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Framing the Debate – How Design Books are Categorized

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I rarely set foot in a bookstore, having long ago succumbed to the Amazon.com convenience. But Saturday my son had an urge to buy some comic books — and he had to have them now. He waited semi-patiently, with regular reminders throughout the day of his desire — nay, his urgent need — to go to Barnes & Noble.

“Do you have any money?”

“Yes. I have some money saved up, and a gift card from Christmas that I haven’t used yet.”

So off we went.

While he was browsing the comic book section, I wandered about. I love the atmosphere of bookstores and could spend hours walking through the stacks, occasionally picking up a tome to read the inside cover, check the index, or absorb a page or two. Those of you who have spent time in many modern bookstores, Barnes & Noble no exception, also know that the experience is part bookstore, part sandwich shop, part internet-cafe. The tables were filled with people glancing through books, sipping beverages, tapping on their laptops.

Eventually, by design, I wandered over to the “Science” section. There were the usual science volumes one would expect, including the evolutionary biology tomes. But one item in particular nearly jumped off the shelf: Dawkins’ The God Delusion.

“What the heck?!” I blurted — half incredulous, half laughing — and audibly enough that anyone close enough could have heard. Looking around, a bit embarrassed, I ascertained that no-one had taken notice, so I stood my ground and looked again.

Yep. There it was. Right in the middle of the “Science” section. A book that had nothing whatsoever to do with anything recognizable as science, and everything to do with anti-religious philosophy.

I looked in vain for any design-related books. Nothing from Behe, Wells or Dembski. No Signature in the Cell or Darwin’s Doubt. Hmmmm . . .

So I headed over to the “Religion” section. Didn’t take too long and, sure enough, there on the shelf in the middle of the Religion section sat Signature in the Cell. A book that had everything to do with hard science and nothing to do with religion, unless one fanatically points fingers at the fact that Meyer’s position is consistent with the idea of a creative intelligence, even a God. But the book itself surely did not rely on philosophical and religious arguments. In stark contrast to Dawkins’ delusive tome.

Now I don’t have any idea whether Barnes & Noble actually categorizes The God Delusion and Signature in the Cell as “Science” and “Religion” respectively. If so, then they are clueless and a letter to the appropriate department might be in order. But it could have been an anti-ID employee who took it upon herself to place the books where I saw them on Saturday night. Or even a patron, brimming with philosophical and religious motivation, who ironically moved the religious work to the “Science” stack and the scientific work to the “Religion” stack.

Whatever the case, as I drove home, my son happily reading one of the comic books on his lap, I was reminded of the fact that the debate over evolution and design is still hampered by the hidden (and sometimes, not so hidden) agenda of those who try to frame it as a science-vs-religion debate, and then imply that whatever is produced by ardent evolutionists is “science” and that whatever is produced by design proponents is “religious”. Even in cases when it is blatantly obvious that the opposite is true.

14 Replies to “Framing the Debate – How Design Books are Categorized

  1. 1
    Robert Byers says:

    That is so much a accurate sample these days of how these bookies see these subjects.
    They are aggressively saying the CONCLUSIONS of a God in nature are not scientific and CONCLUSIONS there is no God are scientific.
    Thats what they are saying.

  2. 2
    News says:

    Hey thanks! Re Barnes and Noble, we saw this show before, and it is part of why they are going under. It’s about why THEY are dying as a business model. It has nothing to do with the distribution of information about design in the universe except for the fact that it will not involve Barnes & Noble.

  3. 3
    Neil Rickert says:

    I see this as a marketing question. Shelve the books where they are most likely to sell. That’s what a bookstore needs to do to stay in business.

    Whether or not Barnes and Noble made the right decision for these books is for their accountants to decide.

  4. 4
    rvb8 says:

    You are right of course, Dawkins’ book is not science but a philosophical polemic, albeit very well written.

    Along with Neil I think this is marketing, but a special kind of marketing, marketing by association. Dawkins is world famous, a former prestigious scientist, and known to be heavily involved in the debate about the correct spheres of science and religion. His book is likewise, a worldwide bestseller. So the shop made a simple sales decision and said, ‘put it in science as that is where the public expect to see this internationally acclaimed scientist to be.’

    No one, outside the ID community has heard of Wells or Dembski, Behe has some credibility but is still quite unknown. They put these books where their most likely customers will browse, the religious sections.

  5. 5
    Andre says:

    Rvb8

    a former prestigious scientist

    The truth can be known!

