Monday, 11 February 2013

Faith and Facts: Where to Draw the Line?

Interesting juxtaposition in the news today: the Roman Catholic pontiff steps down, Stephanie Nolen writes about the biggest religious event in the world and Paul Krugman's column is about "The Ignorance Caucus."

Thirty million people bathing in the Ganges where it meets the Yamuna river and  the mythical Sarswati believe that they are washing away their sins of this life. That the water is polluted does not matter to them, any more than the shadow of ritual cannablism that falls on the Last Supper makes the Eucharist suspect in the eyes of Christians. 

People should be allowed to have faith in the importance and effectiveness of these rites, I suppose.  But religious beliefs should not affect our attempts at intellectual inquiry.  Yet, as Krugman points out, in the US (and iincreasingly in Canada) "One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs."

Climate change research is the most flagrant current example--Krugman notes that Virginia, one of the US states most in danger of coastal flooding, has reluctantly agreed  to study  growing risk but Republicans in the State Legislature have specifically prohibited the use of the words “sea-level rise.

Shades of Galileo...

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