight superstition because I should only be concerned about science education. I'm concerned about both. In an ideal world people would understand science and reject superstition. I'd like to work toward that goal.

19 comments :

  1. I couldn't have said it better myself. The so-called 'framers' are nothing more than cowardly appeasers.

    Somebody should tell Mooney and Nisbet that their spin is not working (for those on the side of rationality, that is).

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  2. What I find ironic about Chad's post is that his implication that the goals of you and PZ are the unscientific ones while his the on the side of science only. As anyone who has actually payed attention to this whole "debate" knows, that's a load of bullshit.

    What Mooney and Nisbet are talking about is winning political victories, not "promoting science". They are, in fact, only talking about a teeny-tiny subset of scientific issues (evolution, climate change, and ESCR). Hell, Mooney and Nisbet started off with the observation that most people don't care enough to understand scientific issues, and that's why they have to be "framed" in a way that would make them more likely to vote for politicians friendly to those specific causes.

    So my message to the appeasers: get off your fucking high horses. We're not talking about science versus anti-religious crusading. We're talking about one set of political goals versus another set of nominally political goals.

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  3. Does Orzel read your blog? There is an enormous amount of science content here (and on Pharyngula). How on earth can he think you are not interested in promoting science? One might argue that your approach won't draw large audience. But this is a separate issue. His assertion that you are not interested is promoting science strikes me as simply ridiculous.

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  4. I suppose one could characterize the "other side" of this debate in a slightly more nuanced fashion: Because one need not necessarily attack superstition in order to explain particular scientific principles on particular occasions, it may on those occasions enhance the audience's receptivity if one chooses not to attack the superstitions that audience members hold dear.

    That is supposedly what this particular kerfuffle has been about: Whether Dawkins, you, PZ, etc., should be attacking religion as frequently as you choose to (whatever frequency that is - I certainly haven't wasted time counting), given that it may piss off some folks who might otherwise be receptive to scientific explanations regarding aspects of evolution.

    I'm not at all sure evolution or other topics frequently mentioned in related discussions, such as global warming, represent triumphs for the supposed masters of framing. School boards that have tried to promote ID haven't been treated well by the voters, and anthropogenic global warming denialists are generally perceived as crackpots outside the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and the borders of states that get a large share of their revenues from fossil fuel exploitation. Thus, I'm not sure how much damage is actually being done to the cause of science education by the criticisms of religion in which some science educators have occasionally engaged.

    If I had a blog, would I choose to criticize religious beliefs as often as, e.g., you or PZ? Probably not, for a variety of reasons (for one, I don't think we know nearly enough about the cosmos or its origins at this point to rule out the existence of god-like beings with a degree of confidence deserving of the term "scientific," though I also am unaware of any data even remotely tending to prove the existence of such beings). But you've taken the time and effort to create a (very informative and interesting) blog, so you get to choose what gets promoted, what gets criticized, and when.

    And that, it seems to me, is what the framing argument has *really* been about - not what is most effective at achieving goals regarding science education and religious belief, but rather a bunch of folks saying "I'd personally prefer not to see as much criticism of religion," and another bunch saying "It's my blog/book/lecture, bugger off."

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  5. I'd simply have to say that Orzel has no idea what he is talking about, not unlike the two people who started this whole "debate".

    Mooney and Nisbet seem to think they are the "science communication experts" and that everyone else should just accept on faith what they say as gospel truth.

    Their argument has more than a little in common with most religious arguments. arguments based on faith rather than evidence, squelching of dissent, etc.

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  6. Mooney and Nisbet seem to think they are the "science communication experts" and that everyone else should just accept on faith what they say as gospel truth.

    Their argument has more than a little in common with most religious arguments. arguments based on faith rather than evidence, squelching of dissent, etc.
    ******************************************

    They do know what they are talking about in terms of the effectiveness of framing. We all respond to certain phrases, tones, etc. based on our cultural experience. The question is what frames to tap into and how people frame. Knowing your audience I would say everyone agrees with. Promoting science is not Nisbet and Mooney's goal. They see problems in society (stem cells and global warming) that need to be dealt with relatively quickly (global warming in particular). As such, they want to take advantage of what we know of framing to use intellectual shortcuts to persuade people to join their side by making "up their minds in the absence of knowledge, and importantly, to articulate an opinion". Nisbet freely admits "this is not the scientific or democratic ideal, but it's how things work in society."

    My question back is what are the consequences for engaging in such framing? In particular what are the consequences for scientists that do that. Should more scientists be framing in such a manner or should they become better at framing scientific facts such that they resonate with people? Engaging the frames Nisbet and Mooney discuss are much easier than the frames necessary to communicate information especially given how long people have to work, commute here in the US.

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  7. PonderingFool asks,

    My question back is what are the consequences for engaging in such framing?

    It makes you feel dirty.

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  8. "They do know what they are talking about in terms of the effectiveness of framing"

    For framing in general perhaps, but for specifics of science, I doubt it.

    Communicating science is not the same as selling a car, as M & N seem to assume.

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  9. Larry, when you say "fighting superstition" it's like you were fighting a bunch of astrologers and tarotists.
    Fighting religion, on the contrary, requires you to use some social and mental muscle. Religion may certainly have "superstition", but you can easily guess that is not the main source of its vitality. Religion is not "only" supersition, it is a human cultural reality resulting from its capacity for organizing and coordinating people within society. Basic rules and premises are just agreed upon , without discussion, accepted as established. And many of the most cherished religious rules have clear social purposes.

