Distorting Darwin

Poor old Charles Darwin. In this year of celebration, when we mark the 200th year since his birth and the 150th year since the publication of his great work The Origin of Species, he is being subjected to a real deluge of misrepresentation. The ideological opponents of science, particularly evolutionary science, have been working overtime to quote him out of context, to cherry pick quotes, to “prove” he was a horrible person and that the “materialist” heart of science must be ripped out.

Here’s a recent local example. Those deluded souls over at Thinking Matters Talk have produced a post, Darwinism, Morality and Violence, as part of their creationist preaching. They “quote” Darwin to “prove” he had a “toxic doctrine of racial superiority and eugenics.” And this is an inevitable result of “materialist evolution.” Oh, I should add, alongside “high-school killings by teenagers in the US and Europe.” They seem to be answering their question: “Is mass murder the corollary of belief in materialistic evolution?” with an emphatic yes!  Because it leads to “loss of objective meaning” and “eradication of an objective moral order.”

Their “evidence” is this quote from The Descent of Man:

if we “do not prevent the reckless, the vicious and otherwise inferior members of society from increasing at a quicker rate than the better class of men, the nation will retrograde, as has too often occurred in the history of the world.”

Of course, the “if we” at the beginning is their own addition. The actual sentence reads:

“If the various checks specified in the two last paragraphs, and perhaps others as yet unknown, do not prevent the reckless, the vicious and otherwise inferior members of society from increasing at a quicker rate than the better class of men, the nation will retrograde, as has too often occurred in the history of the world.”

So, it’s not “we” but “the various checks specified in the two last paragraphs, and perhaps others as yet unknown.”

Sure it’s all a bit quaint. It’s the language of the times. But those two paragraphs refer to published work on the effect of poverty and marriage on the death rate amongst children and adults. What a difference a dishonest “we” makes! Actually, that quote is quote common at creationist sites, but very few actually use the word “we.”

If the Thinking Matters people actually read the book they quote from they would find it destroys their argument. In the same chapter, after describing some pro-eugenics arguments in the writings of Gregg, Wallace and Galton, Darwin makes clear that he does not endorse them. While we use artificial selection for breeding domestic animals, we don’t do that “in the case of man.”

“The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.”

Actually, if they read this book they may also get some idea of early evolutionary speculation about the development of sympathy, empathy and morality in humans and animals.

But something else these scribblers should have taken note of from their own experience.  What is their usual source of “wisdom” when the want to “prove” something or “justify” a moral action?

Think about it. If humans want to promote evil policies, justify racial superiority, war, and inhuman morality – why should they bother with a relatively unknown book like the “Descent of Man.” Why not do what humans have done for century – use the Bible! This has been used to justify about everything humans have got into – in the name of “objective moral order.” That, and the dishonest method of cherry-picking and quote mining.

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16 responses to “Distorting Darwin

  1. Ken, how could you not have noticed that this post was merely a commentary on an article in the secular Times Online, called ‘Charles Darwin and teh children of evolution’? The Times Online is hardly a bastion of Christian thinking, wouldn’t you agree? Yet they highlight the fact that Darwinism is a major contributing factor in events like the Columbine killings, and had direct implications for Nazi eugenics and so on. These things are not in question. They are fact. What is in question is why people like you are trying to conceal these facts, and even go so far as to call anyone who draws attention to them “deluded”.

    Why shouldn’t we emphasize that your religious beliefs are logically connected to eugenics and massacres, and that, in fact, it is a logical conclusion of evolutionary theory that these things are not only not wrong, but may in fact be desirable?

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  2. Bnonn – you have a strange concept of facts.

    And why try to avoid responsibility for the words and sentiments of that post? Are you ashamed of it?

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  3. Bizzare reply Bnonn!

    Ken points out your misquotes and you defend them by saying you were writing about something. They’re still misquotes.

    All the babble (the editorial and your writer at TM) shows is that some people read into other’s words meanings that are unhealthy.

    Or, more precisely, deluded people will latch onto almost anything.

    You would seem to be justifying them doing this.

    I have to say though—quite seriously—that your reply makes me think you are much more deluded than I’ve thought previously.

    the fact that Darwinism is a major contributing factor in events like the Columbine killings, and had direct implications for Nazi eugenics and so on. These things are not in question. They are fact.

