Why do they always assume the silent are in their camp?

Chris Mooney of The Intersection has a post up wondering how to rouse the great "silent majority". You know, to oppose the evul New Atheist fringe which is RUININGZ TEH PROGRESSIVITY AGENDAZ!!!1111!!!! Apparently. Something of that nature.

my sense, too, is that the silent majority doesn't side with either of the extremes.
...
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,

Are you Chris? Why do these types (much like the Moral Majority folks) assume that everyone who is not ranting loudly against them is secretly on their side?


Uncertain Chad weighs in with his usual disingenuous* blowhardery but almost....almost.... gets it right. Chad points out that from his position in this supposed silent majority, it just ain't worth it. Of course, he also admits that he is on Mooney's side and can't stand the supposed "New Atheist" fringe either so that tempers the message.
So here's the counter. Mooney, Chad...some of those who don't choose to get down with the Pharyngaloid type arguing matches may actually agree with the supposed New Atheist position. I do. For the most part. I certainly agree with the critique of religion and religious influence in our USAian civil society. I even think it is totally productive to have a wackaloon fringe, culto'personality like the FCD freakos, the Pharyngaloids and Disciples of Dawkins out there beating the religious about head and brow. Good on em.
But, similar to Chad's conclusion, I also don't find it a productive use of my time to engage in these particular discussions.
For Mooney, however, I have a caution. Do not assume that the silent majority you wish to "rouse" is all the same in their orientations and beliefs. Do not assume that they will all fall on your side if you persist in the Nisbettian bashing of the New Atheist fringe. Perhaps it would be worth thinking a little harder about the goals and interests that do coincide in this vast middle of the distribution.
__
*"oh, I am so totally...yawn...above the fray....yawn....and uninvolved. I really could not care....yawn....any less.....but please read while I write my next six blog posts on the topic"

33 responses so far

  • becca says:

    How do you find out if the apathetic agree with you?

  • Alex says:

    How do you find out if the apathetic agree with you?
    Well, you could just ask us, but, you know, don't get pissed if we don't get back to you right away. We got shit to do, you know? Anyway, like, whatever.

  • Say what you want; Lurkers Support me In E-mail

    Yes, the lurkers support me in email,
    And they're sure to back up what I post,
    But they're far too scared to admit it,
    Since the flamers here char them to toast...
    The lurkers support me in email,
    And I *do* know about netiquette,
    I can prove that my sig looks fine fifty lines big,
    You should see all the fan mail I get...

    I don't get this hostility about FCD, though. It's about supporting the Beagle Project, and apparently Chad hates Charles Darwin.
    He won't get very far with an attitude like that.

  • csrster says:

    If the appeal to patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, where do we place the appeal to the silent majority?

  • perceval says:

    Personally, I think that we need more science bloggers like Isis who out themselves as practicing adherents of a religion. This would provide a nice counterbalance in the blogosphere. Isis does get the odd commenter on her blog who doesn't understand why physiologists can be practicing Roman Catholics, but this misses the point. Isis' blog is about the scientist life, and for quite a few scientists, some form of spirituality is part of it.
    Where do we get the strength to balance our work and our lives, the wisdom to prioritise? Where do we take refuge when it all gets a bit too much? Isis has her Catholic rituals. (This is not meant to be disparaging - ritual is important!) I raise my children in the Catholic faith, but my personal preference is for Quaker worship - reconnecting with an inner light in peace. Others find their space of reflection in Unitarianism.

  • lost academic says:

    Maybe a better question - if they're some sort of 'silent majority' now, what makes you think YOU know what it will take to cause them to open their mouths or actually do something? What makes you think, even if you know what they do support, however quietly and for whatever reason silently, that you can do what it takes to cause them to actively or vocally support a position? As mentioned above, that means you've made assumptions about the how and why for the silence. Without actual input, sounds much like a huge stretch at best.
    Then finally, if the silent majority intend to stay silent, why does it matter that they're silent? Decisions are made by those who show up, people. Showing up means opening your mouth and at the very least becoming informed enough to make a decision you are comfortable with. My argument on the other side, for all that I believe in that first statement, is that decisions (and governance) still weigh on those who didn't show up. However, that doesn't mean we can sit around and attempt to make decisions without the information from the silent ones. So, open your mouths, or don't whine if no one paid attention to you.

