Why the Evolution Question Matters

Why the Evolution Question Matters August 28, 2011

Kevin Williamson at the National Review Online has a rather odd position about Rick Perry’s recent creationist talk. He basically says, “Okay, so Perry is an ignorant blowhard — but you shouldn’t be asking him such questions in the first place.” Here’s the first part:

I’ll get into the question of tossing around these kinds of cultural hand grenades in a second, but first, let me note something that in my view is more important: Neither of Perry’s statements is true. Texas does not, as a matter of statewide policy, teach creationism alongside evolution. The state board of education has rejected creationist materials and adopted a rather conventional curriculum on the subject. And Texas did not retain a legal right to secede from the Union in 1845, though there is a cherished myth to the contrary. Texas’s annexation was a slightly complicated affair: An annexation treaty was proposed, and the secession myth is usually traced back to it. The treaty did not in fact contain such a provision, and, in any case, it was rejected by the U.S. Senate, and Texas was brought into the Union by a joint resolution of Congress (which seems kind of flimsy to me, but it’s worked out alright). Before the governor goes wading into such troubled waters, he ought to be in full command of the facts.

True enough so far. But then there’s this:

The broader question, however, is: Why would anybody ask a politician about his views on a scientific question? Nobody ever asks what Sarah Palin thinks about dark matter, or what John Boehner thinks about quantum entanglement. (For that matter, I’ve never heard Keith Ellison pressed for his views on evolution.) There are lots of good reasons not to wonder what Rick Perry thinks about scientific questions, foremost amongst them that there are probably fewer than 10,000 people in the United States whose views on disputed questions regarding evolution are worth consulting, and they are not politicians; they are scientists. In reality, of course, the progressive types who want to know politicians’ views on evolution are not asking a scientific question; they are asking a religious and political question, demanding a profession of faith in a particular materialist-secularist worldview.

Absolute nonsense. No one asks Sarah Palin what she thinks about dark matter because it’s never been a political issue and probably never will be. But evolution and creationism is, in fact, a political issue. There has been a relentless campaign for nearly 100 years now in this country to undermine the teaching of good science education by introducing creationism into public school science classrooms. If there was anything remotely similar for dark matter or quantum physics, those would be relevant questions for a candidate too. He isn’t comparing apples to apples, he’s comparing apples to bowling balls.

Progressives like to cloak their policy preferences in the mantle of science, but they do not in fact give a fig about science, which for them is only a vehicle to be ridden to the precise extent that it is convenient. This is why they will ask what makes Rick Perry qualified to disagree with the scientific establishment, but never ask the equally relevant question of what makes Jon Huntsman qualified to agree with it.

Because those two things are not equivalent. It’s certainly true that Huntsman probably doesn’t have much of an understanding of the scientific literature on climate change. Neither do I, for that matter. But as cognitive shortcuts go, accepting the overwhelming consensus of scientists with relevant expertise is not at all the same as firmly believing that they are wrong.

Perry is making an error by approaching these questions as though they were scientific disputes and not political ones.

How amusing. He thinks Perry is approaching those questions as scientific disputes rather than political ones? Seriously? The opposite is obviously true. Perry is taking those positions not because he has the first clue about the facts of evolutionary biology or global warming, but because those are overwhelmingly popular positions in the Republican party. His answers are purely political — and religious.

Evolution is a public question not because politicians have anything intelligent to say about the science, but because the question provides a handy cudgel to those who wish to beat the Judeo-Christian moral tradition into submission in the service of managerial progressivism.

He has it precisely backwards. Evolution is a public question because politicians and the religious know-nothings they pander to use it as a handy cudgel to beat religion into the minds of impressionable students.

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