The Contrast Principle and Negativity Effect in proevolutionist media

In shifting from Darwin-skeptic to proevolutionist communications it can be noted that, along with Asking Questions (Chapter 4), the Contrast Principle and Negativity Effect is the only persuasive cue exhibiting a sizeable rate of recurrence across Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science mass media. As a matter of fact, while New Atheist articles display the least variety of persuasive elements, only the ID-supporting Darwinskeptic materials produced by the Center for Science and Culture result in a higher frequency rate for cases of contrast and the negativity effect. On the other end of the counter-creationist spectrum, however, both National Center for Science Education and BioLogos media demonstrate the lowest rates of recurrence for this persuasive characteristic when compared to other Evolution Wars media. In fact, the BioLogos incident rate for the Contrast Principle and Negativity Effect is barely >0.400 cases per 1000 words, while the NCSE’s frequency quotient proves to be just marginally higher. Despite these discrepancies, the overall ways that this message element is articulated in proevolutionist broadcasts are featured in Figure 5.5.

Proevolutionist Contrast Principle and Negativity Effect

Figure 5.5 Proevolutionist Contrast Principle and Negativity Effect

New atheist contrast and negativity

Nearly every incident of the Contrast Principle and Negativity Effect in RDFRS media incorporates some degree of antagonistic comparison, as New Atheist communications are awash in negative contrast. Similar to New Atheist rhetoricals, these involve unfavorable denunciations of antievolutionists and religiously affiliated supporters of evolutionary theory. Irreverent broadsides are also discharged against religion and their adherents, with the Catholic Church and Islam being the most common targets. Using such negative contrast, RDFRS writers repeatedly juxtapose the rationality of atheism and science alongside antievolutionist ideas, religion, and religious proevolutionists.

The professed levelheadedness, evidence, and scrupulous honesty of atheism are compared with the trickery and lack of scientific support for Darwinskepticism. Accordingly, Coyne states simply of the Center for Science and Culture’s Egnor, “There are no observations in nature that refute Darwinism, but there are plenty that refute Egnor’s creationist alternative.”159 While contrasting ideas associated with religious discrimination, employment, and personal religious beliefs, Dawkins thus describes an academically capable Young Earth Creationist astronomer:

He is a fake, a fraud, a charlatan, drawing a salary for a job that could have gone to an honest astronomer. Moreover, I would regard his equanimity in holding two diametrically opposing views simultaneously in his head as a revealing indicator that there is something wrong with his head.160

Regarding antievolutionists, Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum are prime foci for New Atheist rebukes. P. Z. Myers paints Ham as a

Comparisons and suppression 163 corrupt and “relentless self-promoter,” who is primarily seeking financial gain. “You know Ham has friends in high places, and they are warming up to open his brand of nonsense and lies to the schools in that area,” he writes, while explaining how public schools have been bringing students to the Creation Museum. “More minds, more souls, more money for Ken,” Meyer maintains, clarifying that this is “dangerous and represents a corruption of education that is doing great harm to our country.” He concludes with an admonishment to “not hold back in denouncing this blight of poisonous ignorance in our midst.”161 This is advice New Atheist leaders take to heart, as they poke fun at Young Earth Creationists ever}' which way, because such individuals idiotically “cling to these beliefs despite contradictions with history, let alone physics, geology and biology, because they believe the Bible is a literal history and science text.” For this reason, “We find much to ridicule in these peculiarly unreal ideas.”162

At the same time, in a manner somewhat akin to Young Earth Creationist condemnations of evolutionary creationists, New Atheists are quick to point out disloyal accommodationists. Scientists affiliated with BioLogos, as well as all other Christian researchers who promote science-religion compatibility, are described as counterfeit academics, who willingly peddle a form of “neutered biology.” Despite their scholarly credentials, these evolution-supporting Christians are described as being fundamentally irrational, since their “religious dogmatism presents an obstacle to scientific reasoning.”163 For as Coyne explains, BioLogos members “blatantly expound the most extreme and Jebus-loving form of babble.”164 Altogether, audiences are informed that BioLogos members seem to be “reviving Biblical literalism,”165 while their “tortuous efforts to find the hand of God in evolution lead them to solutions that are barely distinguishable from the creationism that they deplore.”166 Consequently, RDFRS media perform a sort of message inversion to the claims made by Answers in Genesis and ICR, which assert that Evolutionary Creationism is kindred to atheism. Instead, New Atheist commentators portray Christian theistic evolution as being homologous with Young Earth Creationism in respect to their mutual illogicality. Furthermore, any attempt to reconcile science and religion, or to mount nonaggressive interchanges on the topic of religion-science relationships are considered odious, for such efforts vitiate the true accomplishments of science. To emphasize this, Coyne quotes fellow atheist Steven Weinberg, who scorns the thought of discussing science-religion amity:

