We all know this infamous story but it can’t be repeated often enough. In a 2007 GOP Presidential debate, the moderator asked if any of the candidates did not believe in evolution. Three leading hopefuls for the highest office in our land raised their hands. Those candidates included Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R), and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado).
It was not particularly shocking that Conservatives would proudly deny evolution. What was far more disappointing was the media and public response to this exchange. Most were outraged NOT because these candidates denied scientific reality, but because the question was asked at all. After the debate, many media figures issued strong statements that such questions were “out of bounds.” They argued passionately that one’s beliefs are irrelevant to a candidate’s qualifications for President. They asserted that any questions relating to faith are improper and should never even be raised.
This taboo continues today among even the most liberal media personalities. In response to recent concerns raised by an Evangelical Christian regarding candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, Liberal TV host Chris Matthews again lectured us about this in his October 13th show. He argued that questions of faith are not only irrelevant but expressly out of bounds.
There are two fundamental problems here; one focuses on faith and the other on fact. The first problem is that the media is not intellectually honest in telling voters that they cannot consider matters of faith as part of their evaluation. It is perfectly reasonable to favor a candidate that shares our beliefs and values. Even Chris Matthews would quickly condemn a candidate whose faith told him to glorify suicide bombings. It seems obvious that this position of enforced tolerance only applies when it is an “acceptable” belief that is being questioned. But who decides what beliefs are acceptable, Chris Matthews?
But it is the second fundamental problem that is the far more important concern. Namely, the denial of facts required for this defense of faith. When we take the position that questions touching upon faith are “out of bounds,” many questions intended to judge a candidate’s capacity to assess facts, accept facts, and draw fact-based conclusions become out of bounds. As a result, we can no longer even ask about a candidate’s belief regarding facts like evolution because it is protected under “faith.”
Sadly, nothing could be more important than the intellectual capacity of our President to arrive at objective analyses and decisions. Evolution is a perfect litmus indicator of a candidate’s capacity for fact-based thinking. Any candidate so invested in belief as to disregard the most conclusive body of knowledge ever accumulated by mankind or so disingenuous as to do so for political reasons, is probably not qualified to make Presidential decisions.
If a candidate denies evolution, it is legitimate to be concerned whether they will just as easily deny global climate change, historical lessons, economic realities and other crucial issues of fact. It is reasonable to be skeptical of that candidate’s capacity to make uncompromised, fact-based decisions about the future of this nation and this planet. Despite efforts to make America a religious nation, our President is still the secular leader of a secular government.
We as atheists should certainly work toward a day when one of us can hold high office in America. But more importantly, we should do everything we can to ensure that whoever takes office is as rooted in objective reality as possible. We cannot do that if we are cowered by media policemen who make matters of faith and fact taboo in public discourse.
But we must continue to press questions about belief and fact until they can no longer be dismissed as off-limits. We should carefully assess the level of risk that the beliefs of a candidate may influence his or her public policy positions and probe this with questions intended to expose their faithfulness to facts. Ultimately their policies, and our nation, will succeed or fail based upon the president’s adherence to the actual objective facts of those situations.