The Candidates for Governor of Illinois and Their Views on Evolution

It’s a simple question with a simple answer:

Do you accept the theory of evolution? Please explain.

The correct answer:

Of course I accept evolution, just as every thinking person should. The scientific evidence points to evolution as the best explanation for all the diversity of life on Earth and there is no credible alternative.

The Chicago Tribune asked this question to all the candidates vying to become Illinois’ next governor.

Their responses are almost all pathetic:

Adam Andrzejewski: “Yes. As a practicing Catholic, I believe that God created Darwin. Let others debate the details.”

So he accepts evolution… but he has to stick in something meaningless about God to please the fundamentalists.

He’s a Republican.

Bill Brady: “I accept the theory of creation, as I was taught, and believe the world has continued to evolve since.”

What does that mean, the “theory of creation”? Does Brady think a god created the world and then evolution took place? Or that a god “intelligently designed” mankind and we’ve been microevolving since then?

In any case, he can’t give a straight answer and he doesn’t understand simple science.

He’s a Republican.

Kirk Dillard: “Science seems to support evolution but there is no doubt that I have seen the hand of God at work in my travels and everyday life.”

It “seems” to support it? No. No waffling. Science does support it.

And no one cares what Dillard thinks about what God does with his hand. That’s irrelevant.

He’s a Republican.

Andy McKenna: “Yes, but I also believe that the process of evolution has been guided by the creative power of God.”

“Yes, but“? No. Just say “Yes, period.”

No one was asking whether you thought God guided it. Stop acting like accepting evolution will somehow piss off the religious voters.

He’s a Republican.

Dan Proft: “The current political class in Springfield make me question the veracity of natural selection. That aside, I do not believe there needs to be a divide between religious belief and the scientific method. … The evidence seems to me fairly clear that, as Pope John Paul II wrote, human beings have a ‘common ancestry of life’ from which we have evolved.”

Cute. Funny. Though there was no need to bring a god or religion into this.

Proft never gives a simple answer, and he uses the Pope to justify his acceptance of evolution, but he handled this better than his fellow Republicans.

Jim Ryan: “Evolution is a reasonable theory. Regardless of the extent of its truth, I believe that God was ultimately responsible for our creation and infused human beings with a soul.”

Reasonable?!

Wearing a seat belt is reasonable. Tying your shoes before running is reasonable. Evolution is not just reasonable. For all intents and purposes, it is a fact and it should be treated as such.

“Regardless of the extent of its truth…?” So he doesn’t completely accept it.

And the last phrase is just pandering to religious nuts and has no basis in reality.

Ryan doesn’t really accept evolution, and he’s trying to sidestep away from directly saying “no.”

He’s a Republican.

Bob Schillerstrom: “I accept the theory of evolution. There is compelling scientific evidence to show that evolution does occur. I also believe science and religion answer life’s questions in complementary ways.”

Good, quick answer.

Last sentence unnecessary. But I can live with that.

He’s a Republican.

Of the Republicans, Schillerstrom and Proft gave the best answers.

Sadly, both men are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to current polling.

How did the Democrats do?

Dan Hynes: “I accept the theory of evolution.”

Pat Quinn: “I believe that the scientific theory of evolution is the best explanation we have for the origin and diversity of species on Earth. As a Catholic, I do not see any discrepancy between my acceptance of widely held scientific principles and my faith in God as the prime mover of the universe.”

Quinn gives basically the same answer as Schillerstrom… that is to say, “I accept evolution… but God exists… so please don’t get mad at me.”

Based on his response to the evolution question, Dan Hynes is getting my vote in the primary.

Incidentally, Hynes is the only viable candidate who also supports gay marriage.

This man needs to be governor.

  • http://claire-chan.livejournal.com Claire Binkley

    I like Hynes too, from the six words I have read of him thus far!

    Wiki time!

    Hm, degrees in law, economics and “computer applications”. Seconded by Barack Obama in the Senate campaign for Illinois. Primarily a “comptroller”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Hynes

  • Wendy

    I liked how the Chicago Tribue asked the question. “Do you accept evolution?” instead of “Do you believe in evolution?”

