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July 8, 2005

Intellectual Bankruptcy Watch, II

I wrote a while back about the intellectual relativism and anti-scientific *-scepticism that has, in recent years, become the norm on the American Right. So you probably won’t be surprised to learn what happened when Ben Adler, at TNR-online, decided to ask a few prominent American Conservatives about their thoughts on the subject of Evolution.

Bill Kristol (The Weekly Standard), Grover Norquist (Americans for Tax Reform), David Frum (American Enterprise Institute and National Review), Stephen Moore (Free Enterprise Fund), Jonah Goldberg (National Review), Charlie Krauthammer (The Washington Post), William Buckley (National Review), John Tierney (The New York Times), James Taranto (The Wall Street Journal), Norman Podhoretz (Commentary), Richard Brookhiser (National Review), Pat Buchanan (The American Conservative), Tucker Carlson (MSNBC), Ramesh Ponnuru (National Review) and David Brooks (The New York Times) — a veritable who’s-who of Right-Wing opinion-makers — were asked their opinions on Evolution, Intelligent Design, and what, if anything, about the above should be taught in the public schools.

With the notable exceptions of Krauthammer and Brookhiser, the response was disappointing to anyone looking for signs of intellectual health on the American Right.

P.Z. Meyers, among others, took a stab at categorizing their mostly pathetic responses. (See also, P.Z.’s brilliant send-up of Todd Zywicki’s lame attempt at a ripost.) But, whether brainless or merely spineless, lumping these top-drawer conservatives into categories tends to obscure the unique qualities of their individual approaches to this fear-provoking (lest James Dobson catch wind of what they said) question.

So, herewith, some awards.

The Concerned Parent Award
William Kristol. For: “I managed to have my children go through the Fairfax, Virginia schools without ever looking at one of their science textbooks.”
The Best Reframing the Question Award
Grover Norquist. On whether Evolution should be taught in the public schools: “The real problem here is that you shouldn’t have government-run schools.”
The Political Correctness Award
David Frum. For: “I don’t believe that anything that offends nine-tenths of the American public should be taught in public schools. … I don’t believe that public schools should embark on teaching anything that offends Christian principle.”
Runner-up: Jonah Goldberg. For: “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.”
The “At Least You Didn’t Ask About Quantum Chromodynamics” Award
William Kristol. For: “It’s like me asking you whether you believe in the Big Bang.”
The “Depends What the Meaning of ‘Believe’ Is” Award
Norman Podhoretz. On whether he personally believes in evolution: “It’s impossible to answer that question with a simple yes or no.”
The Unclear on the Concept Award
Patrick Buchanan. For: “I don’t believe evolution can explain the creation of matter.”
The “I’m Shocked to Find Gambling Taking Place Here” Award
Opinion journalist, William Kristol. For: “I don’t discuss personal opinions.”
The “You say Potahto and I Say Potayto” Award
Stephen Moore. For: “I think people should be taught … that there are various theories about how man was created.”

I’d like to thank all our fine competitors. Alas, not everyone could get an award, and I know that some of you will be disappointed to be leaving without one. However, we, here at Musings, still believe in something called … Standards.

Posted by distler at July 8, 2005 9:45 PM

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14 Comments & 2 Trackbacks

Read the post Intellectual Bankruptcy
Weblog: Sam Ruby
Excerpt:
Tracked: July 9, 2005 12:08 AM

Re: Intellectual Bankruptcy Watch, II

Now, and I apologize for crashing your blog here but I linked over from Sam Ruby and was really kind of annoyed by your post (with a beginning like that, you just know the rest is going to be bad)

That said, if you’re saying what you seem to be saying, you kind of came across as ignorant as those you were posting about.

For the record, evolution is not a proven fact, far from it as a matter of fact. Any scientist worth anything will back me up on this, most consider it the most likely theory, but it isn’t fact. The problem is that, in the past it was taught as such and that was just as wrong as the suggestion that it should not be taught at all (those who choose to worship science should understand it first)

Now, just so it doesn’t seem like I’m attacking you and you alone, the ideas presented by the “panel” don’t really pan out either. For the life of me I’ve never managed to figure out how someone would teach creationism in a science class (“God said let there be life, and there was life, and the scientific principle behind that is…”)

Then again, assuming Genesis is largely allegorical (Which many, many Christian philosophers feel it is), I also don’t see how the bible necessarily contradicts evolution.

My point with all this is simple; the answers they gave aren’t really that bad but in the author’s desperate need to demonize the right he chose to make them into a farce. That’s the kind of attitude that forces people to take sides and what creates an atmosphere where accurate theories can’t be presented in a science class (e.g. if it has to be right or wrong it isn’t being presented accurately).

Posted by: Tom on July 9, 2005 1:13 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Intellectual Bankruptcy Watch, II

Then again, assuming Genesis is largely allegorical (Which many, many Christian philosophers feel it is), I also don’t see how the bible necessarily contradicts evolution.

