Maybe it’s a virus: Imagined racism of Darwin


Bad enough Tony Campolo feels compelled to accuse Darwin of being racist without reading the story of Darwin’s life (Darwin was anti-racist, and he and his family supported abolition of slavery and racism, with their political work and money), or without reading what Darwin actually wrote. (See responses here, and here.)

I stumbled into a series of posts at Echidne of the Snakes with the same ill-informed theme, based on the same misguided essay from 1998 – but from an author who staunchly insists on quoting what he thought to be offending passages from Darwin without quoting the rest of what Darwin said — a creationist quote miner, in other words.

He claimed in a thread here to have posted his “final answer” to my frequent urgings that he get the stuff accurate. We can hope it’s his last post on the topic since he won’t fix the errors. We’ll ignore the eerie homage to “final solution” that one could find in his phrasing.

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118 Responses to Maybe it’s a virus: Imagined racism of Darwin

  1. Dan, I didn’t get an e-mail from you yet. Are you complaining about my offering you my time? Better take the offer now it’s about to expire.

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  2. Dan S. says:

    You know, I agree that idolizing science is not a good – and can be a very bad – idea. But how are we communicating, again?

    Anyway, I think you’d be interested in this post by Dave Neiwert at Orcinus about eugenics, The Bell Curve, and modern-day National Review fans of both . . .

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  3. It is remarkably effective and useful for doing particular kinds of things, such as understanding and manipulating the natural world.

    It is relatively good at doing that for those things which it can observe, quantify and analyze honestly and if those publishing the results and those who read them don’t make over sized claims about their conclusions. That is their limit. The more complex the system to be studied, the less successful science can keep within its limits, the more tentative the results and the greater the temptation for the ‘scientist’ to play pretend.

    History and the law are better means of studying human behavior and the results of it. An honest study of history has resulted in better political behavior than science has. Unlike most of the ‘behavioral sciences’ and especially the Pleistocene fantasies of ‘evolutionary psychology’ there is at least some evidence that what is studied by history actually existed.

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  4. Dan S. says:

    Well, I do suspect that poor eyesight is probably rather more common now than in the Pleistocene. But of course, that reveals one of the flaws in that rather despairing mindset – so what? We’ve got glasses. Somewhere. Now, if I could just find where I put them . . .

    One can maybe go too far in (rightly) rejecting an over-romanticized & idealized view of science. It is remarkably effective and useful for doing particular kinds of things, such as understanding and manipulating the natural world. It could very well give us (at least some of) the answers that will save the species, etc. (At least, I see no reason It just can’t give us the value judgements, the ethics, wisdom, etc.

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  5. science is still the beacon of truth. The only way to disprove science is science itself and the result observation, prediction and methodology must be accepted by the scientific community as correct. meson

    And wouldn’t it have been nice of Darwin had supplied some science before contending that the survival of the “weaker members” of the human population would result in the degradation of the entire species*. And wouldn’t it be nice if someone who points out that his asserting what he did is destructive to democracy and human freedom would have their objection considered in the spirit of objective consideration instead of dishonest distortion, hysterical inquisition and dismissive condescension?

    As for science being a “beacon of truth”, no, it isn’t any more a beacon of truth than any other human activity. It frequently ignores or violates its own methods designed to remove subjective judgement, it increasingly goes past its most basic limits to assert all kinds of balderdash with often no more elevated motive than to further the career status of the ‘scientists’ who are doing it. I’ve given up the romantic view of science and see it as being just another means created by humanity to do things. Sometimes it works, more often it has problems. Science is not going to provide us with the answers that will save the species. The geologists who participated in the sell off of oil fields in the arctic last week are just as much scientists as the most disinterested and idealistic among them.

    Since you don’t address what I actually said, one gathers you haven’t read what I wrote either. Having to do so before you can judge an idea isn’ specifically a scientific requirement, it’s one that all attempts to achieve the truth share.

    * Which despite Ed’s irrational refusal to believe it, he did.

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  6. Dan S. says:

    And on that note . . .

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  7. meson says:

    i do understand the political significance of Darwinism. However, these are not the faults of Darwin nor his research. As scientist we convey our observations and predictions. The result may be contrary to our experience, intuition, comfort and moral.

    Those who advocate “narrow Darwinism” blindly should be shunned. Those who understood the “true realism of Darwinism” however should be counseled.

    Generally, i understood that Anthony attempts to show the dangers of “narrow Darwinism” but somehow he confused it with the “true realism of Darwinism” Ed has shown.

    i understood that “narrow Darwinism” imply survival of the fittest in the narrow sense of the word. It emphasize superiority regardless of species and its hierarchy. In truth this is a deviation of Darwin’s truth upon which it originates.

    i know that true Darwinism is survival of the fittest but the struggle is fought between species. The humankind achieve superiority not by exterminating its species but through compassion and learning.

    i know that Darwinism are often skewed by politicians and media, either in support of their campaign or against. More in such cases, the “narrow Darwinism” are invoked. Most famous are Hitler attempts in creating a superior race.