  • http://www.sacredriver.org Ash Bowie

    If I were asked the same question, I might reply:

    “Of course I accept theory of evolution, for the same reason that I accept that microscopic organisms are a leading cause of illness, that the earth is 4.5 billion years old or that man-made pollution is a significant contributor to climate change, because all the scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports it.”

  • samuel pina

    Interesting, they should ask them through a yes/no method.

    Do you accept the theory of evolution? Yes or no

    That way no one can’t say yes but…

  • Tony

    How about “Asking whether or not I believe in evolution makes as much sense as asking if I believe in gravity, or germs or molecules. The very fact that such a meaningless question is asked with such an air of journalistic pomposity frankly speaks very poorly about the state of education in Illinois and that is just one of the things as governor I shall work to correct.”

    Who’s voting for me?

  • Sven

    Religion in politics.. it scares me so much that people that can not see the difference between fact and fiction are actually ruling the world. Brrrr..

  • http://knowledgeisnotveryfar.blogspot.com/ Jake

    What is the difference between Brady’s answer and Hyne’s? They are virtually identical.

  • http://godlessartist.blogspot.com/ Kilre

    Jake, I would expect that there are major differences between the “theory of creation” as Brady put it, and Hynes’ answer, though I would like to know just what a “theory of creation” constitutes, since evolution does not deal with creation at all.

    Put in context with the rest of the sentence, makes me think Brady supports creationism.

  • Chris

    How many people in the atheist community (or, any community for that matter) actually know exactly what evolution is? To accept something you do not know is to do so on faith – exactly the thing which many (majority?) atheists vehemently ridicule.

    The irony gets even better when you visit Wikipedia’s entry on evolution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introduction_to_evolution):

    Evolution is not “just” a theory… it is a scientific fact.

    This is as poisonous to young minds as telling them Jesus lives in their hearts or other religious rhetoric.

    We are replacing one religion with other. The story is different, but the characters are the same: Darwin is the prophet and evolution is god.

  • MrAllenU

    Hynes is the only candidate that should reasonably be able to receive a vote.

    Thanks for the post. :-)

  • http://godlessartist.blogspot.com/ Kilre

    This is as poisonous to young minds as telling them Jesus lives in their hearts or other religious rhetoric.

    Except evolution can be demonstrated, whereas Jesus living in their hearts cannot, and used for the common good. Vaccines, mutant crops that survive harsh conditions, etc. What is wrong with teaching reality as it is?

    To provide an anecdote, when I was young I was told, on no uncertain terms, that dinosaurs lived more than 65 million years ago. Was that detrimental to my learning? I wonder, since the old age of the universe and the pace of evolution coincide.

    I do however see your point. It was not until later in life that I learned much of anything of importance relating to science. The state of science education is piss poor in the ‘States, at least where I grew up in New Orleans, and instead of critical thinking we’re teaching more along the lines of “scientists say this, therefore”.

    Lastly, I went through to your link to the Introduction to evolution on Wikipedia, and where it states that it is “fact” you seem to have left out some important information:

    “Evolution is not “just” a theory. Evolution is an observed process and natural phenomenon in the world, akin to theories such as gravity or atoms. As such, it is a scientific fact. The word evolution is also sometimes used as shorthand for “theory of evolution”, a well-supported scientific theory which describes and explains how the observed process of evolution occurs. To avoid ambiguity, the term evolution will here signify the observed fact, and not the broader theory.”

    There are links to “scientific fact”, “scientific theory”, observation and testing, in short, it is exactly what it purports to be, an introduction to the theory of evolution, and the jargon associated with it. If someone is inquisitive they’ll find knowledge, if someone is cherry-picking they’ll ignore the links; not everyone will learn everything.

  • Aj

    Chris,

    Evolution is not “just” a theory. Evolution is an observed process and natural phenomenon in the world, akin to theories such as gravity or atoms. As such, it is a scientific fact. The word evolution is also sometimes used as shorthand for “theory of evolution”, a well-supported scientific theory which describes and explains how the observed process of evolution occurs.[4][5] To avoid ambiguity, the term evolution will here signify the observed fact, and not the broader theory.

