Monday, May 07, 2007

Darwin and Conservatives

The New York Times is reporting that Darwin (and by Darwin, they mean evolution by natural selection) is getting more and more support within the conservative community in the US.

Basically there appear to be two camps emerging. The anti-science group (not what they called them in the Times article but that is what they are) who cannot reconcile Darwinism (or many other scientific tenets) with their religious beliefs. And on the other side are conservatives who not only accept evolution by natural selection as a fact, but embrace it as supporting many of their conservative ideals. This second pro-evolution conservative clade includes fundamentalist types who, like Francis Collins, believe that evolution by natural selection is indirectly the hand of God. The pro-evolution clade also includes political and social conservatives, who are not particularly religiously conservative.

I found the article fascinating in many ways because finally philosophical conservatives are taking a stand against the religious right. For example:

“I do indeed believe conservatives need Charles Darwin,” said Larry Arnhart, a professor of political science at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, who has spearheaded the cause. “The intellectual vitality of conservatism in the 21st century will depend on the success of conservatives in appealing to advances in the biology of human nature as confirming conservative thought.”

Also --- from the article

What both sides do agree on is that conservatives who have shied away from these debates should speak up. Mr. Arnhart said that having been so badly burned by social Darwinism, many conservatives today did not want “to get involved in these moral and political debates, and I think that’s evasive.”

Yet getting involved is more important than ever, after “the disaster” of “President Bush’s compassionate conservatism,” he said, because the only hope for Republicans is a “fusion of libertarianism and traditionalism, and Darwinian nature supports that conservative fusion.”

So I say to all you social or political conservatives who think that anti-evolution talk is not necessary and potentially damaging, come out come out wherever you are. The time is now for evolutionary biologists to embrace these conservatives. Not because they agree or disagree with their politics. But because evolutionary biology does not itself make ANY moral judgements nor force one to make any political decisions. It is science. Just as quantum physics does not support the right or the left, evolutionary science is apolitical. That is not to say that evolutionary science cannot be used to inform political and social and moral decisions. It is just that evolutionary science is not about those things. It is about studying the way the world works.


  1. I agree in some sense that the conservatives who are promoting evolution are less contemptable than those that are fundamentalist religionites, but there seems to be a serious lack in understanding of evolution amongst the conservative promoters of evolution. I'm sure the left is guilty of spinning the facts for their benefit as well, but it seems that the conservatives are so much nuttier about it these days. What I mean is that they use a part of evolutionary theory (NS) and apply that to their political philosophy while leaving out all the other parts of evolution. Its the same thing as quote mining.

  2. Well, using some part of it is better than saying "evolution by natural selection cannot be true"

  3. And here was an odd request on slashdot asking for geneticists to provide a good question to pin down the conservative candidates on their view of evolution (for the youtube debates)

    I may take a shot at it but you are more eloquent.


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