Updated:Ron Paul Doesn't "Accept Evolution as a Theory"

By The Intersection | August 29, 2011 12:40 pm

By Jon Winsor

Updated: See below.

Update 2: Commenter Thomas J. Webb points me to Ron Paul’s latest book, where Paul lays out his current position on evolution–which differs from what he says below. Paul writes, “My personal view is that recognizing the validity of an evolutionary process does not support atheism, nor should it diminish one’s view about God and the universe.” (Earlier, I checked Paul’s website and could not find his position on evolution.) In his book, Paul still has doubts about science questions being relevant to the presidency (as he does in the video below).

——————————–

Et tu, Ron Paul?

This is very disappointing. I always thought of the Ron Paul wing as made up of Republicans that were largely immune to this kind of motivated reasoning.

You might fault the Ron Paul people for their heterodox theories on going back to the gold standard, or their insistence that government intervention caused the Great Depression, or their sometimes quirky, youthful enthusiasm for their candidate. But at least the Austrian economists Ron Paul wrote about had some faith in the rationality of individuals.

But how rational is it to deny the theory of evolution?

Also, regarding Ron Paul’s comment that it was “inappropriate [for] the presidency to be decided by a scientific matter,” Mike Huckabee made a similar comment during a 2008 debate when asked about evolution. He quipped, “It’s interesting that that question would even be asked of someone running for president. I’m not planning on writing the curriculum for an 8th grade science book. I’m asking for the opportunity to be president of the United States.”

Historian Steven Johnson, author of a book called The Invention of Air (specifically about founders Jefferson, Franklin, and John Adams’, relationship with an English scientist named Joseph Priestly), wrote this about Huckabee’s quip:

It was a funny line, but the joke only worked in a specific intellectual context. For the statement to make sense, you had to assume that that “science” was some kind of specialized intellectual field, about which political leaders needn’t know anything to do their business. Imagine a candidate dismissing a question about his foreign policy experience by saying he was running for president and not writing an International Affairs textbook. The joke wouldn’t make sense, because we assume that foreign policy expertise is a central qualification for the Chief Executive. But science? That’s for the guys in lab coats.

So one of things I hoped to do with Invention of Air was to remind people that when our leaders take these anti-science positions, or when they happily plead ignorance about some of the most important issues of our time – our energy use, global warming, genomics, all the revolutions unleashed by computer science — they’re not just being anti-intellectual. They’re also being un-American. The people who founded this country were serious science geeks. We should be celebrating this fact, not running away from it.

Ron Paul–a doctor of medicine and an author of a number of books on Austrian economics–was one of the last Republicans I expected to hear knock the science of evolution. How many more are we going to hear?

Update: Two important things about this video: first, although it’s been making the rounds lately because it deals with evolution, it’s from the 2007 campaign. Second, it’s an excerpt from a longer answer Paul gave (the longer version is here). The unedited version contains what he said in the video above, but sounds more qualified.

MORE ABOUT: Ron Paul

Comments (45)

  1. Jay Fox

    All of ‘em. They cannot get elected on truth and what they plan to do with that information. The success of big tobacco in instilling doubt about something that seems pretty dog-gone clear sent a message to all politicians: If you can’t win with the truth, lie. So they do. ALL OF THEM.

  2. Most Americans are Christian or beleive in the God of Abraham in one form or another. These people believe in an invisible person, heaven and hell, for the most part. Obama is included in that group.

    In any event, I do not think that their personal beliefs, misguided or not, on the topic of evolution is important, if the candidate is not an authoritarian like the mainstream. That would matter with someone like Michele Bachmann.

    I am an anti-theist antheist, and support Ron Paul for his knowledge on economic theory and how it relates to liberty.

    I do not side with Murry Rothbard on every issue, but he is a well-studied economist, by most libertarians. Rothbard was an agnostic, and I am pretty sure a believer in evolution. Rand was no economist, but was familiar with Austrian economics and certainly believed in evolution. My point is, is what does Ron Paul and the other candidates know about creating plans for peace, liberty, and prosperity?

