Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Evolving views

At Reason, there's an interesting survey by Ron Bailey of U.S. presidential candidates' views on evolution.

The dividing line between the two parties is relatively clear on this issue, which is not surprising. Of course, all candidates express some kind of Christian belief--if they didn't, they would not, of course, be viable candidates--so even the relatively rational Democrats seem to be adopting one variation or another of the (wrong-headed) NOMA principle.

Which is not what I'd prefer, but given the strictures of acceptable American political discourse, I'll take what I can get.

There are a few slightly disconcerting notes on the Democratic side, though. Some candidates haven't even expressed an opinion. Barack Obama, for instance. As Bailey points out, it may be that he hasn't been asked. (Christopher Hitchens, however, recently took a look at the church to which Obama belongs and found enough grounds for concern.)

Trying to combine religious belief and scientific rationalism requires intense forms of mental contortion in the best conditions: being a politician in America (where, Obama quipped, 'more people...believe in angels than they do in evolution') is far from such a context. (Note: it seems he's right.)

So, OK: I'm uncomfortable with all the well-meaning spiritualist blubber coming from the Dems, but I'm pretty sure that at least science classes would be safe with one of them at the helm.

Speaking of mental contortion, though, the comments on Bailey's article (and responses to an earlier confirmation of Ron Paul's apparent creationist leanings) are instructive.

As I've noted, there are many elements of libertarian thinking which are appealing; however, nearly all of my personal encounters with self-described libertarians have been disappointing or disturbing. (There are exceptions, such as one Dale pointed me to. He also eloquently and thoughtfully responded to my thoughts here.)

And if the comments at Reason are any thing to go by, the movement has a problem, as it seems to be substantially composed not of thoughtful rationalists but rather of naively pathological anti-staters, conspiracy theorists, committed creationists and global warming deniers. Many of them are people who also seem to spend an awful lot of time screeching at the slightest heresy and debating who may and who may not call themselves a 'libertarian'.

Which, I think, is very grown up.

So much for free-thinking rational scepticism.

Not that this is surprising: their enthusiasm for Paul's highly troubling candidature is telling enough. (Via Cliopatria and Pharyngula.)

The Democratic candidate with the best answer on the evolution issue is former Alaska senator Mike Gravel, (who has about as much chance as winning the nomination as I do):

When LiveScience asked the senator if he thought creationism should be taught in public schools, Gravel replied, "Oh God, no. Oh, Jesus. We thought we had made a big advance with the Scopes monkey trial....My God, evolution is a fact, and if these people are disturbed by being the descendants of monkeys and fishes, they've got a mental problem. We can't afford the psychiatric bill for them. That ends the story as far as I'm concerned."
As it should be. (Though, of course, he may be right: all on its own that psychiatric bill might make any of the candidates' health-care proposals prohibitively expensive.)


Gorilla Bananas said...

Dicky Dawkins! What a man! I once saved his life in the Congo.

Mr. Joyboy said...

I misunderestimated Gravel, who shows keen political instincts by working one "Jesus" and two "Gods" into his affirmation of evolution!

J. Carter Wood said...

Mr. JB, Yes, absolutely, he shows a certain quickness of wit. Seems to be a bit of a strange bird in some ways, but somehow endearing.