As a demonstration of just how trustworthy Chris Mooney is, as well as a demonstration of just what he he thinks "framing" is all about, he recently cited a report which reveals that there is a "silent majority" of Americans who agree with him that science and religion are compatible. You might be aware that the term "silent majority" doesn't have a positive history, but it doesn't look like Chris Mooney does — which is great, because it means he doesn't recognize the irony of using it.
Chris Mooney writes (emphasis added):
I heartily agree–my sense, too, is that the silent majority doesn’t side with either of the extremes. And I think the polling data eminently supports this. For instance, as David Masci of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life writes in a survey of that evidence: "These data once again show that, in the minds of most people in the United States, there is no real clash between science and religion. And when the two realms offer seemingly contradictory explanations (as in the case of evolution), religious people, who make up a majority of Americans, may rely primarily upon their faith for answers."
At the same time, though, let’s face it–in the science blogosphere, we don’t hear a lot from the “silent majority.” Rather, and admittedly with some important exceptions, we hear from the New Atheists.
Yet I am arguing on behalf of the silent majority, and that is what keeps me going. So my question is this: How can we wake them up, make them realize that this is their issue too, and help them reclaim the debate for the middle ground?
The data is pretty interesting, especially in that most people recognize that evolutionary theory is standard in science and that science is important for society:
Interestingly, many of those who reject natural selection recognize that scientists themselves fully accept Darwin's theory. In the same 2006 Pew poll, nearly two-thirds of adults (62%) say that they believe that scientists agree on the validity of evolution. Moreover, Americans, including religious Americans, hold science and scientists in very high regard. A 2006 survey conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University found that most people (87%) think that scientific developments make society better. Among those who describe themselves as being very religious, the same number – 87% – share that opinion.
What's most significant here, though, are some different numbers:
How can Americans say that they respect science and even know what scientists believe and yet still disagree with the scientific community on some fundamental questions? The answer is that much of the general public simply chooses not to believe the scientific theories and discoveries that seem to contradict long-held religious or other important beliefs.
When asked what they would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people say they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding, according to the results of an October 2006 Time magazine poll. Indeed, in a May 2007 Gallup poll, only 14% of those who say they do not believe in evolution cite lack of evidence as the main reason underpinning their views; more people cite their belief in Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%) as their reason for rejecting Darwin's theory.
This reliance on religious faith may help explain why so many people do not see science as a direct threat to religion. Only 28% of respondents in the same Time poll say that scientific advancements threaten their religious beliefs. These poll results also show that more than four-fifths of respondents (81%) say that "recent discoveries and advances" in science have not significantly impacted their religious views. In fact, 14% say that these discoveries have actually made them more religious. Only 4% say that science has made them less religious.
Source: Pew Research
So according to Chris Mooney, the "silent majority" which is willing to ignore science in favor of religion isn't "extreme." Apparently, the only thing "extreme" for Moony is atheists pointing out the conflicts which the "silent majority" is trying to pretend don't exist. Chris Mooney openly and unapologetically proclaims that he argues "on behalf of the silent majority" which doesn’t think that science conflicts with religion — and since they don't think science conflicts with religion because they are willing to ignore science whenever such a conflict might appear, Chris Mooney is necessarily arguing on behalf of this tactic as well.
I can't say that I'm surprised by the results above. People recognize the importance of science and so support science. It's also likely that many want to appear to be supporting science when surveyed about it. People also believe that their religion is important to them — and there is far greater pressure to appear to be supportive of religion in America. Admitting any conflict between the two would often require choosing one and rejecting the other, at least in part, but rejecting either science or religion would entail rejecting a part of an identity which one has built up for themselves.
People have trouble doing this, so they compartmentalize. They ignore the inconvenient bits they don't like rather than engage in any of the hard work necessary to examine what they believe, why, and whether any of the beliefs they've taken for granted should be amended or abandoned. Doing this allows them to pretend that conflicts between religion and science don't exist. So long as they don't feel conflicted, there is no conflict; so long as they are able to ignore or deny reality, they won't feel conflicted.
