Pat Buchanan takes on evolution with his usual level of scholarship July 1, 2009Posted by Evil Bender in Origins, Religion, Science, wingnuts.
…which is to say, revisionist nonsense.
Pat Buchanan, last seen suggesting that WWII was the fault of Churchill, and already infamous as a holocaust denier, has decided to turn his Goldberg-esque eye on Evolution. As an exercise in demonstrating just how odious Buchanan is, and as yet another reminder that MSNBC continues to give the bigot a voice, this post will point out just a few of Buchanan’s lies and distortions. Readers are encouraged to fill any gaps with their own observations: there is literally too much here for me to track down every error.
“You have no notion of the intrigue that goes on in this blessed world of science,” wrote Thomas Huxley. “Science is, I fear, no purer than any other region of human activity; though it should be.”
As “Darwin’s bulldog,” Huxley would himself engage in intrigue, deceit and intellectual property theft to make his master’s theory gospel truth in Great Britain.
When a creationist quotes a scientist, you can generally assume they’re quote-mining. I can’t find the referenced quote, which may exist in Huxley’s papers, which I don’t have access to, but as we’ll see, Buchanan does not do much in this essay to inspire confidence. In any event, it hardly matters, since Huxley’s apparent point is clear enough. Human weaknesses intrude on the process of doing science, though they should not: that’s hardly a controversial point. Unsurprisingly, Buchanan will take this information and run in precisely the wrong direction with it.
He is quoted above for two reasons.
First is House passage of a “cap-and-trade” climate-change bill. Depending on which scientists you believe, the dire consequences of global warming are inconvenient truths — or a fearmongering scheme to siphon off the wealth of individuals and empower bureaucrats.
The second is publication of “The End of Darwinism: And How a Flawed and Disastrous Theory Was Stolen and Sold,” by Eugene G. Windchy, a splendid little book that begins with Huxley’s lament.
Windchy’s “splendid little book” is apparently self-published. Let’s keep that in mind going forward.
That Darwinism has proven “disastrous theory” is indisputable.
“Karl Marx loved Darwinism,” writes Windchy. “To him, survival of the fittest as the source of progress justified violence in bringing about social and political change, in other words, the revolution.”
“Darwin suits my purpose,” Marx wrote.
Of course, this is ahistorical nonsense. But one doesn’t need to be a scholar of Darwin to know that Marx’s ideology had nothing to do with evolution via natural selection.
Darwin suited Adolf Hitler’s purposes, too.
“Although born to a Catholic family Hitler become a hard-eyed Darwinist who saw life as a constant struggle between the strong and the weak. His Darwinism was so extreme that he thought it would have been better for the world if the Muslims had won the eighth century battle of Tours, which stopped the Arabs’ advance into France. Had the Christians lost, (Hitler) reasoned, Germanic people would have acquired a more warlike creed and, because of their natural superiority, would have become the leaders of an Islamic empire.”
Buchanan is 0 for 2 here, as Hitler owed more to Christianity than Darwin. And anyway, just like the claim about Marx, this is absolutely irrelevant. If the best argument Buchanan can marshal is that some people used Darwin’s work to justify their own agendas, that’s hardly a condemnation, any more than Nazi ideology is a condemnation of the belief in god. What matters is whether Darwin’s theory was correct. It was, so arguing that people misused it is about as meaningful as suggesting that 9/11 was caused by gravity.
Charles Darwin also suited the purpose of the eugenicists and Herbert Spencer, who preached a survival-of-the-fittest social Darwinism to robber baron industrialists exploiting 19th-century immigrants.
Once again, this is irrelevant. Furthermore, eugenics is does not follow from evolutionary theory, nor does social Darwinism. Readers interested in where scientists and pseudo-scientists did buy into flawed and odious eugenics are encouraged to refer to Stephen Jay Gould’s excellent The Mismeasure of Man.
Historian Jacques Barzun believes Darwinism brought on World War I: “Since in every European country between 1870 and 1914 there was a war party demanding armaments, an individualist party demanding ruthless competition, an imperialist party demanding a free hand over backward peoples, a socialist party demanding the conquest of power and a racialist party demanding internal purges against aliens — all of them, when appeals to greed and glory failed, invoked Spencer and Darwin, which was to say science incarnate.”
In related news, leaders also frequently appeal to religious values to justify wars. That no more implies anything about the value of atheism or religion than Buchanan’s example does about Darwinism. A quick perusal of Teh Internets will demonstrate that there are plenty of people eager to back every idea they have with strange appeals to relativity. This does not indict Einstein.
Buchanan isn’t doing well so far, and it’s going to get worse.
Yet a theory can produce evil — and still be true.
And here Windchy does his best demolition work.
You know this is going to be good, and Buchanan doesn’t disappoint:
Darwin, he demonstrates, stole his theory from Alfred Wallace, who had sent him a “completed formal paper on evolution by natural selection.”
“All my originality … will be smashed,” wailed Darwin when he got Wallace’s manuscript.
The problem here is simply that this is an outright lie. Darwin stole nothing, and he and Wallace remained cordial and professionally respectful, each acknowledging the other’s contribution. Their correspondence and independent work is a shining example of scientists benefiting from each other, and their ideas diverged in significant ways. Simply put, there was no theft, only overlapping independent insight.
I’ll also note that Buchanan still hasn’t touched on the truth of evolutionary theory.
Darwin also lied in “The Origin of Species” about believing in a Creator. By 1859, he was a confirmed agnostic and so admitted in his posthumous autobiography, which was censored by his family.
Not true, and still not relevant.
