A Response to SABR Matt’s Comments In Re: Perry & Creationism

First, let me just state for the record what I believe about evolution and the planet’s age:

1) The case for microevolution is air tight. The case for macroevolution, while relatively strong, still needs work. Do I think evolution is the most likely explanation for why living things look and behave the way they do? Yes. However, I really don’t care for the strident dogmatism that often characterizes evolutionist rhetoric. (And I also don’t appreciate the evolutionists’ tendency to apply evolution to the fields of philosophy and ethics. Said luminaries are addicted to the naturalist fallacy; consequently, they draw many erroneous conclusions.)

2) The scientific evidence indicates that the Earth is roughly five billion years old. Young Earth creationists make their mistake because they fail to consider the audience for which Genesis was originally written. The ancients, you see, weren’t going to understand God if He started talking about the Big Bang and other scientific particulars through his inspired writers. On the other hand, the ancients would understand, “And God said, ‘Let there be light.'” (And by the way, God creates the world in six days in Genesis because the number seven indicated a covenant in the minds of the ancients. In other words, the inspired sacred writer here is telling his audience that God made the universe and did so as a covenant to mankind. He’s not saying that God literally made everything in a week.)

Okay — now that my personal beliefs are very clear, allow me to present my defense of Rick Perry. I’ll start by discussing a historical incident whose relevance to my argument will become clear momentarily. During the campaign of 1960, the Kennedy campaign received letters from American voters expressing concern about Kennedy’s Catholicism. At the time, many American Protestants were under the impression that Kennedy would obey the Holy Father first and the Constitution second. Indeed, in September of that year, ministers from the National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom issued a statement that openly questioned Kennedy’s patriotism on the basis of his faith.

Of course, the aforementioned anxiety was entirely false-to-facts — a product of lingering anti-Catholic bigotry. From the very beginning, Catholics have participated in the political life of our nation as wholly loyal Americans. In fact, the Declaration of Independence had one Catholic signer – Charles Carroll of Maryland – and the Constitution had three. Granted, those aren’t large numbers, but at the time, Catholics were a rare breed in the former British colonies.

What does all of that have to do with Perry? Well, it is my judgment that the concern over Perry’s beliefs in re: evolution is a reflection of a similar sort of bigotry — though this time, the bigotry is urban-centered and anti-evangelical. Now, before you get angry, Matt, I don’t think you personally are prejudiced. I do think, though, that a lot of people are, especially in the mainstream media — and the mainstream media is the primary source of information for most people who occupy the political middle.

The key passage from Matt’s article, in my opinion, is this one:

The odd thing is…the Texas teachers angrily replied to Perry’s comments, saying that creationism was mentioned as an alternative theory only in Biblical History and literature classes…not in any of the science classes in Texas. So…it’s not like Perry pushed a hard creationist-favoring agenda.

Maybe Rick Perry is a Young Earth creationist. But the evidence Matt provides here would seem to indicate that he doesn’t impose his evangelical beliefs on others – that he listens to the voters. That renders said beliefs just as irrelevant as was JFK’s Catholicism.

The upshot? I think it’s rash to disqualify Perry because of what he does or doesn’t believe with respect to evolution and the age of the Earth. I think we should wait and see how the Perry campaign responds to the criticism of Perry’s supposedly “anti-science” stance before we declare him utterly unelectable. If the Perry campaign can counter the media bigots’ anti-evangelical narrative and simultaneously reassure the middle that a theocracy is certainly not in the offing, then a Perry-led GOP ticket will still be in very good shape.

And by the way, a side note: A politician’s beliefs vis-a-vis evolution definitely wouldn’t be an issue if scientists were funded by private patrons. I’m just saying…

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8 thoughts on “A Response to SABR Matt’s Comments In Re: Perry & Creationism

  1. I'm coming at this from a pragmatic perspective.

    Rule #1: Do NOT choose the most conservative candidate available…choose the most conservative candidate ELECTABLE. That is my guiding principle here.

    Here is what my closest friend said the INSTANT I even mentioned that I had read an interesting article on Perry's political background and found it very informative. Note carefully that I hadn't said I liked Perry…just that I had a better idea of who he was after reading said article.

    “Oh please tell me you don't like Rick Perry. You'd better not.”

    And she's a MODERATE democrat. Not a far-left looney prone to assuming the worst about republicans at every turn. Her reason: “Things he's said about creationism and climate science, I find greatly disconcerting as a scientist. It reveals a lack of basic understanding…it seems like he hasn't had much contact with actual scientists and doesn't have the basis necessary to be a policy maker where science is concerned.”

    Do you see my point? You will lose INSTANTLY every. single. moderate. in this country. If you try to elect a man who sounds even remotely like he might be a creationist. Whether you think that's fair or not is not the point. It's just a hard reality.

    We have got to win over this country with a candidate who represents the majority of its' people. The majority of Americans think evangelical Christians who believe3 in creationism are frighteningly (and willfully) ignorant and do not trust what they say. Period. You're never going to win that fight.

