Dembski is blathering on about Charles Darwin being a racist and Jason Rosenhouse and PZ Myers have done a good job of answering the charge. Jason correctly points out how easy it is to find thousands of statements from Christians of the same era that are every bit as racist; indeed, far worse because they endorse slavery, which Darwin fiercely opposed. Dembski would no doubt get annoyed if someone quoted that as though it had something to do with the validity of Christianity; why, then, does he do the same thing with Darwin? Because he’s a demagogue and that’s how demagogues behave. And Jason nails what is really going on here:
What I find remarkable is how important creationists think it is to try to discredit Darwin personally. They think they have accomplished something if they can make Darwin look bad. So they endlessly recycle quotes like this or “tell the tale” of how Darwin stole evolution from Wallace or promote countless other little myths that make them feel better about ignoring a century and a half of steady progress in science.
These are the people who lecture us constantly about the great moral insights provided Christianity. Among these insights is said to be the fact that we are all sinners, that we all fall short of God’s glory. Point out to them that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves, thereby participating actively in one of the most evil institutions deivsed by man, and they don’t even bat an eyelash. Sure, they partook in many of the sins of their day, but that does not diminish the greatness of their accomplishments.
Indeed it doesn’t. But for some reason Darwin doesn’t get the same level of respect. Dembski feels no shame in finding a few obnoxious sentences from one of Darwin’s books and using that to dismiss the whole man. Never mind that his racism was completely the product of his time, and that his views were utterly commonplace. Never mind that Darwin compares favorably with his contemporaries on issues of racial understanding and tolerance. Never mind that at that time much of the vilest racial rhetoric ever uttered was coming from pulpits on Sunday morning. Apparently when Dembski objects to someone’s scientific ideas, his spirit of Christian charity goes out the window.
Mind you, this isn’t quite as ridiculous as Sal Cordova’s incredibly dishonest quotation of Darwin about beating puppies. Richard Hughes sent along this dishonest little quotemine from Sal at Dembski’s Home for Wayward Sycophants. Here’s how Sal quotes Darwin:
I beat a puppy, I believe, simply from enjoying the sense of power
And here’s the actual quote, in context:
Once as a very little boy whilst at the day school, or before that time, I acted cruelly, for I beat a puppy, I believe, simply from enjoying the sense of power; but the beating could not have been severe, for the puppy did not howl, of which I feel sure, as the spot was near the house. This act lay heavily on my conscience, as is shown by my remembering the exact spot where the crime was committed. It probably lay all the heavier from my love of dogs being then, and for a long time afterwards, a passion.
Changes the meaning just a bit, don’t you think? I can’t think of any possible reason for Sal’s quotemine other than plain old character assassination. The same is true of Dembski’s quotation. It has nothing at all to do with the truth or falsehood of evolution; it is solely about trying to discredit Darwin personally by ripping his statements out of the context of the time. This is how demagogues operate. It may be illogical, but it’s effective rhetoric. And it speaks volumes about the intellectual honesty of the person making it.