Absolutely surreal. When asked who did not believe in evolution, three of the ten Republican candidates for president raised their hands: Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo, and Sam Brownback. Now, Brownback is a Catholic convert from evangelicalism, and a darling of the right. Clearly, some of his evangelical mode of thinking has not left him.
As I discussed recently, there is no inherent conflict between faith and evolution, as long as boundaries are respected. Therefore a person of faith should not castigate scientific findings about evolution that are accepted by all but a handful of quacks, and a scientist should likewise refrain from arguing that evolution proves the absence of a Creator (it proves no such thing). Way back in 1950, Pope Pius XII declared that there was no opposition between evolution and the Christian faith. While Pius was tentative, Pope John Paul II stated very clearly in 1996 that "new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis." Cardinal Schonborn, who has reflected a lot on the topic, sums it up: "I see no difficulty in joining belief in the Creator with the theory of evolution, but under the prerequisite that the borders of scientific theory are maintained." And Pope Benedict recently voiced similar thoughts: "The question is not to either make a decision for a creationism that fundamentally excludes science, or for an evolutionary theory that covers over its own gaps and does not want to see the questions that reach beyond the methodological possibilities of natural science."
The title of John Paul's 1996 address was "Truth Cannot Contradict Truth", which is quite apt. In other words, as Pope Benedict is fond of saying, faith and reason are perfectly compatible, because God's own word is Reason (Logos), who is God himself. Catholics believed God gave his own Word or reason so we could become one with him, and, in his essay, Pope John Paul appeals to Aquinas when be notes that "man's likeness to God resides especially in his speculative intellect, for his relationship with the object of his knowledge resembles God's relationship with what he has created". God is reason and infinte intelligence, and faith and reason are intimately entwined. We simply cannot appeal to faith to dismiss basic scientific tenets.
But if you believe that God's word is not reason incarnate, but a fixed text, then none of this holds. This explains why there is such a strong correlation between denial of evolution and American-style evangelical fundamentalism. After all, evolution conflicts with the literal text of Genesis. It is important to note that the American-created "intelligent design" does not merely postulate that God is the Creator of everything out of nothing and guides all of creation (sensible), but encroaches on scientific territory by holding that organisms appeared simultaneously (not so sensible). It is denial. But the argument is a little more nuanced than simply appealing to biblical literalism. At the heart of the issue is the relationship between faith and reason. Systems of text-based revelation veer away from an idea of God that is reason, truth and infinite intelligence, and toward a notion of God as pure will which leaves the door open to God' purposes being arbitrary. This is voluntarism. It also, by the way, is the point Pope Benedict was making about Islam that landed him in such hot water last year (see here and here). We must always remember that faith and reason are compatible.
In conclusion, Brownback, as a Catholic, should know better. In a sense, Tancredo's response makes more sense. He has left the Catholic church for evangelicalism. To have embraced a voluntarist God is therefore compatible with his conversion. But Brownback still has some distance to travel. Lest there is any doubt about this hypothesis, simply note that the denial of evolution is concentrated in a small group of American evangelicals. You do not see Christians around the world disdaining science in such a manner. And it goes beyond evolution. Just look at the global warming debate. In a recent poll, despite the overwhelming consensus of the evidence, only 13 percent of Republicans in Congress believe human activity is leading to global warming. And, as with Brownback on evolution, they have backers among the Catholic right. I'll have more to say about this soon...