Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Proportional Representation

Those who claim that there is almost certainly no God make up about 8% of the population in the United States. Yet, they make up less than 0.2% of the legislature. By rights, with 535 people in the combined House of Representatives and the Senate, there should be about 43 atheists in the federal Congress – and several hundred atheists scattered around in the various state legislatures.

This is a very poor argument.

Consider the same line of reasoning combined to racial segregationists. If racial segregationists made up 8% of the population, this would not entitle them to 8% of the legislative seats. In fact, for racial segregationists to hold even 0.2% of the seats in Congress would be 0.2% too much.

Because of the moral bankruptcy of racial segregation, the mere fact that somebody is a segregationist would be a good reason to vote against him.

This reduction ad absurdum shows the logical invalidity of the argument in the first paragraph. This implies that a reason-loving culture (or subculture) would not use that argument.

Furthermore, they would condemn anybody who did use that argument because such a person certainly displays insufficient love of reason – where love of reason is a desire that people generally have reason to promote. Such a person would be worthy of our condemnation.

If we want to find anti-atheist bigotry, we cannot find it in the fact that atheists are under-represented in the legislature. We must find it in the reasons why atheists are under-represented in the legislature. Do those reasons stand up to scrutiny?

Here, the answer is that they clearly do not. The claim that atheists lack a moral foundation is a belief that no virtuous person would embrace. A virtuous person would begin by giving atheists the benefit of the doubt, and then look for proof beyond a reasonable doubt for rejecting that original assumption. No such evidence exists.

It is an article of faith that declares that atheists lack morals. To a virtuous person, this is as repugnant as holding it as a matter of faith that the accused is guilty of murder, or that women are to be treated as slaves, while blacks are to actually be slaves. Accusations of wrongdoing – accusations that an individual group is of a lower (second) class of moral order may not be grounded on faith.

Yet, the claim that atheists have second-class moral status that makes them unfit for public office is a faith-based conviction of guilt – the very thing that a virtuous person would never embrace.

This is further evidence of bigotry in that people do not get their morality from God or any divine source. There is no divine source for them to get their morality from. Instead, they assign their morality to God. So, if God turns out to be a hate-mongering bigot, it is because we are talking about a God who was created by hate-mongering bigots, who have assigned their bigotry to God.

And if God is kind and just, it is because kind and just people invented that God, and assigned their kindness and just dispositions to that God.

There are two conclusions that I want to draw from this.

One conclusion is that a culture that embraces reason would reject the type of argument depicted in the opening paragraph and condemn those who use such an argument as somebody who lacks a proper respect for reason.

The other conclusion is that some groups do not warrant proportional representation in the legislature. Though their right to run for public office shall not be infringed, nor should the right of people to vote for such a candidate be revoked, the people themselves should be intelligent enough and virtuous enough to keep such individuals out of public office.

The fact that these groups are under-represented in a freely elected legislature should be seen as a sign of the virtue of the overall population. Or, conversely, if representatives of these groups get elected, it should be taken as a sign of the electorate's lack of virtue.

That they freely vote to keep such people from public office is not a mark of injustice. That the reasons they give for keeping such people out of public office are the baseless prejudices of a hate-mongering bigotry (or the bigoted God they may have created), on the other hand, would be a mark of injustice that a virtuous person would condemn.

I will illustrate these points with a specific example in my next post.


Chris said...

This reduction ad absurdum shows the logical invalidity of the argument in the first paragraph.

This makes no sense. I cannot even see how there is an argument in the first paragraph. The phrase, "by rights" implies not that it is a fact that in our system of representation we would statistically expect the same proportional representation of atheists in congress as we see in society, but that we "ought" to have the same proportional representation. Obviously, the conclusion that we ought to have the representation mentioned in the first paragraph does not follow from the facts given (at least if one holds that an "ought" cannot follow from any "is".) Of course, you may hold that it is possible that an ought can follow an is, but you have not made the argument explicit enough to see how it is invalid.

In any case, it is certainly possible to hold that it is good to have the type of proportional representation mentioned in the first paragraph even if it means some people who hold vile beliefs might also be represented, in the same way we support free speech, even when people use it to express vile thoughts. It is certainly not a reduction ad absurdum to point out that one preferred method of representation happens to allow for a group you don't prefer be represented. Our system we use today does this.

Chris said...

To clarify. You are asserting that the desire for the form of representative government in the first paragraph would lead to a horrid situation where some bad people also proportionally represented. This is still not reductio in the sense given here. I also wonder at your willingness to hold people in scorn for this supposed "irrationallity". The proposition in the first paragraph may not be workable and may not be "good", but it is not because of illogic.

One of the historical critiques of democracy is basically the same as the argument you present here against the proposition in the first paragraph.