Monday, May 7, 2007

Conservatives and Darwin

Well, they're at it again: Blaming Nazism and Communism on Darwin, and this time, The New York Times is responsible for regurgitating the same old, thoroughly debunked story. In a May 5th story, George Gilder is quoted as saying:

Skeptics of Darwinism like William F. Buckley, Mr. West and Mr. Gilder also object. The notion that “the whole universe contains no intelligence,” Mr. Gilder said at Thursday’s conference, is perpetuated by “Darwinian storm troopers.”

“Both Nazism and communism were inspired by Darwinism,” he continued. “Why conservatives should toady to these storm troopers is beyond me.”

Aside from the obvious (The Communist Manifesto was written 11 years before Origin of Species), and the fact that Stalin actively suppressed Darwin's ideas in the 1950s, there are clearly more important motivations for communism than Darwin. It's like saying that both Stalin and Hitler had a mustache, so all people with mustaches are clearly mass murderers. It's nonsensical.

As for Nazism, Hitler certainly did not need Darwin's science to come to the idea that certain unfavorable traits could be removed from a population by selective breeding; that realization stretches back through thousands of years of human civilization. Take a look at dog breeders, farmers, even pigeon fanciers, who have bred out unfavorable traits for thousands of years. Darwin may may have formalized the knowledge in science, but here was no "secret" truth that Darwin alone came upon. Hitler's atrocities came about because he identified ethnic origin as an unfavorable trait, and sought to use the force of government eradicate the Jewish people, leading to the holocaust. The idea that natural selection ought to be government policy simply doesn't originate in Darwin. Darwin identified a natural process, a process that works all on its own.

Now, the story is actually about a larger split amongst conservatives about how to approach evolution and Darwin. The argument is outlined below:

For some conservatives, accepting Darwin undercuts religious faith and produces an amoral, materialistic worldview that easily embraces abortion, embryonic stem cell research and other practices they abhor. As an alternative to Darwin, many advocate intelligent design, which holds that life is so intricately organized that only an intelligent power could have created it.

Yet it is that very embrace of intelligent design — not to mention creationism, which takes a literal view of the Bible’s Book of Genesis — that has led conservative opponents to speak out for fear their ideology will be branded as out of touch and anti-science.

Some of these thinkers have gone one step further, arguing that Darwin’s scientific theories about the evolution of species can be applied to today’s patterns of human behavior, and that natural selection can provide support for many bedrock conservative ideas, like traditional social roles for men and women, free-market capitalism and governmental checks and balances.

The bottom line here, however, is that both sides of the debate seem to be missing the point (emphasis mine):

To many people, asking whether evolution is good for conservatism is like asking if gravity is good for liberalism; nature is morally neutral. Andrew Ferguson in The Weekly Standard and Carson Holloway in his 2006 book, “The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion and the Future of Democracy,” for example, have written that jumping from evolutionary science to moral conclusions and policy proposals is absurd.

As for Mr. Derbyshire, he would not say whether he thought evolutionary theory was good or bad for conservatism; the only thing that mattered was whether it was true.

And that's the key thing. Science isn't political, it's just a set of theories that hope to describe what we see around us, and allow us to make predictions about what will occur in the future. It's got nothing to do with politics, and shouldn't be used as a measuring stick to hold up against political ideologies.

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