Of all the factors that led to Mike Huckabee’s demise in the 2008 presidential sweepstakes (insufficient funds, lack of foreign policy experience), there’s one that has been largely overlooked: Huckabee’s disbelief in the theory of evolution as it is generally understood – without the involvement of the Creator.
Perhaps you’re thinking: What’s evolution got to do with being president? Very little, as Huckabee was quick to remind reporters on the campaign trail. But from the moment the former Baptist minister revealed his beliefs on evolutionary biology, political commentators and scientists lambasted him. Some even suggested those beliefs should disqualify him from high office.
We believe most Americans would be comfortable with a president who does not believe their ancestors descended from apes, a view opinion polls confirm half of Americans share. We further believe, as Ben Stein’s forthcoming documentary film “Expelled” highlights, that modern science affirms the possibility of an intelligent designer to the universe.
But the evolution row really has little to do with evolution theory itself. Instead, it symbolizes a much more important conflict – over whether faith-informed and science-based public policies are mutually exclusive. We believe it’s a conflict Huckabee and religious conservatives are winning.
It all started last May when, during the first Republican presidential debate, Huckabee and two other Republican candidates (Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Tom Tancredo) raised their hands in response to a question asking who among the candidates “does not believe in evolution.”
Those three raised hands set off a cascade of criticism. An AP story warned, “Some Republicans … get queasy about a candidate who … raised his hand when GOP debaters were asked who didn’t believe in evolution. …” Elizabeth Edwards complained, “[Huckabee] doesn’t believe in evolution. … Republicans scare me.” And Christopher Caldwell of the London Financial Times wrote that Huckabee alarmed secular voters because he “rejects the theory of evolution with a glib obscurantism out of another century.”
Even Charles Darwin weighed in – well, not Darwin himself but his great-great grandson Matthew Chapman, who insisted that the election of an anti-evolution president “cannot be allowed to happen.”
Why did some see the need to impose an evolution litmus test for president? As National Academy of Sciences Chairman Francisco Ayala put it, “I would worry that a president who does not believe in evolution would not believe in other [scientific] arguments as well.”
So, does the scientific community really have reason to fear a religious president with conservative values? Of course not. In fact, on many important public policy issues, religious conservatives like Huckabee (and Brownback and Tancredo), the very same conservatives who reject the theory of evolution without God, have embraced the mantle of science.
Meanwhile, it’s the left, which for decades wielded scientific hypotheses as clubs to batter conservative candidates who refused to adhere to progressive political positions, that today allows dogmatic allegiance to an outdated ideology to trump scientific fact.
Consider abortion. Religious conservatives believe it involves the destruction of innocent human life, and modern science supports this view. Ultrasound technology and fetal development research have highlighted the humanity of the unborn child and thus the destructive reality of abortion. “Window to the womb” laws have passed in dozens of states, allowing women a more complete picture of what abortion is. As Kate Michaelman and Francis Kippling, two leaders of the abortion lobby, recently admitted in an editorial, “Science facilitated the swing of the pendulum” that gave “anti-abortionists an advantage, and they made the best of it.”
Social science continues to underscore a possible causal link between abortion and depression. A 2006 New Zealand study echoed several previous studies in finding that women who abort prior to age 21 had rates of subsequent mental disorders more than one-and-a-half times higher than rates for women who did not become pregnant and those who became pregnant but did not abort.
On stem cell research, too, the conservative position is winning. While the left chastises conservatives as “anti-science” for opposing embryo-destructive research, ethical adult and umbilical cord stem cell research have proved much more promising. Recently, independent teams of researchers successfully reprogrammed adult cells to behave like embryonic stem cells, allowing them to grow and potentially turn into any type of body tissue. By all accounts this new research should eliminate demand for destroying human embryos for research.
Then there’s marriage and the family, institutions that conservatives have long argued, and social science long confirmed, are tightly linked with wealth, health and happiness. A recent massive review of 20 years of research in the journal Acta Paediatrica concluded that active fathers are decisive in the development of their children.
Finally, science has shown religious belief itself is a powerful predictor of personal well-being and societal stability. Believers do better on an entire range of outcomes – from educational attainment and marital stability to substance abuse, violent crime and even immigrant assimilation.
The notion that conservatives are waging a “war on science” has gained much traction in the media lately. And the anti-evolution position of some conservatives has, as National Review Editor Rich Lowry has written, “play[ed] into the image of Republicans as the anti-science party.”
But the scientific community has nothing to fear from candidates like Mike Huckabee, for on many important public policy issues, religious conservatives have become the true champions of science.
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