Here we have a guy [Kristol] who plainly doesn’t believe in God, but who thinks that well-padded intellectual elitists like himself ought to evade the issue in public for fear of demoralizing the proles and perhaps jeopardizing some padding thereby. I can’t think of anything nice to say about that; and in fact, the only things I CAN think of to say would not be suitable for a family website.
I can’t see the parallel with your argument. Infinity is whatever it is, and whatever can truly be said about it, is true. I might indeed take different tacks in explaining it to different persons; but if I thought that P were a true proposition about infinity, I should not affirm P in the privacy of my chambers, while denying or evading it in the public square, which is the kind of thing Kristol & Himmelfarb are doing. A noble lie is still a lie.
These are the people who are pushing “intelligent design” in the conservative movement. Not only am I glad and proud to have spoken out against this preposterous hoax, I wish I had done so more forthrightly. These are people filled up to their meritocratic nose-holes with contempt for ordinary people. That’s conservatism? Ptui, I spit. ~John Derbyshire, The Corner
The origin of Mr. Derbyshire’s remarks is this Reason article about certain neocons, their “religious beliefs” such as they are, and their (public) claims about ID, evolution and social utility of religion. This ties into Mr. Derbyshire’s long-running opposition to “Intelligent Design” (ID), the reheated and watered-down theological view that its loyalists are trying to push into science classes as an alternative, or really just an augmentation, to evolution. Mr. Derbyshire’s own unfortunate indifference to the claims of theologians and philosophers is not the issue at the moment. Unfortunately, the Bailey article is not as compelling as I first imagined it would be when I read Mr. Derbyshire’s remarks.
I would add that the point of ID, as I have argued on several occasions, is not to “deny” Darwin as such, in the sense that ID theorists are denying the reality of evolution, but simply that they would prefer to be able to use metaphysical claims to explain scientific evidence. To the extent that they are “denying” Darwin, they wish to “deny” Darwin’s work its near-canonical status and question the philosophical claims made as a result of the theory of evolution.
In principle, at least as far as criticism of Darwin goes, this might be nothing different from what Stephen Jay Gould did in advancing criticisms of evolutionary theory. However, where Gould, as I understand, recognised and attempted to address flaws or holes in Darwin’s theory on the basis of interpreting the evidence, ID relies on poking holes in materialistic readings of evolutionary theory on logical and philosophical grounds.
Aside from the oddity in the Reason article of lumping in Robert Bork with neoconservatives, which seems to me to stretch the term well past the breaking point (unless I am very confused about where Mr. Bork stands on a few things), it shows very clearly that a number of prominent neocons have taken up for ID theory just as a number, such as Krauthammer, have denounced it with every secularist fiber of their being.
What is more interesting, aside from demonstrating (again) the likely intellectual laziness of many well-known neocon figures, may be the pure cynicism with which these people are operating. However, arguing for this rests on Ronald Bailey’s very easy assumption that Strauss and the “Noble Lie” have struck deep roots in neocon thinking, and as Dr. Paul Gottfried argued (I believe it was last year in an article for Chronicles?), Strauss is more complicated than many quick summaries have allowed and his influence of the neocons has been a bit exaggerated.
The Bailey article does include an important admission about one of the ID theorists that Kristol and Himmelfarb have encouraged:
Behe, in a letter to The Wall Street Journal, frankly acknowledges that his is “a distinctly minority view among scientists on the question of what caused evolution.” But Behe wants it clearly understood that he is no biblical literalist: “In the book I specifically say I am not a creationist, agree that the universe is billions of years old, [and] believe in descent of life from a common ancestor.”
This should underscore once and for all that whatever may be theologically or philosophically true in the arguments of ID theorists, ID theory does not purport to scrap the theory of evolution or seriously challenge it. In fact, it practically augments the theory of evolution so little that the entire enterprise, as a professed scientific endeavour, is an amazing waste of time.