Your Favorite Conservatives on Evolution and ID

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Via Chris Mooney, I see that The New Republic has an article (free registration required) in which they ask a number of leading conservative pundits what they think about evolution, intelligent design, and how they think schools should handle them. Some of the answers are good, some are bad, and some are just incoherent. Mooney seems to think that the big picture is “fairly dismal”, but I find it unsurprising, and possibly even encouraging. My quick poll has 7 of them taking the pro-science side (or at least close enough), 5 of them giving a “don’t know” or otherwise wishy-washy answer, and only 3 of them taking the ID position outright. I was also impressed with some of the members of The National Review, given that their magazine has in the past published a number of ID diatribes. Maybe when they were actually forced to read the stuff it became apparent what was wrong with it. Anyway, I highlight a few fun points below the fold, stuff which I find more strange than disagreeable.

David Frum Wrote:

How evolution should be taught in public schools: “I don’t believe that anything that offends nine-tenths of the American public should be taught in public schools. … Christianity is the faith of nine-tenths of the American public. … I don’t believe that public schools should embark on teaching anything that offends Christian principle.”

Putting aside the fact that I’m pretty sure that fewer than 90% of Americans are Christian (last I checked, it was fewer than 80%), it’s not as if every single Christian is offended by evolution. It’s not clear if that’s what Frum is assuming, or if he’s just saying that it shouldn’t be taught in a way that is inherently offensive to all Christians (which it isn’t).

William Buckley Wrote:

Whether schools should raise the possibility–but not in biology classes–that man was created by God in his present form? : “Yes, sure, absolutely.”

Which classes that should be discussed in: “History, etymology.”

Etymology class? This interview was taken over the phone, and since Buckley is not exactly known for lacking vocabulary skills, I’m going to have to assume he meant something else. But what, I don’t know.

Pat Buchanan Wrote:

I don’t believe evolution can explain the creation of matter.

Finally, something Buchanan and I agree on. I’m sure physicists don’t want us muscling in on their territory. But as with the rest of what he wrote, this line could have come straight out of a Chick tract.

2 TrackBacks

The New Republic Online reports on interviews with 15 "conservative pundits" on how they feel about evolution and intelligent design. None of them is a biologists. Nor does it seem that any of them rise to the level of informed... Read More

From Hullabaloo, excerpts from the New Republic's poll of leading conversative thinkers on the question of whether they believe in evolution. Survey says! (I refuse to dignify myself by following that up.) One thing I find particularly amusing is David Read More

32 Comments

I was amused that you mentioned Jack Chick. I have always been entertained by not just the simplicity of those tracts, but their utter wrongness.

I will say one thing he got right in that tract, the professor had no business teaching students since he (the professor) was totally ignorant of both evolution and physics.

Gluons hold quarks together, they do not bind hadrons together. It is the strong and weak nuclear forces that perform that job. And gluons play no role in those forces. Further gluons have been observed many times, and that data has been verified and proven.

As for the rest of the evolutionary and geological misstatements made by Jack Chick (and I’m being kind here, they are actually lies), well, talkorigins.org explains the truth to all those false claims.

..Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I am a Christian and I sure don’t have a problem with evolution. If you believe a god is all knowing and all powerful, why is it such a stretch to think that when he created the earth and its present contents that he would be able to do it using evolution? As far as I have read the Bible doesn’t go into details about the tools that he used.

jeff-paredo Wrote:

Gluons hold quarks together, they do not bind hadrons together.  It is the strong and weak nuclear forces that perform that job.  And gluons play no role in those forces. 

Then maybe Chick was right, and the nucleus is actually held together by Jebons!

Seriously, I thought gluons were responsible for the strong nuclear force. What have I been missing?

My understanding is that the strong nuclear force is a result of the quarks of neighboring nucleons (protons and neutrons) attracting each other, via the quark color force (aka exchange of gluons).

