Last week, during the Presidential debate between various Republican candidates, Chris Matthews asked for a showing of hands regarding which candidates believed in evolution and which ones didn't. Some people were shocked by the fact that some of the candidates acknowledged that they didn't believe in evolution. Shocked, I say!
What should have shocked people was that such a question was even raised in the first place. Even if one agrees with the debatable idea that a person cannot claim to be a qualified scientist unless that person believes in Darwinian evolution, the fact is that a President is not typically expected to hold impeccable scientific credentials or to be right about every conceivable controversy in the known universe. So the real issue is this: What was the relevance of the question to the debate?
In theory, a candidate's views on the subject of evolution might conceivably pertain to the likelihood that that candidate would support or oppose federal funding for scientific research pertaining to the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of evolutionary theory. But if that had been Chris Matthews' reason for asking the question, he could have simply asked, "Do you support funding for scientific research pertaining to the legitimacy of the belief in evolution, or do you oppose such funding?" The fact that he did not phrase the question in that manner strongly suggests that that was not his reason for asking the question he asked.
(A SIDE NOTE: If anyone would be likely to support such research, it would be those who were most convinced that the results of such research would support their existing beliefs. In my observation, most of those who argue in favor of evolution are uninterested in further research pertaining to the validity of their beliefs, for the simple reason that they believe that the matter was settled long ago. Now, that might be understandable, if we were talking about a dispute over whether the earth was flat or round, but the two situations are not even remotely comparable. There's abundant physical evidence supporting the belief that the earth is round, and no physical evidence whatsoever to support the belief in a flat earth. However, many years have passed since Darwin first published his theories, and scientists still have not produced a single example of an actual transformation from one species into another distinct species, in or out of the laboratory. Nor have they found actual fossil evidence for the innumerable "transitional life forms" one would expect to find if Darwin's theory were true. However, the absence of any genuinely conclusive evidence doesn't seem to matter much to those who passionately believe in evolution. Such people seem to be incapable of making the distinction between plausible conjecture and actual proof. And even in terms of plausible conjecture, I personally think that their theory is notoriously weak.)
One might argue that a candidate's position on evolution is relevant to the question of whether or not alternative ideas such as "Creationism" or "Intelligent Design" ought to be taught in the classroom along with evolution. But unless I'm very much mistaken, such questions are generally answered on a regional level by local school boards (and, on occasions, by local courts). As far as I know, there currently aren't any groups pushing for a constitutional amendment requiring that those alternative ideas be taught in every American classroom, nor is the other side pushing for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the teaching of such ideas. So it's difficult to imagine why the issue of whether or not those ideas should be taught would have any applicability to the current campaign for the presidency. Unlike the very important issue of abortion, the issue of evolution simply isn't a national political issue at the present time.
Besides, if that had been the concern, Chris Matthews could easily have asked, "How many here would support national legislation which would require the teaching of alternative, theocentric theories of creation in the public schools?" or "How many here would support national legislation which would prohibit the teaching of alternative, theocentric theories of creation in the public schools?". Again, he did not do so.
The fact is that the relevance of the question about evolution to the issue of whether or not each candidate on the podium was fit to govern was never directly stated. There was no need for it to be directly stated, because it was obvious why Matthews asked the question. In effect, Chris Matthews was saying the following, albeit in coded language:
We all know that political conservatives, especially those who oppose abortion, are stupid reactionary religious fundamentalists who would love to turn this entire country into a giant repressive theocracy. We all know that evolution is proven scientific fact, and that anyone who isn't persuaded by the evidence for evolution must therefore be the type of religious fundamentalist I have just described. Therefore, if you don't believe in evolution, please identify yourselves so that we can instantly dismiss anything else you might say as the words of inbred, ignorant wackos who aren't fit to run for dogcatcher.
Imagine how outraged the public would have been if Alan Keyes or another black candidate had been on the stage and Chris Matthews had said, "How many of the candidates here tonight have an inexplicable love for watermelon and chitlins?"
In my judgment, the question which Chris Matthews asked about evolution was just as bigoted, in its own way. He wasn't asking a question so much as he was making a condescending personal statement intended mainly to discredit the Republican candidates with whom he disagreed.
If his intention was to impugn certain candidates by implying that they were stupid, wouldn't it have made more sense to simply address the issue of intelligence in a straightforward manner? Chris Matthews could have simply asked each candidate the following questions: "Has your IQ ever been tested? How did you score?" But of course, he would never do that, because then he would run the risk of revealing to the American people that many conservatives are in fact quite intelligent, despite the fact that we sometimes hold opinions which are at odds with the ideas cherished by liberal academic elitists.