In last week’s Republican debate, three candidates rejected the idea of evolution. They would likely point to particular verses to buttress their opposition, but there are verses that clearly oppose the scientific claim that the earth orbits and verses that prohibit charging or collecting interest on loans (usury). (See Psalms 93:1 and 104:5 for examples of verses about the earth not orbiting or Romans 13:8 or Ezekiel 18:13 for prohibitions against usury.)
I would say that the rejection of evolution is based in something other than a literal interpretation of the Bible. Rather, it seems to me, it reflects a belief in the power of pronouncements. “God said, ‘Let there be light,” and there was light,’” has great appeal to politicians who love the idea of going into a foreign country and saying “Let there be democracy!” or going into a classroom and saying, “Abstain from sex!” Life is so much simpler if all that stands between us and our ideals are simple pronouncements.
One reason that the Catholic Church rejected Copernicus’s ideas was that accepting these ideas would mean that scientists with data could challenge church officials with scripture. They were perfectly right to see Copernicus’s ideas about revolution as, well, revolutionary. In 1514, Copernicus published his first explanation of his heliocentric view. In 1517, Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses, the first salvo in the Protestant Revolution. After Copernicus and Luther, the Catholic Church never again wielded so much power.
Political conservatives who reject evolution are the intellectual grandchildren of those who rejected Copernicus’s ideas. They have similar motivations. If evolution suggests that reality changes gradually and through trial and error, it suggests a world less predictable and certain, suggests strategies more tentative and exploratory than their personality would embrace. More importantly, accepting evolution suggests giving up power, admitting that the answer to questions may lie “out there” with millions of scientists rather than here in my personal interpretation of God’s will. As it was with the Catholic Church in the 16th century, the real issue is power.