It's time for a glimpse into the crazy world of science/skeptical/atheist blogospheric politics!
Almost a year ago, a bunch of science and atheism blogs erupted in the so-called "framing" controversy. (For the interested, I offer two links as reference: Sunclipse, Matt Nisbet.) What is "framing"? Well, it has something to do with how we approach the media, and communicate with people. Beyond that, no one can say what it really means, because it seems to mean something different to every person. The whole debate has as many facets as it has commentators, if not more.
Stated simply, one side, the "framers," say that scientists should be cautious when talking to the media and the public. In particular, people like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers are doing it all wrong because they're combining science and atheism. When the framers stated their case, they stepped right into the lurking controversy of how "friendly" atheists should be (on which I've commented before). The New Atheists listen to the framers' advice but only hear, "Lie down and shut up!" The New Atheists say they're only trying to speak truth, and there is no reason to hide the connection between science and atheism. The framers reply that it is impossible to speak truth without using one frame or another, so they might as well use a working frame. So on and so forth.
"New Atheism," I should note, is a term that was coined, or at least popularized by a Wired article. It is a term created by the critics, and eventually reluctantly accepted by the New Atheists themselves. Nowadays, the critics will occasionally remark, "Isn't it arrogant of them to claim that they are 'new' in any way?" Some people dislike Wired because of that.
Back to today. First, we have PZ Myers' incident with Expelled!, and then the aftermath. Creationists expel prominent evolutionary biologist PZ Myers from their documentary, purportedly about academic freedom, even though they had thanked him in the credits for his interview. Matthew Nisbet, a prominent, but ironically uncharismatic "framer", weighs in to say that this whole thing is bad for science. He says, I quote, "Lay low and let others do the talking," (emphasis his) as if to emulate his opponents' straw men. Uh oh. Let's sit back and watch the blogosphere explode.
Among the many recent comments on the matter, I'd like to highlight Sean Carroll's at Cosmic Variance. He makes a distinction between politicians and critics, which is way more intelligible than the framer/non-framer distinction. Sean, why are you so awesome?
Now it's time for my commentary (if my biases aren't already obvious from how I report the facts). Now, I haven't really committed to either side. I don't need to if I don't blog about it. The whole discussion is a mess, so I don't want to pick either side. But in terms of Sean's critic/politician distinction, I'm definitely a critic. I have little interest in "spinning" my writing in order to achieve goals--I'm only interested in capturing the truth. I recognize that politics is important, but I have no interest in doing any of it myself. I'd probably completely botch it. It's not as if I have any political influence anyways. And if I do have influence, it's not on people who are representative of the general public.
So as a critic, my disagreement with the New Atheist faction doesn't have anything to do with politics, or with how the ignorant masses will react. My disagreement is in the truth itself. I don't think science leads to atheism at all! Or, at least, not directly, in the manner supposed by many atheists. My opinions on the matter are a little more complicated. The relationship between science, skepticism, and atheism has been one of my intended topics from the beginning of this blog, but I haven't quite gotten around to it.
There is an obvious correlation. There's a 1998 statistic that says 72% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences express "personal disbelief" (viewable in Nature if you have a subscription, and American Atheists if you don't). Should we ignore this fact in hopes of it going away? I don't think we have a choice. Ignoring facts is a collective effort; stating them requires only one loud voice, of which we have plenty.
The much better alternative, at least for me, is to argue that this correlation does not imply causation. As far as arguments against religion go, evolution is one of the poorest. Not every scientist is an atheist. An unknown proportion of atheist scientists think that atheism and science go together, and the rest don't. Barring the worst sorts of fundamentalism, religion is not, or should not, be an obstacle to scientific practice. The only people who will make fun of you are people like PZ Myers, and then, only online. In person, he's a really nice guy.
Furthermore, there is no reason to fear atheism. Atheists are not evil. If atheism is a religion (which it's not), it's not an evil religion. They're an indication of religious freedom. This is the same religious freedom that allows people to be one particular denomination of Christianity rather than another.
See, telling the truth as I see it is so much easier. I would also argue that this would be the correct way to "frame" it. This frame would allay fears about godless science by confronting them, while simultaneously serving the "evil atheist agenda" (Number one on the evil agenda: civil rights!). But maybe I'm just a critic who thinks he knows better than the politicians.