The cultural problem

At FrumForum, I’m a Reformist Conservative – and I Doubt Darwin. Arguments about evolution don’t have immediate proximate policy applications, so why is this even being mooted? Mike Huckabee was pointing to a real issue in 2007 when asked about this. That being said, FrumForum is not WorldNetDaily. Heck, it’s not even National Review. It’s not even The Weekly Standard! It’s a website which reports positively on the resurgence of GOP moderates.

I’m aware that most Americans are divided on evolution. I’m aware that a large minority of highly educated people are Creationists. I’m aware that most people who believe in the theory of evolution don’t know much about it, or its implications. But this is the sort of thing which serves as a cultural black flag for the intellectual elite.

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14 Responses to The cultural problem

  1. DannyK says:

    Since the Republicans have come to power without following any of Frum’s advice, he will debase himself in the hopes of being accepted back into the fold! Hey, it could work.

  2. David Hume says:

    klinghoffer may be a friend or something too.

  3. Brian says:

    “Arguments about evolution don’t have immediate proximate policy applications…”

    ‘What do you believe, and why?’ is one of the most crucial and revealing questions of all. Believing that Elvis is still alive doesn’t have policy implications either, but someone proclaiming that belief would be virtually announcing their poor critical thinking skills. On the other hand, because only one answer to the first half of that question is even remotely acceptable, someone expressing their belief that Elvis has metaphorically left the building reveals virtually nothing about their critical thinking skills. That’s why the question as I put it has “and why” at the end. Someone could declare that he believes Elvis is dead because he heard his toaster tell the microwave that he died, and his toaster is a lying WHORE(though omniscient)…you get the idea.

    Many questions have variously acceptable answers to “what do you believe” contingent on the answer to “why”. “What do you believe the United Sates’ stance towards the U.N. should be, and why”, “What do you think about the state of the air in this country, and why,” etc.

    All such questions are potentially interesting, but I think “What do you believe about Elvis’ life span, and why” is a better question than “What do you believe about Truman’s life span, and why?” because people are less likely to reveal egregious delusions and thought errors about Truman, around whom no cult of personality developed.

    Questioning what someone believes about evolution reveals if he or she is capable of recognizing certain facts and what he or she concludes from such facts. Ideally (perhaps, anyway) everyone would be a super-genius with all human knowledge from all fields, including the history of how such knowledge developed…such is not expected of anyone in practice, nor should it be. No one is being asked if they understand entirely how fossil evidence shows evolution, or if they understand how microbiology, zoology, botany, geology, paleontology, statistics/computer modeling, show it, or most importantly how genetics alone shows it. Such is not necessary, though intellectual curiosity and ability is always nice to see.

    Rather, politicians should be questioned on their ability to observe true facts to which they have access, of which the most important is the overwhelming general agreement across specialties among experts that this is by far both the best explanation that there is and an intrinsically satisfactory one.

    One’s personal experience and a passing understanding of the relevant data may indicate something contrary to conventional thinking is true. For example, someone’s experience modifying cars could indicate to him that cars could be built more cheaply and efficiently individually, rather than by assembly line processes. I would expect such a person to seriously doubt this however much his experience led him to believe it true as a) cars used to be built this way and people were familiar with the individualized car making process but changed to and stuck with the present system, b) almost everyone has every motivation to discover a cheaper and better way to manufacture, c) relevant experts believe the assembly line system is better, and our hypothetical car modifier is an amateur. An inability to recognize that a), b), and c) should cause him to doubt his position would be troubling. So would an inability to grasp that a), b), and c) are true because he knows that if true they conflict with his personal experience.

    For all their access to sufficient information to believe that the likelihood of A being true is X%, politicians frequently assert likelihoods wildly at variance from X…to me the quality of a question being asked of a politician is intimately linked to the chances of it revealing his or her thought process. Circumstances are too fluid to merely elect someone sharing a (significant proportion of) a slate of views with you in a modern representative democracy. Candidate A thinks Y for ludicrously poor reasons, Candidate B thinks Z because he is prone to a type of error (valuing consensus too much, valuing justice at the expense of truth, what have you). You, for perfect reasons, think Y. For whom should you vote? It varies, but for me the answer is usually Y.

