For the 2012 primaries, I’d like to see the following question asked of the Republican presidential candidate field (during a debate):
Do you believe that, five days after the universe began, there were whales in it? Genesis 1 says that there were. Please raise your hand if you believe this, then please take turns commenting.
Wouldn’t this be a great question? It would certainly drive the candidates off the fence regarding evolution. After all, the real evolution question has always been whether we live in a static or evolutionary universe—not whether one “believes” in particular that Darwin’s theory of natural selection wholly accounts for the origin of species.
Journalists, by asking the evolution question in an open-ended fashion, tend to give politicians too much weasel room for dodging it with either an expression of agnosticism or support for Intelligent Design (ID). But asking the whale question would force their hand concerning how seriously they take science (and whether they can dare say the obvious in the presence of their fundamentalist base).
To answer yes to the whale question is, quite literally, to dismiss all of science. To say, “Well, I don’t know, I wasn’t there,” would also show the candidate to be a total ignoramus with regard to science.
The only sane response would be some variation on the following:
No, whales did not exist on the fifth day after creation. The universe did not look the same then as it does today—and it had different things in it. This is because we live in an evolutionary universe, not a static one. We know that we live in an evolutionary universe via converging lines of evidence across the scientific disciplines (astronomy, physics, biology, geology, etc).
The candidates wouldn’t have to say that Genesis, read literally, is wrong. They wouldn’t have to.
But it would be a delicious existential moment to witness. Each candidate would have to decide, right there and then, the following:
Will I publicly side with the empirical truth of reality or will I drink the religious Kool-Aid, asserting an essentially cultish position (“The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it”)?
It wouldn’t just make for great political theatre. The response would be deeply informative concerning the quality of the candidate’s mind, and his or her ability to think quickly and critically.
So here’s my suggestion: to get the whale question asked at a Republican presidential primary debate, let’s start a viral Internet movement: Ask the Whale Question!