Friday, October 22, 2004

Evolution Enters Scarborough Country

The following exchnage took place on the MSNBC chat show Scarborough Country this past Thursday. The panelists were Pat Buchanan and Robert Reich. The full transcript is available here.

REICH: Look, I am not talking about anybody being fanatics.

But I have come across, Pat, people who believe very passionately, and I respect them, but they believe very passionately that evolution, scientific evolution is just not truth, that Adam and Eve literally, literally, were put on the Earth as the first man and woman, and we should not in our schools teach evolution. We should teach creationism.

Now, I happen to—I don‘t agree with that. I think that that simply puts facts and analysis and logic aside. They don‘t want to think about science. They don‘t want to even have a discussion about science. And to me, that is dangerous. That‘s dangerous for our democracy. Jefferson would not have approved of that. Washington would not have approved. Our founding fathers believed in the enlightenment notion of deliberation and logic and facts and analysis.

BUCHANAN: Well, I think that there‘s—no one objects to the teaching of evolution as a theory and, quite frankly, Darwin and all the rest of it as historical figures and enormous impact of it.

But I think people do object, Robert Reich, to it being taught as something like religious truth, when they don‘t believe it to be that.

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a single biology teacher in the country who presents evolution as “something like religious truth”. And Reich is entirely correct that fundamentalists don't want to think about or discuss science. Buchanan's comment is the standard defense used by people who want to oppose evolution without seeming irrational.

This exchange came in the midst of a discussion about the role of religion in modern American politics.

Earlier in the interview, Buchanan read from an article that Robert Reich wrote for The American Prospect some time ago:

“The underlying battle of the 21st century,” says Robert Reich, “will be between modern civilization and anti-modernist fanatics, between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe blind allegiance to a higher authority, between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is no more than preparation for an existence beyond life, between those who believe that truth is believed solely through scripture and religious dogma and those who rely primarily on science, reason and logic.”

Before moving to my present digs in Virginia I lived in central Kansas for three years. While there I listened to the local fundamentalist radio station almost every day. I also spent a lot of time browsing through the local Christian bookstore, reading fundamentalist literature, perusing their websites, and attending their conferences.

From that experience I learned that Reich's description in the paragraph above is no caricature. The sort of Christianity I encountered in Kansas was every bit as anti-intellectual, anti-science and anti-independent-thought as Reich is describing. And the number of people who subscribe to conservative religious faiths has been growing steadily for many years now. I don't know what to do about that, but it is definitely cause for concern.


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