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.
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