Darwinism and conservatism: Friends and Foes?


The American Enterprise Institute has an interesting discussion title Darwinism and conservatism: Friends and Foes? with Larry Arnhart, from the Northern Illinois University and John Derbyshire, from the National Review, and George Gilder, and John West, from the Discovery Institute.

Gilder ended with a particularly ironic comment about emergent properties

George Gilder Wrote:

When people talk about emergence, it’s a new popular way of saying “I have no clue”.

Does Gilder realize how this describes ID far better?

As a side note: West repeated the specious claim that Doug Axe’s probabilities were relevant to a working protein.

John Derbyshire’s contribution is excellent.


Of course, who would not love the guy who stated

My motivation, so far as I am aware, is my lifelong fascination with science, the extreme scientific shoddiness of the I.D. movement, and my indignation that the I.D. people should presume to claim a place at the science table, when they don’t deserve one. The main reason they don’t deserve one is that THEY DON’T DO ANY SCIENCE. When I said this to Bruce Chapman, head of the Discovery Institute, at a meeting with him and some I.D. honchos, he said: “Oh yes we do!” and passed me a paper. Here is the paper.


Read it for yourself. I rest my case. The Discovery Institute has been in business since 1991, the CSC (its most currently active offshoot) since 1996. That’s an aggregate 23 years, and this is all the “science” they have to show – or at any rate, this is a star paper that the HMFIC likes to carry around to hand to people who accuse him of not doing any science. What a bunch of frauds.

Of course, if you press this point, the I.D. people say: “Oh, you know, our people just can’t get their stuff published in the science journals because of prejudice.” To which the response should be: “So you have abig pile of scientific results written up over there at the Institute, that you haven’t been able to get published? Mind if I take a look through them?”

10 questions for Derbyshire

Here’s an example of people who violently disagree on politics, ethics, and personal decency agreeing on science. I agree with John Derbyshire on ID.

I don’t want to offend any readers by what follows, unless John Derbyshire is reading. If you’re not John Derbyshire, don’t be offended. If you are, prepare to be very offended, you piece of excrement, if you’re capable of that.

Derbyshire wrote something suggesting that the victims of the tragedy at Virginia Tech should be “ashamed” (the VICTIMS of a totally unexpected random shooting!) for not makin’ like Steven Segal and charging the shooter. There was a general round of viscious, hypocritical wingnut crap blaming the victims for not packin’ heat (*note - I have no problem with legal firearm ownership, that’s not the point here*) or charging the shooter, or otherwise simply being ordinary college kids, but Derbyshire’s was, in fact, one of the most intelligent - and therefore one of the most offensive. He had the brain to know better.


I’ll tell you, when I read that arrogant, hypocritical, cruel, thoughtless, delusional, narcissistic piece that Derbyshire had the nerve to publish while families were still dealing with the initial shock, it was one of the angriest moments of my life.

But of course, I was already mad at John Derbyshire for suggesting that the recently freed British sailors should be executed for being captured. And liberally insulting their honor and courage as he expressed that viscious belief. People, please don’t refer to these right wing sociopaths as “neanderthals” or “mediaeval”. That’s a serious insult to a lot of decent people who happened to be neanderthals or live in mediaeval times.


Up yours, John Derbyshire, you bloodthirsty, hypocritical chickenhawk.

Some websites claim that John Derbyshire has an obsession with adolescent girls. That has not been confirmed in a court of criminal law, at least for the time being.

However, this just proves a point I make all the time. Science describes physical reality. Life evolves. The theory of evolution is not a moral philosophy. Even a piece of work like John Derbyshire can see that it’s true.

A description of the meeting has appeared in the New York Times (free subscription required).

Reading about the various ways that “Darwinism” (and Darwin’s name) is being co-opted makes me nauseous. At least “many people” are referred to as objecting to drawing moral conclusions from evolutionary theory, but that only gets two sentences.


Derbyshire did not say the victims should be “ashamed” in the linked page. Harold’s use of quotes to imply he did is a lie, nothing more. Derbyshire asked some very reasonable questions, ones I have asked myself.

