Dear Rick Santorum: Sorry, the Pope Actually Did Study Science. So He Might Know About Science.

Photo illustration: Evandro Inetti/ZUMA and Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock

“I am not a scientist!” is now the standard escape hatch through which Republican climate deniers slither to avoid talking about climate science or evolution. From Sen. Marco Rubio, asked how old the Earth is: “I’m not a scientist, man.” Rick Perry whipped out the same “I’m not a scientist” line last year in DC while questioning the consensus around climate change. Jeb Bush said the same thing back in 2009.

Now at least one GOP presidential hopeful is turning the talking point into an attack on the pope, ahead of his landmark encyclical on the environment, to be released Thursday. (A draft of the document has already leaked). Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a Catholic with a history of criticizing Pope Francis, says the pope should leave science to the scientists. “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science,” he told Dom Giordano, a radio host in Philadelphia, earlier this month. “And I think that we are probably better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.”

One problem with Santorum’s retort? The pope, while obviously not a climate scientist (he’s the pope), actually did study science and therefore might have a better grasp of fundamental scientific processes than most people who have not studied science.

The National Catholic Reporter and the Official Vatican Network both report that Francis, then Jorge Bergoglio, earned a technician’s degree in chemistry from a technical school in Buenos Aires before joining the seminary. Sylvia Poggioli from NPR also reports Francis worked as a chemist. Listen to her report from Morning Edition, below, from Rome:

And for good measure, here’s a video my Climate Desk colleagues—Tim McDonnell and Suzanne Goldenberg (from the Guardian)—put together last week. They asked a bunch of climate change deniers at the annual Heartland Institute conference in Washington, DC, what they think of the pope’s calls for action on climate change:

 

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

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FACT:

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Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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