Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Young Earth Creationism and Qualifications for Legislature

In my last post I wrote that it is not necessarily an injustice for a group of people to be under-represented in the legislature. What matters is the reason why they are under-represented. Racial segregationists are legitimately denied proportional representation in the legislature. Atheists are not.

This should not be brought about by barring certain people from running for public office or barring people from voting for such a person. This should come about through the moral education of the electorate, so that they demonstrate their virtue by refusing to vote for such a person.

One group of people that should not have proportional representation in the legislature are those who believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old. The reason is because such a person must have such a poor grasp of basic chemistry, physics, geology, and science in general, that they cannot be trusted to make laws grounded in reality. It would be like asking a dental hygienist to approve the details for a new bridge.

A striking example of this is that of Arizona State Senator Sylvia Allen (R).

A recent video getting heavy attention on atheist blogs has her voicing her support for uranium mining by stating . . . twice . . . that the Earth is 6,000 years old.

Several bloggers have noted the irony of a person commenting on uranium mining while displaying a mind-numbing ignorance of the physics of uranium. Scientific understanding tells us how we can get energy out of uranium, how to run the nuclear power plant safely, and how best to dispose with the spent radioactive fuel. This same scientific understanding gives us evidence that the uranium formed 4.5 billion years ago.

To put somebody who is so willfully ignorant of the scientific facts regarding uranium in charge of approving or disapproving mines, regulating nuclear power plants, and disposing of the fuel is monumentally foolish. Allen is simply not qualified to do that particular job.

While a civilian legislator need not be an expert in every field in which she is responsible for evaluating the merits of legislation, she does have an obligation to pay attention to the claims of those who are experts. In this case, she fails in that obligation.

I lead up to this post with a discussion of the merits (or, more precisely, demerits) of the argument that states that if Group A makes up X% of the population, then they should make up X% of the legislature. Specifically, I was concerned with the claim that people who say that no God exists make up about 8% of the population, so people who say that no God exists should make up 8% of the legislators.

I argued that there was no such right. If there were, then we would have to make sure that if we follow this line of reasoning we would have to clear room in the legislature for those who endorse segregation or the treatment of slaves (or women) as mere property. It is permissible to have a group of people under-represented in the halls of the legislature. What we need is a good reason to exclude them.

We have good reason to exclude people who believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old. Their understanding and appreciation for the facts of the real world – for what we know through the sciences of physics and chemistry – are so poor that they cannot make competent decisions regarding legislation that touches on these sciences.

They simply are not competent legislators.

This is not to say that they should be banned from holding public office. Their right to run for public office must be respected. The right of individuals to vote for these scientifically illiterate should also be protected. Rather, the effort should go into teaching the electorate the foolishness of making legislators out of people who cannot understand the subjects that they are making decisions on, and who arrogantly put their own ideas above the determined conclusions of educated scholars.


anton said...

To further your point, I created a satirical series of postings about a mythical country of "Texberta" in which its citizens believe anything more than 6,000 years old is the work of the devil. Local "born agains" accept that the world is older than 6,000 years old but was inhabited by the devil and devil worshipers. Consequently, all women had to give up their jewelery, especially their diamonds. And, of course, they would not be able to use anything derived from oil, and that includes most of the synthetic fibers.

If believers were deprived of anything over 6,000 years old, their "beliefs" would rapidly change.

Anonymous said...

Discrimination against atheists for public office is an inevitable result of the assumptions of the theist public majority that:

a)atheists are evil and a threat to our values

b)that the most important qualification for service is a strong set of moral beliefs. Unfortunately, many christians in this country take the social shortcut of mistaking the ability to quote bible verses and the ability to believe increasingly untenable things "through the power of his grace" for a guarantee of morality.

We once did elect a proportional number of racial segregationists, until the public majority began to see segregation as morally impermissible. If we want to see a proportional number of freethinkers elected to office, the public needs to reach a point where they no longer equate "faith" with morality, and there is a greater expectation that our leaders will consider our life on this earth of equal or greater priority than our "next" life.


Thom Blake said...

It doesn't seem to me that there's a logical disconnect between being a young earth creationist and having a grasp of science. If you're going to accept an omnipotent being, then he might as well have created the whole universe just yesterday on its current trajectory.