Americans really are ignorant boobs

Transient

Rick Santorum is not a Protestant. He has not called for public schools to teach creationism. Notwithstanding claims made by the Telegraph that the former Senator from Pennsylvania is an evangelical and a creationist -- Mr. Santorum remains not guilty of these charges. I wonder from where they get these things? This Telegraph story oozes contempt for Mr. Santorum. It paints him as a backwoods huckster who seeks to capitalize on the loathsome ignorance and cupidity of the great unwashed.

This pandering to the prejudices of the N1 chattering classes is a shame really, as the article does make a few cogent points about the weakness of Mitt Romney -- but the boneheaded mistakes that lead off this article will likely cause a thoughtful reader (one who actually knows something about the candidates and wishes to learn more) to give it up as a bad job.

These mistakes about Mr. Santorum's religion are not new, of course. And the Telegraph has already claimed the former senator pushed for the federal government to mandate the teaching of intelligent design (which is different from creationism, but I'll get to that) as part of the No Child Left Behind Act signed by President George W. Bush in 2002. However, repetition of a false story -- even by the Telegraph -- does not make it true.

GetReligion reader Dr. Terry Tastard alerted me to the latest brick dropped by the Telegraph found in an 8 Feb 2012 article by the newspaper's American political reporter entitled "US elections 2012: Rick Santorum's triple win gives yet another twist in Republican race."

The lede sentence in the Telegraph's report on Mr. Santorum's caucus wins in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri states:

With Newt Gingrich's second coming in South Carolina now a distant memory, Mr Santorum, a fiercely evangelical Christian, is suddenly positioning himself as the only conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, the moderate-liberal front-runner.

Yes and no. Yes, Mr. Santorum is positioning himself as the "only conservative alternative to Mitt Romney." No, he is not a "fiercely evangelical Christian." He is an outspoken Roman Catholic.

In his email to GetReligion, Dr. Tastard suggests this mistake by the Telegraph might be explained by the Telegraph's reliance upon the 2005 Time magazine article that called the senator one of America's top 25 evangelicals.

"Journalists are frequently unable to tell the difference between evangelist and evangelical," Dr. Tastard noted. I concur. TMatt at GetReligion has waxed eloquent on this point, and I refer you to his posts as to why it is important for reporters to get this right.

Let's return to the article. It goes on to state that:

... down-at-home Mr Santorum – who believes in creationism, reviles gay marriage, thinks global warming is a myth and wants to bomb Iran – enthuses hardcore Conservatives in a way that Mr Romney, with his corporate gloss, never will.

If I am not mistaken (apart from the creationism business) I believe just about all of the Republican candidates -- leaving Ron Paul to one side -- oppose gay marriage, are prepared to use military force against Iran, and are skeptical about the claims of the global warming enthusiasts.

On 4 January 2012, the Telegraph's assistant comments editor opined that the senator advocated the teaching of intelligent design in public school science curricula.

Mr Santorum pushed the "Santorum amendment", an amendment to the 2001 education funding bill which attempted to push the teaching of intelligent design in science classes, and questioned the validity of evolutionary theory. He told Hardball's Chris Matthews that he only believes in a "some amount" of evolution in a "micro sense".

Is this a valid point? Let's look at the amendment proposed by Senator Santorum.

It is the sense of the Senate that -- (1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.

If this was an attempt to sneak intelligent design under the edge of the tent, Mr. Santorum failed as he forgot to mention intelligent design in the amendment. Or maybe the crafty senator put one over on his colleagues through a cunning plan (which he has yet to reveal over the past ten years.) The senate adopted the amendment by a vote of 91-8. All of the Democrats voting supported the amendment, while the "no" votes came from Republicans who opposed Federal intervention in education.

While some have said the explicit mention of biological evolution as being a topic of controversy qualifies as a critique, I am not persuaded by this argument. As I read it, the amendment sought to help students understand what is, and what is not, science -- t0 discern the difference between the truth claims of the scientific method against the truth claims of philosophy and religion.

The House version did not include similar language, and in conference the following language was adopted and included in Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference in Title I, Part A, as item 78.

The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.

After the compromise language was adopted, Senator Santorum spoke from the floor of the Senate thanking his colleagues for their support.

As the education bill report language makes clear, it is not proper in the science classrooms of our public schools to teach either religion or philosophy. But also, it says, just because some think that contending scientific theories may have implications for religion or philosophy, that is no reason to ignore or trivialize the scientific issues embodied in those theories. After all, there are enormous religious and philosophical questions implied by much of what science does, especially these days. Thus, it is entirely appropriate that the scientific evidence behind them is examined in science classrooms. Efforts to shut down scientific debates, as such, only serve to thwart the true purposes of education, science and law. There is a question here of academic freedom, freedom to learn, as well as to teach. The debate over origins is an excellent example.

Can we say that Senator Santorum believes in some form of intelligent design? Yes. Can we say that he does not accept every tenet of Darwinian evolution? Yes. Can we say he believes in creationism? No.

While creationism and intelligent design may be conflated in discussions about critiques of Darwinian evolution, intelligent design posits a role for the deity in the creation of the cosmos, while in the context of Christian religious conservatism creationism is the literal belief in the Genesis account of creation -- God created the earth in six days and rested on the seventh.

In his email to GetReligion, Dr. Tastard wrote "Why can journalists not go beyond the cliches?"

His point is well taken. Labeling Mr. Santorum an evangelical is an error of fact while the creationist label is tendentious, if not flat out incorrect. However, these mistakes need to be heard in the context of the article as a whole, which seeks to belittle the senator. The bottom line -- this article is an advocacy piece masquerading as reporting. For shame.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: Democracy simply doesn't work" are sentiments expressed by fictional news anchor Kent Brockman on The Simpsons. It is dispiriting to find the Telegraph's reporting on American politics follows this line of thinking. It endorses H.L. Mencken's view that America is the land of the booboise. Unsophisticated morons fixated on guns, god and gays. The Telegraph really can do better than this.

As an aside, do look at the Wikipedia entry on the Santorum amendment. Here you will see why it is foolish to rely on Wikipedia as an unbiased source for information. The Wikipedia article states the senator's amendment sought to introduce intelligent design into school curricula and was voted down among its other dubious assertions.

Caricature courtesy of Wikipedia Commons by DonkeyHotey

Addendum: Comments are welcome, but please keep them focused on the journalism. While the issues -- scientific and political -- are fascinating in themselves, they will be deleted unless they tie into the media questions.

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