    Ed is arguing in the name of science the significance of Darwin’s study and he is certainly succesful in clearing much of the doubt. Should, true Darwinism are ever invoked in politics, it should emphasize upon learning and compassion. Government focused upon learning and compassion has been shown to have created empires and America is one of them. Ed is trying to defend true Darwinism.

    Unfortunately, Anthony has misunderstood this and regard it as an attack on his essay. It wasn’t the essay that are attacked by Ed but the “narrow Darwinism” held in the essay that is being attacked. He did so simply because it was the skewed and wrong version of Darwinism, and attempts to correct them.

    The dangerous elements in Darwinism is present but so does all scientific philosophy. From space time mechanics to inertia. From DNA to bone structure. Each and every science may produce ideas that may be perverse and counter-intuitive.

    The majority of non-scientific may even reject this ideas for all they care. But even under opposition of the public or any organization, science is still the beacon of truth. The only way to disprove science is science itself and the result observation, prediction and methodology must be accepted by the scientific community as correct.

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  8. Dan S. says:

    Though it’s understandable how [one] would find taking what someone actually said into account a somewhat spooky and mysterious phenomenon.”

    Hey, you gotta admit it’s somewhat rare on these here internets.

    Anthony, you may (or may not – it’s certainly interesting, I think) like a series of posts I just stumbled upon, starting here, which is all about, in some sense, taking what people actually say into account.

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  9. Anthony elevates Marilynne Robinson to prophet:

    No, he read what she wrote. Though it’s understandable how Ed would find taking what someone actually said into account a somewhat spooky and mysterious phenomenon.

    Dan, apparently too.

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  10. Dan S. says:

    I should also note that she talks about how Darwin’s work was seized upon by “antireligionists who had other fish to fry besides the demystification of cosmology” (this is the hitler-and-stalin portion of the performance), but seems not to recognize that the “Scientific Socialists who showed such firmness in reshaping civilization in Eastern Europe, China, Cambodia, and elsewhere” were not actually supporters of “Darwinism” as we would understand it, and that “the eugenicists” had a great deal of support from many religious institutions, and flourished in areas that were hotbeds of anti-evolutionism (as well as from many secular institutions, and areas that weren’t . . .).

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  11. Dan S. says:

    Well, then, if that was true then Robinson would share them

    I don’t understand. If the facts were true, then Robinson would share (also hold?/disseminate?) them? Wouldn’t argue, there – I think the whole sordid history of social darwinism and eugenics is a very important one to know. If it’s true that Robinson sounds bizarrely like Coulter in places, then she would share Coulter’s attitudes (but doesn’t)?

    They tend more towards Coulter than religious liberals.
    You don’t like blog materialists much, do you? And do you imagine I’m opposed to religious liberals?

    For a start religious liberals don’t consider people to be objects to be judged on the basis of their fitness but as possessing inherent rights.
    Indeed. As do other kinds of liberals.

    You might not like the implications of that cosmologically
    That religious liberals believe in human rights? That people have inherent rights? Huh? I’m rather confused here.

    if she could conceive of it in abstract terms.
    Hah!

    Did you get so far in the essay as when Robinson points out that creationists and Darwinists share the same economic morality?

    Yep. It’s extremely difficult to evaluate because she gives no examples – in that section – of modern day “Darwinists,” nor are they defined especially usefully. I suppose one could insist that, say, some of the more savage fans of free trading (like Steven Landsburg, for example) would seem to definitely qualify, but I have no ideas of his ideas on religion and science. Certainly many strong supporters of good science education – though not all – are also strong social and economic liberals.

    She also slams both classical economics and “Darwinism for having “peculiar assumptions which are incompatible with their claims to being objective, freestanding systems” – either implying progressivism everywhere (econ) or denying it everywhere (“darwinism”). That’s interesting. Is the proper answer making no judgement on progressivism, or seeing it in place she likes and not where she doesn’t? She repeatedly insists that “Darwinism” draws ethical judgements where, in modern times, it doesn’t – I mean, as if she literally can’t grasp that modern evolutionary biology trying to make descriptive rather than prescriptive claims. (or maybe she does – see, this is one of the reasons I was complaining about the use of the term: it’s so vague, and loaded down with so many meaning, as to be rather confusing. Another is that in terms of the antievolution campaign, it’s the equivalent of liberals blunderingly using “death tax” or “socialized medicine”) She also grabs the ofn-seized-on subtitle of Origins to insist that because it includes the word “favoured,” (by current conditions, that is) clearly Darwin’s theory must be about design, not change – she really is obsessed with the idea of “Darwinism” as theology.

