The Right Coast

July 09, 2005
Conservatives and Evolution
By Mike Rappaport

There has been quite a bit of discussion about the New Republic piece presenting the views of various conservatives on evolution, intelligent design, and whether these theories should be taught in the schools. I can only say that I found the interviews absolutely fascinating. There is a tremendous range of opinions on these matters. Also, several of the conservatives seriously question the theory of evolution. This was a bit of a surpise to me -- not that some conservatives would question it, but that people I sometimes read were the ones who were skeptical about it.

But if one examines the positions of the conservatives more carefully, it turns out that virtually all of them are nuanced. They believe in God and evolution, or they think that evolution is a scentific matter about which they are not qualified to judge. I, of course, suffer from no such modesty. So Bill Kristol, in response to the question whether he personally believes in evolution, says: "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." No problem for me: I believe in both evolution and the Big Bang. Of course, I should add the qualifier. I think that scientists, like most experts, are prone to certain cognitive errors, and one of them is to think they know more than they do. So that I believe in the Big Bang does not mean that I am not open to the possibility that the theory will turn out to be mistaken, or require serious revision -- even though many scientists claim that this will not occur.

The New Republic piece asked "leading conservative thinkers and pundits" how "they feel about evolution and intelligent design?" Sadly, no one asked me. I suppose I am not really a conservative, but a conservative libertarian, and I suppose I am not "leading" either. But for what it is worth, here are my answers:

Whether he personally believes in evolution: Yes. Strongly.

What he thinks of intelligent design: Don't know too much about it. I suppose that my opinion would turn in part on how one defines it.

Whether evolution should be taught in public schools: I think it should be taught as a very well supported theory. Attention should be paid to both its strengths and weaknesses (yes, all theories have weaknesses).

Whether intelligent design should be taught in public schools: On this, as is often the case, I can't do better than Charles Krauthammer, who said: "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 [at this point mistaken.]