What is it with Republicans and Creationism?
    By Michael White | August 29th 2008 09:30 PM | 20 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Why is it so hard to find national Republican leaders who don't espouse creationism? Why does opposition to the very successful science of modern biology have to be part of today's definition of a conservative? When you hear that someone is a creationist and a politician, it's a safe bet today that this person is a Republican. Why is a major American political party in the 21st century so in bed with one of the most anti-intellectual movements out there? U.S. Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin on teaching creationism to public school children of all faiths (or none):
    "Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information....Healthy debate is so important and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both. And you know, I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject -- creationism and evolution. It's been a healthy foundation for me. But don't be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides."
    There aren't two sides. If we're talking about religion, there are many, many sides. Of course, to fundamentalists, it's their brand of Christianity or nothing. If we're talking about science, there is only one side that is actually science: evolutionary biology. There is no such thing as a real creation science, just fact-free creationist polemics. We're not being afraid of information - the creationists have no scientific information.


    Why is a major American political party in the 21st century so in bed with one of the most anti-intellectual movements out there?

    remember that in the early 20th century you had william jennings bryan, a democratic progressive icon, going against evolution. it's about populism. the correlation between creationism and right-wing politics is minimal in europe where there isn't as salient a marker.

    I will give you $100 if Barack Obama or Joe Biden publicly states that creationism should not be taught in schools.

    Palin and McCain could propose a federal law banning creationism in schools and they will get about 5 more votes from the academic community than they will get now. By leaving it open religious people will vote for them.

    If you want Republicans and Democrats to compete for the scientist vote, academics have to stop being among the 'locked up' block for Democrats. Black people are going to get zero interest from Democrats this election because Obama already gets 90% of their vote. Academia will get zero interest (like publicly supporting evolution) this election because most of you will vote Democrat whether they pay attention to you or not.

    Hispanics will get the attention, on the other hand, because they don't vote as a bloc. There's a lesson in there for scientists.

    Every time someone agrees Republicans hate science despite the fact that NASA's budget went down during the Clinton years but up 20% under a Republican congress and president and the NIH budget doubled under Republicans, it means science is not being objective about the data and is filtering it through politics. Which is bad science. :)

    This is absolutely not a 50/50 issue - the Republicans have, as a major element of their base, those members of the population who are most likely to oppose evolution. And it's about much more than the academic vote:

    As for the $100, is this good enough? (I'd settle for a cool Scientific Blogging pen - actually, I owe you some Wash. U. logo stuff in return for the cool Scientific Blogging shirts...)

    Biden also commented on this a few years back (about 1:15 into the clip).

    If Obama and Biden are asked in the presidential debates whether creationism belongs in public schools, it's safe to bet that they'll say no.

    As far as non-evolutionary science goes, the situation is not so clear cut. Neither Bush nor the recent Republicans in Congress can take credit for the NIH budget increase. The decision to double the NIH budget was made in 97-98 - a bi-partisan decision in which Clinton played a large role. Since the doubling finished in 2003, the NIH budget has declined in real dollars.

    My point in this post is not about science funding. It's about the willingness of Republican leaders to embrace, over and over, the anti-intellectualism of the creationist movement. On this issue, Republicans who support creationism far outnumber Democrats, at every level, from school boards to governorships, to the national leadership.


    These people weren't born Republicans. If one party makes no secret of its contempt for your lifestyle and beliefs and the other uses an umbrella approach you go for the one with tolerance. Democrats are more tolerant of gays, for example, while Republicans are more tolerant of religious people. Both sides think the other side's umbrella is made up of fringe kooks and people bent on destroying society.

    Bad use of statistics and logic like you just did would therefore say that because more Democrats have AIDS than Republicans, Democrats are the problem behind AIDS. ;)

    It just isn't that simple.

    Funding does make the difference. Actions do make the difference. If a Democrat comes in and says he loves science and then slashes funding, you're still going to say Democrats care more about science than Republicans? Actions are louder than words became a cliche because it is true so often.

    Republicans have a different base than Democrats because we only have a two-party system in America. This does not mean that one segment of each base condemns all of them.

    I get your point of course, but it's the wrong correlation/causation.

    I read the ScienceDebate 2008 Q&A with Obama and they don't ask about evolution - arguably the second most controversial science topic after global warming - and I know why; he doesn't want to answer it before an election and they don't want him to lose credibility with scientists by answering. My point (and my $100, unless he actually says creationism should not be taught in science classes, a really, really simple and obvious thing that you and I agree on that neither party will come out and say) remains - he was quite specific on every topic yet they chose to ask about 'fish hatcheries' as one of the 14 most important science issues rather than evolution.(!!?!)