    As I think I’ve mentioned before, you might be interested in the new (well, in that they’re explicit about it) “Darwinian conservatives”. Clearly these folks fit the mold.

    I’ve never found that people who don’t believe that people possess inherent rights are especially sound liberals.

    No disagreement there!

    you want to continue to try and pick my mind apart you can do it by e-mail or not at all.

    My email has issues (heck, it has volumes)- if you want to move this to comments on your blog? I’ve cross-posted this there.

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  12. Ed Darrell says:

    Anthony elevates Marilynne Robinson to prophet:

    Well, then, if that was true then Robinson would share them.

    Calling Dr. Pangloss. Dr. Pangloss to thread at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub . . .

    /what satire mode?

    We all read to the point where Robinson said “Darwinists” and creationists share “economic morality.” Which leads us to conclude that Robinson is as ill-informed about both economics and morality as she is about Darwin.

    Good grief!

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  13. The Church of Liberalism who wrote that “Liberalism has its own cosmology, its own explanation for why we are here, its own gods, and its own clergy. The basic tenet of liberalism is that nature is god and men are monkeys.“

    Well, then, if that was true then Robinson would share them. If you had read her you would know that she is a liberal, as she says, herself. Having read three of her four published books, her liberalism is a lot more solid than most of what you read among the materialists of the blogs. They tend more towards Coulter than religious liberals. For a start religious liberals don’t consider people to be objects to be judged on the basis of their fitness but as possessing inherent rights. You might not like the implications of that cosmologically as Coulter certainly wouldn’t economically, if she could conceive of it in abstract terms. Did you get so far in the essay as when Robinson points out that creationists and Darwinists share the same economic morality? I’ve never found that people who don’t believe that people possess inherent rights are especially sound liberals. As the part of the essay dealing with dialectal cheap-skates points out, they turn conservative quite often.

    If you want to continue to try and pick my mind apart you can do it by e-mail or not at all.

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  14. Dan S. says:

    f you could read Robinson’s essay and hear echoes of Coulter you need to read a bit more widely.

    Have you read Coulter’s chapters on evolution in “Godless“?

    There is no way that Robinson would be useful to Coulter without some extensive distortion

    Darwinism is a faith, is opposed to Christianity, seeks to surplant it, helped cause much of 20thC man’s imhumanity to man – that wouldn’t be useful to the author of Godless: The Church of Liberalism who wrote that “Liberalism has its own cosmology, its own explanation for why we are here, its own gods, and its own clergy. The basic tenet of liberalism is that nature is god and men are monkeys.“?
    As for fact checking, as I pointed out . . .
    Entirely true, but what relevance does this have to my point?

    whatever sins Robinson might be guilty of are nugatory.
    That’s an interesting use of the ‘but they’re worse!!! argument. Of course, if one assumes that her claims have any relevance, any importance, one would hope that they’re not hidden among nonsense. Her distortions and confusions also help opponents of science education, but I understand that’s a lower priority for you. If you do still plan to post on the modern proponents of social darwinism, eugenics, and suchlike, though, I’d be happy to offer ideas or links or anything along those lines: like I’ve said often, I think this is a real and deeply disturbing issue.

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  15. Honestly, there are long stretches where it reminds me most of Ann Coulter’s spew on the subject

    Dan S. you have got to be kidding me. I said you needed your hearing checked. If you could read Robinson’s essay and hear echoes of Coulter you need to read a bit more widely. There is no way that Robinson would be useful to Coulter without some extensive distortion. Either that or your ideological blinders prevent you from seeing what’s there.

    As for fact checking, as I pointed out, Darwin didn’t present any scientific evidence to back up his contention that allowing those he singled out as bad breeding stock to reproduce would have the degrading effect on the general population he claimed it would. Considering the subsequent history of the next seventy years in which that assumption was put into the most horrible practical effect whatever sins Robinson might be guilty of are nugatory.

    I think I’ll cut it two days short. I’ve wasted enough time here.

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  16. Dan S. says:

    Anthony, I’m not sure any of us have emerged exactly covered with glory.

    Except me, of course. Well . . . covered in something, definitely.
    : )

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  17. Dan S. says:

    Incidentally:

    From TalkOrigins’ Index of Creationist Claims (which come with capsule refutations, although readers are strongly urged to follow the references, etc.): CA210. Evolution does not make predictions.

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  18. Ed, it’s clear you haven’t learned anything from this lesson. But I think my responsibility to your education is over.

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