Commentators, half-amused and half-outraged, like to point fingers when right-wing politicians hem and haw about fundamentalist religious beliefs vs. science. On global warming, for example, Alex Pareene at Salon.com complains that “Rick Perry believes in curing droughts by praying. God help us.” The latest squawks concern an answer by Perry, the elephant-of-the-moment, to a question about evolution: “It’s a theory that’s out there” which has “got some gaps in it,” the Texas governor told a child at a campaign event, but “in Texas we teach both creationism and evolution.” (They don’t, though – at least not officially.)
The standard take on such statements is that the candidate is intellectually smart enough to know that evolution happens, but politically smart enough to know that he can’t say so because he’ll lose the fundamentalist vote; hence, he obfuscates. Angry voters can get even more incensed than pundits. “Ask him why he doesn’t believe in science!” yelled the mother of the child posing the original question. (The poor kid didn’t ask, and Perry declined to respond anyway.)
Will the American people elect more and more leaders who really believe that (Christian) religious beliefs trump science, whether it’s evolution or stem cells? Shouldn’t the ascendence of our first Muslim President have put all such people in their places once and for all?
Of course not. By definition, willful ignorance cannot be force-cured.
It would be easy enough to wag an outraged finger at Rick Perry. But is it worth the wag? It’s much too early to know which Republican candidates will survive the early primaries, and liberals will have almost no say in the matter. Plus, things are especially wide open this time around, with – for the first time – the emergence of virtual candidates.
That’s right, virtual candidates. One rival’s response to Perry came via Twitter: Jon Huntsman, whom nobody’s actually seen yet (except in Vogue), tweeted his support for the almost 100-year-old scientific consensus known as the theory of evolution. Huntsman also “trusts scientists” on the much more recent consensus about global warming. Is he just trying to distinguish himself from the pack by this suicidal behavior? Is he a one-man Democratic sleeper cell? Or is he just an irrelevance?
Time (and primaries) will tell. For now, like evolution, these people are just theories, out there somewhere.