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.
Links to this Post
- The US Republican Party Hates Science | Gizmodo Australia | August 29, 2011
- No Laughing Matter (More’s the Pity) « Galileo's Pendulum | August 29, 2011