Watchdog Blog

Herb Strentz: Happy Birthday, Charlie. (You too, Abe.)

Posted at 5:53 pm, February 11th, 2009
Herb Strentz Mug

As you likely have been told, time and again, Thursday, Feb. 12, marks the bicentennial of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin — two men who “changed the world forever,” as Smithsonian magazine notes. The National Geographic joins in with a tribute just to Darwin.

Let’s focus on Darwin.

The February issues of the magazines provide a wealth of information and insights, almost universally in praise of Darwin. The articles make little or no mention of those still adamant that the theory of evolution must be opposed, including a handful of state boards of education and, sadly, enough voters so that some political candidates are far from enamored of Darwin.

Which brings us to Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo and Sam Brownback. The three former candidates for the Republican Party presidential nomination raised their hands in a May 2007 debate, when the then 10 contenders were asked if any of them did not believe in evolution.

Natural selection sort of weeded out the three as candidates but it is difficult to think of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and not call to mind how on earth Darwin’s theory could still be such a lightning rod.

Not only that, but you can add a couple of other potential GOP nominees for 2012 to the anti-Darwin crowd. Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the Louisiana Science Education Act in June 2008, giving local school boards authority to offer alternative approaches to evolution and the origins of life, a measure widely opposed by the scientific community.

Sarah Palin, in her candidacy for governor of Alaska, wanted creationism to be taught alongside evolution in Alaska classrooms.

Soon after their May 3, 2007, hand-raising, however, Huckabee, Tancredo and Brownback backtracked. Maybe they feared extinction; maybe, in hindsight, the press was viewed as putting evolution in a tricky God-or-no-god context and they fell for it.

For his part, Huckabee offered subsequent comments that “I believe that there is a God and that he put the process in motion.” He tossed an olive branch to evolutionists, saying, “If you want to believe that you and your family came from apes, I’ll accept that…I believe there was a creative process.”

Brownback authored an op-ed piece in the New York Times, May 31, 2007, deploring a “sound bite culture” and the notion that religious faith and the theory of evolution were necessarily at sword’s point. “The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason,” he wrote. He saw no inherent contradiction between the scientific method and spiritual truths.

For his part, Tancredo, in the wake of criticism, declared, “Evolution explains changes in life. Creationism explains its origin.” What insights can we draw from such political declarations and clarifications on Darwin’s 200th birthday?

Here’s some food for thought.
1. The news media often deal in caricatures, and offer more heat than light when it comes to potentially rich and rewarding insights about faith and reason going hand in hand.
2. Political candidates want to have it both ways by catering to the passions of some supporters, but then offering some reasoned afterthought when they’re called to account by the saner ones amongst us.
3. Good night, if our society and our news coverage cannot recognize the value of Darwin’s contributions — as eloquently covered by Smithsonian and National Geographic — the prospects are dismal for coming to grips with social and economic issues on which we are even less informed.

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