    This is not about "superstition"; Religion is all about people. Religion is made by people.

    If you don't take religion seriously, all you want is to "kill" it, or to rant uselessly against it. But to get peope, to change their minds, and have an actual conversation that will indeed make them think, some basic human conditions of mutual respect and acceptance must be first established. If not, just mutual "fuck off's" and end of the conversation.

    You have to decide if you are gonna really try to seducing them into accepting evolution (or atheism, for that)... or are you going to insist on somewhow by humiliation or by law "force them" into "declared converts" . It is obvious that the "social humiliation" strategy, so cherished by you and by PZ, can only produce very false "advocates"

    We don't want people to believe in evolution without thinking dice about it, just because it is a cultural commonplace. That's brainless. We want people to KNOW , not to simply accept something from the mouth outwards they can't really tell is true or not.

    The only true way is seduction

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  10. You do it your way and I'll do it mine. That way we cover all the bases.

    Good luck with the seduction. How's it working so far?

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  11. It works super, though I don't say that I'd be able to convert a Michael Behe, haha. To me my mom counts bigtime, she is a Jehovah Witness but she now admits to me that she thinks evolution is real...
    It DOES save loads of time and dead-end arguments on "scientific discussions" about the existence of god, if you are more endeared to evolution and biology, than to defending your atheism.
    It is a step towards de-deifying the scientific topic of evolution...

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  12. ooops nucledecenio is me, alipio. I make that mistake sometimes...

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  13. nucleodecenio is actually more people than just me

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  14. Alipio says,

    It works super, though I don't say that I'd be able to convert a Michael Behe, haha. To me my mom counts bigtime, she is a Jehovah Witness but she now admits to me that she thinks evolution is real...

    It DOES save loads of time and dead-end arguments on "scientific discussions" about the existence of god, if you are more endeared to evolution and biology, than to defending your atheism.


    I understand where you're coming from. There are many people in your situation. When you have close friends and relatives who believe strongly in God then it's often wise not to go around proclaiming your atheism. There are many gays and lesbians who find themselves in the same position with respect to their parents. You just avoid talking about it because you don't want to stop caring about each other.

    Fortunately, as you point out, you can still argue the truth of evolution without bringing up God. I do this lots of times as well. Whenever I give a public lecture on evolution I never connect it to my views on religion except to point out where science and the Bible conflict.

    That's not "spin" and it's not "framing" either. It's called sticking to the subject at hand. If I'm invited to talk about science then that's what I talk about. (So far, nobody has invited me to talk about atheism or Theistic Evolution.)

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  15. I'd just add that for a long time I was a rabid and conspicuos atheist and of course I'd heatedly argue with my mom that god did not exist. THAT was the topic; we did not make much progress on the evolution front.
    I am against framing if framing is about putting some religious flavor into evolution so religious folks will like it. That is the same silly mistake of always, mixing science and religion, and quite clearly it attracts people into accepting evolution for the wrong reasons, not because of science. Evolution does not confirm god, it simply does not imply he does not exist.

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  16. You can make good advance in a matter of minutes with most people of faith. Commonplace religious folks, not church hierarchy or employees of the discovery institute, are much more honest to themselves about the fact that they "believe", they have faith because god existence is not plainly obvious as any of your commonplace objects.
    You can make them see quite easily they believe out of faith, and not because it is the result of some scientific equation (that if otherwise would have required non-belief).

    With this you have discredited the creationist strain that lurks among them.

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  17. Evolution does not confirm god, it simply does not imply he does not exist.

    Evolution does imply (but not prove) that God does not exist, by accounting for the various features of living beings traditionally taken to be God's work.

    Similarly, finding out that it is actually Dad behind the mask of Santa Claus strongly implies to many children that Santa Claus does not exist. Are those children wrong? It's prudent to look at all the evidence (even if Dad delivers the presents, it is possible that Santa makes them?) but such revelations do seem to suggest at least a working hypothesis.

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  18. Kids also eventually don't believe in monsters in the closet, ghosts, etc. but as we know many continue to believe in god as adults.
    I insist: organized religion is not truly comparable to believing in santa claus, or superstition. It is a socio-cultural, vitally active thing that usually has a human and social rationality to it.
    I honestly feel I am not hostile to religion and theism in general. This conversion in my attitude was effected by...reading comics; "the white lama" by alejandro jodorowsky. I was such a rationalist back then, but the story was great and in order to "move on" you had to break out of rational frame. In the end I ended with great sympathy for oriental msyticism. What can I say? I'm a naturalistic atheist that thinks you die and that's it. But that religious shit was fun haha
    Some religons are of great cultural-historical interest. So no, I do not gag at tibetan monks nor look under my nose at the procession of an andean diablada.

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  19. Kids also eventually don't believe in monsters in the closet, ghosts, etc. but as we know many continue to believe in god as adults.

    And ghosts, and whatever.

    Some religons are of great cultural-historical interest.

    So is Santa Claus. But I'm not saying that the God myth is very similar to the Santa Claus myth, just that evidence can imply that neither does exist.

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