During a televised debate among GOP presidential candidates last month in California, Sen. John McCain of Arizona was asked whether he believes in evolution. McCain first answered with one word: “Yes.” Then he quickly added: “I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also.”
That bit of fence walking might remind some people of what comedian W.C. Fields, a life-long atheist, said when he was discovered reading a Bible shortly before his death. When a friend asked incredulously what he was doing, Fields responded: “Looking for loopholes.”
But a recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll suggests McCain’s attempt to have it both ways is not an uncommon view. One-quarter of Americans think evolution, a scientific theory on the origins of life, and creationism, the biblical description of how life began, are both likely explanations. But in the world of politics, reality is too often shaped by what it takes to win over the relatively small number of voters who take part in a political party’s selection process ”” not the thinking of a wider group of people.
Whatever the reason, three of the GOP presidential wannabes standing with McCain that day gave a much different answer. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado answered with a show of hands when a reporter asked, “Is there anybody on the stage that does not agree, believe in evolution?”
This month, during a GOP debate in New Hampshire, Huckabee was asked about his rejection of evolution. “To me, it’s pretty simple,” the Baptist minister answered. “A person either believes that God created this process or believes that it was an accident and that it just happened all on its own.”
In politics, few things are described so simply. But for many members of the religious right ”” an influential bloc in the GOP’s presidential candidate selection process ”” answers to questions of faith have no middle ground. This is especially so in the long-running debate over the beginning of life.