Rick Santorum Tells Pope To Leave Science To Scientists, Forgets Pope Has Masters In Chemistry

No one would argue that Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum stands out as being exceptionally, or even nominally, bright. He’s deeply religious. He’s a homophobe. But intelligence? It’s not his strong suit. Even so, his recent remarks towards Pope Francis surpass even his legendary foot-in-mouth problem.

In an interview with a local radio station, Santorum told the pope to “leave science to the scientists” regarding climate change.

“The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists,” he told the pope. “I think when we get involved with controversial political and scientific theories, then I think the church is probably not as forceful and credible. And I’ve said this to the bishops many times when they get involved in agriculture policy or things like that, that are really outside the scope of what the church’s main message is.”

Santorum managed to pull a rare “double irony.” A comment so dumb that it manages to miss the boat in two places at once. It’s impressively dense because A) climate scientists already agree that climate change is real and B) Francis himself has a Master’s degree in chemistry. He may not be a practicing scientist, but he was certainly trained as one. Santorum, on the other hand, is a lawyer and former politician with zero background in climatology, chemistry, or any of the other scientific fields that would apply to grasping the concept. He should probably take his own advice and leave the science of climate change to the scientists, like the Pope.

However, you do have to admit, Santorum’s “stay in your lane, Pope” argument is a newer, sleeker approach to the shopworn “I’m not a scientist, but…” that conservatives have been using to simultaneously deny science, while also pretending they are being open-minded about it. If it hadn’t blown up in Santorum’s face (please don’t google that phrase), then undoubtedly his GOP contenders would be scrambling to take a shot at the pope as well. Instead, Francis just had to ruin everything by getting that annoying Masters in Chemistry before becoming leader of the Catholic faith.

More to the point, even if the pope was not a scientist, he still deserves a seat at the climate table. In fact, we all do. That’s because climate change will impact our entire planet in complex and frightening ways. Scientists (but not Santorum) know that the warming planet will, for example, cause storms to be stronger and more frequent, a bad turn of events for anyone currently living on the face of the Earth who prefers that their house stays upright and intact, their feet stay dry, and the mountains they live on stay firmly in place without sliding down to crush them.

Santorum, a Catholic, is at odds with his religious leader because, like many of his Republican colleagues, he doesn’t like that the Francis’s clear-eyed acknowledgement of climate change butts up against his firmly held pro-business beliefs. For Santorum and friends, global warming is literally an inconvenient truth – one that angers the type of people who give him campaign money. And as ever, when faced with the choice of remaining true to his faith or having the (very, very, very) slight chance of becoming president funded by oil money, Santorum only needs a moment before telling the Pope to take a hike.

Correction: There has been some debate over whether Pope Francis has a true “Masters” or whether it is a technical degree. The fact that he received his education in Argentina makes it particularly hard to tell. The Masters Degree claim comes from a Forbes article written in 2013. It’s also mentioned in an Scientific American article around the same time. Even more concretely, it seemed to me, was that a 2005 article by the Catholic News Service (a press agency associated with the Catholic Church) casually mentioned that Francis, then a Cardinal named Jorge Bergoglio: “…studied and received a master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires, but later decided to become a Jesuit priest and studied at the Jesuit seminary of Villa Devoto.” However, that narrative has come into question. Thomas Reese, at the National Catholic Reporter, flatly denies that the pope has a Masters, and insists he simply has a technical degree in chemistry.

Whichever the case may be, the point still stands: The pope was a trained chemist, he worked as a chemist, and he certainly has the educational background to grasp the science behind climate change. 

Feature image via Wikimedia/Flickr