    Traits such as honesty are less well revealed through questions, so I am addressing the role of the question you criticized only.

    Bonus points for any politician who not only understands the most reasonable interpretation of the state of the sciences and evolution, but the role of science regarding human beliefs. What might political science, history, philosophy, psychology, etc. have to say about a religiously inspired obscurantist movement’s existence on the political scene, and whether its claims are likely to be modest or overblown relative to their worth?

  4. RandyB says:

    Arguments about evolution don’t have immediate proximate policy applications, so why is this even being mooted?

    Teaching people to think scientifically has no policy implications?

    We want a country in which the belief that cigarettes cause cancer or whether global warming is real to be simply ideological opinions on which everyone is entitled to equal respect?

    Reality is what doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it.
    Science is the practice of trying to disprove what you belief, to establish what can’t be.

    It is dangerous to our society to only listen to agreeable or the best-paid voices.

  5. David Hume says:

    Teaching people to think scientifically has no policy implications?

    if you rephrase anything i say to set up your own argument again, I WILL BAN YOU. i don’t find that style of interaction acceptable with me, though feel free to engage in that elsewhere or with other readers.

    in any case, most people can’t or won’t think scientifically, they simply accept what scientists tell them is the truth. this is not an issue about which most people have thought deeply, they simply accept what their culture-leaders tell them.

  6. TangoMan says:

    Why is this being mooted? Probably to give some kind of cover for distancing the Frum-type of conservatives from what they fear may be the implications arising from future discoveries while still maintaining distance from the rationales that the social conservatives use to reject Darwinian thought. For them, the destination isn’t so important, it’s the journey that gets them there that is of paramount importance. So long as they can define themselves by the journey, the taint of finding common cause with ID folks can be tolerated.

    Klinghoffer, an ID proponent, gives us a hint, when he writes:

    The question driving the evolution debate is whether the cause of scientific knowledge is well served by a dogmatic insistence that 19th-century materialism, amended by an increasingly outmoded picture of what DNA is and how it works, continues to provide the most rigorous and satisfying account of life’s development over the course of billions of years.

    I’m trying to unpack his viewpoint on this question but I don’t think he provides enough material to fully flesh it out. My preliminary impression is that he’s working with a distorted view of “scientific knowledge” if he’s under the impression that 19th Century materialism is the key driver in the debate. If he can convince the Frum-type conservatives that this is a true representation of the field then he gives them something that they can push against, if they find that they need to, without having to trod the path used by the religious.

    klinghoffer goes on to write:

    Apparently, among those high-achieving students for whom Andresen is all aglow, being on the side of “science and knowledge” means to accept whatever a self-perpetuating technocratic priesthood happens to say at a given moment.

    OK, I can agree with that. Appeal to authority isn’t a satisfying foundation for a world view. I much prefer a foundation established on, well, for lack of a better term, the scientific method, accepting understanding that develops from testing of hypothesis, efforts to falsify positions, critical examination of evidence, etc. What’s funny though is that he’s trying to paint ID as the outcome of a rigorous intellectual vetting process, as though simply doubting is sufficient basis for rejection.

    Is Klinghoffer playing devil’s advocate or arguing that perfect is not the enemy of the good? Sure, those young people accept evolution but they do so because they find authoritative endorsement convincing rather than because they’ve critically investigated to their own satisfaction. It seems that he’s arguing that until discourse on evolution can proceed on very rigorous terms it would be OK to maintain doubt even if one can’t articulate the basis for doubt. Being a skeptic, in other words, should be the default position until one can intelligently derive conclusions based on sound reasoning. OK, that would work to Klinghoffer’s purposes of promoting ID, but what’s in it for Frum-type conservatives? What comes to my mind is that a default position of skepticism allows the adherent to insulate themselves from having to endorse any socially awkward discoveries that affect race and gender. At some future point I believe that adherents of evolutionary thinking will be placed between a rock and hard place on the issue of race and gender – the findings will be scientifically valid but socially awkward. One can side-step the social and political consequences of the findings if one develops a position that the science is flawed or tainted (a tool to advance 19th Century materialism.) In substance, this seems a lot like the feminist critiques of science but tailored to aid a non-religious conservative who wants to avoid specific outcomes.

