Are creationists dictating Covid policy?

Are creationists dictating Covid policy? We just received an article, Far-Right Creationists Are Setting Trump’s Virus Response, by Matthew Sheffield, which suggests precisely that. Mr. Sheffield’s article is posted in Right Wing Watch, a “project” of the progressive organization People For the American Way.

Mr. Sheffield begins by noting that Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, told Jake Tapper of CNN, “We are not going to control the pandemic … because it’s a contagious virus” (does he think we could control it better if it were a non-contagious virus?). Mr. Meadows may or may not be a creationist, but he is certainly a fellow traveler: At one time, he purchased a piece of property on which an Allosaurus specimen had been discovered (supposedly by some home-schooled children). He then sold the property to Answers in Genesis, arguably in order to keep the fossils under the control of young-earth creationists.

The Vice-President, Mike Pence, heads the White House Coronavirus Task Force. On August 8, 2016, Mr. Sheffield reminds us, Mr. Pence said, in a somewhat rambling speech on the floor of the House,

I believe that God created the known universe, the earth, and everything in it, including man. And I also believe that some day scientists will come to see that only the theory of intelligent design provides [an] even remotely rational explanation for the known universe, but until that day comes and [sic] I have no fear of science. I believe that the more we study the science, the more the truths of faith will become apparent. I just would humbly ask, as new theories of evolution find their ways into the newspapers and into the textbooks, let us demand that educators around America teach evolution not as fact but as theory. And an interesting theory to boot. But let’s also bring into the minds of all of our children all of the theories about the unknowable that some bright day in the future, through science and perhaps through faith, we will find the truth from whence we come[.] [Lightly edited from a user clip, not recorded by C-Span.]

It would be hard to argue that Mr. Pence was not a creationist, though conceivably not a young-earth creationist. In the statement above, contrary to Mr. Sheffield, he did not claim “that science is too changeable to be trusted, and that schools should also teach that humans were ‘created’ by God in their current form,” though he certainly mentioned all the old creationist shibboleths.

Scott Atlas, the White House’s advisor on Covid-19, appears to have been a fairly prolific neuroradiologist before he joined the Hoover Institution, a right-wing think tank. Mr. Sheffield is impressed by the fact that Dr. Atlas is in turn impressed by

the COVID-19 mitigation proposals of George Gilder, co-founder of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that specializes in promoting supply-side economics, climate science denial, and “intelligent design,” a spit-polished version of creationism which focuses more on attacking “Darwinism” than promoting biblical fundamentalism. According to Atlas, Gilder’s recommendation to “defer as much as possible to the principles of freedom” was “right on target.”

Mr. Sheffield details how Mr. Gilder “has also applied his particular blend of junk economics and junk science” elsewhere, but I want to concentrate on Dr. Atlas. Dr. Atlas is not a virologist, an infectious-disease specialist, or an epidemiologist. Nevertheless, he has been advising the White House to let the virus run its course and rely on herd immunity, while protecting “vulnerable populations.” As far as I can determine, no true experts, not least Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx, and 78 of his former colleagues at Stanford Medical School agree with him.

But he is he a creationist? Neither the Times article nor his Wikipedia entry hints that he is a creationist of any kind, let alone a young-earth creationist, which I think is what we mean when we use the term unadorned. At most, Mr. Sheffield has established, in his case, a kind of guilt by association, and the association is mostly with Mr. Gilder and the Discovery Institute, not Mr. Meadows and Mr. Pence. Even so, it seems to me that a creationist is not necessarily wrong about everything else, nor is every so-called libertarian necessarily in favor of inaptly applying a political position, such as “the principles of freedom,” to a medical problem, such as Covid-19.

In short, Mr. Meadows and Mr. Pence may be creationists, depending on your definition. But if Mr. Sheffield is trying to connect Dr. Atlas to creationism, broadly construed, it seems to me that he is on the wrong track: the connection is both tenuous and irrelevant to Dr. Atlas’s position on Covid-19. I think that Dr. Atlas is wrong because he is wrong, and not because he has colleagues who are creationists. And I think I will leave it at that.