DES MOINES — An atheist urged members of the Iowa House to “invoke the holy trinity of science made up of reason, observation and experience” as they went about their work Wednesday.
The trinity, Justin Scott of Waterloo said in offering the “opening prayer,” would allow lawmakers to address issues before them “without allowing confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance or intellectual dishonesty blindly guide positions and votes.”
Scott, believed to be the first atheist to offer the morning invocation in the House, said his trinity wasn’t rooted in dogma or doctrine and “doesn’t care what our feelings are or what our deeply held beliefs are.”
Scott, the guest of Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, said he put a lot of thought into preparing for the invocation but it didn’t hit him until about 4 a.m. that the message should be about the process “because at the end of the day, we are all humans and when we face challenges, all we can count on is our self, the abilities we’ve been born with, the talents we’ve developed.”
Science, he said, is “all about thinking about something, analyzing it, processing it and being open to the fact that what you thought about Subject A may not be what the evidence actually tells you.”
That’s something lawmakers deal with every day as they come to the Capitol with “preconceived notions — not even on a religious level,” he said.
Scott, a professional photographer and social media consultant, said he was representing not only atheists but freethinkers, skeptics and humanists. He hopes his appearance before lawmakers helps “normalize what atheism is, what atheism isn’t.”
There’s a negative connotation to the word “atheist,” he said, as well as an image of the “angry atheist.”
“But by coming in here and being really calm, really happy, cheerful, smiling as we walk around shaking hands, there wasn’t any pushback,” said Scott, who was accompanied by his wife, Brandi, and their three children. “It was just a respectful conversation about religious freedom. Am I as an atheist allowed the same religious freedom as everyone else in the state?”
Scott’s appearance did not attract the attention or reaction as the invocation offered in 2015 by Cedar Rapids Cabot witch Deborah Maynard. Several people came to the Capitol to protest her prayer. A lawmaker turned his back during the invocation and many legislators stayed away.
About half of the representatives were in the chamber for the invocation Wednesday, far fewer than usual, but it was not clear that was in response to Scott or that they had debated until 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Scott closed his invocation in a prayerful style.
“Let this trinity guide you and protect you,” he said. “May this trinity inspire you and be honest to you … lift up the truth upon you and give you peace.”