Poker strategists sometimes describe unskilled behavior as “coinciding with correct play.” For example, the way most people play poker badly is by calling every bet. If you bluff such a player, even in a situation where he absolutely should fold, he will call your bet and win. His mistake coincides with correct play. From the perspective of conservative Republicans, the Islamic State coincided with correct play when it banned the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution from schools in Mosul. Also, the Islamic State is establishing public school curricula in northern Iraq now. At least we don’t have to worry about Saddam Hussein anymore, right? Guys?
This strong repudiation of a scientific theory by black-clad warlords who behead journalists creates kind of a PR pickle for the suit-clad politicians trying to charm them. By “them” I mean journalists, not Islamic State militants, of course. But on this issue, invidious though the comparison may be, conservative Republicans agree more with the Islamic State than with the American press corps.
Consider this roundup of recent statements by 2016 presidential hopefuls re: whether Darwin was correct. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said that he would “punt” on the issue, adding “that’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or the other.”
Rick Perry described evolution as “a theory that’s out there” and expressed concern about its gaps, while Rick Santorum said it was “used to promote a worldview that is anti-theist, atheist.” Bobby Jindal said local school districts should decide, adding that it was nice people are asking him presidential candidate questions, and Chris Christie advised reporters to get the fuck away from his sandwich.
Compare these attitudes to those held by American earth and life scientists, who believe in the theory of evolution at a rate of 99.85%, according to Bloomberg. Meanwhile, 43% of Republican respondents to a 2014 poll said that human beings evolved, down from 54% in 2009.
What we have here is a failure of leadership. The ideal political party might lead its supporters toward scientific consensus on scientific issues, not away from it. When Walker says that agreeing or disagreeing with science is not the role of a politician, he might be right. But it is most certainly the role of a leader. What these men think personally about evolution may not tell us much about their characters, but it seems telling that they all refuse to make any clear statements publicly.
Meanwhile, in what used to be Iraq and Syria, religious pandering proves able to govern where other strategies could not. It helps to kidnap and murder everyone who disagrees with you, so this really isn’t a clean comparison. But in the ongoing conceit that it is a state and not a criminal syndicate—a conceit that requires it to administer public goods like schools, as Hamas did successfully in Palestine and the Zeta cartel tried unconvincingly in Mexico—ISIS has found that people are more loyal to their religious prejudices than to any particular politics.
Holding the same opinion as the Islamic State does not make conservative Republicans wrong. What makes Republicans wrong is holding the opposite opinion from nearly all scientists. But I think we can agree that pandering to pious ignorance is a common feature of bad political movements.
Both conservative Republicans and ISIS oppose the teaching of evolution as fact in public schools. Neither group has successfully integrated women into its leadership. Both think the United States should fight a war against ISIS. Coincidence? Yes, totally. But I think we can agree that both groups are jerks, and that neither Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi nor Bobby Jindal is a viable candidate for President.