has weighed in, along with John Derbyshire, on the collusion of lefty p.c. elements with right-wing religious conservatives against SCIENCE. Sully:
CONSERVATISM AND SCIENCE: I agree with John Derbyshire
that science is being attacked by an unholy alliance between the religious right and the p.c. left
. I think he under-estimates the danger from the right, but his broader point is correct. The deeper reality is that the religious right and p.c. left are merely two sides of the same coin: both have contempt for truly liberal education. They both put their own notions of virtue above the principle of unfettered thinking and research. Both require resisting, just as the fundamentalist distortions of Islam and Christianity deserve resisting. (emphasis added)
I don't know what to say. An "unholy alliance between the religious right and the p.c. left"? How could he be so careless?
First, is he being figurative or literal when he says there's an alliance? And if he's being figurative, then he's implying a great deal of congruency between these two camps that does not exist at the level of work-a-day politics. If he's being literal, then he's implying actual collusion. Any evidence?
Second, he doesn't address John Derbyshire's actual complaint. Here's Derbyshire in his own words (from NRO online):
Several readers are worried (and a few gleeful) that I may be suffering from schizophrenia. On the one hand, here I am flailing away at the Intelligent Design people on NRO & by implication lining up with the ACLU meanies in the Dover trial. Meanwhile I'm getting beaten up by the academic lefties
for my NRODT article--for having the temerity to suggest that human evolution is still going on.
I have LOTS to say about all this & have just agreed to do a Q&A for a conservative science website. I'll post a link to that when it goes up.
In very brief: Yes, I think science is under attack from both Left and Right. I also believe that the attack from the Left is a MUCH bigger threat--better armed, more ferocious, and international. One of the things that annoys me about the Intelligent Design people, in fact, is that they are distracting conservative scientists from the real fight, obliging them to squander their energy, while intellectual Left-fascists like the editorial writer of Science Week hold the high ground.
There is a conservative case for science, and I intend to go on making it. Intelligent Design is not a part of that case. The entire net effect of the I.D. movement is to make it harder for scientists to take conservatism seriously. These latter-day William Jennings Bryans (and that, by the way, was a man who would have socked you on the jaw if you called him a conservative) are doing nothing for conservatism.
Derbyshire wrote a very politically charged piece in the Nov 7 issue of the National Review, in response to two articles published in a September issue of Science on the possibility that alleles of two genes related to brain size may still be varying in human populations. The Science authors made clear that they think that the frequencies of different copies of these genes (or alleles) are still changing today (note: a working definition of evolutionary change is change in allele frequency over time). This result is politically neutral. Whether different human groups, or even the entire human race, are changing genetically has no bearing on our basic moral obligations to one another or on our political, social, or economic freedoms. As pointed out by Richard Lewontin (an academic lefty) in the New York Review of Books, "since automobile accidents are the leading peacetime cause of death, by far, among people of reproductive age in technologically advanced countries (about one death per one hundred persons in this age group per generation in the United States), genes that favor short reaction time to perceived danger must be increasing in our population, slowly but inexorably." No evolutionary biologist worth their salt would claim that evolution is no longer occurring. Furthermore, no evolutionary biologist worth their salt will take that admission a step further to say anything about human morality.
Third, evolutionary change is inexorable, but in such a large population as ours, it is unbelievably slow. When populations are driven to small numbers, as happens occasionally, there is what is known as a founder effect, where the allele frequencies in the sub-population, if only by chance, are markedly differently from that of their parent population. If the sub-population persists, those new frequencies could become "fixed." Small human populations could undergo similar shifts in gene frequency. However, for the most part these shifts do no occur. Successful populations tend to remain stable for very long periods of time (paleontologists estimate species lifetime to be something on the order of 1 to 5 million years). When "catastrophic" changes occur (such as the drying of a lakebed so that only a small portion of a parent fish population remains), new species are born with different allelic frequencies than its parent. This is what Niles Eldridge and Stephen Jay Gould called punctuated equilibrium. Thus, while these genes may be changing over time, it probably doesn't matter much today -- perhaps we can annihilate ourselves and find out if that change is significant in a small population?
Fourth, the scientists (such as the "intellectual Left-fascists like the editorial writer of Science Week") who dare to criticize Derbyshire's jump to conclude that "our cherished national dream of a well-mixed and harmonious meritocracy with all groups equally represented in all niches, at all levels, may be unattainable" have criticized him for being incautious. Scientists don't like to make these leaps. John Derbyshire does. Michael Behe does when he claims, in support of Intelligent Design, that human blood clotting is "irreducibly complex," ignoring as he does previous, unsuccessful attempts at discrediting natural selection by simply saying, "It's just too complicated to have happened by accident." These are careless people who make careless claims. Careful scientists do no such thing, and Derbyshire runs the risk of becoming a p.c. critic for the right with his over the top proclamations. Andrew Sullivan has also risked treading on such dangerous ground in recent months, and in response to the same Science articles, but I can no longer find his archived posts. Sully and Derbyshire aren't scientists -- and they shouldn't whine when scientists criticize their minimally supported, over-the-top claims about innate differences between human groups. Shame on them.
Finally, Richard Dawkins (a rightist Darwinian, as Derbyshire proclaims himself to be) has made exotic claims that God positively doesn't exist and that religion is the source of all our problems. I wish Dawkins would shut up -- he's doing no one any good with such claims. But note that he is neither a lefty nor a religious rightist. Could it be that he's part of Sully's "unholy alliance"? Gimme a break. What he calls an "unholy alliance," I call human overreach.