The Republicans threw a curve ball for the nation when John McCain announced that his vice presidential running mate would be Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. She has received a great deal of criticism on almost every aspect of her public and personal life, including her stance on the creation/evolution debate.
The issue surfaced in a 2006 debate when Palin was running for governor. Regarding presenting creationism as an alternative theory in science classrooms, Palin was quoted in the Anchorage Daily News as saying, “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information.” She recounts that as the daughter of a science teacher, she learned both creationism and evolution. “It’s been a healthy foundation for me. But don’t be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.”1
Science blogger Massimo Pigliucci cited Palin’s statements in a recent online article. “Now this is disingenuous at best,”2 he wrote. “Education is not about having ‘kids debate both sides,’ since most kids would probably conclude that the earth is flat and at the center of the universe.…Learning critical thinking is not a matter of being exposed to a ‘fair and balanced’ view of everything and be told ‘you decide.’ Rather, it proceeds through learning about logic, about assessing evidence, and about the many ways in which human senses and reasoning abilities can fail us if we are not on guard.”
Anyone would agree that the next generation of innovators and leaders must be critical thinkers in order to address the world’s problems. But against what must students be “on guard”? Logic and evaluating evidence are tools used to analyze the world around us, and so far that same logic and evaluation has led many scientists and others to believe that the evidence speaks of a Creator God rather than random chance and natural selection. Limiting how the evidence can be interpreted puts educators in the interesting position of not teaching students, but instead conditioning them to recite the “correct” answers without a second thought to other possible explanations.
According to his own self-imposed criteria, Pigiliucci claims that “‘teaching both’ [creationism and evolution] isn’t going to cut it, because creationism is simply not even in the ballpark of the best ideas ever produced by humanity. On the contrary, it is superstitious nonsense that harks back to an earlier era of ignorance about how the world works.” He further quotes Arkansas Governor Mike Hucakbee’s 2007 statement, “I believe God created the heavens and the earth.…I wasn’t there when he did it, so how he did it, I don’t know,”3 followed by the smug comment, “These are lines straight out of the Institute for Creation Research talk book….[I]f you are from Alaska, Alabama, Mississippi or a variety of other places along the Ignorance Belt you can keep falling behind in quality of life and ability to compete in a world where science plays an increasingly central role in our lives.”2
Individuals such as Pigiliucci have taken their cue from Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Meyers, and other evolutionary supporters in their active condemnation and ridicule of anyone who doesn’t agree with their own platforms. Pigiliucci doesn’t seem as interested in the Republican candidates’ actual views on the creation/evolution question—which they have been steering clear of since the primaries—as he is in having yet another stage to present his biases. Science is certainly an important issue to consider in choosing whom we want to hold the reins of our country for the next four years, but it isn’t the only one to consider. Pigiliucci would do better to stick to conducting scientific research that will help develop real solutions to real problems, rather than maligning those who value academic freedom and healthy debate.
- Kizzia, T. ‘Creation science’ enters the race. Anchorage Daily News. Posted online October 27, 2006, accessed September 3, 2008.
- Pigliucci, M. Is Sarah Palin a Creationist? Posted on scientificblogging.com September 1, 2008, accessed September 3, 2008.
- Huckabee bristles at creationism query. Associated Press, December 5, 2007.
* Ms. Dao is Assistant Editor.
Article posted on September 10, 2008.