Primitive perspectives from the elite

Some not so highly evolved opinions on Darwin from leading conservatives.

Published July 15, 2005 7:15AM (EDT)

With the Kansas State Department of Education considering changes to science instruction that would cast some doubt on the theory of evolution, the New Republic decided to contact leading conservatives and ask for their thoughts on evolution and the competing theory of intelligent design. The results betray a perspective that's less highly evolved than you might expect from such an erudite group.

Of the 15 high-profile commentators contacted by the magazine, eight were willing to state unequivocally that they believe in evolution: George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum; William F. Buckley, Richard Brookhiser, Ramesh Ponnuru and Jonah Goldberg of the National Review; Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post; James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal; and David Brooks of the New York Times.

Of the remaining seven conservatives, some expressed doubts about evolution, while others declined to give a definitive answer. Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, withheld his "personal opinion," but he did offer this eye-opener: "I managed to have my children go through the Fairfax, Va., schools without ever looking at one of their science textbooks." (Are congratulations in order?)

Tax-cut zealot Grover Norquist responded, "I've never understood how an eye evolves." But don't bother suggesting that Norquist cruise down to the research library; he made it clear that his day planner is completely filled. "Given that we have to spend all our time crushing the capital gains tax," he said, "I don't have much time for this issue."

Pat Buchanan brushed the idea of Darwinian evolution aside, claiming it cannot "explain the creation of matter" -- though we're not sure the creation of matter, as opposed to the development of living matter, is what evolution attempts to explain. Buchanan also insisted that evolution has been a "malevolent force" in Western history, used by non-Christians to justify "horrendous" policies. Were we the only ones expecting Buchanan to cite religion, and not evolution, as a historically malevolent force?

Tucker Carlson, liberals' favorite box-tied chatterbox, said he would not "discount" the idea that God "created man in his present form."

Predictably, some of those who lined up behind mainstream science nevertheless kept their politics to the far right. "I don't believe that anything that offends nine-tenths of the American public should be taught in public schools," said Frum, putting his logic and math skills on display. "Christianity is the faith of nine-tenths of the American public ... I don't believe that public schools should embark on teaching anything that offends Christian principle."

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life puts the number of Americans who are Christian at roughly 75 percent, not 90 percent, while a Gallup poll from 2004 indicated that not every Christian is offended by evolution. According to the poll, about one-third of Americans believe in evolution, while 45 percent believe God created humans 10,000 years ago.

A couple of the conservatives ultimately allowed reason to prevail. Goldberg dismissed intelligent design as "God-in-the-gaps theorizing," while Krauthammer said the proposal to teach intelligent design as a "competing theory to evolution is ridiculous." But on the whole, we'd suggest that these well-heeled members of the commentariat hit the books, beginning with the "The Origin of Species."

By Aaron Kinney

Aaron Kinney is a writer in San Francisco. He has a blog.

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