Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Skilling the Messenger

Okay, I've made my case for the overreaching of the "incompatiblists." Now it's time to turn to the "accommodationists," in particular Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. At their blog, The Intersection, they say this:

Science and religion are not mutually exclusive and must not continue to be portrayed as such. Though some very vocal voices in the science community disagree, I assure you they are not representative of the whole. I continue to work day to day with scientists who hold a very broad array of beliefs across fields from molecular biology to physiology to conservation. And when it comes to issues like climate change and ocean acidification, everyone must be engaged if we're to get anywhere. The new atheist movement takes an adversarial approach, but only succeeds in alienating the majority of the planet away from science. When it comes to enacting sound policies on what really matters, this will always be a losing strategy.

While I agree that science and religion are not necessarily mutually exclusive, it is certainly true that some religions and religious beliefs are in such conflict with science that glossing over that fact is not helpful to reaching any general accommodation between science and the religious. In fact, scientists not only have the right but, I think, the duty to portray, for example, young-Earth creationism, as deeply unscientific and harmful to the country's well-being, insofar at that depends on the public understanding of science.

Just as I think that it is unrealistic for some "atheist-scientists" to think that religion will go away soon, Mooney and Kirshenbaum are being unrealistic to think the atheists and their harsh criticism of religion is going anywhere either. A significant group are going to continue to portray science and religion as mutually exclusive and Mooney and Kirshenbaum need to deal with it. Their continual whining (and that is, I'm afraid, what it is) over that fact is exactly what they claim the atheists are engaged in: a losing strategy. It is an adversarial relationship that only succeeds in alienating people who, by all objective measures, are already the kind of effective communicators that Mooney and Kirshenbaum wish more scientists were. That, in turn, actually draws more attention to the atheists' position and makes the controversy loom larger in the public consciousness.

If, in fact, as Mooney and Kirshenbaum imply, there is a wellspring of accommodationists in the scientific community, their time would be much better spent encouraging those scientists to speak out and giving them the kind of communication skills Mooney and Kirshenbaum are so fond of talking about, rather than in hectoring atheists.


Great blog, discovered it from the Underverse.

Just an observation: In posting about Coyne and PZ, I think an error Mooney and Kirshenbaum are making is trying to answer or somehow address what the vast number of commenters at their blog have challenged them with.
In a way, a lot of them are kind of like the "astroturf" that inundates congressional offices. It's usually not from constituents, probably reflects the opinion of only a small segment of the population and is likely a waste of time to respond to it, since the people sending are wedded to their views.
It took a while, but many people in public office have learned to ignore this type of thing. I think Mooney and Kirshenbaum should label it for what it is, astroturf comments from diehard blog followers, and ignore it.
I think an error Mooney and Kirshenbaum are making is trying to answer or somehow address what the vast number of commenters at their blog have challenged them with.

But, then, Coyne (at least) has referenced some of those comments and, in effect, adopted them. Moreover, I get the sense that at least some of the incompatibilists (and maybe some of the accommodationists) take such astroturf as evidence that these positions are more widely held or may be more important socially than may actually be the case and, therefore, there is a kind of feedback loop involved.

But it is an interesting point.
I haven't been able to put my finger on what is so disappointing about Mooney (I haven't read enough of Kirshenbaum to have an opinion.) It's not just that he is a mediocre and uninspiring stylist (though that doesn't help.) I think you're dead on that his whining (everybody seems to write "whinging" now but I'm not ready to make the switch) makes accomodationism seem like a whiny posittion, which it isn't.

One more argument to engage, I guess.
Potentially, we all have worldviews, philosophies, paradigms or religions that interfere with comprehending the world around us. Let me mention one philosophy that has corrupted science as a stealth virus. While posing as the host organism, this virus deceives and corrupts its host.

"Naturalism" isn’t science, although it poses as such. Rather, it’s a religion. It cannot be observed, measured or experienced. While we all agree that phenomena behave according to laws or formulae, these laws cannot be directly observed or measured although their effects can be. We cannot directly determine if a law is a natural, unintelligent, free-standing law or force or whether it finds its origin in the mind of God. Nevertheless, naturalism has become the ruling dogma of the sciences, forbidding any talk outside of its domain, sanctioning any who question its authority.
... everybody seems to write "whinging" now but I'm not ready to make the switch ...

That was the term of choice in the talk.origins news group and, if I had not been away so long from there, I might have used it. It has the advantage of being more certain in its spelling -- I'm never quite sure if I'm using the right word with "whining."
Good to see this said clearly from the side of discussion I tend to inhabit.
I know this has been said before, but whatever ones position is on this whole silly debate, its strange to see first Nisbet, and now Mooney and Kirshenbaum, the champions of framing, suck so much at framing.

There are only a few possibiities.

They are just bad at framing.

They are good at framing, and there knack of pissing of a larger part of the good science communicators is a conscious strategy. They must be thinking they are furthering their goals by starting and maintaining blog wars, and by spreading disinformation in national media.

They do not think they themselves need to concern themselves with framing. Mooney believes that everything a scientist does must be related to passionless spread of science in such a way that no one what so ever could possibly be the slightest bit offended (as evidenced when he says that the problem with crackergate was that it wasn't advancing science).

But sccience jornalists such as himself need not play by the same rules, they can provoce and misrepresent anyone they damn well please, and as long as they are just New Atheists, they must not object to his hissy fits.
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