  6. 6
    awstar says:

    Here’s some marketing data B&N might find useful.

    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_.....012615.php

  7. 7
    Eric Anderson says:

    Neil:

    You provide a reasonable possible explanation: marketing.

    However, if that is the case then I would make two points.

    First, they might not be quite as aware of how to market as they should be. Anyone ID-leaning person who is familiar with, say, Meyer’s book is not going to think it should be shelved in the “Religion” section, but in the “Science” section where it belongs. Hence, maybe that letter to B&N is in order. Have B&N done tests in various stores to see whether it sells better in the Science or Religion section? From what Denyse pointed out above, this has been an ongoing issue across numerous stores, so it is doubtful that they have done any real-world, on-the-ground study. Rather, someone (based on their assumptions about the place the book might attract the most attention), decided to put it in the Religion section. Thus, we are right back to the framing question I talked about.

    Second, there are lots of other books that mirror the central core of The God Delusion which are not placed in the “Science” section, but in the “Philosophy” section. God is Not Great, for example, and many other atheist polemics from Dennett, Harris and the like. Why would Dawkins’ book be in the “Science” section and not theirs? Does Dawkins get a special pass, or, as rvb8 suggests, maybe someone just decided to put all the Dawkins books in the same place? A little strange in either case, as someone looking for atheist literature is probably going to find more of relevance in the Philosophy section, along with the other works.

    —-

    rvb8:

    “Dawkins is world famous, a former prestigious scientist . . .”

    How about:

    Dawkins is a formerly run-of-the-mill scientist who became world famous and rose to prestige by championing a purely materialistic worldview, speaking out against design, and bashing religion.

    There, that’s more accurate.

  8. 8
    Neil Rickert says:

    Anyone ID-leaning person who is familiar with, say, Meyer’s book is not going to think it should be shelved in the “Religion” section, but in the “Science” section where it belongs.

    Do people go to Barnes and Noble to buy a specific book? Or do they go there to browse?

    I mostly went to bookstores to browse.

    It’s probably true that people who browse the science section are more likely to buy the Dawkins book than are people who browse the religion section.

    I’m not in the bookseller business, and I haven’t done the marketing research. But it at least seems plausible to me that they have shelved those books where they will lead to the most sales.

  9. 9
    Eric Anderson says:

    Neil:

    Yes, I think you are quite right that placement to facilitate sales that is certainly a reasonable assumption to make. Maybe should even be the default assumption. After all, one would hope that a bookstore is trying to maximize its sales.

    So maybe it isn’t the bookstore, but rather us, who need to be more successful in our framing of the issues to the broader public . . . more successful in making sure people understand what the topic is and what is being debated. Specifically, in this case, that Meyer’s book is largely about the science, and Dawkins’ is largely about the philosophy.

    Now we might perhaps ask whether one side of the aisle has been more open and forthright about the framing question. In my experience from long years in the debate, one particular side gains quite a bit from framing the issues in a way that would be consistent with the B&N shelf placement. This results in the other side facing an unfortunate uphill battle, on a purely rhetorical framing basis, often even before the substance of the argument gets considered.

  10. 10

    Eric,

    Your story made me dig through my notes.
    In May 2014, in a blog started by Johnny Bartlet, OldArmy94 remarked that a Darwinist book “belongs in the fairy tale section of Barnes and Noble”. This made me to come with the question:

    What would be a proper name for the Section in Barnes and Noble bookstore for darwinian evolution books?

    And I invited then as I do now your readers to come with their proposals and suggestions. Until then here were my proposed names at that time:

    * Modern Religious Mysticism and Superstitions

    * Mass Hallucinations and Gullible Audiences

    * How to Start a New Religion with Just what you Have Around your Household

    * Funny Tales from the History of Science

    * Obscurantism in Modern Science

    * Science Forever Compromised

    * Modern gods, Modern prophets and the End of Civilization

    * Indoctrination from Kindergarten to College: the Key to a Lame-brain Population

    * What Difference it Makes if There is No Proof?

    * How to Improve your Skills in Writing Fairy Tales for a Career in Science

    * No Divine Foot in the Door

    * Darwinism – the Religious Foundation of Atheism. No Proof Required, just Belief.

    * The Creative Intelligence of the Matter (or Dirt)

    * Darwinian Magic and Miracles as Foundations of Biological Science

    * Natural Mutations and Random Selection or Whatever

    * The Modern Myth of Creation and the Abiogenesis Mystery

    * The darwinian Catechism

  11. 11
    rvb8 says:

    In 2009 Stephen C. Meyer published ‘Signature…’ to much (check the archives) ID fanfare; it was the proverbial nail.

