Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Political Evolution

Is evolution and its place in our educational system going to become an issue, possibly a decisive one, in the upcoming presidential elections? It may already have been having an effect in the Iowa caucuses on the Republican side and could help kick the candidacy of Mike Huckabee into the front tier of GOP contenders:

Second-tier candidates who support intelligent design and other causes dear to social conservatives might have curried favor that will help them catch up to the leaders — and Mr. Huckabee is often mentioned as the most likely to do so. (He has moved into third place in Iowa among Republican candidates, according to a new poll by The Des Moines Register.)
There are many dangers, however:

It’s debatable whether opposing evolution offers Republicans a political edge or a headache. About 50 percent of all Americans, and 70 percent of Republicans, say they do not accept the validity of evolution, according to a Gallup poll released in June. But Americans’ views appear to be more nuanced than poll answers can adequately describe — many respondents supported both evolution and creationism.
Huckabee himself, after raising his hand to say he didn't believe in evolution in an early Republican debate (along with Senator Sam Brownback and Representative Tom Tancredo), had to do some dancing:

After critics ridiculed that litmus-test moment, Mr. Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and an ordained Southern Baptist minister, seemed to backpedal. He later said the question was not relevant for the job of president, and he and Mr. Brownback said that their views on the matter could not be easily described with a yes-or-no answer.
On the other hand, if Huckabee and Brownback objected to presidential candidates being asked about evolution at the extremely conservative Values Voter Presidential Debate, I didn't hear about it.

But then comes the general election:

However, as he must know, any presidential candidate who opposes evolution too loudly and too often would face a continuing barrage of criticism as being hostile to rational inquiry and expert findings, which could risk alienating independent, swing voters.
What does it profiteth a man to win Iowa and lose the whole of America?

Sean Carroll put it nicely in a lecture he gave when he visited Butler University recently. A senator said that we've been searching for evidence for evolution for 150 years and haven't found any. Carroll asked who the "we" is in that sentence. Maybe senators have been looking for 150 years and haven't found anything, but scientists have found a great deal.
Senators are usually in the business of studiously not looking for evidence ... never more so than when on a "fact-finding trip."
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How to Support Science Education