Not sure how the weak force fits in - it has something to do with certain decay modes in radioactive nuclei.

Henry

I’d like to call attention to the discomfort that Straussians have with basic facts of biology. This would be consistent with the suspicion that Straussian intellectuals reject evolution because they fear it to be a truth dangerous to men’s rights.

Consider the following individuals:

Harvey Mansfield (William Kristol’s advisor): Manfield’s book Machiavelli’s Virtue is nothing less than brilliant. When I read it, I imagined that it would be a terrific intellectual treat to get an unsurpassed Machiavellian humanist like Mansfield together with a superb evolutionary biologist like E.O. Wilson. My only reason for not suggesting an event like this was that I feared that these two would have little on which to disagree. Then I ran into Mansfield’s “sermon” in which he argues that science should submit to the Abrahamic religions from which it sprang, using the captive woman metaphor! Mansfield really does have style. Straussian opposition to evolution may be captured as a corollary to this difficult-to-disagree-with statement:

In that management [ruling] religion or its like is an indispensable instrument. Religion makes men faithful to the gods, and hence to the men the gods recommend. … Only when rulers see or sense that men obey themselves in obeying necessity can human necessity appear as the foundation of human freedom. Machiavelli’s Virtue, page 76]

Mansfield is has a forthcoming book out on the Straussian subject of manliness (Yale; see his recent essay on the manliness of Teddy Roosevelt for a preview). I have no doubts that this will be an insightful bit of research, but I will also be reading between the lines for Mansfield’s views on the source of our manliness.

William Kristol: If you want to read the quintessential Straussian quote, see Kristol’s blurb on the dust cover of Machiavelli’s Virtue—it’s the perfect praise for the perfect book on Machiavelli. I wonder how many people caught that. William Kristol’s expressed views on evolution must be taken in this Straussian context—not ur-waffler, but ur-Straussian. Well, he could have done much better than he does in this phone interview, so just Straussian.

Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb, William Kristol’s parents: Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote an anti-Darwinian book that seriously misrepresents evolutionary theory and is commonly cited by contemporary creationists.

Irving Kristol, though I’m not sure if his views on science ever made it to print, was quoted by Ronald Bailey in his Reason magazine article saying:

If there is one indisputable fact about the human condition it is that no community can survive if it is persuaded–or even if it suspects–that its members are leading meaningless lives in a meaningless universe.

There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn’t work.

Personally, I just don’t get it. I think anyone who listens to what Leo Strauss says about the classics, then goes and looks for themselves can’t help but being bowled over by the multiple levels and clever ironies that permeate these great works. How this has translated into Straussian evolution-fear is beyond me.

Science is a woman who, like fortune, “lets herself be won” by those who command her. She is certainly not a woman who bears unmanly rejection of the sort that Straussian suggest, for if scorned, will direct her attention and pleasures to others more virtuous.

The first duty of a ruler is defense, and in a modern technological world, ignoring basic facts of science is dangerous and disgraceful.

You’d think that Straussians, of all people, would embrace this basic fact.

I used to claim a certain kinship with William F. Buckley because we both use a lot of big words and know the meaning of some of them.

I’m guessing Buckley said, or meant, “epistemology”…though I’d wonder what hoity-toity school has an “epistemology class.”

I see they didn’t interview any Objectivists. Objectivists understand that the real, fundamental debate isn’t between creationism vs. evolution per se, but rather between moral relativism and moral objectivism. Creationists believe in the unravelling sweater theory of Christianity: Deny the literal truth of Genesis and the whole fabric of Christ’s message unravels. And when that happens, people will lose any objective reason to behave morally. This is because creationists believe that the real world gives us no objective truths; no objective criteria by which to judge an act as harmful or beneficial, as good or evil.

In this creationists are really like leftist postmodernists, except they at least have the good sense to not like it. So they instictively recoil at science, since science has this nasty habit of revealing flaws in the ancient holy books.

