My Take: O'Donnell's and America's First Amendment ignorance
October 20th, 2010
09:43 AM ET

My Take: O'Donnell's and America's First Amendment ignorance

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

It’s time for our politicians to take the religious literacy quiz.

In a debate on Tuesday with Democrat Chris Coons, Republican Senate candidate from Delaware Christine O’Donnell seemed to be learning, in real time and reluctantly, that the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion.

As Coons was arguing against the teaching of creationism in the public schools on the grounds that the First Amendment mandates the disestablishment of religion, O’Donnell said, “The First Amendment does? Let me just clarify: You’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?”

Coons, who seemed surprised by the question, responded by quoting chapter and verse:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” To which O’Donnell, channeling Homer Simpson, asked, “That’s in the First Amendment?”

As the author of Religious Literacy and adviser to the recent Pew Forum U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, each of which demonstrated the ignorance of Americans about most things religious, I am not surprised that candidates for the U.S. Senate seem as surprised to learn about the Bill of Rights as I am by the latest plot turns in "Glee." (Emma? With John Stamos? Really?)

In fact, in a quiz I gave Boston University students a few years ago, only 41 percent were able to name the free exercise clause, only 23 percent the establishment clause.

And in the recent Pew Forum religious literacy survey, American adults demonstrated that they had about as much of a grip on what the Supreme Court has said about religious establishment as does O’Donnell. Only 36 percent knew that public schools could offer comparative religion courses and only 23 percent knew that public school teachers could read from the Bible as an example of literature.

A few years ago, as I was traveling around the country arguing for religious studies courses in the public schools, I challenged journalists to start asking political candidates basic questions about religion. I don't care whether Mitt Romney is a Mormon, I said, but I do care whether he knows which religion predominates in Indonesia, and in India.

I also said that, if politicians are going to invoke Christianity and the Bible to support their positions on abortion and immigration and stem-cell research, then voters have the right to know whether they know anything about that tradition and that scripture.

Far less controversial than that stance is this: voters have a right to know whether candidates for the U.S. Congress have even a passing acquaintance with the Constitution.

“That’s in the First Amendment?” She Who Would Be Senator asked. Yes it is, O’Donnell, yes it is.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Christianity • Church and state • Delaware • Education • Opinion • Politics • Polls • Religious liberty • United States

soundoff (209 Responses)
  1. JohnQuest

    David Johnson, truer words have never been spoken (typed).

    October 20, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  2. john

    To buke56................nothing in the admendment about church-which relates to christianity and state. Please read 1st admendment again.

    October 20, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  3. David Johnson

    Let's just hope the Dems hold on to a majority. The Teabaggers would help the Christian Right create a thocracy. Jesus would be the head of state. Since Jesus doesn't exist, only the Christian Right would be able to hear Him. They would pass His will on to the rest of us.

    October 20, 2010 at 11:33 am |
    • john

      I am sick of this Social Justice Crap. I hope the Demo-commuists win too. That much closer to war and the battle for INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:38 am |
    • john

      Talk about intolerance. I do not even go to church but I would not go so far as to limit the practice of any faith. LOL

      October 20, 2010 at 11:48 am |
    • Doc Brown

      John: What individual freedom? The individual freedom to be forced to believe one particular religion or be persecuted? Because that's certainly what the far-right seems to be demanding, and that's what everyone else is up in arms about regarding O'Donnell – she doesn't appear to acknowledge the right of Americans to believe what they wish to.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:49 am |
    • Thirstypilgrim

      "let's just hope the dems hold on to the majority"

      Why? Do we not have enought jobless masses in America already? Is the economy not quite anemic enough for your tastes? Or are you hoping that in the ruins of America, socialism will finally take over? Please, sir, your bitterness and subjectivity are showing. Clean yourself up.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • john

      Doc Brown, I do not believe federal government should be involved in Education. Education should be strictly local allowing diversity. Equates to INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • Luke

      john – Ok, then no federal funding for education too. Is that cool with you?

      October 20, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
    • Frogist

      @john: Could you explain what you mean by diversity? And also how you think removal of the federal govt will increase our national education levels?

      October 20, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "The Teabaggers would help the Christian Right create a thocracy."
      Tea Partiers are often accused of fear mongering, perhaps rightly so. I'm just wondering if this is a case of fighting fear with fear.

      October 20, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Nominus: I would have thought you were used to David Johnson's phobic outbursts by now.

      October 20, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
    • John Gaunt

      You claim 'Jesus doesnt exist'. Well, thats possible, but the funny thing is, if Jesus DOES exist, if the son of God as portrayed in the New testament actually does exist, he would be HORRIFIED by the Tea Party, and the cult of ignorance and intolerance that is being presented in his name.

      That is what infuriates me about these teabaggers: not the faith based origins of some of their claims, but the fact that they mutilate the faith of the new testament to suit their personal political agenda. It seems there are people so out of touch with themselves, that they would vote for a fascist dictator or a high-school drop-out with equal passion, as long as the candidate said 'Jesus' enough times in his speeches.

      October 21, 2010 at 3:06 am |
    • Frogist

      LOL@John Gaunt: I agree with you that they have re-interpreted their christianity to reflect that greed is good, take care of your own, and let's not be tolerant or considerate. And that whole love thing is chucked out in favor of fear. But I don't think it's a new trend. People re-interpret their religion to suit themselves all the time or we wouldn't have catholic v protestant, sunni v shia, etc etc... The teabaggers have just taken it to an extreme. It's sad that they don't realise they are further destroying what few remnants of respectability their faith previously had.

