Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Darwin's Tree of Death

By David Klinghoffer

Darwinism's modern day advocates prefer to forget that ideas have consequences. Yet even a scientific idea may have disastrous consequences, as Darwin's earliest critics foresaw. One such prophet was Darwin's own professor of natural science when he was at Cambridge, Adam Sedgwick.

In a letter to Darwin dated December 24, 1859, just after the Origin of Species had been published, Sedgwick warned that if the new book were successful in making its case, then "humanity, in my mind, would suffer a damage that might brutalize it, and sink the human race into a lower grade of degradation than any into which it has fallen since its written records tell us of its history."

Theoreticians of racist imperialism, Marxism, Hitlerism, and modern pseudo-scientific eugenics have all cited Darwinian theory, its subsuming of man among the kingdom of the animals, as an inspiration.

Closer to home, in America in the 21st century, evolutionary theory lends support to moral relativism and the increasingly widespread notion that a human being possesses no more innate dignity than any other beast. Evolutionary theory has undermined the once universal belief in human exceptionalism, the idea that there is something inherently sacred in being a human. That belief once granted the right of protection to unborn children, handicapped adults, and disabled senior citizens.

People are blunter about this in Europe than we are in the U.S. Thus Baroness Mary Warnock, hailed by the London Daily Telegraph as "Britain's leading moral philosopher," argues that Alzheimer patients have a "duty to die." In a 2008 interview, she said that assisted suicide for Britain's 700,000 citizens suffering from dementia is the right course.

This widespread failure to distinguish between people and animals is a moral disease we may call animalism. Both the elite and mass media are rife with it. When New York governor Eliot Spitzer was disgraced and forced out of office by a 2008 prostitution scandal, New York Times science reporter Natalie Angier leapt into the fray of the controversy with an article pointing out in detail how common adultery and even sex-for-hire are in the animal kingdom.

The star authority in the piece was a chortling University of Washington psychology professor, David Barash, author of The Myth of Monogamy, who pointed out that the only animal that seems not to cheat on its mate is a kind of flatworm that resides in the gills of some freshwater fish. "Sexual promiscuity is rampant throughout nature, and true faithfulness a fond fantasy," reasoned Angier, so why the big fuss about Spitzer's dalliances?

So when bad guys have used Darwin to justify racism and other evils, were they abusing his thought? Consider Darwin himself on "lower" peoples.

The "extermination" (a favorite word of Darwin in his writings) of failed races, whether animal or human, is a great theme in Darwin's books and a key feature in the advance of the evolutionary process as he conceived it. The elimination of human groups was a phenomenon parallel to that of animal groups: "The New Zealander seems conscious of this parallelism," Darwin reflected in the Descent of Man, "for he compares his future fate with that of the native rat now almost exterminated by the European rat."

Reflecting on the terror that Europeans once felt about the rise of the Turkish nation, Darwin celebrated, in a letter to the Irish philosopher William Graham, "Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world."

He saw advantages to the unapologetic way barbarians went about the labor of killing off the weak.

Darwin entertained no faith in the equality of races. In the Descent he wrote that the "mental characteristics" of the human races, including the "light-hearted, talkative negroes," are "very distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotional, but partly in their intellectual faculties."

The implications of this theory were plain, and he spelled them out in his scientific writing. Inferior races and peoples were simply lower down on the tree of life - they were losers in the struggle for existence and would, in the course of nature's normal way, be eliminated.

Darwin observed that "when civilized nations come into contact with barbarians, the struggle is short." The problem came if the dynamic of struggle was somehow impeded. This would be "highly injurious to the race of man." There was little hope that backward peoples would somehow advance to equality with their betters.

A difference between Darwinian and pre-Darwinian racism is that the pre-Darwinian variety regarded "barbarians" not as permanently inferior quasi-animals but as something more like children. Animals remain animals. Children, at least, will naturally grow up and mature.

The late Stephen Jay Gould, a modern scientific champion of Darwinism, admitted that "Biological arguments for racism...increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory."