Greg Laden Owes Us an Apology and Retraction

By Chris Mooney | April 26, 2007 8:49 am

From his blog:

Camp 3, which is perhaps not as well defined, promotes the inclusion of theistic elements in evolutionary biology, in some cases explicitly in other cases as a kind of “fill in the blank,” in order to provide a better approach to “framing” evolutionary biology. (Notice the closeness between the word “blank” and the word “gap.”)

Or at least, this is what they say. Explicit requests to ask them to clarify this key point have been left unanswered to my knowledge. Which is very worrisome, and sometimes makes me think Moran is right about the possibility that Nisbet and Mooney are actually creationists. But I’m assuming at the moment that they are not!

This insinuation, that “Nisbet and Mooney are actually creationists,” is not just entirely inconsistent with everything Matt and I have written–it is downright indefensible. And I don’t care if Laden says he’s assuming “for the moment” that we aren’t actually creationists–he’s hinting that we might be. It’s outrageous.

Incidentally, I can’t find where Moran suggests this–only Laden.

I have stood silently by while various ideologues have slammed a framing thesis that they have rarely even understood. But this is going too far. I will not stand for it. Laden owes us an immediate apology.


Comments (29)

  1. Chris and Matt:

    I do not think you are creationists. I don’t know what Larry thinks.

    I will make sure to post a very clear statement to that effect on my site.

    I also think that your efforts to enhance the status of science are important, and I’ve said that in several places.

    I can’t retract or apologize for anything I’ve said, because my remarks are an attempt at a coherent argument and I feel uncomfortable being asked to pick and choose in this manner. But I will agree with your statement in your email, and with Randy Olsen’s analysis, that some areas of this debate are less than productive.

    I fully admit that the subtlety of my point has been overpowered by the heat in the words. I remain somewhat unsure of where we stand in relation to each other on the key issue, which stems in part from the second paragraph on evolution/creationism in your science paper.

    The evolution issue also highlights another point: Messages must be positive and respect diversity. As the film Flock of Dodos painfully demonstrates, many scientists not only fail to think strategically about how to communicate on evolution, but belittle and insult others’ religious beliefs

    This is what we really should be talking about, but I quickly add that Matt’s comments of last night on my blog …

    go a long way to clarifying this.



  2. Chris Mooney

    Pointless commentary until we get to this:

    “I can’t retract or apologize for anything I’ve said, because my remarks are an attempt at a coherent argument and I feel uncomfortable being asked to pick and choose in this manner.”

    I’ll still be awaiting that apology and retraction of your indefensible insinuation that Matt and I are creationists.

  3. Chris:

    I hope you get a chance to read this soon:



  4. Chris Mooney

    Yes, thanks Greg, this is better, and acceptable. You do it with some throat-clearing, but I guess this is your style.

    As readers of this blog will know, it is *not* my usual style to use political tactics such as demanding public apologies–not when I don’t have to.

    However, there have been many unfair attacks on both myself and especially my colleague Matthew Nisbet. I’ve been in Australia and trying to ignore it all, while Matt has had to deal with it. But there’s a limit to what either he or I will put up with, and the creationist remark crossed that line by a good margin. I was not about to tolerate it.

    That said, I don’t hold grudges and accept apologies.

  5. Watching the reception to your article with Nisbet, Chris, I have to say that the irony of self-proclaimed scientists and their various cheer squads denouncing/misunderstanding the notion of framing is just too delicious considering its 3+ decade history in the interpretive social sciences. Culture wars have a heavy death toll.

    Scientists – the new anti-scientists.

  6. Colugo

    The facetious, goading labeling of Mooney & Nisbet as “creationists” is part and parcel of the New Atheists’ negative relabeling of those have traditionally been considered allies – or at least not enemies – of science, freethought, and humanism.

    1) Atheists who are do not have sufficient zeal belong to the “Neville Chamberlain School.”

    2) Religious liberals give cover to religious fundamentalists, which makes them even more insidious.

    3) Theistic evolutionists are creationists, stealth or otherwise.

    Larry Moran on Miller, Conway Morris et al.

    Sahotra Sarkar on Ken Miller

    The folly of the New Atheists is that they confuse science with philosophy; hence they attempt to chip away at the critical distinction between methodological and metaphysical naturalism (F. Crews) and declare that God has been scientifically falsified (V. Stenger). The most serious problem with the New Atheists is not what they have to say about religion but their attempt to redefine science from method to metaphysics.

  7. Does Larry Moran think you’re an atheist? I’ve had drinks with the man and I doubt he’s that silly.

    Greg, I looked at your “retraction” and you’ve completely avoided any mention of Larry Moran there. A non-apology apology?

    Colugo: you’re not helping.

  8. Eh – should read “creationist” where I typed “atheist” in my prior post. Changes the meaning drastically, I’m afraid.

  9. Rick: WTF? I can tell you right now that my public statement to Chis in response to his demand for an apology and retraction is not really up for review! Am I supposed to explain what Larry Moran has said? I’ m pretty sure he can do that on his own, and if necessary, apologize for it on his own…

  10. I appreciate your insightful observation. I see the phenomenon you describe as an example of “Not Invented Here.”

    Just slipping in a few words, edgewise… Cheers


    Scientists – the new anti-scientists.

    You know, I’m just now writing a talk I’m giving tomorrow, and I’m pretty sure I can work this in…

  12. For the record, I have never thought that you and Matt were creationists. I’m well aware of the fact that you are a non-religious person. I think Matt is too.

    (Incidently, while I have often been accused of aiding the creationist cause I don’t interpret that to mean that I’m being accused of being a creationist or a creationist sympathizer.)

  13. Larry: Sorry to drag you into this. But. well, you were there already.

    My statement:

    “Which is very worrisome, and sometimes makes me think Moran is right about the possibility that Nisbet and Mooney are actually creationists.” was a severe over interpretation of your tirade that ends with this statement:

    “Why won’t they accept it? Because it’s against their religion. How do we change their minds? Part of the solution is to show them that their religion is false if it conflicts with science. This doesn’t have anything to do with explaining the facts of science. It has to do with fighting superstition and anti-science attitudes.”

    … the essence of my argument, for which I’ve apologized, is that we are on dangerous ground when we give the “enemy” exactly what we want, and we become frustrated when the suggestion is made to give up what we have been fighting for for decades (NOT teaching the controversy). I thought my thinking on this and yours were somewhat in resonance. I still think that. I still think this point needs to be kept in mind.

    But I probably over interpreted your stance much in the same way that Chris and Matt read this:

    “But I’m assuming at the moment that they are not!”

    and converted that to:

    “This insinuation, that “Nisbet and Mooney are actually creationists”

    Clearly, this conversation is not especially productive. The senses of irony and humor, and the comradeships of good academic debate, have leaked out of it like some kind of ghastly bleeding metaphor. But it may take a turn when PZ Myers deplanes later today!?!? 🙂

  14. sorry .. “give the enemy exactly what THEY (the enemy) wants” is what I meant to say. Makes a difference.

  15. Oh, come on now. I know Mooney isn’t a creationist — I read the book. The problem is that if you look at Mooney/Nisbet through the lens of their recent publications, all you can see on this issue is sympathy and support for theistic evolutionists.

    And, I’m sorry, but theistic evolutionists are creationists. They’re just creationists who accept evidence and readily back off from specific claims about their creator god, but they still place faith in unwarranted assumptions about the existence and interventions of a supernatural being, they just tuck it into the gaps in our knowledge. What makes theistic evolution somewhat acceptable to scientists is that its proponents are so willing to run away from their faith when challenged.

  16. miko


    You and Matt have thrown your framing thesis out there, it’s been savaged by lots of people (though it’s rarely gotten personal), others tentatively think you might have a point, some agree, some think the whole thing is irrelevant. All in all, I think you should hang in there and keep explaining yourselves–this is what scientists have to do while their ideas get regular, merciless beat downs. Your silence and Matt’s often thin-skinned lashing out undermine your position. I have two points:

    First, I don’t think you guys have done enough convincing that there is a problem to which framing is a possible solution. What’s the evidence that Dawkins/Dennet/Harris/PZ are having a negative impact on secularism, the standing of atheists in society, and the public’s acceptance of reality-based decision making in science policy? People’s minds are being changed about stem cells, global warming, etc. Why should we care about courting those who are ideologically incapable of having their minds changed, and why not attack their ideology while we’re at it?

    Second, science is internationalist by nature. From my experience, biologists are startlingly similar wherever you are in the world. On the other hand, religiosity in politics is fairly peculiar to the USA among developed countries. Americans are also generally more ignorant about pretty much everything, including science. To me, this makes it pretty hard to put any of the blame for anti-science religious attitudes at the feet of scientists.

  17. Oh, come on now. I know Mooney isn’t a creationist — I read the book. The problem is that if you look at Mooney/Nisbet through the lens of their recent publications, all you can see on this issue is sympathy and support for theistic evolutionists.

    PZ: If you actually read what I said (quoted above) this is what I said. Mainly, I expressed frustration about this and their unwillingness to address it.