      October 21, 2010 at 10:32 am |
    • Nonimus


      As Kate might say:

      Just Observin'

      October 21, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @John Gaunt,
      What infuriates me about these teahaters, is their assumption that they know what Jesus thinks even if 'Jesus doesnt exist'. How's that work?

      Tea *Partiers* may be wrong in their claims, goals, and methods, but your attempts at belittling and marginalizing them is also not a valid argument. Not to mention unseemly in the eyes of the God you claim to know so well.

      October 21, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  4. Shane


    A theory is a theory, no matter how you want to cut it. Its the belief your right, with the evidence you believe you have. Theories and Scientific theories, both have evidence, the evidence is excepted or not, proven true or false. There is really not difference between the two, other then if your just wanting your side to be right. The only thing Scientific theories have is the Scientific Laws that give them more merit.

    Just remember some scientific theories has been proven to be wrong, and some have even been changed to fit the times.

    October 20, 2010 at 11:29 am |
    • David Johnson


      The only difference, is that Creationism is a myth. So, hardly any difference, really. LOL

      October 20, 2010 at 11:35 am |
    • Doc Brown

      Shane: I don't think you quite understand the principle of "Scientific Theory" – of course the theories change over time, that's the entire point. In Scientific theory, you specifically try and disprove the theory, and then alter the theory to reflect the evidence. If the theory is sound, it will hold up for a long time, or forever if it is absolutely spot-on. In theological theory, you specifically ignore any evidence contrary to the idea or attempt to change/discredit the evidence. There is a monumental difference between the two.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:37 am |
    • Shane

      Scientific Theories have been proven false or a myth as well.

      Doc Brown,
      The same can be said about the other. Theories are theories, you can't disprove this, they are one and the same. The path to each might be different, but they both can't be proven.. THEY ARE NOT FACT. Just because you, and I'll state this again, YOU believe one to be better then the other. Doesn't mean, a theory is FACT. Both plan old theories and Scientific theories are not PROVEN....

      October 20, 2010 at 11:47 am |
    • Doc Brown

      Incorrect. See what I posted above.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • Dude

      How come no one want to teach a radically different theory of gravity ?

      October 20, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
    • Luke

      Shane – Where did you study your science? What papers have you published? What sciences do you practice? Do you have any foundation to base your assessment on?

      October 20, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
    • Shane

      Whatever, I'm tired of this. A theory is a theory, no matter what you put infront of it. It is something that is not Proven. People try to disprove them, no matter what. A theory is something that can't or hasn't been proven or disproven. A theory is a theory, hmm how many different ways do I have to say that.. But yea, argue all you want.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • Luke

      Where Shane goes off path is that he asserts that theories cannot be proven. This is a brainless comment. Take for example Newton, one of the greatest minds in the known world. His ideas of gravity were paramount at the time. In order to build his theory, he invented calculus. Let me say that again. He invented calculus. Then he turned 26 years old. Trouble is, he wasn't 100% correct. Einstein came around much later on and tweaked Newton's work. In effect, Newton was wrong about a few things regarding Gravitation, which was fixed by Einstein. However, when Einstein fixed Newton's theories, we didn't just float away and the earth spun away from the sun into a new orbit. Newton's theories were correct at the time and the theory still holds. We just made it better when Einstein wrote his famous equation E=MC^2, proving that light is impacted by gravity and that gravity moves at the speed of light, not instantaneously impacting objects.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
    • Luke

      Shane – You are tired of this because you are wrong and do not have a leg to stand on.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • Shane

      Luke, I'm tired of this argument, because I got dragged into it because I made this comment.

      "No matter how much you might hate, intelligent design. It is a theory of thought some people do believe. In which you should also remember most of the "theories" you hold to be true are not fully excepted by others"

      Now if you want to play semantics over the word "theory", go ahead. I'm done, I'm tired of people hating people because of their religious theories, yet do the same thing they hate but only using science as their religion. Its just pathetic.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
    • Luke

      Shane – That's where you are wrong, or were taught this sort of nonsense from someone that doesn't know what they are talking about. It isn't semantics at all. It is exactly the same way the words their, they're and there mean totally different things. Theory and scientific theory are totally different. I did you a favor and posted the definitions above. Please take a gander and correct your way of thought.

      Furthermore, there is no such thing as a religious theory. Religion is baed on faith. Faith is believe without evidence. Without evidence, it cannot be a theory. Learn this. That being said, science is not a religion, nor do people such as myself treat it like one. I study science and enjoy what it teaches me. I do not worship it or look for life lessons in gravity, evolutionary biology, cosmology or just simply looking at stars through my telescope. I am not pathetic, sir.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
    • Shane

      I can't believe I let myself get dragged in again...

      OK, let me say it like this, Theories people have based on their religious beliefs ( see your definition 6 and 7 ) are not proven or can't be proven. Scientific Theories people have based on whatever data or belief ( see your definition 1 – 5 ) are not proven or can't be proven. When I state can't I mean they are unable to prove them at this time due to the limitations of something. They are the SAME, THEY ARE BOTH NOT PROVEN. Perhaps this shall allow you to comprehend what I'm saying.. The definition might be deferent, bu they are the same.

