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Should Scott Walker go on offense about evolution?

February 17, 2015
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Byron York wants Scott Walker and other Republicans to downplay evolution:

Which means that a candidate should be able to say some version of the following when asked about evolution:

‘I believe God has guided the creation of Earth and all of us on it. There’s a long scientific record of how life developed, and I don’t see any conflict between that science and my own faith in God. I know some people believe humans evolved and God played no part in it. Of course I respect their beliefs, but God’s role in our existence is a foundation of my faith. I believe He created us all.’

York references a 2007 Gallup poll that shows 70% of Americans think a candidate’s views on evolution are irrelevant. Given these data, the logic goes, surely it’s better to quickly “shut down those questions” and address more important matters.

While there’s wisdom in York’s advice, I think he is falling for the pundit’s fallacy. York wants evolution questions avoided, and so he naturally believes it would help Walker to deflect them. A response that waxes on science, faith and a personal God before moving on is a win in York’s book. But it’s not clear that such a response would help Walker.

Since the largely liberal media already can’t stand Walker, they may just continue to hound him. Rather than let the issue go, they may push even stronger and try even harder to paint Walker as anti-science. Walker may hurt himself precisely because he refused to give a straight answer. Instead of backing down by fudging a response, perhaps Walker should do what he does best and piss of his enemies:

No, I don’t believe in evolution. I actually consider myself a creationist. But tell me something: who cares? Who cares what anyone thinks about evolution? Surely you know that the National Science Foundation proved that creationists are just as capable of scientific thinking as anyone else. So unless you’re anti-science or intolerant, you shouldn’t have any problems with creationists. Listen, if you want to know what I think about issues that actually matter, please ask me. Ask me about the economy. Ask me about health care. Even ask me about vaccines or global warming. But don’t waste my time-and yours–on something as irrelevant as the theory of evolution.

There are two key points here. First, whether it would be better for Walker to deflect or confront evolution is a legitimate debate. The answer is not obvious. And second, the only criteria that determines the “better” response is what helps Walker politically. And this latter criteria is where I think York’s analysis fails badly.

Consider his closing paragraph: “Candidates should try not to alienate anyone in the positions they take. Where evolution is concerned, it’s entirely possible to answer the question and at the same time avoid a problem — no matter how much some members of the press might want to stir things up.”

Is York really saying candidates should not try to alienate *anyone*? What about the people who can’t stand him? What about the people who want him to lose? York is wrong on this point. Walker would not be doing his job if he weren’t trying to alienate some people. York also misdiagnoses Walker’s main ‘problem.’ It’s not avoiding fights with the press. It is winning the Republican nomination and then the Presidency. If stirring things with the press helps him with those goals he should stir away.

I admit that I am also guilty of the pundit’s fallacy. It’s well documented that I want to change how we think of creationists. So of course I think Walker would benefit from listening to my suggestion! But given what we know of Walker’s personality, and given his need to shore up the support of social conservatives, we should at least consider the possibility that on evolution, as has already happened on so many issues, being confrontational would help Walker.

And the best part of such a response? Walker would have science on his side.

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