January 12, 2010


Can Obama Stop the War on Science?: For eight years, Republicans politicized science or ignored it. Now, Obama is trying to reverse the damage. (Paul Waldman | January 12, 2010, American Prospect)

As in so many ways, America is just different from our friends in the industrialized democratic world when it comes to our views about science. The most important reason is that science is politicized here to a degree found in few other places. It's not a recent development -- the politicization of science in America can be traced back at least as far as the Scopes trial in 1925, where the forces of religious faith in that great media event were represented by three-time Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan. But in the latter half of the 20th century, the ideological lines between the Republican and Democratic parties became more clearly drawn. The GOP evolved into the party that opposes secularism and its rational sidekick science, a process hastened by the emergence of the Christian right in the 1980s. Bush simply turned that antipathy into policy with particular zeal.

So few people were surprised when, at an early Republican debate for the 2008 presidential nomination, three candidates – Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, and Tom Tancredo – raised their hands when the group was asked who didn't believe in evolution. The irony of it is that among Western democracies, ours is the one with the longest and strongest tradition of separation between church and state, yet also the one where politicians must make the most ostentatious demonstrations of religious belief. In England or Germany or Sweden, a candidate for high office who proclaimed that he didn't believe in evolution would risk being laughed out of the race. Yet when Brownback was asked after that debate whether his views put him outside the mainstream, he replied, "Not in America." And he was right.

You get slightly different results depending on how you phrase it, but no matter how you ask the question, Americans just aren't buying the paradigm that underlies our entire understanding of the biological world. A Gallup poll taken last year found that only 39 percent of respondents "believe in the theory of evolution," while 24 percent said they didn't believe in it, and 36 percent didn't "have an opinion either way." When you give people some wiggle room to get God in there -- by offering them the possibility that evolution occurred, but God was guiding the process -- the number consenting to evolution approaches 50 percent (see here).

Except, of course, that possibility is precluded from Evolution, by definition, so the number actually falls to 14%. And even within that 14% a majority believe in God, likewise incompatible with Evolution. So how's the UR going to defeat 90% of the American people? And having gone to so much effort to at least appear religious why would he repudiate it now?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 12, 2010 11:25 AM
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