Vox Day: Trapped in a quote mine cave-in

Vox Day, who claims to know more than most mortals can even think about, has fallen into a quote mine. (Quote mine defined.) Worse, the mine appears to have caved in.

Vox Day wishes to make the claim that Darwin is responsible for the evils of the Soviet Union. Apart from the prima facie absurdity of the claim, Vox has a dozen highly tenuous links he wishes to torture into supporting his claim, despite their refusal to do so.

This just in: Since I started out on this particular Fisking, Vox has popped up with this gem:

Unsurprisingly, evolutionists are reacting strongly to my column today. They swear up and down that there is no connection whatsoever between evolution and Communism, despite the fact that every single major Communist not only subscribed to Darwinist evolution but considered Darwin to be second only to Hegel as a pre-Marxist socialist figure.

There is no evidence Stalin or Lenin ever subscribed to evolution theory, and at any rate, Stalin expressly rejected Darwin and evolution, eviscerating the Soviets’ lead in genetics in 1920 by banning the teaching of evolution, banning research in evolution or research that had Darwinian overtones, stripping Darwin-theory subscribing biologists of their jobs, exiling a few to Siberia and death in several cases, and executing a few just for good measure. In place of evolution, Stalin backed Trofim Lysenko who advocated, apart from his creationist-like hatred of Darwin, an odd, almost-Lamarckian idea that stress in utero would change characteristics.

So, for example, Lysenko ordered that seed wheat be frozen, and then planted in winter. The freezing, the Stalin-Lysenko idea held, would make the wheat able to grow in cold weather. The crop failures were so spectacular that at least 4 million people died of starvation in the Soviet Union. By 1954 the crop failures were so massive the Soviet Union had to purchase wheat from the U.S., with loans from the U.S. These loans crippled any hope of the Soviet economy ever breaking out of its doldrums, and started the long slide to the collapse of the Soviet Union. You’d think Vox Day, who professes to be a libertarian and a Christian, would approve of the collapse of the Soviet Union by any cause — but he does not approve of the collapse if it came by a lack of evolution theory.

Vox Day never lets the facts get in the way of a rant. (As evidence that Marx was so deeply influenced by evolution theory, Vox notes that a fellow who knew Darwin, Edward Aveling attended Marx’s funeral. If that doesn’t convince, you, Vox says, Aveling later wrote an article saying it’s true, Marxism was based on evolution theory. So take THAT all you people who think Marxism emphasizes collectivism and the state: Darwin’s individual competition for survival is the REAL root of socialism. No, I’m not making this up — go read it for yourself. Then get some facts — read this account, which includes the guest list of Marx’s funeral. There were only nine people at Marx’s funeral, and Vox got the guest list wrong: Aveling wasn’t there. One more Vox claim refuted.)

Back to the regularly scheduled Vox Day quote mine cave-in, below the fold.

Vox’s claim is that somehow — Vox isn’t sure how, or why, or why it might be counter to the historical record — communism was based on evolution, or the violence perpetrated by Soviet and Chinese communists was based on evolution theory. Consequently, in the fog he’s created for himself, Vox thinks he sees that Darwin at the root of evil out of those communist empires. It’s a patently ridiculous claim.

Think about this for a moment.

First consider: What is the hallmark of Darwinian evolution theory? That’s right: Competition.

Now consider: What is the hallmark of communism? Well, competition is not it. Rather than individuals competing to see which can get the most resources, communism depends on what Stalin called the “old French communist” dictum: From each individual according to his or her means; to each individual according to his or her needs. Communism is marked by lack of competition.

This “French communist” line expresses the simple idea that in a truly communist society, everyone will work their butts off to produce goods, but then take only what they need; and somehow, magically, everyone will be better off. We don’t need to go into the many errors in assumptions about human psychology and simple economic behaviors right now. Let it suffice to say that the largest communist experiments ever tried either collapsed (the Soviet Union) or abandoned the quest (Peoples Republic of China) when communism proved unable to move the economy and the welfare of the people as far or as fast as needed — or sometimes, even in the right direction. (PRC has not abandoned totalitarianism completely, however — don’t confuse the tactics with the strategy; but of course, neither does Darwin advocate totalitarianism.)

Darwin’s theory was based on a struggle for survival that better abled individuals might win, or at least do measurably better than others. In no way does it resemble a planned economic output of either Soviet or Chinese communism; in almost all ways it closely resembles a free market, where those who can get, get, and those who can get better, get more. There is no sharing of the resources at the end of the day. (See Billie Holiday.)

Ultimately, in a social species, there may be some altruistic behaviors emerge that allow groups to provide advantages for each individual. But even in these cases, any individual that lacks the cooperative behaviors, gets left behind. As Capt. John Smith explained at Jamestown, those who don’t work, don’t eat. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, exceptions we carve for advantage — the old, though perhaps lame or blind, know how to survive the crises, and so we when we save them, we save the wisdom we need for advantage; this is especially true for small tribal groups, and for nomadic groups. The essences of evolution are exactly contrary to the essences of communism as originally espoused, and certainly as practiced in the Soviet Union and PRC.

We will ignore for the moment the competing claim made by many of the Darwin lackwit critics that Darwinian theory also inspired the Nazis, though Nazis were opposed diametrically to the communists. In the minds of anti-Darwinists and creationists — like Vox Day — Darwin is so close to godly, his powers so close to omnipotent, that it makes some sort of sense that his theory could inspire diametrically opposed economic ideas and behaviors at the same time. The complete lack of reason and logic of these self-defeating claims of the anti-Darwinists is breathtaking.

But catch your breath now, and follow along. (Dear Reader, chime in if you have something to add — especially if you can offer serious citations for the quotes Vox claims to have that cannot be identified otherwise; if he’s correct that Mao did credit Darwin, let’s note it, but let’s see the context. So far, it ain’t verified.)

We’ll let Vox have his say; and we will Fisk his claims. You may want to look at earlier exchanges, or at the post and many comments at Vox’s place. You may also want to check my earlier response to another poster’s collection of mined quotes.

Vox said: The defensiveness of atheists about the most obvious, easily verifiable historical facts is really quite striking. Consider Ed Darrell’s absurdly ignorant statement here:

Then please show us where Lenin ever said anything about Darwin. It’s more likely Lenin was simply following the example of the Spanish Inquisition, having learned from Christian history the value of slaughtering one’s political opponents (see “St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre,” or note how Calvin dealt with his friend Servetus). “Scientific atheism” may have been what they called it. It has no relation to evolution theory, little relation to science of any sort, and not much relation to atheism, either.

First of all, they called it “scientific socialism”, not “scientific atheism”. It has a direct relation to the theory of evolution, it is outdated science and it is 100 percent pure atheism, more pure than the timid “christian atheism” of the New Atheists. But Ed wanted quotes, so we will give him quotes.

It doesn’t matter how many adjectives you put on it, or even what the noun is, when one doesn’t understand the principles, and when one lacks support for one’s claims. Note that Vox failed to respond to my argument in any substantive way. Poking fun at miscues and quote marks isn’t substance.

The claim against Darwin, linking evolution to communism, is scurrilous, stupid and false. Shame on Vox.