Darwin’s examples of natural selection — such as the giraffe acquiring its long neck to reach ever higher into the trees for the leaves upon which it fed to survive — have been debunked. Giraffes eat grass and bushes. And if, as Darwin claimed, inches meant life or death, how did female giraffes, two or three feet shorter, survive?
In the link above, PZ deals with this too. It’s simply not true: Buchanan is once again uncritically regurgitating dishonest creationist garbage.
Windchy goes on to relate such scientific hoaxes as “Nebraska Man” — an anthropoid ape ancestor to man, whose tooth turned out to belong to a wild pig — and Piltdown Man, the missing link between monkey and man.
Discovered in England in 1912, Piltdown Man was a sensation until exposed by a 1950s investigator as the skull of a Medieval Englishman attached to the jaw of an Asian ape whose teeth had been filed down to look human and whose bones had been stained to look old.
Yet three English scientists were knighted for Piltdown Man.
Other myths are demolished. Bird feathers do not come from the scales of reptiles. There are no gills in human embryos.
Sadly for Buchanan, hoaxes are an excellent example of science at work. When they’re discovered, they’re rejected by scientists, as these have been. Science, unlike Buchanan’s rants, is self-correcting. Frauds and mistakes are exposed. Evolution, by contrast, is supported by the largest and most diverse body of evidence of any theory. Molecular evidence alone has verified evolutionary predictions many times over. Buchanan is clearly no better a scientist than he is a historian.
For 150 years, the fossil record has failed to validate Darwin.
“The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontologists,” admitted Stephen J. Gould in 1977. But that fossil record now contains even more species that appear fully developed, with no traceable ancestors.
Darwin predicted the rarity of transitional forms, and Gould certainly didn’t see any problems for evolution: quite the opposite! His debate was with other evolutionists. Punctuated equilibrium is merely being misunderstood by Buchanan, or perhaps he is lying.
Darwin ruled out such “miracles.”
He ruled out species appearing suddenly and fully formed, that’s true: he ruled out Creationism. He did not rule out the idea that speciation would occur in a relatively short period of time–short on an evolutionary scale, that is, but still much longer than the 6-10 thousand years Buchanan’s creationist allies believe the universe has existed. Simply put, the evidence does not mean what Buchanan thinks it means.
And Darwinists still have not explained the origin of life, nor have they been able to produce life from non-life.
Buchanan thinks it is a strike against evolution that the theory, which explains how life-forms change over time, doesn’t explain where they came from. He may as well lament that the theory of gravity doesn’t explain magnetism. This is truly an inane complaint.
The most delicious chapter is Windchy’s exposure of the Scopes Monkey Trial and Hollywood’s Bible-mocking movie “Inherit the Wind,” starring Spencer Tracy as Clarence Darrow.
The trial was a hoked-up scam to garner publicity for Dayton, Tenn. Scopes never taught evolution and never took the stand. His students were tutored to commit perjury. And William Jennings Bryan held his own against the atheist Darrow in the transcript of the trial.
So we’re past the “evolution is false” portion of the essay, and Buchanan’s evidence, such as it is, amounts to a misunderstanding of theory, lack of comprehension about the fossil record, and some standard, long-discredited creationist claptrap. He’s moved on instead to lamenting that children can’t be indoctrinated with religious dogma in schools and braying about those mean old evolutionists.
But Buchanan has saved the best for last:
“Perhaps we should all lie low and rally round the flag of strict Darwinism … a kind of old-time religion on our part.”
Exactly. Darwinism is not science. It is faith. Always was.
Remember way back at the beginning of this post, when I suggested that creationists who quote scientists are almost invariably quote-mining? This is why. (Also, the use of ellipsis is always a dead giveaway on this point.) Let’s look at what Gould actually said, in context. He’s responding to those who were suggesting scientists should play down their disagreements about specific parts of evolutionary theory in order to avoid giving the false impression that the creationists had a point. Gould strongly objected to that logic, and said so:
I am sad because the practical result of this brouhaha will not be expanded coverage to include creationism (that would also make me sad), but the reduction or excision of evolution from high school curricula. Evolution is one of the half dozen “great ideas” developed by science. It speaks to the profound issues of genealogy that fascinate all of us—the “roots” phenomenon writ large. Where did we come from? Where did life arise? How did it develop? How are organisms related? It forces us to think, ponder, and wonder. Shall we deprive millions of this knowledge and once again teach biology as a set of dull and unconnected facts, without the thread that weaves diverse material into a supple unity?
But most of all I am saddened by a trend I am just beginning to discern among my colleagues. I sense that some now wish to mute the healthy debate about theory that has brought new life to evolutionary biology. It provides grist for creationist mills, they say, even if only by distortion. Perhaps we should lie low and rally around the flag of strict Darwinism, at least for the moment—a kind of old-time religion on our part.
But we should borrow another metaphor and recognize that we too have to tread a straight and narrow path, surrounded by roads to perdition. For if we ever begin to suppress our search to understand nature, to quench our own intellectual excitement in a misguided effort to present a united front where it does not and should not exist, then we are truly lost.
So Gould is saying the exact opposite of what Buchanan claims, rejecting the idea that scientists should publicly ignore the areas of science that are unsettled in order to protect the well-supported theory of evolution. Buchanan reverses this quote to make it sound like Gould is as dogmatic as Buchanan and his creationist allies are.
It’s hard to say whether Buchanan is actively being dishonest here, or whether he just uncritically accepts his source’s mangled quotation. One thing is certain, though: Buchanan’s science is as embarrassingly terrible as his history.