Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 2, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

EVOLUTION AND THE NATIONAL REVIEW....I almost forgot about this, but yesterday National Review ran a column from John West, one of the hardworking scientists at the Discovery Institute, who was shocked to find that government dollars were being used to promote religion.

This is not normally something that either the Discovery Institute or National Review would get worked up about quite the contrary, in fact so you might be excused for wondering just what they're complaining about. Just this: it turns out that the feds gave a grant to the University of California Museum of Paleontology to produce a website that helps teachers understand and explain evolution.

You will be unsurprised to learn that "the science presented on the website is rather lopsided" i.e., it takes the stance that evolution is actually true but West claims that his real complaint is that the site "encourages educators to use religion to endorse evolution."

So I took a look, and after digging around quite a bit I finally found the section of the website he was talking about. Here's what it says in its entirety:

Religion and science (evolution) are very different things. In science (as in science class), only natural causes are used to explain natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world.

The misconception that one has to choose between science and religion is divisive. Most Christian and Jewish religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith. Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution.

There's also a link to an outside group (the NCSE, which helped design the website) that has statements from various religious leaders saying that evolution is fine and dandy.

So that's it. It's OK to believe in both science and religion. A grand total of 101 words.

National Review, on the other hand, provides over 700 words to one of the cretins from the Discovery Institute to wave his hands hysterically and smirk about the supposed "irony" of the whole thing. "Where's the ACLU when you really need it?" he asks, like a too-clever teenager pestering his Sunday School teacher about who Cain and Abel married.

Now, juvenile antics like this aside, West makes it clear that his real problem is with teaching evolution at all. Not proven, he says. Lots of scientists disagree.

So then, my question to National Review is this: putting aside the obvious red herring of the 101 words on the museum's website, do you agree with this? Is evolution truly not a proven commodity, merely one among many vague hypotheses about how humans developed that should all be presented equally in high school biology classes?

Disagreeing about supply side economics and the invasion of Iraq is one thing. But are they really willing to be on wrong side of the Scopes trial in the year 2004? And if not, why are they using this transparently specious argument about federal grants and religion as an excuse to provide space to a group like the Discovery Institute to peddle its pernicious nonsense?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Kevin Drum 6:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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