Much has been made this week of Rick Perry’s comments about evolution. In New Hampshire, Perry was confronted by a cowardly parent who made her little boy ask questions on her behalf — forcing the child up to the governor, the boy asked “What do you think about evolution?” After the governor said that he believed that both evolution and intelligent design should be covered in schools, the mother pushed her poor child further, shouting at the child “Ask him why he hates science! Ask him why he hates science!” How shameful. Later in the week, Perry said to an audience that evolution is a theory that “has some gaps in it.” Of course, objectively speaking, that is true — we cannot explain the biological history of certain evolutionary adaptations in specific creatures. That doesn’t scuttle the whole theory though. Nevertheless, these comments prompted a nationwide freak-out on the part of the left, which has such a devout faith in science that in their view it must go ever-unchallenged.
The public debate over evolution, creationism, and intelligent design is pointless and irrelevant. This is not to say that it is not illuminating.
Why does it matter whether someone believes in evolution? Why does it matter how we got here? Whether God Breathed Life Into The World, whether we evolved from apes, whether we are actually an alien race that colonized this planet…the end result is the same, right? How does the question of how we got here inform any of the problems that we face as a nation? It doesn’t. And this is how we know that when we talk about evolution, we aren’t really talking about evolution.
When we talk about evolution what we are really talking about is the proper ideological function of public schools. We can likely agree that the role of the schools is to produce “good citizens,” but we all define that differently. In taking positions on evolution, what we are really doing is taking positions on the characteristics of the “good citizens” that the schools ought to produce.
It’s rare that you encounter someone who argues that public schools should ONLY teach creationism. The people who believe that are a particular breed of religious fundamentalist, and if they had their way, the State probably wouldn’t run the schools to begin with. So, that fringe minority must be excluded from the debate (they really exclude themselves). Most proponents of evolution and intelligent design argue only that these theories should be covered as alternatives to the theory of evolution. In other words, most creationists don’t want an all or nothing solution — they just want students to be aware of the creationist position (not its validity, but its existence). If we extrapolate their position, it seems that for them the good citizen is the citizen who is aware of the diversity of perspectives on a given public issue. They assume that either the parents or the students themselves can make a choice as to which perspective is best.
On the other hand, militant evolutionists aren’t fighting to have their position heard in the schools: it already is heard. Instead, they are fighting for exclusivity — they want evolution (and ONLY evolution) to be taught. Why? Well, partly because of their devout faith in science (which is evangelical in character and views any challenge as heresy). But mostly because of the religious orientation of the alternatives to evolution; God has no place in the schools, they say. These people fail to make a distinction between preaching and teaching; they don’t recognize that you can discuss religious issues without the evangelism. They see that boogeyman everywhere, trying to convert our children to God!! But just because I may talk to my students about the Jewish position on abortion doesn’t mean that I am attempting to coerce them to adopt that position.
At the bottom of the insistence on evolution (and only evolution) is an anxiety about the effect of religion on citizens. The evolutionists implicitly further Dawkins’ idea: religious people are a blight on democratic secular society. They claim that religious faith is either the product of stupidity or ignorance, and as such must not be tolerated in a political system that depends upon rational and scientific deliberation. In other words, they conceive of the good citizen as one who is wholly taken in by ideology, even if that ideological orientation is only enabled through an ignorance of its alternatives. The scientio-rational worldview flirts with totalitarianism — as long as there is any resistance to “science” (whatever that is; frequently it seems to mean “left politics”), science cannot effectively bring into being the cold, sterile, monochromatic world it is always willing into existence. In the words of George Will, these people are for the diversity of everything but thought; a tragedy given that diverse thought is the only thing that is truly necessary for the proper functioning of democracy.
We would do well if we had the courage to talk explicitly about the points of our disagreements. Let’s stop bickering over the irrelevant question of how we got here, and start directly defining what the good citizen is and how he can be produced through the schools.