But in fact the real world does give us objective criteria for determining right vs. wrong. It’s too bad that we rational conservatives aren’t in the majority in the movement, but that’s life.

Please don’t consider this an argument, as such, because if you did you would have to dismiss it as an argument from ignorance of the “I can’t imagine how non-living matter became a living thing” flavor. But, for me, I really cannot imagine why a creator with infinite wisdom and power would use a process of millions and millions of years of suffering and death to accomplish what he could by fiat. Nor can I imagine that a perfect being, using perfect means, would create such an imperfect creation. Nor can I imagine why the creator would wish to remove all traces of his existence from that creation and make it appear for all the world that his role was wholly unnecessary. Could such a god exist? Sure. But it’s obvious that this god does not wish to be found out, and I think we should respect his privacy in that case.

David Frum said:

“I don’t believe that anything that offends nine-tenths of the American public should be taught in public schools. … Christianity is the faith of nine-tenths of the American public. … I don’t believe that public schools should embark on teaching anything that offends Christian principle.”

As Steve Reuland notes, I don’t think that teaching evolution would “offend nine-tenths of the American public.” I’ve seen polls where about 50% of US citizens accept evolution.

But let’s say that we had reason to believe that teaching evolution would “offend nine-tenths of the American public.” That nine-tenths of the American public would be offended by something does not enable us to justifiably believe that we shouldn’t do it. For instance, let’s say it would offend nine-tenths of the American public to teach that the earth is not shaped like a pancake. We should teach that the earth is not shaped like a pancake.

I think Pat Buchanan’s answer was pretty thoughtful, though I can’t get into it now.

Let’s look at some of the other comments.

1. Here is what Bill Kristol said:

“I don’t discuss personal opinions. … I’m familiar with what’s obviously true about it as well as what’s problematic. … I’m not a scientist. … It’s like me asking you whether you believe in the Big Bang.”

He doesn’t discuss “personal opinions?” What does he mean by that? Is the claim “it’s like me asking you whether you believe in the Big Bang” a “personal opinion?” And what’s “problematic” about evolution? Are his views about what is “problematic” about evolution “personal opinions?” He should say what he thinks is problematic about evolution. He have a good enough understanding to realize that it is at least overwhelmingly probable that I share common ancestors with Koko, the gorilla that uses sign language. It’s important to realize that. It helps us understand some of the causes of human existence. It is also easy to know, especially for someone with his opportunities.

2. Stephen Moore:

i. Whether he personally believes in evolution: “I believe in parts of it but I think there are holes in the evolutionary theory.”

What “holes?” He should say. That is too vague.

ii. What he thinks of intelligent design: “I generally agree with said critique.”

What “critique” does he agree with?

iii. Whether schools should leave open the possibility that man was created by God in his present form: “Of course, yes, definitely.”

Why? That didn’t occur. Should we teach in public schools that “man may have been created by “God in his present form” when that clearly didn’t happen? Of course not. It would be like teaching students that planet earth may be about 6,000 years old.

3. Tucker Carlson:

On the possibility that God created man in his present form: “I don’t know if He created man in his present form. … I don’t discount it at all. I don’t know the answer. I would put it this way: The one thing I feel confident saying I’m certain of is that God created everything there is.”

What does he mean by “God?” He is not “certain” that “God created everything there is.” What does he mean by that? And “certain?” “Certain” is used for “all bachelors are unmarried males.” Carlson doesn’t discount that “He created man in his present form?” He doesn’t discount it? He is in a position to realize that that didn’t occur.

William Buckley wrote: “… etymology.”

I believe he meant “entomology”. He was riffing on that famous “inordinate fondness for beetles” quote.