    Why would that be, unless they didn't want to damage a Democrat's standing among the science community? Integrity of non-partisan science, science funding, environment (global warming) and education (evolution) would have been my top 4 questions. They would be any thinking person in the science community's top 4.

    Instead we got 'fish hatchery' answers from the party friendly to biology? You have not (yet) convinced me the candidate in either party is moving the needle very far in evolution education.

    I guess I'm not clear on what you're saying. The Gallup poll results show that more Republican voters oppose evolution. So you really think that Democratic leaders are privately just as anti-evolution as Republican leaders? That doesn't make any sense.

    I also disagree with you on the 14 ScienceDebate2008 questions: I don't understand why you think that they didn't ask about evolution to avoid embarrassing Obama, when he already stated publicly, to the newspaper from town involved in the 2005 intelligent design trial, that when it comes to teaching creationism in school:

    "I think it’s a mistake to try to cloud the teaching of science with theories that frankly don’t hold up to scientific inquiry.”

    It's much more reasonable to believe that the ScienceDebate group avoided evolution because they wanted to avoid focusing their discussion on culture war issues, because the creation-evolution issue has very little to do with Federal policy or funding.

    Opposition to evolution is a good predictor of political party. If you hear about someone running for school board who is opposed to evolution, it's a safe bet that person's a Republican. If you hear of a state legislator pushing anti-evolutionary 'academic freedom' acts, it's a safe bet that person's Republican.

    Why? Because the Republican party has a large number of people, in the base and the leadership, who hold very conservative theological views that reject a fair chunk of modern science. More so than the Democracts, which is why more Democrats accept evolution. It makes absolutely no sense to argue that the Democrats are just as opposed to evolution, only in a less public way for fear of offending academics. The Gallup poll results show that it's more than just that academics who think creationism is wrong.

    Does this relate to a party's position on other science issues? That wasn't the point of my original post, and I'm not trying to say that Republicans' opposition to evolution is indicative of their stance towards all science. I think the anti-intellectual strain in that gives rise to anti-evolutionism also occasionally manifests itself in other scientific areas, but in general, I think the party's anti-evolutionism has very, very little to do with debates over federal funding.

    I am frustrated that with few exceptions, when national-level Republican politicians speak out on the issue, those politicians show themselves to be suckers for the pseudoscience that creationism is. As Joe Biden said in the clip I linked to above, leaders should not encourage those tendencies, they should try get the party to move beyond them. It's disconcerting to listen to someone claim to have rational, smart ideas about economic policy or terrorism, and then hear that person turn around and suggest that we should teach in public schools that the world is 6000 years old.


    Here's another way to explain my frustration: replace evolution with flat earth, which is more obvious for most people (not for you I know - I know that you get the science), but which has long been tied to religious ideology.

    Imagine that Republican political leaders, whenever the subject came up, took the chance to say that flat and round earth theories should both be taught in public schools. Even if those leaders supported funding for NASA and the NIH, and had reasonable ideas about the economy or health care, wouldn't you be frustrated to hear such a bone-headed view to come up again an again, mainly among the politicians of a single party?

    I'm not trying to make complex arguments about how anti-evolutionary thinking leads to cuts for the NIH, I'm just expressing exasperation that a modern political party in one of the world's most technologically sophisticated nations gives voice to such fundamentalist ideas.


    Just caught up with this and Thankyou Michael for being so clear in the face of a polemicist ( GOP funding may be the real issue here).

    As a resident of New Zealand I have never been exposed to this research... To say im "gobsmacked" would be understating the case somewhat > The world needs to be told that 68% of registered republicans do not believe in evolution .!!!! These guys have the codes and the rest of the worlds fate in their hands.

    What is even more worrying is that 40% of democrats do not believe in science . The Anti intellectual movement in the USA looks like a growth industry .

    Go Obama and " heaven" - whatever it is - help the rest of the world if Palin gets a sniff of the trigger.

