Evil Forces in the World

Reflections on ''Evil Forces in the World,'' as well as occasional remarks concerning ''Good Forces in the World.''

Friday, October 18, 2002

The School Board then voted to teach alternative theories on who is buried in Grant's tomb

The more I think about it, the more I realize that National Review Online is a national treasure of sorts. If you want peerless writing on Iran, you can find it in Michael Ledeen's columns; if you want erudite and measured analyses of politics and culture, WFB often fills the bill. But if you need ethnic slurs and hysterical homophobia to get through your browsing day, John Derbyshire makes the site one-stop shopping. More than anything else, NRO embodies the Janus-faced nature of the conservative movement today--all intellectual probity, tough questions and creative ideas one moment, all jaw-droppingly retrograde asininity the next.

An example of the latter is today's article on the Ohio Department of Education's 17-0 decision to allow criticism of Darwinian evolution to be taught in public schools. The piece is mostly journalism, giving the opponents of the decision fair coverage, but the affinity of the author (Pamela R. Winnick) for the "critics" of standard evolutionary theory is clear.

Winnick barely bothers with the idea that it's only a question of rigorous science. I can hardly imagine that this vote was needed to protect a science teacher in Akron teaching universally known and accepted scientific problems with the classical Darwinist orthodoxy. Everyone knows that "critical evaluation" is merely the thin end of the wedge, in front of "alternate theories" up to and including "intelligent design." Winnick sums up these supposedly scientific dissents thusly:

In recent years, a handful of renegade scientists and academics have launched a revolt against Darwinism. Unlike creationists, they accept that the Earth is four billion years old and that species undergo some change over time. What they don't accept is macroevolution, or the transformation from one species to the next--as in ape to man. Scientists in the "intelligent design" community don't advocate any particular religion, but they do believe that some higher intelligence--though not necessarily the God of the Bible--created life in all its forms. Proponents of intelligent design agree with the scientific establishment that students should be taught evolution, but they think students should be made aware there is some controversy over the theory.

Ohio is hardly alone in its "teach the controversy" approach....

"Teach the controversy!" You can always teach a controversy! Forgive me for cribbing from Stanley Fish, but there is no definitive end to these kinds of debates. We could teach the controversy over the extent of the Holocaust if we really wanted to; dissenters have marshaled plenty of putative evidence, and doesn't the "academic freedom" of the students and teachers, some of whom may have "alternative theories" about the events in question, require us to hear them out?

Macroevolution isn't well understood, and plenty of (scientific) challenges to strict Darwinism have already been assimilated into the standard biological understanding of life. But no one who studies the subject has ever made a serious biological argument that humans and apes don't share a common ancestor.

In a way, the Holocaust denial example is unfair to Holocaust deniers. At least they ostensibly assume the same rules of historiography that mainstream historians do; they don't sneak in metahistorical premises to justify their opinions (not counting those who believe in a Jewish conspiracy). The Intelligent Design people want to slip a metaphysical or supernatural premise into the study of nature. At best, their views are irrelevant to what we call science. At worst, like Holocaust denial, it's a front for a deeper ideological agenda.

This use of curricula to advance religion is pernicious. For one thing, it degrades the boundaries among disciplines. Worried about randomness, about the logical difficulty of an uncaused universe? Take a philosophy class. Metaphysics has a place there. Scientists should be more humble about the exhaustiveness of scientific explanation, but to import the supernatural into science classes under the guise of critiquing scientific theories is positively Orwellian.

For another thing, it puts earnest Christians on the side of an academic fight they don't deserve to win. Religion does have a place in education. No account of the history of democratic rights, for example, is adequate if it doesn't include Judeo-Christian thought. I'm a God-botherer myself; I sympathize with the desire to shoehorn all knowledge into our absurd revelation. We can't do that without looking (and being) unutterably stupid. But we can show how religious ideas about the nature of mankind and society are preconditions for almost everything that falls under the category of "humanism," secular or otherwise.

Every now and then, someone on NRO or a similarly theocon-tinged publication hints in that direction. But most of the time, religious conservatives are willing to fight a losing battle in the realm of science while essentially ceding the humanities to a parched secularism.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

With 100% of precincts reporting...

SADDAM WINS 11,445,638 TO 0

The Chicago Sun-Times, 10/17. Headlines like these remind me why I'm so loyal to the Sun-Times, the R. Kelly paper of record.