    Love to see you produce cold hard evidence to back up flat assertions like that. Of course it won’t really matter. Like all deluded people you’re clinging onto it for your own reasons, rather than any logic.

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  4. Bnonn: Liar for Jesus.

    Twists science to prop up his beliefs.
    Now he’s twisting history.

    Whatever happened to “Thou shalt not bear false witness?”

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  5. One might also point out that the SS had on their belt buckles the phrase ´Gott mit uns´, God with us…

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  6. Interesting titbit, that Alison, didn’t know that one. I guess they thought that they were ultimate “Soldiers for Christ”, so to speak.

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  7. Misguided atheists like to claim that science=atheism. But when their soulless epicurean philosophy bears the fruits of social darwinism, survival of the fittest, eugenics, nihilism, ethical relativism and so on the denials come thick and fast.

    Atheists and Christians alike should distinguish between the well-established science of biological evolution and the (related but highly contentious) philosophy of social darwinism

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  8. Misguided atheists like to claim that science=atheism.

    I can’t see that anyone has said that ropata, in fact they’ve often pointed out that’s not the case.

    BTW, there’s a difference between “equals” and “implies”, using the mathematical (or logical) meanings of the words. You might write that usually science => atheism, for example, and for most people this would be true. The exceptions seem to compartmentalise.

    My guess is that you’re bringing this up in response to it being pointed out that the SS had Christian slogans on their uniforms. That doesn’t imply science=atheism, it only says the SS had Christian slogans on their uniforms.

    You rightly point out there is a difference in evolution and “social Darwinism”, but I think this is an excuse, really, because even that has valid points. The more important point I think is the one I raised, that deluded people will latch onto almost anything, they just see what they want to in them; it’s not the subject fault but the way that they try see what they want in the subject.

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  9. Ropata – of course we should distinguish between scientific theories of evolution, evolutionary science, and “social Darwinism.” (It’s a real pity that his name has been used here.).

    I think all sensible people do. It’s really only the extreme right wing politicians and economists who would ever advocate “social Darwinism.” Clearly Darwin himself didn’t argue for it.

    Similarly there is even less reason to blame Darwin for Eugenics. That whole approach is surely based on something humanity has done for thousands of years. Breed domestic animals by artificial selection.

    Those arguments against Darwin and science are so childish and dishonest. It’s really surprising that people like Thinking Matters, and people around that group are advocating them now. But then again they are not known for their honesty – or their understanding of science. Quite the opposite.

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  10. Bnonn, if you wish to be intellectually honest then you’ll need to criticise that misrepresentation of Darwin’s statement. There’s no basis for that reading of it and you look ridiculous defending that particular idea.

    I recently wrote a blog post about 4 points that I think refute the idea that Hitler was influenced by Darwin or Atheism,

    http://holloway.co.nz/blog/2009/11/darwin-hitler/

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  11. Interesting (quasi-related) post over at Pharyngula that has the following (related) bit…

    From Mein Kampf:

    Walking about in the garden of Nature, most men have the self-conceit to think that they know everything; yet almost all are blind to one of the outstanding principles that Nature employs in her work. This principle may be called the inner isolation which characterizes each and every living species on this earth. Even a superficial glance is sufficient to show that all the innumerable forms in which the life-urge of Nature manifests itself are subject to a fundamental law–one may call it an iron law of Nature–which compels the various species to keep within the definite limits of their own life-forms when propagating and multiplying their kind.

    That’s creationist thinking; Hitler could have been a baraminologist. Don’t try to blame evolutionary biologists for the actions of an obvious creationist, like Hitler. Darwin and Haeckel were not such important influences on Hitler as the creationists would like you to think; far more important was Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who basically laid out the entire Nazi philosophy for Adolf — and Chamberlain openly despised evolution.

    Michael Lackey is writing a book on Hitler’s philosophy, which he argues was actually a theology derived from Chamberlain’s work. Look for it sometime next year.

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  12. Houston Stewart Chamberlain.

    There’s a name most dumbass creationists have never heard of.

    Darwin had nothing to do with Nazism.
    Nothing.
    Where the Nazis actually got their ideas from and who inspired them and why the Holocaust happened is the subject of serious, sober-minded historical research.