A question for management: given this is supposed to be a forum to discuss science, why do you continue to provide a platform for this person to post irrelevant, science-free, unbalanced rants against conservatives?

But of course, I was already mad at John Derbyshire for suggesting that the recently freed British sailors should be executed for being captured.

Just to add, Derbyshire didn’t say this, either.

Does Gilder realize how this describes ID far better?

of course he does. that’s exactly why he spins it 180.

it’s simply THE most common tactic used by the DI.

A) John West was lucid, practiced, and well-informed, but he leaned a little too hard on eugenics, I thought, bringing it out as a scare word at every opportunity, with the implication that it is a synonym for “murdering or sterilizing people the state regards as imperfect.”

While that meaning is certainly within the scope of “eugenics,” there is a great deal more to be said than that. Larry Arnhart said some of it, noting that when he went to get a marriage certificate from the State of Illinois recently, he was subjected to a long questionnaire of obviously eugenic intent, concerned with whether there was any blood relationship between himself and his fiance.

In fact, the word “eugenics” covers a lot of ground, from our private preferences in mate selection all the way up to state-imposed mass murder. You can be friendly to its meanings at one end of the spectrum—as the legislators of Illinois obviously are—while being hostile to those at the other.

National Review

Gilder did get many more things right in an earlier statement he observed

“What’s being pushed is to have Darwinism critiqued, to teach there’s a controversy. Intelligent design itself does not have any content.”


Sometimes he does show an intimate familiarity with ID, so why does he still try to support it?

so why does he still try to support it?

‘cause that’s what he gets paid to do?

Grady -

Of course it’s obvious in retrospect that the victims “should have” charged the shooter.

They were just a bunch of normal, unsuspecting college kids. They may have had “hero” potential, some of them may have even been heroes in some other time and place, but they were taken totally by surprise and thrown into an atmosphere of panic and horror in an instant.

You could write a hateful editorial about every conceivable preventable death or tragedy, pointing out that the victims had some theoretical way out.

The point is that this was a viscious, hypocritical thing to do in the context. If you can’t get that, we have nothing to talk about.

The strange thing from my point of view is that this was a discussion on whether Darwinism was a good thing or a bad thing for conservatism.

Do they have discussions on whether gravity or Newton’s laws of motion are a good thing for conservatism?

Gerard Harbison -

It’s true, I should not have put quotes around “ashamed”. It was an honest error. However, I quite prominently provided the link for anyone to check Derbyshire’s own words, making it clear that I had no intention to deceive, and my paraphrase is accurate.

The title of Derbyshire’s piece on the Virginia Tech massacre is “Spirit of Self Defense”. There is little or no reference to the suffering of families or the victims in the piece, but there is reference to “the heroes of Flight 93” and Derbyshire’s own efforts at the “target range”. The implication is crystal clear. It is true that when I saw the piece I personally interpreted it to imply that the victims should be “ashamed”, and absent-mindedly assumed that I had read that exact word.

The title of his piece on the British sailors and marines is “Brit Wimps”, and it contains the following quote - emphasis mine, yes…

“When it happened, I said I hoped the ones who’d shamed their country would be court-martialed on return to Blighty, and given dishonorable discharges after a couple years breaking rocks in the Outer Hebrides (which, believe me—I’ve been there—have a LOT of rocks). Now, I confess, I wouldn’t shed a tear if some worse fate befell them.

It’s a common right wing practice to include an obvious masturbatory hint for the intended reader, and then deny its obvious meaning when someone objects. But that practice is childish. It’s rather clear what “some worse fate” than harsh penal labor implies. If you continue to try to defend Derbyshire, while simultaneously exhibiting shame and trying to “tone down” or spin his obvious meanings, that will put you, not me, on the wrong side of honesty.

If you agree with Derbyshire, just say so. Don’t make strained attempts to rehabilitate.

This could have been a halfway decent thread on the relation between science and political issues had it not been captured by what my father used to call the south ends of northbound horses.


