From a reader:
It seems that the point both you and Derb make that Klinghoffer’s
analysis does not disprove Darwin’s theory of evolution through
natural selection is certainly true. But Klinghoffer explicitly admits
this in his article, so I don’t really understand why you and Derb are
addressing a point Klinghoffer never makes. Is it because he may
personally not believe Darwin’s theory and this renders his article
The main thrust of Klinghoffer’s article is that Darwin’s explicit
writings in which Darwin contemplates what he sees as the inevitable
effects of his theory, provided the intellectual impetus for later
atrocities. The fact that this does not disprove Darwin’s actual
theory, or that Darwin himself would never engage in or countenance
such atrocities, is irrelevant to the thrust of his argument.
LF was fascinating, keep up the great work, and I have complete
confidence you will never remain silent on topics of interest!
Me: Thanks. Fair point, I was, at least in my head, as much responding to the Darwin-Hitler stuff that’s been flooding my email box since I raised the issue ever so briefly last week over at the LF. Blog.
There are a couple of things going on in the minds of your critics regarding the Darwin-Hitler “controversy.”
Chief among them is the widespread inability to distinguish between science and faith, and particularly the scientific and political ideas espoused by the same man. (Surely you will concede that all political beliefs are articles of faith, unless you hew to the oxymoronical notion of political “science.”)
If you want to attract moonbats like moths to a flame, few names will do it more quickly or efficiently than “Darwin” (although you might try “Tesla” if you want to attract some of the more exotic species).
The last time I looked, the “big bang” theory of cosmology was being taught in schools. If someone wants to know where people (and everything else) came from, this is where I would point them. Why no “Kitzmiller v Dover” level of controversy there? People are funny (and I don’t mean “funny: ha-ha”).
First of all, you did a major disservice to both NR and conservatism by
printing Klinghoffer and Berg’s pieces but those letters you just responded
to-gads, what idiocy! Each and everyone of them is wrong, wrong, WRONG and
stupid beyond belief. They’re all dumber than Alec Baldwin after having a
tasty meal of fish and paintchips.
OK, I’ve made my point. Now, we get to the gristle.
Spencer’s Social Darwinism DID precede Darwin with his essay “Progress: its
laws and causes” but Spencer coined the term “survival of the fittest” in
1864, after The Origin of Species was published, and it meant little to
Darwin, who incidentally, was a classical liberal (which would be called
conservative today) and a firm supporter of abolition and suffrage. The
work of Spencer which DID influence Darwin was Spencer’s comparative work
between domesticated and wild breeds belonging to the same species, which
led Darwin to conclude that the same process of breeding to ensure favored
traits occured in nature and this random process was superior to the
process of controlled breeding which is the exact opposite conclusion of
eugenics. Malthus was actually a much greater influence on Darwin, in the
way he analyzed the complex interactions between individuals, populations
and resources, and as a pious Christian, he would be horrified at the
suggestion that his theories were responsible for Fascism and racism (or
worse: he was born with a cleft lip, and while it caused him much shame
until he had it fixed, I don’t think he would advocate infanticide of those
with a similar condition).
Now that dispenses with your first correspondant, as well as part of your
second writer, who is probably the most thunderously stupid correspondant
you’ve ever had. Of course so many important scientists were creationists,
that’s because THEY LIVED LONG BEFORE DARWIN’S OR ANY EARLIER THEORY OF
EVOLUTION WAS PROPOSED! How the hell could Newton have ridiculed Darwin
when he died 130 years before The Origin of Species was published? The word
“race” in the title has nothing to do with human races specifically, but
ALL variations of living things; as noted earlier, Darwin was very ahead of
his time in believing in human equality. And Alfred Wallace, who came up
with the theory of evolution through natural selection at the same time,
was a Christian Socialist, which is 180 the opposite of type of fascism
that dumbell was thinking about.