    [highlighted for convenience in bold]

    Evolution has been observed empirically in fossils, in genetics, in experiments with organisms that have short generations. Evolution was known about well before Darwin. The “theory of evolution” is not a scientific fact, it’s a fact in a more general sense, but no scientific theory is a scientific fact.

    Prophets and scientists are nothing alike. Scientists don’t speak for others with authority. Scientists don’t have authority, they have respect. Theories gain authority with evidence, and lose it with evidence, all theories can lose all authority if falsified with evidence.

    Evolution is nothing like a deity. Evolution is not a person, it is not conscious or intelligent. Evolution is descent with modification, the fact that life has changed over time. This is not religious rhetoric requiring faith, this is empirically observed, scientific fact. Evolution requires life, it is not about the origin of life, what came before, or anything not concerning life.

  • Dave

    Hoping that reason will prevail in a statewide election? Good luck, Illinois.

  • REX

    I am loving the fact that the question is being asked. I think awareness of these issues is increasing. I think that all of the billboards and other ads questioning blind faith are having a positive impact on these concepts, and I am encouraged by that.

    We are making progress!! It won’t always be a sudden seismic shift in the public thought process. Small steps build together to lead society to a better place, and awareness of intellectual dishonesty is a great step for right now.

  • Richard Wade

    It’s ironic that we’re seeing natural selection at work in this political arena. The candidates who dodge, hedge, equivocate or obfuscate are at the top of the polls while the ones who talk straight are at the bottom.

    The sad lesson is shown to us again, that evolution does not necessarily produce better creatures, just better survivors.

    So the latest adaptation for these word worms is to sorta, kinda accept the theory of evolution, with lots of word worm wiggle room, and then be sure to mention that God is actually in charge.

  • Heidi

    How many people in the atheist community (or, any community for that matter) actually know exactly what evolution is?

    In the atheist community? Many. The rest of the population, not so much, AFAICT.

  • Vas

    “I accept the theory of creation…” Brady

    I didn’t even know there was a theory of creation, maybe Brady is using a different definition of the word theory than the Chicago Tribune was using when they asked about the theory of evolution, kind of an apple and orange thing.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I’m not seeing why you criticize responses like Proft’s, Quinn’s, and Andrzejewski’s, as having objectionable elements. In fact, I would argue that these responses, arguing that their Christian beliefs are compatible with belief in evolution, are probably more helpful than Hynes’s.

    Yes, in an ideal world, this would be a non-question, and all the candidates would respond with “Yes, of course,” maybe adding on “But I’m puzzled as to why you would ask me about this particular well-accepted scientific theory, rather than about heliocentric theory, or Einstein’s theory of general relativity.” But in the real world, everyone knows that the reason this question is being asked is because many Americans see a conflict between their Christian beliefs, and belief in evolution. Given that, it’s hardly some cowardly evasion or irrelevancy for the candidates to bring up their views on how evolution agrees or doesn’t agree with their religious beliefs—it’s entirely relevant and useful. Assuming that all the candidates are Christian (or at least claim to be), I find it positive and helpful when they argue that Christianity and evolution are compatible.

  • Chris

    As you emphasize, evolution can mean the either:

    1) The phenomenon which we observe in nature; or
    2) The theory which we use to model it.

    The question was NOT “do you accept evolution?” but “do you accept the THEORY OF evolution?”.

    What is the point of this question anyway? To identify the scientific “luddites” for further ridicule?

    Otherwise, the question seems to implicitly be asking “do you accept the theory of evolution… as fact and on faith – since you have obviously not read and understood ALL of facts, opinions, evidence etc. on the matter to make your OWN informed decision?”

    If you answer yes to this question, then you are no better off than the theists in the following sense: you have just accepted as truth a bunch of assumptions, which – like all other complex models – have not been shown to be logically consistent.

    The theory of evolution is not fact. The actual fact is the theory is a construct of human imagination. Every scientific model has or will be overthrown by a more accurate one and there is no reason to believe that such will not the case with evolution.

    Are you are asking people to stop blindly following their religion and start blindly following whatever might be the current scientific theory as ultimate truth?

