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Politics and evolution: who cares?

John Sandberg | Monday, September 19, 2011

Dear GOP presidential hopefuls and political pundits: I would like to respectfully ask you to discontinue your talks on evolution as a political discussion and shift the debate to issues that, well … matter. It’s not that the issue doesn’t make for entertaining debate so much as I (and presumably most people) would prefer to listen to the next President of the United States talk about things that might have some meaningful effect on my life. Come to think of it, the debate itself is not entertaining either, but that’s beside the point.

Until recently I was certain that all of the attention I would give to human evolution was wrapped up in my fifth grade science class at St. Mary’s Elementary: a bajillion years ago human beings were not actually human beings, but basically monkeys, and over time we morphed into the creatures that we are today.

But what about Adam and Eve? The Creation Story illustrated in the Book of Genesis may not be a scientific account of the creation of human beings, but it is nonetheless significant in its message of God’s care, love and purpose for creating human beings. So Genesis might not actually be a true story? Scientifically speaking, no. But what is true is the portrayal of God as the Creator of all things and that human beings were made in His image, something unique to us alone. Considering this, whether or not we began as homo-sapiens or yet-to-evolve humans is seemingly irrelevant.

So, I can believe in evolution AND God? Absolutely. Cool … hey, I think mom packed Gushers in my lunch today!

It all seemed reasonable enough to me. Little did I know this would turn out to be a hot political issue. We have Jon Huntsman on attack in the Sept. 12 GOP debate, accusing his opponents of calling “into question the science of evolution.” Then there is Gov. Rick Perry, accused of “not believing in science” for stating that evolution is a theory that “has some gaps in it,” and Rep. Michele Bachman, saying only that she believes in “intelligent design,” but not necessarily evolution. Finally, there are the left-leaning personalities who have taken this discord in the Republican Party as an opportunity to call it the “Anti-Science” Party … zing! Nerd trash-talk at its finest.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1987 that teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional, as it promotes a particular religion. It does not appear that this decision is going to be repealed any time soon, so why is it still discussed in a political race taking place nearly a quarter of a century after the ruling was made? Social issues become popular in any presidential campaign, and the Republican candidates can expect to win some votes from the socially-conservative right wing by taking conservative stances on a variety of social issues. Evolution qualifies as one of those issues. As for me, I would rather hear a candidate tell me what he or she is going to do when elected that will have some practical results in the country. An immediate revision of 1987’s Edwards v. Aguillard seems unlikely following the 2012 election.

If the self-proclaimed leaders of the country want to talk about education, then let’s talk about education. Let’s talk about the fact that the United States has continually finished behind China and a host of other countries in the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment.

Let’s talk about “the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated,” as Education Secretary Arne Duncan put it, and let’s talk about what we can do to stop it. Let’s talk about the sky rocketing costs of a college education, where $30,000 tuition is moderate. On that note, let’s talk about the absurd price of text books, and why three amended pages in Chapter 11 and a revised prologue constitutes a new $75 edition, rendering last year’s $65 version of the same book archaic. Let’s talk about affirmative action. Let’s talk about school vouchers for private education. Let’s talk about why no changes have been made in school districts throughout the country that have now had shoddy high school graduation rates for decades.

It doesn’t take a Notre Dame student to understand what is relevant when it comes to this issue. Any student can tell you what the nut-and-bolts of education are, and none of them include nonsensical talks of creationism vs. evolution. So, 2012 Republican nominee, please grant this constituent a favor and do what you claim to do best: Be a leader and guide this debate in the right direction.

John is a sophomore English major from Littleton, Colo. He is a fan of the Chicago Cubs, Dave Matthews Band and good Mexican food. He can be reached at jsandbe1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.