That’s a question we atheists get from theists. Often. Almost constantly, when we point out a fallacy in their religious thinking, or try to substantiate why we support the 1st Amendment’s proscription against governmental religious displays, or when we simply say we don’t believe in gods. They want to know why we care that they believe in supernatural spirits, or miracles, or Biblical authority, or other unsubstantiated beliefs. What harm do their beliefs cause, and why are we so damn strident about our opposition to them?
My stock response is, well, here, let me cut and past my latest in a dialog I’ve been recently having with a theist…
As an atheist, I don’t care what the next guy believes. As long as he keeps it to himself, doesn’t try to force me to believe it, and lives his life accordingly, he can believe that he’s in touch with little green men from the planet Xzortf, who tell him that he is living in a teeny tiny, glass enclosed, human farm, for all I care.
My problem with religious beliefs is that a very large subset of theists think they are right about their beliefs in a mythical god (one of tens of thousands of mythical gods that have come and gone through history) and that the world would be a better place if we all believed like they do. And, again, if they kept those beliefs to themselves, I wouldn’t care. But they don’t.
And then I read this, and I’m reminded of exactly why I do care what theists believe.
“I support intelligent design,” Bachmann told reporters in New Orleans following her speech to the Republican Leadership Conference. “What I support is putting all science on the table and then letting students decide. I don’t think it’s a good idea for government to come down on one side of scientific issue or another, when there is reasonable doubt on both sides.”
I read this, this… pure, unadulterated ignorance, from someone who aspires to be the President of my country, and I just want to bang my head against a brick wall. This is why I care.
One would expect that a U.S. Presidential aspirant would have some, maybe just a little, but some intelligence, some background in the basics of science and history, to be able to function adequately enough to get up and brush her teeth before gravitating to the Oval Office every morning. I personally think my President should be, you know, smart. I don’t care if he/she shares my lack of beliefs, nor do I have any desire that he/she be the type I’d want to share a beer/Cosmopolitan with. I just want them to be competent enough to run this country without unduly fucking up. And the sole criteria I have to base my opinion of their competence on is their apparent intelligence. And Michelle Bachmann fails that test. Not only doesn’t she have even a basic working knowledge of what science is, she has no obvious background in history. And a president that doesn’t know her history is doomed to repeat it.
The science is obvious. Anyone that believes that evolution and creationism are equivalent scientific theories explaining the origin of species, or even human life, is an IDiot. And I mean that in the nicest way. Intelligent Design Creationism is not a scientific theory. It has no working hypotheses as to how the theory is mechanically effectuated, it cannot be tested in a laboratory or in nature, and it cannot be falsified in any meaningful way. At best, its a claim to magic. Magic is not science.
So it cannot share the same table as evolution, because, as a scientific theory, it’s not a scientific theory.
Her sense of history, however, is the clincher. Ever since the Scopes trial in the 1920s, it’s been pretty much accepted that creationism (and its well disguised twin sister, Intelligent Design) are religious notions, and have no place in science class. Even though Clarence Darrow lost the case for John Scopes, he did win the minds of the U.S. populace, and evolution as the only viable scientific explanation for species has remained solid, except in churches. Since then there have been a series of federal court decisions that have all confronted various states’ attempts to force creationism into the classroom, all of which have soundly defeated those attempts. The most recent was in late 2005 when Judge John Jones ruled in favor of Tammy Kitzmiller and her co-plaintiffs in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District , and found that Intelligent Design was nothing BUT religion in disguise.
Every one of those cases involved extensive and expensive litigation to address the ultimate issue of whether creationism is science, and should be taught in public school. Every one said “NO”. But creationists continue to repeatedly attempt to force the issue back into schools, as if their little Stepford children can’t be taught the same thing in Sunday School, and will only believe it if their science teachers tell them.
Various state legislatures are trying to pass legislation that allows a back door to teaching creationism. Louisiana just rejected one such attempt, but it may be back. The main objections these days are not, as you would expect, that creationism isn’t science, but that such legislation will simply engender litigation that the state doesn’t want to pay for. In other words, they would have no problem passing the legislation to get creationism in science class but for the backlash from their constituents about wasting tax dollars on litigation they will lose. There’s no concern for the quality of the education of our kids, they just don’t want their political asses on the burner.
So Michelle Bachmann seems oblivious to the history of this religious project. That’s not a good quality for a future President. If it was up to her (which it’s not), she would have it taught in public schools, and the Constitution be damned.
But more to the point, she’s just one of many willfully ignorant religious people that seem to think that their biblical view of reality is one that should be imposed on everyone. She doesn’t “believe in” evolution (to the extent that one can believe in facts, as if rejecting the fact of evolution makes it somehow less factual), not because it’s a scientific theory with no explaining power, but because it contradicts her long cherished beliefs in a magical creation of the world. And because she holds those silly, downright stupid beliefs so strongly, she is convinced that everyone else should hold them too, even if they disagree with her, to the point of attempting to indoctrinate my children in those beliefs using my tax dollars.
This is why I care.