  • http://www.theagoraphobes.com colin

    I don’t think the reasonable candidates need to be faulted too much for referring to religion in their answers. Clearly the subtext of the question is “Do you believe in evolution or creation vis a vis the ridiculous debate happening in America right now,” not “vis a vis your research in the field.”

  • http://www.sacredriver.org Ash Bowie

    If you answer yes to this question, then you are no better off than the theists in the following sense: you have just accepted as truth a bunch of assumptions, which – like all other complex models – have not been shown to be logically consistent.

    This is absurd. Basically, you are saying that if I am not an expert of knowledge in some area, trusting one who is an expert is exactly like a theist believing what their religious authority tells them to believe. You would only be partially right if someone said that they accepted the theory without any knowledge whatsoever about what the theory says or how that theory was developed—I’m willing to assume that Hynes and Quinn have a basic understanding of the outlines of the Theory of Evolution.

    But you would only be partially right because there is a fundamental difference between science and religion (well, lots of differences, but here is one)…Science includes the process of peer review, a brutally strict regimen of examination by people who are themselves scientific experts. By the time a model reaches the point of the ToE, it has been tested and reviewed so many times that it is reasonable to accept the integrity of that model. When scientists start making a lot of claims that are no longer rigorously tested or backed up by evidence (as is the case with religious claims), then we can start talking about faith.

    The theory of evolution is not fact.

    Correct. The Theory of Evolution is a model that accurately and reliably—if not yet completely—addresses the underlying facts of nature, in this case that living organisms change over time in relation to genetic mutations and changes in the environment in such a way as to be advantageous in regards to reproduction and survival. That organisms have evolved in this general way is a well-established fact; the Theory continues to be refined as we learn more about the processes involved.

  • http://godlessartist.blogspot.com/ Kilre

    “The question was NOT “do you accept evolution?” but “do you accept the THEORY OF evolution?”.

    What is the point of this question anyway? To identify the scientific “luddites” for further ridicule?”

    I realize that there is a problem with the public and calling it a theory, as evidenced by the common cry, “it’s only a theory!”, but you’ll have to take it up with the public and the person asking the questions; after that we can improve scientific literacy and critical thinking skills.

    “Otherwise, the question seems to implicitly be asking “do you accept the theory of evolution… as fact and on faith – since you have obviously not read and understood ALL of facts, opinions, evidence etc. on the matter to make your OWN informed decision?”

    If you answer yes to this question, then you are no better off than the theists in the following sense: you have just accepted as truth a bunch of assumptions, which – like all other complex models – have not been shown to be logically consistent.”

    I agree with the first paragraph in this section, for the most part, but the end of it seems to be setting up what may not be true in all cases; how are you certain the lot of them have not read anything? A few, like Andrzejewski above, could, from the quoted statement above, be seen to not have much knowledge of evolution, but to extrapolate so much would require asking them more than “Do you accept the theory of evolution? Please explain.”

    you have just accepted as truth a bunch of assumptions, which have not been shown to be logically consistent

    Well, since you went ahead with the assertion, please demonstrate how it is not logically consistent. From which point of view are you arguing, as well: someone versed in biology, or a layman with little knowledge of the claims?

    “The theory of evolution is not fact. The actual fact is the theory is a construct of human imagination. Every scientific model has or will be overthrown by a more accurate one and there is no reason to believe that such will not the case with evolution.”

    Ah, so you’re saying, because it might be disproved in the future, we shouldn’t hold it to be true.

    “Are you are asking people to stop blindly following their religion and start blindly following whatever might be the current scientific theory as ultimate truth?”

    Are you mixing signals here? There is no ultimate truth in science, only the best current guess based upon the evidence at present. Religions claim to hold “ultimate truths”.

    It seems to me that you’re attempting to philosophize out how we “know” evolution is scientific fact based upon second- and third-hand, passed down, disseminated sound bites fed to the public through the media from the scientists doing the work.

    It doesn’t matter if you, personally, have or have not read the literature with regards to evolution. Should your ignorance impact the findings of those that do know, and are testing it, experimenting? I’m not saying that you are in fact ignorant of evolution and how much evidence there is to back it up; call it a rhetorical question.