Vox then delivered a string of quotes, badly cited.

Vox claimed:
“Darwin’s book is very important and serves me as a basis in natural science for the class struggle in history.”
- Karl Marx

Did Marx ever really say that? Vox is very sloppy with quotes — he offers few usable citations, sometimes none at all (see above). That’s usually the mark of someone who is making things up.

Students of history know that Marx did read Darwin, and asked to dedicate a book to him that Marx’s son-in-law Edward Aveling later asked permission to dedicate a book about atheism to Darwin — but Darwin refused (see comment by P. Z. Myer, below). There is no evidence Darwin ever read Marx, and conclusive evidence that Darwin never read Marx’s magnum opus, Das Kapital.

Marx wrote about economics, not totalitarianism. If you’re arguing that Marx thought evolution supported his economic theories, you’re not on much better ground — but were the claim accurate completely, it provides no support whatever to a claim that the murderous policies of Lenin, Stalin and company were based on Darwin. Those murderous policies also were not based on Marx.

Ignorance of history tends to produce foundering research. The original claim at VD’s blog was that the murders of Stalin are based on Darwin. This quote from Marx does not support that claim in any way.

Also, it’s not clear at all that Marx was referring to communism or the economics of Marxism. In context, it becomes clear that Marx was referring to the methods of discussion of such problems, which he and Engels referred to as “dialectic.” In short, Marx thought that through hard discussions, people could filter out bad ideas, and promote good ideas — a sort of survival of the best ideas.

It’s an idea that democracies rely on still, in order to help select the best leaders in elections, for example.

To that extent, yes, Marx did rely on some of Darwin’s ideas about the better fit things surviving and multiplying.

There is no rational connection from that idea to the murders of Stalin and the Soviet empire.

Moreover, one must wonder at the idiocy of anyone who would suggest that a contest of ideas is a bad idea.

Day is fuzzy in his thinking about the topic. His verbal gymnastics often hide what it is he’s trying to say, and he prefers to include cute insults that often obscure his point.

Darwin is covered either way Vox Day intends: If he’s arguing that Darwin is the basis of Marx’s idea that ideas should compete, okay — but that’s not different from Ben Franklin’s observation that truth wins in a fair fight. It’s no crime to suggest debate on important topics, even if Marx once proposed the same thing.

But if Vox Day is arguing that some point of evolution theory undergirds either Marxist economics or the later Soviet-style repressions, then there is absolutely no support whatever for his claim that Darwin was responsible.

Vox: “Nature is the test of dialectics, and it must be said for modern natural science that it has furnished extremely rich and daily increasing materials for this test, and has thus proved that in the last analysis nature’s process is dialectical and not metaphysical, that it does not move in an eternally uniform and constantly repeated circle, but passes through a real history. Here prime mention should be made of Darwin, who dealt a severe blow to the metaphysical conception of nature by proving that the organic world of today, plants and animals, and consequently man too, is all a product of a process of development that has been in progress for millions of years.”
- Friedrich Engels, Socialism Utopian and Scientific p. 23 (quoted in full by Stalin in Dialectical and Historical Materialism as well as in the official Bolshevik History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union published in 1939.)

Hmmm. Engels seems to be more precise — he’s definitely talking about the idea of a dialectic, the notion of a dialog between competing parties with different ideas, in order to determine which one is the better idea.

But he’s also arguing for the use of experience as a trump to appeals to the supernatural, especially where reality shows something quite different from the supernatural claim. Should we worry about the link?

Again, Engels talks about the methods of argument, not the economic arguments themselves, and especially not the later Soviet maladministration of the ideas. See the previous remarks; the all apply here, too.

Engels makes no argument for violence or murder. He makes no argument for totalitarianism. Technically, there’s no argument for collective enterprise, either.

It’s interesting; Vox’s original claim was that the violent, totalitarian works of the Soviet communists were based in Darwin. Nothing found so far makes that link. Instead, what we have are mere mentions of Darwin in other, tangential pursuits. It’s almost as if Vox, challenged to provide evidence to his claim, found some texts online, and searched them for any mention of the word “Darwin.” Whenever the word cropped up, Vox seized on it, and offered it as proof of the heritage of communism from Darwin. But that’s not at all what the quotes actually say

This is classic quote mining.

And it gets Vox into trouble.

Sure enough, if we really read Engels further, when he talks about the actual economics, he’s not so fond of Darwin; we find that Engels says capitalism is the Darwinian model, not socialism:

Finally, modern industry and the opening of the world-market made the struggle universal, and at the same time gave it an unheard-of virulence. Advantages in natural or artificial conditions of production now decide the existence or non-existence of individual capitalists, as well as of whole industries and countries. He that falls is remorselessly cast aside. It is the Darwinian struggle of the individual for existence transferred from Nature to society with intensified violence. The conditions of existence natural to the animal appear as the final term of human development. The contradiction between socialized production and capitalistic appropriation now presents itself as an antagonism between the organization of production in the individual workshop and the anarchy of production in society generally.

That is what we should expect, since natural selection involves competition, and communism eschews competition, particularly between individuals, in any Darwinian way. You’ve got the stuff exactly backwards, Mr. Day.

Vox: “Darwin put an end to the belief that the animal and vegetable species bear no relation to one another, except by chance, and that they were created by God, and hence immutable.”
- Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

If we concede that Lenin actually said that (why can’t Vox Day offer a decent, high school quality citation?), we must note that the statement falls far short of making any case connecting Darwin to violence or collective economics. It’s easy to see that Lenin is making claims way beyond what the science actually says, since evolution in no way denies deity.

The Lenin claim itself is balderdash. Darwin himself didn’t believe that evolution negated God (Darwin remained an active member of his church until his death). Asa Gray, the evolution convert in America, didn’t believe it — he was an active Christian. Theodosius Dobzhansky didn’t believe it; Dobzhansky left Stalinist Russia partly to keep practicing his Russian Orthodox faith (Dobzhansky having read Darwin in 1915 and been inspired to be a biologist, but not to leave the church) — Lenin may have hoped for it to be so that Darwin took God out of the picture, but it is not so. There is nothing in Darwin’s writings that denies deity, unless one insists deity is separate from nature.

It’s an interesting claim that Lenin states for our purposes here, too. According to Lenin as quoted, evolution is not the foundation of communism, not the foundation of Lenin’s atheism (if he was atheist), and it has nothing to do with the politics of Lenin.

The silliness of the claim that Darwin’s work undergirds communism can be summed up in one word: Competition. Natural selection picks the winners of free-enterprise style, individual competition for resources. Communism — as every economics student knows — does away with competition. Communism labels competition a sin, an evil, and tries to eliminate it.

What Marx saw in Darwin’s writing was an argument that even nature progresses. Marx’s argument was that his brand of socialism was the next progression humans should go through. That’s not a foundational argument, but rather a claim that Marxism might be valid IF it were, indeed, the next step. Validation is not the same as foundation.

Competition is the antithesis of communism. The competition that makes evolution work is the very opposite of Soviet communism, in almost every facet.

Think about this, people! What tenets of communism parallel anything in evolution?

