Here’s a thing:   Mormon Candidates’ Pro-Science Stand.

For those of you who don’t want to read the article, or want to read it less than you want to read my blog right now, it’s an article on Daily Beast about how Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney are the only two GOP candidates who “embrace mainstream science” on the issues of evolution and global warming, and the author tries to make the case that their Mormonism has something to do with it.  I don’t really have an opinion on that.  I’m more inclined to think it’s a coincidence.  But it’s an interesting coincidence.

Of course, I am a Mormon.  I’m married to a scientist (also a Mormon) and I grew up as the daughter of a scientist (also a Mormon).  Scientists aren’t exactly overrepresented in the Mormon community, if you get my meaning.  Dentists and accountants, yes, but not so much scientists.  But not many people go into science in the first place (unfortunately), so that’s to be expected.  I’m just saying that being a scientist makes you kind of special among Mormons.  And Mormons, unfortunately, are not immune to the notion that science and religion are at odds with each other (regardless of what Brigham Young said).  As this article mentions, Mormons are, according to a 2008 Pew study, among the religious groups least likely to believe in evolution.  Of course, I myself am not even sure what it means to “believe” in evolution.  There’s evolution and there’s speciation and there’s the Big Bang theory and all kinds of stuff that people usually lump all together under the label “evolution,” as if one word can explain everything about how life as we know it came to be.  So I don’t know what it really means that only 22 percent of Mormons “believe” in evolution, but in any case, it’s not a surprising number to me.

I recall sitting in a Sunday School class with my dad when we were studying Genesis, and the lesson was on the Creation.  The teacher turned to my dad to get the “scientific view” on the subject.  I don’t remember much of the lesson except that the teacher asked my dad how old the earth was “according to scientists,” and my dad said, “At least hundreds of millions of years old.”  (Or maybe it was hundreds of billions of years old.  Once we start getting into illions, does it really matter?)  And at some point somebody said that God gathered the waters together because He knew that He was going to have to flood the earth eventually, so He needed to get His water ready, or something.  I don’t know, it didn’t make any sense, but my dad turned and whispered some smart-aleck remark to me that I wish I could remember because it was awesome.  But what I remember most was my dad’s odd mixture of amusement and annoyance.  He didn’t seem to like being singled out as The Scientist, but he also didn’t have much patience for people trying to explain science with the Bible.  (Or explain the Bible with science, or whatever that cat was trying to do with his water-gathering story.)

I also remember the time we had the missionaries over for dinner, and when my father revealed that he was a scientist, one of the elders immediately asked, “So what do you think of evolution?”  My father, non-plussed, said, “I don’t think of it much.”  To this day I have no idea what my father thinks of evolution, other than that he doesn’t think of it much.  There’s no reason why he should, since the theory of evolution has no bearing on his work.  (He’s a chemist, not a biologist.)  I assume he has an opinion, and I reckon it’s all rational and fact-based because that’s how my dad rolls.  But I’ve never asked him what he thinks about it because I’ve never felt that evolution was something I had to worry about unless it was going to be on the biology test, or if I converted to one of those churches that believes the earth is 6,000 years young.  I remember learning about evolution in high school, but I don’t remember being tested on it.  And I’m still a Mormon, so as far as I’m concerned, the earth is as old as my dad said it was in Sunday School.

I’ve never understood why religious people would feel terribly threatened by the theory of evolution.  I think most people, religious or not, don’t particularly understand what evolution is.  A lot of people hear “evolution” and think “descended from monkeys,” which is an oversimplification at best.  A lot of people think that if you accept the theory of evolution, you also have to accept that everything is the result of random chance and therefore there is no God.  I’m no scientist (full disclosure!), but that’s always struck me as a pretty big leap.  I mean, maybe there is no God, but the main reason I would think that is because I’ve never seen God, not because a bunch of scientists told me that they think humans evolved from lower primates or an amoeba or whatever.  (Did I mention I’m not a scientist?)  I’ve just never seen what one had to do with the other.

