The Evolution Catechism

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker:

Gopnik-Republicans-Evolution-320Darwin Day, February 12th, passed last week without much fuss, even from those of us who have written at length about the man it honors. Celebrating Charles Darwin’s birthday has some of the vibe of Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin—there’s a hope, and a ritual, but it can be pretty lonely. There was, however, one striking sort of counter-ceremony: the Wisconsin governor and would-be Republican Presidential candidate Scott Walker, asked, in London, if he “believed in evolution,” took a pass. “I’m going to punt on that one as well,” he said. “That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or the other.”

It does seem slightly odd to ask a man running for President—or, for that matter, for dogcatcher—to recite a catechism on modern science. It somehow puts one in mind of the stern and classic catechism of the Catholic Church, and the questions posed, in memorably ironic form, in “The Godfather,” when Michael Corleone attends his godson’s christening even as his boys are killing the heads of rival families. The priest asks, “Do you renounce Satan … and all his works?” Michael responds, “I do renounce them,” even as he doesn’t. One hears a British voice similarly demanding such things of American politicians: “Do you believe in an expanding universe with a strong inflationary instance in the first micro-seconds?” “I do so believe.”

But the notion that the evolution question was unfair, or irrelevant, or simply a “sorting” device designed to expose a politician as belonging to one cultural club or another, is finally ridiculous. For the real point is that evolution is not, like the Great Pumpkin, something one can or cannot “believe” in. It just is—a fact certain, the strongest and most resilient explanation of the development of life on Earth that there has ever been.

More here.