(Here is the point where we discover the critics of evolution really do not understand evolution at all; at each of the four- or five-step process that Mayr describes, communism would make a different choice, or have humans make a different choice. Critics of evolution most often don’t know what the steps are, however, and so do not understand how they oppose each other.)

Vox: “Darwin’s discovery is the highest triumph of the dialectic in the whole field of organic matter.”
- Leon Trotsky

Once again, you’re flailing around to find any reference to Darwin or evolution, no matter that it has no bearing on the claim that communism is based in evolution. Had Trotsky really believed that statement, he would not have found communism necessary, or beneficial.

Let’s get a shorthand for this issue: Let’s call it the “Dialectic as a tool” problem. Here’s what I mean: Trotsky isn’t saying socialism comes from Darwin; he’s not saying any of the methods advocated by Lenin, or Stalin, or anyone from the Supreme Soviet come from Darwin’s theories; all he is saying is that a contest of ideas is a great idea. These revolutionaries are guilty of the faith that many in politics are. They are certain they have the one right idea, and that their chief difficulty is getting everyone else to see how brilliant they are. These guys put their money on “the dialectic” as a method for getting the point across. Richard Nixon, in 1968, put his money on Madison Avenue-style television advertising.

Darwin’s theory has no more connection to the political goals or the historic ends of communism that Farnsworth’s cathode ray tube had to Nixon’s dirty tricks philosophy of politics. If we wanted to impugn Farnsworth, we might say he was responsible for Nixon. But it’s a specious link at the very best.

And so, the link between Darwin and Soviet Russia is specious, too. Vox makes the error confusing a “Dialectic as a tool” claim for a political claim about economics and politics — in each and every case.

Interestingly, Trotsky appears to be one of the few here who actually read Darwin in an account which has the ring of truth to it. Prior to his arrival Russia to help the revolution, he had spent a couple of years in prison. Contemporary accounts from Trotsky and others indicate he read Darwin’s Origin of Species while jailed. Trotsky wrote at the time that what he got out of the book was justification for his waning faith, justification to declare he had no faith in God.

We can take those accounts as trustworthy because they are contemporary to the event, Trotsky actually wrote about it, and it is corroborated by others. Vox’s key problem is that Trotsky’s faith issues don’t make any link to Stalin, or Lenin. Trotsky’s own atheism was aided by Darwin — and that’s wholly apart from Darwin’s theory and intent. Darwin remained faithful his entire life, questioning faith only upon the death of a favorite daughter, or attacks like Vox Day’s, which caused Darwin to wonder whether Christianity had any value if it drove others to scurrilous attacks. Ironic.

Vox: “The Party cannot be neutral towards religion, and it conducts anti-religious propaganda against all religious prejudices because it stands for science, whereas religious prejudices run counter to science, because all religion is the antithesis of science. Cases such as occur in America, where Darwinists were prosecuted recently, cannot occur here because the Party pursues a policy of defending science in every way.”
- Josef Stalin, J.V. Stalin Complete Works Volume 10, p. 138

That’s humorous, considering Stalin was at that time planning prosecutions of Darwinists.

(Is Vox arguing that Stalin was telling the truth here? Why here, and nowhere else? )

Look: Here’s the quote in its greater context — with Stalin arguing that the Soviet Union protects religious rights (funny Vox didn’t mention that), from a 1927 interview with a delegation of visiting Americans:

A delegate : Very often I read that members are expelled from the Party for believing in God.

Stalin : I can only repeat what I have already said about the conditions of membership of our Party. We have no other conditions.

Does that mean that the Party is neutral towards religion? No, it does not. We conduct, and will continue to conduct, propaganda against religious prejudices. The laws of our country recognise the right of every citizen to profess any religion. That is a matter for the conscience of each individual. That is precisely why we separated the church from the state. [emphasis added] But in separating the church from the state and proclaiming freedom of conscience we at the same time preserved the right of every citizen to combat religion, all religion, by argument, by propaganda and agitation. The Party cannot be neutral towards religion, and it conducts anti-religious propaganda against all religious prejudices because it stands for science, whereas religious prejudices run counter to science, because all religion is the antithesis of science. Cases such as occur in America, where Darwinists were prosecuted recently,[40] cannot occur here because the Party pursues a policy of defending science in every way.

The Party cannot be neutral towards religious prejudices, and it will continue to conduct propaganda against those prejudices, because that is one of the best means of undermining the influence of the reactionary clergy, who support the exploiting classes and who preach submission to those classes.

The Party cannot be neutral towards the disseminators of religious prejudices, towards the reactionary clergy, who poison the minds of the labouring masses.

Have we repressed the reactionary clergy? Yes, we have. The only unfortunate thing is that they have not yet been completely eliminated. Anti-religious propaganda is the means by which the elimination of the reactionary clergy will be completely carried through. Cases occur sometimes when certain members of the Party hinder the full development of anti-religious propaganda. If such members are expelled it is a very good thing, because there is no room for such “Communists” in the ranks of our Party.

That statement comes from an interview Stalin gave to some touring Americans in 1927. If Vox had paid much attention, he would have also noted the next question, in which Stalin was asked to spell out the characteristics of communist societies. In each detail, Stalin offers something contrary to Darwinian theory — which, I suspect, Vox is also unfamiliar with:

TWELFTH QUESTION. Can you briefly give us the characteristics of the future society that communism is trying to create?

ANSWER : The general characteristics of communist society are given in the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin.

Briefly, the anatomy of communist society may be described as follows: It is a society in which: a) there will be no private ownership of the instruments and means of production, but social, collective ownership; b) there will be no classes or state power, but there will be working people in industry and agriculture who manage economic affairs as a free association of working people; c) the national economy, organised according to plan, will be based on the highest level of technique, both in industry and agriculture; d) there will be no antithesis between town and country, between industry and agriculture; e) products will be distributed according to the principle of the old French Communists: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”; f) science and art will enjoy conditions sufficiently favourable for them to attain full flowering; g) the individual, freed from concern about his daily bread and from the necessity of adapting himself to the “powers that be,” will become really free.

And so on and so forth.

Clearly, we are still a long way from such a society.

Contrast that with evolution: It is an observation that in nature: a) private ownership of the instruments and means of production is the rule, even among social species like humans; collective ownership occurs successfully only through contract, with parties consenting to the arrangement in order to gain even greater private benefit; b) nature is either anarchic — such as individual tigers or grizzly bears conducting their own business — or nature imposes a rigid class system contrary to communism, such as in hiving insect and mammal colonies; classes are the norm in most herding and priding animals, with the better competing individuals commanding more resources than those who do not compete as well (regardless what the competition is, brute strength, ability to gather food, ability to construct a pretty bower, or ability to gain the affections of the alpha bitch, for several examples); c) the “national” economy, is organized according to no plan, but instead on the ability of each individual to produce what he or she will, and according to how those individuals can trade or leverage that production — the “national” output is simply the total of unplanned individual outputs; d) there are enormous differences between town and country — geographic differences mean the difference between a struggle merely to survive, and the ability to proliferate and spread into new habitats; e) products are distributed on the basis of who can capture the most with the resources she or he has, with little or not thought to equalizing distribution beyond the immediate locale — exactly the opposite of the old French communists: To each according to his ability to get, regardless the needs of others; f) science and art both do better in competitive enterprise, so far as we have seen historically; g) the individual is never really freed from concern about his daily bread, but must adapt himself to society in order to gain leisure time over and above bare subsistence.

