Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Over the past few election cycles, it’s become standard practice to ask the Republican candidates whether or not they “believe” in evolution, and to use their answers as a test to determine the candidates’ piety, critical thinking skills, and cultural values. I find the evidence for common descent and change over time to be incredibly compelling, so I think the question is useful, but its heuristic value as a shorthand for whether one “accepts science” is wildly overrated. People are complicated, and it’s generally foolhardy to evaluate someone’s thinking on a single metric.
As a case in point, consider the exchange last night over vaccines. Over the last decade — and again in the debate — Trump has repeatedly claimed that vaccines are the source of the “autism epidemic.” This is demonstrably false. The rise in autism diagnoses is overwhelmingly the result of broadening its definition and greater public concern and awareness. Moreover, the study that initially started the scare has been retracted by its publisher, and the ingredient (thimerosal) most commonly alleged to be the culprit hasn’t been in the standard childhood vaccination schedule* since around 2002. Diagnoses have continued to rise, regardless.
And who answered correctly? None other than creationist Ben Carson — albeit in a way-too-nice way. Most of the Science! fanboys would evict him from polite society without a second’s thought about anything else he might say or his being a pioneering and innovative neurosurgeon.
Just as the the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, so too does the struggle for critical thinking play out within each person’s mind. Our candidates’ factual claims — on science, history, and all other matters — should be scrutinized, evaluated, and judged. When they’re wrong, they should be told so; and if their comments consistently indicate major blind spots, they should be disqualified.
But enough of the all-or-nothing nonsense.
* Editors’ note: The original version incorrectly stated that thimerosal was no longer used “at all” in vaccines. Though it has been removed from vaccines used in the common childhood schedule, it is still used in some flu vaccines, though non-thimerosal options are generally available as well. Regardless, there’s no reason to suspect it to be harmful.