    Andrew Bonner

    Gerhard Adam
    Unfortuanately the problem in politics isn't about conservatism or liberalism. Its about show business and how the media have taken their fundamental responsibility to present information and turned it into their own particular "reality" show. There are no challenges to any assertions no matter how preposterous. Outright lies are presented on an equal footing with facts. The entire media approach is one where all opinions are true and ultimately nothing is actually verifiable. We engage in continuous public rituals of such attitudes from the spectacle of Terry Shiavo and Scott Peterson, to the constant stream of innuendo which is floated for public consumption. The reason politicians can make such comments about creationism to pander to evangelical groups is because no one actually challenges them to explain their position or defend their views. Given such a climate is it any wonder that so many people have accepted the notion that even science is subject to public debate in assessing truth?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    On a much shorter note... In the media opinions have become elevated to facts and therefore subject to debate.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Thank you, Razib, for making such a salient and cogent comment. I cannot comment on the situation in the USA - with Alistair Cooke no longer here to inform us, on our side of the Atlantic we are woefully ignorant. I hope though, Gerhard, that the readers understand that with the media it cuts both ways. Here in Britain, one could sometimes think that BBC stands for "Bonobo Broadcasting Corporation". As far as religion comes in, it is a matter of trust, and very much an ad hominem affair. Did not Pontius Pilate say (albeit probably in Greek) "Ecce homo"? Robert H. Olley Physics Department University of Reading England
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    [but] If we're talking about religion, there are many, many sides.

    For an atheist like me it's sad and funny the difference you make between the situation for religions (where all is OK) and for Creationism vs Science (where only one side is OK).
    Initially I intended to rewrite your article inverting both attitudes (a la "there are many sides in evolution science but as concerns religions, science just demonstrates there is only one side OK, atheism"), but I'm not a native english reader and probably the comment space would have been too small...

    I'm not sure what you mean.

    I'm just responding to the standard 'teach both sides of evolution' argument - both sides of what? If we're only talking about science, creationism is not another side - it's not science.

    If we're talking about including religious viewpoints, and 'teach both sides' means teaching science and religion, then we have to acknowledge that Christian Biblical literalism is not the only religious idea about creationism common in our society.

    In either case, there is no such thing as 'both sides.'


    Creationism and I.D. have turned the US into a laughing stock of the world scientific community. If we lose face on the world scientific state, our economy and security will suffer. These lunatic fringe movements damage America.

    Here's how to settle the debate of Evolution vs. ID in the schools:

    The stupid people should be rounded up, stuffed into railroad cars, and hauled away to some kind of "camp".

    -- faye kane, homeless brain
    Read more of my smartmouth opinions at

    Because that's what we should do any time we have a heated, culturally divisive debate?


    We're like a 'civilized debate oasis' in the internet science community, I think. We don't make someone show their voter registration card or ban their IP if they disagree.

    Bad Feng Shui in the office, it seems, much like in the layout of the site (though tomorrow the button will go up for the countdown to V2 so that problem will go away) but overall a nice place where people can disagree without getting all militant and 'you are a Holocaust denier if you disagree' about it.

    We can all be proud of that.

    Gerhard Adam
    There is an interesting thought to consider when it comes to debate like this, which is that how many ideas are the result of "luxury"? In particular what I mean, is that we can have whatever opinions and ideas we like as long as there are no consequences to actually having to live with them. If we don't believe in the germ theory of disease, then no problem, because someone else is ensuring that we get vaccinated and antibiotics should we get sick. We may have a desire to "get back to the land", but that's easy because 1) we really don't have to do it and 2) there aren't 300 million of us trying. In part, we can expect to see more divisive and diverse opinions, because there are ultimately no consequences for any views that we choose. Therefore it becomes simply a sort of "thought experiment" where we can fantasize about whatever reality we're chosen and talk with authority about how things would be better if they were only done our way. On a more serious thought, it would seem that the origin of beliefs played a significant role in our ancestor's lives by teaching about survival and how the world worked. In fact, I would argue that many "myths" were simply ways that complex knowledge could be passed on without needing sophisticated skills (especially when it came to teaching children). Therefore there were clearly consequences to far-fetched notions that had no basis in reality. But as I've said, today there are no such barriers so .... anything goes.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Thoreau is the pinnacle for 'return to the land' types though, as Howard Bloom laid out for us, Thoreau could only hang out at Walden because he had the benefits of machine-milled clothes, modern tools to build his cabin and a wealthy family that allowed him the luxury of a bucolic life.

    In part, we can expect to see more divisive and diverse opinions, because there are ultimately no consequences for any views that we choose.

    Or maybe there are just no immediate, life-or-death consequences. If science education gradually erodes in this country because interest-groups can use politics to put pseudoscience in the curriculum, there will be consequences, but on a time-scale too long for many people to appreciate.


    Republicans are blockheads. Inside each
    religious Republican is a Bible thumping