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Conservatives on Evolution and ID

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The New Republic asked the opinions of prominent conservatives on evolution and ID.

CONSERVATIVES AND EVOLUTION.
Evolutionary War
by Ben Adler

Only at TNR Online | Post date 07.07.05

Later this summer, the Kansas State Board of Education is widely expected to change its state science standards to cast doubt on evolution. The new standards will likely emphasize the unsolved problems in evolutionary theory’s explanatory power, like gaps in the fossil record, that are the favorite hobbyhorses of creationists and advocates of “intelligent design.” Intelligent design posits that certain biological mechanisms and the nature of DNA itself are too complex to have evolved–and therefore suggest the hand of an original designer. Advocates of intelligent design, including several of the witnesses who testified at the Kansas board’s hearings that began in May, say that evolution and the origin of species are unsettled topics and that students should understand and debate different points of view. In the scientific community, however, the debate is one-sided. The 120,000-member American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) passed a resolution in 2002 declaring intelligent design a “philosophical or theological concept” that should not be taught in science classes. Indeed, the AAAS boycotted the Kansas hearings to avoid conferring legitimacy on intelligent design proponents who testified.

Pressure to temper the teaching of evolution in public schools has come overwhelmingly from conservatives; the Kansas board’s re-examination of its evolution standards resulted from Republican gains last November that put an anti-evolution conservative majority on the board. So we were curious: How do leading conservative thinkers and pundits feel about evolution and intelligent design? We asked them. Here’s what they said.

A few notes about the interviews: All were conducted via phone except where otherwise noted. The interviews are not presented in a chronological question-and-answer format. Instead, we’ve grouped each person’s thoughts on particular subjects into subcategories, which are identified in italics, splicing these statements together with ellipses where necessary. Those interviewed spoke only for themselves.

William Kristol, The Weekly Standard

Whether he personally believes in evolution: “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.”

How evolution should be taught in public schools: “I managed to have my children go through the Fairfax, Virginia schools without ever looking at one of their science textbooks.”

Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform

Whether he personally believes in evolution: “I’ve never understood how an eye evolves.”

What he thinks of intelligent design: “Put me down for the intelligent design people.”

How evolution should be taught in public schools: “The real problem here is that you shouldn’t have government-run schools. … Given that we have to spend all our time crushing the capital gains tax I don’t have much time for this issue.”

David Frum, American Enterprise Institute and National Review

Whether he personally believes in evolution: “I do believe in evolution.”

What he thinks of intelligent design: “If intelligent design means that evolution occurs under some divine guidance, I believe that.”

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.”

Stephen Moore, Free Enterprise Fund

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

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

Whether intelligent design or a similar critique should be taught in public schools: “I think people should be taught … that there are various theories about how man was created.”

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

Jonah Goldberg, National Review

Whether he personally believes in evolution: “Sure.”

What he thinks of intelligent design: “I think it’s interesting. … I think it’s wrong. I think it’s God-in-the-gaps theorizing. But I’m not hostile to it the way other people are because I don’t, while I think evolution is real, I don’t think any specific–there are a lot of unknowns left in evolution theory and criticizing evolution from different areas doesn’t really bother me, just as long as you’re not going to say the world was created in six days or something.”

How evolution should be taught in public schools: “I don’t think you should teach religious conclusions as science and I don’t think you should teach science as religion. … I see nothing [wrong] with having teachers pay some attention to the sensitivities of other people in the room. I think if that means you’re more careful about some issues than others that’s fine. People are careful about race and gender; I don’t see why all of a sudden we can’t be diplomatic on these issues when it comes to religion.”

Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post

Whether he personally believes in evolution: “Of course.”

What he thinks of intelligent design: “At most, interesting.”

Whether intelligent design should be taught in public schools: “The idea that [intelligent design] should be taught as a competing theory to evolution is ridiculous. … The entire structure of modern biology, and every branch of it [is] built around evolution and to teach anything but evolution would be a tremendous disservice to scientific education. If you wanna have one lecture at the end of your year on evolutionary biology, on intelligent design as a way to understand evolution, that’s fine. But the idea that there are these two competing scientific schools is ridiculous.”

William Buckley, National Review

Whether he personally believes in evolution: “Yes.”

What he thinks of intelligent design: “I’d have to write that down. … I’d have to say something more carefully than I can over the telephone. I’m a Christian.”

Whether schools should raise the possibility that the original genetic code was written by an intelligent designer: “Well, surely, yeah, absolutely.”

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.”

John Tierney, The New York Times (via email)

Whether he personally believes in evolution: “I believe that the theory of evolution has great explanatory powers.”

What he thinks of intelligent design: “I haven’t really studied the arguments for intelligent design, so I’m loath to say much about it except that I’m skeptical.”

James Taranto, The Wall Street Journal

Whether he personally believes in evolution: “Yes.”