“Gluons hold quarks together, they do not bind hadrons together. It is the strong and weak nuclear forces that perform that job. And gluons play no role in those forces. “

Basically, the strong nuclear force does indeed come from the color force of Quantum Chromodynamics, which is fundamentally carried by the gluons. How this comes about at the level of nucleons (protons and neutrons), however is a bit complicated and I don’t believe has been rigorously calculated from first principles QCD yet. This is because very little has been calculated from first principles QCD yet. QCD is a mathematically very difficult non-linear quantum field theory whose most common naturally occuring effects (binding quarks in nucleons and binding nuclons in nuclei) occur in an energy regime where classical analogs that would guide the intuition are, at best, not very applicable or accurate. But there are two somewhat intutive models, intuitive if you have some qunatum mechanics background, that guide the way most people think about the reduction. Corresponding equations can be somewhat hand-wavingly “derived” from QCD with a few fairly plausible assumptions, giving rise to simple emperical equations with an arbitrary (not derived from underlying QCD parameters) parameter or two that can be adjusted to fit data.

One model is an effective potential model using an analogy of the van der Wal’s potential from atomic/molecular physics. The van der Wal’s force is a short-range residue of the electromagetic force operating between two otherwise neutral atoms. When the atoms are sufficiently close together the electons in the outer shells repel each other and “polarize”, redistributing the probability cloud to the side away from the neighboring atom until the forces balance. Classically, this motion would be unstable and the atoms would eventually just scatter off each other. But because of quantum effects, the electrons can get locked into a stationary state where there is a net fixed polarization caused by the mutual proximity of the atoms and in which there is net attractive polarization force left over between the atoms. This is one of the weak bonding mechanisms between molecules and is actually the force that geckos exploit to climb up walls (I’m not kidding - look it up). A force similar to this polarization force is thought to apply to nucleons in proximity caused by gluon-induced, polarized distribution of their quarks.

The other model is based on the quantum field theoretic idea of forces as products of virtual particle exhange. Virtual particles are quantum fluctuations of a field that only last for a time limited by the energy-time uncertainty principle, E*t

Jeff: Sorry, but as an ex-particle-physicist, I can’t resist. :-) Gluons *are* the mediators of the strong nuclear force, so as ever, a Steve is right. Quarks come in 3 “colours”, but the hadrons (strongly-interacting particles) we observe are colour-neutral: baryons are composed of 3 quarks of different colours, and mesons are quark-antiquark pairs. (For the mathmos out there, it’s an unbroken, SU(3) symmetry.) The gluons got their name from their function of holding quarks together. The last I read, quark substructure has not been observed, but then again, I jumped from the ivory tower 12 years ago. I’m not up to date on the current situation regarding quark-gluon plasma, glueballs or whatever.

Henry: Nucleon interactions can be explained by gluon exchange, but iirc it also involves exchange of virtual mesons (rho mesons, for example), which interact at both ends via gluons, of course. The strong force has some weird characteristics. The weak force is involved whenever a heavier quark generation decays to a lighter one, as in beta decay. A free neutron, for example, will decay with a half-life of about 18 minutes into a proton, electron and antielectron-neutrino, due to a down quark decaying into an up quark via the emission of a virtual W- particle.

Anyway, enough. Back to biology and religion.

David Frum wrote:

How evolution should be taught in public schools: “I don’t believe that anything that offends nine-tenths of the American public should be taught in public schools. … Christianity is the faith of nine-tenths of the American public. … I don’t believe that public schools should embark on teaching anything that offends Christian principle.”

Is he willing to go to Dover and testify about the religious motives behind the ID-anti-evolution movement?

I think that William Buckley probably did mean “etymology”.

  • Entomology isn’t commonly studied in high-school level classes.
  • Etymology is his speciality.

Or was it “etiology” Buckley was referring to? If so, how many of us had etiology classes in public school? Must’ve skipped that page in my curriculum…

Gluons hold quarks together, they do not bind hadrons together. It is the strong and weak nuclear forces that perform that job.

Not sure that’s true. Gluons are at base responsible for the “strong interactions” according to the Standard Model:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strong_interaction

AFAIK, that is. IANAP.