  3. A politician’s view on evolution is only important to authoritarians, who believe in central planning, because that is where they are used to getting the funding.

  4. vel

    oh my poor friends who were sure that RP was the last best hope of humanity. I’ll hate to disappoint them and show them he’s as willfully ignorant (or sycophantic to lunatics, hmm, which is worse?) as the rest.

  5. I believe in evolution and write software. I would make a terrible president.

  6. Jay

    …That youtube video was edited to make it sound “i dont accept it as a theory”

    In the original video he says “i accept it as a theory”

    this has gone too far.

  7. Joe

    Sigh… I REALLY wanted to support Ron Paul, (I am a fiscally conservative Republican with liberal social views (balanced budget, limited government, pro gay rights, legalize pot). I did not vote for Obama, but I can NOT vote for an anti-scientist. Sadly the Republican party has been hijacked by the religious right. I do not mind a person being religious, but they need to be able to separate facts from beliefs. I am a Catholic, I believe in a virgin birth (depending on how one defines virgin), but I know for a fact that no man in history was ever conceived without human sperm meeting human egg. I disagree with Obama on a lot of issues, but at least he is intelligent and has never expressed anti-scientist views. I would a rather have a man with views I disagree with, but who can separate beliefs from facts, than a man with views I agree with but can not separate facts form beliefs. I am always amazed that so many intelligent people believe (as facts) that a bunch of barely literate goat herders 2000 to 3000 years ago had a better idea about the origins of life than all the best minds of today. Unless a better candidate steps forward, I will vote for Obama.

  8. Honestly, this doesn’t surprise me (meaning Paul’s statement, not Chris’ reaction to it). The Republican nominating process has all but turned into a “can you top this” contest to see which candidate can sound the most detached as a way of pandering to the worst tendencies of the most extreme portion of their base.

    This is not a new phenomenon, of course. We always see Republicans run right and Democrats run left in the primaries, only to become more centrist in the general election, but for some reason, perhaps the presence of the TP voters, it’s reaching astonishing levels among the Republicans this time around.

    I almost expect to hear one of them denounce heliocentrism as a liberal plot or come out in support of “teaching the controversy” about phlogiston. (And yes, I know about the claims that relativity is a lefty fiction…)

  9. Joe Mikon

    Foreign policy is one of the President’s jobs. Education is not. Also, creationism is a religious question and evolution is a scientific question. Sadly, these fields of study have been intermingled in the ongoing quest to control government education monies. Get Uncle Sam out of the classroom and these battles can move to the marketplace.

  10. I need some economic advice, and so I thought I would ask a central planner supporter. My daughter ran up her credit card, so I should give her another one with a higher limit and use that one to pay it off right? That way, she can be sure to keep her credit rating high. I can just keep repeating it over and over.

    After all, isn’t the money just a loan, that we pay back every time by inflating the currency anyway? The money, after all, belongs to the federal reserve. Whenever they split the stock, they do what all businesses do – they issue the notes (stock) to the owners. In this case, it is an elite group of banks that are authorized to create currency out of thin air.

    The problem with this is that the laws of nature apply to economics as well. Fiat, paper currency is not backed by collateral. Sure as what comes up, must come down, a worthless currency sooner or later gets noticed, regardless of how hard you plan or how fast you print.

    History is on my side on this issue, or do I need to google that for you?

    Kennedy negotiated with an empire that had many nuclear weapons, and was able to avoid war.

    Countries all over the world were able to get rid of slavery without war. USA is one of the few that could not find a way to stop killing each other.

    Canada was able to absorb the native population without killing them off or banishing them to reservations.

    A $10 phone app could provide most of the useful information that the US Government spends trillions to provide.

  11. Alex

    To be fair, based on Ron Paul’s view of the role of government it shouldn’t be overly concerning. He isn’t going to dictate that you teach or not teach a certain thing in a public school, since he doesn’t believe that it is within the federal government’s role to do that. If you think that government should be more involved in dictating curriculum, that would be a concern, but I wouldn’t sweat a candidate’s view on evolution too much if I think they’ll keep their nose out of what children are taught in school.

