Well, it's now official. Michele Bachmann is in the race for the presidency. For anyone who cares about education, not to mention a host of other issues, this is a mixed blessing. On the positive side, Bachmann's continuous misstatements offer abundant opportunities to raise and clarify important issues. On the negative side, if she's actually able to convince people to act on some of her completely mistaken ideas, we really are in trouble.
While there are so many avenues to explore, I want to focus on just one facet of Bachmann's agenda. And I want to do it because it so dramatically shows how fast and loose she is willing to play with the facts.
Michele Bachmann has a problem with the teaching of evolution. Simply put, she's convinced that evolution isn't a credible scientific theory and doesn't deserve the attention educators expect it to receive. When she was a state senator in Minnesota she co-sponsored a bill requiring that "alternative" views be taught. Her position was so extreme that she likened acceptance of the theory of evolution to joining a cult. The Stillwater Gazette quoted her as saying, "In some ways, to believe in evolution is almost like a following; a cult..."
She went on to demonstrate the depth of her understanding of the topic: "Where do we say that a cell became a blade of grass, which became a starfish, which became a cat, which became a donkey, which became a human being?"
The fact that evolution is one of the world's best supported, most tested and comprehensively understood scientific theories hasn't fazed her in the least. Similarly, the fact that evolution is almost universally accepted by scientists -- and even more so by biologists -- hasn't entered her consciousness. And the fact that court after court in the United States for the past 45 years have consistently ruled against laws limiting the teaching of evolution in public schools or "balancing" such teaching with religious dogma of the sort Bachmann has proposed, hasn't bothered her either.
No, instead, she simply makes unfounded assertions. As I recently discussed, she counters criticism by manufacturing assertions. She's claimed, for example, "there is a controversy among scientists about whether evolution is a fact... hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes, believe in intelligent design." When high school student Zack Kopplin marshaled the support of 43 Nobel laureates from the sciences to back evolution and challenged Bachmann to produce her Nobel prize winners, not surprisingly, she ignored him.
Bachmann has also been a long time fan and promoter of pseudo-historian David Barton, a darling of the Tea Party for his idiosyncratic views on the founding fathers. Barton consistently claims that the founding fathers were dramatically different than any of us thought -- and, oddly enough, that they promoted every piece of the Tea Party agenda. Despite resounding push back from professional historians, Barton's outlandish positions continue to garner broad support from those who prefer history mimic their desires rather than history be reflective of what actually happened in the past.
Bachmann has described Barton in elegiac terms: "He is a fantastic and insightful writer." She's also proposed that he be hired to provide history lessons to members of Congress on the constitutional basis of our country.
Not surprisingly, given Bachmann's antipathy toward evolutionary theory, Barton is a fellow traveler. What's truly bizarre, however, is his recent claim that the founding fathers settled the evolution/creation controversy. "As far as the Founding Fathers were concerned, they'd already had the entire debate over creation and evolution, and you get Thomas Paine, who is the least religious Founding Father, saying you've got to teach Creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that!"
Yeah, right. Darwin was born in 1809, the same year that Paine died. Darwin first offered his theory of evolution in 1859, long after all of the founders had passed on. "Creation science" was coined by biblical literalists one hundred years later as a way of bringing religious teaching into science laboratories -- and was rather swiftly deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Whatever your position on evolution, it's all but impossible not to recognize that David Barton has gone off the deep end on this issue -- and Michele Bachmann seems willing to join him in his free fall.
All of which leads to two questions. First, is Michele Bachmann as incompetent as she appears or is she deliberately fabricating "facts" in an attempt to bolster her worldview? Second, which of these options is worse?