Cheers,

My comment is addressed to Greg Peterson who wrote:

Please don’t consider this an argument, as such, because if you did you would have to dismiss it as an argument from ignorance of the “I can’t imagine how non-living matter became a living thing” flavor. But, for me, I really cannot imagine why a creator with infinite wisdom and power would use a process of millions and millions of years of suffering and death to accomplish what he could by fiat. Nor can I imagine that a perfect being, using perfect means, would create such an imperfect creation. Nor can I imagine why the creator would wish to remove all traces of his existence from that creation and make it appear for all the world that his role was wholly unnecessary. Could such a god exist? Sure. But it’s obvious that this god does not wish to be found out, and I think we should respect his privacy in that case.

Could I interest you in reading The Inspirational Writings of Phillip Keller Particularly A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 and A Layman Looks at the Lord’s Prayer? You might possibly change your mind about God not wanting us to know Him after reading these works.

Re “Anyway, enough. Back to biology and religion.”

Yeah, I guess particle physics is somewhat off topic here. Course, one could argue that religious matters are off topic on a science related blog. ;)

Otoh, particle physics is in one way a lot simpler than biology - fewer basic kinds with which to deal. (leptons, quarks and combinations thereof, plus assorted forces in Part. Phys., 116+ elements in chemistry, vs. millions of species in biology.)

Re “[…] etymology.” Re “I believe he meant “entomology”. He was riffing on that famous “inordinate fondness for beetles” quote.”

Oh, is that what he meant. I noticed the similarity of spelling between the two, but couldn’t figure out how bug science would fit in that context.

Henry

Steve and company: let me offer you all another review of the same article: Conservatives and Evolution: a TNR useful survey or disguised whitewash?.

In regard to Dover, PA, I in fact attended the 20 June 2005 hearings in Harrisburg (the state capital), PA on bill #1007–the latest effort to advance Intelligent Design. Though more details are in my post, let me share a few quick comments.

The science expert was Randy Bennett who did an outstanding job in the question and answer session. More so, because many of the committee members–PA State Representatives–were openly hostile.

At one point, the one representative–a YEC, btw–just flat out declared to Randy, a devout Mormon, “Your God is not my God.” So we had folks there not only taking upon themselves to decide the validity of science but also the true religion. So much for the Constitution.

The breakdown of bill sponsors, btw, was as follows: Thomas C. Creighton (Republican), Gibson C. Armstrong (Republican), Bob Bastian (Republican) , Kerry A. Benninghoff (Republican) , Scott W. Boyd (Republican), Paul I. Clymer (Republican), Brian L. Ellis (Republican), Arthur D. Hershey (Republican), Dennis E. Leh (Republican), Joseph A. Petrarca (Democrat), Samuel E. Rohrer (Republican), and Jerry A. Stern (Republican).

Although party affliation itself does not prove one’s political philosophy, the simple math tells us: 11 Republicans, 1 Democrat – 91.67% Republican.

But between Randy Bennett, Larry Frankel of the ACLU, and the Americans United Rep, the good fight was fought. Current prediction not fact: Bill 1007 will never make it out of committee.

Still, quite an experience to see all this at work in person.

Btw, you’re all far kinder to David Frum than I am. I’m tempted say you’re missing how bad his “Christian principle” argument really is.

Best to all.

Re “etymology”. Re “Entomology isn’t commonly studied in high-school level classes.”

Would a course in history of word origins be any more common in high schools in one on bug science? And how would “man was created by God” fit into such a course?

Henry

Pat Buchanan wrote:

I don’t believe evolution can explain the creation of matter.

Chris Mooney wrote:

Finally, something Buchanan and I agree on. I’m sure physicists don’t want us muscling in on their territory. But as with the rest of what he wrote, this line could have come straight out of a Chick tract.

