Moderators, Huckabee Miss Point: Whether Creationism Taught in Public School

In last night’s Republican presidential debate, moderators returned to the subject of evolution, pressing former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee:

Huckabee gave an elegant answer to the inept question — “I’m not planning on writing the curriculum for an eight-grade science book. I’m asking for the opportunity to be president of the United States,” he said. The idea that the president won’t set science curriculum seems to echo the conservative view of federal versus state policymaking authority, but in practice the president may have a role doing just that.

In the midst of a heightened period of debate two years ago over teaching “Intelligent Design” creationism in public school science class, culminating in a federal judge repudiating the Dover, Pennsylvania school board, President Bush spoke out in favor of injecting creationism into curriculum, helping to legitimize ID proponents’ case. “With the president endorsing it, at the very least it makes Americans who have that position more respectable, for lack of a better phrase,” said Gary Bauer.

And the president’s role may even extend beyond shaping the terms of debate to setting actual policy. During congressional debate over Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind education plan, among the provisions considered was the so-called Santorum Amendment, containing language designed to make ID an integral part of science standards across the country. Although the amendment was rejected, confusion around the legislation caused many ID supporters (including Santorum) to imply that it was law. At the very least, this shows that a future president could potential be in position to implement an anti-evolution policy for public schools.

As we noted after the last debate, Huckabee expressed support for teaching creationism when governor of Arkansas. Last night, while Huckabee seemed to state that the theory of evolution is incompatible with belief in God, he correctly noted that his personal belief (much less his understanding of science) does not necessarily bear on public policy. But the policy question of whether creationism belongs in public school science class, on the other hand, is very relevant to the job.

(Via Ross Douthat.)