Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Dissing An Idol and Feeling Better For It
by Anthony McCarthy

The furor over the essay posted below produced some good points to consider and a lot of silly fun over at Echidne’s blog. I did get too much of the latter by citing Thomas Huxley and Richard Dawkins to refute the instantly arrived at piece of erudition from the Wiki Rangers and Knights of Sagan that “only creationists use the word ‘Darwinism”. Though even that obvious refutation didn’t matter. You wonder at the phenomenon of people who won’t read or think but who frequent blogs that deal with somewhat complicated ideas.

The most ridiculous, though, didn’t come from the post-adolescent Sciblog wannabees but one Word Search able scholar who went into paroxysms of indignation over the use of the word “cull” to describe what Darwin lamented mightn’t happen in ‘civilised’ countries due to the level of charity available to people in the work houses of Victorian England. I got the feeling that the guy didn’t know the word before reading it in the essay. Come to think of it, he probably doesn’t understand the New Poor Law or have the skills to find out what the reference to work houses means so this will probably set him off again.

Darwin used a metaphor to describe the unchecked breeding of the “weaker members” of the human species and the bad results it would have for future generations. He said:

Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

He introduced the idea that it was stupid to allow certain people to have children after lamenting that they would survive to child bearing age. By comparing people to farm animals in this context he was clearly lamenting that people wouldn’t be treated like animals in a commercial breeding operation.

Let me stop here to ask, isn’t that outrageous enough in itself? Not even animals in the wild, but comparing human beings to animals in a commercial breeding operation? Where else have we seen that idea not only posed by carried out?

Darwin’s Defender didn’t seem to realize that animals selected as not to be bred are not kept as pets on a farm but are marked for early slaughter. I’ll point out that this is entirely in keeping with the earlier part of the paragraph where Darwin laments that human beings will survive long enough to breed.

The mechanism to prevent this happening in the human population, the one he approves of, the one he heartily approves of among the ‘savages’ is through the deaths of the “weaker members”. That the gentleman's son, Charles Darwin, would leave the culling to the 'savages' signifies absolutely nothing.

By the time Darwin wrote The Descent of Man, where the passage comes from, he was a very experienced writer who was used to having his language dissected by both those hostile to science and by scientists. To think he didn’t mean what he wrote is the kind of double-talk you get from idol worshipers, ironically, it is tantamount to saying he was ga-ga when he wrote it. I think he knew what he was writing and that it is clear he knew what happens to animals on the farm, he cited exactly the practices of commercial animal breeding in his work and would have known about its enormous usefulness to his great idea, which isn’t evolution but natural selection. The subsequent and dishonest assertion of his humanity does nothing to dissuade me that he knew the horrible conclusions that had to come from believing what he had just written.

I won’t write down to the level of people who don’t read what they comment on or who won’t look up references they don’t understand. It’s a waste of the time of those readers who do read and do the bother of thinking about what is on the screen in front of them instead of automatically looking to their database of skimpy, pre-fabricated, cliches and prejudices in order to fit in ideas that don’t match any field they’ve got in their heads. Writing down is an insult to people who deserve respect and it’s my experience that the ones who choose to be idiots aren’t going to change no matter how hard you try to explain what you’ve already written.

I will also not hold back because “creationists” might find useful material in what I point out. If it’s there, they’ve got the resources to find it . If the proponents of Darwinism are so worried about ‘science’ that they think covering up the truth will protect it, they care more about their ideology than they do about science. I have no obligation to join in with their cover up efforts.

He introduced the idea that it was stupid to allow certain people to have children after lamenting that they would survive to child bearing age. By comparing people to farm animals in this context he was clearly lamenting that people wouldn’t be treated like animals in a commercial breeding operation.

And if I quote this from you, may I say that you argued that we should treat people like animals in a commercial breeding operation? Because you endorse the idea moreso than does Darwin.

Had you bothered to read to the end of the chapter, or four paragraphs farther, you'd have found Darwin's statement that humans never should act that way.

But, this being the blogosphere, Darwin being dead and probably unwilling to sue you anyway, what care you for accuracy?

I find it clever of you never to link to a copy of Darwin's words so people can read what he wrote.

You're an apologist for creationism and anti-science, at best. It's not that creationists might find something useful in what you write, it's that you parrot their most egregious misreadings of science and history.

