October 15, 2012

Science vs Religion

Recent comments by U.S. Rep. Paul Broun regarding his religious beliefs and how they influence his votes in Congress have caused a lot of concern, since he sits on the House Science Committee: CNN Belief Blog post

This got me thinking about fundamental differences in how people think about humanity in general based on their religious beliefs.
If I come from a standpoint that mankind was created by an omniscient, omnipotent diety in their own image, created as a perfect being, then I am coming from a place of having been created perfect and then corrupted to the present state. So the focus would be regaining what was lost, and returning to the previous state of perfection.

However, if my point of view is that mankind has evolved from mammalian progenitors who evolved from even earlier forms, then understanding our reactions and impulses comes from considering our progenitors. By understanding how our primate relatives interact, we gain insight into ourselves. In this model, we are still developing and evolving - simply one more step in an ongoing process.

I personally find the second model most useful, since it provides me with insight into human behavior and motivations without getting bogged down in moral judgement. It is also interesting to think about how certain behaviors affect individuals and groups on an overall troupe success or survival basis.
That said - I think that having people who have strong religious beliefs that contradict current scientific thought should be ethical enough to recuse themselves from those committees in the first place. In the absence of such ethics, the committee should excuse them from membership based upon their strongly held beliefs. Should a passionate pacifist be elected, they certainly should not serve on a Committee responsible for making decisions that affect the military. This does not promote democracy, it ensures that things get bogged down in committees forever and nothing can ever get into the house to be democratically voted upon!


Rhianon Jameson said...

May I present an alternative point of view? There's a big difference between someone who has thought deeply about issue X and has come to a conclusion that is very different than mine (or, indeed, from mainstream thought), and someone who has no interest in issue X and has therefore not thought much about it.

A committed pacifist, for example, should not be disqualified from sitting on a committee discussing military matters - voters elected this person, pacifistic beliefs included, to make decisions on behalf of the electorate. On the other hand, an elected official with no interest in military issues should not serve on such a committee - any decisions made would not reflect thought or experience.

I say this as someone who disagrees with some of the views ascribed to Rep. Broun. Although you and I might disagree about, say, the existence and nature of God, I share your trepidation at having someone who refuses to accept scientific evidence on the age of the Earth making decisions on science funding. Representative democracy clearly has its downsides, and having representatives who are imperfect proxies for their constituents in some regards is one of those downsides.

I would argue that one should try to mitigate such problems by limiting the scope of what our elected officials do, thus limiting the mischief they might perpetrate on our behalf.

Rhianon Jameson said...

And blast Blogger for not allowing me to check the "Email follow-up comments to" box until after I submitted the comment! :)

Fogwoman Gray said...

Ah, I had rather hoped you would comment here, since I am sort of talking through my hat regarding how the Committee system functions!
Perhaps having some expertise in an area, rather than a particular POV should be a criteria? So you can contribute something besides an opinion to the process.
Limiting the scope or size of government is a wonderful idea. The problem I have seen is that it seems to be one of those wonderful self-replicating machines :) And grows exponentially as a result!

Rhianon Jameson said...

Oh, I'm talking through my chapeau, too. The one factoid I know is that congressmen request committees - so in theory they'll be drawn to areas of interest and/or expertise - but that assignments are made largely on the basis of seniority (though there are the occasional exceptions to bypass an especially crazy or insubordinate party member). Some committees are clearly more attractive than others. Appropriations, for example, is quite powerful, so it tends to go to senior people in both parties.

And yes, having expertise in an area would be a big improvement. :)