Of course, the Physicists also have no clue about the ultimate creation of matter. Every-day matter/energy conversion like pair production: sure, we’re all over that. But where did it all come from in the first place? Any honest cosmologist will answer “dunno”.

The neat thing about the Big Bang theory is that one thing it doesn’t truly get to is the Big Bang. As you go back in time towards that moment, our knowledge becomes less and less certain, until we reach the quantum gravity limit where we’re clueless, and the best we can say is that maybe one day string theory will help us begin to address those issues.

The earliest we can really go is inflation, which after hearing a public talk (of all things) by Max Tegmark I like to think of as effectively the moment of creation… even though, unlike the classical Big Bang, there is something before inflation. Inflation answers some questions, and as such a lot of people suspect there’s something to it, but it’s not as well-proven as a lot of the rest of the Big Bang model. The earliest period we have good confirmation of is Big Bang nucleosynthesis, which is some minutes (if memory serves) after the Big Bang. The predictions of the primordial deuterium/helium/lithium/hydrogen ratios have been quite impressive (although there are a few wrinkles that indicate that there may be a few unknowns left, *perhaps* related to the nature of dark matter). Get to the eopch of the Cosmic Microwave Background (400,000 years after the Big Bang), and we really know what was going on, and have startlingly good observational confirmation.

But the original creation of matter itself? “Dunno.”

-Rob

The conservatives by their abandonment of their professed rationality are making a great case for the evo-psychology of tribalism. They make common cause with the fundies for the sake of achieving power, and are unable to disagree with them on any meaningful basis, just like the members of the American Communist party who condoned the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and made excuses for the Gulag.

Members of our species are able to put up with deep contradictions for the sake of group cohesiveness. This is probably a relic of our prehistory as a collection of warring bands based on kinship. OK, it’s not prehistory at all - it continues to the present, only with nastier tools (as Londoners can unfortunately attest).

Jan:

That was a kind suggestion and I appreciate the concern and charity that lies behind it. I am familiar with “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.” I have a degree in Bible from a conservative Christian college (Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota), earned while studying to become a Baptist pastor. I worked for Billy Graham for a number of years. I am widely read in both inspirational and theological literature, and of course I can generally put my biblical knowledge up against that of any Christian. I come by my atheism quite honestly, after years of trying to rescue my faith (which I loved) by just about any means available, moving from fundamentalist to mainstream to liberal Christian, trying to preserve some vestage of the beliefs that had sustained me through many tough times. Alas, I eventually had to admit that while much in the Bible is lyrical and compelling, the sum of the book is incoherent and even dangerously wrong-headed. I am so happy now to see a bigger, more wonderful cosmos than my Christianity ever permitted me. The God of the Bible is cramped, crabbed, and provincial, but reality as we really find it is expansive and mysterious and mighty. So again, I appreciate the place your suggestion came from, but…well, when I was a child, I thought as a child. But now that I am a man, I have put away childish things.

Yeah, I should have made note of Bill Kristol’s remark. For someone who doesn’t believe in discussing personal opinions, he’s sure chosen a strange line of work.

I don’t see why he couldn’t have meant etymology. The study of the origins of words and concepts is valid enough in primary school as well as high school English and Religious Studies. Eg “goodbye” = “god be with ye/you” was enough to put me off using the word. Don’t want to send any nasty (and imaginary) scary dudes after people (assuming you intend to wish them well rather than continuing insanity).

I want to look at Pat Buchanan’s comments more closely. I’m pretty fond of Pat Buchanan. I don’t know him personally, but I’m fond of the persona that I see on television. I’m a registered Democrat, and it is very important to me. But I agree with Buchanan on some important issues. I agree with him on Cafta, though I’d like to learn more about it. Also, Buchanan strikes me as someone who tends to grapple with the issues. And I think he has some good convictions, for instance, that it is very important to use public resources to help the less fortunate. He also rightly opposed the invasion of Iraq at a time when many pundits not only agreed with it but were promoting it. He was right, and it took professional courage for him to come out the way that he did. He did (reluctantly) vote for Bush in this last election, which I think was a huge mistake. But at least he was reluctant about it.

