Thu 24 Oct 2013
Revised Notes for the University Of Winnipeg’s Knowles-Woodsworth Lecture October 23, 2013
“Reason, Religion and the Public Good”
By Allan R. Gregg
“A religion that takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion” – Gandhi
Last fall, I delivered a lecture at Carleton’s School of Public Affairs entitled “1984 in 2012: The Assault on Reason”.
In it, I documented some troubling trends which demonstrated our government’s use of evidence and facts as the bases of policy was declining, and in their place, dogma, whim and political expediency was on the rise.
Starting with the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census and continuing through the 2012 Budget and to this day, a clear pattern emerged that indicated a deliberate attempt to obliterate certain activities that were previously viewed as a legitimate part of government decision-making – namely, using research, science and evidence as the basis to make policy decisions. It also amounted to an attempt to eliminate anyone who might use science, facts and evidence to challenge government policies.
As a researcher who had dedicated a better part of my life to understanding Canadian culture and the political process, I had also come to believe that our nation’s progress has been advanced by enlightened public policy that marshals our collective resources towards a larger public good … and conversely, that that public good is threaten by regressive public policy. And in the end, it has been reason and scientific evidence that has delineated effective from ineffective policy. And this relationship exists for a very straight-forward reason – namely, that effective solutions can only be generated when they correspond to an accurate understanding of the problems they are designed to solve. Evidence, facts and reason, for me, therefore form the sine qua non of not only good policy, but good government.
So I felt I had a personal stake in the game and should speak out. But the more I researched and studied for that lecture, the more it also became clear that there were other larger reasons, beyond the personal, to remind ourselves why we value reason and why we should be very concerned when it comes under assault.