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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Jake Young Wants Atheist Scientists to Keep a Low Profile

We've heard it all before. Those "New Atheists" like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris are doing far more harm than good. They're turning off the general American public and making it more difficult to get them interested in science. Why is that? It's because the New Atheism links science to a lack of belief in God and the public won't buy into science if they think it requires atheism.

Here's how Jake Young summarizes his position [Why Pairing Science and Atheism is High-Brow].
Listen, I am an atheist. I do not believe that religion and science are internally consistent. However, if there is one thing that I have learned about politics, it is that political discussions are not predicated on internal consistency. (Example: Prior to WW2, the American public was in favor of lend-lease, yet was not in favor of entering the war. These two propositions are mutually exclusive.) Whether or not, religion and science are internally consistent is largely beyond the point. The point is what we can reasonably expect the public to accept. The public is not going to accept both atheism and science over the short-term.
Jake isn't very clear about how he intends to proceed. I can only surmise that he will disguise his true feelings (that religion and science are internally consistent) in order to appease theists who want to learn about science.

This concept—hiding what you believe to be true for some "higher" purpose—is called framing by Jake's fellow accommodationists. Indeed, as you might expect, Jake quotes approvingly from the master framers, Nisbet and Mooney, who also want the New Atheists to go away quietly. And as quickly as possible.

I wonder how Jake Young feels about the books by Francis Collins, Ken Miller, and Simon Conway Morris that strongly advocate the compatibility of organized religions and science? Does he think that atheist scientists should refrain from making any comment about them even if they totally misrepresent science?

The next paragraph is.
Further, embracing a big-tent approach will not prevent scientific or even atheistic values from taking over. While the majority of the American public is religious, the number of atheists is growing. New atheists will be created in the same way that new atheists have always been created: by a kid waking up in class one day and saying, "You know that invisible man business doesn't make sense."
Jason Rosenhouse over at Evolutionblog demolishes the idea that keeping a low profile is the best strategy for making atheism acceptable [Young on Dewey on Being High-Brow]. It didn't work for gays. It didn't work for women either [Suffragettes].


Torbjörn Larsson said...

Young makes a terrible argument as one can see by his commenters and Rosenhouse's post. Taking out the big guns just to pummel strawmen doesn't quite make a successful campaign.

The main argument, that new atheism conflates to science so risk being high-brow fails. And indeed, it is easy to check commenters on popular atheist blogs to see that many couldn't care less about high falutin' details.

Creationists often complain about those, but it is another discussion whether that miscomprehension makes atheism difficult to accept. The message is that atheism doesn't depend on science, and that the new atheism is consistent with increased popularity.

But at least I learned about John Dewey.

Finally, Mark Powell raises an interesting question. Shouldn't atheism push for a more positive message and exuberant pride? It worked for suffragettes and it worked for gays. [Which of course leaves Young's analysis under so much more dust.]

Anonymous said...

Young also wants you to "stop excommunicating people from the scientific enterprise". And while you're at it, stop beating your wife.

Paul Sunstone said...

While I agree with you that the "New Atheists" should not keep a low profile, I think you might have misrepresented what framing is about.

At least as I've understood it, framing is not necessarily a matter of hiding what you believe to be true.

Perhaps that can be more clearly seen if we use a more or less neutral example of "good" framing. The current US Administration seems to be trying to frame the debate over whether to go to war with Iran as a question of whether to blockade Iran or to bomb Iran. In other words, it's attempting re-framed the issue from whether to go to war, to whether to blockade or bomb. In no case is it hiding its real intentions: war with Iran.

In much the same way, framing a debate in science or a debate about atheism does not necessarily imply hiding your what you believe to be true.

PonderingFool said...

The problem isn't really framing per se it is the type of framing Nisbet is putting forth:
"That's the power and influence of framing when it resonates with an individual's social identity. It plays on human nature by allowing a citizen to make up their minds in the absence of knowledge, and importantly, to articulate an opinion. It's definitely not the scientific or democratic ideal, but it's how things work in society."

Nisbet and Mooney believe that the ends justify the means. Things have gotten so bad that framing in the manner described above is the only way "we" can combat those who deny reality (especially with regards to global warming). If that means playing to the religious so be it.

The "New Atheists" attacks by Nisbet, et al comes into that. It is telling the religious groups "hey we are not them, work with us and we will keep them at bay." Of course in doing so they feed the notion that there is something wrong with being an atheist which is my problem Nisbet's style of framing. In the US it ends up solidifying the elevation of Christian White Males with money above all others.

Anonymous said...

You can't talk about ideas with your mouth shut. The "new atheists" have done more in the last year to advance rational thinking than Nisbet, et. al., will do in a lifetime.

A. Vargas said...

"It plays on human nature by allowing a citizen to make up their minds in the absence of knowledge, and importantly, to articulate an opinion"

UGH. I have never been interested in the framing debate, but Nisbet really screws up bad with this.

The only people that would be willing to do that are phonies. Misbet seems e have to pormote fakeness and clichés, "common grounds" repeated like parrots without any idea of what we are talking about.

Honestly, I'd prefer people capable of acknowledge unto themselves when they REALLY know something or are just mindlessly following fads.

A. Vargas said...

In fact, what nisbet proposes is the excat way to get people bored with science and give it the final kick in the ass. Like any washed out cliché that was never really true.

The yhing that I can agree with him, though, is that neither evolution nor atheism implies antireligiosity; and specially so, neither science nor evolution should be tried to be HYPED through mere antireligiosity. This is also some kind of stuid framewing; simply parasiting on those tired by the predominance of religion. As is obvious, the (still limited ) success of this strategy is a mere byproduct of religious growth in the first place.

I know a lot of fools who think the coolest thing about evolution is that "it leads to atheism" but don't know a rat's ass about evolution; nor do they really care about it.

Paul Sunstone said...

Thanks for the clarification, Ponderingfool! I confess I'm not at all well informed with what Mooney and Nisbet have been up to. Yet, from your quote of Nisbet, it seems there's something distasteful -- perhaps even dishonest -- in his approach.

Greg Laden said...

The Premise of Jake's Argument is flawed. This is my response: