Thursday, June 14, 2007

Evolution #9

According to a recent Gallup poll, 70% of Republicans don’t believe in the theory of evolution. That seems outrageous when you think of the GOP as the party of bankers and millionaires, yet it’s perfectly understandable when you realize that a whole lot of people call themselves Republicans simply because they don’t have a Christian Fundamentalist Party to belong to. They’re throwing off the curve, though in fairness I’m not sure they’re as much to blame as the Republican politicians who pander to them.

The poll also revealed that only 53% of Americans believe evolution is “definitely or probably true.” Most of the blogs I read regularly have already covered this, and have lamented quite rightly that it shows a depressing ignorance about something that should be one of the basic building blocks of every person’s education.

Of course, some of the folks who reject evolution do so because they’ll get kicked out of the club if they don’t. When religious leaders frame the debate as “evolution vs your immortal soul,” it’s no surprise that anyone with a superstitious, credulous approach to life is going to line up on the side of not burning for eternity.

There are churches where the people believe in theistic evolution, where the Bible is considered a mix of history and metaphor, and where people are encouraged to use their powers of reason. I suspect Gary Bauer doesn’t go to one of those churches. Remember Gary Bauer? He ran for president in 2000 and is known for such hysterical announcements as “Our society will be destroyed if we say it’s OK for a man to marry a man or a woman to marry a woman.”

Bauer’s never been known for intellectual nuance, but USA Today trotted him out anyway for a quote in a story about the evolution poll. Now, one thing you can count on from evolution deniers: They love reducing this complex scientific topic to the level of a cartoon.

Not a funny cartoon, either. More like a Mallard Fillmore. True to form, Bauer told USA Today that “Most of us don’t think we’re just apes with trousers.”

(I’m looking into the rumor that Charles Darwin’s original title was The Origin of Species: Apes With Trousers.)

If you take a hundred evolution deniers and ask them to sum up their opposition in a single sentence, 90 will say “We ain’t related to monkeys.” (Five will start spouting the pretend-science of Intelligent Design proponents, and the other five will ask what you mean by a sentence.) Given enough time, you might make a handful understand that we are related to monkeys—and apes and wombats and figs and amoeba. Maybe.

But every time a dimbulb like Gary Bauer misrepresents the theory of evolution by making a joke about trouser-wearing apes, another mind closes a little bit tighter.

The USA Today story also quoted someone named Don Racheter, described as a “fiscal and cultural conservative who heads a free-market think tank in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.” Racheter says “People have a right to their own view on how life began and how [that] should be taught.”

No arguments there. You’re free to hold your own views, no matter how kooky. You’re free to believe your kookiest views should be taught, too. But speaking of kooky views, Racheter says he’s surprised that Democrats don’t agree. He says Democrats “ought to be for choice in religion and choice in education as well as choice in reproductive rights.”

Huh? I don’t know any Democrat who’s anti-choice on religion. I think most of us are pretty much behind choice in reproductive rights as well. But choice in education? What does that even mean?

If it means teaching a valid scientific alternative to evolution, go for it. But since such a thing doesn’t exist, I can only assume Mr Racheter thinks creation myths are a worthy use of science-class time. I found a list of 46 at this site, so that ought to take up a semester or two right there.

One More Thing

On Monday I sent a copy of the post titled "Still Disconcerted" to each of the Democratic candidates, asking if they honestly thought it was acceptable to assassinate Osama Bin Laden if it meant the deaths of innocent civilians. (On the email to Dennis Kucinich, of course, I acknowledged that he answered that question No in the New Hampshire debate.) So far I've received automatic replies from Clinton, Edwards, Obama, and Dodd. If anyone actually answers the question, I'll let you know.

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