Teaching Evolution

A blog devoted to teaching evolution, both in our schools and in our communities.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The New Republic Online: Evolutionary War

I recently blogged on George Will's column on intelligent design. The New Republic (in an article that's unfortunately available only to subscribers) has asked many of the leading conservative thinkers how they feel about evolution and intelligent design. It makes for fascinating reading, although I must say I'm disappointed. I typically think of the Republican party as having two factions: the religious right and the low-tax faction. From the looks of this, those distinctions aren't as great as I had thought. Charles Krauthammer, a writer I greatly respect even though I greatly disagree with him on many issues, had a response that I support completely. But many "conservative intellectuals" seem represented by people like William Kristol, who, it turns out, isn't even intellectually curious enough to flip through one of his kids' science books:

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. ..."

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."

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."

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."

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. ..."

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."

John Tierney, The New York Times

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."

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."

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

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."

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."

Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review

Whether he personally believes in evolution: "Yes."

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

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."



Thanks to Paul Noonan for the tip.

15 Comments:

At 10:22 AM, Blogger dhodge said...

I think that evolution has become such a divisive issue that a survey like this is almost pointless. You might as well be asking conservative and liberal politicians and pundits about their opinion on abortion. Most people are going to accept the party line and run with it.

 
At 10:32 AM, Blogger MDS said...

I know what you mean, but since this was allegedly a survey of "conservative intellectuals" rather than "partisan hacks," I was hoping we'd get more of a serious discussion, rather than comments like "I don't believe
that anything that offends nine-tenths of the American public should be taught in public schools."

And as long as I'm mentioning Frum's comment, does anyone have any clue what happened to that guy? I read a book he wrote about 12 years ago and it was really brilliant, as he didn't hesitate to criticize his fellow Republicans when he thought they stepped wrong. Now every time I see him on TV or read his writing he's just a shill for the Bush administration.

 
At 10:53 AM, Blogger PaulNoonan said...

Frum did kind of go nuts there. I think some people are susceptible to the echo chamber effect, where you hear one side of an argument, and it rings true, and then you hear it again and it rings true, and eventually you start trusting the source instead of your own brain.

And so many of them try to slither out of answering like Norquist and Moore, and especially Kristol.

At least there are guys like Krauthammer though.

 
At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Rashid Muhammad said...

Seriously, do you think that Kristol's answer has anything to do with how he really feels about this?

 
At 12:56 PM, Blogger MDS said...

I don't know what Kristol is trying to say when he says "I don't discuss personal opinions." It only took me a few seconds on google to find an instance of Kristol offering his opinion:

"We spend a reasonable amount on the military -- not quite enough in my opinion -- but we spend 2.2 percent of GDP on the military."

So why will he not give his personal opinion on evolution if he's willing to give it on military spending?

 
At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Rashid Muhammad said...

Because he can back up the military spending statement without sounding like a complete dumb ass.

 
At 1:53 PM, Blogger beedubyuh said...

See the guy that bugged me was Norman Podhoretz with his, "It's impossible to answer that question with a simple yes or no."

Really? 'Cause everyone else seemed capable of doing it. What a spineless cop out.

 
At 1:58 PM, Blogger MDS said...

Agreed. It's a funny contrast:

Norman Podhoretz, Commentary

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."


So, uh, I guess it is possible to answer with a yes or no.

 
At 2:26 PM, Blogger MDS said...

I learn from a comment on Washington Monthly that William Kristol's mother, Gertrude Himmelfarb, wrote an anti-Darwinian book. That explains a lot.

 
At 2:49 PM, Blogger PaulNoonan said...

I definitely detect a few conservatives who want to say they don't believe in evolution but also don't want to sound stupid. You would think that they would put 2 and 2 together there.

 
At 3:47 PM, Blogger FLJerseyBoy said...

Related argument triggered by a column (written by an archbishop, of all the possible open-minded people they could have asked) in this morning's NYT. Thanks for the lucid appraisal of this one -- and for excerpting so generously (for when/if TNR moves the piece to a pay-per-view model).

 
At 7:56 AM, Blogger PaulNoonan said...

Frum Responds:

http://frum.nationalreview.com/archives/07112005.asp#069097

Then he asked me about whether I thought evolution should be taught in public schools. Here's the answer that he quotes in his survey:

"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.'"

Two ellipses in three sentences should stand as a warning to the reader that there's funny business going on here. Those are my words all right - but they are not words given in answer to the question in italics. They are answers to questions posed later in the interview, when Adler embarked on a very argumentative and tendentious line of queries about who should decide what gets taught.

I have no idea what proportion of Americans object to the teaching of evolution, but I very much doubt that it's 90% or even 50%. I was responding rather to a question about who should decide on public school curricula: parents or professionals. My sympathies are ever and always with the parents, in the full knowledge of how wrongheaded parents can be. At the same time, as I didn't go on to say, because I was losing patience with the argumentative Adler, I think that one of the great advantages of a system of private higher education is that it enables universities through their admissions criteria to influence the choices that parents make. I'm all for scientific education - achieved via market choice and democratic decision.

 
At 8:05 AM, Blogger MDS said...

Thanks for that clarification. Seeing as there were obviously a lot of questions and answers that didn't appear, I wonder if the New Republic will consider putting a full transcript of Frum's interview on its Web site.

 
At 12:16 PM, Blogger PaulNoonan said...

Agreed. I don't understand why the online portions of magazines and newspapers don't do so more often. It's not like it costs that much more (nothing really) to put the full version on-line.

I'd very much like to see the context of everyone's statements now, although it sounds like this interview was especially contentious.

 
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