Darwin didn't say what you claim. Shame on you. If this is your last writing on the topic, thank God.
Serious readers may want to read a serious rebuttal to Tony Campolo's making the same errors you made:
Ed Darrell, I gather from looking at your blog you consider yourself something of a scholar.

An honest scholar wouldn't contend that I endorsed Darwin's approval for the early deaths of those he considers undesirable breeders since in the same short post I say this:

The subsequent and dishonest assertion of his humanity does nothing to dissuade me that he knew the horrible conclusions that had to come from believing what he had just written.

But I've gotten used to blog wannabees distorting what I've written. So, when you lie about what I wrote provide a link so the minority of your readers who care about the truth can find out what I really said.
Your misquoting of Darwin rather leaves you little ground to complain about anyone else being dishonest in scholarship.

I stand by my characterization of Darwin. You've slandered the man. For more than a week you've failed to provide any reference that might support your scurrilous and false claims that Darwin was racist.

I was particularly amused and perturbed at your mention of "abolitionists" as if Darwin were apart from them. Darwin was an abolitionist, as he wrote, because slavery was inhuman, especially to Africans and others of color.

That doesn't fit your explanation, but then little does.

Don't lecture me about honest scholarship until you get basic facts right. Then, of course, no lecture is necessary.

Darwin was not a racist. He often wrote against racism, and in the works you cite, Darwin points out that "culling" of humans is unallowable.

Your charges are scurrilous and unsupported.
Sure, if I ever lie about what you wrote, I'll provide some sort of link.

In the meantime, we're still waiting for any links you might have to support your thesis.
Ed Darrell, I am assuming you are referring to his citation of Greg about the horrible consequences of unchecked breeding by the Irish.

the reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to
increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous
members. Or as Mr. Greg puts the case: "The careless, squalid, unaspiring
Irishman multiplies like rabbits: the frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting,
ambitious Scot, stern in his morality, spiritual in his faith, sagacious
and disciplined in his intelligence, passes his best years in struggle and
in celibacy, marries late, and leaves few behind him. Given a land
originally peopled by a thousand Saxons and a thousand Celts--and in a
dozen generations five-sixths of the population would be Celts, but five-
sixths of the property, of the power, of the intellect, would belong to the
one-sixth of Saxons that remained. In the eternal 'struggle for
existence,' it would be the inferior and LESS favoured race that had
prevailed--and prevailed by virtue not of its good qualities but of its

There are, however, some checks to this downward tendency.

To compare my citation of Darwin, which I both analyzed for its meaning and condemned with Darwin's series of citations of ethnic slurs to back up his contentions about natural selection in human beings is about the level of scholastic honesty I'd expect from you.
Sorry, this should be in bold too, since it sums up Darwin's opinion of the Irish, French Canadians and any number of other groups with degenerating possibilities.

There are, however, some checks to this downward tendency.
Isn't it ironic (and maybe in more than just the Alanis Morrisette sense of the word) that arguments about evolution should turn on genetic fallacies?

There is a reason why creationists want to talk about "Darwinism" rather than EVOLUTION. And even if they are spreading lies about Darwin, it is still changing the subject out of the topic at hand. I think our host has it exactly right with his second to the last sentance.

On a related note, perhaps (without realizing it) I was inspired by our host's last post -- although ostensibly the post is belated blogging for MLK day -- and I wrote something on the problems< with judging people (e.g. Darwin) "by the content of their character".
Come to think of it, he probably doesn’t understand the New Poor Law or have the skills to find out what the reference to work houses means so this will probably set him off again.

What I asked you was where Darwin referred to the New Poor Law. You claimed he understood it, but I doubt you have the chronology right, or that you understand Darwin's views on it. In any case, in the place you claimed Darwin referred to it, he didn't.

You've never explained anything more. You refer to the law twice -- do you have a clue what it is? Why not explain how it applies in this case, especially if you allege Darwin favored it -- and offer some evidence that Darwin did favor it, if that is your argument?

All I'm asking is that you provide evidence what you say is true, is true.
Ed, you mean you didn't even read the quote I analyzed?

We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment.

