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A candidate for U.S. vice president has suggested debate on origins should be allowed in state-run schools. But is she really a creationist?
On Friday at Dayton, Ohio’s Nutter Center—which AiG once rented for a major origins debate/conference—Senator John McCain introduced Governor Sarah Palin as his out-of-the-blue choice for vice presidential running mate for the Republican Party ticket in November’s presidential election. Within hours of the announcement, political commentators—from quick-posting bloggers to TV analysts like Eleanor Clift of the venerable PBS-TV program The McLaughlin Group—were expressing scorn about the Alaskan governor as a creationist.
Before we look at Gov. Palin’s beliefs on creation/evolution (she has certainly shown a willingness to express her doubts about the scientific validity of evolution), we should add that caution needs to be exercised in this area before confidently declaring her to be a biblical young-earth creationist. There are all kinds of origins views that span a spectrum that is bookended by a literal Genesis creation on one end and naturalistic evolution on the other. Most politicians, when asked about their origins beliefs, try to answer somewhere between the two bookends, settling into a comfortable place in between so as not to alienate those who believe in a Creator (the overwhelming majority of Americans) while protecting themselves from allegations that they reject mainstream science.1 We recall that in 2007, Republican candidate for president Gov. Mike Huckabee put up his hand during a debate to show that he did not believe in evolution. Some creationists quickly rejoiced, concluding that Mr. Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, must believe in a literal, straightforward reading of Genesis. Later, however, he made it clear that he did not necessarily want to be identified with young-earth creationism, saying that he was not sure about a six-day creation.2
Although the AiG ministry does not issue political recommendations and will not (in fact, cannot per IRS restrictions) be an advocate for any presidential or vice presidential candidate, we believe that during a time when the creation/evolution debate is hot enough in today’s “culture wars” to become an issue again in a presidential campaign, we will briefly look at the few comments we have found from Gov. Palin on her views about creation/evolution. The statements we have found thus far were made while she was a candidate for governor, when asked about the teaching of biological origins in Alaska’s public schools.
In 2006, then-candidate Palin indicated in a TV debate that creation should be taught alongside evolution in the state’s public schools, declaring that schools should “teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.”3 Now, in stating this, she may have been advocating the teaching of scientific creationism, as opposed to biblical creationism4 (the latter having been deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 19875), but we don’t really know.
“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 an interview the next day, Palin (if the Anchorage Daily News report is correct) appeared to backpedal somewhat, saying that she meant to say that a discussion of alternative views should be allowed but not forced on students, adding: “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 other words, Palin was not suggesting that the teaching of creation should be mandated (perhaps realizing that her statement the day before came across as arguing that creation must be in the science curriculum).
The Anchorage newspaper also reported her as saying she would not push the state’s board of education (governors in Alaska appoint board members, and the legislators confirm them) to add creationist alternatives to evolution to the state’s curriculum. The paper asked for her personal view on evolution, and she said, “I believe we have a creator.”
Gov. Palin’s clarification of her views on the teaching of origins in public schools mirrors AiG’s general view: biblical creation should not be forced into classrooms, specifically because science teachers with a strong belief in evolution would teach creation poorly, so it would ultimately be counterproductive for the students. The better tactic would be to follow through on the Supreme Court’s ruling6 that teachers are “free to teach any and all facets” of all the scientific theories concerning the origins of humankind (p. 9 of the ruling). In other words, the court decision offered an opportunity for alternatives of evolution to be taught in public schools, so long as they were not mandated and avoided religious content. Teachers, of course, have always had the academic freedom in the United States to present the problems with evolution in tax-supported schools, and they do not really need the U.S. Supreme Court to give them that permission. But the court has clearly affirmed this right.
Incidentally, it should be noted that there is no such position as a “neutral” or “non-religious” stance in this debate. Public school biology textbooks and many teachers explain the origin of the universe and life through “natural” processes, defining science as explaining things by “natural” processes. They are indoctrinating students in an atheistic religious belief—that no god is or has been involved; thus, naturalism—in essence, atheism—is now the religion taught in public schools. Parents need to wake up to the fact that public education is not non-religious. Even the Bible affirms that one is either for Christ or against—clearly teaching that there is no such “neutral” position.
At the very least, though, schoolteachers should be encouraged to present the compelling scientific arguments against evolution in their science classes, even if they would prefer not to get into the scientific arguments for creation. Teachers should be free also to teach the real nature of the origins debate, including the difference between one’s beliefs about history and the origin of things (origins science) versus one’s observation of the present physical world that has led to the great technological advances we see today (observational science). Once students understand this difference, they will be much more aware of how to critically analyze and interpret facts in regard to the origins debate.
We will continue to seek out additional comments from Gov. Palin regarding her beliefs on creation/evolution. We were encouraged to learn that the church she has attended, Wasilla Bible Church north of Anchorage, seems to have a theologically conservative statement of faith.7 While the church is not precise about how it stands regarding taking the creation account of Genesis literally, the statement of faith does say that “we believe in the Bible as the only inspired inerrant Word of God authoritative for faith and practice” and that “we believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Who is the creator and sustainer of all things.”8 As a Christian, she does seem to hold to other beliefs that can be found in the book of Genesis, such as marriage (Genesis 2:24) being between a man and woman (she is opposed to “gay” marriage) and a pro-life, anti-abortion position (in accordance with Genesis 1:27).