What he thinks of intelligent design: “I could not speak fluently on the subject but I know what the basic argument is.”

Whether schools should teach intelligent design or similar critiques of evolution in biology classes: “I guess I would say they probably shouldn’t be taught in biology classes; they probably should be taught in philosophy classes if there is such a thing. It seems to me, and again I don’t speak with any authority on this, that the hypothesis … that the universe is somehow inherently intelligent is not a scientific hypothesis. Because how do you prove it or disprove it? And really the question is how do you disprove it, because a scientific hypothesis has to be capable of being falsified. So while there may be holes in Darwinian theory, while there’s obviously a lot we don’t know, and perhaps Darwinian theory could be wrong altogether, I think whether or not the universe is designed is just a question outside the realm of science.”

How evolution should be taught in public schools: “It probably should be taught, if it’s going to be taught, in a more thoroughgoing way, a more rigorous way that explains what a scientific theory is. … You know, my general impression is that high school instruction in general is not all that rigorous. … I think one possible way of solving this problem is by–if you can’t teach it in a rigorous way, if the schools aren’t up to that, and if it’s going to be a political hot potato in the way it is, and we have schools that are politically run, one possible solution might be just take it out of the curriculum altogether. I’m not necessarily advocating that, but I think it’s something that policy makers might think about. I’d rather see it taught in a rigorous and serious way, but as a realistic matter that may be expecting too much of our government schools.”

Norman Podhoretz, Commentary (via email)

Whether he personally believes in evolution: “It’s impossible to answer that question with a simple yes or no.”

Richard Brookhiser, National Review

Whether he personally believes in evolution: “Yes.”

What he thinks of intelligent design: “It doesn’t seem like good science to me.”

Whether intelligent design should be taught in public schools: “No.”

Pat Buchanan, The American Conservative

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.”

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.”

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. … How do you answer a kid who says, ‘Where did we all come from?’ Do you say, ‘We all evolved’? I think that’s a theory. … Now the biblical story of creation should be taught to children, not as dogma but every child should know first of all the famous biblical stories because they have had a tremendous influence as well. … I don’t think it should be taught as religion to kids who don’t wanna learn it. … I think in biology that honest teachers gotta say, ‘Look the universe exhibits, betrays the idea that there is a first mover, that there is intelligent design.’ … You should leave the teaching of religion to a voluntary classes in my judgment and only those who wish to attend.”

Tucker Carlson, MSNBC

Whether he personally believes in evolution: “I think God’s responsible for the existence of the universe and everything in it. … I think God is probably clever enough to think up evolution. … It’s plausible to me that God designed evolution; I don’t know why that’s outside the realm. It’s not in my view.”

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.”

On the possibility that man evolved from a common ancestor with apes: “I don’t know. It wouldn’t rock my world if it were true. It doesn’t sound proved to me. But, yeah I’m willing to believe it, sure.”

How evolution should be taught in public schools: “I don’t have a problem with public schools or any schools teaching evolution. I guess I would have a problem if a school or a science teacher asserted that we know how life began, because we don’t so far as I know, do we? … If science teachers are teaching that we know things that in fact we don’t know, then I’m against that. That’s a lie. But if they are merely describing the state of knowledge in 2005 then I don’t have problem with that. If they are saying, ‘Most scientists believe this,’ and most scientists believe it, then it’s an accurate statement. What bothers me is the suggestion that we know things we don’t know. That’s just another form of religion it seems to me.”

Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review

Whether he personally believes in evolution: “Yes.”

What he thinks of intelligent design: “To the extent that I am familiar with it, and that’s not very much, I guess what I think is this: The intelligent designers are correct insofar as they are reacting against a view of evolution which holds that it can’t have been guided by God in any way–can’t even have sort of been set in motion by God to achieve particular results and that no step in the process is guided by God. But they seem to give too little attention to the possibility that God could have set up an evolutionary process.”

Whether intelligent design should be taught in public schools: “I guess my own inclination would be to teach evolution in the public schools. I don’t think that you ought to make a federal case out of it though.”

David Brooks, The New York Times (via email)

Whether he personally believes in evolution: “I believe in the theory of evolution.”

What he thinks of intelligent design: “I’ve never really studied the issue or learned much about ID, so I’m afraid I couldn’t add anything intelligent to the discussion.”

Ben Adler is a reporter-researcher at TNR

6 Replies to “Conservatives on Evolution and ID

  1. 1

    Bill,

    I’ve been following the current political scene for quite some time and have found that the religious orientation of most important inside-the-beltway conservative thinkers is either:

    – Orthodox Judaism (in the case of Goldberg & Krauthammer)

    – Catholicism (where apparently there is an even distribution of Catholics among all political groups)

    Except for a few notable cases (such as Buckley).