As for your last nattering nabob of know-nothingism, who says there was no
precedent for scientific racism prior to Darwin, Gobineau published An
Essay on the Inequality of the Races a full SIX years before the
publication of The Origin of Species, and so-called craniometricians were
attempting to justify the inequality of races by measuring skull shape at
least EIGHTY years earlier. Darwin opposed all of this; he believed that
all humans evolved from a single ancestor, and that not enough time had
elapsed from this point to create any substanial differences between human
populations. And once again, he was right.
For more info, see this page here, which effectively debunks the notion
that Darwin led to Nazism and eugenics:
Also go here, to see the Expelled-Fascism connection.
And oh yeah, there were no important contributions made by Nazis to X-Rays.
You may have been thinking of Philip Lenard, a Nobel Laureate in physics
and life-long anti-Semite who became a fervent Nazi when he was old and
senile. He did important work in cathode rays and the photoelectric effect,
but nothing with X-Rays. He was actually insanely jealous of Rontgen for
having discovered them, and it is believed that this pushed him to the
Please print these corrections; whenever you let the creationists and other
anti-science or scientifically illiterate types use NRO as a mouthpiece, it
makes us all look like fools. If you don’t, well, I’ll just put them on the
Darwin Central blog.
Me: I dunno how of a disservice NR or anybody else is guilty of and I’m usually loathe to post letters beating up on other readers like this. But it’s sort of a free-for-all topic. As for the x-ray correction, I could swear Procter’s the Nazi War on Cancer gets into some breakthroughs and innovations on X-ray technology. But it’s been about five years since I read it, and the X-ray stuff wasn’t exactly central to what I was reading it for. I’ll withhold the right to respond until I find my copy.
And, finally (for now):
(By the way, I haven’t finished it yet, but your recent book is excellent)
Your correspondent has a serious historical problem when he says:
“Newton ridiculed Darwin and his silly theory.”
Newton could not have ridiculed Darwin, because Newton predated Darwin by 150 years or more.
It *is* historically correct that most of the famous scientists from the origin of modern science in the 17th, 18th and 19th century were devout Christians. Some authors have made the case that their Christian faith was more than just an accident; the Christian belief in God’s creation of a universe that was not capricious made them able to envision the possibility of the laws that led to modern science.
Your correspondent also claims that:
“You also ignore Klinghoffer’s central point, Darwin’s statement in The Descent of Man that “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.””
The correspondent seems to think this is a terrible racist statement by Darwin; given his times, it might be to some extent However, I find it hard to find much fault in Darwin’s statement. He was not making a moral judgment; he was making an observation and prediction. And his prediction has turned out to be largely true. The more civilized cultures *have* largely replaced, or in more cases ‘converted’ the less civilized races – ‘converted’ in the sense that the other ‘races’ have adopted civilized culture.
As a biologist, I find the whole concept of ‘race’ to be very problematic. It’s not really a biologically useful term. It’s a term that arises out of anthropology and sociology. There are certainly genetic differences, sometimes important ones, between people of different ethnic and geographic ancestry. But there are not genetic markers that you can use to neatly divide people into different ‘races’. People fall at various places along the genetic continuum..
As a practicing biologist, I find evolutionary theory to be exceedingly useful. It’s a very powerful tool. But it has, unfortunately, sometimes been used in negative ways, in particular as an alternative to God. I find this philosophically silly; no scientific theory can tell you ultimately where the laws of nature came from, why we’re here, etc. So I have some sympathy with the many evangelicals who are uncomfortable with evolutionary theory. On a philosophical basis, I am a creationist, in the broad sense of the term, meaning that creation is the result of God’s work. Exactly how he accomplished that is another issue, and I’m open to whatever science can establish as actual historical record. But from a practical basis, evolutionary theory is useful biologically simply because it provides a parsimonious explanation for so much of what we observe, and it makes useful predictions about what we’re likely to find – what we’re likely to find in the genetic record, the fossil record, etc. It can be medically useful. But in the final analysis, evolutionary theory is just a useful tool. If I was an auto mechanic, a wrench would be an indispensable tool of daily use. But I wouldn’t worship it because of that utility.