Friday, November 18, 2005

The GOP Consensus Slips Another Couple Notches

The natural tensions between Beltway (and Beltway-esque) eggheads and quasi-theocratic busybodies are becoming increasingly difficult to conceal under the GOP's big tent. The latter group's attempts in Kansas and Pennsylvania to get Intelligent Design added to local science curricula comprise a particularly volatile flashpoint in this ongoing conflict. Prominent libertarian blogger Glenn Reynolds has called these campaigns "pathetic." A couple weeks ago, Salon broke a story on former Tom Delay aide Michael Scanlon in which he referred to conservative Christians as "wackos" who could be duped into voting for anything. And the Washington Post published two anti-ID columns this week, one by George Will (yesterday) and one by Charles Krauthammer (today), both of which excoriate the idea and/or the people who espouse it.

Will and Krauthammer have both railed against Intelligent Design in previous op-ed pieces, but while Krauthammer's current column rehashes the scathing rhetoric of his previous work on the subject, Will's stridence is a new development. In the context of a discussion of government largesse under conservative administrations, he laces into ID proponents in no uncertain terms:

Dover's insurrection occurred as Kansas's Board of Education, which is controlled by the kind of conservatives who make conservatism repulsive to temperate people, voted 6 to 4 to redefine science. The board, opening the way for teaching the supernatural, deleted from the definition of science these words: "a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena."

"It does me no injury," said Thomas Jefferson, "for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." But it is injurious, and unneighborly, when zealots try to compel public education to infuse theism into scientific education.
Now there's a sound rebuke if I ever heard one. Compare with Krauthammer's ever-reliable pugnacity:

Let's be clear. Intelligent design may be interesting as theology, but as science it is a fraud. It is a self-enclosed, tautological "theory" whose only holding is that when there are gaps in some area of scientific knowledge -- in this case, evolution -- they are to be filled by God. It is a "theory" that admits that evolution and natural selection explain such things as the development of drug resistance in bacteria and other such evolutionary changes within species but also says that every once in a while God steps into this world of constant and accumulating change and says, "I think I'll make me a lemur today." A "theory" that violates the most basic requirement of anything pretending to be science -- that it be empirically disprovable. How does one empirically disprove the proposition that God was behind the lemur, or evolution -- or behind the motion of the tides or the "strong force" that holds the atom together?

In order to justify the farce that intelligent design is science, Kansas had to corrupt the very definition of science, dropping the phrase " natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us," thus unmistakably implying -- by fiat of definition, no less -- that the supernatural is an integral part of science. This is an insult both to religion and science.

The upshot of all this laundry-airing is that the conservative coalition that's clung to political power throughout the new millennium may be splintering. Intellectuals like Reynolds, Will, and Krauthammer are upset at having to discuss ID seriously at all, while conservative Christians are probably sick of having their pet issues take a back seat to industry deregulation, tax cuts, and foreign adventurism. The fact that such well-respected opinion writers are willing not only to oppose but to badmouth their erstwhile allies publicly doesn't bode well for the GOP. It remains to be seen whether the party will be able to sew up these frayed seams quickly or be forced to watch the tent tear itself apart.