On February 3, 2008, atheist mathematician John Allen Paulos wrote an article for ABC News in which he raises a series of questions that he thinks ought to be asked of the Presidential candidates (primarily on the Republican side) about faith and the Presidency. To my knowledge, the article entitled Putting Candidates' Religion to the Test: Twelve Irreligious Questions for the Candidates Before "Tiw's Day's" Elections was not answered by any of the candidates.
While some of the questions are directed specifically towards Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, I thought that the questions alone were so loaded that it would be worthwhile to evaluate the questions. I thought that the best way to do so would be to answer the questions that he posted as if I were the candidate running. Hence, just for giggles, here is how I would have answered his questions if I were running for President (substituting my pseudonym for that of the Presidential candidate to whom a particular question was directed when appropriate):
1. Do you really believe, Mr. [BK], that the Earth is only a few thousand years old and that humans and dinosaurs cavorted together?
Personally, no. I am part of a group who would be called Old Earth Creationists. I believe that the universe is somewhere around 14 billion years old and that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. However, I don’t believe that people who hold that the Earth is only a few thousand years old are irrational. They simply accept a more literal version of the Biblical testimony than I do. You see, if one accepts the claim that God inspired the writing of the Bible (and there is good reason to believe that – contrary to your arguments in your books), then it is not unreasonable to value the testimony of the one who created it more than the attempts by fallible humans to piece together the evidence long after the fact.
2. Religious people often accuse atheists and agnostics of arrogance. Do you agree? And is it arrogant to say, as [Governor Huckabee has], that [his] sudden rise in the polls was an act of God and that [he] wish[es] to amend the Constitution to better reflect "the word of the living God"?
Some atheists are arrogant, but I don’t think atheists as a whole are arrogant – just wrong. As far as Governor Huckabee’s statements, I don’t believe that his rise was an act of God. However, I do believe that his rise in the polls and his failure to win the nomination were part of the overall sovereign will of God. Finally, the claim that he wanted to amend the Constitution to better reflect the Word of the living God was limited (as I heard the speech) to a couple of social issues that remain subject to dispute in this country – homosexual marriage and abortion. Now, personally, I think he has the right to want to amend the Constitution to conform to his notions of morality in the same way that you have the right to try to amend the Constitution to your notions of morality. Your ideas of morality are not entitled to more weight merely because you come at them from an atheistic standpoint.
3. Article 19 of the Arkansas state constitution states, "No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court." Although it and similar laws in other states are not enforced, do you support their formal repeal?
Yes. Although I think that people who have a fuller understanding of the greatness of God are more humble because they see how limited they are in both goodness and wisdom which makes them better servants, I don’t think that it is right to require that belief to hold office.
4. Why, Mr. Romney, in your speech ostensibly devoted to religious tolerance, did you not extend this tolerance to the millions of atheists and agnostics in this country, people who, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, are still held in very low regard by many religious people?
Obviously, only Mr. Romney can answer this question, but I certainly agree that Americans should be tolerant of all religions: even agnosticism and atheism.
5. Do you not see an implicit religious test in your statement that "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom"? Furthermore, are not, respectively, most of Europe and some Islamic countries obvious counterexamples to your statements?
No, there is not an implicit religious test in that statement, but there is a simple factual claim with which I agree: freedom does require religion. I don’t think that Europe is a counter-example because freedom in Europe arose out of a Christian worldview (even though many in Europe have now abandoned that belief). As far as Muslim countries go, I think it is clear that most Muslim countries are not nearly as free as countries that arose from a Christian culture.
6. Is it right to suggest, as many have, that atheists and agnostics are somehow less moral when the numbers on crime, divorce, alcoholism and other measures of social dysfunction show that non-believers in the United States are extremely under-represented in each category?
I don’t agree that any studies really show that, and the reports that I have seen on studies lead to a contrary conclusion. Since I have not delved into the numbers myself, I will simply say that I don’t believe the assumptions in the question are correct.