    Rule #2 – Obama must leave. NOW. We have to pick the candidate that has the absolute best chance to defeat Obama. He won't be perfect, but he has GOT to be able to beat Obama. Period. We just got over W. He was a Texan…but Perry is a TTEEEXXXAANNN!!!!!!…a country-fried Texan SQUARED and then CUBED. The image of Bush is in the mind of liberals and moderates who have already been successfully and unequivocally convinced that Bush was an utter failure as a President. We do not need them picturing Bush when they look at our 2012 candidate. No matter what you think of Bush.

    You fight the fights you can win…the fights that can result in the most good. You don't fight every fight. Wer can't win the war over evangelical Christians in the White House. PERIOD. Bigotry, perhaps…but I don't really care right now. I just want to win.

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  2. And how well has picking the “electable” candidate worked for us in the recent past?

    I'm sorry, Matt, but I can't accept your “pragmatic” viewpoint. For one thing, your estimation of what the “majority” of the American populace believes is not accurate. Gallup, for example, reports that as recently as 2010, 4 in 10 respondents stated that they believe in strict creationism, and another 4 in 10 (roughly) believe that God guided evolution. So in actuality, if Perry has doubts about the theory of evolution as it is promulgated by the scientific community, he's closer to the mainstream than is your moderate Democrat scientist friend. (Though, of course, a poll of randomly selected “adults” is different from a poll of “likely voters,” but I still believe the above cited numbers cast doubt on your claim.)

    Secondly, while I think it is important to attract moderate voters, I think it's a mistake to do so by ceding territory to media bigots. I care about winning, but I also care about the truth. Instead of picking a “non-threatening” candidate and thereby implicitly confirming the media's lies in re: conservatives (especially religious conservatives), we should instead select a candidate who's willing to present a muscular defense of conservativism and religiosity. Yes — such a defense should be delivered in terms that moderate voters can understand and support, but it does need to be based on the facts and not on the middle's comfortable, media-driven assumptions.

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  3. Let me put it to you this way.

    I am tired of playing defense. I am tired of being the person that has to tell people I work with that not all conservatives are folks believing in the obviously backward young-Earth creationism that is so popular in republican held states. I'm tired of people in the halls of my institution take shots at my party and call them anti-science…and having guys like Perry to point to FACTUALLY. I do not feel pride when I look at the bulk of my base and see a collection of people who honestly believe that the Earth is 7000 years old and that all the fossil evidence we have is bogus.

    I want my President to be outwardly religious just as much as you do…but I want him or her to belong to a faith that doesn't preach out and out ignorance in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    I want to believe that a huge chunk of the republican party has grown beyond creationism…but the numbers you provide make it clear that such a belief would be just as apocryphal as creationism itself. Perhaps my adviser is right when he says that, for all the good Republicans try to do, they make decisions on science from an uninformed, and often willfully ignorant position. At least if this kind of thing is close to the mainstream.

    Good lord…I am faithfully Catholic…trying my best to live a moral life…ardently fiscally (and somewhat socially) conservative..and I don't even like my own damned party. Even though I *agree* with you that it's wrong of the media to force the GOP to pick tame non-conservative candidates or destroy them in the attempt to go for something better. Even though I *agree* that it's just as wrong to assume that an evangelical Christian is a bad leader as to assume that a Catholic is a bad leader. I don't like my party because I can't defend it to my colleagues if they can always point to things like this polling data.

    Where is the openly religious, ardently fiscally conservative, PRO-SCIENCE, small government conservative? Why must I be tied to a group of people who can see the bloody well OBVIOUS about evolution? No…the theory itself is not perfect…and yes, I believe that God had a hand in ordering the universe, though I think it was in the divine brilliance of the design of that universe, not in the actual manipulation of the heavens at the time of its' creation. But as far as I can tell, the GOP seems to be either Ron-ulan idiots who think we should wall ourselves off from the world and let Saudi Arabia get nukes or evangelical Christians who think God literally created the Earth in six days.

    Evangelicals…you may be well-intentioned people and you may live upstanding lives by the barrel-full, but you are KILLING this party.

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  4. Or…to put it another way…

    It's blinkin' hard to defeat an incumbent president. It's even harder when the media's in his pocket. It's harder still when your primary field is perceived to be pretty weak.

    Do we REALLY want to stand in principle regarding EVOLUTION? Do we REALLY want to distract the American people from the economy – which is Obama's greatest weakness in the eyes of most voters?

    We're not going to win this election by telling Americans that our guy is a devout Christian and getting into a shouting match over evolution. We're going to win this race by screaming Obama's failures to the world through the nation's biggest megaphone for twelve straight months as we march toward November 2012. We've got to stay on message. We've got to pick a candidate based on Obama's weaknesses.

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  5. I don't like my party because I can't defend it to my colleagues if they can always point to things like this polling data.

