Illinois gubernatorial candidates on evolution

The Chicago Tribune asked seven Republican and two Democratic candidates the following question:

Do you accept the theory of evolution? Please explain.

This question is of course guaranteed to send shivers down the spine of any candidate. They don’t want to look stupid and deny the established fact of evolution, but they also need to pander to their benighted religious constituents. So the question produces more waffles than IHOP. This would be funny if it weren’t so scary.

Their answers, and the take of one Illinois evolutionary biologist:

First the Republicans:

— Adam Andrzejewski: “Yes. As a practicing Catholic, I believe that God created Darwin. Let others debate the details.”

A complete cop-out, trying to gain a smidgen of credibility by mentioning Darwin but avoiding the whole issue.

— Bill Brady: “I accept the theory of creation, as I was taught, and believe the world has continued to evolve since.”

Another stupid cop-out.  He abnegates any responsibility for thinking simply because he “was taught” something. And the “theory of creation” says nothing about subsequent evolution. Did humans evolve after the first “creation,” or were they part of it?

— Kirk Dillard: “Science seems to support evolution but there is no doubt that I have seen the hand of God at work in my travels and everyday life.”

A bit better, but uses the weasel-word “seems” and quickly rushes to assure people that he’s seen God. What does God have to do with the question?

— Andy McKenna: “Yes, but I also believe that the process of evolution has been guided by the creative power of God.”

Well, at least a “yes,” though he’s buying theistic evolution.  It would be nice to know exactly how he thinks God guided evolution.

— Dan Proft: “The current political class in Springfield make me question the veracity of natural selection. That aside, I do not believe there needs to be a divide between religious belief and the scientific method. … The evidence seems to me fairly clear that, as Pope John Paul II wrote, human beings have a ‘common ancestry of life’ from which we have evolved.”

You can see, from the tendency of these candidates to drag God into a question that’s purely scientific, that Americans really do feel that evolution impinges on faith.  Proft has to drag the Pope in here to support his answer, but at least he admits that humans have evolved from other creatures.  But Pope John Paul also believed that at some point between Australopithecus afarensis and Homo sapiens, the good Lord injected hominins with a heritable soul.

— Jim Ryan: “Evolution is a reasonable theory. Regardless of the extent of its truth, I believe that God was ultimately responsible for our creation and infused human beings with a soul.”

Damn, this answer is dreadful.  “Reasonable”?  “Regardless of the extent of its truth”? A complete cop-out, topped up with pandering to the faithful.

— Bob Schillerstrom: “I accept the theory of evolution. There is compelling scientific evidence to show that evolution does occur. I also believe science and religion answer life’s questions in complementary ways.”

The first two sentences are GREAT — unusual sentiments for a Republican.  But then he takes the NOMA stance.  Well, I guess you can’t expect more than this from the GOP.

And now the Democrats:

— Dan Hynes: “I accept the theory of evolution.”

What a good answer!  Why can’t more of our candidates give a simple answer like this?

— Pat Quinn: “I believe that the scientific theory of evolution is the best explanation we have for the origin and diversity of species on Earth. As a Catholic, I do not see any discrepancy between my acceptance of widely held scientific principles and my faith in God as the prime mover of the universe.”

A bit NOMA-ish in the end, but at least he buys evolution.

Scores:  Republicans 1/7, Democrats 2/2. No surprise here. Republicans are a miserable God-fearing and Darwin-denying lot.

h/t: Alan Grohe


  1. Posted January 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Non-overlapping maple syrup on their desultory breakfast delights.

  2. NewEnglandBob
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    No surprises here.

  3. Posted January 1, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    At least none felt that it would pay to embrace IDiocy or some other version of creationism.

    I think it’s fair to say that the fight against the DI and its lies has successfully thwarted their aims at creating “theistic science.”

    Glen Davidson

    • bkniaz
      Posted January 1, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      I was pleasantly surprised to notice that as well, but WTF – it is tragic that I can say I was pleasantly surprised by that…

      This should have stopped being an issue sometime early last century.

      The level of stupid some of these people gleefully exhibit is mind boggling.

  4. Chayanov
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m just glad the question asked “accept” instead of “believe”. It left it to the respondents (most of them) to bring belief into it. A little disturbing, though, that Brady accepts creation and believes in evolution.

  5. Marilyn
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    People have the governments they deserved

  6. Mike from Ottawa
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    “But Pope John Paul also believed that at some point between Australopithecus afarensis and Homo sapiens, the good Lord injected hominins with a heritable soul.”

    I don’t think you’ve got your Catholic catechism right there. Souls aren’t inherited from one’s parents.

  7. Mike from Ottawa
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    “What does God have to do with the question?”

    Seriously? Why do you suppose those politicians are being asked about evolutio and not being asked about, oh, say, the aesthetics of 15th century samurai armour? If it weren’t for the political elements of the creationist movement nobody would be interested in the views of politicians on evolution.

