Sunday, October 4, 2009

battling the creationists, part two

It's all unexplained here

Continuing on from the last post, I couldn't help but keep on responding. Why oh why. I think because his own response was articulate enough to make civilized argument possible. I decided to forget about the biblical issues and focus wholly on evolution:

Hello Carl.

How interesting to learn that Creation Ministries International has a branch in Australia. No doubt you'll love to see us all CMI-ling.

I've read Darwin's Origin of Species and am currently reading his Voyage of the Beagle, hence my interest in 'Darwin and the Fuegians'. I was naturally shocked, but also sceptical, about the story Darwin recounted of cannibalism in that region, and so I googled the subject and came up with the essay on your website.

I should also say that I've read a smattering of Darwin's other writing, as well as more than one biography, as well as books on the theory of evolution by natural selection, by the likes of Stephen J Gould and Richard Dawkins, not to mention scores of scientific articles. I've listened to lectures, radio programs, TV docos and the like, presenting the subject from any number of angles. By general lay standards I'm reasonably well educated on Darwin and the theory that he and Wallace developed, independently of each other but based on similar empirical data.

I'm also familiar with the charges of racism levelled at Darwin, almost invariably by Christian creationists. They usually quote from The Descent of Man, and I've examined those passages for myself.

Unlike The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man is full of footnotes and references to contemporary and antecedent thinkers. This places it much more firmly in the context of its time than the earlier, more original work. Virtually every 'racist' observation made by Darwin in this work is a gloss on other scientists' 'racist' observations. Darwin tended to call the indigenous inhabitants of the regions he visited 'savages', particularly when discussing them in a general way. So did every other white writer of his time, no matter how scientific.Darwin believed that black-skinned people were inferior to white-skinned people [though probably not 'naturally' so].So did 99.999% of his compatriots at the time. This is not an exaggeration, it's an uncontroversial fact. As you should know, in Australia it was the mainstream view, even fifty years after Darwin's death, that our Aborigines were morally and intellectually inferior to white people, and that they should be 'encouraged' to die out.

If Darwin was racist, so was the whole of western 'civilized' society - an obvious fact that you people seem reluctant to point to. Darwin was a creature of his time. Aristotle thought slaves were sub-human. Immanuel Kant thought women had infantile, untrainable minds. Not even the greatest genius can transcend the prejudices of his or her age.

You point out correctly that Darwin's personal views have little to do with the validity of the theory of natural selection - the most successful and productive theory in the history of biology. The fact remains though that many of your fellow Christians seem determined to personally denigrate Darwin - clearly in the hope that this will somehow weaken his credentials as a theorist. It's also a depressing fact that Christian propaganda groups such as yours have manipulated your way to the top of search lists, thus giving your extremist views a fair greater prominence than your numbers merit. I'll continue to try to do my bit to redress the balance.

Stewart Henderson

This, hopefully, dealt with the issue of racism. Racism wasn't of course a word in Darwin's time. Words arise when there is a need for them, and there was no need for a word for racial discrimination in the nineteenth century, because everyone practised it. Racial inequality seemed obvious then.

But Carl was far from finished. Here's his next response:

Hi Stewart.

I suppose depending on where people are coming from will make a big difference to the gloss they put on things, mostly it's an unconscious thing. But truth matters, at the end of the day.

Certainly society was more racist back then than it is now. But there is a strong case for Darwin's theory anticipating substantial biological differences between the races, hence the comments by Dr Peter Bowler on the Darwin film to which I earlier referred.

Here is the actual transcript, some of this was not used in the movie itself: (NB Bowler is a leading Darwin historian and no friend of creationists):

P (09:00:36:23) … they hoped that they will be able to educate the various races of man kind in the arts of civilisation but there was always this nagging problem of is it going to be possible. And one thing that’s characteristic of the general direction of European’s thought during the 19th century is there were increasingly harder line taken on that which we see reflected in Darwin himself.

That by the time he writes The Descent of Man in 1871 it’s pretty clear that he by that time shares the growing suspicion or conviction of many Europeans. The non white races simply do not have the capacity to be elevated properly into civilised human beings that they are mentally and morally at a more limited level. In a sense they are stuck at an early stage in the biological evolution of the human species.

(09:01:42:06) So their way of life may offer us a fossilised relic of what our own ancestors lived like in the distant prehistoric past. But now Darwin and many of his contemporaries are beginning to realise that what they needed to claim that they are biologically relics of the past. They are in fact equivalent to earlier stages in the ascent from the apes who have been preserved in isolated locations, preserved with those earlier levels of mental and moral development.

And as leading evolutionist the late Prof. SJ Gould of Harvard pointed out, though scientific justifications for racism were common before Darwin, they increased by orders of magnitude following the publication of his book in 1859. We have in the past also cited secular sources for the fact that the treatment of Australian aboriginals took a nosedive following the publication of the book. And this makes perfect sense, as does the link between Darwinism as strong inspiration for Hitler's views - confirmed in spades recently by academics such as Prof Weikart.

Darwinism-inspired eugenics was extremely common in the US prior to WW2; see . It's likely that it is the world's discovery of the horrors of the Holocaust which caused racism to become unpopular.

If you doubt any of the above, the references are there on our website in the Q and A section. Of course, as indicated before, if evolution were the correct explanation for all of life's diversity and brilliant designs (a philosophical necessity for a non-theist) then it would merely be unfortunate that it happened to inspire racism, holocaust, etc. - the bad fruits of a belief do not affect whether it's true or not. But it makes it even more tragic and unfortunate when wellmeaning but misguided churchians seek to encourage their fellows to embrace this belief system uncritically.



BTW, Australia is where this ministry began, not the US. It has been going since the late 70s.

Dr Carl Wieland

Managing Director

Creation Ministries International Ltd (Australia)

Well, I wasn't going to leave things there. I must always have the last word. I'll continue this in the next post.

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