Friday, March 28, 2008

Framing A Quote of the Week

I follow the Framing Science blog and have watched that space eagerly for further discussion of the PZ Myers-Richard Dawkins-Expelled miasma, not really expecting much (background on the miasma here, here, here).

Instead, after several days of not mentioning the topic on his Framing Science blog, Matt Nisbet has posted what he labels a "quote of the week" from E.O. Wilson, which I reproduce here because I agree it is a statement worth repeating, subject to qualifications I'll outline presently:

Let us-- in the service of a transcendent moral obligation and concern put aside our differences for the time being and not fuss with each other over evolution. In other words where it all came from. Let us agree looking at the evidence that is disappearing. And let us, dare I use the word, gather at the river.

Come together on common ground where we can exercise the extraordinary power we have jointly. And I argue and few people disagreed with me that science and religion are the two most powerful social forces in the world. Having them at odds at each other all the way up to the highest levels of government and-- the popular media all the time is not productive.
Indeed. Let atheists and religious believers seek and find common cause for the sake of the biosphere.

That said, having followed the bundle of controversies referenced here, I can't fail to note some subtexts. And those subtexts are, to borrow a phrase, "not productive." To wit:
  • It would seem that Nisbet is replying to the many forceful disagreements with his "filthy atheists should shut up" framing notion by supplying a positive example of framing. This is hardly the first time that Nisbet has taken an opportunity to sing encomiums to E.O. Wilson as a science communicator; his 29 February 2008 appearance on the Point of Inquiry podcast was another recent example. All's fair in blogging and love, so fair enough. Still ...
  • The trouble is, E.O. Wilson does not write books or blog about the question of god's existence or involve himself in the ongoing daily struggles over evolution and creationism/ID. So, contra Nisbet, I make the point again (this was the first time): after E.O. Wilson writes a book about god's existence, or writes a book about the threats and lies of the creationist/ID movement, or after one of the "new atheists" writes a book intended to raise awareness of environmental challenges, then we will have a like-with-like comparison of framing. We will have that comparison from which to draw meaningful lessons after the people in question have framed the same topics, not before. Until then, rhapsodizing about E.O. Wilson is a red herring.
  • In support of the previous point, at the risk of stating the blindingly obvious: defending the biosphere is a critical undertaking; so is defending the integrity of science against its philosophical and cultural adversaries. These are sometimes, but only sometimes, the same fight.

No comments: