Politics & Policy

Evolution of a Tactic

(Win McNamee/Getty)
Nobody really cares what Scott Walker thinks about Darwin.

The amazing muroid hind anatomy of Rattus norvegicus may be the product of eons of mind-bendingly complex Darwinian refinement, but I still don’t give a rat’s ass what Scott Walker thinks about evolution.

And neither does anybody else. Not really.

Governor Walker, making the rounds in London as part of his plan to relocate from Madison to Washington — the presidency is a roundabout affair — was asked whether he “believes in” evolution. “Believes in” is key language — nobody ever asks a politician whether he knows anything about evolution. It is a safe bet that Walker, famously a college dropout, has not been undertaking graduate-level studies of evolution in his spare time, assuming he has any time at all left over from knocking the stuffing out of Wisconsin’s thuggish Democrat-run public-sector unions and triumphing over the Gestapo-style “John Doe” inquisition launched against him by an unethical Democrat-run prosecutor’s office — and winning three elections in four years. Between kicking ass and taking names, Scott Walker probably does not have a great deal of time left over for biology.

When someone asks a politician whether he “believes in” evolution, he is not asking for a scientific opinion. If you want a scientific opinion, you ask a scientist, not a politician. What is instead being sought with that question is one of two things: 1) a profession of faith, not in science but in the half-informed worldview of the “I F******g Love Science,” Neil deGrasse Tyson–meme-affirming, enjoying-scientific-prestige-by-proxy crowd, or 2) a shameful public confession that one is a knuckle-dragging science “denier” who believes that the fossil record is a conspiracy of archeologists who get up in the morning and go to bed at night fuming about how much they hate the Baby Jesus. It is a purely political and rhetorical exercise.

The relevant scholars in the field do not “believe in” evolution, any more than a physicist “believes in” the proposition that objects subject to earth’s gravity accelerate toward the pavement at 9.8 meters per second squared — they know. As an intellectual matter, Scott Walker’s proclaiming that he “believes in” evolution would be precisely as meaningful as his proclaiming that he doesn’t “believe in” evolution — he has little or no relevant knowledge about the subject, and his choosing the right answer would be as intellectually significant as a chicken playing tic-tac-toe or infinite monkeys banging out Shakespearean sonnets on infinite typewriters. This is obvious if you ask a similar question about a field that doesn’t carry a similar pop-culture charge: Does Harry Reid believe that Ezra Pound’s contributions to The Waste-Land were in fact so profound and meaningful that he should be considered something like the coauthor of the poem? Who knows? I’d be surprised if he’d read The Waste-Land.

There are some boobs out there — some of them in the Republican party — who would, if entrusted with the awesome powers of the presidency, attempt to use those powers to strong-arm high-school biology teachers in Poughkeepsie into including the Genesis account of creation as part of their science curricula. If you want to know whether Scott Walker is one of them — or whether as president he’d insist that NASA use a pre-Copernican model of the solar system the next time it launches a Mars probe — then ask that question. Walker hasn’t given any indication that he is in fact such a politician, but if it sets anxious minds at ease, then, by all means, make the relevant inquiry.

I have made the point here a dozen times — and you’d think that one of these big-on-science guys like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye would take up the cause — that there is in reality an important federal project under way giving rank pseudoscience and pure hokum the force of law: Obamacare, which, thanks to the efforts of Senator Tom Harkin (D., Iowa), will oblige taxpayers to subsidize all manner of scientifically illegitimate “alternative medicine.” Everybody wants to know what Scott Walker and Sarah Palin think about evolution, but almost nobody is asking what Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama think about homeopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and the like. The same people who are scandalized that Walker doesn’t want to talk about something that he doesn’t know the first thing about celebrate as the most important health-care advance in a generation a law that treats as legitimate sundry species of quackery based in pure mysticism.

Why?

As usual, it comes down to aesthetics: If you’re a coastal progressive type, people who believe that every word of the Bible is literally true in a natural-history sense are creepy and weird, but when Dr. Moonbeam McEarthgoddess promises to manipulate your mystical energy pathways so that your qi cures your osteoarthritis — then, bring on the federal subsidies.

Strange that nobody has asked Scott Walker whether he believes the federal government should be subsidizing Reiki. I suspect he’d have a ready answer for that question.

Unless he doesn’t know what Reiki is, in which case, he has my vote.

— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.

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