PuffHo excoriates Scott Walker for ducking questions about evolution

February 13, 2015 • 12:00 pm

. . .and with help from Professor Ceiling Cat! Yesterday I had a long chat (while sitting in the Atlanta airport) with Jonathan Cohn, formerly with The New Republic and now with PuffHo. He wanted to know, vis-à-vis Republican governor’s Scott Walker’s ducking of questions about evolution, about what the theory of evolution really said (it’s in my book) and what evolutionists really find controversial (Dawkins and I wrote about that here).

Cohn wrote a piece for PuffHo Politics, “Why Scott Walker’s views on evolution are totally relevant,” which gives a pair of tw**ts by Walker (governor of Wisconsin), and then Cohn’s analysis of why it is completely relevant to question candidates about evolution. First Walker’s tw**ts (I dispel the first one in The Albatross):

Screen shot 2015-02-13 at 9.57.55 AM

If that’s what he believes, why did he duck the question about whether he accepted evolution?

Screen shot 2015-02-13 at 9.59.43 AM

Then Cohn’s analysis:

But there’s a reason reporters are curious to learn what Walker thinks about evolution. Some 90 years after the Scopes Trial, the theory of evolution and its place in the schools remain matters of public debate. Two states, Louisiana and Tennessee, now allow public schools to teach “alternatives” to evolution. Several others allow public funding to support such teaching through charter schools or vouchers. At least for the sake of politics, the issue isn’t really whether “faith & science are compatible,” as Scott put it; Pope Francishas said he believes in evolution, for example. Rather, the issue is whether discussions of divine intervention belong in the classroom. That raises fundamental questions about the boundaries between religion and science that Walker, as a president appointing federal judges, would have to consider.

Basic respect for, and appreciation of, science is another issue. Put a bunch of evolutionary biologists in a room and you’ll get a lively debate over the precise origins of some species, such as the bat, and the extent to which “random processes,” rather than the familiar power of natural selection, shaped populations over time. What you won’t get is denial or skepticism of the insights we now associate with Darwin — the idea that the species on Earth emerged over a very long time, through a process of hereditary, generation-to-generation change. The science on this is just not up for reasonable debate. “You have to be blinkered or ignorant not to know that,” says Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago and author of the bookWhy Evolution Is True.

Interrogating Democrats about whether they accept the expert consensus on evolution, or any other scientific issue, is absolutely fair game. But Republicans have given the press, and the public, more reason to ask questions. Walker’s silence turns out to be typical of the GOP presidential field, as Salon’s Luke Brinker noted this week. And Republicans have shown similar disregard for science on other issues — most critically, climate change. As with evolution, you can get a spirited, meaningful debate among the experts over precisely how quickly global warming will take place or exactly what consequences it will have. What you won’t find is a significant number of scientists questioning that the planet is warming because of human activity. And yet Republicans routinely deny this, citing supposed uncertainty over the details as reason not to take action on reducing emissions or pursuing alternative energy more aggressively.

I think it’s absolutely fair game to ask Republican candidates (and there will be many opportunities for such queries over the next year and a half) how they feel about evolution—and global warming.  For although many Americans are creationists, they also know that creationism isn’t a respectable intellectual position, and that a President should be down with science. If the Republicans really were proud of their evolution denialism, and thought that it would help them politically, most of them wouldn’t hide it as they do.


28 thoughts on “PuffHo excoriates Scott Walker for ducking questions about evolution

    1. I have a Fundie christian friend who is just starting medical school. He’s a YEC that believes in the inerrancy and literal interpretation of The Babble. (He doesn’t say ‘Bible’, though… it’s “The scriptures say this”, “The scriptures say that”.) It disturbs me that he will eventually be able to prescribe drugs and treatments. Just as I would not vote for a creationist, I would not want to be ‘treated’ by a doctor that dismisses evolution. Why would you want a human that has a gross misinterpretation of biology to practice on your biology?

  1. A good supplement to yesterday’s post. Not believing in evolution also goes hand-in-hand with young earth creationists. I would like to know if the leader of the most powerful (militarily anyway) country on earth believes that dinosaurs roamed around with cavemen as in the Flintstones. Not respecting evolution, what are the implications for funding biological research like stem cells? Also disbelieving in AGCC would likely curtail funding and action towards that endeavor as well.

    I’ve said it before, and believe it without one iota of hyperbole; Gov. Walker would be a very dangerous human to have in the oval office. (Or any of the current Repub Presidential hopefuls for that matter…I just see Walker as particularly odious.)

    1. I will simply second everything said here and add there appears to be many possible candidates in this party coming up odious.