I am all in favor of a dialogue between science and religion, but not a constructive dialogue. One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from this accomplishment.167

Certainly, of all theistic evolutionary accommodationists, the most condemned by New Atheists is Francis Collins. Coyne, for instance, derides

Collins for the apparently repugnant transgression of stating that he was praying for Christopher Hitchens, who had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2010. “I really wish Collins had kept this to himself,” Coyne complains. “It’s almost as if Collins wants people to see what a fine fellow he is,” though he is truly an unctuous individual who “likes to use any excuse to do a little Jebus-touting.”168 New Atheist dissatisfaction with Collins is probably articulated best in a lengthy article by Sam Harris, which strongly questioning Collins’ appointment to head America’s National Institute of Health because of the geneticist’s religious affiliations. As he wonders disapprovingly, “Must we really entrust the future of biomedical research in the United States to a man who believes that understanding ourselves through science is impossible, while our resurrection from death is inevitable?”169 Such negative descriptions generally reduce to statements of unreserved revilement that compare the lunacy of religion to the sensibleness of atheism.

On the whole, New Atheist animosity toward religion is communicatively focused upon Catholicism and Islam. Pope Benedict’s response to child sexual abuse, for example, is frequently contrasted with how a truly pious religious leader ought to have reacted to pedophilia within the Church.170 Dawkins thus compares Benedict with Pope John Paul II, in an article candidly entitled, “Ratzinger is an Enemy of Humanity”:

Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, was respected by some as a saintly man. But nobody could call Benedict XVI saintly and keep a straight face. Whatever this leering old fixer may be, he is not saintly. Is he intellectual? Scholarly? That is often claimed, although it is far from clear what there is in theology to be scholarly about. Surely nothing to respect.171

This assessment ensues because from across the globe have “come reports of the protection or indulgence of pederasts occurring on the pope’s own watch, either during his period as bishop or his time as chief Vatican official for the defusing of the crisis.” Indeed, as Hitchens drives home, “His apologists have done their best, but their Holy Father seems consistently to have been lenient or negligent with the criminals while reserving his severity only for those who complained about them.”172 These deplorable actions, as well as other doctrines of Rome, divulge the rotten core of religion in general. Accordingly, it is in the context of the Vatican and its crimes that Harris concludes: “Here, in this ghoulish machinery set to whirling through the ages by the opposing winds of shame and sadism, we mortals can finally glimpse how strangely perfect are the ways of the Lord.”173

Islam, on the other hand, is characterized as being especially bellicose and “different from other faiths,” since the “tenets of the faith pose a special threat to civil society.” In the end, an “honest reasoning declares that there is much that is objectionable - and, frankly, terrifying - about the religion of Islam and about the state of discourse among Muslims living in the West.”174 Contrast is then made between New Atheist forthrightness and Islam’s truculence, as well as the dishonesty of academics, corporations, newscasters, and

Comparisons and suppression 165 politicians who perform “self-censorship” by not publicly confirming the religion’s horrifying traits.17’ As a matter of fact, unlike truthful New Atheists, individuals who fail to admit that Islam leads directly to mass violence are cast as deceitful cowards. For as Victor Stenger has stated plainly of 9/11, nothing but “Islam flew those planes into those buildings.”17'' Christopher Hitchens articulated this message in a Slate magazine article entitled, “Don’t Say a Word.” In the article, Hitchens claims that the term Islamophobia has been employed as a means of coercion, to stifle criticism of the atrocities that occur in the name of Islam, including the closing of girls’ schools and beheadings. “The useless and meaningless term Islamophobia,” he concludes, is now “widely used as a bludgeon of moral blackmail.”177 Contrary to those who give into this pressure, however, New Atheists will not be cowed.

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