    At any rate, political thinkers who have spent a long time being close to the workings of government are (more often than not) creatures of compromise. Usually, they have many secular-liberal friends and (so as not to be continually laughed at by them) take an intermediate position on such topics as evolution.

    In my opinion, it is really unfortunate that so much important political business has to be done in Washington, since the ideologies/perspectives in that territory tend to eventually influence all who enter our political sphere.

  2. 2
    arensb says:

    IMHO, asking politicians, pundits, and writers what they think of evolution and ID is like asking plumbers, wrestlers, and librarians what they think of jet engine design. They may be very smart and talented, but this isn’t their field.

    The real questions are, what evidence is there? Which way does it point? And, specifically, what evidence is there for ID?

    Yes, I’ve read http://www.designinference.com.....cation.pdf , but while there’s some interesting stuff in there on distinguishing the results of chance from non-chance, there’s nothing on distinguishing the results of evolution from intentional design.

  3. 3
    TomG says:

    It’s really a matter of time, isn’t it? The “problems” some of these people named with ID are ones that have been trumpeted repeatedly by the mainstream press. I can’t fault these people for not knowing that these problems are being addressed by ID, and fairly successfully. It takes time to get the word out, especially when the media are not sympathetic, and even leading thinkers can be behind the curve on some topics.

    The exception to this is when they write from an authoritative stance, as George Will apparently did. If they’re going to do that, they really ought to do their homework first.

  4. 4
    EmmaPeel says:

    Why should conservatives care about evolution? The only secure grounding for indiviudal rights & free market capitalism is to show that such moral & political frameworks enhance our eudaimonia because they’re compatible with the facts of human nature.

    Human nature is what it is. It’s a set of facts that we learn, through experience & history. Whether we came to be human (instead of just another ape) because of evolution or because of a Designer’s design doesn’t change the facts on the ground. It’s sheer folly to believe that getting everyone to believe that we were intentionally Designed will somehow “renew the culture” or save society from postmodernist nihilism.

    At best this is a distraction for conservatives. At best. This is why creationism & ID worry me. Moral collectivism is dead, but bad ideas have a habit of becoming un-dead if we don’t pull them out by their roots and burn them. If the right thinks that Communism is dead because somehow philosophical naturalism has been refuted, then the roots of collectivism are just hibernating underground, ready to pop up again & again. That’s such a gross misreading of history.

    How did the Bush campaign put it? “Democracy is breaking out across the globe like a sunrise”? Well, it is: Even China is trying hard to join the globalized economy, even as it tries to stay nominally Communist/fascist. In the long run I don’t think they’ll succeed, for the same reasons the USSR flew apart when Gorbachev liberalized things: Collectivism cannot survive freedom & openness, because collectivism tries to deny human nature.

    I liken this controversy to physics: All physicists agree that there are atoms, which are made up of protons, neutrons, & electrons. The characteristics of how these baryons interact with each other forms the foundation of chemistry, which all physicists accept. Now, when you look at a lower level & ask, “what are baryons made of?” and “what are quarks made of?” you start to get some real disagreements, some of which are rather fundamental. And yet they all accept the tenets of chemistry. They all accept that there are protons, neutrons, & electrons, and that they act in certain ways to produce chemicals.

    Isn’t that interesting? Even though there’s a lot of disagreement on one level, everybody comes together and accepts the same view of how things work on a higher level. They have no choice: At the higher level of chemistry the objective facts are there for all to discover & very hard to deny, regardless of how many dimensions you think there are. It’s the same thing with natural law: Human nature is an objective fact, that’s right there for all of us to discover.

  5. 5
    mynym says:

    The only secure grounding for indiviudal rights & free market capitalism is to show that such moral & political frameworks enhance our eudaimonia because they’re compatible with the facts of human nature.

    One of the facts of human nature is an understanding of design and the teleological thinking of Aristotle. Do the Darwinists insist that their own texts have no more meaning than as physical artifact of the biochemical state of their brain at the time? Or are they assuming that their texts are an artifact of intelligence which touches on a transphysical and transcendent Intelligence that others ought to be able to understand?

    The fact is, the American Founders began with basic self-evident truths evident in the Self in a similar way which trace back to the infinite Intelligence of the Creator and that is what they based unalienable rights on. If human rights are not based on something alien, then they are not unalienable to humans.

    It’s the same thing with natural law: Human nature is an objective fact, that’s right there for all of us to discover.

    That’s why we can’t deny it like Darwinists often attempt to.

    It’s sheer folly to believe that getting everyone to believe that we were intentionally Designed…

    Who is denying human nature now? Compare the decline of the Weimar Republic to the American for perspective about culture and how what people believe shapes how they live.

  6. 6
    nostrowski says:

    Funny. Pat Buchanan is never half right. He is either on the money or off the reservation.

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