Press reports on Governor Palin as the Republican nominee for Vice President featured her position in 2006 on the teaching of alternatives to evolution: “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of education. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools.” Palin later clarified: “I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”
On this thin reed stand accusations that Palin is a “creationist.” But if that makes someone a “creationist,” then the ranks of the creationists include the Democratic party’s 2008 nominee for Vice-President, both of its 2008 runners-up for the Presidential nomination, and both its 2004 nominees for President and Vice President, as well as Republican 2008 Presidential nominee McCain. In 2001, Biden, Clinton, Edwards, Kerry and McCain all voted for a mandatory teach-the-controversy approach to be the law of the United States.
The phrase “the Santorum Amendment” has long triggered debate among those who follow the controversies surrounding the teaching of evolution. In June 2001, then-U.S. Senator Rick Santorum introduced an amendment to the “No Child Left Behind” education bill. His Amendment read:
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.
The Senate adopted the amendment, and then sent it over to the House, but no corresponding amendment was ever adopted by the House, and so the amendment never became part of the statute; instead it was included, with a few edits, as “report language” in the conference committee report accompanying the No Child Left Behind Act. There has been much debate over the years regarding what meaning, if any, this report language deserves. But we are not here today to discuss that.
Today, what is important is the vote in the Senate whereby the Senate adopted the Amendment as a proposed law of the United States. 91 Senators voted that the Amendment should become the law of the United States. Only eight Senators voted against it (the 100th Senator, Dodd, was absent). Senator Obama had not yet been elected to the Senate, so he of course did not vote. The vote is recorded at p. S6153 of the Congressional Record, June 13, 2001.
91 Senators voted to make it the law of the United States that “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.”
Senators who voted for this to become the law of the United States included the Democratic Party’s 2008 nominee for Vice-President, Joe Biden. Senator Obama’s closest competitor for the Democratic 2008 Presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, voted for the Amendment to become law, as did the third-place candidate, John Edwards (and Biden, for that matter, was also a candidate for the Presidential 2008 nomination). So too did the Republican 2008 nominee for President, John McCain.
Four years ago, the Democratic party 2004 nominee for President was John Kerry; its nominee for Vice-President was John Edwards. Both Kerry and Edwards voted for the Amendment to become law.
In 2004, a major-party nominee for President and a major-party nominee for Vice President were both on record voting for the Santorum Amendment. And the same is true in 2008; the only difference is that in 2008, the two persons represent different parties, while in 2004 both represented the Democratic party.
Biden, Clinton, Kerry, Edwards, & McCain — four Democrats and one Republican who all vied for the Presidency or Vice Presidency in 2008 or 2004 — all voted for it to become the law of the United States that “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.”
Something to keep in mind when partisans start claiming that the only candidates for federal office who advocate “teach the controversy” are Republican governors from rural states, such as Palin or Huckabee or Jindal.
There’s a reason for the bipartisan support at America’s highest political level for “teach the controversy:” the people want it. First, polling consistently shows, since 1982, until as recently as May of 2008, that 80% of the American people believe either that God created man in present form (44% in 2008) or that God intelligently guided evolution (35% in 2008). See http://www.pollingreport.com/science.htm. The most recent poll I’ve found on the specific question of teaching “the controversy” (Zogby 2006) says almost 70% agree that “Biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it” (of course, the mainstream says there is no “scientific” evidence against it, but the public believes there is and that it ought to be taught).
In a democracy such as ours, elitists who not only deny what the people want, but sneer and snicker at the people in the process, usually find that they are the ones who don’t get what they want.
Another thing for partisans to keep in mind, the next time they want to indulge in the pleasure of invective and insults at a position held not only by a few public figures, but by a very large majority of the American people, whose respect for science in general has earned them the reciprocal respect of individual scientists whose careers have been nourished by the people whom the scientists are so tempted to scorn.