    I agree with colin above; this is not a question with regards to their personal scientific opinion. By their answers this was a question about religious belief.

  • Aj

    Chris,

    The theory of evolution is not fact. The actual fact is the theory is a construct of human imagination. Every scientific model has or will be overthrown by a more accurate one and there is no reason to believe that such will not the case with evolution.

    Fact is common language means commonly accepted as true. Scientists commonly accept the theory of evolution to be true, therefore it’s a fact among the scientific community. This is because there’s a wealth of evidence supporting it.

    Theories are created through the imagination of individuals. It’s in evidence that they are judged. It’s likely that no scientific model accounts for all observations, but when problems in a theory are found saying it’s “overthrown” is completely exaggerating what has happened.

    The fact is that the theory of evolution created by Darwin has been improved upon in numerous ways without throwing out many principles. In the future it might all be falsified but to declare it will happen is faith, it’s not backed up by reason or evidence.

  • Richard Wade

    Chris,

    What is the point of this question anyway? To identify the scientific “luddites” for further ridicule?

    Yes.

    Is there a problem with identifying the retrogressive candidates running for Governor of an entire state?

    In a world that is every day more and more dependent on a steady supply of good, reliable science, expecting and demanding that our leaders have some basic understanding and appreciation of science and how it works is essential to our survival.

    In a world that is every day more and more threatened by people who blindly follow superstitious, anti-scientific dogma, identifying political candidates with such a mindset is essential to our survival.

    Knowing how a candidate answers this question gives us an idea if he’s going to lead Illinois forward into the 21st century, or back into the 19th, 18th, 17th…

    Knowing how a candidate answers this question gives us an insight into how much he is influenced by the force of reason or by the force of authority.

    And that will give us an insight into how he will govern, by force of reason or by force of authority.

  • muggle

    Actually, I didn’t accept the theory of evolution for about a dozen years or so after becoming an Atheist. I was just too uneducated to know there was so much known about it.

    The internet has changed my life.

    I let the ones saying yes but off the hook too though with a groan. They know the kiss of death when put to them.

    After all, no one’s asking them if they accept the theory of gravity, are they?

  • Elizabeth

    I’ve heard a lot of people say “I believe God drives evolution” or that “He created the earth 6 billion years ago and started evolution and let nature take course” and honestly, I like the answers. Well a lot more than someone saying “God created the earth 6000 years ago and everything to go along with it and that’s final”

    They’ve dropped the mythology of creationism and that’s good enough for me. So don’t beat on someone for believing that God drives evolution or caused the big bang. It’s progress, and hopefully in time they figure things out.

  • Tony

    I’m not seeing why you criticize responses like Proft’s, Quinn’s, and Andrzejewski’s, as having objectionable elements. In fact, I would argue that these responses, arguing that their Christian beliefs are compatible with belief in evolution, are probably more helpful than Hynes’s.

    I think it’s because it’s something of a non-sequitur. Answering “Do you accept evolution?” with “Yes but I think God is absolutely smashing” is like answering “What sort of car do you drive?” with “A dodge caravan but I am rather partial to scrambled egg with cheese”.

  • Chris

    Since gravity was already alluded to, let me illustrate my point with that analogy.

    First of all, asking “do you accept gravity?” is a question suitable only for parody so let us concentrate on “do you accept the THEORY OF gravity?”

    Regardless whether you answer yes or no to question, to answer it all and, more so, to even ask it displays your gross ignorance of what science is all about.

    THERE IS NO THEORY OF GRAVITY. There are many theories of gravity. They do not build on one other and do indeed “throw out many principles” of their predecessors. In fact, the assumptions of any two competing theories are contradictory. Newton’s theory posits a balance between accelerated motion and a force which is inversely proportional to the square of the distance to other objects. Einstein’s theory posits spacetime whose curvature guides the path of objects. And, quantum field theory’s foundations are purely abstract mathematical concepts such as Hilbert spaces and operator alegbras.

    So what theory do you accept? Quantum field theory is our most “fundamental” theory of nature so I should accept that one, right? If I were a NASA scientist programming the shuttle with the lives of American heroes in the palm of my hand, I should “accept” that theory, right? Wrong.