Bonus Sun-Times headline:


Straight to the point.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002


Damned if Dick Armey doesn't come in for some well-deserved praise from The New Republic shortly before he waddles into the sunset. Jeffrey Rosen's piece on the libertarian right's opposition to much of the Bush/Ashcroft security agenda is a nice, grudging farewell to the outgoing House Majority Leader and to Bob "Just More Gooder" Barr, R-Georgia. Rosen lambasts liberal Donkeys for rolling over on surveillance during the Patriot Act and Homeland Security debates, and points out that the mulish anti-government ideology of Armey and Barr is the only thing that kept the Justice Department from getting absolutely everything it wanted.

The compliment is somewhat backhanded, however: Rosen places the two in the tradition described by Richard Hofstadter in his classic 1954 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." Rosen is quick to note that Hofstadter himself admitted that there is no reason the paranoid style can never be used in the service of a good cause. Hofstadter, however, implicitly suggested the implausibility of such a situation by writing so dryly and trenchantly of, among others, a young Phyllis Schlafly (if I remember correctly, she appears in a footnote). The Rosen piece is dismissive only by association, however; he really does give Armey his due, and perhaps more. Defenders of civil liberties can't be too choosy when it comes to friends.

Rosen also states more concisely than anyone else why John Ashcroft is so scary to liberals and so dissapointing to libertarian conservatives:

But Ashcroft's transformation from an anti-executive Manichean conservative to a pro-executive Manichean conservative has been entirely in character. As both senator and attorney general, he has been convinced of his own virtue and the perfidy of his opponents. When he moved from criticizing the Justice Department to running it, executive authority became trustworthy to him because the purity of his own motives was, in his own mind, axiomatic. Instead of abandoning his apocalyptic vision, Ashcroft redirected it toward international enemies.

...[U]nlike his conservative allies, Ashcroft is not able to extrapolate from his devotion to the right to bear arms to a broader principle of individual liberty that leads to suspicion of government across the board. They have a principle; he has only an attitude, which is the self-evident truth of his own righteousness.

This description is so perfect, so high-mindedly wicked, that I (being pleased by it) can hardly judge its fairness or accuracy. That's good preaching, especially to choirboys like me.

Monday, October 14, 2002


Please go out and see Barbershop. Today. Please.

The story is hackneyed and some of the characters are pure cliches, but it features some brave and wonderful scenes of argument. It's a sign of progress that the movie was even made, that it was widely released, and that a Jackson-Sharpton hissy fit in its honor increased its popularity.

Besides, Cedric the Entertainer delivers the best use of the a near-and-dear profanity since A Fish Called Wanda.

Ron Rosenbaum contributes an important nuance to the struggle against evil in the New York Observer:

The analogy that occurred ot me grew out of a conversation I had several years ago with the philosopher Berel Lang, author of Act and Idea in Nazi Genocide, a talk that took place in the course of researching my book, Explaining Hiter. Mr. Lang is an extremely thoughtful and meticulous thinker on the question of degrees of evil and the role of intentionality in determining them. He was speaking about the question of whether one could say there was "a history of evil"--whether Hitler represented a new fact, a new landmark in that history, and if so, what the next step might be.

I suggested the "next step" might be Holocaust denial, because the deniers had found a diabolical way to twist the knife, compounding the pain of the survivors by negating and slandering the memory of the murdered.

Mr. Lang demurred, because he had his own notion of what the next step in the history of evil might be. The paradigm for it, he told me, was the postwar career of Martin Heidegger, the Nazi-friendly philosopher beloved to distraction by postmodernists (and Hannah Arendt).

All of whom apologized for him, despite an increasingly damning series of revelations that disclosed his toadying to Hitler's thugs in order to attain professional advancement, hailing Hitler;s Reich as the ultimate synthesis of politics and his philosophy.

But that wasn't what made Heidegger a new chapter, Mr. Lang said; it was his astonishing postwar behavior. After everything came out, after it was no longer possible to deny at least post facto knowledge of the Holocaust, nothing changed for Heidegger. He felt no need to incorporate what happened into his philosophy. "His silence," Mr. Lang said, "it wasn't even his denial. For him, it wasn't important! It wasn't important.... Now if you ask which of them is worse...the Revisionists [Holocaust deniers] deny it occurred, but their official position, at least, is that if it occurred, it would have been wrong. But Heidegger knows it occurred, but it's just not important--it's not something to distort history to deny. For Heidegger, this is not history to concern oneself with."

Not history to concern oneself with...

Rosenbaum goes on to make an analogy to leftists and murderous Communist regimes, which is probably fair. But the larger point is well taken, I think.