7. Do any of you think God speaks to you, only to Gov. Huckabee, or to none of you? And, if I may, does God have a tax policy, a health care policy, a policy on Iraq, Iran, gay marriage, Guantanamo or the Riemann Hypothesis?
I believe God speaks to all of us, but I don’t believe that every time someone says that God has spoken to him or her that God has, in fact, spoken what the speaker asserts. The one place that I feel assured that God has spoken is in the Bible. Does God have a tax policy, etc? I am sure He does, but He may not have communicated the details to any of us. Rather, we are left to use the principles that He has spelled out in the Bible coupled with our own reasoning and prayers for wisdom to seek to arrive at the answer closest to the one that is closest to God’ position.
8. How would you suggest that we reason with someone who claims that his or her decisions are informed, shaped, even dictated by fundamental religious principles, which nevertheless can't be probed or questioned by those who don't share them?
That’s a darn good question. I have been trying to figure out a good way to break through fundamentalist views whenever I speak to the devoted followers of Darwinian evolution. But, of course, no one running for President on the Republican side holds the types of views that are of concern in your question.
9. I think we can all agree that a candidate who thought that we ought to outlaw interest on loans or revert to a barter system would not be a good steward for our troubled economy. Would you also agree that someone who believes the Earth is 6,000 years old and that Noah's Ark is an event in zoological history would not be an effective leader on issues such as stem cells, climate change, and renewable resources?
No more than I think that a person who believes that somehow life sprung into existence from non-life solely by natural causes would not be an effective leader on those issues.
10. Do you see any danger of a kind of theocracy developing in the United States? And, if I may sneak in an extra question, do you think that American religiosity has (or could) threaten American dominance in science and technology?
No, I think that people who are concerned about the imminent development of a theocracy in the United States are the same type of people who think that the World Trade Center was bombed by President Bush. As far as sneaking in an extra question – you’ve only been doing that throughout these proceedings, and given that I haven't objected to this point, I think it's clear that I don’t mind at all. To answer the second question, I think that in no way does American religiosity threaten American dominance in science and technology since I firmly believe that our tremendous growth in science and technology is the result of the firm beliefs – founded in a Christian worldview – that the universe is knowable and that science can lead to actual knowledge about the world.
11. How literally do you take the Bible or other holy book? Do you subscribe to any argument(s) for God's existence other than the one that God exists simply because He says He does in a much extolled tome that He allegedly inspired?
If you are asking if I read the Bible literally, the answer is that I read it literally where I think it is meant to be taken literally and I read it figuratively where I think it is intended to be read figuratively. As far as subscribing to arguments for God’s existence, the answer is that I find several arguments for the existence of God compelling. I do, however, look forward of reading your book to see if you actually have anything new to say about these arguments or if you are simply rehashing in new language the same tired arguments against God’s existence that have been answered innumerable times.
12. For many, religion has been a source of ideas and narratives that are enlightening, of ideals and values that are inspiring, of rituals and traditions that are satisfying. It has also led to hatred, cruelty, superstition, divisiveness, credulity and fanaticism. What can you do to further the former and minimize the latter effects?
I thought I was running for President – not Theologian in Chief. But to answer the question, I would simply say that the Bible teaches two commandments that it calls the greatest of the commandments: (1) Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and (2) Love your neighbor as yourself. If we truly follow these commandments, there would be no hatred, cruelty, superstition of divisiveness. (I’m not sure what you mean by "credulity" in this context, and "fanaticism" is somewhat of a subjective term – I strongly suspect you think that I’m a fanatic because I believe that God exists and the Bible is true.) Hence, I would ask those that are in charge of the churches to stress these two commandments and their relationship to the other parts of the Bible. By the way, I note that I could ask the same question of you because atheism has also led to hatred, cruelty, superstition, divisiveness, credulity and fanaticism. Since atheism has no charge to love one’s neighbor as himself, what exactly do you propose to do to minimize these ill effects of atheism?
The questioners would then breathe a sigh of relief, thank the university and the candidates for making the discussion possible, and wish them all Godspeed in their continuing campaigns.
And I, in turn, would ask that the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you, and the Lord grant you peace.