Conservatives and Christians for evolution

By Razib Khan | February 26, 2006 5:57 pm

Nathanial Blake, editor of the conservative campus publication at Oregon State University, has a good piece addressing the issue of evolution and evangelicals over at the Town Hall website. He points out that even C.S. Lewis, that exemplar of modern Protestant Christian orthodoxy, accepted evolutionary theory. The coupling of anti-evolutionary feeling and a segment of conservative Protestant movement goes to show that culture can tack in bizarre directions not under control from on high, the fact is that evolution was generally a marginal issue in early 20th century Christian circles, and not even William Jennings Bryan was a Young Earth Creationist. Today elite conservatives like George Will amd Charles Krauthammer still resist the conservative populist zeitgeist on this issue.
There has been a lot of discussion on Science Blogs about convincing the public about evolutionary theory. Well, people like Nathaniel Blake have credibility because they attend pro-life protests. What does that have to do with evolution? Fundamentally nothing. Cognitively and socially, a lot. Only Nixon could go to China….

  • Matt McIntosh

    “Only Nixon could go to China.”
    Generally yes, but of course there’s a limit to how far you can stretch this. Bush just found that out with the whole port fiasco, unfortunately.

  • John Emerson

    I have my own pet theory about why some Christians hate evolution. The reason why people don’t want to be descended from animals is that, especially for country people, “animalistic” is the standard pejorative for sexual incontinence. Dogs and cats in heat show no self-control, all animals are shameless about having sex in public, and few of them are monogamous. They also act sort of stupid while getting it on, and people don’t like being reminded that men and women act sort of stupid then too.
    I’ve also heard the hyper- or meta- version: “Some people do things that even animals won’t do!”

  • John Emerson

    Actually, some animals don’t like having sex in public, pandas for example. I wasn’t the one that said it, anyway. I was quoting.

  • dallas

    The comments on the Town Hall website are much less encouraging than the editorial is…

  • budak

    I know a lot of liberals rank CS Lewis as equal to the fundiest of the fundies. Granted, he is a conservative in many ways, but I find his writings surprisingly ecumenical, in that he leaves room for the possibility of multiple paths to God/heaven/nirvana/whatever…. try pushing that view in a Southern Baptist church…

  • razib

    I know a lot of liberals rank CS Lewis as equal to the fundiest of the fundies
    well, he has been taken up my many people as “one of their own.” i don’t think many evangelicals would understand that though raised reformed he eventually died as an anglican. additionally, it might surprise him that mormons view him as a crypto-mormon.

  • IndianCowboy

    You know, in my youthful idiocy, I always assumed that there was a strong connection between evolutionary theory and libertarianism/classical liberalism; I can still point to several reasons why it seems natural, ones that haven’t been refuted since my high school days. I found out different in college, when I was told that in fact, smart people are liberal and dumb people are conservative.
    I still don’t understand how liberalism and evolution go together. I don’t think I ever will, but I digress. The point I wanted to make is that the liberal/pro-evolution conservative/pro-ID correlation we’ve creates is an exceedingly artificial one.
    One that, as I’ve argued before, hasn’t been helped by many pro-evolution voices practically waving a hammer and sickle around as they did it.
    Nathaniel Blake isn’t the only one who’s done pro-life protests and pro-evolution work. I have too. Pictures of me speaking at conservative demonstrations are actually up at a couple of websites, including National Review. The two best professors I had in evolutionary biology in undergrad were both libertarian.
    What you’ve done is backed a skunk into a corner. And damned if that skunk done sprayed you. The Republican (NOT conservative…get it right) assault on evolution is more or less a reflexive attempt to stick somethign pointy up liberal asses and nothing more.

  • razib

    indiancowboy, these definitions are fluid. recall that william jennings bryans attacks on evolution were in part motivated by his progressive revulsion at eugenics. eugenics was of course a movement of both the left and the right, maggie sanger as well as racial nationlists like lothrop stoddard.

  • John Emerson

    Politics is coalitions. The Republicans are a coalition of fundamentalists, free-marketers, and military nationalists. Keeping the fundamentalists on board has priority. The others don’t care about evolution, or abortion either.
    Free-market nationalism could function intellectually, and make policy, in a modernist, secular, positivist form, but wouldn’t have enough political support.
    Evolution was part of the left-liberal / socialist package just because it was secular, progressive, and positivist. Left-liberals didn’t usually pay close attention to the details of evolutionary science.

  • razib

    Free-market nationalism could function intellectually, and make policy, in a modernist, secular, positivist form, but wouldn’t have enough political support.
    it did to some extent with limited suffrage.

  • John J. Coupal

    We scientists frequently “turn off” the general public to our side of the evolution debate. A good example is Eugenie C. Scott’s commentary in the February 10, 2006 issue of Cell, “Creationism and Evolution: It’s the American Way”.(pages 449-451)
    That’s a good way to gain converts: first poke them in the eye with a stick to get their attention!

  • Matthew

    There is a big difference between accepting the clear evidence of common descent and evolutionary change over time, and accepting that the current evolutionary theory du jour is a sufficient explanation. For example the current theory more or less rules out any importance for Lamarkian effects, while the evidence shows that these kinds of effects are ubiquitous. Not to even mention the Cairns and Hall et. al. evidence for directed mutation, and the fossil evidence that big evolutionary transitions are extremely rapid in comparison to much larger periods of morphological stasis.
    I suspect that most theistic theists who accept the fact of evolution do not accept the reiging paradigm of blind natural selection of random variations in DNA as its primary driving mechanism.

  • Dan Dare

    I think there’s some serious confusion there Matthew. Your phrase, “Blind natural selection” totally misrepresents Darwinian theory. Natural selection is anything but blind. In fact, natural selection strongly favors good efficient design.
    Only random variation is blind and that only supplies the raw material for selection.
    Also, selection filters out the worst fatal mutations very, very quickly – during the first generation – So already by generation 2, you are no longer dealing with anything remotely resembling pure random noise.
    I think your point about Lamarckianism is best dealt with by people who know the details of the matters you raise better than me,(and I hope someone does so). I would only point anyone who is interested in understanding why Lamarckian mechanisms are considered impossible by the majority of evolutionary biologists to Chapter 11 of The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins.
    Your point about stasis vs change is intriguing and reminds me of computer experiments I did with genetic computer algorithms many years ago. One of the first modifications nearly everyone makes to the basic program is to allow selection to control the rate of mutation. The moment you do that, the rate of evolution itself comes under evolutionary control. That tiny modification to the genetics of the simulated “organisms”, is enough to show that the idea of a “fixed rate of evolution” is a myth.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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