Sunday, April 27, 2008

Richard Weikart's Flawed Darwin-Hitler Analysis

As I'm sure most of you know, the creationists are trying madly to attach the ball and chain of Hitler to the leg of Darwin in the hopes of bringing down evolution in the process. The argument is absurd on its face since the truth of a scientific theory has nothing whatever to do with what psychotic German dictators decide to do with it. Einstein was not responsible for Hiroshima, and the Beatles were not responsible for Charles Manson.

And yet, that aside, their arguments are still absurd, as Richard Weikart demonstrates:

There were six features of Darwinian theory that have contributed to the devaluing of human life (then and now):

1. Darwin argued that humans were not qualitatively different from animals. The leading Darwinist in Germany, Ernst Haeckel, attacked the “anthropocentric” view that humans are unique and special.

Um, but humans AREN'T qualitatively different from other animals, as the refutations of the specific claims of such over recent years attest. We use tools, they use tools. We kill for sport, some of them (chimps, bluefish) do as well. Many animals have a proto-language and even culture. We have similar DNA structure, physical structure, and consume, procreate, and expel waste the same as the rest of the animal kingdom. Even without Darwin this would be known.

And how exactly does it devalue human life to recognize this? I suppose if one looks down on the animal kingdom it might, but that reveals a personal bias, not reality. One could easily raise one's opinion of the animal kingdom (a la Pete Singer) because of such a revelation, rather than downing man.

Perhaps Weikart missed the day in beginner's rhetoric class when they taught that to disprove someone else's position, you need to produce FACTS that counter their claims, not baseless speculation. Hell, with this sort of reasoning, he might as well bitch at Darwin for saying humans don't have a soul.

"2. Darwin denied that humans had an immaterial soul. He and other Darwinists believed that all aspects of the human psyche, including reason, morality, aesthetics, and even religion, originated through completely natural processes."

[sigh] Yes, and neurological research is bearing this out. One cannot blame Darwin for recognizing reality, and once again it is a reality that would have been known even without Darwin. And still once again, how does this recognition devalue human life? In this case, it pretty clearly increases the value of human life. After all, who cares about a mere finite physical life if it is merely a container for an immortal soul which will live on in blissful eternity? One could easily see a benefit in murdering someone to send them to heaven earlier before they can sin further. Yahweh justified the attack on the Amalekites this way.

On the other hand, if this material existence is all that we will ever have, then that would imply cherishing it, and respecting it more in others. Weikart's argument is completely bass-ackwards here.

"3. Darwin and other Darwinists recognized that if morality was the product of mindless evolution, then there is no objective, fixed morality and thus no objective human rights. Darwin stated in his Autobiography that one “can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones.”

Again, all Darwin did here was recognize reality. If Weikart doesn't care for the idea that morality is not fixed, I suggest he take it up with all the religious leaders who keep changing it, and arguing with each other about which change is the objective fixed one, and get back to us when they all agree on what the fixed morality is.

This argument is even more basically flawed than that. If morality is "whatever the gods say is morality", there can be no more subjective, unfixed morality than that. And again, how does recognizing that we must make our moral laws ourselves devalue human life, whereas mindlessly following whatever the gods spew forth, even if it means murdering children (Abraham and Isaac), make us more valuable. Is not the lawmaker more valuable than the law follower? Weikart's problem here, as elsewhere, is with reality, not Darwin.

"4. Since evolution requires variation, Darwin and other early Darwinists believed in human inequality. Haeckel emphasized inequality to such as extent that he even classified human races as twelve distinct species and claimed that the lowest humans were closer to primates than to the highest humans.

Here Weikart's illogic is most blatant. Yes, evolutionary processes can only work on a heterogeneous population, which means the last thing you would want to do is eliminate part of that population! Evolutionary theory says that every member of the gene pool is valuable, which is about as opposite of devaluing human life as one can get.

And again, Darwin can hardly be blamed for recognition of the inequality of people with regard to talents and context-specific value. It is a fact of life anyone with two brain cells to rub together could recognize.

"5. Darwin and most Darwinists believe that humans are locked in an ineluctable struggle for existence. Darwin claimed in The Descent of Man that because of this struggle, '[a]t 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.'"

Here is where the "fixed knowledge" viewpoint bites Weikart in the ass. While it is true Darwin placed a great deal of emphasis on the struggle for existence, few evolutionary biologists believe that now. The discoveries of genetic drift and sexual selection, as well as other influences, have greatly reduced the emphasis on Darwin's struggle. And, drum roll please, how does believing there is a struggle devalue anyone? Weikart provides no clue.

"6. Darwinism overturned the Judeo-Christian view of death as an enemy, construing it instead as a beneficial engine of progress. Darwin remarked in The Origin of Species, 'Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.'"

This is just comical, as Weikart gets both sides of the argument wrong. Death as the enemy in Christianity? Death brings us to eternal salvation with the gods. Death was Christ's way of saving us. Death in this life means little, as this young Catholic schoolboy learned. And as far as evolution is concerned, death is not the engine, it is the sieve. Genetic variation and imperfect replication is the engine.

That, such as it is, is the case for Darwin causing Hitler. Pretty pathetic, isn't it? Every one of Weikart's points is either factually incorrect, or illogical, or both. These are obviously the efforts of a man with a preordained conclusion force fitting data to fit his preconceptions. Gee, from a creationist? Whoda thunk it.


Philip Chandler said...

Have you ever heard of a woman named Eugenie Scott? This woman is utterly relentless in her pursuit of creationist crackpots and other right-wing lunatics who try to bring down evolution by resorting to bad science, packaged for the people. She crucified a book named "Of Pandas and People" by invoking basic principles of evolutionary biology to point out the flawed reasoning and sloppy science that are the hallmarks of this "text". As she remarks, scientists usually gather data, develop a working theory, and then publish a book describing and refining their theory. The authors of this text book did exactly the opposite -- they created the textbook first, and then went out and looked for a theory that would support what they wrote up in the text book....


ScienceAvenger said...

Yes, Genie Scott is involved in a lot of the ID controversy, and can be seen in many of the debates. She also makes appearances in some of the funny video satires.

Actually, the story with "Of Pandas" is fascinating. The creationists changed their creationist terms to intelligent design terms in the book's text because of the Aguilar vs Edwards case which ruled creationism not science. But they fouled up their cutting and pasting leaving some of the pages with the phrase "cdesign proponentsists" as a smoking gun that ID is just creationism with a different name. This was a major piece of evidence in the Dover trial.