Social Progress vs. Endless War: Why do Atheists and Humanists Disagree?
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
Tension was evident as humanists and atheists gathered this weekend, reported Mitchell Landsberg at the Los Angeles Times. At issue among the attendees at the annual conference of the Council for Secular Humanism was how humanists and atheists should participate as citizens in society.
On one side, the so-called accommodationists argue that humanists should focus their energies on serving with other societal leaders in confronting common challenges such as climate change, poverty, or failing schools. On the other side, confrontationists tend to argue instead for go-it-alone criticism and ridicule of religion at every opportunity, a bunker mentality that sees atheists as losing a war against what they frequently refer to as religious idiots, fanatics, and nitwits.
At the conference in Los Angeles, a panel on the topic featured journalist Chris Mooney (accommodationist), blogger-biologist PZ Myers (confrontationist), science educator Eugenie Scott (accommodationist), and author-physicist Victor Stenger (confrontationist) (see picture below from left to right).
As Mooney described, the two camps in the debate share “99% of our intellectual DNA.” How is it then that adherents to either side view the issues and the stakes so very differently?
Mapping the Social Factors that Lead to Diverging Perspectives and Goals
The difference turns on a number of likely sociological influences, factors that could be mapped in a survey study of the humanist community and its leadership.
To start, contrary to how the division is characterized at panels, blogs, or in news coverage, most humanists do not fit neatly into either camp. In other words, perspectives on this issue are not binary. Instead, as a dependent measure, multiple items could be developed that validly and reliably placed respondents in the survey on a continuum from “strong accommodation” to “strong confrontation.”
To predict where an individual might fall on this scale, a number of important independent variables should be examined. These include:
These are all possible measures and research questions to explore, getting at the difference in views among individuals who otherwise share many common traits and experiences.
What do readers think? Are there other factors that might be important to measure and examine?
These five main food groups are important for your brain's health and likely to boost the production of feel-good chemicals.
We all know eating “healthy” food is good for our physical health and can decrease our risk of developing diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease. What is not as well known is that eating healthy food is also good for our mental health and can decrease our risk of depression and anxiety.
Infographics show the classes and anxieties in the supposedly classless U.S. economy.
For those of us who follow politics, we’re used to commentators referring to the President’s low approval rating as a surprise given the U.S.'s “booming” economy. This seeming disconnect, however, should really prompt us to reconsider the measurements by which we assess the health of an economy. With a robust U.S. stock market and GDP and low unemployment figures, it’s easy to see why some think all is well. But looking at real U.S. wages, which have remained stagnant—and have, thus, in effect gone down given rising costs from inflation—a very different picture emerges. For the 1%, the economy is booming. For the rest of us, it’s hard to even know where we stand. A recent study by Porch (a home-improvement company) of blue-collar vs. white-collar workers shows how traditional categories are becoming less distinct—the study references "new-collar" workers, who require technical certifications but not college degrees. And a set of recent infographics from CreditLoan capturing the thoughts of America’s middle class as defined by the Pew Research Center shows how confused we are.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.