Darwinocracy: The evolution question in American politics

Does Darwin rule the electorate? Why does a stigma surround those who are skeptical of Darwinism, and how should candidates respond? Photo: Armin Cifuentes/Ronald Martinez (Getty Images)

OHATCHEE, Al. September 3, 2011 — In Going Rogue: An American Life, Sarah Palin recounts the vetting process she experienced before she was selected to be the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2008. While being interviewed as a potential candidate for the McCain campaign, all went smoothly until something made the McCain staffers wince.

“I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism,” wrote Palin, the daughter of a science teacher. “But I felt I was on solid factual ground.”

During the Delaware senate race of the 2010 midterm elections, Chris Coons ordered Christine O’Donnell to “come clean” with voters during a debate. When O’Donnell insisted she had already come clean on every position, Coons mustered up the most devastating, scandalous, humiliating, skeleton-in-the-closet-detecting litmus test he could think of: “Do you believe in evolution?”

Recently, a woman parroted the same query over her little boy’s shoulder to Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry. The Texas Governor dared to affirm some skepticism of evolution, calling it a theory that has “got some gaps in it.”

(That same day, Jon Huntsman, the Obama-appointed ambassador to China and moderate Republican candidate, quickly disassociated himself from that perspective by telling the world via Twitter that he believes in evolution.)

Atheistic evolutionist Richard Dawkins promptly scolded Perry and the Republican Party for its lack of intelligence, particularly in having the audacity to not swallow Darwinian evolution hook, line and sinker.

He told The Washington Post that “the ‘evolution question’ deserves a prominent place in the list of questions put to candidates in interviews and public debates during the course of the coming election.”

Dawkins, ever the political scholar in touch with America’s needs, also criticized the American political process: “There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities.”

I’m not aware of any historically successful Darwinocracy, so there is no telling what substitute system the professor would prefer.

On the Origin of Species had not been written when the American system was being crafted, so the American founders didn’t have to kiss the ring of the British theology-student-turned-naturalist who wrote it.

Various studies conclude that a well-sized slice of the American public doubts “evolution”. If that is true, I don’t find it too surprising coming from an American society that descends from revolutionaries who were skeptical of establishments. We could easily be wary of scientific or academic as well as political and religious establishments, if any start looking authoritarian enough.

But for some, the Darwinist establishment is very desirable – and questioning it is virtually a crime.

When Chinese paleontologist Jun-Yuan Chen’s criticism of Darwinian predictions about the fossil record was met with dead silence from a group of scientists in the U.S., he quipped that, “In China we can criticize Darwin, but not the government; in America you can criticize the government, but not Darwin.”

In the book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by Oxford Professor of Mathematics John Lennox (whom I interviewed a few months ago), Lennox observes how interesting it is that Darwinian evolution has become an inextricable aspect of some worldviews:

“In the contemporary scientific world we thus have the very unusual situation that one of science’s most influential theories, biological macroevolution, stands in such a close relationship to naturalistic philosophy that it can be deduced from it directly – that is, without even needing to consider any evidence, as the ancient arguments of Lucretius plainly show. This circumstance is extraordinary since it is very difficult to think of another scientific theory that is in a similar position.” (Page 98)

He quotes biologist Douglas Futuyma as saying,

“Together with Marx’s materialistic theory of history and society and Freud’s attribution of human behavior to influences over which we have little control, Darwin’s theory of evolution was a crucial plank in the platform of mechanism and materialism – of much of science, in short – that has been the stage of most Western thought.” (Page 87)

Returning to the topic at hand, how should contemporary Americans – particularly our elected officials and political candidates – properly answer the big EQ when they have doubts about evolution?

Let us begin dissecting the meaning and real controversy behind the predictable interrogation.

Q. Do you believe in evolution?

Depending upon context, this is not a “yes or no” question.

As my secular college biology textbook testifies, the Darwinian theory of evolution has two core principles. One of them is natural selection, the process in which individual organisms’ adaptation to their environment selects the traits that will be more frequently passed on to successive generations.

There is nothing unconvincing about natural selection. The same concept is utilized in artificial selection, which has been practiced in animal breeding and plant cultivation since way before Darwin’s day. To claim that organisms evolve to some extent within their genome is useful, observable, descriptive science.

The other core principle of Darwinian evolution is common descent with modification, which extrapolates that through natural selection, every living thing on Earth evolved to its present form starting from a single, microscopic ancestor now presumed to have arisen some 3.8 billion years ago.

That’s the part of evolution that some of us – scientific or otherwise – don’t find very convincing.

Brief answer: I believe that Darwin accurately observed the mutability of species within kinds through natural selection, but I sympathize with scientists who are aware of the limits of natural selection and are skeptical of common descent with modification. I am committed to the cause of academic freedom and look forward to further scientific progress.

Q. Why do you hate science?

This is the follow-up question that makes me laugh.