  • Danny O'Rerio says:

    I agree with the anti-religionists' concept of reality, but I don't agree with some of their social/political tactics. Belittling people's traditions and philosophies and drawing up battle lines will only solidify the worst aspects of religion, I think.
    It's the same way I feel about animal research. Animal research is important, and should be done, but I don't agree with demonstrations in favor of animal research, or marginalizing people who value animal welfare more than others.
    I guess this generally makes me part of the silent majority. That's not to say I'm apathetic. It just means I see problems with both sides. That's really the problem with these sorts of debates -- people on either side tend to assume there are only two sides, and you're either with 'em or against 'em.

  • Captain Obvious says:

    "my sense, too, is that the silent majority doesn't side with either of the extremes."
    Apparently he's a psychic now.
    "At the same time, though, let's face it-in the science blogosphere, we don't hear a lot from the "silent majority.""
    Just a wild guess but would this be because they are silent?
    "Yet I am arguing on behalf of the silent majority,"
    On whose authority? Did he obtain the consent of this silent majority and if so how?
    Or is he just stricken with a bout of someterrible self-righteous verbal diahoerrea ailment?
    This is spot on, I really dislike people who, regardless of what they stand for or argue, claim to speak on behalf of people they do not. It is just outright lying and foolishly counterproductive as it only serves to undermine their own position.
    That said, I feel I speak for the silent majority when I say Mr Mooney should give me 50% of all his future earnings until my student loans are paid off. As a representative of the silent majority, I'm confident he will agree wholeheartedly with this plan and I look forward to the first installment at the end of the month.

  • DSKS says:

    Ah yes, these New Atheists. We've never seen their like before.
    There are many scientists with religious affiliations and all power to them. True, they are largely silent about such related opinions, but is that because they are afraid of being eaten by a New Atheist? No, of course not. It's because they are largely writing about science which in the majority of cases involves the discussion of topics that are not overly affected by one's ideological filter. Similarly, you probably don't find socialist scientists, or conservative scientists, or libertarian scientists making a major attempt to discuss science in the context of their economic opinions. It's simply peripheral to the topics at hand.
    So I'm not convinced there's a case to be made that the "Silent Majority" are really awaiting some shining champion to come charging out of the east like Gandalf the Gray to turn back the puddle of unwashed atheists - beating their shields under The Eye Of Dawkins? - and liberate the faithful.
    Storm? Teacup? Take mine with two sugars, please.

  • Personally, I think that we need more science bloggers like Isis

    I agree completely, little muffin...

  • S. Rivlin says:

    The "new atheists" are not different from ex-smokers. They are so relieved and proud of their new found freedom that they try mightily to share it with those who still smoke. To quit a bad habbit requires both comprehension of the evil of the bad habit and the will power to abandon it. Religion is a habbit, just like smoking. It begins at an early age, even earlier than most smokers start smoking. It comes without warning signs. Actually, the experienced ones encourage the young, newcomers to use it in large doses and all along telling them that their brand is much better than other brands of religion. When one of those 'addicts' manages, through self-education or with the help of an expert, to wean him/herself from his/her addiction, a big burden is usually coming off his/her chest and s/he feels like shouting to the whole world of 'addicts', telling them how great is the world without that addiction. Thus born a new atheist; vocal, happy, free, not part of the silent majority of religious addicts.
    Perceval,
    Isis is part of that silent majority. She, like many other in that group, is capable to compartmentalize completely the contradictions between her scientific and religious worlds. She uses logic in the former and she is just fine at being illogic in the latter. That's the only way one could explain how loud Isis is about women inequality in her scientific world, while she stays completely mute about the inequality of women in her religious world. As long as these two compartments are completely separated, one can live in both worlds simultaneously. However, when leakage occcurs and shit from the religious compartment start leaking into the scientific one, beware!