I suffer from an awful lack of curiosity about the origins of the universe.  I’ve always been more concerned with the universe as it is, because that’s the part of the story I’m in.  I can’t think of a single scenario under which I would need to know how the universe began—unless, of course, I wanted to create my own universe, but I’m not convinced that’s an opportunity I’ll ever have.  I figure that if I’m lucky enough to meet God someday, maybe I’ll ask Him (or Her…or Them) a lot of questions, and maybe if there’s a lull in the conversation, I’ll ask, “So, ah, God, how did You create the universe?” and regardless of what the answer is—if it’s “well, I started with some primordial ooze and worked My way up to intelligent life” or “I just waved My magic wand and poof! There it was”—I will probably respond, “Huh.  Interesting.”  And then I’ll move on to my next question because actually it probably won’t be that interesting to me.  (I know.  I’m a terrible human being!  But at least I’m self-aware.)

Alternatively, if there is no God, then I will just be dead and it won’t matter anyway, so why should I care?

This is why I get so frustrated when we have presidential candidates talk about their views on evolution.  Why does it matter if the president “believes” in evolution or not?  You’re President of the United Damn States—don’t you have something more important to think about than how the universe began or how old the earth is?  I tell you, I don’t even care if the president thinks evolution should be taught in public schools or not because what does the president have to do with what gets taught in public school?  Or rather, what should the president have to do with what gets taught in public school?  Answer:  NOTHING!!!  (I used the exclamation points for emphasis!!!)  My dream is to be watching a presidential debate and have one of those idiotic questions about evolution come up and a candidate finally says, “It doesn’t matter what I think about evolution because the federal government shouldn’t be in charge of writing your stupid biology syllabus anyway.”  Actually, I’m sure that Ron Paul has already said this.  But my dream is that someday somebody not Ron Paul will say it, and then I will vote for that person.

There’s a reason none of our presidents have been scientists.  [EDIT:  Actually, sportsgoddess has corrected me on this:  Herbert Hoover was a geologist and mining engineer, and Jimmy Carter did graduate work in nuclear physics (before going into peanut farming, I guess).  Which just goes to show that you can’t trust physicists.  I never have.  But there’s still a reason why most scientists don’t run for president.]  It’s this:  Scientists like to do science.  Presidents don’t have time to do science.  Therefore, scientists don’t run for president.  They have enough trouble getting funding for their science; they can’t be worrying about funding political campaigns, too.  So I don’t know why we expect our presidential candidates to have the correct answers to scientific questions, especially when most of the rest of us aren’t scientists either.  It’s alternately amusing and annoying when politicians claim that they’ll make policy decisions based on “science,” as if science is the only relevant factor when it comes to shaping policy.  Even with something like global warming, where understanding the science might actually help you make a decision about the relative threat, the climate-change facts are only part of the equation.  There is a point at which you have to consider economic and political facts, too.  There are people who believe in global warming who don’t consider it the imminent threat that Al Gore does.  There are people who believe in global warming but don’t believe that human behavior can influence it enough to make drastic changes in energy use worth the economic cost.  So whether you believe in global warming or not, what I really care about is your energy policy, not your scientific opinion (which, frankly, isn’t worth that much when you’re not a scientist).

And when it comes to stuff like funding medical research, I certainly hope you don’t base your decisions on science alone.  I hope ethical considerations enter the picture at least occasionally.

So this is just my long-winded way of saying that science is good and all, but it’s not my measuring stick for deciding whether or not somebody’s qualified to be president.  I don’t care if the president thinks dinosaurs walked the earth with humans.  I know that’s hard for smart people to wrap their heads around, but I just don’t see how it’s relevant.  My theology doesn’t require me to believe that dinosaurs walked the earth with humans, but it does require me to believe some other pretty wackadoodle things, and I don’t see that those things are relevant to whether or not I should be president, either.  Fortunately, I’m not running for President, so you don’t have to worry about what wackadoodle things I secretly believe or not.  But if I were running for President, I wouldn’t tell you what wackadoodle things I believed; I would only tell you about my wackadoodle policies, and just let you wonder if my secret belief in angels and golden plates were behind all of it.

I’m Madhousewife, and I approve this message.

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