Monday, September 24, 2007

A Rationalist Litmus Test

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University today. Among his remarks, he stated that he questions whether the holocaust occurred, and that his questioning the accuracy of these beliefs represents some sort of academic virtue.

In fact, he is mistaken. Academic virtue does not mean playing fast and loose with clearly documented facts. If an academic finds research that contradicts his favorite theory, then academic integrity means accepting that research and moving on.

As bizarre as it is to deny the existence of the Holocaust, it is really not that much different than doubting the age of the earth, the existence of evolution, or the science of global warming.

If some think that 'the science of global warming' does not belong on this list, I answer that they are the victims of a propaganda campaign. If holocaust denial were as well funded as evolution denial or global warming denial, then this too would be seen as 'controversial'. It's the amount of financial backing, not the quality of the evidence, that distinguishes these three items.

I recently commented on Bill Mahar's 'new rules' where he stated that he has a right to take people's wacky beliefs - including religious beliefs - into consideration when casting a vote.

It is a sentiment that I whole heartedly endorse - and did endorse on October 25th when I wrote, in Religion, Science, and Bigotry that anybody who believes that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old is almost certainly unqualified to hold public office.

I think that we need to create a world culture in which thinking stupid things automatically disqualifies a person from holding public office.

In fact, I would like to propose a litmus test for public office for rationalists.

That litmus test is based on how a candidate answers a simple question.

"Candidate X. In your opinion, how old is the Earth."

If the candidate gives any answer in the range of thousands to tens of thousands of years, that candidate proves himself or herself unfit for public office.

If the candidate gives a wishy washy answer that shows unwillingness to stand up to those who believe in a young earth, then that candidate is unqualified to hold public office.

Every candidate should be required to answer this simple question.

In fact, dear reader, if you can get a candidate to answer this question directly, consider coming here and posting their answer.

That question is:

Candidate X, in 5 words or less, to the best of your knowledge, how old is the Earth?"

2 comments:

BHUVAN CHAND said...

Global warming controversy take new picture when a writer say that temperature increase is actually a good thing as in the past sudden cool periods have killed twice as many people as warm spells. He accepted global warming issues is big but he said not our fault.

Hume's Ghost said...

That's interesting. Bhuvan left the same exact comment on my blog.

Anyways ... there's another difference between evolution, global warming, and the Holocaust denial that I think is quite significant.

All 3 are forms of ideological thinking and money for promoting comes from that. The ideology behind Holocaust denial is antisemitism.

There isn't much money in antisemitism (as opposed to fundamentalist creationism and "free market" orthodoxy) which is why I would guess Holocaust denial is less successful than the other two.