  • lylebot says:

    It seems to me that Mooney et al. could formulate their ideas and recommendations about effective science communication as testable hypotheses, and then, like actual scientists, go out and collect data, but they seemingly choose not to. Instead they rest their arguments on anecdote, unfounded assumptions about the psychology of vast swaths of the population, and appeals to authority ("Matt Nisbet and Randy Olsen are professional communicators! We should do what they say!").

  • DSKS says:

    Rivlin said,
    "That's the only way one could explain how loud Isis is about women inequality in her scientific world, while she stays completely mute about the inequality of women in her religious world."
    But her blog is focused on science and shoes, not theology, so I'm not sure such a criticism is really valid.
    This actually relates to my main criticism of Mooney claim that there needs to be a voice for this ill-defined Silent Majority. Perhaps the Silent Majority simply don't feel the need to qualify their opinions relating to specifically scientific issues, which are supposed to be independent of ideological filters, with their feelings about abstract theological presuppositions? Perhaps they don't need "Saving" in that respect?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    DSKS,
    I disagree with your statement ("But her blog is focused on science and shoes, not theology, so I'm not sure such a criticism is really valid.")
    Isis posted several times about her religiosity and her religious choices, specifically indicating that she understands the potholes she may have to go through by doing so. Nevertheless, when I brought up the contradiction of her stance on women equality where academia and church are concerned, I was banned from her blog. When she did that she surely used the religious compartment of her brain, not the scientific one.

  • rob says:

    religion is a terminal sexually transmitted disease. only by inocculating with education can it be put into remission.

  • Nevertheless, when I brought up the contradiction of her stance on women equality where academia and church are concerned, I was banned from her blog.

    Shitlin, that may have been when you were banned from her blog, but it is not why. The reason you were banned is because you are an obsessive annoying fuckwad who derails every comment thread you engage with your pathetic narcissistic off-topic whining.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    "religion is a terminal sexually transmitted disease. only by inocculating with education can it be put into remission."
    Amen!!!

  • S. Rivlin says:

    "Shitlin, that may have been when you were banned from her blog, but it is not why. The reason you were banned is because you are an obsessive annoying fuckwad who derails every comment thread you engage with your pathetic narcissistic off-topic whining."
    Right, CPProfane. You are the only commenter who stays on topic on every blog and post you read. The only constant you promise is more profanity and trolling me with it. You are so predictable. The only thing I was a bit off with my prediction about your comment was whether it will appear at 4:00 pm or 4:30 pm.

  • Shitlin, that may have been when you were banned from her blog, but it is not why. The reason you were banned is because you are an obsessive annoying fuckwad who derails every comment thread you engage with your pathetic narcissistic off-topic whining.

    CPP. Nail. Head.
    You're pathetic, Rivlin, and very frequently an off topic troll. But really, I hope you're able to recover soon.

  • abb3w says:

    becca: How do you find out if the apathetic agree with you?
    Polling data might allow projection of the distribution; ask a large sample to rank themselves on how they feel about atheism vs. religion, and how likely they are to sound off publicly. Correlate, put on error bars, extrapolate to larger population.
    Of course, that requires getting the apathetic to respond to a poll... or, alternatively, measuring the willingness to get off their butt. One might address that by doing the poll in four rounds. For all four rounds, open by saying, "We're hoping for your participation in a roughly five-minute survey." For rounds two through four, add "If you participate, we'll mail you X dollars", using $5, $10, and $20. Then ask "Are you willing to participate?" Note in the data the number of hangups before the amount is announced, and those who decline despite the bribe. (Hah! Refusal to answer is itself an answer!) See if you can fit a curve to extrapolate.
    Adds a few grand to the polling cost, though... and neglects those too apathetic to answer the phone.
    Danny O'Rerio: Belittling people's traditions and philosophies and drawing up battle lines will only solidify the worst aspects of religion, I think.
    The question is whether while drawing up battle lines it simultaneously increases desertions from the religious legions, and whether the benefit of the desertions outweighs the harm of the sharpening battle lines.
    Of course, there's already a faction on the Religious side who are drawing up battle lines....
    lylebot: It seems to me that Mooney et al. could formulate their ideas and recommendations about effective science communication as testable hypotheses, and then, like actual scientists, go out and collect data, but they seemingly choose not to.
    Hmm. How would these be tested? Where would be the most likely sources to fund such research - the NCSE perhaps?