No wonder you don't understand this. I'd imagine you might find something by looking up New Poor Law on that marvelous little invention called a search engine. If you exert your scholarly abilities to that extent, look at the date it was "reformed" and then look at the date of publication of The Descent of Man. Darwin could have meant no other poor law than the New Poor Law that was in effect when he wrote this.

I didn't realize I'd have to spoon feed every last detail.
Alberich, thank you. That's a wonderfully interesting post you wrote.
I don't eat from dirty spoons, ever.

Anthony, do you have a clue what year Darwin wrote Descent of Man?


Did you bother to check the history of the Poor Laws?

Increasing powers for local government

After the Reform Act 1867 there was increasing welfare legislation. As this legislation required local authorities' support the Poor Law Board was replaced with a Local Government Board in 1871. County Councils were formed in 1888, District Councils in 1894. This meant that public housing, unlike health and income maintenance, developed outside the scope of the Poor Law. The infirmaries and the workhouses remained the responsibility of the Guardians until 1930. This change was in part due to changing attitudes on the nature and causes of poverty - there was for the first time an attitude that society had a responsibility to protect its more vulnerable members.

Lick your own spoon, see if you can get the facts right. By the time Darwin wrote that passage you cite, the poor laws were reformed to reflect the view "that society had a responsibility to protect its more vulnerable members."

So, you get Darwin's views exactly wrong, still.

Why not just give up? Your entire set of premises are in error. I originally thought that by pointing out to you the errors, which you could have checked by reading the source you claimed to be quoting from, you'd get the hint.

Then you have the gall to claim I haven't read your stuff, and then you have the gall to complain that I don't know about the poor laws, when it is you who has the laws incorrectly assessed.

No doubt you'll cover your failure in accuracy by trying to insult me again, rather than just correct the error.

Darwin was not racist, contrary to your claims.

Darwin did not advocate murder, contrary to your claims.

Darwin did not advocate murder of the poor, contrary to your claims.

Democracy is not "survival of the fittest," contrary to your claims. Especially in the U.S., our republican democracy is not founded on the idea that the majority is right; instead it is founded on the idea that better policies will result when interests can contest ideas in public, in a free marketplace of ideas.

Wait a minute! I've found something you wrote that's accurate! See here:

" . . . idiots aren't going to change no matter how hard you try to explain what you’ve already written.

What irony.

Were you describing idiots? Is this how we can tell an idiot when we find one?
Here's the citation for the paragraph on the history of the poor laws; it's a pedestrian source, but those who are stuck in the mire might want to get help from the pedestrian from time to time:
Why not just give up? Your entire set of premises are in error.

Odd, several people with backgrounds in biological sciences seemed to think I was on to something. But, then, they read what I wrote. How about your premise that my piece was a creationist screed about Darwin's racism when racism of any kind was not discussed in it.

I notice your knowledge of Marilynne Robinson's essay is based entirely on what you were able to glean from internet citations of it. Funny sort of scholarship you do over there, Ed.

And, un, Ed. I don't use Wikipedia as a source for formal writing. And I don't do "For Idiots" versions. Though, even if I did, you'd still have to read it before you could know what it said.
And about the Poor Law, didn't you read the note I left at your blog, Ed? It was short enough for you to get to the end of it.
Anthony, if you can't respond to the facts, give it up. If Wikipedia beats you with the information (and it's deadly accurate in most cases -- this case for one), you're just wrong.

The aim of the poor laws by 1870 was to help the poor out.

But of course, since that is exactly contrary to the point you wished to make, you'll ignore the facts if you possibly can.

It seems clear to me that you've never read Robinson's essay, or perhaps you could have responded to my much longer rebuttal of it. She got the facts wrong -- it looks to me as if all of Darwin you ever read was in Robinson's essay.

No, your essay wasn't about racism directly -- but your point rests on an assumption that Darwin was racist. He wasn't.

Your essay rests on an assumption that Darwin urged artificial selection among humans. He didn't.

Your essay rests on several misapprehensions of history, and misapprehensions of biology. A few people in biology liked it? Then get the facts from them, and present them here.

Arguments from authority just don't cut it when you've got the facts wrong. Lord Kelvin was absolutely certain Darwin was wrong, because the Sun couldn't be more than 200 million years old. Iron glowing yellow, like the Sun, would get to that color after 200 million years of white hot, Lord Kelvin reasoned.

