In the context of this discussion, rationalists are making a grave error when they think they can simply present logical arguments to believers and have them accepted. The people who claim to “know” god are reacting to a visceral feeling which Dr R. A. Burton, MD says is an emotion we don’t control. The feeling we get that we know something for certain is a feature provided by evolution. Nonetheless mystical experiences divorced from reality have utility, because for many people believing in God is like a placebo. In fact Burton draws this very analogy. The benefit of such a placebo should be recognized and respected, because for billions of people “knowing” their life has purpose is all that gets them through the day.
On the other hand rationalists can deal with the existential abyss of not knowing all the answers. Indeed science is comfortable with the concept that all knowledge is provisional, subject to constant challenge and revision when new facts warrant. Burton advises us to teach children there are no absolutes. He says our genes set us apart and certainty is biologically impossible to attain.
Burton writes: “The message at the heart of this book is that the feelings of knowing, correctness, conviction, and certainty aren’t deliberate conclusions and conscious choices. They are mental sensations that happen to us.” He says that somehow we must incorporate what neuroscience is telling us about the limits of knowing into our everyday lives. The book is On Being Certain Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not, St Martins Press
We all must learn to live within our biological constraints. No religious or scientific knowledge can be certain. But, getting people to go along with the cold hard facts is not easy. For scientists this maxim will be easier to accommodate than for believers.
Some research by The Cultural Cognition Project scientists reveals that arguing with people who are culturally disposed to disbelieve your point of view is actually counter productive and only serves to harden the resistance of believers to examine evidence objectively. This is an involuntary reaction and it happens instantly, the moment a threat against their world view is detected.
Cognition scientists are learning that once a belief is accepted as truth the belief is indelibly wired into the neural network of the brain. Certainty is a common state of mind and difficult to shake but there are ways to bypass resistance.
To be smart about engaging believers we need the help of the scientists at Frameworks Institute. There is more than one way to tell a story—making research understandable to the public is the expertise at Frame Analysis.
About Strategic Frame Analysis™Since 1999, a rare collaboration between communications scholars and practitioners at FrameWorks Institute has worked to develop a new approach to explaining social issues to the public.
Strategic Frame Analysis™ is a proprietary approach to communications research and practice that pays attention to the public’s deeply held worldviews and widely held assumptions. This approach was developed at the FrameWorks Institute using a multi-disciplinary approach to evaluate the effects of various frame elements on support for social policies. Recognizing that there is more than one way to tell a story, Strategic Frame Analysis™ taps into decades of research on how people think and communicate. The result is an empirically-driven communications process that makes academic research understandable, interesting, and usable to help people solve social problems.
Quite simply, framing refers to the subtle selection of certain aspects of an issue in order to cue a specific response; as researchers have shown, the way an issue is framed explains who is responsible, and suggests potential solutions conveyed by images, stereotypes, messengers, and metaphors. The advantage of strategic frame analysis™ is that it allows the research to document and deconstruct the frames currently in the public consciousness and to understand their impact on public policy preferences. Additionally, it allows us to test and validate, through different disciplines, both the negative frames and the potential positive reframes that can further an issue’s salience. Finally, the effectiveness of the recommendations we make can be demonstrated; while we hope we are “creative” in our approach to communications, our findings are rooted in the social and cognitive sciences. We can explain what works and why it works, and demonstrate this across the research.
For more about framing and FrameWorks’ approach, read our Frequently Asked Questions.
How can you learn more about strategic frame analysis™? Click on the links below to read more about strategic frame analysis™ and how it can be applied to non-profit communications and advocacy.
* Strategic Frame Analysis E-Workshop
* The FrameWorks Perspective
* Seven Stages
* Research Methods
* Resources on Strategic Frame Analysis
See our Products and Tools section to review descriptions of our various research efforts and acquaint yourself with the variety of products produced by FrameWorks.
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Groups like Project Reason and the Richard Dawkins foundation have the financial resources to hire Frameworks to design a scientifically sound way to approach communication of the atheist perspective. It should be painfully obvious to every atheist who ever tried to reason with a believer how frustrating the effort can be. Even the brilliant (and often witty) efforts of Sam Harris and our best debaters fail to get through. We need a better plan to engage in dialogue with believers—one that takes advantage of all we have learned about human communication. Plus one that does not simply harden their views.