When I wrote not long ago that Chris Mooney had abandoned reason and science, I didn't realize just how thoroughly he had done so. I thought that his previous statements and falsehoods were bad, but this is actually quite a bit worse — and he still hasn't hit bottom. Chris Hallquist noticed that the Pew report revealed something rather different from what Chris Mooney was claiming and stated that this qualifies as a deliberate, unambiguous lie. He concludes his indictment of Mooney's honesty with this (via: Barefoot Bum):
It Mooney can´t get his facts straight about something so simple, it´s time to ignore him. For my own future reference, though, and that of anyone who´s morbidly curious about this mini-fiasco, Jerry Coyne has a nice compilation of relevant posts, which he seems to be continuously updating. Though it doesn´s include this most lovely-titled of posts. Notice how Mooney has nothing of substance to say in reply, saying only that the debate is a waste of time–in which case, why doesn´t he shut up?
Given the long history of so many people complaining about Chris Mooney telling critics of religion to just shut up, he naturally took umbrage at someone telling him to shut up... although Hallquist doesn't actually tell him to shut up. Instead, he asks why Mooney doesn't shut up if in fact the debate is the waste of time Mooney admits it is. Sounds like a good question to me, but remember Chris Mooney's standards of honesty just aren't very high here so we get this as a "response":
And now, an atheist blogger actually tells me to “shut up,” using precisely those words. I trust there will be round denunciation of this behavior?
Right, Chris Hallquist should be "denounced" for asking why Chris Mooney doesn't quit whining about something which Mooney himself says is a waste of time? OK, since I have been a person who has complained about Chris Mooney arguing that atheist critics should just shut up, I'll do it:
Chris Hallquist, how could you? You should know better than to ask Chris Mooney why he doesn't quit wasting time with something that he admits is a waste of time. Any sort of decent answer to this question would require a level of self-introspection which Mooney has never, ever demonstrated. No matter how many times people have critiqued his perspective and agenda, he has never, ever revealed that he has subjected them to his own internal review. Why would he stop to reconsider this?
Far, far worse though is the fact that you gave him an easy excuse to ignore the substance of your argument. I know, the question was tempting and I'm not sure I could have resisted either, but since I'm benefiting from 20/20 hindsight I get to pretend otherwise. You've noticed I'm sure that he never even answered the question that sparked his response (speaking of a waste of time: all that whining about a question he won't even answer), but more significant is the fact that he doesn't even begin to address why he is coming down on the side of people who openly, frankly, and unapologetically are willing to ignore science in favor of religion.
He's avoiding the fact that his "silent majority" only believes science and religion are compatible because they ignore science whenever a conflict appears. He avoids having to answer for the fact that he cites a quote stating "there is no real clash between science and religion" while ignoring the context of that quote — a dishonest tactic frequently employed by creationists and other science-deniers.
Granted, we have no reason to think that he would have directly and substantively responded to this issue even if the question hadn't appeared, but his spinning, dodging, weaving, and "framing" would have been far more amusing if he hadn't been distracted by the bright, shiny question you left dangling at the end of your post.
Naughty, naughty Chris.
So if science conflicts with religious beliefs, Chris Mooney's "silent majority" will simply ignore — which in practice will mean denying — the science in favor of their religious beliefs. The only way to "frame" such science is to lie about what it really says. You can "frame" things in an honest manner if there isn't direct conflict, but just problematic implications — if the science raises questions or problems for a religious belief which can't be easily answered.
When there is direct and unambiguous conflict, however, you can't get around that conflict without changing what either the science or the religion say. Religious believers won't accept it when an outsider tries to tell them that their religion teaches something different from what they thought (though internal religious authorities are free to amend their doctrines!). This only leaves changing what science says, but if you present the conclusions of science to appear to not conflict with religion when in reality they do conflict with religion, then you are lying about science in order to make religious believers feel better about their religious beliefs.
This is rather similar to telling people that there is a "silent majority" of Americans who don't think there is a conflict between science and religion without also telling them that this isn't because most Americans believe the two are always compatible, but rather because most Americans are willing to deny the science whenever a conflict threatens to appear.