The New Republic has posted a fascinating informal survey of conservative opinion leader’s views toward evolution. I was rather surprised to see that most, contrary to conventional left-of-center stereotypes about conservatives, believe in evolution, although how strongly they do varies pretty widely. The neoconservatives, such as Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks, are pretty pro-evolution, while the paleoconservatives, such as Pat Buchanan and Tucker Carlson (maybe it’s unfair to label him a paleocon, but his beliefs are increasingly similar to those espoused by paleocons, possibly due to hanging out with Robert Novak a bit too much), are generally anti-evolution. Many of those who are generally supportive of evolution appear to be somewhat obsessed with “teaching both sides” in public schools, which leads some of them to lean towards some positions espoused by IDers. However, it appears that few understand the positions of the ID crowd, which is troublesome.
The main problem with this little survey is that it ignored various opinion leaders from the “Religious Right” wing of the Republican Party. Next time they should ignore hardcore paleocons like Buchanan and instead divert their energies to surveying the “Religious Right” instead, since most of the hardcore paleocons have abandoned the Republicans for the Constitution Party or various insane groupings (great link for information about minor parties) to the right of the GOP.
Since the article requires an account with The New Republic, I reproduce the article in its entirety on the extended entry.
Update from Razib: PZ Meyers has some harsh things to say, understood of course, since these are conservatives (haven’t you seen their devil horns?). But…I wish more liberals would admit that many of them mouth off about evolution without knowing jack about the topic. Ignorance knows no politics….
CONSERVATIVES AND EVOLUTION.
by Ben Adler
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 att
ention 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 desc
ribing 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.