January 30, 2005
Origin of the Specious
A post at Wedgie World directed me to Origin of the Specious from the July 1997 issue of Reason. It's a very interesting article (from a viewpoint seven years in the past) about the interest the neoconservatives are showing in opposing evolution. Here are a few excerpts:
Darwinism is on the way out. At least, that's what Irving Kristol announced to a gathering at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington not long ago. Darwinian evolution, according to the godfather of neoconservatism, "is really no longer accepted so easily by [many] biologists and scientists." [...]
This may seem to some readers to be a personal quirk of Kristol's. Perhaps as he approaches Eternity (he's 77), he may want some grand company there. But Kristol's friend and colleague Robert Bork is claiming the same thing: Charles Darwin and his theories are finished. In his new work, Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, Bork pins his own anti-evolutionary attack on Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, a recent book by biochemist Michael Behe.
But the neocon assault on Darwinism may not be based on either science or spirituality so much as on politics and political philosophy. That is the view of Paul Gross, a biologist and self-described conservative. Gross is much concerned with the interplay of science and politics--he is the co-author of the 1994 book, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science--and is puzzled by the attacks on evolutionary biology by people whose political views he largely shares. Regarding Commentary's anti-Darwin article, he says he is mystified that the magazine "would publish the damned thing without at least passing it by a few scientists first."
Gross believes that the conservative attack on Darwin may be a case of tactical politics. Some conservative intellectuals think religious fundamentalists are "essential to the political program of the right," says Gross. As a gesture of solidarity, he says, these intellectuals are publicly embracing arguments that appear to "keep God in the picture."
But something deeper seems to be going on, and the key to it can be found in Bork's assertion in his book that religious "belief is probably essential to a civilized future." These otherwise largely secular intellectuals may well have turned on Darwin because they have concluded that his theory of evolution undermines religious faith in society at large.
Kristol restated this insight nearly five decades ago in an essay in Commentary dealing with Freud: "If God does not exist, and if religion is an illusion that the majority of men cannot live without...let men believe in the lies of religion since they cannot do without them, and let then a handful of sages, who know the truth and can live with it, keep it among themselves. Men are then divided into the wise and the foolish, the philosophers and the common men, and atheism becomes a guarded, esoteric doctrine--for if the illusions of religion were to be discredited, there is no telling with what madness men would be seized, with what uncontrollable anguish."
I find that a mindboggling notion -- that many leading neocons might in fact secretly accept evolution and perhaps even the non-existence of God, but that they don't believe that "the common man" should be let in on the secret.
Liberals are frequently accused of being paternalistic, telling everyone else how to live because we know best. What a strange irony it would be if some leading neocons are taking that paternalism to the ultimate level.
The article is quite lengthy, with plenty more information about what neocons have said about evolution and religion. I highly recommend reading it.
Link: Origin of the Specious.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Origin of the Specious:
The comments to this entry are closed.