    Politicians who accept evolution are merely being good politicians if they add on that they don’t view that as meaning they are atheists, however much you wish that were the case.

  8. E. Goldman
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    @Mike from Ottawa: Thank you!
    The politician who stands up and says “Evolution occurs, and God has nothing to do with it” is immediately out of a job. That would be like one of us writing on a grant application, “Oh, and by the way, I intend to spend half the money on hookers and dope.”

  9. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Republicans are a miserable […] lot.

    I’ll accept that theory too.

    [Yes, yes, I know: theory testability.

    Well, surely they are a lot, as in set. Even a large set, so a lot once again. I.e. they pass twice over.

    As for miserable, they aren’t in power. Case closed. (o.O)]

  10. tomh
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    At least none felt that it would pay to embrace IDiocy or some other version of creationism.

    I’ll bet that if you asked if ID should be taught in school alongside evolution, half the Republicans would say yes. Of course, so would at least half of the voters.

  11. eddie
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    “They don’t want to look stupid and deny the established fact of evolution…”

    It is heartening that the candidates here seem to bear this out. Not sure about some politicians tho.

  12. Insightful Ape
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    I hate the politicization of science today as much as I did years ago. I do not seem to be coming to terms with that as a fact of life.

  13. KP
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    I think the NOMA stance is about the best you’re going to get out of a politician with constituents that have religious beliefs. I wouldn’t have trouble voting for a candidate with a NOMA view who explicitly stated that evolution was solid science. It took til 2008 to get a black or woman candidate for President. How long before we get an atheist??

    • Posted January 2, 2010 at 1:49 am | Permalink

      Like Daniel Dennett once said when being asked when there will be an atheist president;

      “There have been lots of atheist presidents. They just haven’t admitted that they were atheists.”

      Or something like that 😉

      • Marilyn
        Posted January 2, 2010 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        Name one.

      • llewelly
        Posted January 2, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        William H. Herndon and Colonel Lamon, who were both close to Lincoln during his life, both published biographies which described Lincoln’s beliefs as skeptical or non-believing.
        In any case – to ask for a name is to miss the point. That part of Dan Dennett’s lecture was about closeted atheism.

  14. Posted January 2, 2010 at 1:47 am | Permalink

    Republicans should take some courses on biology before being allowed to be candidates :p

    I don’t understand why it is so hard for people to be honest about things. I’m sure they all accept the theory of evolution, they’re just afraid to admit it…

  15. Jon Morgan
    Posted January 2, 2010 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    News agencies all seem fond of doing a “fact check” on campaign promises/statements–

    I’d like to see the Tribune reprint this Q and A session along with Jerry’s comments–
    as part of their “fact check”

    how about a whole team of evolutionary biologists weighing in on the scientific literacy of these candidates

    • Marilyn
      Posted January 2, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Dear Jon; what having scientific literacy got to do with being a good, decent, public servant? Unless you claim that all believers are “bad” : Barack??

      • Posted January 3, 2010 at 6:34 am | Permalink

        Marilyn, nobody is fully conversant with all aspects of science. We should not expect the leader of a nation to be so. What we should expect, however, is that they should be able to follow the conclusions of the best trained experts on matters, scientific or otherwise. In terms of biology is is overwhelmingly obvious that experts in the field accept evolution as valid. For a politician to ignore this is to expose a crucial weakness in how he or she evaluates evidence, something crucial in a position of power.
        Evolution, as a scientific theory has simple elements (natural selection and common ancestry) that should be understood by all who seek to govern. It also has intricacies that are perhaps best left to those who work in this field and should not be expected to be understood by politicians (for example molecular genetics, theories on speciation etc). In most parts of the developed world evolution is about as controversial as heliocentrism. In the past that theory would have been seen as requiring a religious caveat when expressing acceptance yet now, even in the USA, it would be considered ridiculous to answer in a similar way to the evolution question (“I was taught that the Earth orbits the Sun but I see the hand of God making it so!”)
        Why should the views of religious fundamentalists be required on a scientific matter, something far beyond their knowledge?

  16. Rick Seiden
    Posted January 4, 2010 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    I think that “dragging religion” into an answer for this question is necessary. The question is loaded for a politician, regardless of Dem or Rep. Whoever asked it knew it would be, and should have really asked what they wanted: “Do you believe in evolution or creationism?”

    Besides, saying that God had a hand in evolution is not a cop out. I believe that if there is a God that created the universe and all that’s in it, he did it by laying down a set of law that would govern how the universe acted, and then started us off at a certain point. That point, for me, was the Big Bag. The laws of Nature determined what would happen after that moment in time, including evolution. To me, it doesn’t even conflict with creationism. Half the Bible is filled with parables. Why does the story of how God created the universe have to be literal when there is so much story telling in the Bible? If God exists, God created life via evolution. Not a cop out, really.

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