      When I stated religious theories, I did not mean religious theory, I ment peoples theories about religion no matter what they are.
      When I stated science as their religion. This was a comment more towards my original post. That people have different beliefs and they believe different theories. Which none of them have been proven. People on both sides over react, see all the past comments on this. This in particular ""No matter how much you might hate, intelligent design. It is a theory of thought some people do believe. In which you should also remember most of the "theories" you hold to be true are not fully excepted by others"" That comment somehow went into Theory and Scientific theory, when that wasn't even what I first posted, and since I've been trying to get you all to understand or comprehend what I first stated. Theories are theories, they are not proven to be fact. So get over the theory, scientific theory cr*p someone else brought up. I did try to use a scientific theory, Darwinism, which was the only thing I could think of that would somewhat relate to ID. Saying both just haven't been proven. Now if you reread my original posts. I even stated "The only thing Scientific theories have is the Scientific Laws that give them more merit." when I used Scientific laws, I mean, the rules of which scientific theories have to go thru to become scientific theories. Now again, Theories and Scientific theories are not proven to be factual. Thats what I've been trying to say. Do you understand? Or are you going to continue going on a tirade saying how they are different so even the basic fact of me stating that they are both the same because they are not proven facts?

      October 20, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
    • Luke

      Shane – I understand you. You are just wrong.

      October 20, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Shane: I understand what you're trying to say. That ID and darwinism are both called theories and remain unproven or incomplete. I also understand that you want to say we would all be better off learning about everyone's ideas instead of just a few. I understand and agree that everyone's ideas have value. But while we should acknowledge each person's right to propose ideas, we have to put each idea to the test when we teach them to others in terms of relevance. Creationism and ID are not relevant scientific theories. And we do a disservice to scientific pursuits and logic when we describe them as such. On the flipside, science is not a religion and we cannot teach it as a means to derive morality or humanitarian rules of behaviour. That is not the purpose of science. So while I agree that each person's ideas need to be heard as a means of understanding another person's viewpoint, it doesn't mean we have to teach others every person's viewpoint irrelevant of category.
      Also just to add my 2 cents, Luke is quite right about scientific theory which has to stand up to much more rigorous scrutiny and is therefore differently defined than the word "theory" as we lay people would use it to mean an untested guess. If we can agree that we have defined "theory" in two different ways, I think we can dispel a lot of the misunderstanding each person might have about the other's position.

      October 20, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
    • Shane


      " But while we should acknowledge each person's right to propose ideas, we have to put each idea to the test when we teach them to others in terms of relevance. Creationism and ID are not relevant scientific theories."

      Never said Darwinism and ID are relevant scientific theories. I was trying to show a relationship between the two saying that both are not proven to be fact. So in turn just because you believe one you shouldn't just shoot down the other. Don't believe it, question it, and always question those who believe it. Just remember things do change.

      I never said science is a religion, my comments was ment to say those who believe in religious theories ( as of 6-7 of whatever post ) at times do so crazily while at times those who believe scientific theories can preach just like the religious nuts.

      With the disservice comment, I believe I commented on the merits of Scientific theory awhile ago, and I agreed.

      The only problem that has seemed to continue. Is some fully and utterly believe Scientific theories are suppose to be believed to be absolute even without being proven. As I've said over and over again. Theory is theory its not proven.

      Neither "Theories" or Scientific theories are proven facts. They are the same on this. I'm, not saying the definitions are the same. I'm just saying they are the same as be unproven.

      Theories = Unproven
      Scientific Theories = Unproven

      October 20, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Shane: Hi! Thanks for the reply!
      Yes, I see the similarities in that ID and evolution are neither proven nor complete. I agree with you on that. But that is where the similarity ends. Evolution theory is a scientific theory whereas ID and creationism are merely theories as a lay person would use the term. Given the overwhelming evidence for the one and the lack of evidence for the other, it is absolutely within our grasp to make a judgement as to which should be taught as science and which as merely philosophical conjecture. Not all theories have the same value in the same area of study.
      I do agree absolutely that there are those on the science side of the debate who are vociferous to the point of not listening to reason. If you stick around on this blog long enough you get to know some of them by name.
      Once again I agree with you that they are both unproven or incomplete theories. But when it comes to being taught in a science class, evolution belongs and creationism and it's various forms do not.

      October 20, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
    • Raison


      I do not hate you, if that's any consolation. I might like to argue about things and do my best to make people use their brains, but when I attack their words I am arguing, sometimes with anger, sometimes with hate when I think someone is acting in an "evil" manner or something like that, but I do try to remember that I love the person underneath all the misunderstanding.

      With that said, in reading this argument you've been having, I can't help but feel that your stance is one of "absolute certainty vs our limited human ability to claim absolute certainty"....am I getting close? 😛

      October 20, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
    • HotAirAce


      OK, I'll accept your "a theory is a theory" argument...

      Here's the big difference: No religious theory stands up under scrutiny! No alledged miracle has ever been reproduced! On the other hand, scientific theories are tested, results reproduced, and gosh even changed, routinely. So even if not 100% proven, any scientific theory is "better" than any religious theory. You are trying to build support for your lousy religious theory by diminishing scientific theory (if something is 100%, it's not credible at all) – it won't work. But you go ahead and hang onto that silly bible and your blind (emphasis on the "blind") faith.

      October 20, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
    • Shane

      Reread my posts, See how I say Theory and Scientific theory are only the same on a basic level, They both are not proven. This is a absolute FACT. So stop trolling me, trying to spin this argument your way. I've already said there is a difference between "theories" and scientific theories. SO get over yourselves, and just move on...
      If you want to continue.

      Answer this YES OR NO and only yes or no.
      Is scientific theories proven?

      All I've been saying. And the only time I sued a scientific theory I used Darwinism, something that in true form is fasle, but has been changed to reflect new data. So in turn, I'm just so happy you all have been able to spew your beliefs on how evil any theory other then yours is, and how no matter what anyone else thinks or wants your just absolutely correct on all your beliefs and wants. I'm sorry for saying, That perhaps we should teach other theories at the same time as learning Scientific Theories. So now you all can just calm down and realize I was just saying in a Basic sense they are the same. They both are not proven.

