A Republican Speaks Of Evolution

"I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose." - Sam Brownback, Republican candidate for President of the U.S.A.

In the NY Times edition of May 31, 2007 Sam Brownback, a Republican senator from Kansas who is a candidate for the Presidency of the USA commented on a recent question about evolution that he and other Republican candidates were asked concerning their ‘belief’ in evolution. Brownback wrote in an op-ed piece entitled “What I Think About Evolution” as follows:

In our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves. So I suppose I should not have been surprised earlier this month when, during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.

The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason. The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it. There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality. Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.

Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person. The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose. While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Without hesitation, I am happy to raise my hand to that.

Are you happy to raise your hand to that?

Posted May 31, 2007


Roger Spenser said...

I agree that the question of whether the universe (and mankind) had a creator or is just a mechanistic series of events with no beginning and no end has nothing to do with evolution.

I also agree that most people of ‘faith’ are quite conversant with the theory of evolution and accept its basic reality – those who don’t are generally of the more fundamentalist leaning.

However, I disagree with Brownback when he says:

”While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order.”

How can anyone be ‘certain’ about such a thing? On the one hand Brownback is inviting more stones to be turned yet he presupposes the outcome of this search before any search has taken place. I think we will never be certain whether or not God exists or the world is just a physical ‘happening’.

I wish instead of “we can say with conviction that we know with certainty...” he had said “it is my conviction that to a high degree of probability...”


Elizabeth Murray said...


I agree with you but I would go further in saying that Brownback's comment that

”Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.”

is also not acceptable as a rational position to me as an atheist. Brownback has declared what is true and then says that any science that might dare to show that this ‘truth’ might not in fact be so is ‘atheistic theology posing a science’.

Didn’t Galileo fight this battle centuries ago? And what is ‘atheistic theology’ anyway?

Any Brownback supporters out there want to explain this?

Reason rules!

Megan Zamprelli said...

Unfortunately politicians rarely say anything with clarity as they want to offend no one and if possible being in the middle of every issue where they can claim both sides of the issue.

Brownback says he is wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I can’t see what evolution has to do with undermining my place in the cosmos as it is what it is.

I wonder if the other candidates are now going to be seeking NY Times space to clarify their positions? It’s somewhat amusing that secular humanists etc are so accepted in Europe and run for any political office they want without anyone paying much attention to their private beliefs. I guess no one can be elected in the U.S. if they don’t make some sort of ‘sacrifice’ to God.


Vinny Hall said...

The sad thing is that for the next two years we will be back to inane discussions on abortion, gay marriage and evolution as if these had anything to do with the problems we are facing e.g. Iraq, Iran, North Korea, global warming, spiraling health care costs, all manufacturing in the USA being moved offshore mainly to China.

What are we going to do if China invades Taiwan? Are we going to object and then have every product we need in the U.S. shut off? We don’t seem able to make our own toothpaste or dog food anymore.

Meanwhile this election will be decided on whether or not a couple of same sex individuals want to get married.

We need to wake up and do something about the media and the politicians who are feeding us this stuff and insulting our intelligence.


Avid Reader said...

Jeanette Winterson (British author of ‘Oranges Aren’t The Only Fruit’) speaking with Bill Moyers on “Faith & Reason” commented that if you believed in Creationism and Armageddon then everything in the middle was taken care of.

Questions about evolution to candidates is leading down this road to asking even more ridiculous questions about the beginning and the end.

Let’s hope we move on to the serious issues!


Peter said...

Good book, DM! She also makes the point that religion, philosophy etc ‘evolve’ just like science. It’s only when we get stuck in the science of the past or the religious beliefs of the past that stasis occurs and violence about the ‘truth’ emerges.

Most people I know accept evolution in their theological thinking – I certainly do. Thankfully only a few have not made this evolution but unfortunately that is the element that is causing some of the world’s greatest problems today.

Take care,

Diana Malcolm said...

Well I guess just like the Republicans the Democrats are heading into a discussion on faith so I guess we are going to have to suffer through their analysis of evolution too! Clinton, Obama and Edwards are going to take part with an evangelical minister on a discussion of faith, values and poverty.

