Commentators Debate Effects of Palin's Creationist Views

on September 20, 2008
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The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Palin’s Creationist Views Would Endanger U.S. Progress” Commentators continue to weigh in on the nominees for U.S. vice president—and Sarah Palin’s possible creationist views are frequently center stage.

Arthur Caplan, chairman of the medical ethics department at the University of Pennsylvania, is the latest to take aim at Palin for her possible views on origins. In an opinion piece, Caplan argues that Palin’s nomination “forces out into the open the question of whether the United States can compete in world markets that rely on our scientific and technical prowess with a creationist as vice president or president.”

A threat to “the future of our children, your health, and the nation's economy.”

The lightning rod for the criticism of Caplan and others is a comment Palin made in a televised debate in 2006, where she declared that schools should “teach” both rather than being “afraid of information.” Palin revised her comments the next day, clarifying, “I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”

In Caplan’s view, though, having someone in office who thinks students should be allowed to discuss creation means:

  • A threat to “the future of our children, your health, and the nation's economy.”
  • “The United States can kiss goodbye any chance this nation has of using biomedical science to take on the rest of the world in biotechnology, alternative-energy technology, synthetic biology or genetics.”
  • “[W]e can more or less kiss goodbye any chance we have of using our current prowess in biomedical science to drive our economy forward[.]”
  • “[T]he odds are lower that America can tap biological science to work our way out of global warming, oil dependency, pollution, dying oceans, and finding new ways to grow healthy food.”

With views like these, no wonder he concludes that voting for Palin—“or any creationist”—is like voting for “the lifestyles of the 19th century.” Apparently, in Caplan’s mind, it doesn’t even matter what your political views are, or if you think creation shouldn’t be taught in schools; if you believe in creation, you’re automatically unqualified!

Caplan certainly isn’t alone. The author(s) of a Rutland Herald opinion piece earlier this week argue—without any apparent basis, other than Palin’s “teach both” comment—that she “not only doesn’t believe in basic science, she celebrates the fact.” That opinion piece concludes:

At no time in history has humanity been more reliant on scientific knowledge. Virtually everything we touch is the result of human engineering, from safe drinking water to the light switch on the wall to most of our foods. Even organic foods are the result of generations of farmers selectively breeding and planting to improve their output. The biological mechanism that allows generational improvement of crops to work is evolution, a concept which over half the American public does not believe in, including Sarah Palin.

Some thoughts for Caplan, et al.: first, these writers are ignoring the very substantial difference between origins science and operations science. It’s one thing for an engineer to invent a device and perfect it through repeated experimentation, trial, and correction; it’s a very different thing for a paleoanthropologist to discover a few pieces of primate bone and, through layers of interpretation, conjecture, and artistry, attempt to establish it as a definitive new species of ape-man.

One’s belief about how life formed doesn’t influence whether one can understand renewable energy technologies.

Likewise, one’s belief about how life formed doesn’t influence whether one can understand renewable energy technologies, find new ways to combine technology and medicine, pioneer sustainable agricultural techniques, and so forth. In fact, if it weren’t for an ardent creationist, society wouldn’t have the lifesaving MRI scanner. Many—if not most—of the great scientists of the past believed in biblical creation as well, and there are numerous qualified scientists today who accept the Bible’s account of origin and many more who, while not necessarily biblical creationists, do dissent from Darwin. And what moral motivation would a true Darwinist have for wanting to help the weak survive—thus impeding the process of natural selection? (You can read more about this topic in Science or the Bible?

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t point out that the “biological mechanism” allowing “generational improvement” of crops is not evolution; rather, artificial selection allows farmers to select the best traits—out of traits produced by already-existing genetic information (see “By What Means?”).

As for Sarah Palin, we’ve outlined what is known about her could-be creationist views in Is She Really a Creationist? And it seems to be nothing short of arrogant overconfidence to accuse Palin—or anyone—of not believing in basic science and “celebrating the fact” merely because we have different opinions about which theories are scientific and which aren’t.


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