    What makes theistic evolution somewhat acceptable to scientists is that its proponents are so willing to run away from their faith when challenged.

    I would add this as well: Most/many (one should reall know this. Chris? Matt? What is your data on this?) people in this “Camp 3” middle range … theistic evolutionists …. are willing to accept the specific social and political/legal determination that their faith related conflicts need to be deal with in the context of their faith, not the context of their science.

    Matt, Chris, this is one of the keys that you have not mentioned yet, but it is part of the strategy of the NCSE and other groups. Something we’ve been saying for quite some time, but perhaps something that needs to be developed, re-framed, whatever you think you can do with it. Can you do something with this?

  18. Chris Mooney

    I want to thank Larry Moran and PZ in particular for their comments here. They’ve been critical of the framing science thesis but of course they know that Matt and I aren’t creationists. The truth is that I got into the whole science writing thing because of the evolution issue and because of my deep desire to combat creationists, so you can understand how this got me pretty hot around the collar.

  19. Chris Mooney

    Note how much the intelligent design people are enjoying this infighting on the pro-evolution side:

    I will say it again: Nasty arguments over framing among pro-evolution people remind me of the battle between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea in Monty Python’s Life of Bryan. The two resistance groups hated each other much more than they hated their collective enemy (the Romans).

    I think we all need to step back and get some perspective on ourselves. It would help to remember who the real opponents are.

  20. OK, but the humor in the JPF vs. PFJ is that their differences are non-existent. Are you really trying to argue that your framing proposals are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things? Because then you’re arguing on the side of those of us who are finding little virtue in the framing debate.

  21. Chris Mooney

    Good point, PZ, and no, the differences between us are not insignificant or inconsequential. But in the grand scheme the fact that we are broadly on the same side and only differ on points of strategy and tact should, in my opinion, be a strong incentive for keeping our arguments respectful and productive.

  22. gerald spezio

    Mais oui! Edward Teller and Oppy disagreed, too.
    Oh, how they disagreed.

  23. Chris,

    Why did you feel it was necessary to attack Richard Dawkins and the rest of us who oppose superstition? What did you think would be gained by going public with your complaints in Science and The Washington Post?

    When you say,

    I think we all need to step back and get some perspective on ourselves. It would help to remember who the real opponents are.

    is this consistent with your behavior? I didn’t see you mentioning any “enemies” except Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers. Could you please explain your position? It seems on the surface to be somewhat muddled but perhaps that’s just because I’m missing some nuance.

  24. Chris, my post at TT wasn’t so much about “infighting” as it was about a common rhetorical tactic amongst some people to throw out the word “creationist” whether there is any good reason to or not. The infighting that I enjoy watching is the infighting between atheists, not evolutionists. 😉 And, for the record, most of the people who blog at TT are “pro-evolution,” too.

  25. Chris Mooney


    “Attack”? Those are your words.

    “Enemies”? Those are also your words.

    I don’t see it that way.

    We were trying to make a very serious point about how scientists need to rethink communication strategies. We saw Dawkins as a prominent example to use. He is, after all, prominent.

    And I think a lot has been gained by our “going public”: A much needed debate has started.

    By the way: That debate isn’t only on the blogs, although that’s all we see here. It’s much broader than that.

  26. Laurie D. T. Mann

    Chris, Chris…

    Facts confuse some people. You can’t expect them to deal with facts.

    Most of us who read your writing appreciate that you have a clue about facts.

    And you’re dead right about the arguments in Life of Brian, too!

  27. gerald spezio

    The author of the following contribution to framing science is Seana Coulson, a UCSD cognitive scientist. It is an excerpt from her published dissertation, Semantic Leaps. She specializes in *conceptual blending.*

    I do not know how many years it took for Ms Coulson to learn how not to communicate like this.

  28. Colugo

    PZ Myers: “And, I’m sorry, but theistic evolutionists are creationists.”

    Please. Ken Miller, one of evolutionary biology’s most eloquent defenders, a creationist? Talk about lousy framing.

    By that reasoning, how are Deists not creationists too? Are agnostics halfway there?

    Doesn’t such loose usage water down the term?

  29. Colugo

    For me, the main issue with this creationism/theistic evolution/camps flap is not strategy nor even legal issues. It’s philosophical correctness. (No, not political correctness.) Certainly, theism lies outside of science, but that is equally true of atheism. However one’s metaphysics (naturalism, theism) relates to personal understandings of evolution as part of a complete worldview, evolutionary science is formally indifferent to the (nonscientific) question of God’s existence.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs.For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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