Gene Expression

I welcome Jason Rosenhouse to SB. But, I take issue with the way he frames the issue of politics & evolution. He states:

People like Shapiro, George Will, or Charles Krauthammer are lonely voices in the conservative wilderness, accorded about as much respect in the Republican party as pro-lifers are in the Democratic party. Every conservative politican of any prominence is anti-Darwin, and virtually every right-wing media outlet publishes anti-evolution articles on a regular basis. Indeed, as Chris Mooney documented at book length, hostility towards science is an integral part of Republican politics today.

Numbers from a Harris Poll….

Question…Format: Republican/Democrat/Independent/Conservative/Moderate/Liberal who said “No”

HUMAN DEVELOPMENT FROM EARLIER SPECIES?…65, 44, 53, 65, 52, 37

MAN AND APES HAVE COMMON ANCESTRY?…62, 32, 47, 56, 52, 31

DARWIN’S THEORY OF EVOLUTION PROVEN BY FOSSIL EVIDENCE?…58, 40, 45, 58, 43, 35


On all these numbers Democrats and liberals do better than Republicans and conservatives when it comes to acceptance of the scientific mainstream consensus, but the difference is quantitative, not qualitative. One can, I believe, stereotype on this issue with some effectiveness, but that stereotype must be bounded by the reality that a substantial minority of liberals and Democrats accept anti-evolutionary beliefs, while a substantial minority of conservatives and Republicans accept mainstream science. Jason states that Will & company have little influence in the Republican party or conservative politics. I don’t follow politics much, but my impression is to the contrary. And, might I add that the judge who presided over the Dover case was a Republican?

I think the key issue here is socioeconomic status and class. As you move up the socioeconomic ladder and educational brackets even among conservatives and Republicans a fundamentalist and anti-modernist outlook on the world tends to diminish. George W. Bush is not the first Republican to moot the possibility of Intelligent Design, Republicans have been flirting with anti-evolutionism ever since the rise of evangelicals within the party as a significant force. But, this is a marginal issue at best, and the reality is that I suspect when push comes to shove the Republican elite will flinch at satisfying the wishes of their literalist base. In contrast to other issues anti-evolutionism is not in vogue with corporate interests, to the contrary, recall that companies in Kansas began to worry about recruiting educated workers after 1999. Note how an anti-evolution bill failed in the Utah legislature.

Additionally, see this letter to Edge:

I have been teaching a new course on the frontiers of science, required for all freshmen at Columbia. These students are mostly sharp, capable, and open-minded. Still, many of them think that intelligent design should be studied in the interest of being fair and balanced. What’s troubling is that even those who accept evolution often treat it as a matter of belief, of political persuasion, as if it were akin to being for or against free trade. And if they reject intelligence design it’s often not because they can see its vacuousness as a scientific theory, but merely because the religious and conservative stripes of ID can sometimes look a little uncool. As for science, reason, evidence — what’s that?

It is common to point out that rejection of evolution is often fomented in a vacuum of knowledge about what the individual is rejecting, that it is a cultural signal as to what “side” one is on when it comes to the battles of the day between Left and Right, Godless and Christian, etc. But the flip side of this is that many people who accept evolution do just that, they accept it, they do not understand the process of evolution in any deep detail, the science of it. This is acceptable, I accept quantum mechanics though I don’t understand it in any deep detail (I have one course on quantum chemistry under my belt, and I can still say I don’t really “understand” it). But evolution often has a more human relevance than quantum chemistry, and issues like the rate of evolution are easy concepts which still have little traction in the public sphere.

Finally, re: abortion & Democrats, Harry Reid, the leader of the party in the Senate, is arguably opposed to abortion rights.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike
    May 15, 2006

    Hostility towards science? Or hostility towards science skewed with a political perspective opposite their own? I’d say the latter more often than not.

    As to the rest…Such a circus.
    We have those whose religious ideology prevents them from accepting evolution. Who then are constantly ridiculed by others who share an equally rigid adherence to their politcal ideology.. Which allows them to effortlessly weave their ideology and science together. Then accuse those who reject such a pairing of being hostile towards science.

    A laugh riot for sure..

    If you’re not trying to seriously pursue science…

    M

  2. #2 Oran Kelley
    May 15, 2006

    I don’t think your poll goes to Rosenhouse’s point, which is that anti-Darwinism has become the mainline position of the Republican party. Not that every single solitary Republican opposes Darwinism, just that the upper echelons of the party tolerate a lot of literalist yahooism, or are literalist yahoos themselves.

    And, yes, there is a lot of hostility toward science on the conservative side. True or not, a lot of science is seen as corrosive to irrationalistic feelings social solidarity, a point made fairly clear by several big thinkers in the neo-con movement, for instance. (Outlined here.)

    As to the “teaching the controversy” point: I say, yes, this could be a great way of Improving science education, but ID has gotten where its gotten through politics and propaganda, so it only deserves billing in a class dealing with thopse things, not one dediacted to science proper.

  3. #3 razib
    May 15, 2006


    I don’t think your poll goes to Rosenhouse’s point, which is that anti-Darwinism has become the mainline position of the Republican party. Not that every single solitary Republican opposes Darwinism, just that the upper echelons of the party tolerate a lot of literalist yahooism, or are literalist yahoos themselves.

    i think this is very wrong. the reason i think this is very wrong is that the state legislature of utah would not have rejected a bill that restricted abortion rights (even if it would automatically be nullified by the courts). on the other hand, the state legislature of utah did reject a bill that would push forward creationism.

    there is no equivalence between intelligent design and abortion rights. the vector is the same, but the magnitude differs a great deal.

    yes, if you want to deal in black-white dichotomies, jason is right. but if you want to go there, bring it on, normally people on the Left are squeamish about stereotyping and overgeneralizing. ok, check that, it’s ok if the people are political opponents….

  4. #4 Dan Dare
    May 15, 2006

    I wouldn’t worry too much about these trends.
    Only a complacent, self-satisfied USA can afford this kind of national self-delusion.

    I’m willing to bet that in another few years this will force Americans to change their thinking on biological science and science education.

  5. #5 Boknekht
    May 15, 2006

    Wow, so many patents, thousands actually. It’s just amazing. Amazing that there’s still so much to invent/discover.