March 13, 2007

Darwin Demonised: Unwarranted?

Creationist institutions and other detractors from evolutionary theory (or science in general) are often very vocal demonisers of Darwin. An entire fictional religious army is created of Darwinian Darwinists who support eugenics, racism, arbortions, murdering puppies and other crimes of moral indecency (such as killing God). These Darwinists have their own religion and good old Charlie is its unfallible leader and Origin it's unshakeable biblical text. It's a flight of fancy fuelled by xenophobic paranoia and self righteous ego. But does it hold any ground at all, even in the slightest?

Darwin's role in modern eugenics, racial theories and other heinous Bad Science is well documented in this nice article from Commonweal (via Philokalia Republic); but does it really affect the validity of modern evolutionary biology? Not in the slightest. Early atomic theorists (as in Greeks like Democritus and Socrates) had plenty of things wrong, and used it justify plenty of nonsense. Hippocrates was a strong supporter of Humorism, a long disproven theory of medicine (that bears no relation to Patch Adams).

So what does it affect? I'm not sure. I haven't seen any leading sources actually dismiss these claims against Darwin as outright false, just misleading. Darwin didn't found these fields, and they were already doing fine before evolution emerged, and they've long since been ditched by general science. Take a close look at PZ's response above, and this essay on the PBS website. None of it says "Darwin never said that".

Darwin was part of the club that perpetuated 20th century eugenics into the realm of science, and was undoubtably it's poster boy (whether he chose to be that mascot remains open to question). And it was a legacy carried on by buddies and relatives. This sort of information doesn't affect biology or actual science much. No more than pointing to Nazi bans against smoking really reduces the carcinogenic risk that second hand smoke poses. It does affect cultural ideas such as Darwin Day. It does affect things, such as the occasional demagogue-ification of Darwin by overzealous educators, atheists and science promoters. These people need to recognise and admit to the bad stuff Darwin did. Detractors need to get over it.


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