Friday, May 20, 2011

Darwin's Children

I begin this post by noting that the Neanderthal which plays such an important role in Darwinism was named for the seventeenth century theologian Joachim Neander who was fired from his position for refusing to take Holy Communion. It seems like an appropriate historical reference to the ongoing conflict between religion and science. Neander used to take walks in what became known as Neander's Valley and later on fossils were discovered there. Today a Neanderthal is someone who refuses to see the wisdom of the Darwinian vision of life. They are stuck in the present and cannot learn from the past. They are out of it. They are the ones who would take Holy Communion and think there is something spiritual going on there.

Darwinism does not allow for the spiritual. It's all natural; natural selection explains everything. That's the problem. To Darwinists we are all really just cavemen. In 1871 Darwin published The Descent of Man which presented an entirely naturalistic interpretation of man. There is no difference between human beings and animals. "It's a dog eat dog world" and "it's a jungle out there"- the survival of the fittest, you know. Darwin said that with mankind intellectual faculties were gradually perfected through natural selection so that the more intelligent ruled the less intelligent. This pointed out the problem that the more intelligent were having to support the less intelligent. They were contributing to the well being of society while the less intelligent were just reproducing. Quoting the Scot, William Rathbone Greg with approval, Darwin wrote: "the careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman, fed on potatoes, living in a pigsty, doting on superstition, multiplies like rabbits... while the Scotsman, selfrespecting, frugal, sagacious, self-disciplined in his intelligence, marries late and leaves few behind... so it is the inferior and less favored race that prevails ... prevails not by virtue of its good qualities but by virtue of its faults... Thus, were sowed the seed of eugenics. It was common knowledge that selective breeding was the answer to growing good stock in agriculture. It was Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, who coined the term eugenics which means "born well". He founded the Eugenics Society in London in 1907. His idea was that the corruption of the race by weaker specimens could be corrected by the proper use of eugenic technologies. So impressed was President Calvin Coolidge by this idea that he signed the Immigration Act of 1924 restricting immigration to favored races and nationalities. Indiana in 1907 passed a law permitting the compulsory sterilization of the unfit. In Europe, eugenicist Julian Huxley wrote, " We must be able to pick out the genetically inferior stocks with more certainty and we must set in motion counter forces making for faster reproduction of superior stocks... this is not possible without the alteration of the social system." The eugenics system of helping out the "natural selection" process whenever possible was well underway. With an echo of Darwinism, Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, " positive steps must be taken to encourage the flourishing of the fitter because the system itself often works against them." Hitler's National Socialism party took action on these ideas. In 1933 they passed a law permitting forced sterilization based on the work of American eugenicist, Harry Laughlin, who had written of the need to sterilize the socially inadequate classes, including those of feeble mind. [much of the above is taken from Darwin's Pious Idea by Conor Cunningham, pp 179-189]

Marilynne Robinson (her book is The Death of Adam) notes Darwin's belief that the progressive evolution of mankind through natural selection would be perfected by the struggle for survival. He wrote in The Descent of Man, "at some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world." He went on to say in the same book that civilized men should do what we can to insure that the weak do not survive. Just as we do not allow our worst animals to breed so the breeding of weak members of society, ie, the imbecile, the maimed, the poor, and the sick, is injurious to society. Darwin noted that vaccinations preserved thousands of a poor constitution who would formerly have died of smallpox. Most people today ignore this later thinking of Darwin but his earlier work, The Origin of the Species, included this thought in it's title: the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. It makes one wonder how "random" natural selection is and if Darwin did not see a greater purpose in his theory, ie, the survival of the favored races. Darwin's influence is felt today far beyond the sciences. Robinson notes an essay in Time by Robert Wright(commenting on the Bill Moyers PBS series on Genesis) in which Wright stated Science (just another name for Darwinism) has replaced the fables of Genesis. Since Darwin we know Genesis is wrong: human nature is not benign, we have that selfish gene instilled by that other "creator" natural selection. So the main traits driving our lives are selfishness and competition no matter what illusions we might hold of other compassionate qualities. Nietzche, of course, saw where this was going. In his Ecce Homo he wrote that if we look ahead ..."that party of life which takes in hand the greatest of all tasks, the higher breeding of humanity, together with the remorseless destruction of all degenerate and parasitic elements" .... and we saw what that looked like in Nazi Germany. Konrad Lorenz, the biologist whose experiments most of us studied in basic science courses, was a Darwinian and a Nazi who compared the "degenerative types in society to "asocial" cancerous cells that destroy the cellular structure. He wrote that in 1943 and as late as 1973 he was still writing that "our sympathy with the asocial defective whose inferiority might be caused just as well by irreversible injury in early infancy as by hereditary defects, endangers the security of the non defective."

Robinson writes that in place of Biblical Adam Darwinists have substituted a creature who shares essential attributes with whatever beast has recently been observed behaving shabbily in the state of nature. Genesis tries to describe human exceptionalism and Darwinism tries to discount it. From Malthus (an early influencer of Darwin) to Nietzsche to Darwin to Hitler to Freud the impulse has been to desacralize humankind. There is no place in this line of thought for the human soul, for that which makes humans different from animals. The Bible is so little known today that the works of Darwin's latest popularizers like Dennett and Dawkins go largely unchallenged. Similarly, Darwinism is so accepted today as fact that when we hear people talk about natural selection as the answer to everything human, we barely bat an eye. "The modern fable is that science (Darwinism) exposed religion as a delusion and more or less supplanted it." (Death of Adam, 71). "But science cannot serve in the place of religion because it cannot generate an ethics, or a morality... it can give us no grounds for preferring what is excellent to what is sensationalistic ... and that is more or less where we are now." (71)