WASHINGTON -- In a nation where 91 percent of citizens profess to believe in God, it's a safe bet we won't see an atheist in the White House anytime soon.
But what about a president who doesn't believe in Darwin? And are Darwin and God mutually exclusive?
These are the questions that (still) trouble men's souls. And still cause trouble for presidential candidates forced unfairly to essentially choose between God and science.
In the "gotcha" question of the first GOP debate, journalist Jim VandeHei, relaying a citizen's question, asked John McCain: "Do you believe in evolution?"
A natural response might have been, "Well, that depends on how you define evolution." It would seem that Clintonian nuance is off the boards for now. Instead, Mr. McCain gambled and said "Yes."
Next, Mr. VandeHei asked: Is there anyone on the stage who doesn't believe in evolution? Three raised their hands: Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado.
As debate audiences were pondering the meaning of Darwin in the Oval Office, Mr. McCain asked permission to elaborate. Mr. McCain then added: "I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also."
Mr. McCain was able to acknowledge both science and religion - evolutionary theory and creationism - and make them mutually inclusive.
Some may call that "fence-straddling" or "having it both ways," but political observers call it "Bingo!"
The others weren't so fortunate. Like little boys called to the front of the class for public humiliation, Mr. Huckabee, Mr. Tancredo and Mr. Brownback immediately became targets of ridicule by the educated elite who, though Darwinists all, were presented with a contradiction: If Darwin was right, how did these knuckle-draggers make it to the presidential campaign podium?
The truth is, each man took a calculated risk - or a courageous stand, depending on one's view. To say "yes" would have been to betray evangelical Christian voters, 73 percent of whom believe that human beings were created in their present form in the last 10,000 years or so.
To these folks, "no" didn't mean anti-science; it meant pro-God and conveyed a transcendent, nonmaterialistic view of the world. To secular Darwinists, "no" meant either ignorance or pandering to the ignorant.
On its surface, the question seems simple enough. But it remains controversial among some people of faith - including some respected scientists - for whom evolutionary theory reduces man's world to a godless accident bereft of moral meaning or structure.
To the faithful, in other words, it is not such a simple question. It also was not a fair question under the circumstances. Yes or no doesn't quite cover the complex issues implicit in any mention of Darwin these days.
In a conversation after the debate, Mr. Huckabee said, "I wish life were so simple
Kathleen Parker's syndicated column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.