You only have a few minutes to respond, and your answer is going to go all around the office. So what should you say?
Stephen C. Meyer has the answer at Evolution News.
I spoke recently to the Faith and Law group on Capitol Hill in D.C., a regular meeting of congressional staffers. At their request, I addressed the topic: “What Should Politicians Say When Asked About Evolution?”
[…]In my talk, I not only gave an answer to the question “What Should Politicians Say When Asked About Evolution?” but I first explained why it is a difficult question for many politicians, especially conservative ones, to answer. There are three main reasons.
I’m only going to give the first reason:
First, the term “evolution” can mean several different things, ranging from (1) the scientifically uncontroversial idea of “change over time” (think of small-scale variations in the shape and size of Galapagos finch beaks) to (2) the more controversial notion of universal common ancestry (think of Darwin’s tree of life) to (3) the increasingly controversial idea that the mechanism of natural selection and random mutation have produced all the forms of life we see today without any guidance or design. The last meaning of “evolution” is what Richard Dawkins calls the “Blind Watchmaker” thesis.
Equivocation in the definition of evolution can make it difficult for a politician to express legitimate skepticism about the controversial meanings of evolution without being presented to the public as being ignorant of established fact, or “anti-science.” In Walker’s recent case, media coverage traded on precisely this ambiguity to present him as being at odds with the majority of the American public, not to mention the scientific establishment. Media outlets repeatedly cited a poll showing that 65 percent of the American people believe that “human beings have changed over time” — i.e., the first and non-controversial meaning of evolution — without mentioning that a huge majority of Americans (and many scientists) reject the third and distinctly controversial meaning of evolution — the idea that the cause of the change over time is an unguided and undirected mechanism.
You can click through and read the other two, but for now, let’s jump to the right way to answer the question:
Most politicians, of course, don’t know about this tumult in the field or of any of the scientific problems with modern Darwinism. They are thus often unnecessarily intimidated by the consensus that supposedly exists in its favor.
In light of all this, any candidate asked about “the theory of evolution” would be well advised to give an answer that affirms the need to teach about contemporary evolutionary theory, but one that also makes clear distinctions between the different meanings of evolution and indicates an awareness of the scientific problems with the standard theory as demonstrated in the scientific literature. And frankly this is not party-specific advice. The scientific literature says what it says, whether consulted by Democrats or Republicans.
Politicians can also say that they think students should learn about those problems since they regard knowledge of the actual status of the theory as a matter of basic scientific literacy. They should not frame the issue as one of “Science versus the Bible,” or answer as if they were being asked about their personal religious beliefs, or as if they think the only alternative to current dogmatic teaching of Darwinian evolution (with its strict insistence on undirected evolution) is to teach Bible-based creationism. They can challenge the dogmatic (and often ideological) way the topic is currently taught and at the same time affirm their commitment to scientific literacy, academic freedom, and critical thinking.
And here’s a sample question and answer:
Reporter: “Do you believe in evolution?”
Candidate: “Of course, I believe that organisms have changed over time. I certainly believe in evolution in that sense. But I am skeptical about unguided evolution — the idea that natural selection and random mutations have produced the major changes in the history of life we observe without any guidance or design. In fact, in peer-reviewed scientific publications, many scientists have expressed doubts about the creative power of natural selection and random mutation. I think that students in learning about the modern version of Darwin’s theory should learn why scientists have these doubts. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories is a matter of basic scientific literacy. And there are scientific weaknesses in modern Darwinian theory.”
This is the right answer because you pull in the majority of people – the young Earth creationists, the intelligent designists and the guided evolutionists. The only people you leave out are the flat-out materialist naturalists, and they are in the minority. So that’s how you answer the question. It would probably help a great deal if you had read both of Meyer’s books on biological evolution, since he writes at the highest level – far higher than left-wing journalists who probably dropped biology because it was too much work.