Neither do I.

My point with all this is simple; the answers they gave aren’t really that bad but in the author’s desperate need to demonize the right he chose to make them into a farce.

If you’re saying that he did a cut 'n paste job on them, that’s certainly possible. But I haven’t heard that any of the principals have complained at having been misrepresented.

As to whether what’s written is “really all that bad” … Some (Krauthammer and Brookhiser) is very good, some not so bad, but most was downright appalling.

For the record, evolution is not a proven fact … most consider it the most likely theory, but it isn’t fact.

As a scientist and an educator, I know pretty damned well what the phrase “scientific theory” means. And I wouldn’t teach High School students about Darwinian Evolution any differently than I would teach them about Newtonian Gravity (scientific theories, and provisional ones, both).

Posted by: Jacques Distler on July 9, 2005 1:41 AM | Permalink | PGP Sig | Reply to this

Re: Intellectual Bankruptcy Watch, II

Jacques,

Don’t gloat too much, ‘cause this is a trick question! Do you really expect a bunch of politicos to answer it honestly? They are dancing the dance of “covering all the bases”. It’s pathetic I agree, but you’d get a pretty similar thing if you asked a bunch of prominent Liberals what their view is on illegal immigration.

Posted by: Mark Rezyka on July 9, 2005 8:12 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Return of the Troll

It’s pathetic I agree,…

Coming from someone who likes to invent fake statistics to bolster his flagging arguments, I think that’s a telling condemnation.

Do you really expect a bunch of politicos to answer it honestly?

Yes.

They are dancing the dance of “covering all the bases”.

It’s pathetic that, in 2005, there are “bases” to be covered.

Posted by: Jacques Distler on July 9, 2005 8:44 AM | Permalink | PGP Sig | Reply to this

Re: Intellectual Bankruptcy Watch, II

Jacques, You mentioned David Horowitz and ‘Republican Overlords’ somewhere in this thread. Let me make a connection to the present topic of evolution. Of course Genesis is a myth, and evolution is very likely correct in its basics, even if it is not as solidly proven as most of physics. Based on reading some of your blog, I think you are getting the entire Right mixed up in one big pot, so let me say something about Horowitz. He and his colleagues are not concerned with evolution but with the appeasement of terrorists and militant Islam that he perceives on campuses, either by wooly-headed but well-intentioned liberals or by outright radical Marxists who want to undermine American democracy. Also, there are many clear cases of academic suppression of conservative views in the classroom. So please don’t start treating conservatives as one big monolithic entity. A theoretical physicist should especially know better than to indulge in such oversimplification. I hope you do. As for ‘Republican overlords’, take the Iraq war. There is too much simplistic ‘Bush lied, people died’ kind of thinking on campus. There were good arguments for AND against going to war, and there was much debate among conservatives about this. So let’s not have any silly ‘we vs. them’ attitude. This is unacceptable among people who consider themselves intellectuals. Please admit that some of your colleagues need to grow up a bit. There’s something about campuses - too many young people around perhaps.

Posted by: Benjamin Orion on July 11, 2005 2:21 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Horowitz

Please admit that some of your colleagues need to grow up a bit.

Some of my colleagues need to grow up a bit.

Happy now?

Some of them need to learn to dress better, too. So?

I think you are getting the entire Right mixed up in one big pot, so let me say something about Horowitz. He and his colleagues are not concerned with evolution but with the appeasement of terrorists…

Horowitz and his colleagues are sponsors of bills like this one (which, thankfully, died in the last Legislative session, but which will surely be resurrected).

He is far, far, more dangerous than any number of “leftist” academics.

Posted by: Jacques Distler on July 11, 2005 3:52 PM | Permalink | PGP Sig | Reply to this

Re: Horowitz

Hi Jacques,

It’s nice of you to answer me. Let me try just one more round, then I’ll leave it be so I don’t hog your blog.

Horowitz has a point that it is wrong for academic faculties to be overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal, as they are. This creates self-reinforcing biases. Even more odious is the frequent disruption of conservative speakers on campus. There have been MANY reports of this, and it is unacceptable. And there have been many stories of intimidation of conservative students in the classroom. Professors have a lot of power, and it should never be used to promote a political agenda. This DOES happen all too frequently

Also, there IS a strong tendency on campuses to blame the US first and to whitewash terrorism, by looking for ‘root causes’, which inevitably leads back to blaming the US for everything. A much more ominous recent trend on campuses is to blame Israel for terrorism over there. It is clear to me who is primarily to blame.

By the way, I voted for Kerry, because I felt the need to patch up relations with our allies. My views are all over the spectrum, and I consider each case on its merits. Conservatives also indulge in name calling and stupidity.

