The Creation-Evolution Debate Has No Place In Contemporary American Politics
On Wednesday night during the Republican presidential debate, Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman commented that the Republican Party cannot "run from science" in questioning topics like climate change and evolution. In the context of the debate, Huntsman's comments regarding Republicans being anti-science appeared to be targeting Governor Rick Perry. Perry recently stated at a campaign stop in August that evolution is just a "theory that's out there" and that it has "got some gaps in it". A few days later, Perry told a supporter that "God is how we got here".
In taking a look at our current situation in the US with high unemployment, weak job growth, three ongoing wars abroad, the fear of Medicare and Social Security failing, prospects of the US Postal Service not being able to fulfill its obligations, natural disasters, and other various problems, it becomes clear that the creation-evolution debate has no place in the current political discussion in America. We have better things to worry about.
1. Those who live in glass houses...
Where I come from we have a saying that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. In this way, for Gov. Huntsman to call into question Gov. Perry's ideas about science was a bit ironic considering Huntsman's background as a member of the Mormon Church. Huntsman has said that the Republican Party is in danger of becoming anti-science. And while we are on the topic of evolution, climate change, and questioning established science, we have to ask ourselves: Is it "anti-science" to believe that Native Americans descended from a group of Jewish people who came to America on a boat? Is it "anti-science" to believe that Jesus Christ visited these Jewish Native Americans in ancient America and that around 500 AD the darker-skinned Jewish Native Americans killed off the lighter-skinned Jewish Native Americans? Is it "anti-science" to believe that the Garden of Eden was somewhere in Jackson County, Missouri?
In light of the Republican presidential debate with two Mormons on the panel of Republican candidates, it would have been shocking to hear moderator Brian Williams ask, "So on the topic of being anti-science, let's talk about this whole God-living-near-a-star-called-Kolob thing...do you both have anything to say on that? What are your thoughts on the idea of God living near a star called 'Kolob', Governor Romney?" Romney might respond, "Actually, I like to keep my political life and religious life separate, and so--" But Williams might persist, "As president, would you be in favor of giving taxpayer money to NASA to seek out and travel to this Kolob star?" Just as Romney and Huntsman may not have wanted to address Kolob during the Sept. 7 debate, perhaps Perry did not want to address intelligent design. There are bigger issues to debate anyhow -- like, oh, I don't know, the economy?
Of course, there is the other side of the debate where the liberal media wants to make it look like conservative Republicans are against science, out of touch with reality, and in denial of scientific evidence for evolution. But if the moderators were so willing to bring up Perry's denial of evolution and climate change, why not bring up Kolob? Who, I ask you, is going to bring Kolob into the discussion, if not the liberal media that wants to make Republicans look delusional and out of touch with reality?
When it comes to being anti-science, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. And to be clear, I do not mean to be throwing any stones here. Now, I am prepared to give Huntsman the benefit of the doubt, and I can take Huntsman at his word when he said that he is more spiritual than religious and that the Mormon Church does not have a monopoly on his spiritual life. Okay, so maybe Huntsman does not believe that Native Americans are descended from Jews who left the Middle East in a boat in 600 BC. Even so, the introduction of religious beliefs in political debates at this point in time is counter-productive.
There is no place (and we have no time) for deep theological discussion on the national political stage when the country is involved in three wars and is having trouble paying its bills. When a family is having serious financial problems, members of the family may pray, speak to clergy for guidance, and go to religious services for relief & consolation. But when it comes to discussing finances and balancing monthly budgets, religion is most likely off the table and not brought up. In a similar way, given our current situation, politicians would do well in focusing on politics and economics rather than religion.
When it comes to American political debates, let's leave the questions about religion for Sunday mornings.
2. Is the creation-evolution controversy worth debating?
Should we even be debating about creation vs. evolution in society? It would do well for us to take a closer look at the actual debate.
