Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin presents a curious mix for conservatives. She roots for creationism and wants it to be taught in schools as an antidote to evolution. But she has also been effusive in accepting her 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy.
The nomination of Palin, Governor of Alaska, untainted by Washington politics, a fresh face, a young woman at 44, was considered a masterstroke by the 71-year-old John McCain. That she has been pro-life, meaning anti-abortion and she wants creationism taught in schools gladdens the hearts of conservatives.
In a 2006 gubernatorial debate, the soon-to-be governor of Alaska said of evolution and creation education, "Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of education. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."
The battle between evolution and creationism -- specifically, Christian creationism -- in U.S. classrooms dates back to the 1925 Scopes trial, when a Tennessee court banned the teaching of evolution. Since then, state and federal courts have repeatedly rejected so-called creation science in public schools, calling it religion rather than science.
The latest courtroom defeat came in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover case, when the superficially religion-neutral theory of intelligent design was classified as religious creationism. The Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching creationism violated the separation of church and state.
Intelligent design is the assertion 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."
It is a modern form of the traditional teleological argument for the existence of God, modified to avoid specifying the nature or identity of the designer. The idea was developed by certain United States creationists who reformulated their argument in the creation-evolution controversy to circumvent court rulings that prohibit the teaching of creationism as science.
But armed with courtroom-friendly language, Texas is currently considering creationism-friendly revisions to its own curriculum. In June, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal passed the Louisiana Science Education Act, encouraging schools to provide alternative critiques of global warming, human cloning and evolution. Similar initiatives were defeated in South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Missouri and Michigan. So the battle continues.
Predictably defenders of evolution -- and, more broadly, scientific integrity -- worry that Palin's pick will give momentum to this church-over-state push.
"It's unfortunate McCain would pick someone who shares those particular anti-science views, but it's not a surprise," said Barbara Forrest, a Southeastern Lousiana University philosophy professor and prominent critic of creationist science. "She's a choice that pleases the religious right. And the religious right has been the chief force against teaching evolution."
According to Fordham Institute science education expert Lawrence Lerner, Palin's nomination is less worrisome in terms of education than the broad relationship of science and government.
"In the direct sense, vice presidents don't have much to do with what goes on in classrooms. But a person who's a creationist doesn't understand science and technology at all," said Lerner. "It doesn't bode well for science, and doesn't bode well for interaction between science and government."
But the excitement in conservative circles is now moderated by the news of the pregnancy of Palin's young daughter Bristol.
In fact there were rumours circulating on liberal blogs and websites that Sarah Palin had faked pregnancy and pretended to have given birth in May to her fifth child, a son named Trig, afflicted with Down's syndrome. Bloggers insinuated that Trig was Bristol Palin's child and that Mrs Palin was pretending to be the mother just to save the daughter of embarrassment.
All that ferment within 72 hours of the announcement of Sarah Palin's candidacy. So the Palins moved in quickly to quash the rumours, saying, "We have been blessed with five wonderful children who we love with all our heart and mean everything to us," said Sarah and Todd Palin in a statement. "Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support."
At the moment conservatives are rallying around Palins. Writes Carol Platt Liebau:
"I admire all the Palins' willingness to be forthright about the pregnancy, their pro-life convictions even when they entail personal pain or embarrassment, and their understanding that babies need and deserve to have a father and a mother who are committed to each other in marriage."
But McCain campaign is worried what more spin the story would take or what more negative stories would flow.