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The Debate over Darwinian Evolution is NOT a Right vs. Left Issue

Casey Luskin

There’s one area where I disagree equally with the two new books I’ve been reviewing here, Chris Mooney’s The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science — and Reality, and Alex B. Berezow and Hank Campbell’s Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left. That is in their framing of many scientific debates as “right vs. left” issues.

They are wrong about this. For myself, I have never seen the debate over origins in these political terms. Yes, there may be certain statistical correlations between certain political viewpoints and certain beliefs about origins, but those correlations are far from absolute. There are plenty of left-leaning supporters of intelligent design (ID), and I am aware of some vocal critics of ID who are pretty right-wing in their political views. In fact, some ID-critics on the right adopt precisely the anti-free-speech tactics of what Berezow and Campbell call “the anti-scientific left.” As I explained in A Friendly Letter to the Heartland Institute and Other Advocates of Free Speech on Global Warming:

Don’t assume that it’s just conservatives or Republicans who support free speech and open debate on global warming. Lots of rank-and-file Democrats and liberals — who aren’t activist types … actually stand with you in demanding open scientific inquiry on these issues.

In the evolution debate, we have a similar dynamic where over 80% of self-identified “Democrats” and “liberals” endorse teaching both the “strengths and weaknesses” of Darwinian evolution. We had the same experience in Texas where both liberal and conservative members of the State Board overwhelmingly adopted standards in 2009 that required students to “analyze and evaluate how natural selection produces change in populations” or “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.” … The reality is that for a supermajority of Americans, supporting free speech on these issues is just common sense.

Politically speaking, the debate over ID and Darwinism does not pit right against left. Rather, it is about free speech vs. censorship. There are folks on the left, and the right, who support free speech and freedom of scientific inquiry, advocating the rights of scientists and educators to dissent from the orthodox Darwinian viewpoint. Conversely, I know of people on both the right and the left who oppose those freedoms. Even Berezow and Campbell strike a similar tone:

We love conservatives, we love liberals, and we love libertarians. Those groups are everywhere in American culture, and their diversity of thought is what fosters a healthy atmosphere that makes cutting-edge research possible.

We love conservatives because of their adherence to tradition and to the principles that have made the United States the most successful country on earth. We love liberals and libertarians because of their insistence on freedom. In particular, we favor liberalism in the classical sense, as philosopher-physician John Locke defined it — the pursuit of “liberty.” We are radically liberal about scientific thought. Science should be far beyond the reach of agenda-driven politicians and activists. Science should be free to speak for itself, not be held hostages by partisan politics. And most importantly, science policy should be driven by data, not ideology. Therefore, in the classical sense, we are staunch science liberals. (Science Left Behind, pp. 3-4)

As a person who holds opinions that could be called conservative, liberal, or libertarian on a variety of issues, all I can say to that is amen, amen, and amen.

At the end of the day, on the origins issue at least, it really doesn’t matter much where you fall on the political spectrum. What matters is that you maintain an open mind, support robust scientific debate, and are willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. This is the only viable way forward in the scientific debate over Darwinian evolution, as well as many other scientific controversies.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.