      October 21, 2010 at 12:50 am |
    • John Gaunt

      Allow me to explain why you are wrong. There is no cenjtral 'science Pope', or authority that determines absolute scientific truth. The theory of evolution was called such by darwin because it was a theory, a well evidenced and mutually supportive theory, but a theory none the less. Since his time, the mountains of completely independent, self-supporting evidence for evolution have arisen: fossil record, genetic record, observational and now even experimental evolution (see the Methuselah fly), all combine to demonstrateb ecvolution as a proven fact. That is why it is taught at every single secular university on earth. But there is no specific criterion, no central authority that brings down a giant rubber stamp and says 'this theory is now fact'. By any scientific standard in any discipline, evolution has been proven to be a fact, period. The only peiople who still think it is 'just a theory' are the small and decreasing number of people, mostly in the south of the US, whose combination of blind zealotry and limited scientific education has led them astray from reality.

      October 21, 2010 at 3:01 am |
    • Shane

      John Gaunt,

      Theories are not Proven Facts.

      Scientific Theories are not Proven Facts.

      I only believe that people should be opened up to ways of thinking. It only promotes understanding. I never said a religious nuts propaganda should be taught over a science nuts propaganda.

      ( Propaganda is being used with this definition "information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause" )

      I don't want them to be taught to brainwash anyone. I believe using something like Expanding Earth Theory ( already proved to be false ) would be a mind opening possibility that might allow people to think out of the box. It wouldn't be hard to just go " Hey students, today we are going to teach "say" geology and how the world came to look the way it is. Oh and did you know at one time people actually thought the earth was expanding. They thought this because of this or that (don't really know that much about expanding earth theory. ) Isn't that interesting. "
      But yea, this is falling on deaf ears. So all continue on how I don't understand Scientific theory, even after I agreed on almost everything people have said.
      The only thing I keep saying, which is, theories, and scientific theories are not proven to be facts. Sorry but you can't change this. Its looking at them in the most basic way and saying well they are the same here they are both are proven facts at this time. Hmm, maybe this might help, When a scientific theory is proven, is it still considered a theory?

      October 21, 2010 at 3:37 am |
    • Raison

      So is there anything you DO consider to be a solid fact?

      October 21, 2010 at 4:29 am |
    • Shane

      Yes, things that have been proven to be facts.

      We can believe things are right, but if they are not factual then they are not true facts.

      October 21, 2010 at 4:46 am |
    • Raison

      Uh, sorry, but I don't quite understand. Could you give an example or two?

      October 21, 2010 at 4:59 am |
    • John Gaunt

      Once again, let me explain why you are wrong. Twice in fact.

      Firstly: You claim 'Scientific theories are not fact.' You are wrong. Many if not most scientific theories were named as such because they were theories at first, but have since long been proven. The two best examples I can think of are Germ theory and Atomic theory, both of which were listed as 'theories' long after they had been proven unquestionably. Only in the last few decades has the word 'theory' been generally dropped. There is no central authority that decides when something goes from 'theory' to 'fact', so people kept calling 'germ theory' a theory LONG after it had been proven. So is it with evolution. Its not a theory anymore.

      Secondly (as if that were not enough), some scientific 'theories' are referred to as 'theories' because some certain aspects of them remain uncertain or unclear, yet while the application of the theory is unquestionable fact. The two best examples there are Photon-light theory and the theory of Gravity. Both of these have certain small aspects that remain as of yet uncertain. Yet do you doubt gravity because it has the word 'theory' in front of it? If so, feel free to cast yourself off a tall building, and thest the 'theory'. The FACT of Gravity, its well known, unerring, reproducable and measurable effects is just that, a FACT. yet it is still referred to as a 'theory', partly because mass-gravity bend has not been demonstrably proven, and partly just through convention.


      October 21, 2010 at 6:13 am |
    • Shane

      @John Gaunt,

      Are Scientific Theories, Proven Facts??? Yes or No.

      October 21, 2010 at 6:41 am |
    • John Gaunt

      My apologies Shane, I have been posting based on the obviously erronious assumption that you could read. You see, I have already answered your 'yes or no' question, twice, in great detail. I explained how you were wrong, cited specific examples showing that you are wrong. Frankly, I'm not entirely sure how I could possibly have been any clearer. Yet for you to ask this obtuse question, yet again, demonstrated that somehow, it didnt get through to you.

      I invite you to please read my post above, the one you responded to, for the answer to your question.

      If that is too much to ask, then here is the grade 5 version for you. Some of what we call 'scientific theories' are proven fact, others are not.

      October 21, 2010 at 8:48 am |
    • Shane


      I was asking for a specific answer. NOT, a long winded answer where you try your hardest to explain, how scientific theories are not proven but should be seen as.

      Scientific theories are not Proven Facts. So the answer to the question I ask you is a clear NO. Thats what I've been saying over and over. You can spin the answer however you or anyone else wants here to feel better about the situation. But in the end, Scientific theories are not proven to be fact.

      Now too your smarta-s comment about the 5th grader stuff.

      What does it take for you to understand, When scientific theories are first purposed it has theory in its name, at times, when that said theory is proven, it does keep the word theory in its name. But in fact it is no longer a theory because its a FACT. I know its hard to understand, but this does happen. From your comment I thought you understood this.

      October 21, 2010 at 8:59 am |
    • John Gaunt

      Shane, is there something the matter with you? I ask in all honesty and respect, because I find it difficult to believe that a sane, healthy balanced person could post as you do.

