Chris Matthews, the GOP & Evolution

I love Chris Matthews. He has an uncanny ability to locate his interlocutor’s jugular and go for it. So it was the last two nights when he was discussing the GOP’s credibility, or lack thereof, on scientific issues.

Tuesday night, in a discussion with GOP Conference Chairman Mike Spence, Matthews was asking Spence if the GOP’s proposals on climate change were credible, and after Spence suggested that "the science is very mixed" (it is not), Matthews said he thought the problem was deeper, that the Republicans are perceived as hostile to science. Then, in classic Matthews’ style, he looked at Spence and asked, "Do you believe in evolution?" Spence flailed for a bit, but he could only repeat the mantra, "I believe that God created the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that is within them" and said he could not comment on how that creation was accomplished. Spence hedged and dodged, invoked "Inherit the Wind," but he refused to answer Matthews’ question.


The moment recalled a debate during the GOP primaries when Jim VandeHei asked Sen. John McCain if he believed in evolution and McCain paused. The pause did not permit McCain time to consult the scientific evidence, only the political evidence. McCain, to his credit, answered, yes. Several of his colleagues asserted that they do not believe in evolution.

Wednesday night, former Congressman Tom Tancredo took the hot seat on Hardball. He ran to the position that he supports Intelligent Design but then failed to accurately characterize it. Tancredo said he believed what science taught about the processes by which the world was created but that he believed God was capable of working through those processes, but that is not what Intelligent Design argues. Intelligent Design theory argues that the complexity of life, such as the human eye, is such that it could not be achieved through the processes of natural selection as Darwin argued, and indicates direct Divine intervention or planning. Tancredo also suggested that advocates of both theories are roughly equally divided, which is not true.

Note to GOP candidates: Start your answer by pointing out that the question is wrong. No one, repeat no one, believes in evolution. The whole point of science is that it is demonstrable and not dependent upon belief. Science, as I have argued in these pages, has recently been invoked to justify positions that are not scientifically arrived at: scientism is not science when it seeks to displace ethics and philosophy. Is it really that hard to grasp that science can only study "the planet," but that most human beings are saying something profound, and we believe profoundly true, when we refer to "Creation." Science can tell us the how of the planet, but only faith can tell us the why of Creation.

Of course, the GOP is dependent upon its conservative, evangelical base, but we Catholics are not so confined. Recently, at the premiere Roman university, the Gregorian, there was a conference on "Biological evolution: facts and theories." A group of Intelligent Design advocates asked to participate and they were refused: Sorry, this is only for scientists, philosophers and theologians, not advocates.

Faith and reason must always find ways to work together. As Pope John Paul II said, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.” Religion and science ask different questions about the same subject matter, humankind and our world. They will inevitably come into conflict occasionally but that is only because our knowledge is still fallible. There can be no inherent conflict. The great “et, et” as Pope Benedict XVI never tires of saying characterizes the catholic approach to the world.

We Catholics, unlike some GOP leaders looking to their base, can pray with our eyes open. We know how to answer Chris Matthews’ question: No one believes in evolution Chris; we demonstrate it. We do believe in the God who animates Creation, all of it and all of its processes. The beauty of the world only reinforces our belief in God’s goodness. We study the planet. We inhabit Creation. We praise the God who made it all.