On each and every point evolution is contrary to communism.

How can we fail to notice that communism is opposite of evolution in each and every detail?

Stalin himself gave the answer: “The general characteristics of communist society are given in the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin.” No mention of Darwin.

“Chinese socialism is founded upon Darwin and the theory of evolution.”
- Mao

I think that’s a crank quote. It doesn’t sound like Mao. It doesn’t sound relevant to anything Mao said. I challenge Vox (or anyone else) to provide an accurate citation to Mao — I’ll wager it can’t be done (and if you do, we’ll look at the full context). Google it, and you’ll see it comes from bizarre sites that cite no writing of Mao (”Islam Denounces Terrorism?” Are you sure you want to quote that site, Vox?) Mao also said “let a thousand flowers bloom.” But he’s no botanist.

Mao mentioned Darwin a couple of times, but at no point claimed that Darwin, a consummate capitalist, was the foundation of Chinese communism. For example, Mao mentioned Darwin in “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” but not to claim Darwin as a source of any part of Chinese communism:

Throughout history, new and correct things have often failed at the outset to win recognition from the majority of people and have had to develop by twists and turns in struggle. Often correct and good things have first been regarded not as fragrant flowers but as poisonous weeds. Copernicus’ theory of the solar system and Darwin’s theory of evolution were once dismissed as erroneous and had to win through over bitter opposition. Chinese history offers many similar examples. In a socialist society, conditions for the growth of the new are radically different from and far superior to those in the old society. Nevertheless, it still often happens that new, rising forces are held back and rational proposals constricted. Moreover, the growth of new things may be hindered in the absence of deliberate suppression simply through lack of discernment. It is therefore necessary to be careful about questions of right and wrong in the arts and sciences, to encourage free discussion and avoid hasty conclusions. We believe that such an attitude can help to ensure a relatively smooth development of the arts and sciences.

The record doesn’t support a claim that Chinese communism was based on Darwin’s work in any way, for the reasons stated above (communism is the antithesis of evolution through natural and sexual selection), and there simply isn’t evidence anywhere else.

Here’s a link to actual writings and sayings of Mao. Let Vox knock himself out trying to find anywhere that Mao says Darwin is an inspiration or foundation or small part of communist theory. That would be contrary to communism.

(You may go see how wrong Vox is, Dear Reader.)

Vox concludes: It’s hard to get much more explicit than that. And it’s pretty clear that Ed doesn’t know anything about the Spanish Inquisition, for if Lenin and Stalin had learned from its example, the Soviet body count from 1917 to 1953 would have been 324 instead of 25 million or more. Not only was Lenin a virulent, vehement atheist, but his destruction of the Russian churches and mass murder of its priests was explicitly committed in the name of atheism as proof of the nonexistence of God. It was The God Delusion in action.

So what if Lenin was a virulent, violent atheist — Vox’s claim was that the deaths of the victims of the Soviet mistake can be laid at the foot of Darwin. Lenin’s atheism, even were that the cause of the deaths, is not due to Darwin, is not suggested by Darwin’s theory, and the methods Lenin used run exactly counter to Darwin’s theory and his own preferences. Had Lenin listened to Darwin, the Soviet body count might have been much less than 324.

Vox is stretching to make a lot of links that cannot be made, here. He’s blaming atheism for Lenin’s murderous methods, though there is nothing to suggest that atheism urges murder (and we use the Spanish Inquisition for an indication of brutality and stupidity, not body counts; we could use Napoleon or the Czars for body counts; same points). Nor is there anything to link Lenin to Darwin in any way, and especially there is nothing to link Lenin’s atheism to Darwin. Atheism grew out of reaction to the Industrial Revolution; atheists were organized and complaining about injustice well before Darwin published evolution theory. Lenin’s political actions had little or nothing to do with the biology Darwin wrote about, except that what Lenin and Stalin and others urged in agriculture was exactly contrary to the good methods Darwin urged (see especially Darwin’s later monograph on the actions of earthworms).

There is a gap wider than the Grand Canyon between Darwin’s urging the use and preservation of earthworms in the garden, and the brutal methods of terrorism the Soviet Union became famous for. There is no link at all.

Vox said: Ed also makes the same ignorant mistake that PZ Myers made a few weeks ago:

The fascist overeager nuts made the same errors. The belt buckles of the SS said “God with us,” not “No God.” You keep trying to ignore the facts.

They most certainly did not. They said “Mein Ehre Heisst Treu”. “Gott mit uns” was not a Nazi slogan, but the slogan of the Wehrmacht, which dated back to 1871. It’s worth noting that the Nazis did not elect to continue the German military tradition of declaring “God with us”, but preferred to select a new one instead.

So according to Vox, this photograph is impossible:


SS belt buckle, with Nazi swastika and motto,

Update, September 1: Yeah, Vox still claims it’s impossible, even after we note my minor error of misattribution (there’s something Vox would never do — correct himself from error.)  Note that this is clearly a Nazi buckle, complete with Nazi swastika. A reader kindly noted in comments that I have made an error, attributing this buckle to the SS (the elite, Nazi-party group), when it actually was a buckle used by the Wehrmacht (“armed forces). This is a rhetorical grenade, and close is good enough. This photo, and those noted in the next paragraph, clearly demonstrate that the Nazi party continued the tradition of using “God with us” in the buckles and in other propaganda. If anything, it’s more damning — there were a lot more members of the general armed forces than members of the SS. Vox is technically correct that this is not an SS buckle; he’s wrong to conclude that the Nazi party did not invoke God, as all the other evidence shows. My error, though the point survives; if Vox knew this (and of course, according to Vox, he knows everything), his general nastiness shows through in failing to explain his own error, and continuing the error with a technical claim.  This buckle is from the Nazi era, not 1891.  According to Vox, this photo could not be real, nor could the buckle.

Here, for Vox and others, a collection of photographs.

Vox said: I suggest that Ed has no idea whatsoever of what the facts are.

We’re in dangerous territory, then — since I appear to know much more than Vox Day.

Vox really should pay attention in school. He should do better research. And he should read the stuff he quotes, and make sure it makes sense.

The connections between Marx and Darwin, and the absurd claim that Soviet-style Marxism was based on Darwin’s work, are probably fiction, complete fiction. The “quotes” mined with the finest creationist long-wall mining machines, collapsing the library roofs as they retreat, do not stand up to scrutiny. Had Vox spent a little time researching whether his claims were accurate, instead of hurling irrelevant quotes at the wall and sputtering, he might have stumbled across papers and writings such as this one, by Terrance Ball of the University of Minnesota: “Marx and Darwin: A reconsideration, in Political Theory, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Nov., 1979), pp. 469-483. Ball starts out:

For nearly a century the names of Karl Marx and Charles Darwin have been linked in an apparently indissoluble union. That union, I shall argue, is almost wholly chimerical. It derives from a myth created after Marx’s death by Friedrich Engels, disseminated by later Marxists as evidence of their theory’s “scientific” status, and given considerable credence and support by the discovery of two letters written by Darwin to Marx. As we shall see, the first of these letters is authentic; so too is the second — except that the addressee was not Karl Marx. And thereby hangs a tale. The myth of a connection, methodological or otherwise, between Marx and Darwin, far from being malicious, rests upon a series of mixups. This veritable comedy of errors is at once instructive, amusing, and — insofar as it hastened Marxism’s ossification into scientistic dogma — tragic.

