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Leaving Science to the Scientists

One advantage that people of faith enjoy is that they are not limited to being consistent. A good example is presidential candidate Rick Santorum. Santorum has long been a proponent of “intelligent design”, which is a fancy term for requiring public schools to “teach about the role of God or a Creator” as part of their science curriculum.

So it is ironic that Santorum recently chastised the Pope for talking about climate change, saying “the church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is… theology and morality. When we get involved with political and controversial scientific theories, I think the church is probably not as forceful and credible.”

Pope Francis (who has a degree in Chemistry) has said that causing climate change is a sin because the Earth is God’s creation and should be protected. And in a speech last month, he said “if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us. Never forget this!” An encyclical about the environment will be published on June 18, ahead of the climate talks in Paris.

If, as Santorum claims, religion has “gotten it wrong a few times on science” then why is it a good idea to teach religion as part of science in the classroom? Does Santorum use his faith to decide which science is right and which is wrong? Shouldn’t he take his own advice and leave science to the scientists?

UPDATE: On Fox News Sunday, Santorum was asked why he is more qualified that the Pope to discuss climate change. Santorum responded that his job as a politician was to make decisions about public policy, and that he felt that there are more pressing problems confronting the earth than climate change and questioned the Pope’s use of his moral authority to combat the issue of climate change.

Fair enough that Santorum disagrees with the Pope, but aren’t “devout Catholics” supposed to believe in Papal infallibility?



  1. Allan wrote:

    Snopes is reporting that the Pope does not, in fact, have a Masters Degree in Chemistry, and that he studied to be a chemical technician.

    That being said, Santorum is still an asshole who is very wrong.

    Friday, June 5, 2015 at 6:23 am | Permalink
  2. Iron Knee wrote:

    Thanks for the heads up. I corrected the post.

    Friday, June 5, 2015 at 9:21 am | Permalink
  3. ralph wrote:

    The convenient thing about religion is that it’s false even when you believe it’s true and the inconvenient thing about science is that it’s true even when you believe it’s false. Mother Nature will not be denied, regardless of your belief system, and 98% scientific consensus on anything is arguably undeniable. Unless you’re religious.

    But if I hear Sanctorum (pun intended) or another politician say again “I’m not a scientist, but…”, I may just throw a fossil or chunk of coal in their general direction, whichever is more convenient.

    Friday, June 5, 2015 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  4. westomoon wrote:

    Ralph — nice!

    Does Santorum use his faith to decide which science is right and which is wrong?

    I’d say the dictates of Sanotrum’s “faith” probably come from the Koch brothers — the pontiffs of the lunatic right in general, but especially when it comes to climate degradation.

    Friday, June 5, 2015 at 3:40 pm | Permalink
  5. wildwood wrote:

    Well said Ralph. I might have to borrow that, mainly because if I don’t I won’t remember it more than 5 minutes.

    Friday, June 5, 2015 at 4:34 pm | Permalink
  6. BTN wrote:

    on “the inconvenient thing about science is that it’s true even when you believe it’s false” – be careful.

    Historically, science has often gotten things wrong. In fact, some would argue that scientist themselves often behave as part of a religious group (although with significantly less bias than most religions).

    Example: as fundamental as gravity is to scientific calculations, no scientists actually knows how it is created/generated, how it effects things at a distance, why it is unaffected by intemedaite objects or fields (it can’t be blocked), etc.

    Another example (one that also stumps those that don’t beleive in souls): how does the human body initiate movement such as typing? In other words, people can explain how the last domino works (muscles contracting), and many dominoes before that, but can’t explain who/what toppled the first domino.

    Saturday, June 6, 2015 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  7. BTN wrote:

    Also, on Santorum: yes, he can be a hypocrite. However, I admire his brave (for a natioanl, conservative politician) stance on Jenner:
    “If he says he’s a woman, then he’s a woman. My responsibility as a human being is to love and accept everybody. Not to criticize people for who they are. I can criticize, and I do, for what people do, for their behavior. But as far as for who they are, you have to respect everybody, and these are obviously complex issues for businesses, for society, and I think we have to look at it in a way that is compassionate and respectful of everybody.”

    That is a true Christian response. Emphasis on criticising actions, not people. This also consistant with conservative’s defecnse of Josh Duggar (although it bothers me that the family does not seem to have taken any action to help the abused sisters, instead *assuming* that they were unaffected by the brief encounters).

    Saturday, June 6, 2015 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  8. Iron Knee wrote:

    BTN, I don’t understand your equating that there are things that science cannot yet explain with “getting it wrong”. Indeed, the whole point of science is working to explain things that we don’t yet understand.

    Sunday, June 7, 2015 at 5:56 am | Permalink
  9. ralph wrote:

    BTN – point taken. There have been a fair number of times science has gotten it wrong (e.g. cold fusion) or committed outright fraud (e.g. Piltdown Man); however, the scientific method provides for exhaustive peer review and the demand for reproducibility over the long term has made it the most reliable and trustworthy process of finding out how our physical Universe really ticks. Science, by definition, is never “settled”, always subject to refinement and review. Being conducted by imperfect beings, sometimes driven more by ego than curiosity, it will at times reach flawed conclusions. The beauty of the scientific method, however, is it’s self-correcting mechanism over the long term. Before Watson and Crick (and Franklin), Linus Pauling proposed DNA to be a triple helix, each strand held together by a complex matrix of hydrogen bonds (his most famous theory). As arguably the best chemist this country has ever produced, his triple helix theory held up for quite some time, as there was little evidence to refute it, until those aforementioned junior scientists came along to present a more compelling case and the great chemist was forced to retract.

    That said, there is currently an active debate and concern within the scientific community that the peer review process has eroded to the point where many published experimental results, for example in medical and biotech journals, are apparently irreproducible. This has been attributed to a large extent to the “result of failure to adhere to good scientific practice and the desperation to publish or perish.” . That the community can openly admit and address these issues is a testament in itself to science’s commitment of unwavering objectivity and self-appraisal. You’d be hard pressed to find any such instances within religious communities, which are more often obsessed with their own self-righteousness (I should know, being raised Catholic, the “one true religion”. Don’t they all claim that?).

    True, we don’t have a clue at this point where or how gravity is generated or what it truly is (like any of the other fundamental forces or even matter itself). Maybe science will provide the answers someday, maybe not. Science is an open book which seeks more the “how”, not the “why”. The writer and social satirist, Art Buchwald, when asked on his deathbed whether he believed in an afterlife and where he thought he was going after he died replied, “I have no idea where I’m going but here’s the real question: What am I doing here in the first place?”.

    I have nothing much to comment about my former Senator Santorum. I can respect his moral compass but, like The Bible, he is forever stuck in the Bronze Age and the recent minor concessions he has made on sexuality are, I suspect, purely an expedient for his political prospects. I wouldn’t trust him to office any farther than I can throw Noah’s Ark.

    Sunday, June 7, 2015 at 11:02 am | Permalink