Evolution and religion can coexist, although détente may depend on which religion
Gov. Scott Walker’s dust-up over Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution began with what was essentially a non-answer.
When asked about his views on evolution during his recent visit to London, Walker first responded, “I’m going to punt on that one.” He quickly added that evolutionary theory is a question politicians “shouldn’t be involved in one way or the other.”
It’s a question reporters love to ask, however, particularly if the politician is an evangelical Christian who might try to straddle the line between voters who are evolutionists, creationists, “intelligent design” adherents, or something in between.
At least Walker didn’t come across like presidential hopeful Rick Perry in 2011, when the former Texas governor described evolution as “a theory that’s out there” and one that’s “got some gaps in it.” Walker also stopped short of sounding like Michele Bachmann, a former presidential candidate who once claimed evolution is disputed by “hundreds and hundreds of scientists.”
Bachmann forgot to mention there are nearly 500,000 U.S. scientists who overwhelmingly view evolution as accepted fact and the basis of modern biology.
Unless you believe dinosaurs walked the earth only a few thousand years ago, that genetic adaptations never take place in nature, that animal and plant species never go extinct, and that radiocarbon dating is a farce, the evidence is in: Darwin was right.
A few hours after punting out of bounds, Walker went back on offense with a Twitter answer he probably should have given in the first place: “Both science & my faith dictate my belief that we are created by God. I believe faith & science are compatible & go hand in hand.”
For moral support, Walker might turn to no less a religious authority than Pope Francis I, who last fall surprised some theologians by saying evolution and the Big Bang theory of the birth of the universe are both true and not incompatible with the church’s views on the origins of the universe and life.
“The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it,” Pope Francis said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, but evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”
Just as not all people of faith reject evolution, not all scientists are atheists.
When the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press surveyed members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2009, it reported that 51% believed in God or some form of higher power. That’s well short of the general public’s belief in some form of deity or higher power — about 95% believe in one — but nonetheless a sign that many scientists find faith and science to be compatible.
Prominent scientists who believed in God included Albert Einstein, who famously said, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”
More recently, National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins professed his faith despite leading a massive project to read out the 3.1 billion letters of the human genome, which is mankind’s DNA instruction book.
“As a believer, I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God’s language, and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God’s plan,” wrote Collins, who directed the Human Genome Project before his appointment to lead NIH in 2009.
While the pope speaks for the Roman Catholic Church, many evangelical Protestants have different views about evolution. In a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, white evangelical Protestants were much more likely to believe that humans have existed in their present form since the dawn of time. Roughly two-thirds (64%) expressed that view, as did half of black Protestants. By comparison, only 15% of white mainline Protestants shared that opinion.
If you’re potential candidate Walker, competing in Iowa with other Republican candidates who hold evangelical credentials, those numbers are hard to strategically ignore.
Still, too many politicians — particularly some Republicans — tend to run from science rather than incorporate broadly accepted knowledge into their belief systems. If religion and science can share some common ground, so can politics.
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