August 11, 2005

When principle collides with power worship, the wreck is not pretty

One of the leading intellectuals of the so-called "neo-conservative" movement (their motto: "We will not rest until all countries are invaded") is Charles Krauthammer. However, just because one is a rabid warmonger does not mean that one has completely lost one's senses and in a recent opinion column in Time magazine entitled Let's Have No More Monkey Trials: To teach faith as science is to undermine both, Krauthammer came down hard on the issue of teaching so-called intelligent design (ID). He decries the recent events in Kansas as "new and gratuitous attempts to invade science, and most particularly evolution, with religion." He calls ID a "tarted-up version of creationism" and hails evolution as "one of the most powerful and elegant theories in all of human science and the bedrock of all modern biology."

He goes further and condemns Cardinal Schonborn's recent ID-inspired critique of evolution, saying:

What we are witnessing now is a frontier violation by the forces of religion. This new attack claims that because there are gaps in evolution, they therefore must be filled by a divine intelligent designer….How many times do we have to rerun the Scopes "monkey trial"? There are gaps in science everywhere. Are we to fill them all with divinity?....To teach faith as science is to undermine the very idea of science, which is the acquisition of new knowledge through hypothesis, experimentation and evidence. To teach it as science is to encourage the supercilious caricature of America as a nation in the thrall of religious authority.

Pretty strong stuff. The problem was that on the very same day that article was published, President Bush, showing no consideration at all for one of his most ardent admirers, comes out in favor of teaching ID in science classes.

When confronted with this unfortunate turn of events, what is an intellectual to do? Does Krauthammer stick to his principles and say that Bush is wrong on this issue and should reconsider his stand? Of course not, because one of the tenets of neocondom is to see Bush as an equal with god in terms of infallibility. To question Bush's rightness on anything (other than to suggest that he should invade more countries more quickly) is to invite immediate dismissal from the neoconservative club, presumably involving some secret midnight ritual sponsored by Fox News.

Instead Krauthammer showed that there is no principle that cannot be sacrificed, no position that cannot be backpedaled from, if one's desire to grovel to power is strong enough.

In his rush to try and reconcile the irreconcilable and ensure that he does not have to face any more embarrassing Presidential undercutting on this issue, Krauthammer takes two contradictory positions. The first is the familiar one that is used to excuse all the policy idiocies of the current administration, that what really matters is the sincerity of the President, not whether the policy is good or even makes any sense ("We really, really believed Iraq had WMDs."). As long as the administration believes in what they are doing, that makes it ok. “It is very clear to me that he is sincere about this,” Krauthammer says, “He is not positioning.”

But what if the President is not sincere and comes out the next day and says that he was just joking, thereby making Krauthammer look foolish again? To cover that flank, Krauthammer also takes a backup position that that's ok too, so the President is right either way. Krauthammer adds: “If you look at this purely as a cynical political move, it will help in the heartlands and people of my ilk care a lot more about Iraq than about textbooks in Kansas.”

In other words, who cares what the hicks in Kansas and the other loser states (codename: "the heartlands") learn in their science classes? After all, our "ilk" and our ilk's children don't live there. We can sacrifice those other children's education as long as it buys us votes and enables us to keep invading other countries.

James Wolcott, always quicker on things like this than anyone else, skewers Krauthammer's craven behavior in his own inimitable style.


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George Will, another conservative, has also weighed in on our side. (He had a column in Newsweek recently on the issue - pro science). I hope you saw "Nightline" last night. Will acquitted himself very well, using all the correct scientific words, and making it clear at the end (he had the last words) that this is not a scientific issue but a political issue. Cal Thomas was the anti. And at the end of his presentation he gave us a real gift. His major argument had been that people who worship on Sunday and who pay taxes are sick of having their worldview left out of the schools, and spit on in general - they feel left out, etc. He said something like, "It's not just the evolution being forced down our throat. It's everything else they stand for, like gay marriage, etc., etc., the Terry Schiavo issue,' etc." "Way to go, Cal," I shouted, since as we all know, many conservatives were deeply offended by the Terri Schiavo fiasco. So perhaps some listeners who might have been on Thomas's side vis a vis science will rethink it based on his lumping all
those other things in with it. I think the half hour as a whole was excellent for our side. I wish I could have taped it, but my VCR is on the fritz.

Posted by catherine on August 11, 2005 11:49 AM

This isn't directly relevant to this post, but the evolution debate in general. Have you seen the Flying Spaghetti Monsterism site? It applies the same "you have to give all viewpoints a hearing" reasoning that ID advocates do to a... um... different theory, that makes the absurdity of the argument rather more obvious.

Posted by eldan on August 11, 2005 12:30 PM

I dislike George Will, but he recently wrote a column bemoaning the increasing religious obsession of the Republicans. I am pleasantly surprised at his pro-science stance, and I suppose that he's an example of a conservative who is not a neo-con.

Posted by Becky on August 11, 2005 02:47 PM

I don't often agree with George Will, but I'm always impressed by the consistency of his logic.

Posted by Trish on August 17, 2005 05:11 PM