Of course, Darwin was right from his observations of life and the Earth; Lord Kelvin's assumption that the Sun was made of iron was erroneous. Darwin died before radioactivity was widely known, but Lord Kelvin lived to see his errors uncovered.

Funny about that. Over the years lots of good scientists have pronounced Darwin's work wrong, only to have later research verify Darwin and show the error of their ways.

You're no exception, with this proviso: Most of them had read Darwin. They contested what Darwin wrote, not what someone else imagined Darwin wrote. Honest in error, Lord Kelvin admitted Darwin was more correct about the age of the Earth and Sun than Lord Kelvin had been.

Stick to the facts, you'll eat less of them later.
He introduced the idea that it was stupid to allow certain people to have children after lamenting that they would survive to child bearing age. By comparing people to farm animals in this context he was clearly lamenting that people wouldn’t be treated like animals in a commercial breeding operation.

That claim, for example. Still waiting for you to tell us where Darwin said that. It's not in any book of Darwin's known today.
Darrell, Darrell, Darrell. Now I understand why you didn't like my analysis of that very famous quote from Darwin. Before I looked closely at your site I didn't realize I was impinging on your shtick. I understand the ethics of Vaudeville and stand up but, I'm sorry, politics is real life.

Anyone who really thinks about what he said in the passage and looks at how his ideas were applied in the real world would see that others with other agendas than yours took him quite literally. You can't make the history of the political use of biological determinism flowing from Darwin disappear. I think it's not only bad for evolutionary science to cling to Darwin, who isn't a particularly successful logo in the general public - if those polls the Scienceblogs are always wailing about are to be believed - but it is antithetical to democracy.

I'm far less interested in the funding of evolutionary science than I am in trying to salvage democracy from those who think our reason and ethics are overridden by what they generally think of as "our genes" or "conditioning" or "the dialectic". Thinking can make a big difference in real life, it can actually lead to you making decisions that make sense, work for the larger community of living beings and keep you from committing either passive or active genocide.

Sorry, Ed. But your routine is old and it isn't working.

Now, show me in the essay where I addressed Darwin's racism or supported creationism. Those were the false charges you made to your audience and have refused to retract. I was hoping some of the 'scholars' you believe you are addressing would take the first logical step and actually read what I wrote to see if your charges are accurate, but that's clearly not going to happen.
If you want to fight against determinism in biology, one might start by pointing out that was not Darwin's view. Of course, you're already on the wrong road.

I enjoy your protests about how you are not a creationist, as you adopt the creationist canards lock, stock and barrel. Perhaps you're not a creationist. Why you've been duped by creationists and creationism is a mystery yet to be worked out, in that case. Either way, you're in error.

Racism and genocide? Didn't you read your own posts, and the passage you tortured from Darwin? What "determinism" is it you're railing against, again?

Your misunderstanding of Darwin's use of the word "savages," and everything you've written that flows from that, is a charge of racism. Do you deny it now?

How can you claim Darwin's work was used to support racism without your having made such a charge, in error? A more careful reader of Darwin might ask how his words could be misinterpreted. Is that your claim, now? Are you now saying Darwin was misinterpreted? Why didn't you start out saying that?

Or is it as I suspect, you got suckered in partly by not having read Darwin? You're so embarrassed by the discovery that you now accuse everyone else of not having read your piece, when it is clear to fair observers that we have.

Do you know what your thesis is? Fifth time I've asked -- you keep changing your claim, and I'd like to pin it down -- and you have yet to answer directly. Every time I point out an error, you claim it's not key to your point. Maybe not, if you don't have a point. But shouldn't essays have a point? What was yours?

If you're campaigning for science, you have an obligation to accuracy. The universe is what it is, and any denial of that is simple divorce from reality.

Come back to Earth, Anthony. Good intentions don't excuse inaccuracy.
Darrell, Since I pointed out two of the times in the essay I explicitly stated the purpose of it to you, more than once, and as you refuse to accept that your characterization of it is false, all I can tell you is to do what you should have done before you posted your lies. Read the thing for what it says, not for what a lazy blogger who thinks on the basis of blocks constructed of crude archetypes to have wanted it to have said.