Oh, but to hope Vox Day might change his ways, and pay attention to the evidence, is probably fruitless. My guess is that Vox got this by reading an earlier answer I gave, where I tracked down the actual source of one of his Stalin quotes and discovered Stalin was not saying what Vox claimed. Vox appended this to his post:

UPDATE: Apparently Dr. PZ Myers is a Stalinist. Stalin sounds almost exactly like PZ complaining about Creationists when he writes in the explanatory footnote referring to the quote above: “In 1925 (July 10 to 21), a trial took place in the state of Tennessee, U.S.A., which attracted world-wide attention. A college teacher, named John Scopes was tried for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. The American reactionary obscurantists found him guilty of violating the laws of the state and fined him.”

Vox failed to notice that the footnote wasn’t written by Stalin, but was appended by somebody else, later. My citation above had two points: First, that Stalin did not cite Darwin as the foundation of his political beliefs, and second, Stalin was not exactly enamored of getting the facts right — in that same statement, as I indicated earlier, Stalin claimed that the Soviet Union protected religious rights, and he contrasted that to the creationist prosecution of teaching science in Tennessee (the law actually forbade the teaching of evolution of humans, an amazing act of censorship of science that stayed on the books in Tennessee for 42 years).

And what does Vox do? He demonstrates that Vox, too, is no fan of getting the facts right.

Day here is guilty of classic, creationist-style quote mining. It appears he did an internet search, found some fundy website that quoted a bunch of times that Darwin’s name came up in close proximity to Lenin or Stalin, and that Vox seized upon this as evidence for the point he had earlier stated, which he’d never before researched.

I have pointed out here that Engels directly contradicts Vox’s claim, and that at best the links between the various far-flung premises of Vox’s arguments are specious — we can’t link Darwin’s influence to anything bad in the Soviet Union, and in fact we find that the Soviet Union was death on Darwinian teachings, and on Darwin followers, literally.

To paraphrase Millard Fillmore’s famous, unattributable quote, God save us from such distortions of history, from voodoo history, voodoo science, and voodoo economics — heaven knows Vox Day won’t.

  • McAtheist?” He can’t even get his insults right.

50 Responses to Vox Day: Trapped in a quote mine cave-in

  1. Peter says:

    That is also why companies provide special shift �allowance� to their employees who work on shift. I think this is fair.

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  2. [...] Vox Day explains it doesn’t mean what Ben Stein thinks it means. Day and Stein ought to get together to coordinate — of course, as Twain noted, if [...]

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  3. [...] [See updated material:  “Vox Day:  Trapped in a quote mine cave-in”] [...]

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  4. [...] illiterate, ignorant schtick, blaming Nazis and Communists on ol’ Chuck Darwin, and Ed Darrell completely eviscerated him. I mean, it’s like all that’s left of Day is a few tattered scraps of skin hanging from [...]

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  5. Chris says:

    Excellent piece of writing. I particularly loved the longwall in the library metaphor.

    BTW, doesn’t Marxism, with its centralized planning and top-down control structure, have more in common with ID than with evolution? A five-year plan looks a lot like design to me, and the politburo looks like a designer (though not necessarily an intelligent one).

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  6. [...] shooting to evolution. Another common tactic among creationists and IDists is trying to connect Communism and Nazism to evolution. The Wedge Document plays hard on the moral decay claim, as [...]

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  7. bernarda says:

    I have been led to refer to this text by Stephen J. Gould in other discussions about evolution.

    “Addressed to a son and daughter who did not share his views on Christian nonviolence, Tolstoy offered a last word of advice:

    The views you have acquired about Darwinism, evolution, and the struggle for existence won’t explain to you the meaning of your life and won’t give you guidance in your actions, and a life without an explanation of its meaning and importance, and without the unfailing guidance that stems from it is a pitiful existence. Think about it. I say it, probably on the eve of my death, because I love you.

    Tolstoy’s complaint has been the most common of all indictments against Darwin, from the publication of the Origin of Species in 1859 to now. Darwinism, the charge contends, undermines morality by claiming that success in nature can only be measured by victory in bloody battle – the “struggle for existence” or “survival of the fittest” to cite Darwin’s own choice of mottoes. If we wish “meekness and love” to triumph over “pride and violence” (as Tolstoy wrote to Gandhi), then we must repudiate Darwin’s vision of nature’s way – as Tolstoy stated in a final plea to his errant children.

    This charge against Darwin is unfair for two reasons. First, nature (no matter how cruel in human terms) provides no basis for our moral values. (Evolution might, at most, help to explain why we have moral feelings, but nature can never decide for us whether any particular action is right or wrong.) Second, Darwin’s “struggle for existence” is an abstract metaphor, not an explicit statement about bloody battle. Reproductive success, the criterion of natural selection, works in many modes: Victory in battle may be one pathway, but cooperation, symbiosis, and mutual aid may also secure success in other times and contexts. In a famous passage, Darwin explained his concept of evolutionary struggle (Origin of Species, 1859, pp. 62-63):

    I use this term in a large and metaphorical sense including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny. Two canine animals, in a time of dearth, may be truly said to struggle with each other which shall get food and live. But a plant on the edge of a desert is said to struggle for life against the drought…. As the mistletoe is disseminated by birds, its existence depends on birds; and it may metaphorically be said to struggle with other fruit-bearing plants, in order to tempt birds to devour and thus disseminate its seeds rather than those of other plants. In these several senses, which pass into each other, I use for convenience sake the general term of struggle for existence.”


    IDiots can’t seem to understand the basics.

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  8. JamesH says:

    I support all efforts to tear apart morons like Vox Day.

    But it’s important, as you note, to get the facts straight, and your interpretation of dialectical materialism could not be more wrong.

    Marx did not argue that we could argue our way toward better ideas (that was the view of his contemporary, of whom he knew, but who seems not to have known of him, J.S. Mill).

    Dialectical materialism is the remorseless working out of history, not subject to argumentation, in which the beliefs of society were determined by its (changing) material (economic) basis.

    A correction is in order.

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  9. Arun says:

    One more:

    Let us now ask the same question about the human world. Men do not struggle by means of their natural organs, but by means of artificial organs, by means of tools (and weapons we must understand as tools). Here, too, the principle of perfection and the weeding out of the imperfect, through struggle, holds true. The tools struggle, and this leads to the ever greater perfection of tools. Those groups of tribes that use better tools and weapons can best secure their maintenance, and when it comes to a direct struggle with another race, the race that is better equipped with artificial tools will win. Those races whose technical aids are better developed, can drive out or subdue those whose artificial aids are not developed. The European race dominates because its external aids are better.

