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Does Himmelfarb Deserve Better?


I’m not sure that she does, Ramesh. I have it on good authority that she is a fine historian. Her judgments on science may be another matter.

I say “may be” because I have not read any of them. A correspondent has, though, and tells me the following (much edited by me):

“Dear Mr. Derbyshire—I’ve been enjoying reading your comments about ID and Gertrude Himmelfarb at NRO’s corner. After I read Ronald Bailey’s famous article, I was shocked and curious about this particular sect of the neoconservative movement — and more than a little disillusioned, having been quite impressed with Mansfield’s _Machiavelli’s Virtue_.

“Anyway, I spent an hour in the MIT library looking up Strauss’s and Himmelfarb’s views on science. Strauss passes with flying colors.
Himmelfarb utterly fails. I was amazed by the ignorance found in her book Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution — it’s all baseless and widely debunked arguments found in any index of creationist claims.
Apparently, she’s undergone no change in this quarter for the past 46 years….

“To see which anti-evolution arguments are considered intellectually meritorious by the nation’s leading neoconservatives, consider these passages from Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (from the 1967 edition published by Peter Smith, Gloucester, MA). For those of you familiar with the history of the anti-evolution movement, all the howlers are there: the “impossibility” of the evolution of the eye, even auguring Michael Behe’s debunked irreducible complexity arguments about biochemistry, the tautology of survival, the improbability of “nature working blindly and by chance” could create anything, legitimate scientists reject evolution, and so forth. And I didn’t cherry pick these passages—nonsense like this is suffused throughout the book. Judge for yourself…”

[There follow several extracts of laughably ignorant remarks about biology from Himmelfarb's book--old anti-evolution chestnuts long since debunked -- so long since, they don't even feature in current "intelligent design" propaganda.]

“…The [evolution of the] eye is an intellectually serious neocon argument against evolution?!!! This just makes me shake my head.”

I can’t in all integrity shake my own head, as I am taking this on trust from my reader. Himmelfarb’s book is in libraries, though, so the curious can check for themselves. If her grasp of biology is as presented, she ought to be forbidden by law from using the word “Darwinism” in a sentence.


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