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.