    Here we see that the principle of the struggle for existence, formulated by Darwin and emphasized by Spencer, has a different effect on men than on animals. The principle that struggle leads to the perfection of the weapons used in the strife, leads to different results between men and animals. In the animal, it leads to a continuous development of natural organs; that is the foundation of the theory of descent, the essence of Darwinism. In men, it leads to a continuous development of tools, of the means of production. This, however, is the foundation of Marxism. Here we see that Marxism and Darwinism are not two independent theories, each of which applies to its special domain, without having anything in common with the other. In reality, the same principle underlies both theories. They form one unit. The new course taken by men, the substitution of tools for natural organs, causes this fundamental principle to manifest itself differently in the two domains; that of the animal world to develop according to Darwinians principle, while among mankind the Marxian principle applies. When men freed themselves from the animal world, the development of tools and productive methods, the division of labor and knowledge became the propelling force in social development. It is these that brought about the various systems, such as primitive communism, the peasant system, the beginnings of commodity production, feudalism, and now modern capitalism, and which bring us ever nearer to Socialism.

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  10. Arun says:

    From the above:

    While it is positively true that in the struggle for existence those animals that are strong, healthy and well survive; yet this does not happen under capitalist competition. Here victory does not depend upon perfection of those engaged in the struggle, but in something that lies outside of their body. While this struggle may hold good with the small bourgeois, where success depends upon personal abilities and qualifications, yet with the further development of capital, success does not depend upon personal abilities, but upon the possession of capital. The one who has a larger capital at command as will soon conquer the one who has a smaller capital at his disposal, although the latter may be more skillful. It is not the personal qualities, but the possession of money that decides who the victor shall be in the struggle. When the small capitalists perish, they do not perish as men but as capitalists; they are not weeded out from among the living, but from the bourgeoisie. They still exist, but no longer as capitalists. The competition existing in the capitalist system is therefore something different in requisites and results from the animal struggle for existence.

    Those people that perish as people are members of an entirely different class, a class that does not take part in the competitive struggle. The workers do not compete with the capitalists, they only sell their labor power to them. Owing to their being propertyless, they have not even the opportunity to measure their great qualities and enter a race with the capitalists. Their poverty and misery cannot be attributed to the fact that they fell in the competitive struggle on account of weakness. but because they were paid very little for their labor power, it is for this very reason that, although their children are born strong and healthy, they perish in great mass, while the children born to rich parents, although born sick, remain alive by means of the nourishment and great care that is bestowed on them. These children of the poor do not die because they are sick or weak, but because of external causes. It is capitalism which creates all those unfavorable conditions by means of exploitation, reduction of wages, unemployment crises, bad dwellings, and long hours of employment. It is the capitalist system that causes so many strong and healthy ones to succumb.

    Thus the Socialists prove that different from the animal world, the competitive struggle existing between men does not bring forth the best and most qualified, but destroys many strong and healthy ones because of their poverty, while those that are rich, even if weak and sick, survive. Socialists prove that personal strength is not the determining factor, but it is something outside of man; it is the possession of money that determines who shall survive and who shall perish.

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  11. ChrisC says:

    Suppose for a second, that everything Vox says about the links between the USSR and Darwin are correct (I’m not suggesting they are, not for a second, but just for the sake of argument).

    Would this, in any way, invalidate Darwins biological theories?

    Whether or not socialist Russia employed Darwinian thinking in their purges or their structuring of Russia’s economy, for good or ill, does not change the scientific evidence for the theory of evolution one iota.

    The logical misstep is obvious and stupid, and it beggers belief that people like Day can actually push it. The man seriously needs to think before writing.

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  12. Phil Studge says:

    You misspelled Billie Holiday, but Vox Day is a Strange Fruit.

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  13. bernarda says:

    I see that now “fisking” is a popular catch-word. A couple of years ago it was “parsing”, and others followed.

    It is interesting that “fisking” is a warmonger wingnut term that was used to try to discredit one of the few serious journalists who tried, and is still trying, to expose the war party, Robert Fisk.

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  14. John Wilkins says:

    A couple of points to add to this excellent fisking:

    The book Aveling wanted to dedicate to Darwin was called The Student’s Darwin. It did promote atheism, but mainly it was in the context of discussing evolution.

    Marx actually preferred the views of a fellow named Pierre Tremaux, who proposed that habitat (he called it “sol”, French for soil) caused what we would call allopatric speciation. Tremaux held that if you exchanged a French population with a Nigerian one, over time they would adapt to their local conditions and become each other.

    Engels, on the other hand, rebuked Marx and said that Darwin was the more biologically informed. I guess Tremaux’s panselectionism was not outweighed by his view of the plasticity of human nature for Engels, and Marx never discussed it again.

    It is not the case that Darwinian evolution is based on capitalism. Sure, Darwin was inspired in part by the Smith-style economics of David Ricardo, and Malthus, but not to draw any social consequences; just the underlying idea of the division of labour. The person who did draw these conclusions predates Darwin’s theory – Herbert Spencer – and he is equally misunderstood (he reviled the “robber baron” social theory of the American industrialists, for example. Smith had a similar view of untrammeled capitalism).

    Also, note that Marx and Engels had settled on their overall program before Darwin published. Unless communism permits time travel, the influences ought to run the other way. But Darwin was blithely unaware of the socialist movements of his day. Ray Lankester, who was at Marx’s funeral, was not, and he put forward views that were considered radical at the time. But Lankester was just an old style liberal, who did not consider any view outside the pale. He certainly never, in any of his works I have read, promoted a communist agenda.

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  15. Bad says:

    Damnit: I wish I had a daddy rich and well connected enough to a crackpot publication that I could score a gig as a syndicated columnist there and thus have people like Ed and Scott pay attention to me.

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  16. Ed, if we had a pissing contest to see who could write the longest fisking of a creationist, I think you would win, hands down.

    I noted that at (ahem) VD’s site you suggested that he read Darwin, or at least listen to me and read Mayr.

    Such august company! I am unworthy. I’m wondering, since you have a lot more experience with this than I, that when Vox and I peter out if you could review how the ‘exchange’ went off, and point out any errors of fact or tactical blunders I might have made. I don’t intend to quit defending evolution any time soon, and I would like to get some feedback from folk who have been around.

    Thanks in advance…Scott Hatfield


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  17. Citizen Z says:

    Interesting thing about the Trotsky quote Vox offered, the nearest version I could find was here, and has some interesting context: “Darwinism, which explained the evolution of species through quantitative transformations passing into qualitative, was the highest triumph of the dialectic in the whole field of organic matter. Another great triumph was the discovery of the table of atomic weights of chemical elements and further the transformation of one element into another.

    Uh-ohs. The periodic table is communist.

    (Here’s another interesting quote from Trotsky: “We do not, however, value Darwin for his inability to rise to the dialectic, but for having, despite his philosophical backwardness, explained to us the origin of species. Engels was, it might be pointed out, exasperated by the narrow empiricism of the Darwinian method, although he, like Marx, immediately appreciated the greatness of the theory of natural selection. Darwin, on the contrary, remained, alas, ignorant of the meaning of Marx’s sociology to the end of his life. Had Darwin come out in the press against the dialectic or materialism, Marx and Engels would have attacked him with redoubled force so as not to allow his authority to cloak ideological reaction.”)

