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Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Posted: March 8, 2010 01:32 PM

Conservative darling and ex-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is scheduled to make his second trip to Iowa in his attempt to test the presidential waters this week. On March 9th, he'll be speaking to the Iowa Christian Alliance.

Given the audience, I wonder if he'll be recanting his views on the teaching of evolution.

Santorum has long been a critic of evolution. In his column in the Philadelphia Inquirer on December 17, 2009 attacking global warming, for example, he calls evolution an "ideology." He goes on to rant, "It is one thing for ideologically driven science to indoctrinate children in classrooms. It is another for politicians to use science to destroy national economies and redistribute global wealth. I refer, of course, to the latest scientific non-controversy, man-made global warming."

I'm not going to address the absurdity of his global warming argument here; the only reason there's any discussion, if you can call it that, about the existence of anthropogenic global warming is because science deniers are spending huge amounts of money to raise political doubts about the issue.

The same is true with respect to the "controversy" over evolution. It's a controversy only because a subset of some religious denominations thinks that the findings of modern science have to be rejected when they are in conflict with a literal interpretation of some version of scripture.

In neither case is there any meaningful controversy within the scientific community. Yes, of course, as with all scientific issues, there are fruitful discussions at the cutting edge of both fields. But that's not what Santorum is railing about. He simply doesn't like either evolution or the concept of global warming so he attacks both as ideologies and ignores the underlying science.

But, given an even more recent column Santorum wrote, he may well have a problem addressing a religious audience. The column was entitled "Catholics must heed teachings," and in it he made it clear that Catholics have to be opposed to abortion rights. He argues that "Catholics must be true to their consciences. But that is not a free-floating guide that we can define ourselves. A Catholic is required to form his conscience in accordance with the church's teachings on faith and reason, and to act in a morally coherent and consistent way, both privately and publicly."

Well, as a Catholic, Santorum should be well aware that there isn't any controversy within his church about evolution. Consider the conference entitled "Scientific Insights into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life," put on by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 2008. The Pontifical Academy gathered together some of the world's best scientists to discuss evolution. Pope Benedict XVI not only sanctioned the meeting, he addressed the scientists.

The sense of the meeting was well summarized by Nobel laureate Christian de Duve who wrote, "The participants unanimously accepted as indisputable the affirmation that the Universe, as well as life within it, are the products of long evolutionary histories." He also noted that "the actual occurrence of biological evolution is no longer just a theory, strongly suggested by fossil evidence, but not conclusively demonstrated by it. Evolution is now supported by overwhelming molecular proofs and has acquired the status of established fact. In the words of His Holiness John Paul II, it is 'more than a hypothesis'."

The Pontifical Academy itself, on January 24, 2009 issued a statement arising from the meeting that is as powerful as it is clear. "It is important for scientific knowledge on evolution to become integrated into our world-view and for our world-view to be steadily updated. The extraordinary progress in our understanding of evolution and the place of man in nature should be shared with everyone."

So, if Rick Santorum actually believes what he says about his own religious beliefs, that "A Catholic is required to form his conscience in accordance with the church's teachings," I guess he will be changing his stance on the teaching of evolution and I can think of no better place to make a public pronouncement on the topic than to the Iowa Christian Alliance. After all, the teachings of his church are crystal clear on the issue.

To continue to attack evolution as an "ideology" being used "to indoctrinate children" would make him the worst sort of hypocrite. In his anti-abortion column he gleefully quotes a letter Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., wrote to Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D., R.I.) concerning Kennedy's pro-choice stance. "Your rejection of the church's teaching on abortion falls into a different category. It's a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you've reaffirmed on many occasions."

All I can say is, Mr. Santorum, your rejection of the church's teaching on evolution falls into a different category. It's a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you've reaffirmed on many occasions.

Shame on you.

 
 
 

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