Scott Walker is the governor of Wisconsin and is widely viewed to be a leading contender for the GOP’s nomination for President in 2016. Rick Santorum is a former Senator from Pennsylvania who was the GOP’s second choice for their Presidential nomination in 2012 and is considering another go for 2016. The likes of these guys have very little chance of becoming President, however, for one very simple reason. That reason is that scientific leadership cannot be an optional characteristic for any of our future Presidents and Americans are savvy enough to detect this shortcoming in any candidate. That is, on average, the general public is not as scientifically challenged as some of their Presidential candidates are.
By their own words, both Walker and Santorum have made their lack of knowledge, trust, and interest in important fields of science very clear. Sure, we have a few scientific dunces and wingnuts in Congress and at the state levels of government, but in those positions, their influence can be balanced by many others who recognize that science provides our very best explanations of what Mother Nature has done in the past and is likely to do in the future. Indeed, that function has historically provided the very definition of science and the majority of Americans know that.
My suggestion that Walker and Santorum have a few screws loose in the left side of their brains is clearly demonstrated by their views concerning the origins of life on this planet. On that subject, most intelligent people today recognize the validity of our theories concerning natural evolution for very good and common-sense reasons. By our observations of the nuclear clocks (that is, radioactive elements) and fossilized remains embedded in our Earth, we have accumulated an enormous and redundant amount of evidence showing how with the passage of time the fittest of species tended to survive better than others and that the features of these individuals were then carried on to subsequent generations – within all living species including human beings. In the last decade, advances in DNA analysis have additionally ensured that evolutionary biology will remain the cornerstone of all of the life sciences.
Walker and Santorum do not like or accept those scientific conclusions, however, and, therefore, subscribe to alternate views of the type we used to call “creationism” but now commonly go by the name of “intelligent design”. No matter what these alternate views are called, they all have the common characteristic of not being “testable” by the normal observational methods and, therefore, lie outside the domains of science. Their proponents simply choose to believe in these ideas for their own personal or philosophic reasons even though they have no connections to the physical realities of our existence.
Let me hasten to add that I have no problem with individuals who harbor these alternate notions of their origins. I am old enough to have known a multitude of very fine and intelligent people who have held such views – usually because they were exposed to little else during their lifetimes. When it comes to picking a President who seeks to preside over the most powerful country in the world in 2016, however, standards and expectations for intellectual awareness and preparedness must be much higher. Claiming to be ignorant just because you have chosen to remain so might get you somewhere within the GOP party, but I am pleased to predict that this attitude will not cut it with the majority of Americans in future Presidential elections.
So why does a candidate’s view of his origins or even of science, in general, matter, one might ask. “Plenty” is the obvious answer. For example, if the question on the table is whether or not we should address climate change, those who harbor some sort of intelligent design scheme will be on a totally different page than the scientists who providing needed insight. If the news from science is not so good, for example, why not then simply hope for a better outcome orchestrated by the all-powerful “great designer”.
In addition, a candidate’s view of science will have a profound influence on his approach to education. Specifically, with a President with Walker’s or Santorum’s persuasion, we might expect to see faith-based alternate views on subjects such as evolution and climate change taught in the science classes of our public schools even though those views have no basis whatsoever in science. This, of course, would erode our youth’s confidence in real science at a time when the future of all countries depends so much on excellence in science and associated technologies.
So finally why, one could ask, might the GOP provide us with such backwards- thinking candidates. The answer to that question was indicated in their nominating process of 2012. Of the several contestants in that race only Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney admitted that they thought climate change was occurring and that this was due at least in part to the impacts of mankind. Huntsman then finished dead last among that intellectually woeful set of candidates and Mitt Romney received a very low level of support from white evangelicals, a traditional mainstay of the GOP. Thus, it appears that GOP candidates have to either be dumb or play dumb in order to get their party’s nomination. I genuinely hope that the GOP improves in 2016 by showing more respect for its intellectually astute and honest candidates.