You could put up a decent, thoughtful post on that issue yourself, instead of resorting to a cowardly insult. Could you please specify what has been posted, and by whom, that you object to?

John Derbyshire’s positions are of high relevance. He is associated with the right wing, and describes himself in writings (other than the ones I linked) as a Christian. I believe he claims to be Anglican, feel free to confirm or deny that. He expresses positions that many pro-science posters here will find highy objectionable, and yet he is pro-science and anti-ID. This illustrates the complexity of the issue.

Derbyshire shows that not all conservatives are creationists, but the very existence, and the inaccurate name, of the conference, serve to prove that creationism and evolution denial are concentrated on the political right. Note that they evaluate a strong scientific theory on the basis of whether it is “friend or foe of conservatism”. Is the theory of relativity “friend or foe of conservatism”? Does it matter? Does the question make the least bit of sense?

Darwinism and conservatism: Friends and Foes?

Why are they even discussing this? They could translate that to, “Reality and conservatism: Friends and Foes?

There aren’t many modern societies that have let ideology triumph over reason and reality for very long. Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR did and were ultimately unsuccessful.

Pandering to the lunatic fringe strikes me as a losing strategy. This might just be a fond hope of mine, rather than the actual situation.

Just watched Hardball with Chris Matthews. They discussed the Republican debate. The general opinion seemed to be that they couldn’t believe that anyone could publically admit to not believing in evolution. They explained McCain’s hesitation as trying to decide if evolution was “the one about the Bible or the other one.” Maybe I’m mistaken, but I thought Matthews had ridiculed evolution in the past. Anyway, good to see the issue is getting some air time this time around.

Raven -

I’m sure you are correct. At least three of us have independently noted the nonsensical nature of asking whether a scientific theory that describes physical reality is “friend or foe” to a political ideology.

What are they going to do if they decide that it’s “foe”?

I’m going to make a gestalt comment about the overall situation, using neutral language. My comments above make some of my subjective opinions clear, but now I’ll just try to be objective.

The history of the United States has been punctuated by social struggles that are generally perceived as having led to “progress”. Each of these independent struggles has left a residual population of embittered self-interested opponents, who often pass on their opposition to subsequent generations long after the issue is decided.

A partial list of such struggles would be - the abolition of property requirements for voting, the abolition of slavery, the introduction of public health and environmental regulations, the development of public parks, the development of public education, the recognition of the right of labor to organize, the introduction of a progressive income tax, voting for women, the development of social programs for the needy, legal birth control, the abolition of segregation and legal discrimination based on ethnicity, the recognition of rights of Amerindians, and the recognition of equal rights for gay people.

From the great depression to 1964, the disparate opponents of these various achievements were small in number. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, their numbers increased. They all began to known as “conservatives”. They adopted a unifying image of being especially outraged by communism, in addition to whatever they felt about other issues.

When birth control, the “sexual revolution”, women’s liberation, and gay rights came on the scene, some but not all fundamentalist Christians joined the conservative alliance. This typically involved compromising what had been previous support for economic policies favorable to lower income people.

The “conservative movement” now had enough members to vie for power, and began to develop an underlying ideology that would satisfy all its variable members.

Unfortunately, this process forced them into conflict with mainstream science. Fundamentalist, authoritarian religious figures demand conflict with “evolution” and “stem cell research”, and often demanded claims that sexual behavior had exaggeratedly bad effects. (HIV denial is associated with extremists of all stripes, but one faction of that movement consists, or consisted, of those who claimed that AIDS was the result of a “lifestyle”). Other groups demanded denial of human-induced climate change. Lesser controversies, such as arguments about the death penalty, have also impacted.

At this point, if those who favor right wing economic policies lose the support of those who are motivated by authoritarian theocratic plans, the coalition will be in trouble. But there is a growing perception among fundamentalists that, while they have compromised on some economic issues, the conservative movement has not delivered sufficiently on such issues as teaching creationism in public schools, anti-gay legislation, and the like.

To some degree, the answer is “foe”, since a critical component of the coalition demands (at least for now) that the rest of the coalition deny scientific reality.