His comments on evolution are interesting.

1.Whether he personally believes in evolution: “Do I believe in absolute evolution? No. I don’t believe that evolution can explain the creation of matter. … Do I believe in Darwinian evolution? The answer is no.”

His answer is interesting. It is interesting that he talks about “Darwinian evolution” in the same breath with the “creation of matter.” Darwin didn’t deal with the creation of matter. He didn’t even deal with the cause of the first cells on earth, at least not in his public writing. Darwin just dealt with what happened after we got self-replicators. Darwin’s work covered a much less wide body of issues than people often attribute to him.

And we just don’t have a good understanding of the series of events that caused the matter that we associate with the known universe. We should keep working on the issue. But that’s not that important in terms of what should be taught in biology class. I guess it comes up because Darwin’s ideas get people thinking about big issues. So, it’s like if you bring up Darwin, a lot of other issues come up. And I think, as scientists and thinkers, we should be prepared to deal with those kinds of question if they do come up. Even if we just say: “I’m not prepared to deal with the issue. That is not my area of expertise.”

But we also should make clear that evolution – in the sense of biological evolution (cells to elephants) – is overwhelmingly well-supported, incredibly interesting and hugely important. I regard it as a scientific fact, though I don’t like to use the word “fact.”

2. What he thinks of intelligent design: “Do I believe in a Darwinian evolutionary process which can be inspired by a creator? Yeah, that’s a real possibility. I don’t believe evolution can explain the creation of matter. I don’t believe it can explain the intelligent design in the universe. I just don’t believe it can explain the tremendous complexity of the human being when you get down to DNA and you get down to atomic particles, and molecules, atomic particles, subatomic particles, which we’re only beginning to understand right now. I think to say it all happened by accident or by chance or simply evolved, I just don’t believe it.”

Again, this is an interesting answer. It is conflating Darwinian evolution with cosmology. I think we should try to avoid labels like “Darwinian evolution.” It seems to bread confusion and disagreement where it need not be. But Darwin was doing a smaller thing than a lot of people think. He was commenting on what happens after life gets going. However, his ideas open up many of the age-old questions. He didn’t deal with them himself, at least not explicitly. But his work gets people examining many of the big questions. And we should encourage that. The examined life is good. But we should also make clear what ideas should be taught in biology class. Those ideas may not overlap with questions about of matter.

3. How evolution should be taught in public schools: “Evolution [has] been so powerful a theory in Western history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and often a malevolent force–it’s been used by non-Christians and anti-Christians to justify polices which have been horrendous. I do believe that every American student should be introduced to the idea and its effects on society. But I don’t think it ought to be taught as fact. It ought to be taught as theory.”

I agree with Pat that evolution has had an enormous affect on the world. Very few, if any, ideas have had as much affect. I disagree with his use of the term “justify.” “Rationalize” would have been much better. Evolution doesn’t justify unethical behavior.

As for the issue of “fact” or “theory.” This is a difficult issue. I think evolution is a scientific fact. But when we use words like that we bring up important issues dealt with by Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant and Wittgenstein. It’s hard to know how to classify some claims. I don’t object to the idea that evolution should be taught in public school biology classes as a theory. But make sure we get across that it is a very good theory. I also don’t object to it being taught as a fact.

We also should convey to people not to get hung up on the issue of certainty. It’s hard to get. Are we ever certain? Let’s focus instead on justified belief, and work from there. It tends to help us be more productive and cause less violence.

He’s not among those polled, but George Will said this recently in a Newsweek editorial:

The problem with intelligent-design theory is not that it is false but that it is not falsifiable: Not being susceptible to contradicting evidence, it is not a testable hypothesis. Hence it is not a scientific but a creedal tenet—a matter of faith, unsuited to a public school’s science curriculum.

