Sunday, October 4, 2009

Darwin, Racism & Things that Don't Matter

Finding a Creationist argument against evolution that is filled with ignorance and completely out of touch with reality is like finding someone named John – if you can’t find it you must not be looking very hard.  Yet there is one Creationist argument that manages to surpass its peers.  It is more ignorant than the “evolution is just a theory argument.  It’s more devoid of fact than the old receding moon argument*.  Yes, I am referring to the old “Darwin was a racist and so is evolution!1!1!!” argument.  Here is a fun recent example,  from a review of a new book called “DARWIN'S RACISTS - YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW” (no, I didn’t add the ALL CAPS, that was all them):

“DARWIN'S RACISTS - YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW exposes the real Charles Darwin: a racist, a bigot and 1800's naturalist whose legacy is mass murder. This well written book shows that Adolf Hitler, along with other genocidal mass murderers, was influenced by Darwin's half-baked Theory of Evolution. This book exposes Darwin's Theory of Evolution for what it is: an elitist and racist dogma that has infiltrated our every area of culture thereby undermining sense and sensibility.”

It would be hard for any other argument to fail this hard on so many levels.  Adding insults to ignorance is no way to win debates and this entire argument is utterly meaningless.  Let me count the ways.

It’s meaningless because it doesn’t matter if you like the facts.  Let’s pretend every single nasty thing the Discovery Institute, Ken Ham, Kent Hovind and all the rest ever said about Darwin and evolution leading to genocide and evil is 100% true.  In fact, let’s make up some more even worse things and let’s say they are true too.  So what?  Truth is not a democracy.  We don’t get to vote out our least favourite facts American Idol style.  Truth is truth, regardless of where it comes from or where it takes you.  Facts are facts no matter their implications. 

It’s meaningless because we don’t use scientific theories to determine our behaviour.  The Creationist insistence that exposing kids to evolution will turn them into raping, pillaging homicidal maniacs is about as out of touch with reality as you can get.  Do you stop thinking that your loved ones are special because atomic theory tells you they are just the same atoms, electrons (and lots of empty space) as everyone/everything else?  Do you push people down stairs because the theory of gravity compels you to?  Of course you don’t because that is ridiculous!  Scientific theories describe how the natural world functions and that is all they do.  They are descriptive, not prescriptive and therefore how we behave towards one another is on us, not the laws of nature. 

It’s meaningless because defaming the inventor does not defame the invention.  This is theological thinking at work – prove the prophet is a fraud and you render his message meaningless (See Swaggart & Haggard).  However while this may be the case in the field of ethics and morality, it hardly applies anywhere else.  If I could prove to you that the Wright brothers were paedophiles, would you stop flying?  If I could demonstrate beyond a shadow of doubt that the inventor of the wheel was a cannibal would you stop driving?  No?  Then why do they imagine that bigotry in Darwin’s life should be the silver bullet that kills the Theory of Evolution?  Many of our greatest scientists had some seriously kooky beliefs but we consistently don’t care because it’s irrelevant to their accomplishments.  Over here in the real world we don’t care that Newton stuck a needle in his eye just to see what would happen or that Tesla dreamed of death rays – their science stands independently of their eccentricities.

It’s meaningless because Darwin wasn’t the lord and king of racism.  If you listen to Creationists talk about Darwin you would swear the whole world was just filled with liberty, equality and brotherly love until he wrote The Origin of Species and ruined it for everybody.  The truth is that slavery, racism and bigotry was around for millennia by the time Darwin was born.  Darwin was not the evil racist he is made out to be, in fact he was very enlightened for his time - opposing slavery and treating people of all races with compassion.  The key words though being for his time.  Of course you can find racist statements by Darwin, he was a product of his time.  Look for instance at these words by a contemporary of Darwin:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

The person speaking here is none other than the great emancipator himself, Abraham Lincoln**.  See, while both Lincoln and Darwin were very liberal and enlightened for their time regarding race, we would still consider them incredibly racist.  It’s really pointless to go throwing around quotes by Darwin without considering the historical context of those words.

It’s meaningless because evolution did not influence Hitler.  I should probably just mention Godwin’s Law and move on, but since every Creationist ever seems the feel the need to connect Hitler to Darwin I feel I need to address this issue.  So then, here we go – you can’t blame Darwin for what Hitler did because:
- Hitler was not a fan of Darwin, in fact The Origin of Species was banned by the Nazis. 
- The only time Hitler ever used the word evolution in his book it was to refer to the development of political ideas in Germany.
- In Mein Kampf, while Hitler never mentions biological evolution, Darwin or eugenics he did in fact use God and Creationism as motivations for his ideas: “It is a sin against the will of the Eternal Creator if His most gifted beings by the hundreds and hundreds of thousands are allowed to degenerate in the present proletarian morass, while Hottentots and Zulu Kaffirs are trained for intellectual professions.”***
- Hitler didn’t need Darwin to whip the German people into a racist frenzy since anti-Semitism had been going strong in Europe for centuries (See Martin Luther’s fun little book “On the Jews and their lies”).
Seems to me like it’s a lot easier to make the case that Hitler was influenced by Christianity (just check out these Nazi artifacts) than to wangle a connection to Darwin!