ABC News reported today – I quote:

Begin quote:
The evangelical minister hosting Monday's discussion of faith, values and poverty with Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former North Carolina Democratic Sen. John Edwards sees 2008 as a turning point for faith-based progressives. "I think the 2008 election will be dramatically different from the 2004 election in relationship to issues of faith and values," the Rev. Jim Wallis told ABC News. "The Democratic front-runners are all people who are clearly more comfortable in church as people of faith -- relating their faith to politics -- than the top Republican front-runners." Wallis is the author of "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It" and the founder of Sojourners, the largest national network of progressive Christians.

"You can imagine the Democratic front-runners knowing the psalms in church, knowing when to clap at the right time and knowing what comes next in the service," Wallis told ABC News, "and the Republican front-runners kind of squirming awkwardly and, you know, not knowing the music and clapping at the wrong time, and looking at their watch to see when the service gets finished."

Even though Wallis has become somewhat of a go-to person for the Democratic Party on issues connecting faith and politics, he has invited the top-three Republican contenders -- former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to participate in a similar discussion of faith, values and poverty in September. Wallis has not yet received commitments from any of the top-tier Republican candidates, though one campaign, which Wallis declined to identify, told Wallis it wanted to learn more about the forum after receiving the invitation.

"I've talked to Democrats over the years who were people of faith but who felt almost 'in the closet' in their own party," said Wallis. "They didn't feel like they could really talk about faith. Now they can. That's a dramatic change. That's important because people of faith should not be in any party's political pocket. We should be the ultimate swing vote."
End quote

Well let’s see what they say!

Di Di

Roger Spenser said...

Diana – I saw this. Best line was from John Edwards who said that he prays and sins every day. I think he is perhaps the most honest about religion. Clinton seemed a uncomfortable with the whole thing.

But I agree, with all the problems in the world I really don’t need to know how or when and of these candidates “sin”. I think what is happening here is that the media are making the political process into some kind of reality entertainment show.

It’s a pity but that is the level of the media intelligence today.


Diana Malcolm said...


I thought Clinton was quite candid. She did say that but for her faith, she might not have made it through ex-president Bill Clinton's infidelity. At the time of that difficulty I was quite in awe of how she held her head up despite the awful public embarrassment her husband was putting her through at the time.

Obama saying: "I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper," struck me as a bit prepared.

I guess what it all means is that there is a huge religious vote that the Republicans think they have locked up and the Democrats are going to wear their own religious colors and go after them.

What we are seeing here is “pulpit politics” in a country that preaches separation of church and state and won’t permit prayer in schools. The whole thing is somewhat hypocritical.

Di Di

Neil said...

I thought this recent Republican debate was excellent. There were a lot of issues covered and the format was very good.

I thought on the subject of religion that Mike Huckabee was very strong which was not surprising given that he is an ordained pastor. When asked whether he believed in creationism rather than evolution he correctly said that the question behind the question was really whether he believed in God.

He said "I believe there is a God," Huckabee said. "I believe there is a God that was active in the creation process. Now how did he do it, when did he do it and how long did it take? I don't know. If they want a president who doesn't believe in God, there probably are plenty of choices."

This was a great answer – the universe was either created or it was not – if it was (as Huckabee believes) then there is no need to argue for or against any scientific process involved in its continuing evolution. There is no separation between faith and reason beyond the initial assumption as to whether the universe was a creation or just an accident.


Arthur McCorry said...


I agree. I also liked Romney's response on the religion question. Apparently a New Hampshire man recently refused to shake his hand because he is a Mormon. There is the problem, not with the candidate, but with bigots like that. Romney is not walking away from his faith pointing out he shares the same values as everyone else in the USA saying "I think it's a fair question to ask what people believe, the values that I have are the same values in faiths across the country."


Diana Malcolm said...

Of course all of the religion talk now coming out of the Democrats is because statistics show that those who attend church regularly have been voting mostly Republican in past elections.

Strangely, as the Democrats are talking more and more about their religious beliefs to go after the 'religious' vote, the leading Repubicans are getting more reluctant about such talk. Guiliani and McCain, as the leading contenders, seem the most reluctant and Romney is trying not to talk about his religion as Mormonism might be a negative for him in voters eyes.

Di Di