The crew at Panda’s Thumb has been tak­ing turns dis­sect­ing, chap­ter by chap­ter, a ludi­crous work of “non­fic­tion” by Jonathan Wells titled The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, which is meant to be a schol­arly work on the “debate” regard­ing the fact of evolution.

We can do a close read­ing on just the title; the real­ity of evo­lu­tion is ren­dered to being merely an ism, while the fan­tasy of cre­ation­ism is given the hon­orific of Inteligent Design. Slanted?*

Today Timothy Sandefur has taken on chap­ter 14, in which Wells appar­ently rails against con­ser­v­a­tives who are in favor of evo­lu­tion. I haven’t read Wells’s book and I have no inten­tion of doing so; life is far too short to waste on such brain­less prat­tle. However, Sanderfur has this to say in his cri­tique, which led me to think.

Evolution under­mines the con­ser­v­a­tive ambi­tion for an eter­nal order where each per­son knows his or her place in the “beau­ti­ful pattern”.

This struck me as being at odds with the orig­i­nal con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment, so much so that I thought I should prob­a­bly respond. (I did in the com­ments on the PT blog, but I’m going into more depth here.)

Please bear in mind I’m not talk­ing about the way the Republicans got hijacked by the right-​​wing fanat­i­cal Einsatzgruppen-​​ÜberKristians; I’m refer­ring to those who might align them­selves with Burke’s sense that rea­son is not equally dis­trib­uted among all peo­ple; hence bar­relling off after the lat­est fad of intel­lect might turn out to be a mas­sive dis­as­ter. The idea is that a more cau­tious approach to pretty much any­thing is sen­si­ble; and in some cases this atti­tude seems to be borne out. (There are lots of excep­tions; but this post is not meant to be a cri­tique of con­ser­vatism or any other ideology.)

Looked at in this light, I don’t believe evo­lu­tion is even remotely dan­ger­ous to con­ser­vatism. While the fact of evo­lu­tion might threaten some people’s myth­i­cal notions about the world, it seems inar­guably sen­si­ble to me that a deeper, richer under­stand­ing of life and the way life has devel­oped can only help each of us have a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the nature of life on earth and of our “place” in the grander scheme of things.

We are intel­lec­tual ani­mals, and we are polit­i­cal ani­mals; and we alone in the ani­mal king­dom appear to have sev­eral gifts that have worked in con­cert for us: The abil­ity to fore­see; the abil­ity to cod­ify our expe­ri­ences as mem­ory and relate them as speech to oth­ers; the abil­ity to spec­u­late; and the abil­ity to intro­spect. We have some­times used these abil­i­ties to gain great insight into our­selves and oth­ers. We have, con­sid­er­ably more often, used these abil­i­ties to jus­tify our wars against oth­ers. We don’t, very often, use these abil­i­ties to under­stand the mean­ing of our­selves in the tapes­try of life.

I sub­mit that a richer, deeper under­stand­ing of the com­mon descent of all life on this planet is cru­cial to under­stand­ing con­text, our con­text; and con­text is one of the bedrock val­ues of con­ser­vatism. Precedent, appeal to pre­vi­ous designs that have worked before, and a flex­i­ble adap­tiv­ity that per­mits care­ful alter­ation of response when nec­es­sary are val­ues of con­ser­vatism — but they are also val­ues of evo­lu­tion, as shown very clearly in the fos­sil record and in the record con­tained in all organ­isms’ genomes.

The threat evo­lu­tion poses, then, is not to gen­uine con­ser­vatism; rather, it is threat­en­ing only to those who insist, against all evi­dence, that the world is a given way — regard­less of how much spe­cial plead­ing they must descend into in order to main­tain the com­fort­able tis­sue of their beliefs.
====

* How about me? Well, real­ity has a bias, and I tend to bias with real­ity wher­ever I can.

Share

No related posts.

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.