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  18. The Physicist says:

    Oh, I know, a belt buckle did it. Hmmmm?

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  19. The Physicist says:

    Who is really responsible? Hummmm?

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  20. The Physicist says:

    This, not his

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  21. The Physicist says:

    Ask his question of Vox, he won’t answer me anymore. What were the percentage of Christians that elected Hitler? Same for Bush.

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  22. The Physicist says:

    Look guys, you are attacking the plotters, instead of those whom they plot against. Bush (Mr. Christian) gets votes from dupes. He can do no wrong, even though his main adviser, until now, was an atheist.

    Ya see guys, you can fool enough of the the people enough of the time to eventually get what you want.

    This government is pissed as are all governments, bureaucracy is the handmaid of the Devil. It is not atheists that kill it is human nature. The latest Reuters article says that we are killing 1700 Iraqi citizens a month.

    Hey we are beating abortion over there in a much smaller State. Goody for us. My friends keep telling me how these Muslims are going to come cut off my head.

    Bring it on, which of my guns would they like to be shot with first? The liberals are worried about someone being called a “nigger”, the “conservatives are worried about “terrorists”, all the while I am worried about nothing.

    Oh how my ignorance is bliss.

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  23. The Physicist says:

    You’re too drunk to type — and to read.

    No, it’s dark in here and I type better when drunk.

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  24. Physis says:

    Oh, absolutely. ‘Gottglaubig’ (apologies for lack of umlaut) meant (IIRC) ‘believed in something greater than oneself – i.e. ‘Germany’ and ‘the Germanic People’, or perhaps even more occult things, as many prominent SS members did.

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  25. David Marjanović says:

    Forgot to mention that “gottgläubig” was code for “trying/pretending to believe in the Germanic religion”. The SS, and Himmler in particular, was into that kind of thing.

    Doesn’t change the point. Compared to that pantheon, Christianity is indistinguishable from atheism.

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  26. David Marjanović says:

    If [Stalin] were an atheist he’d have thought jews were just another deluded cult -

    Eh, you forget that Stalin was paranoid. As everyone knows, the Jews have an international conspiracy going… threatening Socialism In One Country in general and Stalin personally in particular. if you want to hate the Jews, not being a Christian (or Muslim) can’t stop you.

    Surprisingly, Stalin’s recently published private letters are said to establish beyond reasonable doubt that he really believed in communism and really believed all his mass murdering was for the greater good of humanity.

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  27. David Marjanović says:

    You sure do write a bunch for neing so wrong.

    You’re too drunk to type — and to read.

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  28. David Marjanović says:

    And then the chutzpa of calling himself what is clearly meant to be vox Dei “God’s voice”…

    Lying for Jesus, eh?

    The Nazi allies in Yugoslavia, the Ustache, were Orthodox Church to the core

    Catholic. Croats are Catholic, Serbs are Orthodox.

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  29. Physis says:

    Great post. To add to the fact that the SS was not an atheist organisation, members of the SS (at least according Burleigh’s respected ‘The Third Reich: A New History” p.196-7) were prohibited from declaring themselves atheist. The ‘egoism’ of atheism was seen as a possible discipline problem and thus the options for a member were ‘Catholic’, ‘Protestant’ or ‘Believer in God (‘Gottglaubig’)’.

    In short, the SS was anything but atheistic.

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  30. The Physicist says:

    You sure do write a bunch for neing so wrong.

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  31. Bert Chadick says:

    The Catholic/Lutheran roots of Fascism and Naziism are a historical fact. The Spanish Civil War and war in North Africa were promoted in Germany and Italy as wars to project and protect Christianity. The Pope blessed Italian troops on their way to fight in the Ukraine. The Falangists in Spain and Portugal re-established the rule of the priesthood over all of the Iberian Peninsula. The Nazis had a serious pagan bent to their Lutheran based ideology, but they were no less religious than their Axis counterparts. The Nazi allies in Yugoslavia, the Ustache, were Orthodox Church to the core, and were rescued by Opus Dei via the infamous rat line after WWII.

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  32. Brilliant fisking. I thought you’d be interested in this look at Lysenko as well:


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  33. JJ Anderson says:

    Natural selection picks the winners of free-enterprise style, individual competition for resources. Communism — as every economics student knows — does away with competition.

    Once Darwin published his theory, everyone saw it as justification for their pet economic ideas, whether capitalist or communist. I think we should be more cautious in drawing any direct links. As David Sloan Wilson discusses in Darwin’s Cathedral, the Chewong tribe of Malaysia have done well with a communistic system of sharing all things of value with everyone else in the tribe, but ironically this is because their religion requires them to do so. Wilson says that under group selection this fits well with Darwinian evolution. So there is probably no “perfect” economic system; it depends on constantly changing circumstances, including the size of your society, etc.

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  34. Sheldon says:

    I have only briefly skimmed your article and will return later. But I did want to mention a few things. This comes from a perspective of somebody who actually knows something about Marxism, as opposed to the vast many who think they know something about Marxism, but don’t.

    First, one essential problem of Vox Day’s thesis is that he is confusing a social-political-economic theory of Marxism with that of Darwin’s biological theory. They are really totally differnent ways of thinking for totally different fields of inquiry.

    Darwin is not a “pre-Marxist” socialist figure. Marx had already written a great deal before Darwin came out with Origins of the Species. Marx read the book and liked it. The parallels he saw in Darwin’s work with his own had to do with evolutionary change through conflict and “struggle”.

    “Darwin’s book is very important and serves me as a basis in natural science for the class struggle in history.”
    - Karl Marx

    I think this quote is close to being accurate. But so what? It didn’t significantly influence Marx’s already developed political-economic and historical theories. And Darwin as far as I know was not all that interested in Marx’s thinking.

    But what ever the influences of Darwin on Marx or vice versa, they are really quite irrelevant. That is because I would argue that you can’t even blame Karl Marx and his thinking for the tragic history of Soviet Communism and Stalinism.

    To look into the historical causes of that you need to look into Lenin’s political theory, attempting to adapt it to the situation in underdeveloped Russia. From there you have to look into the history of the internal politics of the Bolsheviks, and what occurred after Lenin’s death. Many people who don’t know that history think there is some neat line of dictatorship from Lenin to Stalin. The fact of the matter is Stalin had to eliminate factions to his right led by Bakunin, and to his left led by Trotsky. Stalin’s repression began with fellow communists.

    What does any of this have to do with Darwin or Marx? Absolutely nothing.

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  35. Excellent post! Although I doubt anything we do will ever stop people from linking Stalin and Hitler to atheism. These people are impervious to facts.

    By the way, calling Darwin an active member of his church until his death sort of implies that he was a christian until he died, which he wasn’t. He did lose his faith, although he didn’t want to call himself an atheist, but rather an agnostic.

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  36. Marcus Ranum says:

    If you search for “Christ” and other *Tian words in the text of Hitler speeches and writings you can fill pages — Hitler talked about his imaginary playmate only a little less than GWB does.

