THE PLANK MAY 31, 2007
Republican presidential candidate Sam Brownback has an editorial in today's New York Times explaining (sort of) why he raised his hand at the first GOP presidential debate to indicate that he does not believe in evolution. He writes
The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days.
Actually, the premise behind the question is to find out whether one believes species have changed and adapted over time -- per Darwin's theory -- or whether they were plunked down on earth as is.
Brownback goes on to explain that "if belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species...that I believe it to be true." He was merely rejecting "an exclusively materialistic" explanation of existence. Er, OK.
I'm perfectly willing to believe that this is what Brownback truly believes: God created the world, the world and everything thereon evolved. But it's still a pretty lame cop out. If Brownback believes, as he says he does, that belief in a creator and in microevolution is tenable, then he should have kept his hand down at the debate. If the two positions are compatible -- "complementary" even, as he writes in his editorial -- there should be no reason to shy away. Unless, of course, you don't actually think that -- or you're cynically worried that your constituents don't.
Update: A colleague points out
The key phrases in Bronback's response are microevolution, small changes, and within a species. He's not saying that God created an earth full of primitive life forms that eventually became fish, mammals, primates and us...But though he doesn't say so explicitly, he insinuates that he does not believe one species can evolve into another--i.e., he doesn't believe in evolution.
I think that's right. And it makes the editorial seem all the more cynically motivated. Brownback knows that coming out against evolution makes one seem like a rube. So we get this convoluted explanation of how he has reconciled his faith with science rather than a frank admission.