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…