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Why are Darwin’s theories such a sensitive issue in America but not England?

Why are Darwin’s theories such a sensitive issue in America but not England?

Suggesting it was a taboo for all politicians, Scott Walker refused to answer BBC journalist Justin Webb when asked if he believed in and accepted the theory of evolution.

“I’m going to punt on that one,” Walker said. His answer stunned Webb, the moderator of the event, who said that no British politician would hesitate to acknowledge evolution.

Mark Oppenheimer wrote about this in the New York Times Beliefs column, noting that none of the likely Republican candidates for President have openly embraced evolution.

From the article:

The theory of evolution may be supported by a consensus of scientists, but none of the likely Republican candidates for 2016 seem to be convinced. Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida said it should not be taught in schools. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas is an outright skeptic. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas will not talk about it. When asked, in 2001, what he thought of the theory, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said, “None of your business.”

Later in the article, David N. Hempton, dean of Harvard Divinity School originally hailing from Northern Ireland, suggests that the difference lay in the electorate, claiming that most British residents accept evolution.

Studies and statistics don’t bear this out, and suggest that both countries are increasingly scientifically illiterate. At least half of all British residents are skeptical, confused, or outright dismissive of Darwin and the theory of evolution, per a study conducted by Theos and ComRes. (Rescuing Darwin, 2009) In America, Gallup found that 42% favor creationism over evolution. (Gallup Values and Beliefs 2014)

It seems clear from other answers that at least some of the likely candidates for President do actually accept the theory of evolution, but either don’t want to say so or feel that it’s better to deny it while on the campaign trail.

Why do you think that British politicians are comfortable asserting the theory of evolution where American politicians are not? Is it meaningful that the divide seems to be based on party lines? Does it say anything about our political system that our politicians seem to try and identify with the electorate on matters of faith and belief in a way that British politicians do not?


Posted by David Streever


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Susan Moritz

According to a TIME interview with his high-school science teacher, Scott Walker did study evolution:
But it’s not surprising that he came back from England and announced a plan to de-fund the University of Wisconsin:

Darwin published “Origin of Species” a little more than a year before the Civil War began. Ultra-conservative Republican politicians and commentators are still fighting the Civil War in terms of states’ rights and racism. The Scopes trial was in 1925, and that too is still being played out in this country.

Belief in God and “belief” in evolution are clearly different orders of belief. Sincere supporters of creationism presumably rely on their own experience of God. But for some American politicians, political commentators, and “journalists,” creationism and fundamentalist religion in general are a means of getting power—power for themselves and their backers, and power over people who might otherwise sense that, as another comment here has said, the politicians aren’t serving their best interests.

This kind of manipulation undoubtedly isn’t new, but—at least as compared with the 1960s—the scale and the brazenness and the sanctimony of it are. The attempt now is to de-fund government itself, and to make it impossible for the federal government to function for the common good. (“Starve the beast.”) It’s easier, and evidently more effective, to appeal to voters’ fears and prejudices than to argue policy.

A neighboring thread on the pastoral letter from the bishops of the Church of England sets out political differences pre- and post-Thatcher that parallel what’s been happening in the United States. Mark Oppenheimer’s article in the Times describes differences in the educational systems of Britain and the U.S. The British interviewer had the grace to be surprised when Scott Walker “punted” the question of evolution, and Conservative politicians in Britain are perhaps too well educated to even want to debate it.

Charles Darwin himself struggled with the implications of his scientific findings. (An article by Martin Gardner for Carnegie Mellon University has a moving selection of quotes from Darwin’s autobiography: Darwin was honest scientifically and spiritually. He was a brilliant and good man. Opportunistic politicians should be shamed by him. I don’t believe that Americans are dumber than a box of rocks, but I think many American politicians do believe that and are banking on it.

Philip Snyder

Were I a politician who was asked such a penetrating question regarding my preferred policies for governing (/sarcasm) is two fold: “First, which version of Evolution do you support? (There are several in vogue right now)” and “What difference does this mean towards my policies?

I do not accept “naked” Darwinism – where species evolved with no plan or outside influence. Nor do I accept the Creation Myths of Genesis as scientific fact. I believe that God used some process to set up His desired outcome in terms of the species that exist. That process might look a lot like evolution and it might not.

The problem is that Science and Religion answer two different types of questions. Science answers “how” and “when” rather well. Religion answers “who” and “why.” The two are complimentary, not opposed to each other.

Jon White

I believe American antipathy to ‘expertise’ is a long-standing tradition. It was basically Andrew Jackson’s whole platform in running for President. And this antipathy does not hew to political or class lines, though I would suggest it has been enhanced as a value amongst those influenced by Ayn Rand. It also an important distinction that parliamentary politics, as in the UK, is based more on party rather than any individual candidate. MP’s are expected to tow the party line whereas we in the US sort of admire mavericks and independents. Its not that personality isn’t important in the UK, but voters are primarily choosing a governing party (and divided government is essentially an impossibility).

Anand Gnanadesikan

I think there is a deeper issue in that Americans of both parties are fundamentally skeptical about claims made on the basis of “authority”. Unfortunately this is how evolution is often taught in schools. So American conservatives Christians tend to reject what they perceive as elite authority undermining a Christian worldview.

By contrast, in the UK, there is a tendency among conservatives to uphold authority, particularly elite authority. And among British liberals, as among American liberals, there is a belief in the authority of science. Evolution doesn’t have power as a “flag”.

Dorian Borsella

My speculation is that the English have stronger identifications with the 2 major parties, Conservative and Labor; that these parties have class connotations, and there is more working-class solidarity. There are also fewer candidates. In the U.S., class is fragmented. Middle to lower income whites too often identify with Republicans, traditionally the party that would not have their best interests at heart. As another reader noted, in U.S. there are lengthy political campaigns and many candidates. Politicians try to conceal their views (before elections!) as they try to alienate as few groups as possible. Their worst crime would be to come off as an intellectual, and the result is that they sometimes come off as unintelligent. I know this skirts around the question of evolution. I can’t imagine how evolution and natural selection can be disbelieved. Something happened to the U.S. around the l980’s, with the growing of large fundamentalist denominations. (Sorry for so many generalizations- I’m just seeking to understand). Dorian

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