    I need to think about this some more.

  7. Brian says:

    “For whom should you vote? It varies, but for me the answer is usually Y.”

    That makes no sense at all. I meant “B”, not “Y”.

  8. David Hume says:

    klinghoffer worries about about evolution & nazis fwiw.

  9. Craig says:

    I’d vote for a creationist who would shrink government, lower my taxes, and protect the border. But, having said that, I’d also have to vote for a flat-earther who would do the same. That’s at the federal level. At any state or local level where the pol in question might influence school curricula it’s another story.

    The evidence for evolution is at least as overwhelming and one-sided as the evidence for a round world (or a dead Elvis). At some point it gets wince-inducing to vote for people who deny reality to that extent.

    And, yes, I used to be a creationist. Fortunately the data (and a nudge from John Derbyshire) eventually caused the scales to fall from my eyes.

  10. TangoMan says:

    klinghoffer worries about about evolution & nazis fwiw.

    Seeing how he’s a proponent of ID, his motivations are clearer, even if he tries to obfuscate them with his writing, in that I don’t see how the case he’s making actually leads one to support ID. That however is another matter.

    I’m with you, if I understood you correctly, in wondering how publishing that posting on FrumForum works to the benefit of that faction of the conservative movement. Is there really overlap on the nazi concern and do those conservatives believe that an acceptance of socially uncomfortable findings will lead to, must lead to, nazi policies? Or do they want to avoid even the slightest effort of having to correct those who make that ignorant accusation and so come to the position that it is better to not give any form of support to evolution and instead of rejecting it on the basis of religion they claim to reject because they have a more sophisticated position of not accepting matters based simply on the authority of the proponents and instead they impose unreachable thresholds of proof before they will entertain the argument? This way they get to have their cake and eat it too – they reject for reasons that have surface plausibility but never fully come on board because no one can, or ever will, meet the thresholds that insist upon.

    I know that none of these tactics are new to you because back in the day we used to see these deployed in debates, but it might be that they’re new when they come from secular conservatives in Frum’s orbit.

  11. David Hume says:

    i assume that frum and klinghoffer are friends or something, and the latter is cashing in those chits.

    i have no expectation that worldnetdaily etc. are going to stop beating the drum for creationism. more mainstream journals like first things and the weekly standard will also keep doing it. but it seems that if frumforum has a niche vit should be at drawing the line at the stupidity, because it doesn’t need to pander to this sort of thing because of the nature of its audience.

    probably the reasonable explanation is the one i gave above. frum and klinghoffer know each other from politically conservative jewish circles with broad neocon affinities in the past, and klinghoffer wanted to defend his own perspective, and frum acceded becasue of their past relationship.

    the only issue is that again it opens the door to “i told you so, conservatives are retarded” first impression to those from the outside. the just a side-issue driven by weird preoccupations of a small motivated group of conservative protestants.

  12. TangoMan says:

    Has anyone bothered to read the comments? How is the article being received?

  13. David Hume says:

    lots of people are “WTFing!?!?!” but a substantial proportion of frumforum’s readers are now liberals who read it to get a conservative’s view.

  14. Thursday says:

    There is something innate about almost all conservatives that makes them suspicious of science. It can be seen all the way back to Aristophanes, who bundles up sophism, Socrates and science as one big bogeyman in The Clouds. According to him, even looking into the natural causes of something like the moon was evil. I wish it weren’t so, but it is.

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