      What EXACTLY do you not understand Shane? many of what we name scientific 'theories' have long been proven as fact, but as there exists no central authority or nomenclature master to change these things, they continue through tradition. I gave specific examples of things still nominally called 'theories' but long established as absolute fact. You seem to have ignored these.

      I dont see how this debate can go any further. I explain your error and provide concrete justifications backed up with examples, you ignore them all and repeat the same assertions substantiated by absolutely nothing.

      Oh, and by the way, you keep asserting that evolution MUST not be proven because it is described as a 'theory' and nobody has changed the name. Sorry, but once again you are quite wrong. I invite you to look at the biology curricula of any ivy league school in the US. You will find they dont teach the 'theory of evolution', they teach 'evolutionary science'. It has been renamed Shane, to reflect the fact that it is no longer a theory. Dont blame others if you can't keep up.

      October 21, 2010 at 9:06 am |
    • Shane


      You can call it whatever you want. But by definition a scientific theory that has been proven. IS NO LONGER CONSIDERED A THEORY, its a scientific fact.

      With the evolution comment. From your extensive knowledge, is Darwin theory of evolution, the exact same thing as what is taught today as Evolution? No its not, thats what I was saying. Thats why I called it Darwinism. Because that has evolved to what we believe today. It was a perfect example of what was thought to be true at one time, but evolved when new evidence was provided.

      October 21, 2010 at 9:37 am |
    • John Gaunt

      You can repeat the same wild assertions as many times as you like Shane, but you will still be just as wrong as the first time, as I have extensively demonstrated.

      many of the things we currently call 'scientific theories' are and have long been established, proven facts. This is undeniable, and I have provided several concrete examples (which you keep ignoring) demonstrating this fact. I have also explained why this is so, because there is no central naming authority for global science, which is why the names of so many things in science 9and outside science) are names through traidition rather than for semantic accuracy.

      You keep ignoring these facts and constantly repeating the same assertion over and over again, no matter how many times you are proven wrong. Sorry.

      October 21, 2010 at 10:19 am |
    • Frogist

      @Shane: Unfortunately, you appear to be too caught up in arguing to recognise that people are agreeing with you. It would also help if you double check your posts because you contradict yourself by using terms interchangeably and confuse both us and yourself. I would also hope you will re-read the posts of those who replied to you as well. They have important points to make that answer your questions and make good sense. Good luck!

      October 21, 2010 at 10:21 am |
    • Nonimus

      I don't want to add to the confusion but this may be where things get confused:
      "... by definition a scientific theory that has been proven. IS NO LONGER CONSIDERED A THEORY, its a scientific fact."

      Theories are not promoted to 'Fact' when they are proven. Scientific theories use facts and scientific laws to explain how the world works. An hypothesis is prompted to a theory when sufficient evidence has been presented, tested, and confirmed by multiple parties. However, a theory never gets promoted to 'Fact'.

      Hope that helps

      October 21, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  5. David Johnson

    The article said, "23 percent knew that public school teachers could read from the Bible as an example of literature."

    I think the bible would make a fine example of fictional literature. I have no problem with that.

    October 20, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  6. HarperAve

    Intelligent design is not science and so should not be taught in science class but in a religion class along with the other world creation myths. As noted in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005) United States District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that "intelligent design is not science", but is "grounded in theology" and "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents. A good discussion of this is found in PBS’s program Nova, Intelligent Design on Trial November 13, 2007

    October 20, 2010 at 11:13 am |
    • David Johnson

      Amen brother! I think that god thing is shaky too.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:36 am |
  7. Reality

    One more time for the Professor's perusal:

    "The separation of church and state is a legal and political principle derived from various docu-ments of several of the Founders of the United States. The First Amendment to the United States Const-itution reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...." The modern concept is often credited to the writings of English philosopher John Locke, but the phrase "separation of church and state" is generally traced to an 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists, where Jefferson spoke of the combined effect of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. His purpose in this letter was to assuage the fears of the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists, and so he told them that this wall had been erected to protect them. The metaphor was intended, as The U.S. Supreme Court has currently interpreted it since 1947, to mean that religion and government must stay separate for the benefit of both, including the idea that the government must not impose religion on Americans nor create any law requiring it. It has since been in several opinions handed down by the United States Supreme Court,[1] though the Court has not always fully embraced the principle.[2][3][4][5][6

    The candidates, students and professors should take a laptop with them to debates and Google/"Wiki" all the "tough" questions before answering them. And just because a student/politician/professor does not know the specific numbered amendments/clauses in the Consti-tution/Bill of Rights does not mean they do not know the basics of our rights as citizens.

    October 20, 2010 at 11:00 am |
    • Frogist

      @Reality: Actually her not knowing the different clauses/amendments means alot when it comes to O'Donnell and other tea party campaigns. She has said nothing else matters except the Const!tution and she will approach everything through the eyes of that docu-ment. If she can't even get past the first amendment, or remember what the 14th is (a major theme of the tea party movement), how can she possibly back up her claims?

      October 20, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  8. Max

    And blogger Stephen Prothero also seems to be learning "in real time and reluctantly" about the First Amendemnt...

    "Republican Senate candidate from Delaware Christine O’Donnell seemed to be learning, in real time and reluctantly, that the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion."

    The First Amendment prohibits no such thing. It prohibits the establishment of religion BY CONGRESS (i.e. government). Please, let us not compound gaff with gaff and confuse Americans more.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:55 am |
    • Okay

      Um, I'm not sure what you're going for here but... it's not working.

