Saturday, June 13, 2009


Exegesis Excavations

David Klinghoffer is playing the 'Darwinism causes people to do bad things, so don't believe modern evolutionary science' card again.

It started this time with his post "James von Brunn, Evolutionist" at his blog, Kingdom of Priests at BeliefNet. Von Brunn is the lunatic white supremacist who shot up the Holocaust Museum, killing a guard. Basically, Klinghoffer is claiming that von Brunn is an "evolutionist," because he had views that Klinghoffer himself admits are "distorted" views of evolutionary theory but, nonetheless, von Brunn's crazed actions are supposedly part of "Darwinism's ongoing moral legacy."

Of course, in order to equate "Darwinism" with modern evolutionary theory, Klinghoffer has to keep switching back and forth between Darwin's admittedly 19th Century social views, including those that are, by 21st Century standards, racist and sexist, and today's science. In the course of this dishonest exercise, Klinghoffer, in order to try to link "Darwinism" with the eugenics movement, produces a quote mine of Darwin so dishonest even Ben Stein has repudiated it. He also has to speak of "Darwin believers," as if modern science is a religion wedded to the words of a prophet. And he has to commit the logical fallacy of an appeal to consequences:

[I]deas have consequences and knowing those consequences can rightly prompt us to look with renewed skepticism at a given idea, whether religious or scientific. 9/11 was a good reason to go back and take a second look at Islam. Not to reject it, but to consider it critically. The Crusades are a good reason to do the same with Christianity. Not to reject it, but to think twice. That's all.
Of course, it is one thing to question beliefs that are based on tradition and so-called "revelations," and quite another to question the empirical facts of the world as revealed by science. In fact, it is the basic precept of science -- that the universe is intelligible to human reason and powers of observation -- that creationists like Klinghoffer deplore ... making their attempts to get ID recognized as science all the more pathetic. But if we are questioning ideas, why not gravity? After all, the concept has been so abused in the past that we have come up with a separate word for it: "defenestration."

Having dug himself into a hole and ignoring the common sense advice in such an event to stop digging, Klinghoffer posted "What if James von Brunn Had Been an Intelligent Design Advocate?" Having had his hat ... and the attached head ... handed to him in the comments to those posts, Klinghoffer decamped to the Discovery Institute's propaganda outlet, Evolution News & Views ("The misreporting of the evolution issue is one key reason for this site."), where comments are not allowed, though he did, to his small credit, post a snippet and a link to EN&V at his Kingdom of Priests blog.

Rather than plow this ground again, I recommend reading the comments (one, two and three), particularly those of "Turmarion" and Glen Davidson. I do want to especially highlight this comment from Turmarion:

June 13, 2009 12:58 AM

Repeated from the previous post, since I still haven't got a response to my questions, it's pretty far down on the last, and I think the point bears repeating:

David: Why would the incredibly popular and influential work called Mein Kampf not be a reason to think twice about Darwinism? Not to reject it, but to get yourself properly informed and make up your own mind rather than simply go along with the prestige culture and media view.

Here David is fully (and falsely) equating a scientific theory with religion. In fact, further down, he says:

It doesn't negate the point to remind me that Hitler put his own wicked spin on kindly Charles Darwin's words...Nor that today's evolutionary scientists, unlike their fairly recent predecessors, do not truck with racism (though some certainly do truck with anti-religious agitation, reserving special venom for the God of the Hebrew Bible). All these same things could be said about religion-based haters of today and centuries past. They too distort their tradition. Yet they emerge from it, and so, again, that's a sound reason to give a second, skeptical look to the relevant religious traditions. (emphasis added)

This paragraph makes it completely clear that David views scientific theories (and like many Americans, he erroneously identifies "theory" with "hypothesis", which he further misunderstands as "mere guess") as pretty much no different from religions. It's especially ironic that he comments on those who "reserve special venom for the God of the Hebrew Bible", and then three sentences later says that distortion of religious tradition is a "sound reason to give a second, skeptical look to the relevant religious traditions." Given that the Hebrew Bible itself mandates genocide ("kill every one that pisseth against the wall"--I'm not going to bother to give specific quotes, since I've done it before--just read Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel, and I and II Chronicles for highlights, and Google "Amalek"), this is, to say the least, either hilarious, droll, inconsistent, or way out there, depending on one's point of view.

By the way, as a Christian myself, I'm not attacking Christianity or Judaism. It's just that if the less savory aspects of the Hebrew Bible were brought up to David as an attack on his faith, he'd take issue with it, no doubt, but is at the same time claiming that negative fallout from religion merits a second look at those traditions. Can't have it both ways!

In any case, the equation of scientific theory and religion is totally specious. Evolution or any other scientific theory, regardless of any social, moral, or metaphysical implications, good or bad, stands or falls solely based on empirical grounds rooted in the scientific method. One might "make up one's own mind" about a religion, since no religion can be either proved or disproved empirically or philosophically; better or worse reasons for adherence might be put forth, but that's not the same as proof. On the other hand, regardless of evolution's reputed socio-cultural effects, "making up one's own mind" on it makes no more sense than making up one's own mind on the spherical shape of the Earth, or heliocentrism, or the speed of light. These are ; one may choose to reject them, just as one may insist that 2+2=743.1, but that doesn't alter the way the world is.

I've pointed out to David before, in this regard, that some historians of ideas have argued that the socio-cultural effects of the heliocentric cosmos were largely negative, and yet no one suggests it should be given "a second, skeptical look" or that geocentrism is true for these reasons. Of course, he has yet to address this.

Once more, this is just another example of David's using subtle and disingenuous rhetorical techniques to argue that evolution's truth or falsity depends on its social effects, real or otherwise, and to equate it with a religious belief. What's worse, he makes all these provocative statements linking evolution causally with Nazism, eugenics, and now murder, and then when he's called on it, he retreats back to a "I'm just sayin'" defense and saying it's not about rejecting evolution, but taking a second look at it and making up one's own mind. This is disingenuous and deceptive.

Finally, I notice that David still hasn't answered the questions I explicitly directed to him. If he is sincere in wanting dialogue, he should come clean. Otherwise, he is just engaging in talking points and ugly slurs that might play well with the ID/creationist community, but will only alienate anyone else.

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