NPR stumbles on GOP and Darwinian orthodoxy

Here's a shocker, but not really. More Democrats than Republicans believe in evolution, or so says a survey from the Pew Research Center. Overall, Pew says:

...six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that 'humans and other living things have evolved over time,' while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that 'humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.' The share of the general public that says that humans have evolved over time is about the same as it was in 2009, when Pew Research last asked the question.

The predictable party gap seems of interest to many, though mostly political pundits.

National Public Radio is not content to leave speculation to mere political bloviators, however, and trumpets the change in party affiliation of creationists as a major political issue:

A new national survey showing that the share of Republicans who believe in evolution has tumbled from 54 to 43 percent over the past four years comes at an inopportune time.

The Pew Research poll suggests that the GOP, already struggling with an identity crisis and facing ferocious internal battles, is out of sync on the issue with independents and young voters, who are far more likely to believe in the science of evolution than their forebears.

NPR raises what it considers the key question:

But just how politically significant is the finding, which shows that the evolution belief gap between Republicans and Democrats has since 2009 grown from 10 percentage points to 24 points?

Now there are all sorts of interesting -- and interested -- people who could address the topic. People who are experienced in science and theology, or people who hold informed opinions about evolution or creationism. Instead, the first "expert" sought out by NPR is a political consultant, albeit a Republican one:

For Republican strategists like Whit Ayres, however, the evolution results are politically insignificant. More than anything, he says, it reflects the trend of both parties gravitating toward their more extreme wings, which, in the GOP, includes evangelical Christians. He argues that it is unlikely to define the GOP negatively or otherwise in any sustaining way.

"It's not a particularly surprising result, especially if you follow Gallup data on how Americans interpret the Bible," says Ayres, of North Star Opinion Research. "There's a significant minority of Americans who believe that the Bible is the actual true word of God."

Apart from a grammatical flaw that always annoys me -- did they really talk to Ayres or someone "like" him? -- why is his view on how many Americans believe "the Bible is the actual true word of God" more useful than that of Randall Balmer or George Barna or someone else who "gets" debates about doctrine and science?

NPR does link to the Gallup numbers, but again, is there another, better voice? If so, you won't find it here.

And what about the "political" implications of this interesting and crucial passage?

One interesting note on the Pew evolution survey: The first question asked was intended to be one rooted in science — simply asking Americans whether they believe humans have existed in present form since the beginning or have evolved over time. Those who said they believe humans have evolved were asked a follow-up question with a religion aspect: Was evolution a function of natural selection or did God or a "supreme being" play a role?

A quarter of those surveyed who said they believe in evolution also believe that "a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today."

What do we know about the cultural, racial, religious, educational and, yes, political leanings of those residing in that large sector of the American population?

Meanwhile, what really sticks in my craw about this article -- and at 968 words, there's plenty to stick -- is the build-up of the evolution/creation "gap" as some kind of issue for, of course, 2016, implying a victory by one political party or another hinges on the question of origins. The economy, war, peace, education, health, national security -- none of these will matter as much as this question. Or, will it? Take it away, NPR:

Evolution is to the coming presidential election what the death penalty was to Bill Clinton's successful run for president in 1992 -- a "nonstarter" as an issue. Clinton, as president, expanded the death penalty, anathema to many in his party base.

"Bill Clinton redefined the Democratic Party in 1992 as a very different entity than it was defined in 1972 by George McGovern," Ayres says. "The Republican nominee in 2016 will redefine the Republican Party for the modern age, and who that nominee turns out to be will have an enormous effect on how the party is perceived on some of these cultural issues."

Sigh. Evolution, so says Whit Ayres, is a "nonstarter" for the next presidential cycle, which I believe actually began the morning after the 2012 contest was decided. So it's really a non-issue, but one that demanded not only hundreds of words to build up and tear down, but also one where no creation-friendly voice could be heard, let alone a voice who can discuss the wide variety of beliefs that journalists tend to jam under that one term "evolution."

To paraphrase a former GOP president's words to a then-director of FEMA: "Heck of a job, NPR." While the "evolved" man in our picture up top is nursing a backache, the dull journalistic pain I am experiencing seems to be more at the top of the spine -- in the brain.

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