I am a fervent supporter of the separation of Church and State for several reasons. Among other things, I believe that people should be able to hold any spiritual, religious, and crackpot notions in their head that they want. Thus, if Tom Cruise wants to believe that the director of the galactic confederacy (a guy named Xenu) brought aliens to this planet, stacked them around volcanoes, and killed them with H-Bombs 75 million years ago, causing their essences to pollute us ever since, then that’s fine. If Christians want to believe that children are born inherently sinful, great, go for it. If Buddhists want to believe that they will be reborn after they die, not necessarily as a human, but reborn nonetheless, fine. None of them should be able to tell the others what to believe anymore than I should be able to tell them that when we Frisbeetarians die our souls go up on the roof and we can’t get them down.
That’s what faith is about. A belief in something without evidence. Yes, the Catholic church believes in miracles. Documentation on the other hand, is iffy. Never mind. Let them believe.
Behavior on the other hand is a different thing. If we are to agree on public policies that affect everyone, they really need to be based on things we can demonstrate to each other.
For instance, it is generally agreed that stepping off a cliff is a bad idea. You can demonstrate this in many ways. I prefer dropping a watermelon rather than an actual person, but we can clearly demonstrate, time and again, that whether the watermelon hits the ground or the ground hits the watermelon, it’s not going to end well for the watermelon. This is called evidence. Whether I’m an atheist, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Scientologist, we can agree, stepping off cliffs–generally bad.
Interestingly enough, it was probably only anecdotal, at first. “I heard this guy, named Ugh went off the cliff after the mastodon and it was not pretty.” “Yeah?” Then, through something we call inductive reasoning, we saw that every time someone went off the cliff (and lets not be petty, we’re talking cliff, not a slight drop–fifty feet minimum) there was clean-up involved. (Unless you landed in a big pile of dung like what happened during the second defenestration of Prague. And there was still clean-up involved.)
So, here’s where I get really incensed. I believe that our public policies on health should be based on this evidence thing. I don’t want people going, “Oh, my brother-in-law got aids and they threw him off a cliff. It cured him completely.” In particular, I am upset with the Anti-Vaccination movement, a “health” movement that is killing people daily. In the 1980′s there was doubt raised about the safety of vaccinations and ingredients used to preserve those vaccinations. When concerns are raised, people conduct studies. They investigate the concerns.
Consider Vioxx (rofecoxib). On September 30, 2004, Merck voluntarily withdrew rofecoxib from the market because of concerns about increased risk of heart attack and stroke associated with long-term, high-dosage use. Previous and subsequent studies demonstrated an 4-fold increase of heart attack and stroke.
In the late eighties, a concern was raised about vaccinations, the preservative thiomersal, and autism. There was a concern so studies were done. There was no correlation. Tiomersal was removed from vaccines though in 1999 and in the interval since, there has been no drop in autism. More detail here.
And still the anti-vaxxers claim it causes autism, though they’ve mostly shifted their attacks to the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. Again, evidence is against them. Unfortunately, their influence has increased the number of families who don’t vaccinate their children leading to increased outbreaks of these diseases, some leading to death or permanent disability.