I recently wrote that potential presidential candidate Bobby Jindal, touted as not stupid, nevertheless appears to be anti-science.
Now it’s Marco Rubio’s turn. The Florida senator said he couldn’t tell how old the Earth is, whether created in seven days, or seven actual eras, or whatever science claims. He added, dismissively, “I’m not a scientist, man.”
You don’t have to be a scientist to accept the non-controversial findings among scientists that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old, plus or minus 50 million years. Given such ignorance, one wonders why Rubio serves on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
These personal (or pandering?) views are bad enough, but for Rubio the “crux” of the disagreement is “whether what a parent teaches their children at home should be mocked and derided and undone at the public school level.” He added, “I don’t want a school system that teaches kids that what they’re learning at home is wrong.”
Because some parents teach their children that blacks are inferior to whites and women should be subservient to men, does Rubio also think that schools should shrink from offering more modern points of view? If so, why not just keep children away from schools so they won’t be exposed to scientific and social views that conflict with what their parents believe? Oh, wait! We do allow home schooling.
And what about the widespread ignorance of politicians throughout the country on both the constitutional and practical need to separate church and state? Here’s an example in my hometown of Charleston, S.C.
In 1997, Charleston County’s then-Councilman Tim Scott insisted on posting a Ten Commandments plaque on the wall of council chambers despite being told that he would lose any legal challenge. Scott argued that the display was needed to remind residents of moral absolutes. The Charleston Post and Courier then asked Scott if he could name all the Commandments. Guess what? He couldn’t. Nor could any of the other council members who voted for the plaque. Perhaps they just wanted to multitask—learn Commandments while working on Council business.
When Scott posted a King James version of the Ten Commandments on the wall, the court, as expected, declared the display unconstitutional and handed taxpayers a substantial bill for legal costs. Scott, normally a fiscal conservative, said, “Whatever it costs in the pursuit of this goal (of displaying the Commandments) is worth it.”
Scott was subsequently elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, and in 2010 became the first African-American Republican in South Carolina to serve in the United States House of Representatives—and is now the only African American Republican in Congress. He is my Congressional representative, though I can’t say he represents my views.
Although liberal religionists know that the Bible contains anti-scientific passages, most people believe the Ten Commandments are among the finest guidelines for a virtuous life. However, few can name them, and even fewer have thought through their implications for our pluralistic, democratic, and freedom-loving society.
Take, for example, the First Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” which conflicts with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion—the right to worship one, several, or no gods. The next three Commandments (don’t make graven images, don’t take the name of the Lord in vain, and keep the Sabbath day holy) also conflict with our constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and expression.
These traditional Ten Commandments from Exodus 20 are just one of three sets. The Catholic version omits graven images and splits the coveting commandment into two.
In Exodus 34:12–28, the only place the Hebrew Bible refers to the Ten Commandments, the Tenth Commandment proclaims, “Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” However anachronistic and odd, I prefer it to the Tenth Commandment in Exodus 20: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, wife, slaves, ox, donkey, or any other property,” condoning slavery and treating women as property.
A one-ton block of granite depicting the Ten Commandments was recently installed on the grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol. This public property display promoting a particular religion will undoubtedly be declared unconstitutional. What is not controversial about the granite block are its misspellings. “Sabbath” is spelled “Sabbeth” and “maidservant” is spelled “maidseruent.”
Yes, we have the right to promote any version or spelling of the Ten Commandments. However, nobody may enlist the government to promulgate a particular religious view. Posting one of the versions of the Ten Commandments in government buildings allies the government with two creeds, Judaism and Christianity, and sends a message to Americans of other faiths (and the millions who reject supernatural beliefs) that they are second-class citizens.
In my view, those who claim to base their life on the Bible should at least learn what is in it—the good, the bad, and the often ugly. They should also learn why our founders created a secular constitution for “We the people,” which are the first three words of a Constitution that mentions no gods.
And we should all value the scientific method, which has led to countless benefits for all humankind—whether we believe in science or not.
Herb Silverman is founder and president of the Secular Coalition for America and author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt.”