Pope Francis, thought of by some Republicans as "too liberal," made headlines Tuesday when he declared evolution is real, contradicting the beliefs of many who argue evolution can't be factual because God created the universe and all living things.
“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” Francis said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”
The pope's comments aren't a huge departure from the Catholic Church; as Slate pointed out Tuesday, it was suggested as early as 1950 that evolution and Catholic doctrine did not contradict each other. But that statement puts many U.S. Republican lawmakers further to the right than the pope on an issue that has consistently been up for debate in federal and state politics.
A Pew Research Survey released in December 2013 showed that significantly fewer Republicans believe in evolution now than in 2009. But Pew noted an explanation for that drop "could be that while the percentages of believers in evolution among Democrats and independents may not have changed much, the overall size of those two groups may have increased, offsetting the impact of the Republican shift."
The Republican and conservative refusal to recognize evolution is well known, but the extent of it may not be. As if the numbers for all adults (48 percent) aren’t depressing enough, only 28 percent of conservative Republicans believe that humans evolved from earlier species. In the next three spots are 32 percent of Republicans believing in evolution, 34 percent of conservative Democrats, and 37 percent of conservatives. (For comparison, 28 percent of fundamentalist Protestants believe in evolution, as do 27 percent of those who believe that the Bible is the literal word of God.)
But certain lawmakers are holding tight to their beliefs in creationism.
Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) is one of the most vocal evolution critics in Congress. In October 2012, Broun -- a doctor who serves as chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee's subcommittee on oversight -- said the teachings of evolution, embryology and the big-bang theory are based on "lies straight from the pit of hell."
“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell,” Broun said at a 2012 fundraiser.
“It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior. There’s a lot of scientific data that I found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth," Broun continued. "I believe that the Earth is about 9,000 years old. I believe that it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.”
Broun won't be returning to Congress in 2015, but his likely replacement -- Republican radio host Jody Hice -- has similarly pro-creationist views. In July 2014, Hice said mass shootings like those at the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater; Virginia Tech; and Columbine High take place because "we promote the concept of evolution" in American schools.
Aaron Miller, who ran in the 2014 GOP primary for Congress in Minnesota, said a big reason he ran for Congress was to end classroom instruction on evolution. Miller lost that primary, despite nabbing the endorsement of former state Rep. Allen Quist (R), who once said he believes dinosaurs coexisted with man.
Even presidential contenders have argued against evolution in the past. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who ran in the Republican presidential primary in 2012, once said "there are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design." In 2011, she argued for teaching intelligent design in schools and "letting students decide" what they believe.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who also ran in the 2012 GOP primary and is mulling another presidential run in 2016, said in August 2011 he thought evolution is "a theory" with "some gaps in it." Only two candidates who competed in the 2012 GOP primary touted their belief in evolution: former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who went on to be the GOP nominee that year.
Paul Raushenbush contributed to this report.