Maybe it’s because I grew up personally obsessed with science, and had a home education that gave me the greatest level of academic freedom a student could ask for.

My grandfather was a biology professor and geneticist (likely one of the few people who truly appreciated my endless menagerie of specimens and quirky experiments that I cluttered the schoolroom with). I still have nature journals and drawers stuffed with plants, insects, little bitty fossils, snakes, shells and skulls collected by me or bestowed upon me by freaked out neighbors who knew the weird little girl down the street would find something valuable in them. 

Science was always a respected and important topic in my family, so I certainly have never hated it or feared it. Nor have any of my siblings, my registered nurse mother or Ivy-League educated Lieutenant Colonel father hated science. We were never sheltered from the views of evolutionists, but we knew there was more to science than what their pooh bahs declared.

Conventionally schooled childhood friends of mine who hated science (which was borderline blasphemous to me) were under the impression that it was boring because “scientists had everything figured out”. A genuine scientist would never insist that.

But shallow curriculum developers and teachers might imply such nonsense because of their patronizing fear of “confusing” children by mentioning that there are unsettled aspects of popular tenets of science - unsettled aspects that students might, in fact, one day be able to investigate and contribute to.

Unconventional skepticism keeps conventional science on its toes, having to cross-examine conclusions otherwise taken for granted. According to historical precedent, you can’t go wrong questioning authority in science.

Q. What about Kitzmiller v. Dover? A federal judge ruled that intelligent design is not science!

This year, a federal judge ruled that human life begins at conception. Are you going to live by that judge’s understanding of science too?

In his book The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins defines biology as “the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Design in nature is apparent. The question is whether or not that apparent design is real (and thus intelligent) or an illusion (and thus ultimately a product of chance processes). Dawkins adheres to the evolutionary model, which only permits the possible plausibility of intelligent design if it was some how done by a natural, extraterrestrial being.

The intelligent design movement is propelled by researchers who do not want to shackle evolution with unrealistic expectations. ID proponents believe Darwinism has limits that need to be admitted and investigated (as Lennox explains in the book I mentioned earlier, mathematics and information technology are becoming an important part of biology - something Darwin couldn’t have imagined). Creationists agree, but that is not what defines creationism.

Creationism, in contrast, consists of a comprehensive view about the beginnings of the natural world and its inhabitants involving a particular supernatural Creator (i.e. the Biblical God). This view encompasses historical and cultural data as well as scientific data. A field developed by creationists which investigates common descent within kinds is baraminology, which has been called “surprisingly rigorous and internally consistent” by the National Center for Science Education.

Creationism doesn’t need to be taught in science class, but criticism of Darwinian evolution should be acknowledged.

Q. But what about separation of church and state?

I’m surprised anybody has an imagination limber enough to think teaching that Darwinism has some doubtful aspects is violating the establishment clause – especially when atheists are always touting that their own disbelief is not a religious establishment.

The paranoia of Darwin loyalists flows through all levels of academia, the one realm where people are supposed to be able to debate without having to worry about hurting somebody’s feelings. The Louisiana Science Education Act simply allowed “open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” in public elementary and secondary schools upon request.

It even included a provision specifying that it “shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.”

That is still too disruptive to the delicate internal balance of Darwinocrats.

This brings to my mind the irony of atheists wanting to sue over the World Trade Center cross at Ground Zero. These people can stare down a double-helix and not see a clue of semiotic intelligence, but all of a sudden a cross-shaped chunk of metal left over from a destroyed tower screams provocative religious doctrine (yes, they said it gives them “dyspepsia”).

If we all abide by their queasy standard of oppression, many of us might as well conclude that every single human being is a walking, talking, physiological violation of separation of church and state.

We’ve been through the evolutionist interrogation now. Marvin Olasky has outlined some good questions for the candidates who believe in evolution.

Since this is supposed to be an important topic that will determine American presidential candidates’ judgment on a wide variety of issues (according to Dawkins), I would like to pose one to our current Darwinist in Chief:

How is that belief in Darwinian evolution working for you, President Obama?


Amanda Read is an unconventional scholar, a Southerner without an accent, a Christian who hasn’t been a churchgoer in 17 years and a college student who lives with eight younger siblings. A writer and artist, she blogs at www.amandaread.com and is the author of the historical drama screenplay The Crusading Chemist. Amanda is majoring in history and minoring in political science at Troy University.

Keep up with her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AmandaChristineRead and Twitter:

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Amanda Read

Amanda Read is a columnist for the Communities at The Washington Times. Trained as a historian, skilled as a writer, and aspiring to be a filmmaker, Amanda investigates the ideas behind contemporary culture and politics. A professional writer and researcher, she is also a Christian homeschool graduate, unconventional college graduate, military daughter, and eldest of the nine Read children at Fair Hills Farm. Find more of her work at www.amandaread.com

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