PolitiFact California has ruled it "True" [original version at the Internet Archive] that Republican candidate for vice president Mike Pence denied evolution exists. But PolitiFact California provided absolutely no evidence that Pence ever made any such denial.
Is PolitiFact California stupid?
PolitiFact California relied for its evidence on a Pence interview from "Hardball," a television program hosted by journalist Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS:Pence's answer to Matthews falls squarely squarely into the agnostic realm. Pence tells Matthews that he does not know whether (theistic) evolution explains creation. It's worth noting, however, that later in the interview Matthews charges that Pence believes in evolution but will not admit it for fear of offending his conservative constituency. Matthews knows something PolitiFact California does not?
You want to educate the American people about science and its relevance today. Do you believe in evolution, sir?
I—do I believe in evolution? I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that‘s in them.
Right. But do you believe in evolution as the way he did it??
The means, Chris, that he used to do that, I can‘t say.
Stating one does not know whether God created the universe by evolution is not nearly the same thing as a denial that evolution exists.
This is the fact of the matter: PolitiFact California nowhere provided any evidence to support Jerry Brown's charge that Pence denied evolution exists. Rating the claim "True" just makes PolitiFact California look stupid. And biased.
Update July 29, 2016: Deleted a redundant word in the last paragraph.
Update July 30, 2016
In the afternoon of July 29, 2016, PolitiFact archived its original "True" rating for Gov. Brown and published a new version of the fact check, this time giving Brown a "Half True" rating.
The new version continues PolitiFact California's cutesy inclusion of irrelevancies like Pence's skepticism of climate change. Is PolitiFact hinting at a causal relationship between skepticism of climate change and denial of evolution? If not, we don't see the relevance.
Our take? PolitiFact California half fixed the problem with its fact check. It's not reasonable to take the lack of any solid evidence of a denial and to then say that the claim of a denial is half true.
Jeff D. put it well on Twitter:
The fact is that PolitiFact does not have evidence Pence even expressed skepticism of the existence of evolution.@CAPolitiFact @christhejourno If I say I don't know who is buried in Grant's tomb it is not half-true that I'm denying Grant is buried there— PolitiFact Bias (@PolitiFactBias) July 29, 2016
The worst that can be said of Pence on the issue of evolution is that his statement admits to doubt that evolution explains the origin and diversity of life on earth. But even evolutionists like Sir Francis Crick have expressed such doubts. Crick, in his book "Life Itself," proposed that life on earth was seeded from elsewhere in the universe.
The problem for PolitiFact California stems from the many ways in which the word "evolution" is understood. Gov. Brown's phrasing hints that Pence rejected every facet of evolution up to and including descent with modification. Pence's answer to Matthews' questions appeared to use "evolution" in the broader sense of explaining the origin and diversity of life.
The failure to strictly define the key term helps lead to a muddled and useless fact check.
It makes no sense to call it "Half True" that Pence denied evolution when one can produce no reasonable evidence in support of the claim. This is the best PolitiFact California can do:
Pence’s comments could be interpreted as rejecting evolution, but there’s no hard evidence to back up that idea.Of course it's possible to interpret Pence's words as a denial of evolution: All it takes is a little fallacious thinking.
PolitiFact dropping its ruling of Brown to "Half True" was a half measure.
Edit: Added link to PF's Half True version at "Half True" text in first paragraph of Update. -Jeff 0828 PST 7/30/16