ATLANTA (AP) — Having denounced evolution as a lie "straight from the pit of hell," Republican Rep. Paul Broun has won himself a new political opponent: Charles Darwin.
An ultraconservative congressman whose district includes the University of Georgia campus, Broun told a Baptist church last month that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory were lies spread by scientists out to erode people's faith in Jesus Christ. He also claimed the Earth is roughly 9,000 years, a view held by fundamentalist Christians based on biblical accounts of creation.
Now scientists are questioning whether Broun, a medical doctor and a Baptist from Athens, should serve on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee if he rejects widely accepted scientific ideas. And a talk radio host in nearby Atlanta is trying to rally voters to cast write-in votes for Darwin, the English naturalist who first published his theory of evolution in 1859.
Religious fundamentalists like Broun damage the Republican brand, said Neal Boortz, the libertarian-leaning radio host who has a strong following among Georgia conservatives.
"It makes Republicans look like knee-dragging, still-tending, tobacco-spitting Neanderthals," Boortz said.
A Facebook page promoting Darwin for Congress went up Oct. 8 urging supporters to take a stand against Broun.
But the laws of political science hold that Broun will likely win re-election to a fourth term. He has no Democratic opponent in the election Nov. 6 and Georgia law requires write-in candidates to register by early September. That, and Darwin is long dead.
"Dr. Broun welcomes Mr. Darwin as a challenger and is particularly looking forward to the debate portion of the campaign," the congressman's spokeswoman, Meredith Griffanti, said in an e-mail Wednesday evening. "We're sure it will be very lively."
The write-in campaign is tongue-in-cheek, said Jim Leebens-Mack, a plant biologist at the University of Georgia who started the Facebook page. But its supporters hope Darwin gets enough votes to pressure Republicans into removing Broun from a leadership post on the House Science Committee. Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
"I'd think the Republican Party would want to put a serious legislator in this seat rather than have Paul Broun," Leebens-Mack said.
Griffanti had previously said the congressman's Sept. 27 comments to a banquet at Liberty Baptist Church of Hartwell were intended as off-the-record statements about his personal beliefs. The church posted video of the congressman's speech on its website.
"God's word is true," Broun said in the video. "I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior."
Mark Farmer, the biological sciences chairman at the University of Georgia, said Broun should resign his committee seat or be removed.
"If you truly don't understand or accept the basic tenets of modern science, I find it difficult to see how you could be making basic judgments about science policy," Farmer said.
Bynum reported from Savannah. Follow Ray Henry at http://twitter.com/rhenryAP.