  12. Butler Reynolds

    I am an atheist. For the most part I admire Ron Paul (I like Gary Johnson much better, though).

    His view of evolution would matter if he was running for your local school board or if he was an imperialist neo-con. But given his view of the role of the federal government, his personal position on evolution and a host of other matters don’t matter than much.

  13. Due to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, a great deal of power is loss over power lines that must travel great distances. The USA has many such power lines, like those controlled by BPA in the NW, that controls over 30 dams and their transmission to their customers.

    Decentralized power, when it can be achieved, is much more efficient.

    The same can be said, and is true, with respect to centralized political power. The capacity to increase their power is not never ending, and is limited by resources as well. Every act, must go through a myriad of filters and transformations, before coming out the other end as another failed beuracracy, with the power to independently right their own laws, known as “regulations.”

    This planing leads to wonderful ideas, like encouraging people to live inside of a bowl, surrounded by water and in constant threat of nasty winds and rain. Then building levies that fail. Then poorly managing the process, of which they have had decades to figure out how to manage and expense properly.

  14. brody

    We knew Ron Paul was a religious man calling himself a Christian so is it really a shock that he’s at least consistent here? Notice all presidential candidates must claim to be somewhat religious or risk alienating a large majority of voters. Even Obama claimed to be a Christian. I personally am not religious, and believe in evolution, but that doesn’t mean I can’t support Ron Paul, who rarely even talks about religion in his speeches, writings, or on the campaign trail. So, like Ron Paul, I would prefer we talk about real issues instead of trivial matters that divide and conquer us.

  15. As someone mentioned above, that clip where Ron Paul discusses evolution was highly edited. His campaign actually responded and state that Dr. Paul does believe in evolution. Check it out here:

    http://www.shanktified.com/archives/ron-paul-campaign-on-evolution/

    Additionally, it doesn’t really matter. This isn’t a government issue so, as Dr. Paul notes, it was an inappropriate question. I personally believe in the judeo-Christian God and evolution, but as far as science goes, you should condemn those who believe in God just as much as those who don’t believe in evolution. Scientifically, neither make sense. At least with Ron Paul you know that, regardless of what he believes religiously, it won’t really have an impact on his presidency. Dr. Paul will do what the Constitution allows and/or requires, and no more, regardless of his personal feelings or beliefs.

    And, honestly, if you want to attack him for this potential flaw in his belief system, you’re missing the big picture that Romney, Perry and Bachmann are openly and overtly religious and essentially admit it WILL affect their potential presidency. And they’re far more anti-science than you could ever consider Dr. Paul. Why no articles about them in that regard?

  16. “…That youtube video was edited to make it sound “i dont accept it as a theory”

    In the original video he says “i accept it as a theory”

    this has gone too far.”

    Is that true? In my field, I meet plenty of really smart people who do not believe in evolution. It has a lot to do with our Christian culture. Just because the DBA at a client site does not believe in evolution, does not mean that I do not trust him to create the database tables and figure out the best indexes for my data.

  17. I guess some people would rather fight 5 wars, have drones fly over foreign soil and kill innocent people, increase their taxes, inflate the currency; just as long as it is done by a guy who believes in evolution.

  18. @Jon Winsor

    #1 – I do think it is subversive to edit a video and then post it as testimony to something like this. What is your intention there? Why was the edit at 00:31 necessary?

    #2 – For a conservative republican party faithful conservative, he shows surprising agnosticism claiming, “we can’t point to absolute truth”. This is not the typical fire and brimstone / blind mindless faith I usually hear.

    So I find your title VERY misleading and “trollish” for something I’d expect to be more like real journalism.

  19. Tomas

    Who cares. As mentioned by other people in this thread, his comments were edited. All in all, he’d keep religion and politics separate.

  20. Troy

    “… the foolishness of God is wiser than men…”

    Paul

  21. Anthony

    “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” – Thomas Jefferson

  22. Rob

    If you listen to him carefully Paul never fully discredits the evolutionary theory. He explains that it is indeed plausible. He is not a candidate that is going to shove his personal religious beliefs down our throats anyway. He want’s to stay out of your life and personal decisions, not impede on them. His personal feelings on religion do not scare me in the least and I am a non practicing person. Bottom line is, he just wants to fix what is wrong with this country. He doesn’t care what or who you worship. This is all pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things. No perfect candidate ever exists but …Ron Paul is about as close as it gets in this day and age.

