PZ Myers has a post up that has my feelings a bit mixed. It’s a quote attributed to Richard Dawkins:
Yes, America STILL manages to reach Mars despite half the country preparing to elect a man who believes he’ll get a planet when he dies. It is all the more to the credit of the sane, rational half of America that it manages to achieve so much despite being positively held back by the other half, the half that believes the universe is 6,000 years old, the half that seriously contemplates voting for a Mormon.
I have tremendous respect for Dr. Dawkins, but I have to say, this is an incredibly bad quote, and I hope he didn’t really say it. As phrased, it is an appeal to religious bigotry, plain and simple. I think I know what it’s trying to say, and I definitely agree that (a) Mitt Romney would be a terrible choice for president and (b) the anti-science activism of fundamentalist right-wingers is a serious detriment to America’s ability to thrive and progress in a modern technological world. However, the suggestion that it would not be “sane” and “rational” to consider voting for a Mormon is just plain bigotry. Merely having a denominational affiliation does not dictate how qualified a candidate might or might not be to serve, nor does it even reliably indicate how strongly or weakly he or she upholds the tenets of the denomination. There are plenty of valid criticisms to be made of Mr. Romney; we do not need to stoop to this.
I do not regard Dr. Dawkins as a religious bigot, and I believe that this quote, if genuine, is merely an unfortunate and ill-considered choice of words. But if someone said that it would not be sane and rational to vote for an atheist, I’d make the same protest. Candidates stand or fall on their own qualifications, and should not be arbitrarily dismissed based on religious affiliation. I hope that if this quote is legit, Dr. Dawkins retracts it or at least clarifies it.