    Today it appears that the sidelining of this nail rankles.

    Since 2009, have the Evolutionary Biologists published anything new to further bolster their evidenced claims for their reliance on natural science (and only natural science!), as the source of variation and evolution in the natural world? Yes!

    Complaining about the placement of one book, upon the shelves of one bookshop, really does seem a petty response to the since published work (peer reviewed papers, research papers, graduate papers, popular science books, scientific philosophy books etc), of the scientific community in strong support of science, and thus naturally, evolutionary biology.

  12. 12
    Eric Anderson says:

    rvb8 @11:

    Wow, lots of mistakes in one short post.

    Today it appears that the sidelining of this nail rankles.

    This has apparently been an ongoing issue for a long time. And, yes, pointing out the framing issue is a legitimate topic for discussion.

    Complaining about the placement of one book, upon the shelves of one bookshop, really does seem a petty response to the since published work . . . in strong support of science, and thus naturally, evolutionary biology.

    It is not petty. Is it pointing out the facts. Neil is probably right about the reason for it. Yet does it impact the framing of the issue? Yes. And it is possibly at least partly driven by it as well.

    You also need to be more careful not to conflate “science” with naturalism, which you are doing in your comment.

    Since 2009, have the Evolutionary Biologists published anything new to further bolster their evidenced claims for their reliance on natural science (and only natural science!), as the source of variation and evolution in the natural world? Yes!

    Nonsense. If anything, the argument for design is stronger than ever. The trajectory of the evidence is most certainly not pointing toward purely natural processes as the source of all biological novelty in the world. And, for the record, no-one has come close to refuting Meyer’s central thesis. Most materialists don’t even have the intellectual honesty to address it, instead relying on ad hominem arguments, more framing tricks like you are doing (e.g., real “science” is naturalistic), and general literature bluffs about all the mountains of evidence (no details offered of course) that are supposedly supporting the naturalistic creation story.

    Bluff and bluster.

  13. 13
    rvb8 says:

    Panda’sThumb has a new post, ‘Delving Into the History of Insects’. This of course is not primary published source material. What it is, is an indicator as to where new published research is going into the interesting topic of the relationships between insects in their evolution; fascinating stuff; lice are related to bees and moths, wonderful.

    ‘Nonsense’, you say, hmmm. You do understand what the word ‘new’ means? It means not rehashing old ideas.

    Dembsky came up with ‘the explanatory filter’ years ago, the application of which is pending. Behe’s IC has been proven a little unhelpful (see Dover), and Dembsky’s ‘specified complexity’ and ‘design inferrance’ round out IDs entire output of new ideas; unless I’ve missed some; oh yeah, ‘front loading’ what ever the hell that deistically implies.

    Even the meeting of serious evolutionary biologists, seriously discussing (never questioning) the future efficacy of new lines of study in evolutionary biology, is taken here to mean backtracking; the Altenberg 16.

  14. 14
    Eric Anderson says:

    rvb8:

    You seem to be under the misimpression that the fact that biologists keep working on biology means that the naturalistic worldview is correct. This is based on an illogical conflation of science and materialism. It also puts forth the tired old “promissory note” of materialism, which keeps claiming that a naturalistic explanation is just around the corner. We just need to keep studying a more, working a bit longer, being patient while more is discovered. Soon the naturalistic creation story will be complete. Or so the story goes.

    In the meantime, the strong trajectory of the evidence points in the other direction, underscoring the reality of design in the origin and development of life, as well as the gaping chasm in the alleged creative power of purely natural mechanisms. Those without materialistic blinders are more interested in where the evidence is actually pointing — based on the evidence we do have right in front of us — rather than placing our hope on some future discovery, some as-yet-unarticulated principle of natural law (or some cosmically lucky accident of chance) that would somehow explain our existence through purely material processes and finally confirm the materialistic creation myth.

    —–

    Behe’s IC has been proven a little unhelpful (see Dover) . . .

    That is pretty far from the mark. Let’s see . . . a clueless judge, who by all accounts was pretty eager to make a name for himself, decided to write his opinion by adopting, nearly verbatim, talking points from the propaganda-spouting NCSE’s submitted brief. Sorry, but Dover was largely a joke. And it certainly did not dispense with the concept of irreducible complexity.

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