Friday, September 17, 2010

Christine O'Donnell: Trouble For Science Education In Delaware?

New York News and Features has an article on Christine O'Donnell, the woman who surprisingly upset GOP favorite Mike Castle to win the primary in Delaware. In what has become tiringly predictable, the author writes:
In a discussion moderated by anchor Miles O'Brien, O'Donnell squared off against Michael McKinney, a University of Tennessee professor of evolutionary biology. Not only was O'Donnell in favor of teaching creationism alongside evolution, but she wasn't even sure evolution was real. According to a transcript, via Nexis:
CHRISTINE O'DONNELL, Concerned Women for America: Well, as the senator from Tennessee mentioned, evolution is a theory and it's exactly that. There is not enough evidence, consistent evidence to make it as fact, and I say that because for theory to become a fact, it needs to consistently have the same results after it goes through a series of tests. The tests that they put — that they use to support evolution do not have consistent results. Now too many people are blindly accepting evolution as fact. But when you get down to the hard evidence, it's merely a theory. But creation —
Great Googlymoogly! Yet another person in elected office for whom science education has completely failed. Where do people learn this nonsense? O'Donnell, all at once, doesn't seem to know the difference between theory and hypothesis or between conclusion and fact. Theories don't ever become facts in this sense. They become very high probabilities. It isn't a fact that when I drop something it will land on the floor but the probability of it doing so is so great that we consider it a certainty. Where does she get the idea that these "tests" of evolution don't have consistent results? Not from any science textbook, that's for sure. To get an idea of where it does come from, we get to this:
CHRISTINE O'DONNELL: Well, creationism, in essence, is believing that the world began as the Bible in Genesis says, that God created the Earth in six days, six 24-hour periods. And there is just as much, if not more, evidence supporting that.
This is a woman who's only exposure to biological and geological sciences has been the ICR and AIG. No wonder she doesn't know the difference between theory and hypothesis. She also states that scientists use carbon dating to prove something was "millions of years old." Uh, no. They don't. Radiocarbon dating can stretch back 60-70 thousand years at the outside.

This lack of basic knowledge is truly troubling for someone who, as an elected official will have an influence on the education policies for the state of Delaware. Now this interview was conducted in 1996 and it is possible these views have changed since then. I applaud her conservatism as it applies to fiscal responsibility but it is hard to support this kind of ignorant Christian folk science.

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  1. People like this are giving conservative politics a bad name. Is it possible that there's a common anti-intellectual ideological root?

  2. I think that they come out of a conservative movement that has its roots in the 1920s when the anti-evolution movement really got going. Most people that end up in public office (Bill Frist being the exception that comes to mind) don't take much science in high school or college so their knowledge base is pretty limited. They see other conservative evangelicals take in the AIG and ICR talking points so they just incorporate it into their thinking. They don't learn much science because it does not help them politically. It is almost as if they say "well, there just aren't any transitional fossils" without really knowing what a transitional fossil is or what it means.

    The real problem for the GOP is that a huge part of their electoral base is made up of these science-challenged conservatives. It is not in their best interest to stand up and say "just one minute, these scientists might not be wrong." If the democrats decide to hammer on the "local yokel, anti-science" theme, the GOP might be in trouble with independent voters. As my brother (libertarian) once said about someone "Why would you vote for him? He's a creationist, for crying out loud!"