I don't believe in God. But I sure do believe in keeping God out of all social policy discussions, including the recent debates over fetal tissue research.
And not only God -- all supernatural notions based on unsupported faith, no matter how sincerely held they may be.
Over on my Church of the Churchless blog I've been arguing that religion has no place in politics and policy-making since 2004. That year I wrote "Religious values have no place in politics."
Consider abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage—three issues that are commonly considered to comprise the core of “values-based” voting in the last election.
Opinions about each of these issues can, and should, be founded on objective facts derived from social science and medical science research. There are costs and benefits to various individuals and society as a whole from the presence or absence of abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage. These costs and benefits can be determined. They can be communicated. They can be discussed. They can be the basis for informed political decisions.
But you can’t determine, communicate, discuss, or decide anything on a religious or what-God-wants basis. The moral tenets of every religion are unproven and unprovable, using Volokh’s words. However, the moral tenets that flow out of political decisions founded on accurate real-world information can be proven, because the real world is provable.
For example, fetuses either feel pain or they don’t. If they do, then it should be possible to determine how much pain is experienced during an abortion. People could use this information to help decide when an abortion is justified and when it isn’t. Intelligent debates about the pros and cons of abortion could replace the frenzied moralistic “I’m right and you’re wrong!” screeching that now passes for political discourse in this country.
You can’t debate with someone who doesn’t have a defensible reason for why they believe what they do. You can’t debate with someone who responds to a reasoned argument with “Because the Bible says so” or “Jesus condemns sinners.”
Fantasy is a dangerous foundation for making societal decisions. A nation that forsakes reality isn’t going to prosper, because actions in the real world have real consequences. Blind faith is fine so long as it remains safely sequestered in a person’s psyche. But when it replaces the light of reason and science as a societal guide, there are going to be a lot of missteps, and even some falling over cliffs.
Since, I've become even more convinced that religious people need to leave their beliefs out of any and all discussions about social policy issues such as embryonic stem cell research.
I don't care whether you are conservative, moderate, or liberal, there's no place for anything other than reasoned arguments and solid evidence when debates are taking place on any subject.
Our country's founders were clear on that point, as I talked about yesterday in a post on my churchless blog, "America's founders reasoned their way to a secular republic."
If we act in accord with Nature's Laws, this is the deist equivalent of obeying transcendent commandments handed down by a god. Revelation is useless for gaining understanding or knowledge, because it isn't founded on reason, evidence, observable reality.
So our Declaration of Independence speaks of the "pursuit of happiness."
Government exists to express the will of the people as to the best way to regulate human affairs so as to make this pursuit most fruitful. Again, it is a matter of learning, of experimentation, of trying things and seeing how they work, then changing direction on the basis of new knowledge.
It's ridiculous when people try to argue against abortion or stem cell research by spouting supernatural myths such as "the soul enters the embryo at conception," or "life is sacred from the moment of conception."
If you want to believe in religious fantasies, fine. Just keep those beliefs out of social policy debates that affect everybody in this country, not just Christian fundamentalists.
Imagine that a devout Christian is sitting around a table with a bunch of atheists (as an atheist, I've experienced the reverse situation many times). The subject being discussed is the morality of embryonic stem cell research.
The Christian says, "This is immoral because the tissue may come from aborted fetuses, and abortion is a sin, since the soul enters the baby at conception." That argument will have, and should have, zero relevance to the other people at the table. Zero.
Instead, the Christian should use his or her brain to come up with reasoned, evidence-based arguments in favor of banning embryonic stem cell research. Which is tough to do, given that the life-saving benefits of advances in medical research are so strong.
Like I said in my 2004 post, it is impossible to argue with a religious believer who relies on faith-based supernaturalism. Once religious fundamentalism enters a discussion, rational consideration of a problem hits a roadblock.
Which is a main reason why politics in the United States is marked by so much gridlock. The fault lies mainly with right-wing religious zealots, but the left has its own share of them.
The only way to resolve social policy questions in a democratic and open manner is to play the discussion game fairly. Meaning, every person has an equal right to lay their reasoned arguments and supporting evidence on the policy examination table, where others can critique the validity of those arguments and evidence.
When blind faith enters the game, it screws everything up. It's much like a basketball game being played on a real court, with a real ball. It'd be absurd if a player entered the game and said "I just scored a slam dunk" without touching the ball.
"Huh?" would be the appropriate response from the other players. "You didn't do that. What are you talking about?"
"You didn't see me, because I made myself invisible, and used an invisible ball. So give two points to my team and let's keep on playing."
This sounds crazy, right? How could anyone believe in invisibility?
But this is closely akin to how religious believers want us to accept that they "scored" on a social policy argument when they invoke notions of God, soul, and so forth that are completely invisible.
If someone can't make naturalistic, rational, fact-based arguments against abortion or embryonic stem cell research, they need to get out of the social policy debate game. Otherwise, they're playing unfairly.
Unfortunately, this won't happen anytime soon. Religion won't get out of politics and social policy discussions until many more Americans wake up from the dream of believing in a God who shows no sign of existing.
May that day come sooner rather than later, or this country will continue to find it difficult to overcome the faith-based irrationality that is preventing us from solving our many pressing problems.