  • neurolover says:

    Honestly, I have no idea why you guys pile on Rivlin like that. Do you know him/her for real or something?
    I concur with the assessment that as far as I can tell, religious scientists rely on compartmentalizing (and, usually, pick a science that doesn't end up going head to head with their chosen religious dogma). Nevertheless, I still wish there were more religious scientist bloggers who were courageous enough to express their opinions. I like to hear how they think, even if, ultimately, I'm going find the position incomprehensible (as I do Isis's explanations).
    And, I agree that silent majorities are irrelevant, unless they speak sometimes, for example, in secret ballots. Then, we're all a lot better off trying to hear what they have to say, even if it means listening to things that sound like gibberish to us.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    neurolover,
    CPP and I are going at it since I have dared making a comment about his profanity. Isis and I are at it since I have dared challenging her on her stance regarding women equality in academia (very loud) and her church (mute). they both blame me of trolling and they both appear almost simultaneously whenever I made a comment about one or the other. If you ask me, CPP and Isis are one and the same. šŸ˜‰

  • Perhaps the Silent Majority simply don't feel the need to qualify their opinions relating to specifically scientific issues, which are supposed to be independent of ideological filters, with their feelings about abstract theological presuppositions? Perhaps they don't need "Saving" in that respect?

    So, perhaps they really don't give a rat's ass and we don't need to sing to that particular choir. Perhaps, all we really need to do is not pay attention to the nattering about whether or not the "new atheists" scare people away from science.
    Christ - isn't Mooney the guy who risked alienating all the conservatives with a book about how evil Republicans are about science?

  • Danny O'Rerio says:

    Danny O'Rerio: Belittling people's traditions and philosophies and drawing up battle lines will only solidify the worst aspects of religion, I think.
    The question is whether while drawing up battle lines it simultaneously increases desertions from the religious legions, and whether the benefit of the desertions outweighs the harm of the sharpening battle lines.

    I get it. It's basically the Bush/Rumsfeld doctrine applied to social engineering.
    But I think you missed my point. Let me clarify with an example:
    A while back CPP blogged here about his new favorite fucking shoes. I didn't respond to that thread. I am a great fan of shoes (e.g. I'm not apathetic about the issue), but I don't give a shit what kind of shoe CPP wears. Some people liked CPP's shoes. Good for them. Some people didn't like CPP's shoes. Good for them. There's no issue there worth arguing about. If CPP wanted people to care about his shoes, then it's incumbent upon him to make people care. Which, I think, was exactly Chris Mooney's point. At least it's consistent with the title of his post: "How Can We Rouse the Silent Majority?"
    Of course, getting the silent majority roused about CPP's shoes is going to be a tough matter, and likely will only marginalize both sides. I mean, what kind of crazy person gets worked up over CPP's shoes? This was my point. Neither the militant atheists nor the bible-thumpers are making themselves look good by joining in the debate, I think.
    On another topic: Sol has you pegged, CPP. Get over it. And I think Sol's point about Isis' religious beliefs, though off topic, was actually provocative and interesting. Worth discussing. A nice introspective post about Roman catholicism and women's rights and science by Isis over at her place would be quite cool.

  • Anonymous says:

    "A nice introspective post about Roman Catholicism and women's rights and science by Isis over at her place would be quite cool."
    Isis has done this, I think. I disagree with her on the subject, but I think that she has indeed provided a relatively unfriendly audience with an enormous amount of introspection about her religious beliefs. It's courageous, and the fact that we can't change her mind doesn't change the fact that she's taken the time to tell us what she thinks.
    Going back to the arguments about the silent majority, though, are we wrong to have an opinion about them? i.e based on polling and other results? Though I don't know if the "silent" majority on scienceblogs supports the idea that religion and science don't clash (I think they do, and believe that those who don't believe that deal with the clash by compartmentalizing), I do think that most people in the US believe that science/religion don't clash. And they believe that because they don't care enough about the theory of science (certainly) and religion (perhaps, I know less about this) to believe that they do (i.e. compartmentalizing through lack of introspection).

