What Should Politicians Say about Evolution?

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(Photo: Facebook/Paul Broun)In a recent speech, Georgia Republican Congressman Paul Broun said that what he had been taught about evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory were "all lies straight from the pit of hell."

Stephen Meyer, Director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, author, and a prominent proponent of intelligent design, discussed what politicians should say when questioned about evolution by an anti-creationist news media at a Faith and Law presentation on Friday, March 13, on Capitol Hill. Meyer observed that the news media considers that there are two acceptable responses from politicians to a question as to whether or not evolution is true.

First, an affirmation of materialism (that matter is all that there is, and so life must have emerged from matter), and compartmentalism (religion has its proper place, but supernaturalism is excluded as a scientific explanation, and so evolution must be postulated as unguided). Meyer observed that Republicans are given a harder time, and are put on the defensive in responding to the question. The issue is complicated by the fact that the word "evolution" has no unequivocal meaning.

It can mean: 1) Change over time, 2) Common descent, and 3) Natural selection. Darwin claimed all three, and "his core idea is that nature can do the work of the Creator." Public school students today are taught all three meanings. Nevertheless, Meyer said that natural selection as the mechanism of evolution is increasingly questioned by evolutionary biologists.

The problem is exacerbated by the false perception of the scientific consensus. There is, Meyer said, "a huge disparity in the presentation of evolution." Scientific associations insist on Neo-Darwinism, the doctrine that natural selection acts by genetic mutation, as the indisputable cause of evolution, and thus of the apparent biological order. But the rejection of criticism is unscientific, he said. Just as a computer requires new code to perform a new function, so a species requires new genetic information for an improved function, which cannot reasonably be developed by the transmission of errors in the gene sequence. Peer reviewed journals by evolutionary biologists therefore doubt natural selection, he said. They believe that in the course of natural history species changed over time, but are skeptical about unguided evolution being adequate to explain this.

The issue is critically important, because evolution is the creation story of materialism. "Evolution is a surrogate for world view issues," according to Meyer. There are enormous consequences of accepting naturalism as a basis for law and public policy. Naturalistic ethicist Peter Singer of Princeton University holds that human babies are worth less than pigs. Singer maintains that in placing humans on par with the worth of animals, we are "catching up the Darwin." Evolution is a likely indicator of worldview. Meyer pointed to the Leopold and Loeb case (1924), in which students of a professor who was advancing Nietzsche's philosophy of acting outside of Christian morality heeded the professor's call to act out Nietzsche's philosophy, and chose to murder a boy as a way of doing this. Clarence Darrow, who served as the ACLU's defense attorney at the Scopes trial the following year, argued that though clearly guilty of the crime, they were not really responsible, and their sentence should be mitigated, because of the unguided evolutionary process that ultimately caused their existence. This, Meyer said, shows the potential of Darwinian ethics in law.

Belief in special creation on the other hand is conducive to creativity. Meyer noted that George Guilder of the Discovery Institute holds that much of contemporary western economics is materialistic in a philosophical sense. It assumes that there is a finite amount of wealth to be divided from the material riches of the earth, whereas in fact wealth is continuously produced by human creativity.

Meyer said that part of the problem politicians have is in a miscalculation of where the advantage lies. There are reasonable answers to questions the press asks about evolution that the public will support. A public figure does need to be prepared for follow-up questions about whether he or she believes in old or young earth creation, Meyer said, but one can effectively make the point that in the contemporary arguments among conventional, non-creationist scientists, the purposeless, unguided mechanism proposed by Neo-Darwinism is not a settled issue, but is seriously questioned in peer discussion.

Additionally, the general public is supportive of an educational policy of "teaching the controversy." This should cause politicians, especially conservative politicians supported by a conservative base, to be less evasive and apologetic about what they believe concerning creation and evolution.

Rick Plasterer is a staff writer for IRD concerned particularly with domestic religious liberty. He attended Eastern Mennonite College (now University) receiving a B.A. degree in history and sociology, and an M.S. in library science from Drexel University.