    Turns out you can land a man on the moon using a our most primitive theory of gravity. So does a rocket scientist accept Newton? Gladly. Would an astrophysicist accept Newton? Doubtful, Einstein is where it’s at. By the time you get to quantum physicists, we only use Newton’s theory as a comedic device.

    By forcing people to parrot the yes response to the question is forcing them to blindly follow to new majority instead of the old. The question does not make sense and that should be the answer to it.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    I’m not sure that some of these candidates should be allowed to stand. Or vote for that matter.

  • Aj

    Chris,

    That’s awful cherry picking and misrepresentation, not much different from how you treated the Wikipedia article. Not all of science is like gravity. Newton was unhappy with his hypotheses on gravity, they were not so important to his theory as the descriptive power of his laws, and gravity remains unresolved to this day. Newton’s laws on gravity still work, within limits, general relativity reduces to Newtonian gravity in these lower limits of gravity. This is why on some specific phenomena you can still use Newton’s laws e.g. NASA, where as an astrophysicist dealing with gravity beyond the limits of Newton’s laws would not. No sensible person is going to argue with Newton’s laws when it comes to things like aeronautics, which is the point people are making when they ask whether someone accepts the theory of gravity.

  • Richard Wade

    The question about accepting the theory of evolution is not a religious question, yet most of the candidates felt compelled to include a remark about God in their responses.

    I wonder if all that religious connotation, posturing and pandering, as well as all the nit-picking about the definition and public understanding of the word “theory” could be avoided if a different question was asked, one that doesn’t use the “E” word, like:

    How old do you think the Earth is?

    An answer hovering around 6,000 to 10,000 years will give us one impression of the candidate’s level of scientific sophistication, while an answer more like 4.5 billion years, or even “Oh, millions and millions of years, I’ve heard” will give us a different impression of their level of scientific saavy, and either answer might also give us an inkling about their general attitude toward the value of science.

  • Matt D

    @Chris,

    one question: do YOU accept the theory of evolution. Please explain?

    seriously, I’m really curious.

  • Chris

    Matt,

    You obviously didn’t get the point I was trying to make. I do not know what “theory of evolution” is supposed to mean. Give me an unambiguous question and I will answer it.

    If, as some have suggested here, the question is a euphemistic way of asking “are you a religious nut or not?”, then I would answer no (to this latter question). I’m probably third, maybe fourth, generation agnostic. I been in three churches my entire life, each time for a wedding. I couldn’t be farther away from religious. But the polar opposite of being religious is not one who blindly accepts anything with the label science attached to it – whatever it means to “accept” something scientific – I’m not sure.

    If, as Richard suggests, the question is posed to gauge the level of scientific sophistication, let me offer this as food for thought: I am a paid physicist. I have a Bachelor’ and Master’s degree in mathematical physics. I have published in peer-reviewed mathematics and physics journals. I have guest lectured advanced quantum mechanics courses for graduate students. So let me ask you, do I have enough scientific sophistication for you?

    Most interested in science are probably like I was as a high-school and even undergraduate student – just waiting to finish my degree because at the end I would know how the world really works. After all science has the answers, right? I focused on quantum physics because, at the end – since it is “the” fundamental theory of nature, I would have working knowledge of the mechanics of my natural surroundings, right?

    As a near Ph.D., I am now intimately familiar with what “science” is – or more precisely – what it isn’t.

    Turns out, this old proverb couldn’t sum it up any better: The more you know, the more you will know how little you know.

    Going back to the original question: I have high-school level knowledge of evolution. So, I “accept” the theory of evolution as much as I “accept” that poster in your high-school science class of the planets going around the sun in concentric circles as the “theory of our solar system” – which is about as far as I can throw it.

    I can only assume evolutionary science is like the science I do know: it’s foundations are riddled with unknown and unstated assumptions which are not questioned. Worse than that, it’s students are told not to question them, to “shut up and calculate” until the point were they become financial and socially vested in toeing the party line.

    I’ve come to have a great deal of respect for the scientific contrarians – because if you are not constantly questioning your assumptions, it might as well be a religion.


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