  • On another topic: Sol has you pegged, CPP. Get over it.

    As pathetic as he is, Shitlin is a much better troll than you.

  • Danny O'Rerio says:

    And they believe that because they don't care enough about the theory of science (certainly) and religion (perhaps, I know less about this) to believe that they do (i.e. compartmentalizing through lack of introspection).

    I disagree. Although I personally think religion is a bunch of hooey, I think religion and science can coexist. Mainly because critical aspects of religion can not, almost by definition, be addressed scientifically. How do you set up an experiment to test whether God exists? How do you quantify faith?
    Contradictions in religious texts and general ineffectiveness of prayer are not enough to show that religion has no basis. By the same measures, science would fail because there are certainly lots of contradictions in the scientific literature, and just because I can't build a fusion reactor doesn't mean that physics is bull.
    On another topic: Shut up already CPP. Seriously. Your ratio of constructive comments to mindless cheerleading and/or insults is abysmally low. You built up some serious bank with great posts in the past, but that money is long spent.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Danny O'Rerio,
    Coexistence of science and religion is impossible as long as hypocrisy is part of it. And, unfortunately, because of the ability of science to expose the hypocrisy within religion, any religion, such coexistence is doomed.
    I do not want to beat a dead horse, however, Isis's stance where women equality is concerned, proves that even religious scientists are not immuned from hypocrisy.
    The religious indoctrination begins at such early age that most believers are well-conditioned to stay believers. They never given the opportunity to choose whether or not they want to be religious and what religion they prefer. How many adult non-believers really decide to become religious? Though I do not have real numbers to present, I think it is safe to say that their numbers is infintisimally small compared to the number of children who are indoctrinated into the religions of the world. Moreover, at least where the religion I was born into is concerned, I can confidently assert that the number of adults who desret it is significantly larger than those who decide to join it. In most cases, the desertion is due to hypocrisy within the religion. Most of those adults who decide to join it are lost souls who are easily given to manipulation by charismatic charlatans.

  • On another topic: Shut up already CPP. Seriously. Your ratio of constructive comments to mindless cheerleading and/or insults is abysmally low. You built up some serious bank with great posts in the past, but that money is long spent.

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!! Thanks for your input, fuckwad! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!

  • S. Rivlin says:

    "Shitlin, that may have been when you were banned from her blog, but it is not why. The reason you were banned is because you are an obsessive annoying fuckwad who derails every comment thread you engage with your pathetic narcissistic off-topic whining."
    "As pathetic as he is, Shitlin is a much better troll than you."
    "AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!! Thanks for your input, fuckwad! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!"
    "CPP. Nail. Head.
    You're pathetic, Rivlin, and very frequently an off topic troll. But really, I hope you're able to recover soon."

    These are the only comments the co-blogger of this blog had on this post. His sister, Isis, a blogger on another SciBlog, added her echo.
    Hopefully, they do not represent the new generation of our scientists; childish, fowl-mouth and crude.

  • becca says:

    Isis + CPP masticate poultry? Oh the horrors!

  • S. Rivlin says:

    becca,
    Isn't Isis calls her readers "little chickens"? šŸ˜‰

  • andrew says:

    If you are a life scientist (and really if you are any kind of scientist) you have to accept Darwinian selection.
    Religion thus evolved by Darwinian selection. The theories within that field Evolutionary Religous Studies are about if relgion is an adaptation at the group-level, the individual-level, a parasite (as some commenters here have mentioned), if religion is nonadaptive, or a byproduct of traits adaptive in other non-religious contexts, or if it is the result of some kind of neutral drift.
    Some parts of religion might be due to one thing and some parts of religion due to another. For example there is experitmental evidence that very young children believe in an afterlife, while older children tend to attribute supernatural agency to objects more so than younger children. So it could be that the cognitive impulse to believe in an afterlife is genetic, rather than learned, whereas attributing supernatural agency to things comes later.
    The selection pressures on religion must have been strong because people holding false beliefs and behaving accordingly often entails great costs in terms of individual fitness and resources.
    So while I agree that a person can believe whatever he/she wants to, religious explanations and scientific explanations, insofar as they are correct, are mutually exclusive.

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