  23. Nullius in Verba

    Having listened to the full clip, he appears to be saying that he’s agnostic on the question – he neither accepts nor rejects it – and that he doesn’t consider it to be important for doing the President’s job. But I guess people hear what they want to hear.

    It’s only function here is as a shibboleth of American political tribalism.

  24. Richard

    First, this cheap shot was put to bed almost four years ago, when it was debunked as being edited to make his remarks seem unequivocal.

    Personally, I think that the theory of God and religion is preposterous, but neither should we worship at the alter of scientific “political correctness”.

    Paul’s position is that the Federal government has no authority to involve itself in these issues. As Thomas Jefferson said, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

  25. David

    It’s called the THEORY of evolution for a reason. The more we discover about genetics, the more unlikely the scenario of evolution from single cells becomes.

    We all laugh at scientists who thought silly things like the earth was flat/ect. How long will it be before we’re laughing at evolutionists?

  26. Q

    Ron Paul will protect the freedom of those who support evolution and the liberty of those who don’t.

  27. DavePM

    I submit that RP’s answer was rather muddled and as a result his view misinterpreted here. What I heard is not a rejection of evolution, but a humble acknowledgement that no one yet has absolute proof of how and in what manner the universe and its inhabitants were created. The theory of evolution is a piece of the puzzle, not the final answer. We’ll have to continue our search for the Prime Evolver.

  28. @Joe
    There are two theories out there.
    1. Life decided to form here for some reason without any provocation.
    2. Life was designed by something or someone. (Ever notice how symmetrical living things are?)

    Ron is right to say that no one can no for certain… Take away your bias against the religion you supposedly follow and see that there are two plausible theories out there. I believe that the universe was created… but I can’t prove it. You believe the universe has just always been here… but you can’t prove it.

    I don’t look to the president to be the spiritual leader of the nation. He’s not going to form some Michelle Bachmann theocracy. You disagree with him on an issue or two here or there and you’re ready to throw your vote behind some worthless corporate puppet? Ron tells you where he stands on issues… you can’t disagree with other candidates like Romney because you never know where they stand.

  29. He has a whole chapter on evolution in his book. I haven’t read the book, but I did do a search and read the chapter on amazon.com and I think he does make it clear there that he does, in fact, believe in evolution, even if he is a little wishy-washy and dodgy about the subject. He is, after all, a doctor so he knows very well the indelible stamp.

    Like #12 said, I like Gary Johnson more. He’s pretty unequivocal in his support of evolution.

  30. I would not worry as much about Paul as I would about some of the wackaloons running for President. Even if he personally does not believe in evolution, at least he (hopefully) won’t mandate that the government teach “alternatives”. Can’t say the same thing at all about Bachmann or Perry.

  31. Q

    The other candidates, including Obama, believe in an authoritarian way, what’s best for us. Ron Paul is an intellectual giant with a strength of character not seen since the likes of Jefferson.

  32. Mr. Winsour, why would you not have “accepted” that about the Paul wing before? That actually reflects more on him than on Ron Paul. Sometimes, “new media” just as much as old media illustrates the Peter Principle in action.

    This all said, Paul is also:
    1. A racist, per the newsletter put out under his publisher’s byline his first go-round in Congress;
    2. Economically illiterate, as “fiat” money has existed in paper for more than a millennium, and gold actually has little intrinsic value;
    3. No less a Christian Rightist and no more a libertarian than Bachmann (there’s one true libertarian in the GOP race and his name is Gary Johnson, you Paul-tards [I’m not a libertarian myself, I’m just saying])

    So, Jon, before making more *unwarranted* assumptions about politicians, you might try learning more about them in the first place.

  33. Garrett Gebhardt

    So what exactly do Ron Paul’s personal religious beliefs have to do with how he would handle American interests as President? He has no interest in using the Presidency to regulate morality, only to restore Constitutional government. In fact, your entire premise criticizing him in this article is flawed.

