Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Difference between Truth and Framing

 
Chris Mooney is at it again. This time he address the question What Should Science Organizations Say About Religion? Answer: A Lot.

It's the accommodationist debate all over again although this time it's more focused. What should scientific organizations say about the compatibility of science and religion? It seems like an question with an obvious answer. Since there is considerable debate about whether science and religion are compatible then there can't be a definitive answer. Why would any scientific organization claim that science and religion are compatible? It's not a scientific question and it's not a true statement. The correct statement is that philosophers are debating the issue. It may be true that science and religion are compatible or it may be true that science and religion are not compatible. That's all that scientific organizations should say.

Chris Mooney thinks that scientific organizations should not tell the truth. He says that in the interest of American politics these organizations should lie about the compatibility issue. They should say that science and religion are compatible. It's called "framing."

I call it lying.
Aware of this context, groups like the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) take a stance likely to help some religious believers reject what they’ve been told from the pulpit, and move toward a more moderate stance on science and religion–in essence, from anti-science fundamentalism to middle-ground reconciliationism. To this end, NCSE states something factually true and indeed, undeniable: that not every religious person thinks science and religion are incompatible.

The veracity of this statement is not really open to debate. The issue here is simply whether such people exist, and of that there’s no doubt whatsoever. In this blunt factual sense, at least, science and religion are compatible–they are reconciled all the time by actual living, breathing human beings. You might take issue with the logical basis for such reconciliation in a particular mind, but you can’t deny that it happens regularly.
Wow! According to this kind of "framing," science is compatible with Young Earth Creationism because it's undeniable that there are YEC's who are scientists. There are actual living breathing human beings who have no problem reconciling science and Genesis. I wonder if Chris Mooney would be comfortable if NCSE and NAS declared that science is compatible with the Bible?

Of course he wouldn't. Chris Mooney only wants scientific organizations to lie according to his version of reality.


20 comments :

  1. I think it also important emphasize that engineering is not incompatible with religion, nor is tying one's shoes, brushing one's teeth, drinking water, watching football, boating, and a whole bunch of other things that religious people doing. Hell, even setting the time on a digital clock.

    That being said, I don't think that we need to have a disclaimer in the instructions for any of these activities that says "Your pastor will not likely find this objectionable."

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  2. It's not a scientific question and it's not a true statement. The correct statement is that philosophers are debating the issue. It may be true that science and religion are compatible or it may be true that science and religion are not compatible. That's all that scientific organizations should say.

    I think I can run with that!

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  3. The only 'real' thing I've found about religion so far is that a dose of the 'big ones' equals an incision-free lobotomy.

    Militant atheism is the way to go!
    If they hassle us, we'll fire back on both barrels.
    If they pray quietly in a closet, - fine, we won't notice.

    Darrel W. Ray has a fine take on the superstition in his The God Virus, and Stenger is not so meek and mild anymore either!
    About time we take our planet back.

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  4. Since there is considerable debate about whether science and religion are compatible then there can't be a definitive answer. Why would any scientific organization claim that science and religion are compatible? It's not a scientific question and it's not a true statement. The correct statement is that philosophers are debating the issue.

    I don't agree completely with that. While some of the claims of religion may be compatible with scientific facts, the methodology of science isn't. So if you define science as a way of understanding the world rather than as a collection of accumulated knowledge about it, it becomes completely incompatible with any religion.

    I see no reason why this should not be clearly stated by scientific organizations

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  5. In this blunt factual sense, at least, science and religion are compatible–they are reconciled all the time by actual living, breathing human beings.

    In the same blunt factual sense, science is compatible with alcoholism, adultery, and aggravated assault - just to start at one end of the alphabet.

    So, bluntly factually, is religion.

    See - the areas of overlap increase steadily, the more we look at it. Soon there won't be any difference between science and religion at all!

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  6. The scientific method of knowing things:
    1. observe
    2. formulate a hypothesis
    3. test the hypothesis against previous observations
    4. formulate further tests
    5. reject or refine a hypothesis based on the best available evidence (which is *not* the same as picking out only data to support your beliefs)

    The religious method of 'knowing' things:
    1. make something up
    2. claim the bible supports it
    3. claim god talks to you
    4. threaten anyone who doesn't believe you; kill them when possible to set an example for others
    5. if the non-believers can fight back, stick to whining about being persecuted

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  7. Georgi Marinov: you are an inspiration to me. Science is not a body of knowledge. It is a means for discovering knowledge. Science is the journey, knowledge is the destination. We should be not be shy insaying so.

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  8. Re Voss:

    And religion is no journey, you are at the destination and wonder how the hell you got there.
    And then you make up some silly shit!

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  9. It's not true science is compatible with religion.

    Science is what science is.
    Religion may stick to it's own and be incompatible with science or religion may refine itself to be compatible with science.
    So if religion was changed to accomodate scientific knowledge, then it's compatible with science. If not, then probably not....

