FOR MORE THAN 30 years, the conservative movement in America has been doing battle with the forces of relativism, the "do your own thing" philosophy that eschews objective truth and instead sees all beliefs and all personal choices as equally valid. Instead, philosophically minded American conservatives have argued that there is such a thing as objectivity and that some beliefs really are better, truer or more accurate than others. Given this history, it seems appropriate to ask: Is President Bush really a conservative?
The question arises because earlier this week, while talking to a group of Texas newspaper reporters at the White House, the president was asked his views on the subject of "intelligent design," the quasi-scientific, quasi- religious movement that promotes the idea that an unseen force led to the development of the human race, as opposed to the big bang, biology, physics and evolution. Mr. Bush said, "Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about." He added, "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."
Of course the president is right that, in the context of a philosophical debate, it would be appropriate to discuss both sides of an issue before arriving at a conclusion. In the context of a religious discussion, it would also be very interesting to ponder whether the human race exists on Earth for a purpose or merely by accident. But the proponents of intelligent design are not content with participating in a philosophical or religious debate. They want their theory to be accepted as science and to be taught in ninth-grade biology classes, alongside the theory of evolution. For that, there is no basis whatsoever: The nature of the "evidence" for the theory of evolution is so overwhelming, and so powerful, that it informs all of modern biology. To pretend that the existence of evolution is somehow still an open question, or that it is one of several equally valid theories, is to misunderstand the intellectual and scientific history of the past century.
To give Mr. Bush the benefit of the doubt, he may have been catering to his Texas constituents, a group of whom, in the city of Odessa, were recently found to have turned an allegedly secular public high school Bible studies course into a hodgepodge of myth and religious teaching. But politics are no excuse for indulging quackery, not from a president -- especially not from a president -- who claims, at least some of the time, that he cares about education.