THE BLOG
06/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Evolution Devolution

"De-evolution/self-execution/ no solution/I'm a potato and I'm so hip."
- Devo

I once had a promising first date with an intelligent, engaging woman who explained she was on a spiritual quest. This made me a little nervous. If you're on such a quest, I figure you should take a cue from the greatest writers -- don't tell it, show it.

Next time I saw her, we had dinner at a veggie restaurant in Santa Monica, after which she offered to show me her place -- a very good sign, I thought. We took a walk down Montana Avenue, and there on a leafy side street was a modest house, which upon closer inspection turned out to be an Ashram. My nervousness doubled -- was I being recruited? Before we entered, she made it clear that sex was out of the question -- not that I'd asked! -- as her guru preached abstinence. I wondered aloud how that worked over the long term, and she acknowledged that from time to time the guru slept with one or another of his subjects. No harm, no foul, though -- he also was big on forgiveness, and they forgave him.

When I suggested there might be a touch of hypocrisy there, I learned that gurus are people with whom you do not fuck -- unless, apparently, they ask you first. She coldly replied that I was incapable of understanding, because I wasn't as evolved as she.

Of course, there is a sense in which evolution is a contest -- survival of the fittest and all that. But if you have to brag about how evolved you are, how evolved can you be?

According to a 2007 Gallup poll, 68 percent of Republicans don't believe in evolution at all. Politicians on the Right have been scrambling to show solidarity with this cohort. A truly bizarre moment in that effort came during a 2008 Republican debate when the candidates were asked, "Who doesn't believe in evolution?" Three of the Republican contenders -- Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo and Sam Brownback -- raised their hands. I wasn't quick enough to notice whether they had opposable thumbs.

John McCain, who was willing to say lots of things he patently disbelieved (who can forget his claim that Obama was referring to Sarah Palin when he talked about "lipstick on a pig"?), couldn't quite bring himself to deny evolution. So he chose Palin to cover his right flank. Addressing the question of evolution versus creationism in schools, she opined, "You know, don't be afraid of information. I am a proponent of teaching both." Apparently, no one asked for her position on misinformation.

Creationism is anything but evolved. Webster's says it's "the doctrine that the true story of the creation of the universe is as it is recounted in the Bible, especially in the first chapter of Genesis." Ken Ham, a leading "young Earth creationist," (that's a guy who thinks the earth is a relative toddler) believes that the entire universe was created about 6,000 years ago and that Noah's flood occurred a mere 4,500 years ago. Ham's favorite response when presented with facts that contradict a strict interpretation of Genesis: "Were you there?"

Well, no. But no one alive today was there for the American Civil War either, so it's just as plausible that God put the Gettysburg Address in our heads just a few minutes ago. Come to think of it, Mr. Ham wasn't "there" a year before he was born, so why should we believe in him?

Last week on Hardball, Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence -- who presents himself as a voice of reason -- changed the subject every time host Chris Matthews asked about evolution. Finally, Chris stated the obvious: "I think you believe in evolution, but you're afraid to say so because your conservative constituency might find that offensive." Pence replied that one of these days he'd get around to asking God how He created the heavens and the earth.

Then there's Fox News. Not wanting to appear to be complete idiots, they treated the question as Palin did, with an "on the one hand, on the other hand" attitude and last week teased their morning show thusly: "Evolution? Creation? Evolution? Creation?"

At the core of the discussion about evolution, of course, is the scientific method. Evolution isn't something you choose to believe in, like Jesus or your Little League coach. It's a hypothesis with so much evidence to support it, we call it a "fact."

That doesn't mean our knowledge of it is absolute. As the late, great Stephen Jay Gould put it in his classic 1994 paper, "Evolution as Fact and Theory in Science," "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent."

So what's next for evolution deniers? The Republicans need a bold initiative to revitalize their party. They did well in 1994 with Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America."

How about a couple of Constitutional amendments? One could proclaim that evolution never happened, that schools must teach that humans rode dinosaurs and that God can rewrite the past any time He chooses. The second could stipulate that any country who wants to do business with America must enact a similar measure.

I mean, isn't America the greatest country in the world? If we say evolution didn't happen, it didn't happen.

And when it's clear that we're wrong, well, forgive us. We're on a spiritual quest.

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