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‘Stance of elected officials toward science matters’

At a recent church-sponsored town hall in Colorado Springs, Colorado Representative and pastor Scott Bottoms rejected the science of biological evolution, calling it a hoax. To my knowledge, Bottoms is the highest-ranking elected official currently serving in the state to explicitly reject evolution.

He joins District 51 school board member Barbara Evanson, who, with her husband (also a pastor) penned a screed against evolution and called for the teaching of creationism in public-school science classrooms.

Bottoms said: “I am not an evolutionist, I think that’s a big hoax. It’s been a hoax since it was propagated and most scientists nowadays know it was a hoax. They’re not allowed to talk about it, but they know that. But here’s the thing – if you believe in evolution, why don’t you just kill people?”

Bottoms’ claim that “most scientists” reject evolution is, of course, complete nonsense. Biological evolution is the foundation of the life sciences, supported by millions of fossils and extensive research from multiple fields, including genetics and geology. Someone who rejects biological evolution is no more a life scientist than someone who rejects the theory of gravity is a physicist or someone who rejects the germ theory of disease is an epidemiologist. “Among scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 98% say they believe humans evolved over time,” Pew reports.

In Bottoms’ fevered imagination, some grand conspiracy results in scientists claiming to believe in biological evolution while “really” believing the opposite.

According to the same Pew report, large majorities of religious people in the U.S. believe that humans evolved, although most Protestants and Catholics think that evolution is “guided by God or a higher power.” (Most Southern Baptists, on the other hand, believe humans “always existed in their present form.”) Various other churches have embraced evolution.

The stance of elected officials toward science matters. According to the 2023 state achievement results in science from the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, only 33.9% of fifth-grade students met or exceeded expectations, only 31.3% of eighth-graders did, and only 24.6% of 11th-graders did. For a state representative who votes on education policy, to display such willful ignorance of basic science does not set a good example.

Bottoms suggests, nonsensically, that people who believe in evolution logically should “just kill people.” Perhaps he would limit his claims to secularists who embrace evolution and not include the millions of religious Americans who accept biological evolution.

Bottoms ignores not only thousands of years of secular moral tradition (notably that of Aristotle) but modern crime trends as well. If Bottoms were right that secularists tend to be more violent, then we would expect more-secular countries to be more violent. Yet Canadians, for example, express overall strong approval for evolution, while Canada’s homicide rate is less than half that of the U.S. Phil Zuckerman points out that “the most godless democracies on Earth today – Japan, Sweden, South Korea, Norway, Estonia, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic,” have low levels of violence and generally good outcomes.

Secularists tend to believe that the quality of life on Earth matters enormously – it is the only life we have – so they tend to be profoundly motivated to achieve a prosperous, peaceful life on Earth and to create rights-respecting governments toward that end.

Bottoms generally is motivated by an anti-scientific, supernaturalist worldview characterized by conspiracy mongering and appeals to demonic forces. As James O’Rourke reported for the Colorado Times Recorder, Bottoms called legislative supporters of a sex-education bill “pedophiles.” He said that pastors who declined to condemn homosexuality were tricked by Satan; he claimed that ultimately “all sickness comes from Satan.” Bottoms claimed that Islam and Hinduism are inspired by (you guessed it) Satan. He claimed that “Biden didn’t win” the 2020 presidential election; and he suggested that the COVID-19 vaccine might be “the mark of the beast.”

Bottoms does not know and, unfortunately, is hostile to learning, what he is missing when it comes to the science of biological change. As Charles Darwin wrote in the closing lines of his breakthrough “On the Origin of Species,” “There is grandeur in this view of life from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

Ari Armstrong’s Opinion column originally appeared in the Colorado Times Recorder based in Denver.