Bad Astronomy

Shouldn’t Senators understand the Constitution?

OK, this should be pretty obvious: the first official act of someone who is elected Senator of these United States of America is to swear to uphold the Constitution. So it stands to reason that maybe, just maybe, the person doing the swearing should understand the Constitution. Right?


Yeah. Watch this:

OK, first off: I know that picking on Christine O’Donnell, Republican candidate for the Senate in Delaware, is like shooting fish in a barrel, but easier. However, the media is screwing this up: personally, I don’t care what she believed ten years ago in college. Everyone does stupid stuff in college. It’s college. I’m far more concerned with what she believes now. And she’s emblematic for the rest of the Tea Party as well.

There are a lot of things to note in this video. The first is that multiple times she ducks Wolf Blitzer’s question about whether or not she thinks evolution is a myth, saying that her beliefs about evolution and creationism aren’t important; what’s important are local schools and what they can teach. That is utter baloney. As a Senator, she might be asked to vote on bills that are directly or indirectly involved with this issue, and her personal belief is very important indeed.

And why duck the question? Is she ashamed of being a creationist, or simply trying to avoid looking foolish on television?

Second, and more importantly, is her comment:

What I will support in Washington DC is the ability for the local school system to decide what is taught in their classroom… [I was talking about] a classroom that was not allowed to teach creationism as an equal theory as evolution. That is against their Constitutional rights and that is an overreaching [of the] arm of the government.

Wow. There is so much wrong in this one statement!

First is her thinking that creationism is on equal footing as a theory as evolution. That’s not only wrong, it’s spectacularly wrong, as wrong as saying astrology is on equal footing as astronomy. We might as well teach the Stork Theory of baby delivery in health class, and the Tooth Fairy Theory in economics.

For those who need it spelled out, it’s really quite simple: creationism is nonsense [PDF]. Evolution is a fact.

Second, the local school systems don’t generally decide what they can and cannot teach. That’s done at the state level; standards are used for each discipline taught. Many states just use the national standards, while some (cough cough Texas cough cough) make their own. But local schools use those standards as a guide on what to teach. I’ll note the situation is more complicated than this, and there are exceptions.

But it hardly matters because of the third point, which is that she has it exactly backwards: teaching creationism is a violation of the Constitution. This has been shown again and again, and is so simple it’s really stunning that this is still being argued. Creationism is religion. You can’t teach religion in public schools. That’s a violation of the First Amendment.

I guess, despite thumping the Constitution every chance she gets, she never actually got as far as the Bill of Rights. Sheril Kirshenbaum has more about O’Connell’s embarrassing lack of Constitutional knowledge* at The Intersection.

So again, Ms. O’Donnell’s past doesn’t concern me nearly as much as her present – why did she duck that question? Why does she think creationism isn’t nonsense? And what precisely is her knowledge of the Constitution, which, if she gets her way, she will swear to uphold?

This may seem like a joke – I can’t imagine people outside the US take it seriously – but it’s no joke at all. Christine O’Donnell and most of the rest of the Tea Party are antiscience in many of their beliefs, whether it’s creationism or global warming denialism or any of a number of other topics.

November 2 is approaching rapidly. When it gets here, vote.

* I suspect some people in the comments will want to get pedantic, and point out that in the debate discussed in these links, O’Donnell was trying to be clever, talking about the literal expression “separation of Church and State” not being in the First Amendment. That is true (although the expression was first used by Thomas Jefferson). However, her opponent then goes on to quote the First Amendment more or less correctly, saying “the government shall make no establishment of religion”, to which O’Donnell asks, “That’s in the First Amendment?”. If she was trying to be clever, she failed.