    When you try to fault him for wanting sound money via competition in currencies, you’re promoting the peculiar and unconventional notion that our dollar should be backed by nothing. Remember that Nixon stated clearly that his decoupling of the FRN to gold was a temporary measure due to “speculators,” not a permanent rejection of gold as money. Furthermore, the term dollar means a silver coin containing 371.25 grains of silver. The dollar was the name of a Spanish coin existing before the existence of the U.S. and this is accepted historical fact. You cannot erase that by calling a piece of paper a dollar. That is sleight of hand. The Constitution, Article I, Section 10, requires that no state make anything but gold or silver coin a tender in payment of debts. This was done for a reason, to prevent inflationary fiat currencies from destroying the full faith and credit of the Republic. Perhaps it’s convenient to imagine the supreme law of the land as quaint or outdated, or see central bankers having an unlimited printing press (aka counterfeiting) as a modern and unassailable concept in this “global” society. That doesn’t make either less immoral or illegal.

    Oh and yes, the government precipitated and then prolonged and worsened the Great Depression. As Dr. Paul stated this past weekend to Chris Wallace, the Depression of 1921 is hardly mentioned in textbooks because we allowed bankruptcy and liquidation to occur and thus the malinvestment and the suffering ended quickly. When Hoover, then FDR attempted to stimulate us out of the later depression, it backfired spectacularly and nearly destroyed the country. We didn’t truly recover until after World War II ended and private business and consumer manufacturing were allowed to resume in force. Learn your history. Ron Paul knows it. Instead of focusing on his religious beliefs, why don’t you focus on which other candidate has his extensive, unassailable knowledge of economics, history and the principles of liberty? Why not ask yourself, who would Thomas Jefferson choose?

  34. Rob

    Mind you, this is not even the full clip of his response. It is conveniently shortened to paint Paul in a certain light. After this videos end he goes on to say that evolution could be a viable theory and is worth discussion …but it’s not a main concern of his campaign either way. If you want to report mainstream media fine ….but don’t just cherry pick parts to cause controversy and leave out the rest. If you want to hear his full response, watch this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSW2-Ppfewk

  35. Eugene

    Most of the world doesn’t accept Evolution as a theory either! Like me, they accept it as fact.

    How can a nation that gets men on the moon also produce nutters? Do you have a large contingent of flat-earthers too? Beyond belief!

  36. TTT

    A person who does not accept evolution has revealed that they do not make decisions based on evidence, but rather on whatever story they heard first or that makes them feel more special about themselves.

    They are permanently unqualified to lead, and they would put at risk anyone unfortunate enough to have to settle for them as a predetermined-to-fail leader. It seems some people didn’t learn the real lesson of George W. Bush.

  37. Ortho2

    The questions put to political candidates about their views on evolution are important. The answers candidates give reveal their understanding of science and the importance of science to America and its future. Those who do not believe evolution to be a fact are ignorant of the core of biological science. The Bush administration undermined scientific research it did not agree with for political reasons. Our politicians should know enough about science to be rational. Sadly, most of those running for office do not. Yet many of these serve in congress or in offices where they make critical decisions regarding funding for science. That is truly frightening.

  38. TerryEmberson

    Post update:

    My original comment (yesterday) got eaten by the flying spaghetti monster. I put on my pirate hat and am trying again.

    Originally, I had pulled the transcript from the above video (from 2007) and pointed out that it showed Paul’s full argument above is that the U.S. president should have no say over whether or not Evolution is taught is schools because schools should be free to teach what is needed. Simply put, public education fails in Paul’s mind.

    This video is cut before the entirety of his remarks are made and that should be borne in mind by rational thinkers. I don’t agree with Paul that public education is a mistake, but I certainly think that federal management of public education has been a travesty.

  39. Nullius in Verba

    From a scientific point of view, the first question I would ask is do they understand evolution. The United States has freedom of belief as one of its core principles, and science doesn’t override that, but if a person understood and was able to apply the principle, then from a practical point of view it doesn’t much matter if they believe it. So long as it is understood by everyone that the reasons for their contrary belief are unscientific, there’s nothing wrong with that.

