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James Carville Wrongly Frames the Evolution Debate as a Democrat vs. Republican Issue

Casey Luskin

In a recent post, I explained how James Carville’s new book, 40 More Years: How the Democrats will Rule the Next Generation, badly misrepresents intelligent design (ID) as merely a negative argument against evolution. Carville somehow failed to notice that the passage he quoted from our Briefing Packet for Educators made an entirely positive argument for design. But Carville, a longtime Democratic strategist, has a game plan and he’s not going to let the facts get in his way.

The point of Carville’s chapter on evolution is to turn the debate into a club that he can wield in his war against Republicans. Not one to shy away from a rhetorical flourish, Carville writes: “the so-called debate over evolution boils down to the Republicans invisible-angel theory of gravity against the Democrats’ 150 years of science and the U.S. Constitution position.” (pg. 93) Of course there’s plenty of credible scientific dissent from neo-Darwinian evolution. More interestingly, Carville’s book completely fails to recognize how members of his own party feel about the evolution debate. Polls show that self-described “liberals” and Democrats support academic freedom in evolution-education just as much as (and in some cases more than) self-described “conservatives” and Republicans!

For example, Mr. Carville would probably be horrified to learn that a 2006 poll found that 65 percent of Democrats feel that intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution.

Mr. Carville might want to sit down for this next one. A poll taken in January 2009 found that over 80 percent of self-identified “liberals” and Democrats agreed that “teachers and students should have the academic freedom to discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution as a scientific theory” — a higher percentage than the 72 percent of Republicans who felt the same. The figure below shows the poll data:

In his war against Republicans, Carville probably also won’t tell you how prominent members of his own Democratic party have voted for measures that endorse objectivity in evolution-education.
Carville certainly isn’t the first pundit to wrongly frame this debate as a wedge issue, splitting Democrats from Republicans. However, based upon his book, there’s little doubt that he would ardently reject academic freedom in evolution education. He opens the book’s chapter on evolution by stating there is no room for dissent on the topic:

“If there’s ever been a time to use the word ‘incontrovertible,’ it’s when we’re talking about evolution. Arguing about evolution is like arguing about gravity.” (pg. 88)

Later, Carville unashamedly declares that the “statement on evolution” that he “may agree with most closely” is the following from former Alaska senator Mike Gravel:

“[E]volution is a fact and if these people are disturbed by being the descendants of monkeys and fishes, they’ve got a mental problem. We can’t afford the psychiatric bill for them. That ends the story as far as I’m concerned.” (pg. 93)

Someone should remind Carville that in politics, boasting about your agreement with Mike Gravel is generally not recommended as a way to get ahead. Indeed, Carville’s outlandish rhetoric insults those who still support the positive qualities that are supposed to be embodied by the classical “liberal” — intellectual freedom, tolerance, respect for diversity, and commitment to the free and civil exchange of ideas.

Carville says in his book that the evolution debate is “res judicata” (meaning a settled matter), but right now I’d rather say res ipsa loquitur, which in this instance means that Carville’s unashamed intolerance speaks for itself. Whether he likes it or not, by treating evolution as a dogma that should not be criticized or questioned, he’s actually grossly out-of-step with the vast majority of Americans, including, it turns out, members of his own party.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



James Carville