Last Thursday, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a debate on “Darwinism and Conservatism” in which Discovery Institute fellows John West and George Gilder sought to persuade conservatives that the scientific theory of evolution is incompatible with their political ideology, no doubt by attempting to link evolution to eugenics and abortion. That same night, the idea was tested in a more practical theater: the Republican presidential debate. John McCain was asked whether he believes in evolution – his answer, after a pause, was yes. Then the co-moderater asked for a show of hands:
Tom Tancredo, Sam Brownback, and Mike Huckabee all indicated they did not believe in evolution. (According to Janet Folger, Duncan Hunter later said the same.) But more important than whether a candidate believes in or even understands evolution is whether he would make efforts to counter evolution a part of public education policy. Indeed, John McCain – who reached out to the creationist Discovery Institute recently – has apparently said he supported teaching “Intelligent Design” creationism in science class alongside evolution (although he backed down a little bit).
Huckabee elaborated on his answer in the presidential debate, saying “he has no problem with teaching evolution as a theory in the public schools and he doesn't expect schools to teach creationism” as the AP reported. He added, “I wouldn't want them teaching creationism as if it's the only thing that they should teach.” More specifically, as governor of Arkansas he responded to concerns that students weren’t learning about evolution by advocating the teaching of creationism:
I think that the state ought to give students exposure to all points of view. And I would hope that that would be all points of view and not only evolution. I think that they also should be given exposure to the theories not only of evolution but to the basis of those who believe in creationism …
As for whether evolution is compatible with conservatism: at least one far-right activist says No. Watching the debate, Faith2Action’s Janet Folger whittled down the field of contenders based on their positions on abortion, stem cell research, national ID cards, and evolution:
When McCain was asked about evolution, he said: "I believe in evolution. But, I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also." McCain didn't want to look so "foolish" as to suggest that God could have actually pulled off a creation such as the Grand Canyon, but wanted to throw Him a bone with His "hand" in the sunset. Mighty nice of him. …
Liberal moderator Chris Matthews [sic – Politico reporter Jim VandeHei], in a "surely no one actually believes the first verse of the Bible" tone, asked, "I'm curious. Is there anybody on the stage that does not believe in evolution?" While the news reported three, after a round of calls, the forth [sic], Duncan Hunter (not Ron Paul), was among those who stood for Creation:
How about this? Let's have a debate with the men still standing.
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