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  37. HFL says:

    Marx on Darwin: “I’m amused that Darwin, at whom I’ve been taking another look, should say that he also applies the ‘Malthusian’ theory to plants and animals, as though in Mr Malthus’s case the whole thing didn’t lie in its not being applied to plants and animals, but only — with its geometric progression — to humans as against plants and animals. It is remarkable how Darwin rediscovers, among the beasts and plants, the society of England with its division of labour, competition, opening up of new markets, ‘inventions’ and Malthusian ‘struggle for existence’. It is Hobbes’ bellum omnium contra omnes and is reminiscent of Hegel’s Phenomenology, in which civil society figures as an ‘intellectual animal kingdom’, whereas, in Darwin, the animal kingdom figures as civil society.” (Letter to Engels, 18 June 1862).

    “When therefore a self-styled natural scientist takes the liberty of reducing the whole of historical development with all its wealth and variety to the one-sided and meager phrase “struggle for existence,” a phrase which even in the sphere of nature can be accepted only cum grano salis, such a procedure really contains its own condemnation.” (Letter to Pyotr Lavrov, November 1875)

    Engels, on the other hand, defends Darwin in chapter 5 of his Anti-Dühring.

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  38. Marcus Ranum says:

    I get so tired of the old “Stalin was an atheist” crap. It’s crap. Stalin was not an atheist, except on paper, and that was because wrapping himself in the pseudo-Marxist/Leninist doctrine of The Soviet was the route to power. When he was a young man, he studied to be a seminarian and when he came to power he launched massive pogroms against jews. If he were an atheist he’d have thought jews were just another deluded cult – but specifically trying to eradicate them has been a sort of bizzare tradition of Russian Christians for a very long time.

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  39. Paul T. says:

    An excellent fisking of a pompous fool. VD takes lying for Jesus to a whole other level and any take down of the little twit is appreciated. What is disturbing is the number of morons who swallow his pseudo intellectual crap.

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  40. Zeno says:

    Ed, you’ve earned a leisurely purging of toxins in a hot steam bath after slogging through all that muck. Want to bet that Vox or one of his blinkered minions will sift through your post and seize upon any tiny flaw (did you misspell a word somewhere?) and crow that they have refuted you? It’s not only their standard M.O., it’s the only thing they can do because you dished him so thoroughly. Good work!

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  41. Eike says:

    Actually “Vox” was right about the belt buckle – your photo shows the belt buckle of an enlisted man in the “Wehrmacht”. The buckles of the Waffen-SS, which is what he was talking about, had the slogan “Meine Ehre heisst Treue” (“My honour lies in loyality”).

    Here is a picture:

    He is still wrong about everything else, but you might still issue an correction to your essay.

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  42. Art says:

    Hi Ed,

    Most excellent essay.

    laelaps, the key for Lamarckian evolution is that the changes “in utero” (a good enough term, Ed, because it conveys the idea in a way most of your readers can grasp) must be heritable. Epigenetic changes may be, but are as often not.

    A side note – there are more than just a few parallels between the “biology” of Lysenko and that of the current crop of antievolutionists (whose moniker du jour is “ID theorist”).

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  43. PZ Myers says:

    Just a clarification: Marx did not ask Darwin to endorse his book. Edward Aveling, Marx’s son-in-law, did. It was also not Das Kapital, it was a book on atheism…and Darwin declined.

    The connections get ever more tenuous, don’t they?

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  44. bernarda says:

    I forgot to mention that the links are now working for me. I don’t know if my browser healed itself or it if was something you did.

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  45. bernarda says:

    I have finished reading this long commentary yet, but from the first part, I would like to make a couple of comments. There is a book about the Stalinist era science. “Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars”.



    It puts some things in perspective.

    Then there seems to be some mixing of actual Darwinism and later social darwinism, which had nothing to do with Darwin. Social darwinism was promoted by defenders of the unrestrained capitalist system. They thought that they had a sociological argument, based on biology, for rejecting alternatives to capitalism. It has long since fallen into discredit.

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  46. Ed Darrell says:

    I’m sure my use of the phrase “in utero” is incorrect in this case — we’re talking wheat seeds, which are actually in a rather dormant state. It’s not exactly “in utero.” I don’t know what the proper term is for seeds awaiting planting.

    Lysenko’s chief sins weren’t scientific, really. His sins were in his oppression of opposing viewpoints, and the religious way he determined what were the results he wanted from experiments, rather than letting the results speak for themselves. I’m not sure we capture accurately or well the open-mindedness that is required of a good scientist. Our air pollution lab worked closely with Michael Treshow, whose claim to fame was his work on ozone pollution in the Los Angeles Basin in the 1940s through 1960s — he was one of the major players in air pollution. One issue our lab ran into was very high levels of ozone far out in wilderness areas; Treshow had predicted that ozone doesn’t mix well, from lower altitudes to higher ones, or vice versa. This was also the period of time when ozone levels were found to be shrinking in higher levels of the atmosphere. So there were great mysteries.

    On the days the big journals came out, there would always be a gathering around the mail room with discussions about what was in them; one day I recall vividly some graduate students who had already taken Treshow’s graduate seminars sat in wait: One of the big air pollution journals had some research that questioned all of his conclusions about ozone mixing. Treshow strode in to his mailbox and conversation stopped while everybody slurped coffee. Would he curse? Would he be dismayed? How much of his life’s work would be tossed away?

    Treshow saw the article and got quite excited. This was great news, he said — someone had real data in areas he had not had any, and the data were contrary to predictions. Within five minutes he proposed three or four new research projects, suggested how the answers would promote the science, and set off to get the wheels in motion to find funding, find graduate students . . . it was a great showing of how genuine curiosity trumps pomposity and personal ego.

    Lysenko would have none of that, anywhere. The U.S. got lucky with Dobzhansky getting out and moving to the U.S. How many others were cut off in their research prime, or worse, killed: Vavilov, Karpechenko, Levit, Ferry, Agol, Chetverikov, Serebrovsky, Ephroimson, Levitsky, and others (list from Ashley Montagu, Human Genetics, 1959; Appendix E, “Genetics in the USSR: Political ‘Science’”)

    I think of those graduate students at Utah, treated to a good scientist’s reaction to research contradicting his own being what to do about all the new questions, whenever I hear again of Lysenko.

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  47. laelaps says:

    Absolutely amazing work, Ed! Thank you for putting such a mammoth amount of effort into this. I only have one small note. You wrote “In place of evolution, Stalin backed Trofim Lysenko who advocated, apart from his creationist-like hatred of Darwin, an odd, almost-Lamarckian idea that stress in utero would change characteristics.”

    I’m not backing Lysenko in any way and I know his Lamarckian leanings aren’t consistent from what we know about evolution today, but there are some signs that environmental factors like diet can have an effect on developing embryos. This doesn’t lead to “hopeful monsters”, but the field of epigenetics is suggesting that minor changes can be made in utero without changing the overall genetic makeup of the developing organisms.

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  48. [...] Links (Not The Sausage Kind) By frank at 8:44 am Religious extremists like to link Darwin to Communism and the Soviet Union.  Ed Darrell dismantles those arguments here. [...]

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