My post above is, of course, extremely approximate, incomplete, and open to numerous valid criticisms.

The bottom line is that a disparate group of people who oppose one or more of various fait accompli aspects of modern American society came together in an effort to form a unified ideology. Some members of this coalition deny scientific reality very strongly, creating discomfort for the other members. But the science deniers are far too numerous to kick out of the coalition.

Incidentally, I apologize for the uncivil tone of my opening post.

I happened to be very disturbed by what happened at Virginia Tech, very angry at Derbyshire’s comments (that’s the way they made me react), and I had already been steaming about Derbyshire’s comments in the British sailor/marine event. The mention of his name set me off.

Derbyshire seems to me to be one of those practitioners of “in your face”, “envelope pushing”, “reaction provoking” types. That type of writing is designed to provoke, and it often works.

I don’t necessarily think that my reaction was unjustified, but it may have sidetracked the overall discussion.

As a silver lining, it may have prevented anyone from concluding that Derbyshire was a nice guy because of his comments on ID, and being disappointed later.

In my experience, anyone using the term “Darwinism” is either pathetically ignorant, or a creationist.

Oh wait, same thing.

“emergence” is a vacuous, unfalsifiable, catch all term that barely counts as a metaphysical concept.

It is the atheist substitute for “intelligent design”, and actually explains nothing.

Well, at least we agree that ID is vacuous :-) Of course, unlike the ID concept, emergence does not let our ignorance lead to posit an intelligent designer…

Whatever one thinks of Arnhart or Derbyshire, both show a compelling example why ID is scientifically vacuous and theologically dangerous. That the opposition comes from conservatives just makes their arguments much harder to swallow for the DI and it’s ‘spokespeople’.

Sort of like a wedgie… to intelligent design.

John West continued to misrepresent Doug Axe’s work as finding a working protein, which is definitely NOT what Axe did. Given the fact that scientists have pointed this out, one wonders why West continues to misrepresent these issues?

What really DOES ID have to offer in support of its claims? Notice how ID’ers will be quick to flip flop between ‘empirical evidence for design’ and ‘evidence against Darwinist’, further underlining the scientific vacuity of their claims.

ID sounded desperate… A final stand on eugenics seems to be all that they have left… Return to the creationist foundation of blaming Darwinism on all amoral or immoral.

Why are some negative about emergence? It’s a routine thing: the elements that make up salt are not salty, etc. etc. Emergence and reduction are opposite sides of a coin. If it works one way it works the other way. Of course the word “emergence” by itself doesn’t explain where saltiness comes from. Who said it did? You need pathetic details for that.

PvM -

I noticed you posted a link to “10 Questions for John Derbyshire”.

I found his response to question 6 quite interesting. Any comments on that?

PvM -

Indeed, one doesn’t have to go any further than Wikipedia to find link-supported references to Derbyshire’s attitudes on race and sexuality.


You ask “who could not love?” Derbyshire for making obvious and standard anti-ID comments.

I’ll answer the question. I don’t love him for it. Accepting or promoting creationism/ID is wrong. It is a sign of at best innocent ignorance and at worst hucksterism.

It does not follow that merely being able to criticize ID makes one a “good” person.

Are you saying that the standard for loving someone is that they have the wits to see through ID? That’s far too low a standard.

Or are you saying that you agree with Derbyshire’s views, and you’re grateful that someone with a little bit of scientific understanding finally expressed these kinds of views, so that you can salute in agreement without intellectual embarrassment?

Gravity is good for conservatism.

Motion is not.


PvM -

Three unanswered messages, sorry :-).

I am afraid, once again, that the subject of Derbyshire is making me crankier than innocent bystanders may deserve.

Racism, homophobia, and phoney chickenhawk machismo make me mad. And they make me a even madder even faster these days than before I had all my tolerance worn out.

Nevertheless, I’m curious to see how you reply.

