This I Believe

John - Washington, District of Columbia
Entered on February 15, 2007
Age Group: 65+

I sometimes wish there were not a series called “This I Believe,” because it glorifies belief. I think that we rely on belief too much, and rely on reason and evidence too little, in both our personal and public lives.

I’m a retired professor of political science. As an educator and researcher, reason and evidence are central to my life. I take strong exception to the intrusion of pre-formed beliefs in education and in open inquiry. To me, for example, it is outrageous that advocates of creationism or intelligent design want to distort science curricula by insisting that those subjects be taught alongside evolution, because of their belief in a literal Genesis story. And that whole controversy is completely unnecessary. My late father was both a minister and a science major in college. I’m certain his reaction to evolution would be to say, “Isn’t it wonderful what scientists are discovering about how God created the heavens and the earth.” Belief gets in the way of a reasonable approach, in this case and in many others.

Every day in our personal lives, all of us encounter this problem with belief. We believe something, and we then pay attention to the facts that support our beliefs and disregard the facts that don’t. We may believe that a particular brand of car is best, for example, despite good evidence that the brand has slipped in quality over the years. Belief distorts our judgment, when we should let the unvarnished facts guide us.

The same is true of our public life. Politicians’ ideological beliefs are getting in the way of seriously addressing our pressing problems. I think that Americans yearn for pragmatism, for leaders who will first pay attention to real problems, and then seek practical solutions, whether the solutions are liberal or conservative, Republican or Democratic. All of our looming crises—global climate change, long-term government debt, a broken health care financing system, and all the others—cry out for casting off ideological blinders, facing real problems rather than wishing them away, searching for common-sense solutions, and telling the American people honestly what must be done, costs and all. We need less “standing up for principle” and more facing the facts.

I believe we should believe less, and should reason more. This I believe.