OK, that’s enough. I just made my points here because I can’t stand seeing smart physicists jumping on the PC bandwagon. It’s bad enough when they do it in the humanities departments, but you guys are supposed to be certifiably smart.

Posted by: Benjamin Orion on July 12, 2005 12:09 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Throw em a bone

He and his colleagues are not concerned with Evolution …

In case anyone is confused on the point, most of the conservative pundits and scholars interviewed are not concerned with Evolution either. So they’re perfectly happy to toss intellectual integrity out the window to placate their fundamentalist allies.

I don’t know that anyone has asked David Horowitz point-blank about his views on Evolution. But, from what I’ve been able to glean, if he were asked, he would surely be eligible for some award here.

Posted by: Jacques Distler on July 11, 2005 10:34 PM | Permalink | PGP Sig | Reply to this

Re: Throw em a bone

Another quick point on evolution, even though I said I’d shut up. Genesis is definitely a myth. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool. Now, intelligent design is simply out of the purview of science. Science can neither prove nor refute such notions as God, ID, etc. Therefore, it is entirely inappropriate to teach Intelligent Design in science classes. But a scientist need not reject such ideas in his private life in order to be a respectable scientist. So there is a difference with Genesis. A scientist who believes in Genesis is probably not a competent scientist, in my opinion. Thanks.

Posted by: Benjamin Orion on July 12, 2005 12:21 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Intellectual Bankruptcy Watch, II

“There were good arguments for AND against going to war”

Sorry, but I disagree. I think the arguments for going to war were completely bogus. Weapons of mass distruction? So what. Saddam never used them against us. He knew if he did we would oust him and his regime. Free the Iraqi people? Well after 2 years the Iraqi people are worse off.

Posted by: alzare extagen extenze on August 22, 2005 6:46 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Intellectual Bankruptcy Watch, II

Saddam knew, yes…but how easy it would be for him to hand those weapons off to whatever terrorist group wandered up the road. It doesn’t need to be Al Qaeda, I understand that there is significant evidence that they were not allies and the only thing they shared was hatred for the US. But think. By doing this, Saddam would gain deniability, allowing him to do this again and again. And even one terrorist attack could cost thousands or even a million lives, as 9/11 so eloquently demonstrated.

I would also ask if the Iraqi people are really worse off now than under Saddam Hussein. I don’t know any numbers, and I don’t claim any sort of knowledgeable position to argue from, but Hussein killed an incredible number of people during his reign. Average that out over the years, and it can’t be much less than the numbers killed since the war began. Furthermore, consider every other war in history. It took many, many years to reunify Germany - although extenuating circumstances apply. Korea is still a messy situation, fifty years later. Japan took forever to climb out of its hole. I’m not saying that Iraq is another WWII, but rather just that it will take time, like the rebuilding period after any other war - and more so, because the resistance we face is very nearly unique to this war as far as I know. The only other major war with this type of guerilla resistance was Vietnam, although the country was much more difficult for US troops there. Thus the majority of the casualties would come after the end of major combat operations in any similar situation, and pretending otherwise is ridiculous.

Finally, consider that before the war, when Saddam terrorized his people, they had no recourse against him. They could not join an insurgency similar to the one we face today, because Saddam’s soldiers would simply wipe everybody out, with no concern for the collateral damage. Today, however, when the insurgency attacks, the people of Iraq can fight back. People will vote, defy the people who want to drag them back down into authoritarianism or into civil war. They can sign up to be police and help to protect each other. In Iraq, we have given the people the power to fight back - and that can only be an improvement from the days of Saddam Hussein. So are the Iraqi people worse off? I don’t think so, but feel free to convince me otherwise. As a teenager, my mind is malleable yet.

Posted by: Drinkwater on March 16, 2006 12:41 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Intellectual Bankruptcy Watch, II

“anti-scientific *-scepticism has, in recent years, become the norm on the American Right”

Are we forgetting pyramid worship, psychic powers and wild conspiracy theories are a norm of the American left?

Posted by: vig rx on July 26, 2005 3:13 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Intellectual Bankruptcy Watch, II

Are we forgetting pyramid worship, psychic powers and wild conspiracy theories are a norm of the American left?

Better start looking up the word “norm” in your dictionary.

Posted by: Patrick Taylor on July 26, 2005 4:01 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Intellectual Bankruptcy Watch, II

So both sides should remember the meaning of the word “norm.” However, I have seen no examples of people outside of government on either side with these theories, traits or beliefs.

Posted by: Drinkwater on March 16, 2006 12:44 AM | Permalink | Reply to this
Read the post A Good Post From the Other Side of the Divide
Weblog: Decision '08
Excerpt: Jacques Distler, the brilliant physics professor right here in my own backyard, is a sometimes commenter here on this blog, and a fine example of a reasonable voice from the lefthand side of the aisle. He and I share one quality (well, I suspect more...
Tracked: August 14, 2005 10:55 PM

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