The MSNBC debate last month took presidential debates to a place they’ve never been before when the Republican candidates were asked for a show of hands if they believed in evolution. Mike Huckabee did not raise his hand that evening in South Carolina, so perhaps it is unsurprising that he was asked Tuesday night in New Hampshire just what exactly he believes about human origins. Sensibly, Huckabee wondered aloud what the relevance of the question was to his ability to do the job of president of the United States. Nevertheless, it was clear enough that he had practiced his answer when he won the applause of the crowd by stating that he viewed the bald question as one of whether he believes in God and believes God created man. Taking that as the question, he stated his belief in “a God who knows us and loves us and created us for His own purpose.”
Sensing Huckabee had not pigeonholed himself as a young earth creationist, an old earth creationist, an intelligent design advocate, or a theistic evolutionist, Wolf Blitzer pressed for more details as to how Huckabee thought it all happened. Huckabee reiterated that he did not know how or how long. Disaster for a hungry media waiting to pounce. Huckabee looked good offering the position of a majority of Americans.
We could talk about the how’s and why’s of evolution, but the more interesting question politically is the one Huckabee asked before beginning his winning (if well-rehearsed) answer: Why is it relevant whether or not he believes in evolution? As the governor pointed out, he’s not signing up to design eighth grade science curricula. The answer to his question is that the evolution-denier (have I coined a term?) is the bogeyman in the secularist’s closet. If you were to look under the bed of Michael Moore or perhaps George Soros, there’s a good chance William Jennings Bryan would be lurking under the bed ready to pounce at the first hint of a nightmare from Jesusland. Many members of the media are similarly minded and, doggone it, they want to know if there are any Republican candidates savvy enough to believe in evolution and are thus possibly not a threat to blow up the world as part of God’s plan for apocalypse.
The dirty little secret of Democrat party politics is that secularists fill a role very similar to the one occupied by evangelicals on the Republican side. They are becoming a reliable voting bloc. There is a far larger religion gap than there is a gender gap, but only the latter has been extensively covered. Christian fundamentalism is frequently emphasized, but secularism is completely missed. It has only been in the most recent election cycle (2006) that the “God gap” has received significant attention and then it was to emphasize that religious voters were coming back to the Democratic party. Coverage has typically been short on attention to secularists, focusing instead on the movement of religious voters.
Political scientists Gerald De Maio and Louis Bolce have pointed out that one never hears about how the Democrats “have shorn up their base among the unchurched, atheists, and agnostics.” Nevertheless, when you see evolution suddenly become a persistent issue in presidential debates, something very much like that shoring up is happening. Markers are being set out. “Stay away from this wicked person, my son. He has inadequate respect for the marriage of molecules and random chance.”
One wonders what John Locke would think of all this. The implication of the evolution question is that a person who insists upon God’s creative action upon the world and the beings in it is possibly unfit for office. Locke had a similar opinion about atheists. Of course he didn’t just suggest they weren’t fit for office. He thought they were unfit for civil society.