Are conservatives evolving?

Dover's intelligent design fiasco is sending shock waves through the right.

Published November 18, 2005 8:56PM (EST)

Is that noise we hear from Dover the sound of the Republican Party tearing itself to pieces? It's probably wishful thinking to imagine that some kind of tipping point was reached when voters in that Pennsylvania town booted eight fans of intelligent design off the local school board. But a look through the Op-Ed pages to see what conservatives are saying in the last couple of days about science and religion sure seems to suggest that trouble is brewing.

First up, George Will, who wrote in his column this week that "it is injurious, and unneighborly, when zealots try to compel public education to infuse theism into scientific education."

Not only that, but it could lead to a far, far worse sin: Republicans could lose power! "The conservative coalition, which is coming unglued for many reasons, will rapidly disintegrate if limited-government conservatives become convinced that social conservatives are unwilling to concentrate their character-building and soul-saving energies on the private institutions that mediate between individuals and government, and instead try to conscript government into sectarian crusades."

Next to the plate, Charles Krauthammer, who piously reminds us that both Einstein and Newton believed in God before he wrings his hands about "a fight over evolution that is so anachronistic and retrograde as to be a national embarrassment."

Heck, even a representative of the Vatican, which has been sending mixed signals about its position on creationism for years, felt a need to affirm the kookiness of intelligent design. "Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be," the ANSA news agency quoted the Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, as saying. "If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science."

The pope is staying mum, though, so let's not get too excited about the Roman Catholic Church's coming to its senses. In the meantime, what's the real national embarrassment? The fact that Pat Robertson has threatened the citizens of Dover with divine retribution, or that so-called limited government conservatives got into bed with the religious right in the first place?

Funny thing about evolution. It has a way of weeding out the really stupid. Sooner or later.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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