Saturday, December 01, 2007


Being Spartan With the Facts

Greg Laden has an account of John West's talk attempting to link "Darwinism" with the eugenics movement in the early 20th century and many other things beyond:

You've heard the argument. Darwin. Then Darwinian Biology. Then Natural Selection Turned Into Eugenics. Then the Nazis. Then Scientists Wanting to Take Over the World by insisting that scientific opinion on such things as Global Warming, Stem Cells and HIV as a cause of Aids matter. How dare those scientists.
I think Greg has it exactly correct. Evolution is just one prominent, but not central, target of the religious right. Ultimately, the aim is to squelch any attempt to base public or private policy on rational, evidence-based considerations, instead of on authority handed down from the pulpit. They seek nothing less than the subversion of science to their religious agenda and, if it will not bend its knee to their dogma, it must be destroyed as any heretic or infidel should be.

Greg's account of Mark Borrello's dismantling of West makes me almost wish that I lived in Minnesota so that I could have been there (I'll take two tickets to Broadway and a visit to the AMNH and will be better in the morning). Another account of the evening comes from Mike Haubrich at Tangled Up With the Blue Guy and Kristine at Amused Muse is promising us video.

It should just be noted that attempts to link Darwin directly to eugenics, and from there to Nazism, run afoul of the fact that the Spartans were practicing eugenics, based on notions of animal and plant breeding, long before Darwin was born (and were admired by Hitler for it) and that the rise of eugenics after Darwin came amid "the eclipse of Darwin" during the late 19th and early 20th century, when natural selection was greatly discounted in evolutionary accounts.

As I said at Mike's blog, none of that excuses the role of biologists and many other scientists in the eugenics movement. It just goes to show that the attempt to simplistically link eugenics directly to "Darwinism" is to the history of science what young-Earth creationism is to the history of the planet.

Update: PZ has now weighed in with his own account. The take-away lesson:

I don't think West was doing history: he was practicing history in the same way creationists practice science, deciding what his conclusion was going to be and then going out to glean evidence to support it, ignoring any evidence that the situation might have been much more complex than he wants it to be. His so-called lessons for public policy are therefore the "garbage out" to his pseudo-historical "garbage in".
Oh, and TomS from makes the excellent point in the comments that he has made before but I, for one, always seem to forget:
So, if acceptance of evolution leads to eugenics, it is only evolution within "mankind" that has such a consequence. If the creationists were being consistent, how would they distance themselves from eugenics?
In other words, unless the eugenicist is trying to make a new species, he or she is merely trying to bring about the sort of "change within kinds" that creationists are always saying everbody accepts ... in which case the creationist is just as "guilty" as the "evolutionist" of encouraging the attempt. Or they would be if this argument had anything to do with sense, that is.

Update II: The Discovery Institute is declaring victory in the confrontation (based, it seems, on two phone calls Bruce Chapman received in the bunker back in Seattle), a result that would take more of a miracle than any the DI proposes for biology, as far as I can see. Mike Haubrich and PZ rain distain and other things down on that contention from great heights.

Update III: Kristine at Amused Muse has now written up a complete account of the evening and her video mate, Rev. Barking Nonsequitur, has joined in too (and, as of 12/03/07, where the video has now been posted).

P.S. John Lynch is a good friend of Mark Borrello's. This, then, is a good excuse to congratulate John, as does John Wilkins, on his being named the 2007 Arizona Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

The church has had the same response from the minute they grasped political power in ancient Rome. Kill the scientists, silence any dissenting voices and bring on the Dark Ages. Hmm... I think I feel a post coming on.
I think I feel a post coming on.

Good. That period of history has never been an interest of mine, so I'd be grateful for an intro on the subject.

You're very welcome. And thanks to you for doing your part so well to hold back the night in this country that, despite all its faults, I am still very fond of.
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