Richard Weikart is an arm of the Discovery Institute’s disinformation brigade. A couple of years ago he published a book attempting to link Darwin to the Holocaust in a blame-sharing arrangement. This book and some of its arguments appear to be the foundation of the text used to write the script for the mockumentary movie “Expelled!” featuring Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein.
Which is to say, the basis for the movie is dubious. Weikart’s scholarship creating links between Darwin, science and Hitler is quite creative. It is also based on arguments created from Darwin’s writings that mislead the innocent about evolution, science and history, or which get Darwin and evolution exactly wrong.
Michael Ruse published an op-ed in a Florida paper in February — a piece which is no longer available there (anybody got a copy? Nebraska Citizens for Science preserved a copy) — and Weikart responded, restating his creative claims. Alas for the truth, Weikart’s canards are still available at the Discovery Institute website, putting an interesting twist on Twain’s old line: The truth will go to bed at night while a falsehood will travel twice around the world as the truth kicks off its slippers.
Looking for Ruse’s piece, I found Weikart’s response here and here. I composed a quick response pointing out the problems, which I would like to posit here for the record — partly because I doubt Darwiniana gets much traffic, partly because the censor-happy folks at Discovery Institute don’t allow free discussion at their site, and partly so I can control it to make sure it’s not butchered as Weikart butchers Darwin’s text.
At Darwiniana I said:
Weikart’s strip quoting of Darwin is most disappointing. [Weikart wrote:]
Darwin claimed in chapter two of The Descent of Man that there were great differences in moral disposition and intellect between the “highest races” and the “lowest savages.” Later in Descent he declared, “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.” Racial inegalitarianism was built into Darwin’s analysis from the start.
Darwin argued the differences in intellect and manners between the “highest” of men and the “lowest” of men did NOT change the fact that we are are all related — legally, Darwin’s argument would evidence a claim absolutely the opposite of what Weikart claims. Here are Darwin’s words from Chapter II of Descent of Man, as Darwin wrote them, without Weikart’s creative editing:
Nor is the difference slight in moral disposition between a barbarian, such as the man described by the old navigator Byron, who dashed his child on the rocks for dropping a basket of sea-urchins, and a Howard or Clarkson; and in intellect, between a savage who uses hardly any abstract terms, and a Newton or Shakespeare. Differences of this kind between the highest men of the highest races and the lowest savages, are connected by the finest gradations. Therefore it is possible that they might pass and be developed into each other. [emphasis added]
That’s not inegalitarianism at all — Darwin’s saying they are the same species, related closer than the poets allow. If we stick to the evidence, and [do] not wander off into poetic philosophy, we must acknowledge that Darwin’s own egalitarian spirit shows here in the science, too. It would be an odd kettle of fish indeed that a crabby guy like Hitler, who shared the antiscience bias of Weikart’s organization, would suddenly accept the science of a hated Englishman that ran contrary to his other philosophies. Who makes the error here, Hitler or Weikart? If they both think Darwin endorsed racism, they both do — but there is not an iota of evidence that Hitler based his patent racism on science, let alone the science of an Englishman.
As to the second quote, Weikart leaves the context out, and the context is everything. Darwin is not arguing that “savages” (the 19th century word for “aboriginals”) were less human, nor that they are a different species. He was arguing that in some future time there would appear creationists like Dr. Weikart’s colleagues at the Discovery Institute who will deny evolution because, once Europeans and others with guns conduct an unholy genocide (which Darwin writes against in the next chapter), and once humans wipe out chimpanzees, orangs and gorillas, the other great apes, the creationists can [then] dishonestly look around, blink their eyes and say, “Where are the links? There cannot be evolution between (Animal X) and humans!”
At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked (18. ‘Anthropological Review,’ April 1867, p. 236.), will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, [emphasis added] and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.
In the end, Darwin wrote against genocide, against racism, and in favor of the higher thinking abilities of all dark-skinned people. He wrote in favor of Christian morality. Darwin himself remained a faithful, tithing Christian to the end of his life.
Such a man, and such amazing science, deserve accurate history, not the fantastic, cowardly and scurrilous inventions Dr. Weikart has given them. We should rise to be “man in a more civilized state” as Darwin had hoped.
Update, July 24, 2008, nota bene: To anyone venturing here from the Blogcatalog discussion on intelligent design: Get over to the site of Donald Johanson’s Institute for Human Origins, and especially look at the presentation “On Becoming Human.” Also check out the Evolution Gateway site at Berkeley, especially this page which explains what evolution is, and this page which offers some introduction for what the evidence for evolution really is. One quick answer to a question someone asked there: Between H. erectus and modern humans, H. sapiens, in the time sequence we have fossils of H. heidelbergensis and H. neanderthalensis. It’s pretty clear that Neandertal is not ancestral to modern humans, but instead lived alongside modern humans for 50,000 years or so from the Middle East through Southern Europe. To the question of actual transitional fossils, you’d need to hit the paleontology journals — there are a lot. You may also benefit from taking a look at the articles at this special Nature site.