Last summer I blogged about a survey of 149 professional, prominent, evolutionary biologists [Evolutionary Biologists Flunk Religion Poll].
The great majority of the evolutionists polled (78 percent) chose A, billing themselves as pure naturalists. Only two out of 149 described themselves as full theists (F), two as more theist than naturalist (D) and three as theistic naturalists (B). Taken together, the advocacy of any degree of theism is the lowest percentage measured in any poll of biologists' beliefs so far (4.7 percent).The study was done by Gregory W. Graffin and William B. Provine and you can read the full report in American Scientist [ Evolution, Religion and Free Will]. The study quotes the findings of Larson in 1998 where only 5.5% of biologists in the National Academy of Sciences believe in God.
An earlier study of average scientist by Larson showed that 40% believe in a god and 45% do not [NEW SURVEY: SCIENTISTS "MORE LIKELY THAN EVER" TO REJECT GOD BELIEF]. Couple these results to the fact that somewhere between 30% and 50% of the general population of Western European countries are atheists and agnostics [Atheists and Agnostics] and I think it would be fair to say that the majority of evolutionary biologists do not believe in god. The data supports the statement that, among evolutionary biologists, the consensus is lack of belief in god. This probably applies to all professional scientists.
Now, let's look at how Matt Nisbet spins the story [Francis Collins: The Angry Atheists Do Not Speak for Us]. He opens by quoting an interview with Francis Collins, a deluded scientist, who, quite predictably, says ...
I also think that those of us who are interested in seeking harmony here have to make it clear that the current crowd of seemingly angry atheists, who are using science as part of their argument that faith is irrelevant, do not speak for us. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens do not necessarily represent the consensus of science; 40 percent of scientists are believers in a personal God. A lot more are rather uncomfortable about the topic but certainly would not align themselves with a strong atheistic perspective.Collins is talking about the "angry atheists" when he claims that they don't represent the consensus. Then he spins the argument to make it look like most scientists are believers, or at least have some doubts. Of course, when Collins says they "do not speak for us" he doesn't mean members of the National Academy of Scientists or prominent evolutionary biologists. No, he's referring to the broader survey that included many other categories of scientist. Among that group, there are still more non-believers (45%) than believers (40%).
Matt Nisbet then says ...
As Collins accurately notes, the argument by Dawkins, PZ Myers, and other atheist hardliners that science undermines the validity of religion, even respect for religion, is at odds with the consensus view in the scientific community.I don't think Nisbet is representing the consensus view in the scientific community—at least not in the scientific community of professional evolutionary biologists. In that community the overwhelming majority are non-believers in god(s). This is how framing works, is it different from lying?
For example, as the recent National Academies report on evolution concludes: "The evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith. Science and religion are different ways of understanding the world. Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces the potential of each to contribute to a better future."
Furthermore, Nisbet is picking up on a paragraph in Science, Evolution and Creationism, a recent publication of the National Academy of Sciences. That paragraph is, itself, a "frame" and a misrepresentation of the consensus view among scientists as many of us have pointed out [How the National Academy of Sciences Framed their Book on Evolution]. The polls clearly show that the vast majority of members of the National Academy of Sciences are atheists. Thus, Nisbet is putting his own
I don't want any part of it. It's way too close to "lying." Matt Nisbet goes on to beat up on his regular victims by saying ...
Dawkins and Myers are entitled to their opinion and as a fellow atheist I strongly support their right to voice criticism of religion. Yet at some point they need to consider the unintended consequences of their preferred brand of atheist punditry, and to recognize the pragmatism of the consensus message from the National Academies and other leading science organizations.Matt, you are completely wrong about this. The "consensus message" of the National Academies and other leading science organizations is flat-out wrong. Most scientists do not believe in God and among prominent evolutionary biologists Francis Collins is part of a 5.5% minority. You may have convinced the authors of Science, Evolution and Creationism to mislead the public about the beliefs of scientists but you'll never convince the scientists themselves to go along with it.
In their campaign, Dawkins and Myers may honestly believe that they are speaking truth to religion and that by adding their voice to the argument culture, they can raise awareness among the non-religious while potentially shifting society towards greater secularization. However, in coming decades, if the goal is to defend the teaching of evolution in schools and to maintain public trust in science and scientists, their message likely serves as a liability towards that end.
If the goal is to maintain "public trust in science and scientists" then speaking the truth is always better than framing.