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Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

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The 'Breathtaking Inanity' of Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann

Posted: 12/08/11 02:31 PM ET

Let me begin with the obvious. On so many levels, it is absolutely irrelevant what either Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum has to say about virtually anything. With that in mind, we shouldn't care that both again weighed in on the relationship between religion and science this past week in their egotistical self-promotion in search of primary votes.

But the fact is, they both made outrageous statements and it's troubling that they believe that the extreme positions they've staked out will resonate with voters. Even more troubling is that those outrageous statements will, in fact, likely resonate with some voters.

To be fair, though, Bachman and Santorum deserve credit for what they've said. Yes, their statements are completely and totally false, but, each of them, in single, largely incoherent utterances, managed to accomplish a perfect trifecta. Their positions are fully at odds with the well-articulated opinions of America's judiciary as regularly expressed over the past 45 years, they are completely out of synch with the findings of the world's scientific community and they are remarkably disrespectful to a majority of religious individuals around the globe. Not bad for a couple of minutes of work!

Let's start with Rick Santorum's position on the teaching of creationism in public schools. In an interview with the editorial board of the Nashua Telegraph, he criticized scientists for wanting science taught in the science curriculum. Yes, you read that correctly!

Since it's all but impossible to meaningfully paraphrase his rambling position, I'll quote it in its entirety so you can form your own opinion:

There are many on the left and in the scientific community, so to speak, who are afraid of that discussion because, oh my goodness, you might mention the word, God-forbid, "God" in the classroom, or "Creator," that there may be some things that are inexplainable by nature where there may be, where it's actually better explained by a Creator, and of course we can't have that discussion. It's very interesting that you have a situation where science will only allow things in the classroom that are consistent with a non-Creator idea of how we got here, as if somehow or another that's scientific. Well maybe the science points to the fact that maybe science doesn't explain all these things. And if it does point to that, then why don't you pursue that? But you can't, because it's not science, but if science is pointing you there, how can you say it's not science? It's worth the debate.

Bachmann's position, as expressed in a visit to the University of Northern Iowa, while far clearer than Santorum's, is no less absurd. She complained that not teaching intelligent design in public school science classes represented governmental censorship. She made it clear that her views on the subject were shaped by her religious beliefs"

I do believe that God created the earth and I believe that there are issues that need to be addressed -- the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the issue of irreducible complexity, the dearth of fossil record. Those are all very real issues that should be addressed in science classes.

It's quite amazing that Bachmann would bring up the Second Law of Thermodynamics since even the most hard-core creationists have largely let that one go! The idea never gained ground in the scientific community because it was so absurd and it was completely demolished for the educated lay person 30 years ago.

What's truly troubling is that both Santorum and Bachmann imply that evolution and religion are in conflict and that students should be exposed to religion in their science classes. Santorum, at least, should know better since he claims to be a devout Roman Catholic. The Catholic Church is comfortable with evolutionary theory and as I've pointed out in the past, Santorum's decision to ignore the teachings of his own church is an act of unbridled hubris on his part.

But the issue runs deeper than that. Like all creationists, when Santorum and Bachmann promote their anti-science agenda, they are also promoting one very narrow religious agenda. And that narrow agenda marginalizes members of all other religions. It is for that reason that so many mainstream religions have taken positions diametrically opposed to what Santorum and Bachmann are promoting.

Finally, in a delicious irony, the strongest and clearest judicial ruling against intelligent design was handed down in 2005 by Judge John E. Jones III in the landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board case. In ruling that intelligent design had no business being taught in public school science classes, Judge Jones referred to the "breathtaking inanity" of the Dover Area School Board. As he so forcefully explained, his decision was solidly based on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and had absolutely nothing to do with governmental censorship. What makes this so wonderfully ironic is that Judge Jones, a conservative Republican, was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush upon the recommendation of none other than then-Senator Rick Santorum.

It is terribly sad that people in leadership positions like Santorum and Bachmann are willing to play politics with education rather than accepting three obvious points:

  1. Evolutionary teaching has nothing to say about religion, and the leaders of most major religions understand this;
  2. Evolutionary theory is the only viable scientific theory explaining the diversity of life found on Earth and virtually every major biological society in the world has issued a statement in support of this position; and
  3. Countless U.S. courts have ruled that the First Amendment requires that creationism in all of its guises not be introduced into public school science classes.

These are not complex points. And they are not controversial points. Let's accept them and move on. In fact, I suspect that enough of us have done just that and that might, in part, explain why Santorum and Bachmann are languishing at the unpopular end of an undistinguished Republican field.

 
 
 

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