The subject of evolution has come up twice on recent editions of the MSNBC show Hardball, hosted by Chris Matthews. Our host has just discovered that the Republicans have a problem with science, you see, and has decided to explore this troubling development.

Better late than never, I suppose. The Repubs were virulently anti-science all through the Bush administration, but Matthews didn’t seem to care. He might have invited Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science to discuss the issue. But Repubs were in the ascendancy then, meaning that Matthews was inclined to overlook such flaws. Now that it has become fashionable to attack Republicans he feels freer to explore these flaws.

The transcripts of the shows do not seem to have been posted yet. Video of last night’s segment with Republican Rep. Mike Pense is available here.
Video of tonight’s segment, with Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, can be found here.

The Pense interview was revealing. Matthews asked flat out whether Pense believed in evolution, and Pense steadfastly refused to answer. He kept repeating that he believes that “God created the heavens and the Earth, the seas and all that’s in them,” and then tried to get back to his talking points. Matthews nailed him by saying bluntly that he was refusing to take a stand on the issue because a lot of his conservative base would be offended by accepting evolution, while rejecting it outright would make him look stupid.

That was the high point of the interview. Pense quickly lapsed into the standard anti-science talking points. There are really smart people on both sides of issues like evolution and global warming and we just want both sides explored and taught, that sort of thing. People who, unlike Matthews, have some experience with these issues recognize these as the words of a politically savvy creationist. Matthews, sadly, seemed inclined to take them at face value.

Matthews did close by chastising Pense for the fact that the Republican Mt. Rushmore would currently include people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, so I do give him credit for that.

Tonight’s segment with Tom Tancredo was more excruciating. Matthews seems to have forgotten that during one of the Republican primary debates (Tancredo was briefly a candidate) the candidates were asked to raise their hand if they rejected evolution. Tancredo, along with Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, raised their hands. This inspired McCain, who previously professed his belief in evolution, to bactrack a bit by making it clear that he also believed in God. That Matthews should not mention this debate is odd given that he was the host. Full story here.

Anyway, Matthews asked Tancredo what you call someone who believes in (oy! that phrase again) evolution but also believes that God guided the process. The correct answer was “theistic evolution.” Tancredo replied, “intelligent design.” Mathews, not really understanding this issue, let that slide. Matthews also tried desperately to help Tancredo pretend to be something other than virulently ant-science, which created the clear impression that ID was some moderate alternative to evolution.

Tancredo proceeded to unload the standard talking points about how microevolution is fine but there is no evidence for macroevolution and that he and his fellow right-wingers just wanted to have a full and open discussion of the issues, with schoolchildren as the jury. Trust me, you’ve heard it all before.

The simple fact is that most Congressional Republicans don’t care one way or another about this issue. As a friend of mine once explained it to me, there are the Money and Power Republicans, and then there are the Religious Republicans. Most powerful Repubs fall into the former category, but know they must appeal to the latter. Much of their base will hold it against them if they endorse evolution, while very few will hold it against them if they hedge and speak in code. It’s that simple.


  1. #1 Sigmund
    May 7, 2009

    Jason, its not just Republican politicians that care little about biological evolution. I suspect the same goes for the majority of the population. Even within the sciences its easy to find physicists or chemists who don’t find the matter important.
    As for your interpretation of the question of “someone who believes in (oy! that phrase again) evolution but also believes that God guided the process” – I think theistic evolution and intelligent design are simply points on a sliding scale. Most theistic evolutionists seem to hold that God did intervene in human evolution (to give us a soul or as Francis Collins draw droppingly suggested, to create a new species in his image called Homo divinus! )
    If you believe in God but don’t think God intervened in the Universe after the big bang then you are really a deistic evolutionist.

  2. #2 Adrian Morgan
    May 7, 2009

    In response to the comment by Sigmund, I think the biggest difference between theistic evolution and intelligent design is that the former isn’t a political movement. Theistic evolution is a belief about nature; intelligent design is a belief about textbooks.

    Each is silent on issues central to the other. Intelligent design, per se, is silent on whether evolution occurs; theistic evolution, per se, is silent on whether God’s role in creation is scientifically demonstrable.

  3. #3 Catman
    May 7, 2009

    Apparently you missed Wednesday’s little episode. Matthews invited Rep Tom Tanredo to take up for the Republicans’ stand on science, and Tancredo delivered an unchallenged paean to “intelligent design”, repeating several times the creationists’ favorite falsehood that no one has ever found and transitional fossils. Tancredo also gave ID equality with evolutionary theory, claimed to support the “scientific method” and babbles on unchallenged in support of “microevolution” and against “macroevolution”. For his part, Matthews described the scientific method as “you make up a theory then find evidence to prove it”. The whole thing was disgusting.

  4. #4 Keanus
    May 7, 2009

    I watched both interviews and was appalled, not at the evasiveness of Spence or the ignorance of Tancredo—I expected both—but at the lack of preparation by Matthews and his reference to “believing in evolution.” I sent him a hot email, pleading with him to never use the word “believe” or its cognates in reference to science. And I explained as simply as I could that scientist do not believe scientific theories. My point, which I hammered him on, is that when people in the public eye like him speak of believing in evolution, global warming or other scientific theories, they mislead their audience into thinking that science and belief systems like religion are intellectual equivalents. They are not; there are opposite sides of a gulf as wide as the Pacific. I urged him to do better. Here’s hoping he and his colleagues do.

  5. #5 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 7, 2009

    Catman –

    I think you stopped reading after my first few paragraphs! The whole second half of the post is about Tancredo.

  6. #6 Crandaddy
    May 7, 2009


    And I explained as simply as I could that scientist do not believe scientific theories. [emphasis mine]

    Can you honestly not see what’s wrong with this statement? If they don’t believe them, then what attitude do they have toward them? If you want to say they know them rather than belive them, then I would respond that knowledge requires justified true belief, and I think any competent epistemologist would agree.

    What you want to do, I think, is drive an contrived wedge between rational knowledge and that spooky, ethereal, superstitious otherness of belief. It won’t work; the two are inseparably joined.

  7. #7 catman
    May 8, 2009

    You’re right, Jason, I had a terrible knee jerk reaction to the first half and couldn’t help myself. Sorry, I’ll be more thorough next time.

  8. #8 Larry Fafarman
    May 9, 2009

    There is not a dime’s worth of difference between Ken Miller’s “theistic evolution” and Michael Behe’s version of “intelligent design.” They are tweedledum and tweedledee, or six of one and a half-dozen of the other. Miller and Behe both believe in an old earth, common descent, and guided evolution.

    You Darwinists keep treating the word “evolution” like it’s synonymous with “science.” It’s not. There is a lot more to science than evolution.

    Adrian Morgan said (May 7, 2009 5:50 AM) —

    In response to the comment by Sigmund, I think the biggest difference between theistic evolution and intelligent design is that the former isn’t a political movement.

    Are you kidding? Haven’t you heard of the “Clergy Letter Project”? Or the National Center for Science Education’s “Faith Project”?

    Keanus said (May 7, 2009 11:27 AM) —

    I sent him a hot email, pleading with him to never use the word “believe” or its cognates in reference to science.

    WHAT? If, as the saying goes, “seeing is believing,” then how can acceptance of something that one has not even seen — e.g., macroevolution — not also be “belief”?

    Please look up “believe” in the dictionary. You Darwinists are always making up your own definitions of words — “theory” is another example.

  9. #9 darek
    May 10, 2009

    I thought Larry was being facetious until I visited his blog… My goodness, how can one be so involved with something he demonstrates to know so little about.

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