      October 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
  9. Curtis

    The intent of the First Amendment was NEVER about the "separation of church and state"! That is a myth that started around 1947 by a complete misinterpretation by an activist judge who did not understand the context and history of what James Madison and others who drafted the First Amendment intended: they were tyring to prevent the federal government from establishing a specific Christian denomination (Lutheran, Cathollic, Presbyterian, etc.) as a "national religion" – it had NOTHING to do with "separation of church and state". For a defiinitve explanation of this read David Kupelian's magnificent book "The Marketing of Evil".

    October 20, 2010 at 10:51 am |
    • Pearl

      So you feel Separation is "Evil?" I am a Conservative Christian and even I support Separation of church and state. Ancestors of my faith were harshly persecuted right out of Europe by a religious majority in power. No Christian in their right mind would want to return to those days.

      October 20, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
    • Q

      Jefferson and Madison's writings are quite clear about their intentions regarding the wall of separation that should exist between religion and government. This is not to say that religious people can't employ their faith to guide how they might govern, but simply that they cannot use state powers to further purely religious aims. Furthermore, the idea that the establishment clause was intended only to prevent a single "national religion" is pure BS. The text clearly reads "of religion" not "of a religion". Do people really believe this was a simple oversight by Madison, Jefferson and the other founders most associated with the Establishment Clause? David Kupelian and the rest of the revisionist theocrats at the World "Nut" Daily clearly have an audience in the willfully ignorant. Next you'll be referencing David Barton to describe how Jefferson was really a devout bible-believing Christian...

      October 20, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
  10. Andy

    She made a valid point. The words ““separation of church and state” do not appear anywhere unless you’re wearing a pair of liberal PC correct 3D glasses .

    October 20, 2010 at 10:49 am |
    • Frogist

      @Andy: Approaching everything literally usually means you miss the actual meaning behind the words. It's like rattling of statistics without context.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:40 am |
    • ScottK

      I'd prefer those glasses to the conservative blinders that so many tea partiers wear so proudly that reject the idea that words have meanings, and when those words are strung together they can create a concept, idea or law. The separation of Church and State is the concept given power by the first amendments establishment clause. You have decided to ignore a law you do not like by pretending you dont understand what it means. If you really do not know, then you should try doing some research.

      October 20, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
    • Guest

      And what country can preserve its liberties, if the rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people will preserve the spirit of resistance?
      Thomas Jefferson, 1787

      October 20, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
  11. Mike

    Coo-ns, who see-med sur-pris-ed by the que-st-ion, res-pon-ded by quot-ing chap-ter and ver-se: “Con-gress shall make no law res-pect-ing an est-ablish-ment of reli-gion.” To which O’Don-nell, chan-neling Ho-mer Sim-pson, ask-ed, “That’s in the First Amen-dment?”

    That is not an acc-urate. The “That’s in the First Amend-ment?” was in reply to her repeat-ing the stat-ement of Socs not coo-ns answer.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:44 am |
    • Raison


      Uh, Mike, the only word that the filter choked on was "co-ons" in your post. Just thought you should know... 😛

      October 20, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
    • Mike

      Raison that is what I thought at first too, but it is still waiting moderation. its just as easy to hyphen the whole thing.

      October 21, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  12. Smoke

    First amendment reinforces that the government cannot enforce any religious authority ex: cutting off someone's hand for stealing. However, it doesn't mandate that one cannot have religious symbols in federal buildings, etc. I personally don't want to walk into a federal building and see relgious symbols, but the first amendment does not prohibit that. This editor is not a lawyer, this is like listening to a guy at the bus station. Let's not opine about our own personal B.S. and research the law, not our personal interpretation. If you don't like it, go to law school and argue.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:43 am |
    • ICDumbPeople

      Read Justice David Souter's interpretation. He concluded that "government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion." So, unless you want to see every religion's symbol in a public building, you shouldn't see any of them.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  13. C Myers

    Hilarious. Every picture of O'Donnell you can find right now is of her looking absolutely dumbfounded.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  14. Will

    Clearly people like you are the problem. You actually are a professor and you clearly don't even understand the specifics of what you are writing about. Your little blog post shows you are either completely illiterate about this issue or you are intentionally lying because you don't agree with Christine O'Donnell. Our educational system completely fails the masses because people like you continue to propitiate lies because your lack of ability to think critically. Those who can, do... Those who can't, teach.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:37 am |
    • Okay

      Please, please, stop.

      That's all I ask.

      October 20, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
    • Q

      Was there a specific point in there or just aimless ranting?

      October 20, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
  15. xenophon

    I've re-read this article three times now, and I find no instance where the author is claiming that ODonnel said government has a right to establish religion. Michelle, take your meds.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:32 am |
    • buke56

      O Donnell claims that the 1st amendment has nothing to do with church and state. Whats even more ridiculous is when she made such a remark she thought the lawyers in the audience that laughed at her were laughing at her opponent and sported a smug smile in response, Shes to stupid to know how stupid she really is. I hope for her sake she never gets fat because if she does no one will pay any attention to her again

      October 20, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  16. SAJ

    I don't think ODonnell is the best candidate the Republicans could have selected, but the fact she is the nominee is telling as to how the electorate feel about the present situation in America. The people sense we are in trouble and more of the same isn't good enough. I won't make apologies for remarks candidates make because they are under tremendous scruntiny and pressure. In office, O'Donnell might be a good senator. It is unlikely we will know the answer to that. However, if conditions are still dismal after two more years of Obama, Elmer Fudd might be acceptabtable to the electorate.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:25 am |
    • Frogist