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
9 years ago
Very well said!  If only the right people would read this and ponder it...  
9 years ago
I watched/listened to each interview and got progressively hotter under my collar at the evasive tactics of Spence and the misrepresentations of Tancredo. But then I expect them to be evasive and wrong. I took stronger issue with Matthews's repeated use of ''believe'' or its cognates in his questions. So I sent him an email. The misuse of the word ''belief'' among those who are not well informed, such as Matthews, plays right into the hands of those who paint science as a belief system on a par with religion, a wholly false equivalency. I hope show hosts like Matthews will sharpen their language so they can home in on the shortcomings of the anti-science position of so many politicians. The public deserves nothing less.
9 years ago
The Good news is, at the end of the Day, we can all rest, assured that with Time, which is constant, and the right enviroment, the Apes will not evolve and be able to govern themselves, and we will NOT become, a Planet of Apes.
9 years ago
But "demonstration" only works if we "believe" that the world is orderly. If we see the world as chaotic -- say ruled by capricious dictates of "principalities and powers" -- then logic is meaningless and the whole notion of science fails. So at some level Chris Matthews was actually right when he asked if people "believed" in evolution. What amazes me is that so many Christians see the world as chaotic. Does this mean that they see force as the only way to bring order to an evil world? This is the logic that makes torture seem reasonable. If you listen to the hard anti-abortionists that comment here, or to Tom Tancredo, or to so many others you would think force was the answer to the sin of the world. But Jesus said love was the answer -- the only answer.
9 years ago
One last comment on the teaching of evolution and creation - I am not sure that Evangelicals would really want creation taught in the public schools by science teachers, because a scientific treatment of the creation story would lead into an analysis of its origins in the Canaanite and Sumeric creation stories of the region - which were polytheistic yet similar.  In these stories, each day of creation was marked by the dominance of a god who was later vanguished by the god of the next day.  The authors of the two Genesis stories played off of the stories they found, which challenges the contention that God dictated the account to Moses.  If the true story were ever taught in public school, lawsuits would be filed to try to prevent it.
9 years ago
The danger that I see is when scientific theory is accompanied with a philosophy of strict materialism.  Not in high school usually, but after.  The mechanisms of evolution or cosmology are one thing, but scientists typically also believe: Does God exist?  Absolutely not. What is Free Will?  An illusion. What is the nature of Love?  A chemical process to aid in the replication of DNA. What is the Meaning of Life?  Puh-lease.  If anything, it's back to DNA replication...  
9 years ago
"Tuesday night, in [url=]a discussion with GOP Conference Chairman Mike Spence[/url], Matthews was asking Spence if the GOP’s proposals on climate change were credible, and after Spence suggested that "the science is very mixed" (it is not)", Glad to have that cleared up by a non-scientist.
9 years ago
No surprise that you would like pro-abortion Chis Matthews who compared pro-lifers to terrorists. As for Climate Control the science is quite mixed and the trend is actually more and more scientists coming out against it.  But hey it's dogma for Progressives.
9 years ago
Jeff Miller, you are a piece of cake. I've escorted at a Planned Parenthood clinic for six years. In that capacity I've met lots of anti-abortion/anti-family planning protesters. They regularly insult, spit upon, curse, and threaten me, the other escorts and the patients. Their intellectual peers over the past two decades have killed doctors and escorts, physically attacked clinic staff, and bombed clinics. That strikes me as terrorism, perhaps not on the same scale as Al-Queda, but terrorism non the less. And you are either ignorant or lying if you think the science on anthropogenic global warming (you say ''Global Control'' but I'm sure you mean anthropogenic global warming) is quite mixed. It is not. And there are very few scientists in the field of climatology who don't accept the reality of it. Refusing to acknowledge its reality is to ignore the canary in the coal mine that is our Earth.
9 years ago
Here's an excellent youtube clip that cogently, quickly and clearly provides some quick "proofs" of evolution.  There's a part of this clip that features Biologist Dr. Ken Miller of Brown University.  Dr. Miller's book, FINDING DARWIN'S GOD, is one of the best books on the topic, laying out the science, and how he, as a believing Catholic, reconciles his knowledge of evolution with his religious beliefs.  His reflections on the theological problems raised for believers by a God who does NOT work through chance are excellent.  His elucidation of the implications of quantum mechanics as a way God both insures our and creation's freedom, while also providing a way for God to be active in the processes are fascinating. Rick Malloy, S.J.
9 years ago
Yes, His Holiness talks a lot about the proper integration between faith and reason within Catholicism. And I applaud him for this. But it's unfortunately that apparently within the hierarchy there is a double standard, when it comes to issues and matters regarding sexuality there can be no integration and thing are simply looked at as "what the Church has always taught..." Until a leader within the Church has the courage to stand up and say it's time to integrate science with faith when in terms of thinking about issues like homosexuality, stem cell research, or abortion, I think the Church will continue to suffer and have its credibility undermined...
9 years ago
The belief by some in the hierarchy that the involvement of random chance in evolution is still a sticking point in some of their world views.  Their objection is absolutely wrong and is ignorant of Chaos Theory, which has found order even in randomness.  Catholics should be more charitable to their Evangelical bretheren on this issue.  When visiting my Grandmother's house on college break one summer I browsed one of the science texts my father used in the 1930s in parochial school.  Let's just say it was hardly Darwinian. Oh, and time is relative.  At the end of the day, there is no day - which is why the temporal human soul has trouble contemplating eternity.
9 years ago
Chris Matthews tirade on evolution was embarrassing for Catholics.  I am Jesuit educated and a graduate of the same high school as Chris Matthews so we have almost identical educations.  I know that my extremely valuable education never prepared me for this debate.  So I do not know what makes Matthews an advocate for truth on this.  Certainly not his education.  For the past 10 years I have followed closely the evolution debate and it is rare that it is accurately portrayed and Matthews did not come close to doing so.  One of the persons who is key in this inaccurate portrayal is Ken Miller who was held out by another commenter as a Catholic who brings some light to this debate.  That is not my experience.  If anything he has distorted, misrepresented and may have even lied about this debate.  There is another Catholic, Michael Behe, who has equal or better academic qualifications and is much more honest on these issues than Ken Miller.  If one wants an accurate understanding of the evolution debate, Catholics should read what he has to say and make up their minds.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The news from Ireland and the United States reminds us of Herod, of Pharaoh. What culture betrays its children?
The EditorsMay 26, 2018
A woman religious casts her ballot May 25 in Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on its law on abortion. Voters went to the polls May 25 to decide whether to liberalize the country's abortion laws. (CNS photo/Alex Fraser, Reuters)
The repeal of Ireland's Eighth Amendment, which guarantees the right to life of the unborn, has passed with a nearly 2-1 margin.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Secretary of Education stirred up controversy when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student should be reported to authorities.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 25, 2018
Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
“Priests and bishops get verbal abuse by being told, ‘How can you speak for women? You don’t know what it’s like!’”
America StaffMay 25, 2018