Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Keep them yelling their devotion

I usually don't have a problem with a bit of red meat for the base in party politics; everyone needs something to be excited about. But there's a delicate balance involved in satisfying the activists while not carelessly offending the centre, and endorsing the teaching of intelligent design in schools alongside evolution, as President Bush did recently, is the point at which I get offended. Q I wanted to ask you about the -- what seems to be a growing debate over evolution versus intelligent design. What are your personal views on that, and do you think both should be taught in public schools? THE PRESIDENT: I think -- as I said, harking back to my days as my governor -- both you and Herman are doing a fine job of dragging me back to the past. (Laughter.) Then, I said that, first of all, that decision should be made to local school districts, but I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught. Q Both sides should be properly taught? THE PRESIDENT: Yes, people -- so people can understand what the debate is about. Q So the answer accepts the validity of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution? THE PRESIDENT: I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought, and I'm not suggesting -- you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes. People can be exposed to the gamut of ideas on Life, the Universe, and Everything on their own time, and of their own free will; in public school, I'd prefer sticking to non-sectarian science. Positing that intelligent design is of equal merit with evolutionary theory, and ought to be taught as such, is outright pandering to hardline social conservatives. There's a free market of ideas; no one is preventing you from teaching your children whatever you believe to be true about the nature of creation. But I worry about enshrining one particular set of faith-inspired beliefs in the public arena as equal counterparts to (if not provable, then at the very least eminently reasonable) scientific theory, because that opens a door. Did I say worry? What I mean to say is that it absolutely terrifies me. This would be a manifestation of the same exasperation with the Conservative Party, seemingly unable to grasp the idea that there do exist multiple groups utterly assured of their own singular accuracy in deducing the nature of the divine, and possessed of the conviction that public policy ought to be created out of whatever ideas they deem holy. If you don't want Zoroastrianism (or, to be a bit less niche and more contemporaneously new-agey, Wicca) officially treated as equivalent in influence, worth and tradtion to mainline Protestantism, then keep both private, and not endorsed by the state; if you don't want to create the possibility of sharia-inspired civil law, then don't justify your opposition to gay marriage in explicit terms of how it contravenes your particular version of Christianity. Neither, I should add, am I a fan of the opposite approach, treating any admission of faith in public (excepting, of course, the left's favoured non-Western, non-Christian mascot religion of the moment) as verboten and mildly shameful - but I'd prefer neither meta-belief about the nature of religion be permanently enshrined in law. The difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, justice and injustice - they can be determined in the public arena without stating it in a way that favours one faith or another. And - unfortunately - the truth is that intelligent design is a stalking horse for creationism, dressed up with the appearance of reason though it may be. The only way to maintain freedom of religion is to promote freedom from religion in the common public sphere. Otherwise, that majority that makes your favoured interpretation of truth law today - justified by your faith - may well be replaced in twenty years by another majority with another faith, with spectacularly different ideas about what should constitute the official, state-taught truth of existence. Maintain some division between the secular and divine in the first place, and that scenario becomes less problematic in the long run. It's a good thing for the GOP that Democrats continue to be so feckless on the greater matter of the current war (or, as many do, deny that we're even at war, let alone a war that should probably be won, for the sake of the continued survival of modern civilization) - because I predict this kind of thing is going to be poison in the centre, or would be, failing that one issue far more important than unfortunate pandering. From the Canadian angle, the CPC ought to take a lesson from Bush here: A conservative party can (probably) get away with playing to the social conservative base in a fairly polarized population, if other policies are thought more immediately important and enjoy sufficiently broad support, for electoral purposes. Otherwise, it's a deal-killer for building majorities...and might just be anyway, if the numbers decrying federal support for intelligent design on the right are any indication. (Much more at Instapundit.)

2 Comments:

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