Rick Perry, Meet Charles Darwin


It’s Thumb Your Nose at Science Week in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. In the primary campaign that’s turned into a competition to out-crazy your rival’s crazy, the latest craze is evolution- and climate change-denial. In New Hampshire as part of his campaign launch, Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivered a double dose of denial, pandering to the GOP’s far-Right base by essentially saying that social issue conservatism and corporate special interests know better than all those smarty pants scientists.

On climate change, Perry paints climate change as some sort of scam, with researchers feathering their lab benches with the money that supposedly is doled out to gin up evidence for global warming. On the climate skeptic side of the argument, Perry touts the steady stream of courageous scientists piping up to cry foul:

“I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

And then, Talking Points Memo points out, Perry showed that for all his steely rock-ribbed conservative certainty on so many things, he’s kinda squishy about evolution. When double-teamed by a mother and her school-aged son, Perry explained that schools in Texas reflect evolution’s still-uncertain place in the scientific marketplace of ideas:

“Here your mom was asking about evolution. And you know, it’s a theory that is out there — it’s got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools. Because I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.”

Exactly, I send my daughter off to school so that she and other students can pass judgment on the validity of the greenhouse effect or natural selection as scientific paradigms. Contrary to Gov. Perry’s smarmy glib assertions, both human-caused global warming and evolution are rock solid. For over 20 years, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reviewed and synthesized the results of thousands of scientific studies of environmental and climate trends — a mounting preponderance of evidence for man-made climate change. (Now that I think of it, I wonder whether it’s the mainstream climate scientists or the deniers who can tap into politically motivated funding sources?)

When it comes to evolution, I remember 30 years ago in college when a budding cancer researcher explained to me that natural selection was proving extremely useful as a theoretical framework for a wide array of cancer pathologies. Not to mention the zoological family trees of species for which Darwin originally developed his theory.

Which brings me to the longstanding right wing tactic of crying “theory” to cast doubt on the scientific targets of their scorn. As they ought to teach in Texas schools and everywhere else, a theory is a framework or rule put forward as a pattern for the occurrence of the phenomena being studied. That’s the function of theories in science — how they’re supposed to work. When the pattern or rule doesn’t consistently bear out, the theory is disproven. When the framework does match up with the data scientists collect, it’s still a theory – a durable and successful one.

Returning to the Republican presidential politics of all this, the one moderate in the race who’s opted out of the crazy-thon, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, wanted the record to show he actually believes in science. As Huntsman tweeted on Thursday:

“To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

Which got me thinking about a potential strategy for Gov. Huntsman’s campaign. What if he adopted a bemused good-humored posture of “will you get a load of these guys?!” I’m only half joking here. Huntsman’s stance as the sole candidate to say he’d vote for the debt ceiling deal reminded me of those two brave Senators Morse and Gruening who voted against the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and were then of course vindicated by the Vietnam War morass.  They say Huntsman is really laying the groundwork for a 2016 campaign. Who knows, maybe he’ll start looking good to Republican primary voters even sooner.

Related Stories:

Perry: Climate Change Is a Hoax Invented By Dollar-Hungry Scientists

Are We Still a Nation of Science?

Don’t Make Connections Between Extreme Weather Events

Photo credit: gds


William Y.
William Y6 years ago

Ainsley C. says, "mutations are not beneficial and are to be avoided at all cost unless you want a life of horrible debilitating diseases like premature aging, cancer, autoimmunity and many others."

Wrong, most mutation are neutral. A few would be detrimental, some are beneficial. A mutation in coloration may help a species survive, giving it the advantage against predators.
The same mutation could be detrimental if it prevents camouflage and makes it easier for prey to find it. A mutation can be neutral and become beneficial or detrimental with the change of environment. That is part of natural selection, selecting what is best and weeding out the detrimental. As for dinosaurs becoming birds, given millions of years of natural selection of various mutations, natural selection, that is precisely what happens, to be blunt, birds are dinosaurs.Evolution , like all robust theories, such as gravity, oxidation-reduction, Krebs cycle & plate tectonics are still missing data which is why they are not universally accepted as such. That is what science is, the continual search for evidence, and modifying what is found to be wrong.

Ainsley Chalmers
Ainsley Chalmers6 years ago

just because some scientists believe in evolution or global warming doesnt mean all scientists do. evolution is not a fact and the process is highly unlikely if not impossible. evolution is not exclusively natural selection (which all scientists believe in as they do gravity) but natural selection plus mutations giving rise to new species such as birds from dinosaurs. mutations are not beneficial and are to be avoided at all cost unless you want a life of horrible debilitating diseases like premature aging, cancer, autoimmunity and many others.

Herbert Babb
Herbert Babb6 years ago

Perry is dumb like a fox, keeping Texas illeterate is the best way for an idiot like him to remain governor for a decade. Actually all anti-education politicians are banking on the fact that if you dumb down the people you can get away with almost anything and they will think they're being advocated for. As the late great Molly Ivins once said,"The next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president, listen to me". This certainly applies to Perry.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams6 years ago

If Rick Perry is so opposed to Darwin's stand on evolution--why does he insist on applying Social Darwinism to government spending--like all government spending should benefit only the rich who are already doing just fine--and horrors--no government spending should benefit the poor--who might starve without some help from government?

Christopher Fowler

Perry, being a right wing Christian science denier is going to use the same scientifically illiterate and disproven arguments that all creationists use. Like them, he forgets that the job of science is not to prove/disprove the existence of god, but to explain the workings of our physical world/universe. Science makes no statement on things that cannot be measured, such as deity.

Perry's stance is anti-science and will force parents to send their children out of state for school, if those parents want to be able to compete in the real world of science.

Asiatic Lion
Asiatic L6 years ago


Ernie Miller
william Miller6 years ago

he is Darwinism in parctice He who can change the political climate in favor of big buisness becomes the fattest.

Jan W.
Jan W6 years ago

Like Ellen M., I too need a chiropractor. If this wasn't actually happening (another Bush, now called Perry; same state, more silliness) it would be too funny to be real.

Chris S.
Chris S6 years ago

The bottom line with Perry is that he isn't very bright, but he is well connected, and unafraid of bilking the taxpayers. We know his opinion on climate change, and that alone is very scary. Science is not a big interest for Rick. He keeps taking money (stimulus) and denying that as well. Here is a pretty interesting read on where our money goes (here in Texas).


Kirsten Taufer
Kirsten Taufer6 years ago

Sarah N. -- Idiocracy, totally! That's the result of systematically undermining public education.