Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Charles Darwin and Eugenics: The Standard of Evidence Required To Make the Case

This is not a judicial matter,  the charge that Charles Darwin inspired eugenics.   It is not going to be decided in a law court but by people in the world.   Going past the legal standards of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, Darwin's champions insist on a standard of absolute proof of guilt for their hero, that he would have had to have explicitly endorsed forced sterilization and genocide.  Absolute proof of guilt.  That is a standard of evidence that is insisted on by true believers of many personality cults throughout history and no matter how many letters the true believer has after their name.   I'm unaware of anyone else in science whose reputation enjoys that level of impunity,  those kinds of figures are more common to politics, religion and pop-culture.   For the most hard bitten of the true believers in the mythical Charles Darwin his cult has constructed , it would have to be proved that he, himself, did those things with his own hands . 

But the charge isn't that Darwin drew up and endorsed the complete history of eugenics as it became real in the world,  the charge is that he inspired it, that he established its premise that he gave it his blessing as Galton and others established the "science" during its gestation to full term.   One of the first lines of defense by his champions is the deliberate distortion of that charge into an absurdity that couldn't be true, in lieu of presenting a case against the accusation as its made.  That is what happened when Allen Miller inserted it, irrelevantly, against  me during an argument about an unrelated matter*.  That was my inspiration for this series of posts overturning the phony Darwin that so much of his ideology stands on.   I want to destroy that one so the real Charles Darwin will be known in his own words and deeds.

This isn't going to be decided by either of those most stringent of legal standards of proof mentioned above, it's going to be decided by persuasion,  and there is no persuasive case that Charles Darwin is innocent of inspiring eugenics.   As noted in a previous post the evidence is not going to be overturned unless that can be done in the words of Charles Darwin, Francis Galton and other eugenicists.  It will have to be made against the actions and words of Darwin's own children who knew him more intimately than any of us.  Any eugenicist who cited Darwin as their inspiration, and myriads of them did, proves the case that he inspired them.  His own endorsements of books by those developing eugenics, of spouting eugenics arguments and proto-eugenics confirms he said the things that inspired them.

Most people have no practical reason to care about evolution.   As compared to many of the other topics that could be included in a high school biology course, nutrition, viral and bacterial infection, other kinds of disease and illness, all knowledge that could lead to maintaining health, preventing pregnancy and disease, saving the biosphere, ...   evolution is one of the least useful.

What would be rightly taken as an obscure and esoteric study, if judged by its importance to most people,  has taken an outrageous amount of the world's attention.   There are ideological reasons for that, as someone noted at Sandwalk blog last week, certainly the strongest of those is the use that atheists make of evolution to attack religion, an effort that began almost as soon as On the Origin of Species was published and translated into German.  Virtually all of the early followers of Darwin and many up to today have been openly and strongly anti-religious,  Huxley, Galton,  Haeckel,  ...  their complete works all contain statements of extreme hostility to religion.  And today the ultra-Darwininsts,  Dawkins, Dennett, are famous for their attacks on religion and have made themselves, unfortunately, the representatives of evolutionary science to many ignorant people.  I would include many of their admirers among those.  On the other side, of course,  religious fundamentalists absolutely reject the possibility that anything outside of Genesis could be true.  They also make false charges, quite often, but not all of their assertions, outside of science,  are unfounded.

Outside of biology -where the reputation of Charles Darwin has no real place - the foremost use of  Darwin among those who accept evolution has been in a continuing war against religion and, conversely,  for fundamentalism within religion.   Charles Darwin is a mascot of the most obnoxious kind of atheists and they are the major constituency for forcing him and the baggage he left onto science.   Given what he wrote in The Descent of Man, in other published material, his letters and notebooks, the racism that is obvious, the ethnic bigotry,  the male supremacy, the clear disdain he has for poor people and the disabled - he continually presents them as a danger to the entire humans species -  his clear preference for his own class of the wealthy even within supposed science publications,  all of that makes Charles Darwin a millstone around the neck of science in a time when evolutionary science has moved on far, far from where it needs a St. Darwin.

But today, the case for the eugenics-free Charles Darwin is lost for anyone who wants to read the record.   Charles Darwin, himself, cited Galton and Haeckel and others as understanding what he'd said in On the Origin of Species, he never rejected their developing application of his ideas as misrepresenting them., he praised them and cited them and those very books and articles.    When Galton credits Darwin and On the Origin of Species as the inspiration of his eugenics, he sealed that case.  And Galton wasn't the only eugenicist who Darwin endorsed,  Ernst Haeckel, as I will show in a later post, also had Charles Darwin's endorsement as he was embarking on an even more extreme eugenics effort.

True believers will believe in their heroes' sanctity no matter what evidence is presented.  The mythical Charles Darwin constructed in the post-war period has the advantage that so few of its fans have read much if any of what he wrote,  If one in a hundred have read The Descent of Man through, I'll eat a copy of it.  Virtually none of them have looked at what Galton, Schallmeyer, Leonard Darwin, Ernst Haeckel,  Karl Pearson, and others relevant to this case have written.  The Darwin myth is founded in ignorance of the primary documents, relying on clearly ideological secondary material and tertiary garbage.  The irony in that is that some of the primary material often makes it into the creationist literature, the most honest of it,  Though most of creationist argument also sinks into secondary and tertiary irrelevance and dishonesty.   But history shows that the creationist use of Charles Darwin has been more of a political success, convincing more people that the science is wrong than the mythical Darwin as presented by the BBC, PBS, and the large Darwin Industry  has been.

And what is science doing by presenting a cult of personality in place of the science as it stands today, in the first place?   Science is best sold to non-scientists by presenting solid science that won't get overturned in a future news cycle.**

Scientists who want to protect science will have to address the primary record left by Darwin and the relevant eugenicists honestly if they want to overcome that political liability.   It's way past due for some prominent evolutionary biologist to break with the Darwin myth and to lay out the fact that eugenicists either directly took their ideas from Darwin or they were filtered through those who had. and that they had Darwin's approval as they were doing it.    They will need to address that Darwin's children were major figures in early eugenics, especially Leonard Darwin.   Those things are far more understandable to most people, even those who have college degrees, than molecular and other evidence that supports evolution.  It will be hard enough to present a convincing scientific case for evolution.   Presenting a Darwin puppet that is so clearly not credible hasn't worked and it won't work with any but ignorant people.

* When you hear the word "Darwin", your first association is frequently "Hitler",   Allan Miller   Sandwalk Blog August 9, 2012

That bit of snark turned out to be my limit of toleration for that tactic of dishonest argument.  His clearly unhinged fellow Darwin champions, "Diogenes" and "J Thomson"  also used it.  I wasn't surprised, it's a continuing feature of the new atheist discourse.

You can read my response to Miller and the ensuing brawl at the link.   Please, notice who provided documentation and citation in the argument if you read it.

** I would bet anyone that most of what the college educated audience could tell you about that is the  pseudo-science of "evolutionary"  psychology,  an effort that less extreme admirers of Darwin,  such as Steven J. Gould and Richard Lewontin,  warned against as a revival of eugenics.

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