I am told that his public objection to anti-evolution strategies goes back at least to the 1999 Kansas debacle.

Most of the commentators polled by New Republic simply do not understand science (check out Carlson’s embarrassing answer). A poll of conservatives who actually know some science will probably have no more that a few % of sell-outs to pseudoscience, possibly no more than with science-literate liberals.

Many thanks to Steven Thomas Smith (Comment # 37151) and EmmaPeel (Comment # 37158) for noting aspects of anti-evolution strategies that critics too often overlook. Regarding anti-evolutionists as “Straussian,” Smith cites one of my favorite articles, in which Ronald Bailey, a Libertarian, criticizes anti-evolution strategists and suggests that many of them privately accept evolution. EmmaPeel echoes Paul Gross, a Conservative, with “ … creationists are really like leftist postmodernists..”

There’s enough wrong with ID/creationism that there’s no need to frame it as a left-right issue, which it really isn’t anyway. And even though ID/creationism is a religious view, it is at much at odds with mainstream religion as with atheism.

While some ID-sympathizers may be hopelessly deluded, others should take this as a warning that they undermine conservatism with their anti-science views. Even the ones that do not buy ID, yet find it puzzling why the opposition is so strong, owe it to themselves to learn more about the issue. I too once thought: “what’s the harm in teaching the ‘controversy’?” And that’s when I was less religious and more liberal than today.

Regarding anti-evolutionists as “Straussian,” …

I’d like to clarify an important point: anti-evolution is a position taken by some Straussians—a very, very small subset of anti-evolutionists.

Based on my understanding of the Straussian school [philosophical and other literature must be read ironically because the authors were constrained by the authortity of various prevailing dogmas, coupled with strong Machiavellian realism], I would expect a strong resonance with the scientific fact of evolution, and some Straussian’s absurd rejection of it probably has an interesting explanation, and possibly a rational one.

How can scholars of enlightened self-interest reject evolution?

Anyone out there familiar with what Leo Strauss himself had to say about evolution and science? Is there consonance with Irving Kristol’s expressed views? Or was anti-evolutionism among the Straussians a later development?

By the way, I read William Kristol’s answer ironically—this man is no fool, and I would be surprised if he harbors any personal doubts about any scientific fact. I believe his answer is best explained in view of his father’s opinion that “There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people,” and his advisor’s view that “religion or its like is an indispensable instrument” for a ruler. Or it could be explained by his mom’s ignorant denial of evolution—I don’t know.

The Straussians politically-based views on evolution cannot be easily waved away as can the unthinking ignorance of the others.

There’s enough wrong with ID/creationism that there’s no need to frame it as a left-right issue, which it really isn’t anyway.

Well, I’d say it’s vaguely right-wing. Just as I’d say anti-GMO is vaguely left-wing. I wouldn’t mean that as a strike against it, just an observation of where the support is.

There’s enough wrong with ID/creationism that there’s no need to frame it as a left-right issue, which it really isn’t anyway.

Um, not quite. ID/creationism overwhelmingly derives its support from political conservatives in this country, i.e., Republicans. It’s nice to hear that some conservatives don’t buy it, and it’s true that some people on the left do (e.g., some Black Christians), but that doesn’t change the fact that ID/creationism *is* part of the religious right agenda, and it wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near as far as it has without Republican support. Unfortunately it now looks like ID/creationism is becoming part of the ‘package deal’ of beliefs Republicans are all supposed to have (like denying global warming), which is why you see it getting favorable mention among some educated conservatives who really should know better, and why many conservatives who do know better keep their mouths shut about it out of some sort of misplaced loyalty.

Re: Frum

The quote is apparently a composite of answers he gave to different questions. It also appears that the interviewer (Ben Adler) was being argumentative and tendentious, at least according to Frum.

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on July 7, 2005 2:11 PM.

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