Maybe I should catalog the bigotry in Darwinism. But I'd have to start a new blog starting with Darwin and going to Kevin Macdonald and Hartung's Antisemitism. I'd have to include the ultra-Darwinist Dawkins' endorsement of Hartung, no way to avoid that. Maybe if I was twenty years younger.

You getting any of this, Darrell? When you go to Wiki for your instant erudition, look up Macdonald first, though I suspect he or his admirers might have scrubbed the posting about him, they seem to do that when their idols reputations get questioned. It'll save you precious time.
[crossposted from here, and replying to comments there]

"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.

" 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 it's trying to make descriptive rather than prescriptive claims. (She also grabs the often-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!
"But I'd have to start a new blog starting with Darwin and going to Kevin Macdonald and Hartung's Antisemitism."

Well, Mr. McCarthy, we found something else to agree on. I don't much care for the "scholarship" of MacDonald and Hartung either. Nor Rushton, Pearson...

Of course Darwin was a racist. Who wasn't back then? Not many. Some of the Christian abolitionists, I suppose. And he was a Whig. Not a proto-national socialist. These things are complicated.

While I spend a great deal of my free time on the subject, there are many nooks and crannies of the debate that I simply haven't had time for -- so I remain ignorant of very many facts behind these issues.

One thing about which I was disappointed in the Expelled movie (not that I assume that you approve or disapprove of it in general) is that it defeated some of the momentum it had over its initial argument (about free inquiry and following the facts where it leads) by denouncing Darwinism for the results of people's philosophical interpretations. Many people (even theists) thought this was sawing off the branch the movie was resting on. I myself thought this was a point that should've been made in separate movie. I would like for Expelled to have focused on the point of how dogmatic naturalism has nurtured and the Modern Synthesis, and squelched any criticism from being taught as it might somehow violate the st Amendment by giving the people the idea that their might be some objective support for their religious beliefs.

I do think that the dogmatic naturalism that's implicit in the assertion that macroevolution is somehow neatly and completely explained/determined by natural selection is suspect as a philosophy. If there is anything to be gleaned from that outlook, I think it's that any ultimate value altruism might have over brutality is determined by the ultimate success of the tribe/species that follows it. That's my opinion. But I think there are many naturalists that do have values that they somehow shoehorn in with a reductionist outlook.

I'd be interested in hearing more about quotes of biologists about Darwinism. I've come across quotes that had nothing to do with creationism, but cataloguing those has not been my top priority. Characterizing the term as a creationist ploy is itself, I think, a red herring invented by those threatened by the thought that neo-Darwinism does not equal Biology.

There is an interesting news story by Suzan Mazur about the "nonexistent" controversy in biology. One thing that struck me was Michael Ruse allegation that Jerry Fodor did something "between stupid and wicked" by "flamboyantly denying selection in today’s climate" and thus giving "a piece of candy to the creationists." Ruse is notable for not following the advice of fellow ideologues to not engage the enemy in public debates that might lend them credibility, but at the same time, he seems to promote something like the following argument:
1. Creation-science held tenets based on Biblical revelation.
2. Intelligent Design's has arguments and interests in common with creation-science.
3. Therefore, Intelligent Design is Creation-science and subject to the 1st Amendment censure.

Michael Shermer, oddly enough, has an argument that refutes this line of though in his Why People Believe Weird Things, although I doubt he would ever allow himself to apply it to Ruse's argument. After all, he organizes a wathdog groups to protect the public from such pseudoscience.

I believe there is a kind of intellectual dishonesty in the way neo-Darwinism (as a social enterprise) has been masqueraded as THE explanation for the facts of biological diversity and the fossil record, and then simultaneously accused designists and creationists of creating a false dichotomy. The false dichotomy was invented and pushed by those not wanting to be straight with the public about the state of the theory. Is there really a tertium quid when neo-Darwinism is "as proven as any theory in physics"?

But there is a similar double-talk about "evolution". At some point, evolutionists resort to admitting that even if neo-Darwinism turns out to not be the full account it claims to be, that evolution has still been provn true. Which implies that there is a difference between evidence for evolution (without reference to specific mechanism) and evidence specifically for natural selection is a complete explanation. But in any of several college courses on biology, that difference has never been explained. We did experiments in allele frequencies and were more-or-less told that we had seen *Evolution* in action before our very eyes. I am reminded of Penn and Teller's Invisible thread trick.
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