As I listened along,

Hayward missed the obvious- evolutionary theory is the nearest thing we have to a “proven” theory. There are no competing propositions which can simultaneously account for the mass of data from all of the historical sciences; astronomy/cosmology, geology, paleontology, biology, anthropology. “Darwinism” has been proclaimed as the source for both “left” and “right” extreme social policies with equal (that is none) validity. (I gave up listening to his BS after about 3 minutes).

Arnhart is particularly absurd: conservatism is “liberty and order, freedom and virtue”

“the left assumes human nature is so malleable, so perfectable that it can be shaped in almost any direction. In responce to that conservatives object that in fact social order arrises not from rational planning but from the spontanious order of instincts and habit.”

“Darwinian biology sustains conservative social thought by showing how spontanious order arrises from social instincts and a moral sense shaped by genetic evolution and expresed by cultural evolution.”

leftist thought=utpoianism

“conservatives see humans as naturally imperfect in their knowledge and their virtue.” ORIGINAL SIN ANYONE?

“conervatives really do believe that human beings do have a natural moral sense that supports ordered liberty as secured by the social order of family life, the economic order of private property, and the political order of limited government.”

“There really is a universal human nature constituted by at least 20 natural desires that manifest themselves in every human society throughout history because those desires belong to the evolved nature of the human species”

Arnhart claims that “Darwinianism” holds that; “Men and women will marry and form families, mothers will care for their children, young males will compete for mates and status, societies will organize themselves into male dominance hierarchies, competing societies will go to war, and humans will use language and symbols to try to figure out what it all means.” He then argues that these “darwinian desires” plus the remainder of the unstated “at least 20” equate to “conservatism.”

By the time I got to the second of his “Five Propositions” I was too revolted to keep taking notes.

Andrew Sullivan stated it best

Derb really is a conservative of doubt, I think, and, despite his bouts of curmudgeon and prejudice, I’ve come to admire and respect his intellectual honesty,


As a personal note: I am not a conservative but I do enjoy a good argument, especially when it concerns an argument which states that conservatism and darwinism need not be at odds, as many (religious) conservative people in this country seem to think that Darwinism is anti-conservative or anti-religious and thus anti-conservative :-)

I find it particularly ironic how West has come to attack Arnhart in these areas.

Arnhart argues that Darwinism provides support for limited government, and he attempts to disassociate Darwin’s theory from the utopian crusades of “Social Darwinism” such as eugenics. Indeed, he argues that Charles Darwin is unfairly blamed for eugenics and that “much of what has been identified as social Darwinism… is a distortion of Darwinian science.” However, in my book I show how Darwin himself in The Descent of Man provided the rationale for what became the eugenics movement, and how the vast majority of evolutionary biologists early in the twentieth century were right to see negative eugenics as a logical application of Darwin’s theory.

Arnhart not only has correctly identified ID as scientifically vacuous but his arguments against Darwinism and eugenics and other ‘arguments’ from ID, cause a significant concern on the part of ID. Having conservatives like Arnhart reject ID’s claims is particularly amusing. YMMV


The Mises Institute is hardly a non-biased source and thus not surprisingly its article on Sweden is full of the normal Austrian tautologous reasoning.

Austrian economics is strictly, deliberately and studiedly “non-falsifiable” and built around endless claims to radical, a priori synthetic knowledge.

When I asked for supporting evidence it was suggested to me to google for the answer, when I find an answer it gets rejected based on ad hominem arguments.

How am I doing so far?


huh? I didn’t send you for evidence.

I suggested that first of all there was a misunderstanding about market capitalism and social democracy.

Criticizing the Austrian school of economics for the way they do economics is no more ad hominem than criticizing Intelligent Design for the way they do science.

First of all, if you need to google to find out that Sweden has one of the most extensive social welfare states in the world, and you demand evidence for such a straightforward fact, then it seems to me that you are either not playing straight up or you are just not aware of the world.

All I did was try to intervene with a little bit of professional clarification.

If you want sources on Sweden I’d be happy to suggest some.

If you really want to get into a discursion about the pitfalls of the Austrian school of economics here, I’d be quite happy to enlighten you.

I’m trying to avoid going there because I understood the purpose of PT to discuss mostly evolution vs. ID rather than long arguments about political economy.

