Richard Dawkins and the fringe issue

Thursday, March 29, 2012

There's an embedded video in an article here today that I found rather interesting. The discussion is whether a politician's personal beliefs should be an issue in an election, and is divided between these two:

1) Personal beliefs that have an effect on public policy (women's rights, abortion, etc.)

2) Personal beliefs that have little or nothing to do with public policy (transubstantiation, perhaps things like karma, dream interpretation, etc.)

They were all in clear agreement that #1 deserves to be in the public sphere - nobody should be able to hide bigotry in a veil of spirituality. #2 had far less agreement, with most saying that it was an irrelevant issue. Dawkins did not agree, seeing these as a weather vane of sorts for someone's critical thinking ability or lack of it.

Two thoughts on this:

1) A great many people vote on so-called fringe issues, issues that are important to individuals but irrelevant to most. For Dawkins a person's private beliefs are very important when deciding whom to vote for, for me my fringe issue is space. It is unfortunate that it is a fringe issue, but space policy is hardly ever mentioned in an election campaign. So let's think this through:

- Is space my only issue? No - I could not see myself voting for Gingrich over Obama (if I were American) simply because he loves space and references it frequently. However:

- I would have a really hard time voting for anyone who actively belittles it. The phrase "why should we spend money on space when there are so many problems at home to fix?" is for me a near instantaneous disqualifier, and anyone that believes that to me is seriously lacking in insight. Not only is the amount we spend on space a pittance, but the benefits it reaps are enormous, and not being able to understand this is a serious flaw. There is one possible exception here: a candidate that is simply parroting a talking point and has not given much thought to funding space. Checking the candidate's history to see if he is liable to change his mind upon being presented with new data is a good way to find out.

- Would I vote for a candidate I otherwise wouldn't vote for, but don't actively dislike, because of space policy? Yes, I could. That means that an imaginary American me could easily vote for Huntsman over Obama, possibly another GOP candidate if their plan for space is fantastic. I have yet to see one though. Obama unfortunately is not all that interested in space, and his statement that "we've already been to the moon" bugged me. Not we, a previous generation that has mostly died out went to the moon, and we cannot even make it there in 2012. We have been to LEO, nothing else.


2) Tying in advocacy of evolution and scientific literacy with advocacy of atheism is a bad idea. Assuming that scientific literacy is the most important idea to spread, consider the following two statements:

-- Evolution is true because blah blah, science is interesting and useful because of blah blah
-- Evolution is true because blah blah, science is interesting and useful because of blah blah, once you understand this you will also lose your faith. It is either one or the other.

The second statement is a much harder sell; moreover, it is useless ballast to anyone who actually believes that scientific literacy causes people to give up their religion. If understanding science = giving up religion, why even throw religion into the mix at all?


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Addendum

To demonstrate this even more effectively, consider the following examples. An advocate for socialism, and an advocate for Ron Paul-style unfettered capitalism.

The former:

-- Raising taxes for the rich and using it to fund social programs is a good thing because a society that helps the weakest is stronger for it.
-- Raising taxes for the rich and using it to fund social programs is a good thing because a society that helps the weakest is stronger for it. Once you understand this you will also be a proud socialist.

The latter:

-- Lowering taxes and shrinking the size of government is good because it helps individuals, businesses and society itself reach its full potential.
-- Lowering taxes and shrinking the size of government is good because it helps individuals, businesses and society itself reach its full potential. Once you understand this you will be a proud libertarian like me.

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