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  10. Compatibilism is neither true nor false, it's simply a profoundly antidemocratic anachronism.

    Historically, it's been simply a more or less unconscious strategy of the elites to avoid a fatal public confrontation with popular religion. The only one available for the independent minded few that could afford a humanist education and the leisurely pursuit of learning and the sciences.

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  11. Sorry, Larry, but Jesus and Mo have spoken.

    They agree with Chris and Chad.

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/2010/01/22/deny/

    -- Paul W.

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  12. "So if religion was changed to accomodate scientific knowledge, then it's compatible with science. If not, then probably not...."
    This is what I find most dishonest about using the "religion is compatible with science" line when talking to people who don't accept evolution for religious reasons. It completely dodges the real issue: we think their religion is incompatible. And not only that, we also think religion should yield to science, not the other way around.

    So accommodationists may say they think religion and science are compatible, but what they really think is that religion is inferior to science. The "New Atheists" think that too, of course, but they're not as reluctant to admit it.

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  13. If the purpose of a scientific organization is to facilitate or advocate science, then when the subject of religion comes up, they should at the very least respond by explaining how religion is not science and how to distinguish between the two. And such explanations are quite a mouthful. Saying "philosophers are debating it" is not just a cop-out; it's a direct abdication of the purposes and goals of the scientific organization.

    Further, the term "religion" is so ridiculously vague that I cringe whenever I hear a self professed scientist claim it is or is not "compatible with science". The term "science" is even too vague for such indefensible assertions. None of the parties on either side of the debate are making any sense whatsoever. It's pure nonsense. Further, those scientists that claim "religion and science are incompatible" are risking hypocrisy because they tend to adopt the stance that their language and methods are less vague than those of theologians. Yet, here they are, using vague words like "religion" in their assertions.

    Particular religious beliefs (e.g. a virgin giving birth) can be concretely discussed in a scientific context. But religion as a whole, generic, concept? No way.

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  14. While it is clear to me that religion has nothing meaningful to say about science, it is not clear at all that science doesn't have something to say about religion.

    Is there some reason that truth claims made by, for and about religion are exempt from hypothesis formulation and testing?

    That, at least to me, seems like the only fruitful compatibility between science and religion.

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  15. The framing of "some scientists are religious, so science is compatible with religion" is a straw structure that just about any wolf could blow down. Here is a framing that is stronger than straw, perhaps made of sticks and more resistant to wolves. Science has a growing body of information (picture all the textbooks, peer-reviewed journals, etc.) and religion has an essentially stagnant body of information (picture the Bible, Quran, Torah, etc.). For the most part the domain of each set of information does not overlap with the other, but where they do overlap, they are not compatible (e.g. Genesis, virgin births, reincarnation, bodies rising to the sky, etc.). But here is the brick framing that I find to be most impervious. Science is more than anything a method of learning and understanding involving evidence, experimental tests, logic, rationality, etc. Religion is also a method of learning and understanding involving tradition, personal revelation, authority, etc. Most emphatically these are not compatible. The reasons for believing something religious (e.g. the Pope or the Bible said so) are exactly the reasons not to believe them on scientific grounds. That is, they must be tested. And when some of these religious hypotheses are subjected to scientific tests, they are rejected (e.g. the power of intercessory prayer in affecting patients recovery after coronary artery bypass graft surgery, or Haitian earthquakes and theodicy, etc.). I prefer Sean Carroll’s suggestion, and that is, science organizations should stick to science and should not muddy the scientific waters of evidence by making any overture to religious concepts. After all, religious ideas get more than their fair share of air time. The power, beauty, and poetry inherent in Science and scientific truth should be their focus.

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  16. "According to this kind of "framing," science is compatible with Young Earth Creationism"

    You hit the nail on the head (and made me laugh out loud).

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  17. Religionists activities so poison society it is difficult not to want to attack wherever possible ,but if the narrow question is what should be the response of 'official scientific organizations ' the prudent tack would be for them to offer ' no comment ' .
    Anything else will be contorted - the religious are practised sophists - to be useable by the opposition .

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  18. I know some scientists who read horoscopes... therefore, astrology and science are compatible.

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  19. Certianly a scientific laboratory that (say) does blood testing should have nothing to say about religion. But an orgaisation specifically about scientific education is not one that is *practising* science, but one that is talking about science and society. It's fair to say that it's not a "scientific"organsation as such. Its a political advocacy group.

    And a group like that, whose goal is to promote science, simply must take a stand on psudeoscience and unreason, and I'm afraid that the religion question falls well within its remit.

    This is not to say that the NCSE is *right* to embrace accommodationism, but to say that it does have to take some stance, and if it doesn't then it's simply not doing the job of promoting science education.

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  20. Am I the only person int he world believing that religion is an intra-psychic matter? I do not believe in a supernatural being, roaming spirits; just the spirit in my own 'soul'.

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