There are times that I am so overwhelmed by the beauty and clarity of a person’s writing that I prefer to quote rather than paraphrase the work. This is the case with a column by Richard Dawkins, British evolutionary biologist and author, that discusses Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s position on creationism.
Q. Texas governor and GOP candidate Rick Perry, at a campaign event this week, told a boy that evolution is ”just a theory” with “gaps” and that in Texas they teach “both creationism and evolution.” Perry later added “God is how we got here.” According to a 2009 Gallupstudy , only 38 percent of Americans say they believe in evolution. If a majority of Americans are skeptical or unsure about evolution, should schools teach it as a mere “theory”? Why is evolution so threatening to religion?
A. There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party “in spite of” is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge, and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.
Any other organization–a big corporation, say, or a university, or a learned society–when seeking a new leader, will go to immense trouble over the choice. The CVs of candidates and their portfolios of relevant experience are meticulously scrutinized, their publications are read by a learned committee, references are taken up and scrupulously discussed, the candidates are subjected to rigorous interviews and vetting procedures. Mistakes are still made, but not through lack of serious effort.
The population of the United States is more than 300 million and it includes some of the best and brightest that the human species has to offer, probably more so than any other country in the world. 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.
A politician’s attitude to evolution is perhaps not directly important in itself. It can have unfortunate consequences on education and science policy, but, compared to Perry’s and the Tea Party’s pronouncements on other topics such as economics, taxation, history and sexual politics, their ignorance of evolutionary science might be overlooked. Except that a politician’s attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy. This is because unlike, say, string theory where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all. Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.
[Dawkins continues to explain the reasons to believe in evolution in elegant, simple language. As I read this, I ponder on how the highly educated and brilliant Founding Fathers, so credited by Republican presidential candidates in erroneous and misleading fashion, would consider these candidates and the process, especially when the only “reasonable” one gets only 1 percent of the popular polling.
One of the most visible anti-science, anti-evolution people is Ann Coulter, a new board member to GoProud, the conservative gay political organization, who called evolution a “fraud” and a “discredited mystery religion” that is as valid as claiming that life on earth was created by a “flatulent raccoon.” She also referred to particular scientists who study climate change as “global warming cultists who want us all dead” and claimed in the wake of the meltdown crisis at Japanese nuclear plants that “radiation is actually good for you.”
Good luck, GoProud.]