Americans really are ignorant boobs

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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About geoconger
  • Rev. Michael Church

    Wouldn’t an equally good header have been, “Those Brits Really Are Ignorant Boobs?” Not better, mind you, but equally good.

  • R9

    To be fair, talk of Teaching the Controversy often is a way of trying to slip Intelligent Design into science class.

    And when he speaks of examining the scientific evidence, that’s always good practise but no-one ever argues so hard for that when teaching thermodynamics.

    Also ID is not exactly the same thing as Creationism, but it does still incorporate unscientific thought. (unless maybe we mean something vague like Theistic Evolution, so it is good to know exactly what the person in question believes).

    So, I don’t really know the specifics of this guy’s policies. I can kind of see why he might be tripping people’s ID alarms, even if falsley, just cos we’re usd to anti-scientific thought from the religious right.

  • R9

    Okay he also said “It simply says there are disagreements in scientific theories out there that are continually tested”

    What sort of disagreements? Over details? Various mechanics by which evolution takes place? The entire theory?

  • R9

    Sorry for three posts in a row but also remember this is the Telegraph we’re talking. It’s conservative and generally pro-american, so don’t be too quick to invent some sort of lol-dumb-americans agenda here.

  • Agnikan

    ID is a form of creationism, because it posits an intelligent designer (of a supernatural sort) who intervenes and “creates” irreducibly complex systems. (Some ID proponents argue the the designer may have been an alien, but those proponents, if asked who designed the complex biological structures of these aliens, would undoubtedly point to a supernatural entity.) The Dover (PA) case of 2005 showed the clear creationist essence of ID.

    Other forms of creationism include Young-Earth Creationism (the Earth being less than 10,000 year old), Old-Earth Creation (the Earth is billions of years old, but God created each “kind” separately), and Evolutionary Creationism (evolution happens, but God is very actively involved in almost every stage of the process). Theistic Evolution, on the other hand, posits that God never intervenes after He starts the evolutionary process, or perhaps He intervened once or twice, but that’s it. See

  • Stan

    At one of the early debates in late 2011, all the Republican candidates were asked, “Do you believe in evolution?” Only Ambassador Huntsman raised his hand. So there is no doubt that Santorum does not believe in evolution. I suspect, though I don’t recall him ever having been asked this explicitly, that he does believe in “intelligent design” or creationism. Perhaps his evangelical supporters will ask him about that at the CPAC convention and he will make a more explicit statement.

  • Jeff

    “In his email to GetReligion, Dr. Tastard wrote ‘Why can journalists not go beyond the cliches?’”

    Answer: Because they all too often lack the intelligence and/or the moral integrity to do so.

  • R9

    Or possibly they’re just churning out an article in a hurry and aren’t as well informed as they could be.

  • carl jacobs

    Labeling Mr. Santorum an evangelical is an error of fact while the creationist label is tendentious, if not flat out incorrect.

    The article from the Telegraph spits out the charge of ‘creationist’ like it is a shameful thing. I have long thought that the Media seeks to make adherence to materialist dogma into a de facto religious test of office. It offers tangible proof the candidate hasn’t strayed too far from a modern worldview. A man’s assertion of Origin has nothing in particular to do with governance, but it does say much about his understanding of the nature of man and man’s place in the Universe. Modern man demands obeisance be paid to the idea that man possesses the freedom and autonomy that derive from being a meaningless random event in a meaningless random universe. He demands that Truth be the product of man’s inquiry alone and never the Revelation of God. Man may be allowed to glue God into the interstitial gaps of evolution, but he is not allowed to insert God as a necessary cause for existence.

    Perhaps I am wrong (and please correct me if I am wrong) but the attitude of your post came across to me as “How could the Telegraph accuse Rick Santorum of such a shameful thing? He may ‘not accept every tenet of Darwinian evolution’ but it is tendentious to call him a creationist.” Creation Ex Nihilo is a fundamental and non-negotiable part of the Christian faith, after all. The proper response to the charge of ‘creationism’ is not “How tendentious!” but “So what? He rejects the Dogma of materialism just as he rejects the Dogma of [insert another competing religion here.]”

    This is only newsworthy if you accept that materialism has become the unofficial creed of the culture, and then Rick Santorum has in effect been charged by the media with heresy. No doubt the inquisitors will soon appear to begin the examination.


  • R9

    Carl, evolution is a separate topic from where the universe came from, and whether or not a god is ultimately responsible for it all.

    And there’s not a binary choice between creationism and materialism.

  • Gerry

    Comment 5 should be deleted – irrelevant to the post. No, I’m not gonna violate the rules by pointing out how silly its “argument” is.

    The secular press can’t fathom any diversity on the other side – you are either with them or you are a Bible-thumping buffoon. Perhaps from their experience with certain TV preachers, they have made the Evangelical Protestant (actually, more often a Fundamentalist) the archetype of this ignoramus.

    • geoconger

      Gerry, I deleted the post for being off-topic as it addressed the issue. Then restored it and added an addendum to the article asking that we stay on topic or posts would be deleted. I have deleted several posts since that time. Geoconger

  • Jeff


    These people profess to be … well … professionals. They are paid and granted privilege on the basis of their being “well informed.” They are not supposed to “just churn articles out” — not if they want the public’s patronage and respect, not if they want to be regarded as professionals, and not if they value their privilege and pay. They are supposed, instead, to produced well-crafted, professional, intelligent work with moral integrity.

    So, I’m sorry, but your dog won’t hunt.

  • R9

    That’s all reasonable and yet doesn’t actually contradict anything I said or support the idea they lack intelligence.

  • Jeff


    If journalists are neither “well informed” nor aware of how poorly informed they are, such that all they can do is “churn” out cliches, then I continue to think that they must lack intelligence, moral integrity, or some combination of both. It says a lot about you that you are more offended by other people taking offense at poor journalistic practice than you are by said poor practice itself. It says a lot, and none of what it says is any good.

  • Bill P.

    The former senator is also being bashed by some on the right for his statements about environmental science and regulation, most recently about hydrofracking. Fortunately, some have picked up the story.

    With Santorum’s recent primary surge, it will be interesting to see who picks up this debate on the right, and how they handle it.

  • Bill P.

    Sorry, I submitted too quickly. I meant to add this reference. While not specifically about Santorum, it gets to the eco-divide within the right that I mentioned, into which Santorum is inserting himself.

    The piece is by Rob Sisson, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection. Here’s a sampling:

    Recent polls report that 27% of self-identified evangelical Christians, primarily young adults, are no longer single issue pro-lifers. Groups like Christian Coalition, Catholic Climate Covenant and Evangelical Environmental Network are growing at a fast pace as more and more people in the pews adopt all-encompassing pro-life views. Since people of faith come from across the political spectrum, traditional pro-life groups rooted in faith have an opportunity to consolidate a vast swath of voters. Elimination of the hypocrisy inherent in its platform clears the way for the pro-life movement to piece together a game changing coalition.

  • Dave

    I support the points of R9 and Agnikan about intelligent design. Creationism has an internal structure and it’s poor journalistic criticism to ding a source for recognizing that intelligent design is part of that structure. As someone who followed it from inception, I can assure you that it’s a variant of creationism crafted (rather clumsily) to evade key Supreme Court decisions against the public-school teaching of earlier variants (including something called “creation science”).

    No, there is no excuse for calling a Catholic politician an evangelical.

  • Joel

    Am I the only one who thought the expression in the photo was reminiscent of Gomer Pyle? Given the tone of the piece, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was deliberately chosen.

  • John Pieret

    So, Catholics can’t be evangelical (small “e”)?

    Whose ignorance/bias is showing, exactly?