As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker showed on Wednesday, the theory of evolution continues to challenge presidential aspirants. Over the past few election cycles, Democratic candidates often voiced their unabashed support of Darwin's scientific breakthrough, while Republicans offered up views ranging from outright denial to complex hedging to less than full-throated support.
The divide is not just political, however. While 99.85% of American earth and life scientists believe the theory of evolution to be bedrock fact, 42% of the general public surveyed in a 2014 Gallup poll said they believed that human beings arrived on the earth in their present form.
While the belief in evolution, or lack thereof, may not directly impact whether a given candidate is qualified to become president, the question is regularly put to those who seek the White House. Why? Because some liberals believe it helps demonstrate whether a politician will be guided by evidence in making decisions, while some conservatives believe Biblical truths to be un-revisable. While a 2014 Pew Research Center poll found that the number of Republicans who believe in evolution has gone down over the past five years, with 43 percent now saying that human beings have evolved, down from 54 percent when the same poll was given in 2009.
With numbers like that, it's no wonder so many GOP hopefuls aren't rushing to embrace natural selection. Here's a sampling from some of the prospective 2016 candidates who are uncomfortable embracing evolution.
Speaking at Chatham House think tank on Wednesday, Walker refused to answer a few non-trade questions, but made the most headlines with his "punt" response to whether he believed in evolution, and went further in suggesting that the topic should be off-limits. “That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or the other,” Walker said. “I’m here to talk about trade, not to pontificate on other issues.”
During his last run for the White House, former Texas governor Rick Perry called evolution "a theory that's out there," adding that it has "got some gaps in it."
"In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools," Perry told a little boy whose mother was none too pleased with the governor's answers.
Rick Santorum has long championed bringing intelligent design and creationism into public schools. In a 2008 interview with the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life, Santorum argued, "I think there are a lot of problems with the theory of evolution, and do believe that it is used to promote to a worldview that is anti-theist, that is atheist."
At a September breakfast panel hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was asked about his stance on evolution.
"The reality is I'm not an evolutionary biologist," Jindal replied. "What I believe as a father and a husband is that local schools should make decisions on how they teach. And we can talk about Common Core and why I don't believe in a national curriculum. I think local school districts should make decisions about what should be taught in their classroom. I want my kids to be exposed to the best science, the best critical thinking..."
Pressed further by reporters, Jindal emphasized there wasn't a one-size-fits-all solution.
"I will tell you, as a father, I want my kids to be taught about evolution in their schools, but secondly, I think local school districts should make the decision," he said.
Asked about his own personal beliefs on what the proper curriculum should include, Jindal indicated that evolution was just the beginning.
"I told you what I think. I think that local school districts, not the federal government, should make the decision about how they teach science, biology, economics. I want my kids to be taught about evolution; I want my kids to be taught about other theories."
During a 2011 town hall meeting in Manalapan, New Jersey, Christie was asked about whether creationism should be taught in the state's public schools.
Christie replied that it was “really a dangerous area for a governor who stands up from the top of the state to say, 'You should teach this, you should teach that.'"
Following that event, Christie was asked at a press conference whether his personal beliefs on evolution had influenced his statement that local school districts should be able to decide whether they teach intelligent design.
In response, Christie told the reporter it was "none of your business" what he thinks about evolution or creationism.
“That is not to say, as it was interpreted by some that I was advocating for the teaching of creationism," Christie added. "Folks never really have a hard time figuring out when I’m advocating for something.”
Former Arkansas governor and former Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee has never been shy about injecting religion into politics, and was one of three GOP candidates to signal that he did not believe in the theory of evolution in a 2008 presidential debate.
When he was a candidate for the Senate, Rand Paul was asked by an audience member at a Christian Homeschool Educators of Kentucky about the age of the earth.
"I forgot to say I was only taking easy questions," Paul responded, adding, "I’m gonna have to pass on the age of the earth. I think I’m just gonna have to pass on that one."
For the most part, Paul advocates the separation of church and state, though he has signaled his approval of allowing prayer in public schools.