Does Mike Pence Believe in Evolution?

The VP-elect may not have absolutely denied the phenomenon of evolution, but he has said that "intelligent design provides the only even remotely rational explanation for the known universe."

Published Nov 13, 2016

Credit: Gage Skidmore
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Mike Pence, former Indiana congressman and current Indiana governor and Vice President-elect of the United States, has long been public about his support for a Biblical interpretation of the origin of species. In a 2009 interview, MSNBC host Chris Matthews asked Pence directly if he believed in evolution:

MATTHEWS: Do you believe in evolution, sir?

PENCE: Do I believe in evolution? I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that’s in them.

MATTHEWS: Right. But do you believe in evolution as the way he did it?

PENCE: The means, Chris, that he used to do that, I can’t say. But I do believe in that fundamental truth.

While this statement does not explicitly demonstrate that Pence rejects the possibility that evolution could have played a role as a mechanism in God’s creation of the heavens and the earth, it does suggest that he is, at the very least, not sold on the idea. And Pence's earlier statements on the subject demonstrate an even more contradictory view of evolution.

Earlier in his career as a congressman, Pence attempted to demonstrate, in a 2002 speech on the floor of Congress, that the science of evolution was unsettled by highlighting a recent paleontological discovery of a 6- to 7-million year old skull belonging to a distant relative of humans. This discovery, he argued, meant that science textbooks about evolution would need to be rewritten, demonstrating that evolution is merely a “theory” and not a "fact." Therefore, he concluded, evolution shouldn't be taught in schools without an accompanying Biblical explanation to serve as an equally valid theory:

Paleontologists are excited about this, Mr Speaker, but no one's pointing out that the textbooks, I guess, will need to be changed. Because the old theory of evolution taught for seventy seven years in the classrooms of America as fact is suddenly replaced by a new theory or, I hasten to add I'm sure, will be told a new fact.

Well the truth is it always was a theory, Mr Speaker. And now that we've recognized evolution as a theory, I would simply and humbly ask that can we teach it as such and can we also consider teaching other theories of the origin of species ...

As many critics were quick to point out, Pence's logic was rooted in a mischaracterization of what the word “theory” means in the scientific world:

In scientific parlance, a “theory” is a broad explanation for a wide range of phenomena supported by many lines of evidence. Scientists have accumulated 150 years of evidence to support Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, ranging from the bones in the fossil record to adaptations that happen right before their eyes. Neither Darwin nor the 99 percent of working research scientists who believe humans have evolved to reach their present form doubt that the theory of evolution is the correct explanation for the history of life on this planet and should be taught in schools as such.

This contention also points to the broader philosophical difference between a scientific worldview and Pence’s view. In Pence’s logic, new information about an existing theory is problematic or even fatal to that theory’s existence. But the scientific ideal is to constantly modify and refine ideas whenever new discoveries come to light.

In the same 2002 speech, Pence explicitly stated which explanation for the origins of life he believes in: Intelligent Design, or the philosophy that an intelligent force actively designed some, if not all, of the intricate systems that allow life and our universe to exist:

The Bible tells us that God created man in His own image, male and female; He created them. And I believe that, Mr Speaker. I believe that God created the known universe, the earth, and everything in it including man, and I also believe that some day, scientists will come to see that only the theory of intelligent design provides [the only] even remotely rational explanation for the known universe.

The pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute think tank defines intelligent design as holding that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."

Full acceptance of Intelligent Design requires the rejection of some key tenets of evolutionary science. Endorsing it, therefore, is an explicit admission of skepticism, if not outright denial, of the validity of evolution as presented by Darwin and accepted by upwards of 98% of scientists.

Pence has been more reticent on the issue of evolution since he became the Vice Presidential nominee. In a July 2016 Fortune article about Pence’s science views, Sy Mukherjee attempted to reach out to Pence on the question of evolution and is apparently still waiting:

Fortune has reached out to Pence’s gubernatorial office to ask if any of his views on these issues have changed, and will update this post if it responds.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.

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