Tancredo, Immigration and Evolution

At the Republican presidential debate the other night, Colorado hopeful Tom Tancredo haltingly raised his hand when the moderator asked,”Is there anybody on the stage that does not agree, believe in evolution?”

I confess that Tancredo is giving me doubts about evolution myself. When a single-issue candidate only mentions his single issue twice in an hour-and-a-half on the national stage, how else can you explain it except as a failure to evolve?

Tancredo has to remember that the answer to every question is, “Immigration.” For instance when moderator Chris Matthews passed along this question from the audience, “Do you have a plan to solve the shortage of organs donated for transplant?” Tancredo should have immediately responded, “Yes, I plan to carve the organs out of illegal immigrants.” Instead he said that saving lives via organ transplants isn’t a concern of the government.Tancredo inexplicably failed to mention immigration even when asked about the need for a “national tamper-proof ID card,” which many experts believe is an essential step in enforcing immigration laws. Indeed Tancredo said he was against the national ID. The congressman sounds positively soft on illegal immigrants, what with failing to require proof of residence and refusing to cut out their organs.

But I digress. What caught my attention in this debate is that three of the ten Republican presidential candidates — Tancredo, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and  Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas — don’t “agree, believe in evolution.”

This means conversely — check my arithmetic here — that seven of the ten Republican candidates, or 70 percent, do “agree, believe in evolution.” This is actually a higher percentage than the U.S. as a whole. According to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 42 percent of Americans believe that “humans and other living things have existed in present form only.” Fifty-one percent say they evolved over time. Seven percent of Americans can be relied upon not to know anything, regardless of the subject.

In the presidential debate, one problem was with the way Chris Matthews phrased the question. In the end he asked whether the candidates “believe in evolution.” As Republicans and Democrats alike propound the virtues of “sound science,” Matthews could as easily have asked whether they believe the earth is round, whether they believe in the theory of gravity, whether they accept quantum theory, or the theory of relativity.

Evolution is not a “belief” in the same category as selecting a personal theology. Evolution is an established scientific fact, on as firm a biological footing as gravity is on a physical one.

Heliocentrism — the idea that the earth revolves around the sun — became established science in 17th century. At the time, this conclusion was considered a threat to religion, a contradiction of the clearly stated word of the Bible. Over the 375 years since Galileo was censured by the Catholic Church, the question has become less controversial — although one in five Americans still believes that the sun revolves around the earth, according to data compiled by Northwestern University’s Jon D. Miller.

Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, so his ideas on evolution and natural selection have only had about 150 years to percolate through society. Galileo and Copernicus have a substantial head start, but they’ve still only persuaded 80 percent of Americans over to their side. The fact that Darwinism has already convinced about 50 percent of the people puts it well on the way to making up lost ground.

Despite the persuasive science and practical improvements brought about by these scientific advances,  there remain people who  deny the laws of gravity, who are convinced the earth is flat, are convinced that the sun revolves around the earth. In deference to them, Chris Matthews should ask about these issues in the next Republican go-round.

Curiously, while conservatives have been best known for their adherence to creationism as an alternative to Darwinism, Northern Illinois University professor Larry Arnhart says that Darwinian natural selection provides the basis for bedrock conservative values, like free market capitalism and the traditional roles of men and women.

Arnhart told the New York Times, “I do indeed believe conservatives need Charles Darwin. The intellectual vitality of conservatism in the 21st century will depend on the success of conservatives in appealing to advances in the biology of human nature as confirming conservative thought.”

After the debate, Tancredo put out a clarifying statement on his position on evolution, saying “Evolution explains changes in life. Creationism explains its origin.” Now if he can only explain why he’s stopped talking about about immigration. Immigration. IMMIGRATION!

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Dan Whipple

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