What if they had a debate about evolution, and didn’t bother to invite any scientists? It would be unhinged and divorced from reality, and all the wheels would be spinning wildly, and they could come up with any ol’ crazy crap they wanted. This must be why the American Enterprise Institute sponsored a debate on Darwin and conservatives moderated by Ronald Reagan’s biographer, Steven Hayward, with John Derbyshire and Larry Arnhart defending evolution, and George Gilder and John West, two cranks from the Discovery Institute, criticizing it. Not one scientist in sight, and the account of the proceedings reflects that. The entire debate was about whether reality conflicts with the conservative point of view, and whether they can reinterpret evolution to conform to Wingnuttia.
Unbelievable, I know. Read Brad’s response for a point-by-point takedown.
Just for an example, though, here’s the kind of idea being advanced by evolution’s defenders at that meeting:
It’s a nice idea, but it too might have ended the discussion right then and there, except that Darwinism is once again being used by partisans of a particular political philosophy. This time the lucky philosophy is contemporary American conservatism, and the foremost proponent of the conservative-Darwinian dalliance is Arnhart. He offered a quick summary of his position, which has become popular among right-wingers of a libertarian stripe and has found its fullest expression in Arnhart’s book Darwinian Conservatism.
“Conservatives need Darwin,” he said. Without the scientific evidence Darwinian theory offers, conservative views would be swamped by liberal sentimentality. The left-wing view of human nature as unfixed and endlessly manipulable has led to countless disastrous Utopian schemes. Hard-headed Darwinians, on the other hand, see human nature as settled and enduring and stubbornly unchangeable, and conservatives can wield the findings of Darwin to rebut the scheming, ambitious busybodies of the left and their subversion of custom and tradition. (I’m paraphrasing, by the way.)
The only guy who said anything sensible was Derbyshire.
So Darwinism, viewed one way, can easily be considered morally disastrous. But, responded pro-Darwin Derbyshire, Is it true? “The truth value of Darwinism is essential,” he said. “The truth value always comes first.” If Darwinism is true-and its undeniable success in explaining the world suggests that it is-and if Darwinism undermines conservatism, as West had claimed, “then so much the worse for conservatism.”
And likewise, so much the worse for liberalism if it doesn’t fit reality. The way we ought to be managing our culture is by changing those bits of it that don’t jibe well with nature, rather than allowing ideology to run roughshod over the evidence.