      @SAJ: I agree with you that people are reacting to fear when they back her and other candidates like her. The problem though is that O'Donnell and her kind are more of the same. Backed by big business, short-sighted, christian right, social conservatives... they are just extremist republicans. And worse than that, almost completely unqualified.
      I also find it odd that you qualify this as a gaffe or a mistake brought on by stress. From her many, many recorded statements she is lacking in a foundation of critical thought and level-headedness. If that's the kind of senator she would make, I don't know who would still support her. But even if it was her cracking under pressure over a debate, that isn't a recommendation either.
      I realise that people are worried and scared. (What exactly people are worried about and scared of is another topic because I think there is some sleight of hand and misdirection going on with that.) But the solution is not to add to the insanity by throwing questionable candidates and their dirty politics into the ring.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  17. Pete D

    Oh Michelle...nobody ever said that O'Donnell said government has a right to establish religion. The criticism is that she didn't know that the first amendment forbids it and that is the basis for separation of church and state. Nobody's lying.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:23 am |
    • Jack

      Forbidding establishment and demanding denial are two separate demands, I believe. Where does it say I don't have the right to practice my religion??

      So why the "Separation of Church and State".

      If there is a GOD that invokes the Ten Commandments, you guys are in trouble over the "bear false witness" part!

      And possibly "covet" as well!

      Go Rangers, they too have done much better since leaving Washington.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:25 am |
    • Luke

      Jack – The Establishment Clauses says zero about you not being able to practice whatever the F you want to practice.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:59 am |
    • James

      Jack, the First amendment states that the governmant cannot hold up religion or prevent anyone from practicing it. So go ahead and pray til your heart's content. The issue here is the first part about govt not establishing religion. Public schools are govt run, meaning it would be against governments' powers to support the teaching of creationism (a strictly religious theory) as a bonified theory in public schools.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  18. Josh

    Derek that is highly not true. Most of the "Pilgrims" fled Europe from religious persecution. By the time of the mid to late 18th century most of the "forefathers" were here to make money off the land. A good amount of the "forefathers" were Deists and Masons.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:22 am |
    • Derek

      Yes, the pilgrims are who I was referring to. The folks that started it all and gave birth to Deists like Payne and Unitatrians like Jefferson.
      I don't know what point you are trying to make but mine is that the religious should fear these remarks as much as the agnostic, atheist or deist.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  19. Michelle

    She –never– said government has a right to establish religion. You guys keep lying, it's pushing reasonable people away in a big way. And I'm no ODonnell fan and I have no doubts that she will lose her race, but this outright lying is ridiculous.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:13 am |
    • Somniferous

      She said that public schools can teach intelligent design, which is an implicitly religious doctrine; a rose by any other name...

      October 20, 2010 at 10:38 am |
    • Anne

      There's just no other classification for creationism than religious - and that's what she wants taught in our schools. No-one's lying.

      October 20, 2010 at 10:54 am |
    • Shane

      @Somniferous, I take it you didn't read the article above. I'll help by copying part of it here.

      And in the recent Pew Forum religious literacy survey, American adults demonstrated that they had about as much of a grip on what the Supreme Court has said about religious establishment as does O’Donnell. Only 36 percent knew that public schools could offer comparative religion courses and only 23 percent knew that public school teachers could read from the Bible as an example of literature.

      No matter how much you might hate, intelligent design. It is a theory of thought some people do believe. In which you should also remember most of the "theories" you hold to be true are not fully excepted by others. Remember Darwins theory is only a theory that has not yet be proven. So please do think about what your telling someone else, and ask yourself would you want the same thing done to your theory's?
      I for one would prefer all theory's be taught, I think it would help in brining people together. At-least then people might be more openminded.

      October 20, 2010 at 10:54 am |
    • YouAreWrong


      You are invoking the tired and incorrect argument of erroneously trying to equate a theory with a scientific theory.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:09 am |
    • Jack

      Agreed. She never said anything about either prohibiting or creating a religion.

      Sorry bur you guys are over the top trying to kill off top T-Pers.

      This may all come back to haunt you, could be an interesting Halloween season!

      October 20, 2010 at 11:20 am |
    • David Johnson

      O'donnell is an idiot. Thank god she hasn't got a prayer of being elected.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:29 am |
    • Uncle Igmar

      @Shane – yes – there are those out there who think that the world is only somewhere between 6000 and 7000 years old and that the Earth and the entire universe were created in 6 days – carbon dating generally disporves this.

      There are also people who believe that the world is flat and that at one time – the world travelled through space on the back of a turtle. And for all we know – maybe the 1st humans – as well as all life as we know it – came from the nasal secretions of a really big alien. Nasal secretions = primordial ooze – could have hapened.

      The point here is that every civilization on the face of this earth has attempted – and pretty much failed – to answer the BIG question – that being "Where did we come from?" As you say – Darwin's theory is just that – a theory that was based on scientific observations of someone with 19th century level of scientific knowledge.

      I could look at a gorilla and a human and see where someone might think that we had come from good old Magilla (and some people's thought processes are about the same).

      Now if the local public school wanted to teach a class in "Creation Myhts and Legends" – go for it – but the Religous Right will never let that happen because classes like that force kids to think and ask questions – which would lead to their grip on "all things moral" to loosen.

      No one can pove anything – Darwing is taught becuase there is at least a little scientific proof to back it up where as "Creationism" an "Intelligent Design" backers can point to nothing but their desperate need for an answer to "Where did we come from?"

