Thoughts on Evolution and Republican Candidates

By all conventional standards of the time, William Jennings Bryant was a liberal.  He ran for president three times as a Democrat. He opposed the gold standard for limiting credit to farms in his famous and spell binding “Cross of Gold” speech. He was a populist who railed eloquently against oil companies and railroads. However, most people remember Bryant as the ardent and literalistic fundamentalist Christian who argued against the teaching of evolution in public schools in the famous Scopes Monkey trial.

How can we square Bryant’s liberalism with a position that many now associate with Republicans? The issue lies with the unfortunate extension of the meaning of the theory of evolution far beyond its legitimate scope. Some people perverted evolution into Social Darwinism, the notion that if some people do poorly in the economy is because they are not a socially fit as the successful. If the rich are more successful, it is consistent with the “scientific” notion of survival of the fittest. Ever the defender of the downtrodden, Bryant unfortunately conflated his Christian concern for the poor, with the necessity to dispute what he viewed as an anti-working-class ideology. At its heart, Bryant was not really making a scientific argument, but a moral one.

The problem for Bryant was he tried to unnecessarily take sides in a science vs. religion dispute. For many there really is no such conflict. Whenever there is an apparent conflict between science and the Bible, the problem is less likely to be science or the Bible, but rather Biblical interpretation or the inappropriate application of science.

It is the thesis here that for many Americans that disputes about evolution represent an unnecessary defense against people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens who who argue that science precludes serious religiosity. It is my suspicion that political figures sympathetic to Intelligent Design is less the result of thorough grappling with the scientific issues, an more a defensive reaction to what I call “evangelical atheists.”

It would be preferable to have Republican presidential candidates with more thoughtful positions on evolution. However, I prefer their faulty Biblical interpretation (from my perspective) to the Constitutional jurisprudence of Democrats who believe that the commerce clause of the Constitution that can extend to grant Congress virtually unlimited powers.

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