However, if you insist…

PvM Wrote:

You are right Scandinavia may not be famous for the free market economy part of it but it seems to be there.

dear PvM nobody said it wasn’t there. if you were (I’m guessing you aren’t,I may be wrong) a european you probably would have known the various economic systems existing here and the debate on which is the best,which one should one follow. they all are capitalistic since communism has evidently gone away. but there is a whole spectrum of them (spectrum is of course a crude simplification) ranging from the “left” to the “right”. on the “socialist” front the swedish model is one of the paradigms. on the “open-free market” front the model of Ireland is an example of the paradigms.

Chip Poirot Wrote:

It seems to me that whoever started this dispute (it is not an argument)listed several features of what he considered to be humane capitalism. Thanatos for some reason has taken that to be a defense of laissez faire, when it could just as easily be interpreted as a defense of social democracy.

dear Chip Poirot you misunderstood me.as I’ve stated I tried not to take sides. the main point I’ve tried to make since my first post in this thread (#174273) is in a nutshell an antithesis to and against a very ,celon moi, naive thesis ,imaginary world belief that social “advance” and “superioty” is in principle based solely on democratic foundations and open markets and not also on force of every kind over the weak(and many other factors). I made no moral judgement on anything nor did I mention anything over what should be done. furthermore, if you trackback from #174273 and onwards, Norway and Sweden got in the picture by Popper’s Ghost as examples of advanced societies (of the aforementioned characteristics) that are “harmless” and “good” to the weak and weaker countries. my key-points were:

*Norway and Sweden like all the others are far being from angels *their acme is based on many factors and events besides being democratic and capitalistic *they’re surely not the archetypical paradigm of an open-free market oeconomy

Another point Thanatos: For or for bad, depending on your point of view, European social democracies have pulled back quite a bit over the last 20 years. The socialists just lost by about 6 percentage points in France.

I know ,I know,here Sarcozy and Segolene have been constanly on the news,on discussions (about the turn-page in France’s history,about Europe’s future,about Turkey…) etc but following what I said I hereby state again that I took and take no sides (in this discussion of course,I don’t mean that I don’t generally take sides) so it’s irrelevant.

Finally, it seems to me that the one enduring contribution of Marx is historical materialism (his theory that changes in patterns of the material organization of life were primarily responsible for changes in other areas of life). The rest of his theory about the inevitability of socialism, etc. is what should be discarded.

no major disagreement.the spirit of my previous totalist argument against Marx was based on me entering into a parallel world,a deja vu of me trying to persuade communists that das Kapital is not to Evangelion. I believe you get what I mean, as you may have had similar experiences. :-)

Just note, that Freud these days (thank God) has been thoroughly discredited.

indeed thank Apollon! :-)

Finally I would like to add that equating Marx and Freud to Tycho Brahe like Gary did in #173868 is a great hubris to a physicist like myself. :)

ci vediamo

Just note, that Freud these days (thank God) has been thoroughly discredited.

some of his specific theories, yes, but many of his general observations on things like cognitive dissonance are making a comeback.

don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, there, chippy.

Just note, that Freud these days (thank God) has been thoroughly discredited.

Subsequent work in psychology, building on, refining, and sometimes discarding parts of Freud’s work, does not “thoroughly discredit” Freud, any more than the 747 and Stealth bomber “thoroughly discredit” the Wright Brothers.

Sir_Toejam Wrote:

Just note, that Freud these days (thank God) has been thoroughly discredited.

some of his specific theories, yes, but many of his general observations on things like cognitive dissonance are making a comeback.

don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, there, chippy.

may be but but if by specific theories you mean minor things like that all men are gay in love with their mother trying to kill their father :-) then again thank Apollon!

Raging Bee Wrote:

Subsequent work in psychology, building on, refining…

again the mathematicoempirical raging bee inside against the so called humanitarian sciences orders me :-) to ask for a single blind,double blind or any other kind of scientific study…

oops …inside me


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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on May 5, 2007 7:02 PM.

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