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California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Chris Nichols
By Chris Nichols July 29, 2016

Pence dodges question but doesn’t outright 'deny’ evolution

EDITOR'S NOTE: On July 28, 2016, PolitiFact California rated as True a statement by Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown that Republican Indiana Gov. Mike Pence "denies that there's such a thing as evolution." We based that ruling on Pence’s comments in a 2009 MSNBC interview. Subsequently, our readers made some good points that led us to reconsider the fact check. They pointed out that Pence never explicitly denies evolution in the interview. Instead, Pence dodges the question multiple times. With his past skepticism of science, this gives the impression that Pence rejects evolution. Taking all of this into account, we are changing our rating to Half True and providing this new analysis.

California Gov. Jerry Brown came out swinging against Republicans Donald Trump and Mike Pence in his speech at the Democratic National Convention.

"Trump says global warming is a hoax. I say Trump is a fraud," Brown, who has made climate change a top priority, said of the GOP presidential nominee.

Last month, PolitiFact rated Mostly True a similar statement by Hillary Clinton about Trump’s ‘hoax’ claim.

But did Brown stretch the truth in his attack on Pence, the Indiana governor and GOP Vice Presidential candidate?

Brown said of Pence: "... it’s not surprising that Trump chose as his running mate a man who denies that there's such a thing as evolution."

Our research

Asked about Brown’s claim, his spokeswoman pointed to Pence’s 2009 interview on MSNBC’s Hardball. The interview has been widely discussed in recent weeks with Trump’s selection of Pence.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is first asked about evolution at the 8:00 minute mark in this video.

Chris Matthews, the show’s host, asked Pence in the interview: "Do you believe in evolution, sir?"

Pence responded: "I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that’s in them."

Matthews continued: "But do you believe in evolution as the way he did it?"

Pence replied: "The means, Chris, that he used to do that, I can’t say."

Several minutes later, Pence responded similarly to the same question: "Chris, I believe with all my heart that God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them. … How he did that, I’ll ask him about some day."

Pence certainly dances around the topic, but nowhere does he outright deny evolution.

Pence’s comments could be interpreted as rejecting evolution, but there’s no hard evidence to back up that idea.

One could also say Pence’s comments place him in the category of theistic evolutionists, or those who believe religious teachings are compatible with evolution, said Rodney Duke, a professor of religion at Appalachian State University in North Carolina.

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"There are many Christians, including scientists, who will affirm that God is creator and yet accept -- or at least not deny -- that natural evolutionary means were used," Duke said in an email. "Therefore, although Pence's remarks were quite circumspect and he did not affirm evolutionary means, his careful wording did not reject them."

Our research found no evidence Pence has publicly clarified his comments on evolution. Asked about Pence’s current view on the topic, his spokesman pointed to the same 2009 interview without elaborating.

Evolution is not the only science-based process Pence has been circumspect about. He’s also been skeptical of climate change.

And, on his campaign website in 2000, Pence challenged established health science, declaring: "Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill." He went on to say "In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer. This is not to say that smoking is good for you…"

Christian faith

Pence has described himself as "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order."

He was raised Catholic. But, as the New York Times reported in July, "His evangelical Christianity is now the driving force behind his political agenda, whether he is working to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood or to make it legal for religious conservatives to refuse to serve gay couples."

Though clear on some social issues, Pence has been reticent to state his specific beliefs on science. Asked, for example, whether he supports federal funding for stem cell research by Matthews in the 2009 interview, Pence responded:

"I think in our schools we should teach all of the facts about all of these controversial areas, and let our students, let our children and our children’s children decide based upon the facts and the science."

Pence takes a ‘have-it-both-ways,’ approach, declining to clarify his personal opinion on these scientific topics. But, again, that approach can’t be described as outright ‘denying’ evolution.

Our ruling

California Gov. Jerry Brown said GOP Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence "denies that there's such a thing as evolution."

Pence, in a 2009 interview on MSNBC, said: "I embrace the view that God created the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that’s in them."

When asked again and again whether he believes in evolution, he demures, stopping short of explicitly rejecting it. He clearly did not want to answer the question, which ends up sounding like a ‘No.’

Our research found no evidence that Pence has expanded on his less-than-clear view on evolution, leaving it open to interpretation. In more recent years, the Indiana governor has criticized other science-based initiatives, including efforts to slow climate change.

Brown’s statement says Pence "denies" evolution. The Indiana governor certainly doesn’t affirm it. That’s not the same as denying it.

We rate Brown’s claim Half True.

HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

California Gov. Jerry Brown, speech at Democratic National Convention, July 27, 2016

MSNBC, Hardball, interview with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, transcript and video, May 5, 2009

Washington Post, Watch Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, question global warming and demur on evolution, July 15, 2016

Interview, Deborah Hoffman, spokeswoman for California Gov. Jerry Brown, July 27, 2016

Interview, Marc Lotter, spokesman for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, July 27, 2016, In U.S., 42% Believe Creationist View of Human Origins, June 2, 2014

Interview, Rodney Duke, professor of religion at Appalachian State University, July 28, 2016

New York Times, "How Mike Pence Became a Conservative Hero: Unwavering Opposition to Abortion," July 16, 2016.

New York Times, "Mike Pence’s Journey: Catholic Democrat to Evangelical Republican," July 20, 2016, Strong faith shapes Mike Pence's politics, July 14, 2016

Scientific American, Trump’s VP Doubts Climate Change, July 15, 2016, "Smoking Doesn’t Kill" And Other Great Old Op-Eds From Mike Pence, March 31, 2015

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Pence dodges question but doesn’t outright 'deny’ evolution

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