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Mandatory Reading

April 4th, 2008 | Comments | Posted in Personal, Politics

This article regarding an Illinois state senator caught my attention today.  Apparently she became irate during the testimony of an outspoken atheist and began browbeating him:

Davis: I don’t know what you have against God, but some of us don’t have much against him. We look forward to him and his blessings. And it’s really a tragedy — it’s tragic — when a person who is engaged in anything related to God, they want to fight. They want to fight prayer in school. I don’t see you (Sherman) fighting guns in school. You know? I’m trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln. This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God, where people believe in protecting their children.… What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, it’s dangerous–

Sherman: What’s dangerous, ma’am?

Davis: It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if you’ll go to [court] to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up! Get out of that seat!

Sherman: Thank you for sharing your perspective with me, and I’m sure that if this matter does go to court—

Davis: You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.

Listen to the clip of the exchange here:

Rather than discuss the logical fallacies involved in her arguments (and there are tons: her ad hominem abusive arguments regarding Sherman’s chosen realm of activism, her ridiculous argumentum ad populum about belief in god, and her wholly unsupported implication that Illinois was somehow built on Christianity, just to name a few), I’d like to address the most frustrating aspect of this tirade, which is her claim that being exposed to atheism is somehow destructive to children.

Look, I understand what’s really going on here; if this woman genuinely believes that children unexposed to the teachings of Christianity are going to burn in hell, no one can really blame her for feeling that the perspective of an atheist is something corrosive that should kept away from impressionable minds at all costs.  But unfortunately, that’s a fully circular argument; it points to belief in god, but it only holds if you believe in god in the first place.  And more importantly, it’s missing the crux of the issue at hand, which has to do with teaching our children how to think.  The irony of her position is that the only children so easily susceptible to indoctrination are ones who were never taught how to think, how to analyze, how to discuss and debate; the ones who were never exposed to any new ideas in the first place.  And that’s why I’ve yet to ever hear a single valid unbiased argument against teaching children about critical thinking.

I hate to post the same stuff over and over again, but it appears my goal of getting this document into the hands every human being on the planet has not yet been achieved, so allow me excerpt once again from Walter Lippmann’s essay The Indispensable Opposition. Friends, please, read it right now if you never have before. It’s short, I swear.  But I digress; here are some relevant portions:

We miss the whole point when we imagine that we tolerate the freedom of our political opponents as we tolerate a howling baby next door, as we put up with the blasts from our neighbor’s radio because we are too peaceable to heave a brick through the window. If this were all there is to freedom of opinion, that we are too goodnatured or too timid to do anything about our opponents and our critics except to let them talk, it would be difficult to say whether we are tolerant because we are magnanimous or because we are lazy, because we have strong principles or because we lack serious convictions, whether we have the hospitality of an inquiring mind or the indifference of an empty mind. And so, if we truly wish to understand why freedom is necessary in a civilized society, we must begin by realizing that, because freedom of discussion improves our own opinions, the liberties of other men are our own vital necessity.

This is the creative principle of freedom of speech, not that it is a system for the tolerating of error, but that it is a system for finding the truth. It may not produce the truth, or the whole truth all the time, or often, or in some cases ever. But if the truth can be found, there is no other system which will normally and habitually find so much truth. Until we have thoroughly understood this principle, we shall not know why we must value our liberty, or how we can protect and develop it.

And here we get to the heart of the matter, which is that society genuinely needs different viewpoints because exposing people to different viewpoints is what helps learn how to learn, and what help us discover truth.  Atheists, as the opposition, (or Christians, were they the minority) are not something to just be tolerated.  They serve an important function: to either weaken or strengthen your own beliefs by putting them to the test.  And if a belief doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, is it really worth having?

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