    I know you're not going to like what I'm about to say, but my advice is to quit trying to defend it to your colleagues. Just — give it up. You are a student in a graduate program at a university in frelling blue New York. I believe you when you say that your friends are not foaming radicals, but that doesn't mean that they aren't well to the left of the American center — or that they will ever vote Republican even if the GOP decides to kowtow to their anxieties.

    I know how you feel. Believe me, I do. Many of the people I work with at Dragon*Con attack the GOP for the same reasons. Now, I can try to point them to the evidence which indicates that devout evangelical Christians do not automatically govern as evangelicals while in office. Hell, I can argue with them until I'm blue in the face. But I've ultimately decided that the effort is a complete waste of my time and energy. At this point, I just write rants here to blow off steam.

    Also, I recommend looking a little more closely at that polling data. According to Gallup, 34% of self-proclaimed Democrats believe in strict creationism. The percentage of Republican voters who are creationists is higher, yes, but ignorance on this matter is certainly not an exclusively Republican problem.

    Do we REALLY want to stand in principle regarding EVOLUTION? Do we REALLY want to distract the American people from the economy – which is Obama's greatest weakness in the eyes of most voters?

    No, of course not. But that's not what I'm proposing. Actually, I'm arguing for the precise opposite. If we sit here and wring our hands over Perry's possible creationist beliefs, I believe we will play right into the media's hands and help them to make it an issue.

    You see, I think I'm being the pragmatist here. The economic numbers in Texas are very good — and Perry, at the very least, did nothing to obstruct that growth. That makes him our potential jobs candidate. I'm not going to throw out the baby with the bath water — particularly not this early. I want to give Perry a chance to surmount his culture war hurdle and shift the focus to the economy where it belongs.

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  6. To put it another way, I think Perry can win even with his evangelical views if he:

    1) States publicly that his personal views with respect to evolution will have no bearing on how he will govern as president because he believes a school's science curriculum should be controlled by the local school board, not the federal government.

    2) Redirects the discussion every time the evolution issue comes up by saying something like, “Is that really important? Shouldn't we be focusing on jobs? I know the Obama campaign would like us to focus on side issues like the culture war, but the American people are concerned about their bread and butter.”

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  7. To your first point about the futility of defending the party in blue states, I can only say that if we all take that approach, we will never bring back the conservative, productive, and free United States we strive for. The liberal media is working endlessly to convince conservatives they're wrong…and all evidence from the social science suggests it's succeeding in deflecting our country to the left. Who is going to convince the moderate lefties in New York that they're wrong?

    My point isn't that I should be out there defending the party, per say…though I do feel like my ideals are under constant attack where I live…my point is that the party has to be out there defending itself and convert New York. I want to win…but I don't just want to win in 2012…and I don't want to have to keep winning 51-48. I want to WIN! I want conservative values to triumph and the culture war to be won outright. Your attitude is a siege mentality…you want us to huddle together and pray there remain enough of us to influence policy. Siege mentality is self-defeating.

    We'll never win the culture war by picking candidates that are thoroughly alien to New Yorkers and Bostonians. We need a conservative who could sit down at a table with the green-monster crowd at Fenway and make a case for the conservative way of life convincing enough to stem the tide of progressivism in America. You might not like the urban elitism of the left…but they're Americans too…they have to be convinced or it's like we're living in two countries sharing a common currency. And that didn't work out so well for the EU.

    And to your second point, I hate to break this to you…but the media will make evolution the central issue for Perry until such time as he is no longer in politics. If there's something the media can pick at that the American people will buy…they will pick at it ENDLESSLY…Perry won't be ABLE to shift the focus to the economy. It's going to be all about how evangelical he is, how harsh he is with the death penalty (even though he really doesn't have say in that matter, he has made comments that make him sound quite supportive of a heavily-used death penalty), how anti-science his views are…they'll be comparing him to Bush every night on the Daily Show. They'll be relentlessly mocking him the same way that Carl Everett was destroyed in Boston and Seattle back in his playing days for not believing that dinosaurs existed (baseball story…in case you don't know who Carl Everett was).

    We can't afford to give the media a big fat frelling target to shoot at…we need to be on message…we need the leading GOP candidate to be talking about nothing but how much of a failure Obama is and how badly we need a HUGE structural change to our economy and a balanced budget amendment to the constitution and new tariffs on China and other combatant nations etc. We need someone who can keep the lefties in New York focused squarely on just how annoyed they have been with Obama (and yes…in New York, Obama's approval rating is jsut about as low as it is nationally…so they are not happy even in blue frelling New York).

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  8. Well, I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I wholly understand where you're coming from – indeed, I'd also love to achieve “total victory” – but my own experience has provided me with ample reasons to believe that such a victory is impossible — and that some people will never be convinced no matter how conciliatory we are. Am I willing to make compromises in order to keep this nation together? Yes. But I do have certain deal breakers, and bigotry just happens to be one of them.

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