The crux of the debate regarding creation and evolution is not about science, God, or reality; the crux of the debate is about people's peace of mind. In this way, scientists and religious individuals seek an answer regarding our origins to satisfy their own respective peace of mind. Thus, both religion and science form a type of therapy for humanity coming to terms with its possible origins and existence. Whereas scientists use evolution to satisfy their peace of mind regarding the universe's origins, religious individuals use creation and intelligent design to satisfy their peace of mind regarding the universe's origins. The two perspectives need not cross paths if we can reconcile with the fact that individuals can have different opinions as to the origin of the universe.
As with many of our other social and economic policy issues here in the US, the problem arises when a certain group attempts to mandate that everyone yield to and assent to their beliefs.
The problem with the creation-evolution debate is more about emotions than science. Realizing that the creation vs. evolution debate is really about emotional underpinnings is the first step in coming to a functional compromise on the issue. When a person asserts that God created the universe, he may not be thinking of science or mathematics; he may be thinking of his parents' driving the family to church when he was younger; he may be thinking of his own family and raising his children to go to church.
On the other hand, when a person asserts that evolution is our true origin and that there is no God, he may be thinking of when he was a child and religious dogma was being shoved down his throat by his parents; he may be thinking of the great confusion he felt when reading philosophical & scientific texts as a teenager or young adult; he may want to stand true to reality the way it is in rebellion to the way he was raised. The question of creation and/or evolution is tied to our intellectual and emotional responses in seeking a peace of mind regarding the origins of humanity. As such, for one who believes that the question of humanity's origins is inconsequential or irrelevant, the ideas of creation or evolution matter little and hold little emotional value.
Either way, the crux of the creation-evolution debate is about peace of mind. I believe that just as individuals can find relaxation with golfing, fishing, or football, so too individuals may have different paths so as to find peace of mind. We may not all agree on humanity's or the universe's origins, but we can all agree that the truth is something valuable to be sought. And when it comes to truth, we do have the scientific method.
It is significant to note that even if we could all agree on the universe's origins, we would most likely then be debating about nuances in differences of opinions regarding the universe's origins anyhow. There's always something else to disagree over, argue about, and debate. With respect to the issue of creation, there could be an even greater divide as to whether we were created by gods or aliens or a flying spaghetti monster. Alternatively, the debate regarding creation could extend to which specific god or gods actually created the universe. As evolution is technically a theory, various competing theories could arise giving way to different sects of evolutionary theory. And if all assented to evolutionary theory, there could be a split in directions of human evolution and its implications for the universe. Thus, the creation-evolution debate could extend in a wide range of directions on both sides. Nevertheless, the face-value crux of the creation-evolution debate comes back to the emotional and religious underpinnings of evolutionary theory and its implications for religious thought; evolutionary theory compromises the peace of mind of many individuals -- in particular, with respect to religion and man's place in the universe before God.
Were we living in a country where most people were Buddhist or Daoist, the issue of science & religion in politics would probably not be that big of a deal. I am sure in some parallel universe or alternate reality where Christian beliefs never caught on, American politicians are debating on the existence of Yggdrasil and whether the gods Woden and Thor really exist. "No, Wodin and Thor have to exist...why else do we call the days of the week 'Wednesday' and 'Thursday'?" And of course, then we could have a Supreme Court case about whether the use of the words "Wednesday" and "Thursday" violates the Constitutional mandate that government cannot endorse religion.
We all would like to know the truth, and many of us are emotionally committed to what we believe. People believe what they believe, and I respect that. Even so, with the ongoing conflict regarding humanity's origins, we would do well to remove such religious debates from the realm of politics. If we keep on looking to what is behind us, we are going to trip over whatever is in our path. We would do well to debate the pertinent issues at hand like the US economy, jobs, and unemployment...and to devote our debating time to those pertinent issues...especially at a time when both economically and politically the sky appears to be falling.
And when all is said and done, if Republican presidential candidates do still want to debate the science of the universe's origins, they should invite astrophysicist Stephen Hawking to take part in the discussion. Now that would be an interesting debate!
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