We’ve had another framing fight on scienceblogs today. Here’s the timeline:
Nisbet beats up a strawman of Atheists comparing themselves to women or blacks or gays in terms of civil rights struggle, and then asserts there are no violations of atheist civil rights – they’re just unpopular. The commenters find cause to disagree with him repeatedly. Wait, I know what to do about this – here’s the card.
Those fundamentalists (controlling the country) who call them un-American, evil, sinful and hell-bound? Well, they’re just
And the problems atheists have? Those aren’t real problems like with blacks and women, they’re just
And since there is:
How’d I do Chris?
Anyway, Rosenhouse fires back, and this is the critical passage:
Atheists don’t face a public image problem because of the books of Dawkins and Hitchens. They face a public image problem because of the bigotry and ignorance of so many religious people. Not all religious people, certainly, as the strawman version of their arguments would have you believe. But a much higher percentage than people like Matthew care to admit. You do not break through such bigotry by polite discussion. You break through it by being loud and vigorous. That’s one of the lessons you learn from the civil rights struggles of the past. Social progress is not made when the downtrodden ask politely for their just due. That women, blacks and gays faced greater oppression than what atheists face today does not alter that fact.
Matthew’s comment that such discrimination as exists against atheists is caused in part by the writings of Dawkins and Hitchens is nothing more than plain, vanilla blaming the victim. (And it’s unsubstantiated to boot). It is an old cliche that gets trotted out every time a minority group starts getting a bit too vocal. The argument conjures up preposterous images of large numbers of non-bigots going over to the dark side when the victims of discrimination start rhetorically attacking the bigots. It is to laugh.
I tend to agree with Rosenhouse, and in particular find fault with the article Nisbet cites which essentially blames minorities for being disliked as some kind of natural state. And that may be the case, but there is a substantive difference between dislike and mistreatment, their denial or minimization of the real problem with religious interference in public life as well as the public intolerance and censorship of atheist expression is disturbing. In the comments at Pharyngula and Evolutionblog they list many real examples of these problems.
Finally, I think this is a historically ignorant argument. Anyone remember Ed Brayton’s post on Ellery Schempp?
“I learned that if people were mad at us they would call us ‘Communists.’ If they were really, really mad, they would call us ‘atheists.’ When they called us ‘commie atheists’ they had exhausted their vocabulary – that was the worst they could think of!”
We just emerged from a 40-year cold war in which atheism was identified as synonymous with being a mortal enemy of the country. Really no one in this country was openly atheist. Now fundamentalists are discovering they didn’t manage to stomp out all the non-believers through 40 years of aggressive repression they’re acting like it’s end-times and an assault on the foundation of the country. This is not the atheists’ fault, and Rosenhouse is correct, this is blaming the victim.
Consider the polling that shows that atheists are the most disliked and mistrusted group of people in the country – even worse than sex offenders? Or how about the fact that our government uses an office of Faith-based programming to finance religious outreach for public campaigns? Oddly enough the people that come to atheists’ defense the most often? The anti-defamation league. Isn’t that interesting?
To sum up, I find Nisbet and DJ Grothe and Austin Dacey’s arguments to be morally repugnant and ignorant garbage. This is same thing that is seen repeatedly every time a minority group is mistreated – a group of people emerge to deny there is even a problem and if there is one, it’s the minority’s own fault. If this is “framing”, and I don’t think it is, I’ll have to agree with PZ, you can take your framing and shove it. Maybe that’s the sign of a bad job framing an argument there Nisbet.