Let’s you and him fight

You know a movement is in bad trouble when Derbyshire is its voice of reason. George Gilder accuses those of his fellow-conservatives who believe in natural selection of “toadying to … storm troopers,” because “Nazism and communism were inspired by Darwinism.” Isn’t it lovely to watch the Red Team self-destructing this way?

Oh, goody! There’s a vicious argument among conservatives over evolution by natural selection: not the policy issue of what to say about it in the schools, but the deeper issue of whether to believe it.

Skeptics of Darwinism like William F. Buckley, Mr. West and Mr. Gilder also object. The notion that “the whole universe contains no intelligence,” Mr. Gilder said at Thursday’s conference, is perpetuated by “Darwinian storm troopers.”

“Both Nazism and communism were inspired by Darwinism,” he continued. “Why conservatives should toady to these storm troopers is beyond me.”

You know that a movement is dominated by complete nut-cases when John Derbyshire is the voice of reason. He seems to hold the utterly anachronistic view that ideas should be examined for their truth, not for their ideological implications; we’ll make a liberal of him yet.

The NY Times reporter, like most of the Blue bloggers I’ve seen comment on the fact that three of the ten Republicans in the Reagan Library debate said they didn’t believe in natural selection, never mentions the fact that belief in the scientifically accepted account of the origin of species &#8212 virtually universal in the social circles in which she, and I, operate &#8212 is very much a minority viewpoint in the American population. (As I’ve said before, I suspect that many people who poll as creationists aren’t evaluating rival claims about paleontology, but are rejecting the moral implications that seem to follow from notion that the human species is merely one animal species among many.)

The implicit assumption seems to be that the three doubters must know that Darwin was right, and are just positioning themselves politically. Perhaps. But it’s possible that one or more of them was expressing a sincere belief, either about biology or about the moral status of humanity.

Be that as it may, anything that gets conservatives clawing at one another is to that extent good. And the linkage (emotional rather than logical, but the more potent for that reason) between evolution-denial and opposition to embryonic stem cell research gives the issue that much more punch.

Footnote Since we don’t call classical mechanics “Newtonism” or the periodic table “Mendeleev-ism,” why should we call natural selection “Darwinism”? That sounds like the name of a religion or an ideology, not the name of a scientifc theory. I see no reason to make rhetorical gifts to the creationists.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com