Monday, August 10, 2009


In the Land of the Inane

Can David Klinghoffer become any more intellectual inane?

Given his starting point, that is a close question, but there is no doubt that he's in there giving it the good ol' college try.

His latest attempt is contained in a post at his blog, Kingdom of Priests, entitled "Charles Manson, Evolutionist." The entire basis for that characterization is a quote from "talent scout Gregg Jakobson, who spent many hours, over the course of a year and a half (1968-69), talking with Manson about his philosophy." In Jakobson's secondhand account of Manson's ravings (calling them a "philosophy" is inanity number one):

... Charlie "believed there were different levels when it came to race, and the white man occupied a higher level than the black." This was why Charlie was so strongly opposed to black-white sex; "you would be interfering with the path of evolution, you would be mixing up nervous systems, less evolved with more evolved."

Amazingly, Klinghoffer, no doubt because he knows his commetariat, who are quite good at refuting his nonsense, will bring it up if he doesn't, has the gall to say this with a straight face:

Manson also claimed to find justification in the book of Revelation and the Beatles' White Album, though any genuine link with those sources was purely a product of his twisted imagination. By contrast, in The Descent of Man and elsewhere, Charles Darwin wrote of degrees of racial superiority and of racial conflict and genocide as inevitable features of biological evolution.

Of course, modern evolutionary theory (which it is inane to expect someone with a twisted imagination to understand) holds that "race" is nothing more than a group of minor variations in local populations of a single species, H. sapiens ... exactly the sort of evolution that the Discovery Institute keeps telling us that Intelligent Design Creationism fully accepts. To the extent that Darwin was wrong about the "superiority" of one human group over another (which bore a lot in common with the American exceptionalism that many evolution deniers still proclaim and certainly was no worse than the Biblical defense of slavery and discrimination common both before and after the Civil War), modern science has rejected those notions. Darwin, unlike the author of Revelation, was and is no prophet and no scientist has proclaimed his writings to be "inerrant." In fact, since modern science and ID share the same attitude toward race, Manson is no more an "evolutionist" than he is an IDer.

Besides the blatant try at guilt by association (notwithstanding a feeble disclaimer) and the special pleading that exuses past errors of Bible believers but not scientists, the whole of Klinghoffer's screed is based on a fallacious Argument from Consequences. According to Klinghoffer, "Ideas have consequences" and the fact that he thinks the consequences are bad is, to him, "more than a good reason to take a second look at the science behind it." While he makes noises to the effect that he understands that the supposed consequences do not "mean that the Darwinian idea is false as a scientific description of how life developed," he fails utterly to then explain why it is any grounds to take any second look at the science.

He does, however, probably unwittingly, reveal exactly what ID is: an attempt to come up with any excuse at all, no matter how lame or bereft of logic, why evolution is not true solely because he and the other IDers do not like what it means for their narrow sectarian beliefs.

When Klinghoffer and the others tell us that "ideas have consequences," one wonders just what they mean.

Charles Manson now joins Hitler and Stalin as someone who drew certain consequences from pre-Modern Synthesis evolutionary theory. Now, it is a curious fact, and one that IDers really should endorse, that there are such things as correct and incorrect inferences. The consequences of an assertion do not consist in any mere jumble of psychological associations -- they lie in the logical relations between concepts.

So the question is not whether Manson, Hitler, or Stalin formed an association of ideas, but whether the consequences have the correct logical relation to the premises.

Many times I've asked IDers to show me that Hitler and Stalin were correct in believing that Darwinism justifies genocide. But the purported reconstructions which I've been shown all depend on accepting as premises certain "narrow sectarian beliefs," as you charitably put it.

To put such arguments in a condensed form:

1) In order for individual human beings to have intrinsic value/worth/dignity, "materialism" must be false.

2) Therefore, anyone who accepts "materialism" must deny that individual human beings have intrinsic value/worth/dignity.

Put this way, the argument seems valid -- insofar as (2) follows from (1) -- but since (1) is almost certainly false, the argument is not sound.
Frankly, I don't think they really get that far. The argument seems to be:

X is a bad person;

X used the word "evolution" (or, even more vaguely, used "transparently Darwinian arguments");

Therefore, evolution is bad.

Implicitly followed by "don't believe bad things."

Whether Klinghoffer and the many other IDers who use this argument see its fallacy and just use it because they cynically think their target audience is not very bright is an open question.
Well, I was being charitable. I like to attack the strongest version of my opponent's argument -- even if the version is stronger than what they actually say.

I tend to think that they don't see that's a bad argument, and moreover, that they cannot see that it's a bad argument.
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