Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Discovery's Persecution Complex

When University of Idaho President Timothy White and Cornell University President Hunter Rawlings III forcefully stated the obvious, that intelligent design has about as much relation to science as fish have to bicycles, the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views blog cried long and loud that they were being persecuted.

Likewise, they were deeply offended by the unfortunate e-mails sent by religious studies prof. Paul Mirecki, and quick to condemn his "calous (sic) and nasty comments over the years about religon (sic)." The university, they sniffed, would be investigating Mirecki's "anti-religious and bigoted" comments.

But, that doesn't seem to stop them from smearing Darwin, scientists, teachers, and supporters of science education as racists, Nazis, eugenicists, and baby killers. Of course, anyone who opposes intelligent design is, by their somewhat tortured definition, an atheist. This last, by the way, is no mere accident. It is part of the strategy laid out by Phillip Johnson. It is done cold-bloodedly and with malice aforethought.

The latest example of this strategy can be found in Evolution News and Views which has published not one, but two, posts condemning the widely acclaimed Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.

In the first, published Dec. 1, "Museum Exhibit Supresses (sic) Darwin's Real Views on Eugenics, Race, and Capitalism," John West writes, "Charles Darwin was an early booster of both eugenics and the application of his biological theory to issues of race and economics."

Here's how it's done:

West, apparently, wasn't satisfied with his first effort, so yesterday, on Dec. 13, we got the second installment, "Rewriting History: Museum Fails to Disclose Own Role in Social Darwinism."

Here, West writes: "The Museum's current exhibit glancingly mentions eugenics as an aberration, but this so-called aberration was supported by most of America’s elite universities and scientists for several decades."

Darwin -- like Abraham Lincoln, who also opposed slavery, but thought blacks inferior -- was a man of his times. Many, though not all, educated people once embraced eugenics.

But, it is also true that many Evangelicals -- the well from which support for both creation "science" and intelligent design "theory" is drawn -- were also ardent supporters of eugenics.

Mary Teats, the National Purity Evangelist for the Women's Christian Temperance Union, for example, served as both a lecturer for the National Purity Association, and the Correspondence School of Gospel and Scientific Eugenics. Here she is in full cry:

The great and rapidly increasing army of idiots, insane, imbeciles, blind, deaf-mutes, epileptics, paralytics, the murderers, thieves, drunkards and moral perverts are very poor material with which to "subdue the world," and usher in the glad day when "all shall know the Lord, whom to know aright is life everlasting." There are hundreds and thousands of men and women today to whom in the interests of future generations, some rigid law should say, "Write this one childless." Men and women whose habits of life are such as to curse their offspring, should be prohibited from marrying.

For those RSR readers who would like to read more about Evangelicals and eugenics, an article by Dennis L. Durst, "Evangelical Engagements With Eugenics, 1900-1940" is available online from Ethics & Medicine magazine.

Although William Jennings Bryant, and other fundamentalist Christians opposed eugenics, it should not surprise us that many others -- who were concentrated in the Old South where support for slavery, Jim Crow, and opposition to evolution has always been most deeply rooted -- should also have been among the strongest supporters of eugenics.

Today, ringing denunciations of evolution are delivered from the very same pulpits where slave holders were once assured that they were doing god's work. The biblical literalism that lies behind both creationism and intelligent design finds no condemnation of slavery in the bible -- and much support for discrimination against women.

Kansas Sen. Kay O'Connor, a fundamentalist opponent of evolution who has been quick to condemn the Mirecki e-mails, for example, once said that giving women the vote was a symptom of weakness in the American family.

These days, support for Social Darwinism, comes not from scientists or the universities where it has been soundly rejected, but from the religious right -- they call it "rugged individualism" -- which forms the base of support for creationism and intelligent design.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, for example, says that "the philosophy among Republicans of sink or swim explains why some Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans still live in cars while Republicans in Washington prepare next week to enact $70 billion in tax breaks," reports Barbara Liston of Reuters.

"It's called the 'Ownership society' in Washington. This isn't the first time this philosophy has appeared. It used to be called Social Darwinism."

The primary water carrier in the effort to tar Darwin and science with the brush of racism and Nazism is Richard Weikart, the author of From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. In that book, Weikart argues that Darwinism played a key role not only in the rise of eugenics, but also in euthanasia, infanticide, abortion, and racial extermination, all ultimately embraced by the Nazis.

Red State Rabble has had a number exchanges with Weikart. You can read them, here. Weikart's book has also been reviewed by Sander Gliboff of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University:

The American creationist movement has been waging war against Darwin and modern science for decades, but their strategy is evolving. Instead of pitting only the Bible against the biology, they are cultivating their credentials in a variety of academic disciplines and attacking from many new directions. On the history front, Richard Weikart's book appropriates the Holocaust and indeed the entire course of Western civilization for the creationist side, as it traces a decline in Western morals from the Origin of Species to the origin of National Socialism. It is being sold at a big discount by the Discovery Institute, one of several organs of the religious right that is touting it as an argument against teaching evolution.

Gliboff goes on to note that Weikart skillfully "deploys the bugbear of naturalism to draw attention away from anti-Semitism, with its inconvenient Christian connections, as well as from any other intellectual, political, social, cultural, economic, diplomatic, military, or technological components of Nazism or factors in Hitler's success. The result, by scholarly standards, is an overly narrow and selective history, which makes only cursory use of the extensive secondary literature on the origins of National Socialism and the history of Darwinism."

The lesson in all this is that scientists and science educators must be very careful not to offend our sensitive brothers at the Discovery Institute. Scientists especially, used to the rough and tumble of ordinary scientific discourse, must use care.

No slight is too small to go unnoticed.

Do not blow off steam in an e-mail. Most important, do not approach a member of the brotherhood of bible college biologists and wish them a heart-felt Happy Holiday, or even a sincere Season's Greetings. If you do, you will be a bigot who is discriminating against them and their god.


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