    The kind of research that is of absolutely no interest to Creationists.
    They don’t give a damn about good science and they don’t give a damn about good history.

    As long as a creationist web site or a creationist book bleats out “Hitler/Darwin/Hitler/Darwin/Hitler/Darwin/Hitler/Darwin” forever and a day, then it’s all good.

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  13. Yeah, I thought a bit of fact might throw some cold water on the extended beliefs of those who assume their private revelation automatically alters history to be favourable to their cause: Hitler/Darwin, Hitler/Darwin, indeed!

    Damn those conspiratorial naturalists who stop ‘concealing’ these bothersome historical facts.

    And now for an important announcement…

    I urge everyone to stop calling those who support evolutionary theory ‘evolutionists’ or ‘Darwinians'; we don’t call those who support the theory of gravity Newtonians and pretend that there is some large group of imbeciles who think gravity is all some big conspiracy.

    But we allow that to happen in evolutionary biology.

    We have to change the language to better reflect the scope of the error by those who think evolution is likewise some big conspiracy. Let’s call these folk who understand why evolution is a fact what they really are: scientists. Let’s call those who are opposed to evolution what they really are: anti-scientists.

    Arguments put forth against scientists and what they know to be probably true, accurate, and correct, and the theories that inform scientific inquiry based on such stable intellectual ground as gross misunderstandings, asinine assertions, ignorant assumptions, questionable revelations, and unjustified claims tailor made to suit personal religious dogma, will be hard pressed to gain ground if the language of those who oppose superstition remains informed by science.

    Let’s put ID and creationism squarely where it belongs: as anti-science. Let their supporters attempt to do their best to discredit the very source of our technologies and medicines that work so well. To bring down the one – as these superstitious believers seem bent on doing full of the heat of sanctimonious righteousness – is to attempt to discredit that which is true, accurate, and what works. Very few creationists and IDiots steer clear of life-saving technologies and medicines when their mortal coils are on the line; I doubt the well-wired young will pay much attention to elders to insist that what so obviously works… isn’t religiously entitled to work, or that what works is really some kind of ‘debate’ between believers.

    Let’s do our part and use the right language.

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  14. @ tildeb – hear, hear!!!

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  15. Yes – I agree tildeb.

    I think this sort of naming is part of the demonisation process the ID people and religious apologists use. -isms sound political and dogmatic.

    I think there is also a deliberate campaign to get lies like the Darwin-racism-Hitler link into public consciousness. It starts as a heavily promoted story within the apologist ghetto and can infiltrate out to infect other religiously motivated people. From there they hope it diffuses into the general community.

    They are doing this with their campaign to rewrite the history and significance of Galileo. They do it with their myth about science being based on Christianity. And they do it with their depiction of science as atheistic materialism.

    It’s interesting that although they get very little friction with their promotion od ID within biology, deisn as a wider concept (eg “fine tuning” gets taken up by even the more “respectable” theologians.

    Personally, I think we have got to debunk these myths as they arise. Don’t worry about the committed IDers – just fight against their infection of others.

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  16. Thanks, alison.

    And I think you are bang on, Ken, in fighting against their disinformation, misinterpretations, and willful misrepresentations to others… especially younger people who are seeking what’s true.

    The web is particularly suited to carry on this fight because if enough people notice a trend – that whenever a creationist, Idiot, or religious apologist suggests that tolerance and reasonableness falls somewhere short of accepting what’s probably true, accurate, and correct, like the fact of evolution… that their counter opinion is consistently and cohesively ripped to shreds – then they’ll doubt. They will be skeptical. And that’s the mindset necessary to inquire truthfully. And when you help that happen, then the battle is won.

    The time of respecting religious beliefs stops when religious beliefs leave the private lives of believers and enter the public domain. Truth matters, and people need to see that it matters especially to good writers who run blogs like this one. Each post and response counts, and the time spent formulating and posting and editing articles and criticisms is valuable to those who honestly inquire.

    So thanks, Ken, and all you other posters for taking up the challenge and responding to this ongoing fight as best you can. And make no mistake about it: this is a fight against ignorance. We need to hear a lot more of the informed kind of opinion, even if we have to play whack-a-religious-mole when we’re not in the mood or frustrated that the numbers of people in need of a good verbal whack seems never-ending. Keep up the good fight.

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