It’s meaningless because racists always find reasons.  Hitler may have used the Christian faith to fuel his agenda but I don’t believe for a second that following Jesus turns you into a hatemongering anti-Semite.  It is as wrong to blame Christianity for Hitler as it is to blame Darwin.  Hitler did what he did because he was just that evil.  I believe he would have used the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales to further his agenda if he believed it would have helped.  Racism will always find a justification.  I don’t doubt that you can find people out there who really do use evolution as an excuse for their racism.  However when I grew up under Apartheid it had the full backing not of Darwin but of the church.  Pretty much all the Christian churches from Reformed to Pentecostal supported the idea that segregation was God’s idea and to a lesser extent that black people were supposed to be subservient due to the curse of Ham.  Again, I say this not to show that Christianity = racism but instead that people will always find reasons to justify racism.  I believe you will find racism in some form all over the world and I bet that every culture finds really sensible sounding reasons to justify it.  It’s probably a remnant of our tribal days, this sense of our side is totally good and their side is  totally bad****.  But as we grew more civilized we found more civilized reasons for it.  Whether it’s science, religion, your upbringing, because you got mugged or because they bombed Pearl Harbour – if you are being racist, the odds are you will find a reason to make it all sound logical and sensible to your own ears.

It’s meaningless because evolution must be the worst possible reasoning for white supremacy.  There are plenty of reasons why evolution does not equal racism, but here is just one.  Creationists seem to think that the evolutionary term “survival of the fittest” means that only the strongest, fastest and smartest will survive and that it therefore implies an elitist, winner-takes-all mentality.  It does not.  In evolutionary terms, “fittest” means “best at having offspring”.  Now take a look at population growth statistics and tell me if you think white people are “fittest”...  Far from supporting evil behaviour, “survival of the fittest” tends to undermine it.  Altruism makes you “fit”, being a good parent makes you “fit” – basically all the things that are good for family and community increase our “fitness”.  Being genocidal does not.

However I guess in the end the most meaningless thing to do is to try and convince those who buy into this fallacy regarding Darwin and racism that they are wrong.  I’ve had this conversation too many times to still believe it makes an actual impression on anyone who has their mind made up.  Somehow the facts will always be irrelevant.  For some reason they will still expect the organ music to swell and the ladies to faint when they reveal that the full title of Darwin’s book is (...wait for it...) “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.”  Nevermind the fact that we already know that.  Nevermind the fact that the only reason we call it “The Origin of Species” or simply “The Origin” is because saying “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” everytime you mention it is ridiculous.  Nevermind the fact that if you actually read “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” you would see that “races” refer to varieties of plants and animals, not black, white and Asian.  No they will still whip out that title in debates as if it’s a clove of garlic and you’re a vampire.  Guess that us vs. them thing is stronger than we like to admit.  No wonder we have such a hard time getting rid of racism…

 *  If you ever watched one of Kent Hovind's videos you know he loves this argument.  He claims that since the moon is moving away from the earth, if you go back in time the moon would be closer and if you go back millions of years the moon would have been so close it would have been pretty much on the surface of the earth (he makes a lame joke about the dinosaurs getting "mooned to death") and therefore it proves the earth is 6000 years old. You have to wonder how much time Hovind spent working this out.  Just using a pocket calculator I found the following:
The moon recedes at 4 cm per year (4 cm = 0.00004 km)
Rewinding 4500000000 years = 180000 km closer to earth
On average, the distance between the Moon and the Earth is 384403 km
Therefore at a recession of 4 cm per year the earth would have been approximately 204403 km away from the earth 4,5 billion years ago.  Science - It works, bitches!!

** Source: ABRAHAM LINCOLN, fourth debate with Senator Stephen A. Douglas, Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858.The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler, vol. 3, p. 14546 .

*** Since there is no way I'm linking to Mein Kampf, rather check out the very informative article:  Creationists, Hitler and Evolution

**** You have to love the irony here - the same engine that powers racism is powering this Creationist assault on Evolution.  When they ignore the Christianity of the Nazis and the KKK and instead blame evolution for every social ill ever it all comes down to the ancient instinct of "Our people good, your people bad!"


Tania said...

Excellent post! Having also grown up in apartheid SA I agree - our thinking is invariably impacted by our social reality. And if you do believe other races are inferior/evil/heathen you will find ways to make your argument stick. Whether the glue is religion, evolution or aunt Bessie's blueberry pie is usually irrelevant.

This makes me think of a Jewish memorial in Germany that consists of blocks of varying heights that cause a sense of displacement when one walks amongs them. The irony there is that the stuff they use to protect those blocks from graffiti artists (so the paint won't stick) is apparantly made by the same company that supplied the gas for the gas chambers way back.

Or maybe capitalism has no "us" and "them"!

GumbyTheCat said...

"However I guess in the end the most meaningless thing to do is to try and convince those who buy into this fallacy regarding Darwin and racism that they are wrong."

Uh, yeah... LOL.

However, it's still fun to watch them make complete asses out of themselves.