June 17, 2024

Pence the Dence

On July 11th 2002, Mike Pence, then representing Indiana’s 6th congressional district, testified before the House of Representatives that public schools should teach the theory of evolution as if it were only one of multiple hypotheses regarding the origins of species. Now that Trump the Chump has chosen Pence the Dense as his vice presidential running mate, I felt obliged to address (now-Governor) Pence’s willful ignorance and misrepresentation of evolution.


I’m actually frustrated with myself that I didn’t make this video even longer by complaining about every dishonest ploy Pence performed in his presentation. I could have been mean and accusatory, and I’m glad I wasn’t on video. I should have been more thorough. But that’s why I have a blog too.

Note that Pence says it had always been his interest to study the origins of man and of life on earth. But he has invested not one moment to the pursuit of either of those topics, and he makes this obvious later on. Instead he admits his unquestioned belief in Bronze age fables, just like every other thoughtless minion to come from his culture of compliant incurious wanna-believers.

As I’ve seen again and again and again with believers, their issue is not that they have reason to believe something different than I do: it’s that they don’t want to believe what is true. In the past I’ve pointed out many times when the faithful are simply trying to come up with some excuse to ignore evidence and deny reason so they can make-believe something else. They’ll say “Why can’t I believe what I wanna believe?” or “These may be what the facts are, but I prefer to believe this”. That’s what faith is.

March of Progress ZallingerIn this case, Pence declared that evolution has never been vindicated by the fossil record. But he then calls our attention to Rudolf Zallinger’s iconic rendering of the “March of Progress”, and then blatantly ignores every transitional fossil hominine depicted therein—as well as a new find (Sahelanthropus tchadensis) that he found mentioned in an article published the day before.

I suspect he already knew that paleoanthropologists had been complained for decades that Zallinger’s artwork wasn’t an accurate depiction, because it places some sister species all in the same linear sequence as if they were all ancestors of Homo sapiens. If Pence had paid attention to his lessons back in high school, rather than just looking at the picture, then he would have known that anthropologists never thought that neanderthals were our ancestors; that instead they were more like the elder brothers of modern humans. Using that same analogy, paranthropines would be our cousins. This is how they were always presented since their discovery. That did not change with the discovery of the Toumaï skull. It had always been taught that way.

Pence and I were in high school at the same time. But unlike him, I actually knew this subject at that time where he still refuses to understand it now. I know how evolution was taught back then. The “theory that was taught as fact” is still exactly correct as they taught it in the ‘1970s. We just know more about it now. We find new evidence all the time and apply new laws and observations occasionally. But throughout the 20th century, there was never a time when the modern-synthesis of Mendelo-Darwinian evolution had to be replaced or even revised because there was never any critical error with the theory itself. So there is a lot more we can teach now, and our understanding is more accurate than it was, but what they taught before still isn’t wrong.

Pence says the word, “sincere” a few times. But it’s hypocritical: he’s not being sincere himself. He said at the start of his speech that Darwin proposed a theory on the origin of species, and he said at the end that we should teach it “as a theory”, by which he meant hypothesis. He obviously doesn’t know the difference, and is adamant that we not teach theories as what a scientific theory actually is, a well-substantiated evident explanation that has been repeatedly tested and confirmed experimentally, being the most reliable, rigorous, and comprehensive form of scientific knowledge. That’s what a scientific theory is. But he would rather teachers tell their students that a theory is just the blind speculation of some smarty-pants sinners who think they’re better than you. He doesn’t want evolution taught as something that is evidently true. He wants teachers to deceive and mislead their students to believe otherwise.

The point is that Pence mentioned Darwin’s theory of evolution both in the beginning and again at the end of his speech. But in the middle, he asserted that Darwin’s theory had somehow been replaced by a new and different theory. Of course he couldn’t say what the new theory was, and he went back to talking about Darwin’s theory again at the end. So we know that he knew that Darwin’s theory hadn’t really been replaced by any other theory, that it was still Darwinian natural selection after that, just like it was before—with all the same explanations, evidence and processes. We can update any lesson on anything to include additional information, but otherwise there is nothing in the old textbooks that would have to be changed, meaning corrected—the way Pence alleged. So he was lying about that.

To support his claim of evolution being replaced by a new theory, Pence cited an article that still promoted Darwinian evolution and didn’t even mention the word, “theory”. But it did mention the famed “missing link” that was discovered in 1974, almost a decade after Zallinger’s rendering. Australopithecus afarensis is just one more transitional species, which Pence has to pretend to have never existed while he tries to make a point that even he knows isn’t legitimate. Even if he accurately understood the difference between hypotheses of a linear lineage vs a branching family tree, he obviously understands that they’re both still part of the same theory: that it’s still Darwin’s theory of evolution no matter how he tries to misrepresent it, and he is clearly doing that on purpose.

Of course he also pretends that the teaching of evolution somehow leads to the moral decay of society, when the actual data is consistently exactly the opposite. But then that’s what religious right propaganda always does, reverse reality however it needs to. So he thinks that the theory is the same thing as a hypothesis. But he also thinks that religious beliefs are hypotheses too. Where he originally claimed the origin of species as a subject of interest to study, he now says it is “unknowable”, and that it may only be “known” through faith. Either Pence is being supremely ignorant or he is proving Peter Boghossian’s point: when Boghossian defined faith as “pretending to know what you don’t know”.

Usually with socially-bigoted reality-denialists like Pence, there are two possibilies: one is that they might be innocently ignorant, mislead by their own inculcation. Pence is Trump’s running mate, so incompetence is probable. But Pence displays more than just willful ignorance. He’s also revealed deliberate dishonesty. He knows evolution was never taught as a linear lineage, that neanderthals were never thought to be our ancestors, and he knows that the textbooks will not have to be corrected, because there is no new theory replacing the old one. His entire argument is a false claim, one which ignores the evidence found in his own citations, which he simply pretends never existed. Does it take a public display of dishonesty to become Trump’s running mate? Is a denial of data required for that? Disdain for science and for public education has even been included on his party platform already, (at least here in Texas). So is anyone even surprised to see such disingenuous behavior in a religious right-wing Republican conservative Christian politician anymore? Hasn’t that become the norm to be expected by now?

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