    2. Not believing in evolution also tends to go hand-in-hand with a belief in Armageddon and Last Days theology. I would really like to know if the leader of any militarily powerful country believes that the earth is about to be purged of wickedness through fire and blood in a cataclysm of suffering and death of literally Biblical proportions, a necessary little step on the glorious path to the Perfection of God’s love. Hallelujah!

      The problematic implications of that one just seem to derive themselves.

  2. I don’t understand this issue at py. Why is this relevant and would a candidate lying about his/her belief in evolution make everyone happy? I’m sure every single candidate on the left and right will say that science and faith are compatible. They are all wrong but who’s saying anything different? I have no clue what the president thinks. I would love all the so-called evolution ‘believer’ politicians to explain Darwin’s theory. There are other equally important issues- what are our politicians positions on GMOs,alternate medicine, etc.

    1. Everyone has to pass a gauntlet of potentially embarrassing questions. Most politicians, when pressed for specifics about policies, will simply lie. Recalls and impeachments are rare.

    2. If a politician does not understand evolution, then he lacks the knowledge to deal with GMOs, alternate medicine, vaccines or the use of antibiotics in lifestock. Understanding of evolution is absolutely necessary to develop a responsible policy on all the matters I just mentioned.

      1. I think it is much more basic than that. I wouldn’t even expect, or prefer rather, that every high level politician have a good understanding of Evolution. It would be a plus, but I don’t feel it is necessary.

        More basically the problem is a lack of understanding of the process of science generally and the history of results it has accrued, and what the implications of that are for problem solving in general. Basing decisions on ideology, faith, wishful thinking etc., rather than on evidence based reasoning is the basic problem.

        1. I definitely agree with the latter part. However, I do think that for decision making on departments like agriculture and health it is necessary to understand evolution, because evolution explains the challenges that those departments face today.

      2. He also may be more prone to the “teach the controversy” fallacy and could push for creationism in schools.

    3. Of course every candidate will say that science and faith are compatible — including the ones who think God made the universe in 6 days 10,000 years ago and the science is “still out” on evolution.

      The basic issue has to do with one’s orientation towards the consensus of scientific expertise. I think I can guarantee that anyone who believes that evolution is a lie or “just a theory” will also reject any scientific view they don’t like based on the same “I make up my OWN mind” mentality.

      Whether this will involve global warming, vaccines, GMOs, or tobacco’s relationship to cancer is now an ideological toss-up. Once you think it’s possible for a conspiracy to involve so many scientists in so many countries for so long and to such an extent there is nothing which can resist a personal narrative where “everything they tell you is wrong.”

      1. Since the approach among politicians is so consistent it has to come from a careful analysis of the American people. By denying science they are attempting to maximize voter appeal regardless of their personal opinion. Those in the electorate who understand the science and care about it to any significant degree are in the minority. Politicians are elected by majorities.

  3. I thought Cohen’s article explained pretty clearly why it is relevant. In any case, there are several reasons why it is relevant, and greater acceptance of Evolution specifically, of the various branches of science and evidence based rational thinking in general, is the least relevant thing about it. Acceptance of Evolution is just a particularly good indicator of the most relevant aspects of the issue because the Faithful are so fixated on it.

  4. It’s unfortunate? That the media? Chose to politicize? The governor of a populous state and soon-to-be failed presidential candidate being stupid?

    Everything such a character says (or in this case, declined to say) is “politicized,” by definition – accurately reporting said character’s words and actions is the least politicizing thing the media can do.

    What’s unfortunate is that this guy is the best that the great state of Wisconsin can do for a chief executive. What’s unfortunate is that they have someone so craven and disingenuous leading a trade mission.

    Science “dictates” his belief in God? I’m starting to wonder about the reasons Scott Walker didn’t graduate from university. I was confident he doesnt understand science, and now I know he doesn’t understand the word “dictate.” One can take solace that as surely as he avoided that question America will avoid four years of a Walker presidency.

  5. Faith does not need science because and when the mind is lazy, fear ridden (the unknown, loss aversive) backed by emotion, you have a disconnect with science, with facts that you cannot refute.
    Hold that faith steady fella!
    So reconciled by whatever means the two as compatable and presto! comfortable and at ease (if not intellectually corrupt but no matter) family, party, voters and supporters appeased.
    This is a proximate strategy for political and possibly personal survival, all based on illusionary reasoning (adhearence to faith) and motivation (personal ambition) and nothing to say about reality.
    Evolution does not need faith, evolution stands on it’s own emperical evidence.
    Walker by contrast has shown as I contradict myself, faith does need science.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *