Sunday, January 13, 2008

Evolutionary Politics
Why we should care what candidates think about biological evolution.

Here are some highlights:

The problem is that creationism and its latest intellectual spawn, intelligent design, are clearly religious teachings. So a local school board or state would be imposing religious teachings on all students if they required the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in public schools. The U.S. Supreme court acknowledged this fact in 1987 when it ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard against a Louisiana law that required the teaching of creationism whenever evolutionary biology was taught. The Court struck down the Louisiana law because it "impermissibly endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind." In 2005, a federal district court found in Kitzmiller v. Dover that the goal of the local school board's mandate that schools teach intelligent design "was to promote religion in the public school classroom."

A larger question is whether a candidate's belief about the validity of evolutionary biology has anything to say about his or her ability to evaluate evidence. A January 4, 2008, editorial by Science editor Donald Kennedy correctly argues, "The candidates should be asked hard questions about science policy, including questions about how those positions reflect belief. What is your view about stem cell research, and does it relate to a view of the time at which human life begins? Have you examined the scientific evidence regarding the age of Earth? Can the process of organic evolution lead to the production of new species, and how? Are you able to look at data on past climates in search of inferences about the future of climate change?" Kennedy concludes, "I don't need them to describe their faith; that's their business and not mine. But I do care about their scientific knowledge and how it will inform their leadership."

Bush's denial of science in favor of literal reading of parts of the Bible has caused huge problems in policy for the last 7 years. The eveolution question really says a lot about the candidtes. It is hard to imagine in 2008 we would elect a person who thinks evolution is a flawed theory.

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