Remember this choice moment from just a couple of election cycles ago?
If you thought that was embarrassing, just wait until the question (or something much like it) is posed this time around. I’m predicting that the anti-science cohort will be stronger than ever. Here is the rundown on the top-tier candidates, as of this writing. (If I missed anything relevant, please leave a comment and a link.)
Donald Trump – Who knows? Although his real-estate dealings are YUUUGE the Donald has not yet indicated whether high-quality science education will help Make America Great Again.
Jeb Bush – “I am a practicing Catholic and my own personal belief is God created man and all life on earth. However, I do not believe an individual’s personal beliefs should be the basis for determining Florida’s Sunshine State Standards.”
That bit is actually mildly reassuring (NOMA is a political gambit, after all) but then he also said this:
“[W]e should encourage the vigorous discussion of varying viewpoints in our classrooms. A healthy debate of issues challenges our students’ minds.”
Which is true enough in courses on speech, debate, rhetoric, law, philosophy, and other branches of the humanities where we are teaching students how to argue well from different positions. Not so true when we are trying to impart well-settled scientific ideas such as heliocentrism, plate tectonics, or speciation by natural selection. It is ominously indicative that the folks at Uncommon Descent found Bush’s statement “highly encouraging.”
Scott Walker – Tactically punts on the evolution question. “That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or the other. So I’m going to leave that up to you.”
This answer would feel somewhat more reassuring and less disingenuous if we didn’t see GOP politicians trying time and again to override the decisions of subject matter experts in favor of politically mandated anti-science standards.
Also, there is this:
Both science & my faith dictate my belief that we are created by God. I believe faith & science are compatible, & go hand in hand.
— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) February 11, 2015
Which could mean almost anything, given the amazing flexibility of faith-based thinking.
Ben Carson – “I certainly believe in the Biblical account of creation. . . . I believe that God is all-powerful, He can do anything. If He can create a man who was fully mature, he can also create an Earth that was mature. So, you know, carbon dating, all these things, really don’t mean anything to a God who has the ability to create anything at any point in time. The problem with men is that they believe that they’re so smart, that if they can’t explain how God did something then it didn’t happen.”
“Being a neurosurgeon and dealing with the complexity of the human brain . . . somebody says that came from a slime pit full of promiscuous biochemicals? I don’t think so.”
Carson also claims to believe in natural selection, but only within species. He did not explain what magical forces prevent natural selection pressures from accumulating over time within an isolated population until interfertility with the parent population is lost. Presumably, he has not given this problem too much thought.
Mike Huckabee – Straight up creationist who raised his hand against evolution back in 2007. Points for noting that POTUS has little direct influence on public school science curricula. Minus several thousand points for fear-mongering about “a president who doesn’t believe in God,” though.
Ted Cruz – Although he opened his campaign at a solidly creationist college, Cruz has been reticent about his personal views. This is somewhat discomfiting, since he is currently the chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness.
Marco Rubio – “I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. . . . At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all.”
People should get to teach whatever they want, unless they are professional educators, in which case they should focus on teaching what is most probably true. Chalk up another politician well-versed in artful dodging.
Rand Paul – “I’m gonna pass on the age of the Earth. I think I’m just gonna have to pass on that one.”
A few thousand years or a few billion years? It’s not a trick question, Senator, and there is a vast and unbridgeable chasm between the two camps.
John Kasich – Supported teaching both evolution and “creation science” in Ohio biology classes. No word on whether he has received the memo about calling it “intelligent design” these days.
Carly Fiorina – Who knows? She seems brighter than most of these other guys, but she is new to public life as a politician and has not yet addressed quite a few salient issues.
The riotous diversity of life on Earth begs the question of origins, but the most popular strategy among the top tier of GOP candidates seems to be to dodge that question—with just enough waffling to give creationists hope of having an ally in the White House—or take a “teach the controversy” approach, or both. It is telling that not a single probable candidate on the conservative side of the aisle can publicly and straightforwardly admit that Darwin was right.