TheReligiousLeft.org

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Republicans Are Not Entitled To Their Own Reality

[A]ny fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it.

Or so saith the legendary wit of Oscar Wilde.  But given some of the fairly creative reinterpretations of history on display in the 2012 Republican presidential primary race, one has to wonder what Wilde might have to say about the intelligence of those who seem determined to rewrite history with little to no regard for its content.

Take Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, for example. Rep. Bachmann has never been one to let pesky old facts or the particulars of history get in her way. From those keeping track, her public appearances throughout the Republican presidential primary race have been dogged by repeated misstatements, inaccuracies, and flat-out wackadoodlery, with highlights including the more-than-bogus claim that the Founding Fathers ended slavery, her confusion of Hollywood legend John Wayne with clown-suited serial killer John Wayne Gacy, her concerns over the military ascendency of the Soviet Union, her distress over the HPV vaccine causing mental retardation in teens, her attempt to place the battles of Lexington and Concord in New Hampshire, and her recent claim, despite these colorful examples to the contrary, that she has "hasn't had a gaffe" in her pursuit of the GOP nomination. 

As troubling as it may be that someone who so routinely mangles history was, for a brief time, the Republican presidential frontrunner, Michele Bachmann's frequent factual flubs are mostly harmless in terms of the scope of their influence. Sure, they highlight Rep. Bachmann's ignorance on certain issues (best case scenario), demonstrate the persistent conservative willingness to rewrite history when it doesn't suit their needs (getting scarier), and certainly seem to underscore a disturbingly pervasive strain of anti-intellectualism in our culture (we're in serious trouble). But at the end of the day, belief in most of Rep. Bachmann's bizarre claims remains mercifully limited to the Congresswoman herself. And while Rep. Bachmann can (and does) continue to make whatever flagrantly ahistorical claims she likes in the context of the three-ring circus that is the 2012 GOP presidential primary race, it's not as if children are being taught her particularly pernicious type of revisionism in school or anything.

Well, this week Rep. Bachmann joined her fellow former frontrunner Texas Gov. Rick Perry in trying to get a cornerstone of conservative miseducation on the curriculum by calling for the teaching of pseudo-scientific intelligent design theory in public schools. Here are Bachmann's unintelligently designed remarks from Wednesday's education forum at the University of Northern Iowa:
"I think what you’re advocating for is censorship on the part of government. So the government would prohibit intelligent design from even the possibility of being taught in questioning the issue of evolution. And if you look at scientists there is not a unanimity of agreement on the origins of life...Why would we forstall any particular theory? Because I don’t think that even evolutionists, by and large, would say that this is proven fact. They say that this is a theory, as well as intelligent design. So I think the best thing to do is to let all scientific facts on the table, and let students decide."
If we were to take Rep. Bachmann at her word, our nation's school-children would actually have precious little to worry about, as Bachmann's urging to "let all scientific facts on the table" would effectively preclude the bunk science of intelligent design. But both Bachmann and Perry are guilty of perpetuating the conservative myth about a non-existent debate over evolution and intelligent design in the scientific community. The bald-faced lie that there is anything shy of near-ubiquitous support within the scientific community for the theory of evolution is used by some conservative groups, most notably the Discovery Institute in their "Teach the Controversy" campaign, as a means of presenting the two opposing theories as equivalent in terms of their scientific support and merit when in reality they are anything but.

Gov. Perry signaled his support for teaching the dubious non-controversy over evolution at an August campaign stop in New Hampshire, when he was captured on video confessing to a young child that he "[didn't] have any idea" how old the Earth is. When the child was prompted by his mother to ask Gov. Perry about evolution, Perry volunteered to elucidate his position:
“It’s a theory that’s out there. It’s got some gaps in it. In Texas, we teach both creation and evolution our public schools because I figure you’re smart enough to figure which one is right.”
Unfortunately for Gov. Perry, but very fortunately for the roughly five million students enrolled in Texas' public school systems, this summer the Texas Education Agency decisively refused a request by a conservative board member to include creationist arguments against evolution in the standard curriculum.

At the federal level, the teaching of creationism in public schools was declared unconstitutional in by the Supreme Court in 1987 (see Edwards v. Aguillard for the details), with the Court declaring striking down a law requiring equal time be spent teaching evolution and creation science. Via the ACLU:
"The Court decided that the purpose of the law was the invalid furtherance of a religious doctrine that a supernatural being created humankind, and the prohibition of a theory perceived to be antagonistic to that religious doctrine. The religious nature of Creation Science was unavoidable because of the ties between creationists and creation scientists, the inescapably religious nature of a supernatural creator, and the inherent conflict between creationism and mainstream science. Of particular importance is the Court’s statement in Edwards that the Establishment Clause bars any theory predicated on supernatural or divine creation because such theories are inherently and inescapably religious, regardless of whether “they are presented as a philosophy or as a science.” 
Intelligent design admittedly brings some novel developments to conservative efforts to shoehorn creationism into science class. The conservative push for intelligent design has, at least publicly, largely jettisoned Young Earth calculations and literalist interpretations of Genesis as integral parts of its theoretical claims. Yet there should be no doubt that the concerted conservative effort to include ID in public school curriculum is little more than a stalking horse for the same unscientific, unconstitutional creation science prohibited by our nation's Constitution from inclusion in public school curriculum. 

Religious belief and scientific understanding are in no way mutually exclusive, but it is the prerogative of all religions and religious people to come to terms with advances in scientific understanding that pose challenges to the cosmological claims inherent within most systems of religious belief. And as stomach-churning as I find the idea, it is the absolute right of conservative Christians to refuse to accede to advances in human understanding and continue believing, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, any brand of Young Earth, literalist hokum that they like. But differences of opinion should not be mistaken for differences in fact or reality.

There is absolutely no place for the pseudo-scientific theory of intelligent design in our nation's public schools. Intelligent design is nothing more than bad theology masquerading as even worse science, a reactionary attempt by conservatives to couch a literalist interpretation of scripture in the language of scientific rationalism.

It's not hard to see how someone like Michele Bachmann could be considered a luminary figure in a world in which conservatives are permitted to rewrite history to better suit their purposes. But for the sake of our future, let's please keep people like Rep. Bachmann and Gov. Perry from being permitted to rewrite our past.

(Big h/t to ThinkProgress on this one)

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