"There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me...that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C, and D. Just who do they think they are?"
Who is this speaking? Richard Dawkins? Sam Harris? In fact, the words were entered into the Congressional Record on 16 September 1981 by the arch-conservative Barry Goldwater, and quoted by Michael Shermer in a review of Dawkins' The God Delusion in the January 26 issue of Science. Can you imagine any American politician, liberal or conservative, giving voice to such sentiments today?
Like many of us, Shermer is made uneasy by Dawkins' in-your-face militancy, but he welcomes the scrappy biologist's eloquent take on Goldwater's concern. If our political leaders have been universally cowed into silence by the religious right, then maybe it's time for scientists to speak.