Tuesday, August 1, 2006

CT Interviews Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson, former speech writer for George W. Bush, has some advice for both parties and both ideologies in this interview at Christianity Today. Here are some excerpts:

Until recently, the Republican Party and Christian conservatives have complained that government is the problem. Is that a view they will likely return to?

I think it's a temptation, but I don't think it's going to happen. One reason is because of what's changed in evangelical political involvement.

I think there are lots and lots of young people, in their 20s to 40s, who are very impatient with older models of social engagement like those used by the Religious Right. They understand the importance of the life issues and the family issues, but they know the concern for justice has to be broader and global. At least a good portion of the evangelical movement is looking for leaders who have a broader conception of social justice. President Bush has provided that in many ways. He ran his initial campaign on education and on faith-based answers to poverty and addiction. And then he's led the international efforts we've undertaken, both on the development and disease side, but also on the spread of human liberty.

You're starting to sound like Jim Wallis!

No, because I also don't think the answers can be found in the Religious Left. I don't think we can minimize some of the traditional issues. I don't believe it's possible to be concerned about social justice without being concerned about the weakest members of the human family. I also think that America can play an active and positive role in the world and that we're not at fault for everything.

Many evangelicals are looking for something that's still developing, if you talk to people like Rick Warren or Tim Keller. One thing that's catalyzed it is probably Africa, where so many young evangelicals I know have spent time. They've seen the needs and the extraordinary kind of spiritual strength that's found in the continent, and they've come away changed.

What challenges do you see for evangelicals who want to broaden the movement's social agenda?

It's probably a long-term mistake for evangelicals to be too closely associated with any ideology or political party. The Christian teaching on social justice stands in judgment of every party and every movement. It has to be an authentic and independent witness. It should have an influence in both parties. I would love to see the Democratic Party return to a tradition of social justice that was found in people like William Jennings Bryan. During that period, many if not most politically engaged evangelicals were in the Democratic Party, because it was a party oriented toward justice.

I don't see much of that now in the Democratic Party. Instead of an emphasis on the weak and suffering, there's so much emphasis on autonomy and choice. And so the party of William Jennings Bryan, the party of Franklin Roosevelt, I'm not sure it exists any more. But it would be good if it did.

Where specifically do you think the Religious Right has gone off track?

Some of it is what I would call baptizing policy recommendations, as if there were a Christian view on tax policy or missile defense. These are questions of prudence and judgment on which reasonable people disagree.

Sometimes the agenda has been important but too limited. The goal is to have a Christian worldview that encompasses domestic and foreign policy, that speaks broadly without essentially trying to claim there's only one Christian view on a variety of issues.

I think there are informed and correct views on tax policy. I don't think there's necessarily a Christian view. But there is a Christian view on human dignity and on the responsibility of government to protect the weak and on making sure societies are not just organized for the benefit of the strong. Those are consistent teachings that have relevance in every time, and they motivate people across the spectrum.

What are the challenges for Christians regarding contentious issues like gay marriage and abortion?

These are the toughest issues in American life. How you argue makes a huge difference. Proof-texting arguments from Scripture or arguments made in a spirit of anger are often counterproductive. I don't think that's been general or uniform, but it's been known to happen. Christians should acknowledge that opponents aren't enemies, that ultimately every person is worthy of respect and tolerance.

The pro-life debate is a case in point: It's a strong principle of Christian teaching and Roman Catholic social doctrine, as well as other sources, that says we as a society have to have solidarity. A test of that solidarity is how we treat society's weakest members. We're all in this together. We should be a welcoming society that includes everyone. The way we argue for that should be through appealing to [people's] aspirations, not to their anger. We should be talking about inclusion, not judgment-this could be very effective.

You can read the rest of the interview at the link.

Absolutely Essential?

We've all heard that the theory of evolution is absolutely essential to understanding all of biology, if not all of science. Indeed, it'd be the end of science, some fear, should any competing theory be taught along side Darwinism in our high schools and colleges. So why, Sal Cordova wonders, are so few college students required to take a course in evolution and why do so many biologists think that evolution as a discipline is "near the bottom" of the scientific pecking order?

Cordova cites the following statements made by respected Darwinian biologists:

"In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics." Jerry Coyne

"There's a striking asymmetry in molecular versus evolutionary education in American universities. Although many science, and all biology, students are required to endure molecular courses, evolution-even introductory evolution-is often an elective. The reason is simple: biochemistry and cell biology get Junior into med school, evolution doesn't. Consequently, many professional scientists know surprisingly little about evolution." Allen Orr

Cordova goes to no less an authority than Ernst Mayr for the reason evolution doesn't get junior into med school:

"Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science...[where] Laws and experiments are inappropriate...Instead one constructs a ... narrative."

So, if Darwinian assumptions are of secondary importance to the work being done by many people working in the biological sciences, why are we so frequently subjected to fearsome prophecies of doom and gloom if public school students are allowed to hear that some scientists believe that intelligence somehow played a role in the ascent of life? Could the fears of the Darwinians be overblown - or maybe insincere?