    The second question I would ask is whether they can explain the evidence for evolution; have they personally examined it? Because if a person has not seen and understood the evidence but still believes in it, that would be equally unscientific. Conversely, if a person says they haven’t examined the evidence, or that nobody has shown them it, then saying they were agnostic on the point would be the correct scientific position, and evidence of their scientific worldview.

    Which brings up the third question: I would ask whether they think believing in evolution without having seen any evidence for it – besides being told the opinions of “experts” – is scientific? Anyone who thinks science encourages blind belief is misinformed. Nevertheless, a lot of people do.

    Although to be honest, if I wanted to test a candidate’s understanding of science, I don’t think I’d ask any question with this sort of cultural baggage – I’d be asking them to list Newton’s laws of motion or to describe the chemistry of the Haber process and why it is important. Or simply ask them what grade they got in their science exams.

    Of course, in this case the cultural baggage is the entire point. It’s not about testing whether they understand science – like I say, there are better questions to ask to test that – it’s about determining if they’re one of “us” or one of “them”. It’s not “do you understand” but “are you a believer”.

    And taking the question seriously buys in to a worldview in which only approved beliefs are permitted, which is a dangerous road to start down, even in the cause of science education. It’s a lot more important that a President believes in freedom of belief.

  40. Andrew

    ?We all laugh at scientists who thought silly things like the earth was flat/ect. How long will it be before we’re laughing at evolutionists?”

    Why do people who don’t even know history think they are qualified to talk about science? Scientists knew the earth was round and had measured how big it is, over 2000 years ago. Were you too busy giggling to yourself about your misunderstandings of evolution when this was covered or haven’t you gotten to fifth grade yet?

  41. George

    In the “original version” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4af9Q0Fa4Q&feature=fvst at around 3 minutes in) Paul goes on to explain why he does not believe it’s the job of gov’t to take one side or another in the debate over evolution and seems more nuanced as far as his practical views (he’s made the point elsewhere that the main arena for the argument is in public education, and given his stance on that subject – that a private sector marketplace of ideas is as more appropriate place to deal with the issue – his personal opinion is, or should be, irrelevant).

    However, he does clearly state that he does not accept evolution as a theory, which seems to agree with his other writings on the subject (mostly that it doesn’t matter). If I’m missing something, I’d be happy to look at yet another version.

    My problem is Paul’s lack of distinction between the scientific use of the term “theory” and philosophical or colloquial use. The idea that that while “absolute proof” does not exist in science as a concept, any theory must be theoretically disproveable, gets to the heart of what exactly science is. For example, you can’t have a scientific theory of whether God does or does not exist because God is “non-disproveable” as a matter of logic. That’s not to side for or against God, just to note that the question is not scientific.

    I do feel it’s relevant to question whether the country needs a president who does not or cannot make this distinction, whether it’s a matter of pandering to the religious right or a lack of understanding as to what science is. I know a number of science-friendly Paul supporters who trust their man not to involve himself in the issue, but it’s not unreasonable to be concerned about having a President who lacks an basic understanding of the meaning of science itself.

  42. Brian Too

    So Ron Paul doesn’t accept evolution as a theory? Perhaps Ron Paul accepts evolution as a fact?

    No? Oh well.

  43. Not only does Ron Paul not accept evolution, he claims to know the Creator himself… and rejects that climate change is anthropogenic too. In both respects (climate and evolution) he falls perfectly in line with what the GOP candidates “think” in general, with the possible exceptions of people like Huntsman (and, more tenuously, Gingrich).

    I have compiled a list of ALL of the 2012 Republican candidates and what they think about climate and evolution. I hope it will prove helpful:

    http://www.lukesci.com/2011/09/06/all-of-the-2012-republican-candidates-on-climate-and-evolution/

    For some brief comments on the recent climate denialism at the GOP debate a couple of days ago see here:

    http://www.lukesci.com/2011/09/09/perry-and-bachmann-press-on-with-climate-denial/

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