      October 20, 2010 at 11:31 am |
    • Luke

      Shane – You are just wrong on some many levels I don't know where to begin. First you confuse the word theory and scientific theory. They are different. Second, evolution is a fact that we knew about long before Darwin; he merely introduced the idea of natural selection. Prior to that we knew exactly what evolution was – we bred dogs and horses and flowers and fruit. Darwin took it one step further and said there was a natural catalyst at work too. Third, ID has been rejected by the scientific community. Those that still believe are religious. Furthermore, it was proven to be false when the case was presented in Pennsylvania. The human geonome project proved Darwin's theory to be fact when they compared Chimp DNA to Human DNA and displayed how Chimps' 48 chromosomes became the human's 46 (we had one pair fuse – that's why we are human). Lastly, we do teach all widely accepted theories in classrooms. Where we stop is at hypothesis that do not have a foundation. That's where ID falls. It is not provable or testable and therefore, not a theory.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:37 am |
    • Shane

      Wow, The main point I was trying to get to was this.

      So please do think about what your telling someone else, and ask yourself would you want the same thing done to your theory's?

      No matter how you want to cut it. A theory is a theory. Can you grasp it? It is something you believe is right for your reasons be it your life experiences that you use as evidence. Or if you used scientific laws and rules to reach your belief. I'm just saying don't hate, grow up and realize not everyone believes the same cr*p you do. Be it ID, or anything else.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:57 am |
    • Luke

      Yes Shane, a theory is a theory. But a theory is not a scientific theory. You are wrong about that. I suggest you go to the library today.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
    • john

      Luke..............What is the differnce between a theory and a theory?

      October 20, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
    • Luke

      In common speech, people think the definition of theory are numbers 6 and 7. In science, math and music, we use 1 through 5. That's the difference.

      –noun, plural -ries.
      1. a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena: Einstein's theory of relativity.
      2. a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.
      3. Mathematics . a body of principles, theorems, or the like, belonging to one subject: number theory.
      4. the branch of a science or art that deals with its principles or methods, as distinguished from its practice: music theory.
      5. a particular conception or view of something to be done or of the method of doing it; a system of rules or principles.
      6. contemplation or speculation.
      7. guess or conjecture.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Mike Wells

      Teaching Intelligent Design is N-O-T the same as teaching the Bible as literature or teaching comparative religion. Those are fine, and they fit with the concept of separation of church and state. Intelligent Design is taught as "science" and therefore as fact, thereby favoring ONE religion over any other. They teach the Christian creation story, not Hindi, Muslim, etc... Teaching a comparative religion class means that it is being taught in order to explain what religion is, not to favor one religion over the other.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • Mike

      Luke is the number 2 still between "1 through 5"
      2. proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural

      October 20, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
    • Luke

      Mike – Exactly. That is where tweaks to theories come in. If you read somewhere on this thread where I explain how Einstein tweaked Newton's ideas, you'll see that number 2 still holds.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
    • Mike

      tweaks do you mean theories later to be proven false?

      October 20, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
    • Luke

      Mike – No, in the scientific community, tweaks to theories enhance the understanding of said theory. They do no falsify it. If you read my thoughts on Newton, you'd follow this idea. In short, when Einstein tweaked Newton's ideas of gravitation, we didn't float away. He added ideas and made us understand gravity better. An example of falsifying a theory would be if we found concrete evidence that Darwin was wrong about natural selection guiding evolution. Evolution would still be a theory, but we'd have to find a new catalyst for the evolution. At this time, Darwin's explanation is the best theory available. It has been tested over and over again since he published his theory and each time, it has held. The best theories are ones that are battered by peers. If it is not testable, in this case ID is not, then it is not a theory.

      October 20, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
    • livingenzyme

      For goodness sake, people if you don't know how science works please don't tell those of us who work in science what science is. A scientific theory is certainly different than the common usage of the word theory. When something becomes a scientific theory, that means that we are 99.999% sure it's a fact. If you think a scientific theory is just conjecture, why don't you try to dispute the theory of gravity and the germ theory of disease? These things are, too, theories. And yes, the law of gravity falls within the theory of gravity.

      Intelligent design is not a valid scientific theory. This issue has already been settled long ago. Even irreducible complexity, a brain child of Behe, has been demonstrated repeatedly to not exist at all. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please go back to school or go to a library. Don't expect me to teach a whole biology course in a paragraph.

      October 20, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
    • ScottK

      Thank you Livingenzyme, well said. The fact that most religous people believe that these two terms are interchangable and mean the same thing is one of the main problems when trying to have a reasonable debate with one of them. That and the fact that they feel it is a spiritual offense and an afront to their faith somehow to even look let alone study the evidence that supports the scientific theory. They just want to label anything that is missing any of its puzzle peices, no matter how complete the picture is, a theory, so they can compare it to their supposedly equaly valuable "theory". Its like playing poker where your'e using real money and your friend is betting with monopoly money and he can't seem to see the difference.

      October 20, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
    • Luke

      livingenzyme – Science is a hobby of mine. I majored in physics for about 1 semester, but switched to finance because I actually wanted to make money after graduation. You say you work in science. Did I do a good job explaining things on this thread? I'm curious of my old brain still functions properly.

      October 20, 2010 at 9:39 pm |
    • ChristIsComing

      Well, if schools have the right to force the false religions of Cosmology, Evolution, & Big Bang Theory (yes, that's what they are), then they should also have the right to freely teach Creation.

      October 26, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
  20. Derek

    Yes, it is. And the main people that should be happy about it are christians. The majority of our forefathers came here to escape pursecution by other christians that insisted on them joining a sepecific DENOMINATION. This still occurs in the middle east and part of Europe. Freedom of religion vanishes when governments get involved. Isn't separation of church and state 'less government' anyway?

    October 20, 2010 at 10:10 am |
    • Raison


      Well said.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.