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The “Fearing Evolution” Trope


Writing at National Review, Razib Khan explains why “evolutionary biology is nothing for conservatives to fear,” since “it is one of the crowning achievements of modern Western civilization.” He takes aim at our colleague Michael Behe and urges against “rehashing the same old debates.” But as I’ve watched it over the past couple of decades, the evolution debate has itself rapidly evolved in interesting directions.

Khan links to criticisms of Behe’s new book, Darwin Devolves, from snarling atheist Jerry Coyne. However, he doesn’t mention Professor Behe’s own extensive replies to his critics, collected on the book’s website. Readers will find those stimulating, as they will the confession of the latest scientist to abandon belief in Darwinism — Yale polymath David Gelernter, well known to conservatives, writing in the current Claremont Review of Books. For an additional helpful perspective, see Ben Shapiro’s recent interview with Stephen Meyer.

More Daring than That

Despite the familiar trope, I don’t doubt evolution out of “fear.” Admittedly, I wouldn’t relish trying to explain how my own Jewish tradition can be reconciled with the idea that life’s origins give no indication of purpose or intention. But untangling theological puzzles is not something most of us regard with primal terror. On the other hand, one of evolutionary psychology’s best points is that humans share with apes, dogs, and other animals a distinct anxiety about status. As Tom Wolfe (another conservative Darwin doubter) pointed out in his final book, accepting evolution has always been interlaced with concerns about personal prestige. To doubt Darwin threatens to shame you as what Khan calls an “evolution denier,” aka, a rube. By far the less anxious option is to affirm evolution without thinking about it. But conservatives, necessarily independents in our current culture, should be more daring than that.

Darwinism’s Legacy

There are other good reasons to consider the evidence for yourself. Darwinism’s legacy to civilization, for one thing, is no crown I’d want to wear. Evolutionary theory has been offered as justification for ranking the human races from top to bottom, for exhibiting Africans in zoos, for compelling sterilization of those deemed evolutionarily unfit, and for gassing them in death camps. As I pointed out here already today, a more clear-sighted Darwinist, Yuval Noah Harari, concedes that as a matter of objective reality, Darwinism would shred the idea of equal rights, rewriting the Declaration of Independence. What follows the Preamble would be rendered a giant non sequitur. So long, American civilization.

None of that per se weighs against the truth of Darwinism. Khan rightly praises “Western modernity’s commitment to truth as a fundamental value.” But as Charles Darwin himself understood, getting at what’s true requires “fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides.” The thoughtful Darwin skeptics I’m familiar with, including the 1,000+ PhD scientists willing to go on the record about it, have done that.

Photo: Elderly couple ignore Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London, by ddouk via Pixabay.