Saturday, December 12, 2009

What an Unlearned Presidential Hopeful can teach us about Evolution

ABC News reported earlier this week that former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is ‘absolutely taking a look' at making a run for the White House in 2012. Although I find Santorum’s fundamentalist and ideologically laden history disheartening - and the possibility of his presidential candidacy downright terrifying - the recent disclosure of his political aspirations provides a great opportunity to disprove a commonly held misconception about evolution – the idea that evolution progresses towards perfection.

One of the common misconceptions about biological evolution is that the process pushes organisms towards a pinnacle of perfection in which the ‘most evolved species’ maintain dominance over ‘less evolved’ or ‘lower organisms.’ Often closely associated with this mistaken belief is the erroneous idea that, by virtue of braininess, our own species – Homo sapiens - currently holds sovereignty over evolution’s hypothetical pinnacle. These egocentric assumptions of human grandeur are simply not wrought out by available evidence. In contrast to teleological intentions fashioned with foresight, evolution is a process driven by hindsight; the ‘apparent fit’ that we observe in nature is the result of a filtering process.

As Stephen J. Gould spoke to at the Faxon Institute Colloquium on Scholarly Communication in 1997, “adaptations to a changing local environment do not imply movement to a higher level or an improved state. Change is simply change, with no value judgment implied.”

And the best evidence that we do not necessarily move to a higher level may be Rick Santorum.

Time and time again, Rick Santorum has proven himself to be antithetical to the notion of evolutionary perfection. For example, back in 2000 he was an outspoken proponent of a new amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act. The purpose of the proposed amendment, which later became known as the ‘Santorum Amendment,’ was to challenge the teaching of evolution in public schools and to include in the curriculum the teaching of Intelligent Design. During the presentation of the amendment to the Senate, Santorum quoted fellows from the Discovery Institute (see my post Darwin’s Dilemma for further info on the Discovery Institute) and argued that U.S. schools should be platforms for the “teaching of the controversy” surrounding evolution.

This proves that humans are not the pinnacle of evolution; because, had Santorum truly been perfection incarnate he would have known that there is not the slightest controversy in regards to the existence of evolution. Evolution is fact. The Theory of Evolution holds the same scientific credibility as does Gravitational Theory, the Special Theory of Relativity and the Germ Theory of Disease. Introducing an amendment that requires teaching alternatives to evolution is the equivalent of presenting an amendment that requires that evil spirits be taught as possible vectors of disease – it’s completely asinine.

Far from ‘evolving’ over time, Santorum’s idiotic and anti-scientific mindset has remained stagnate since its emergence from the fundamentalist primordial sludge in which it was born. During a lecture at a Christian school in South Carolina on Thursday, he explained to students that there is an ongoing “war of ideas” in which the religious are being challenged by the secular minded people of academia and public education. After insisting that there is a “controversy” he continued to say,

"There are real consequences to climate change, there's real consequences to evolution, that have to do with not just truth, but your own faith: Whether there is a God. Whether this God is sovereign. Whether this God was a creator. As opposed to… That there is no God. That we are all just a matter of random chance to have arrived at where we are. There's no truth. There's no moral law. There's no lawgiver..."

Now, I’m not a theologian but it seems to me that Mr. Santorum has missed the point of both science and faith. He clearly doesn’t comprehend science if he thinks that the findings of science can be variably applied to suit the particular religious leanings of the person interpreting it. Although he refers to only “this god,” there are in actuality hundreds of mutually excusive religions worldwide; but, there’s only one science standard - it applies to Muslims, atheists, and even un-evolved fundamental creationist Christians. Furthermore, Santorum evidently doesn’t think that faith is something that should be held despite a lack direct evidence for a god; quite the opposite, it seems to me that he predicates his adherence to faith on objective - though not understood - science. His bible thumping rants give the impression that religion will fall if science is accepted. It’s as though he’s telling students to contest science, because should it prevail god will be no more. He portrays his faith like a frail and fleeting wager.

He continued,

“All of these things, whether it's climate science, or whether it's evolution science, have that huge issue hanging over us."

I’m not even going to get into Santorum’s mention of “climate science” because, for one, this is an evolution based blog, and two, Santorum is also a correspondent for Fox News – thus his knowledge of climate science is limited to personal revelation and the four out-of-context email lines central to ‘climategate.’

To close this post, let me reemphasize three points;
1- Evolution is not goal oriented or progressive

2- The Theory of Evolution is a scientific fact regardless of ‘belief’

3- Rick Santorum is an ignorant ideologue that shouldn’t be trusted to represent anyone

D'Angelo, K. (1997). Faxon institute colloquium on scholarly communications issues Serials Review, 23 (2), 91-96 DOI: 10.1016/S0098-7913(97)90058-7


  1. Well written, concise, which is saying a lot, because it is so easy to go ballistic and extra long when speaking of the trash thrown by said ignorant ideologues, those cynical opportunists who seek to confirm or embellish preconceived fantasies among persons raised as victims from their earliest years.

  2. It’s definitely easy to go long; the FOUR part Darwin’s Dilemma posted earlier this week stands testament to that tendency.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. This was so outstanding, I had to share with friends. Thank you. http//

  4. Thanks katheque!

    I appreciate your help in spreading the "good" word.

  5. Gah. Word choice.

    And thanks for yet another name to add to my political cringe list.

  6. Thanks Anonymous, I’ve edited the irresponsible irregardless – I apologize for the gah and the cringe :)