Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Evolution and the race for President

Reason Magazine has a wonderful new article up by Ronald Bailey about why we should care what the various presidential candidates believe about evolution. He covers what most of the candidates have said about evolution so you can get an idea of who thinks what. He ends the article with this summation for why you should care what the candidates think:

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."

Since science and technology policy issues are only going to become more important as the 21st century unfolds, we should all care how scientific knowledge informs a president's leadership.
How do you fit this in with your prioritization of which candidate to support? As I argued here, once I find out you are a religious literalist, I can't take you seriously anymore.
Sadly, we do have a need to know as much as we can about the candidate's particular religious beliefs. If you believe that a 2000 year-old Jewish zombie is someday coming back, I want to know that about a candidate before I vote for them. If you believe that 72 virgins await martyrs in some idyllic paradise (although presumably not so idyllic for the virgins), then I have a right to question your basic sanity. All hyperbole aside, I need to know if your particular supernatural beliefs are going to influence your policies.

I was telling my wife the other night that I'm not so concerned about all the minutiae involved in the debate, but it's getting to the point that if you are religious I think that, in many ways, is mutually exclusive with being a reasonable, logical person. If you believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old, we don't have that much more to talk about. We're obviously not going to agree on environmental policy if you think the whole earth was created in 7 days. I can't listen to your position on taxes, or health care, or education, much less your ideas about more religiously charged topics like abortion, gay rights, stem cells, or even foreign policy. We're pretty much done at that point, and I can't take you seriously anymore. Can you see where I'm coming from? The inmates are out of the asylum and are running for president, unfortunately they all have a god-complex.

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