Evolving Thoughts

Darwin on the Irish

The IDiot Dembski has written this:

It?s a happy Darwinian world after all ?
William Dembski

Every now and again when I want to feel good about our shared humanity, I curl up with Darwin?s DESCENT OF MAN and read passages like the following:

The reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous members. Or as Mr. Greg puts the case: ?The careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman multiplies like rabbits: the frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting, ambitious Scot, stern in his morality, spiritual in his faith, sagacious and disciplined in his intelligence, passes his best years in struggle and in celibacy, marries late, and leaves few behind him. Given a land originally peopled by a thousand Saxons and a thousand Celts?and in a dozen generations five-sixths of the population would be Celts, but five-sixths of the property, of the power, of the intellect, would belong to the one-sixth of Saxons that remained. In the eternal ?struggle for existence,? it would be the inferior and less favoured race that had prevailed?and prevailed by virtue not of its good qualities but of its faults.?
? Charles Robert Darwin, The Descent of Man, Great Minds Edition, 123

What a great mind, indeed. What a wonderful human being. What a marvelous vision of the human family.

One of his own commentators notes that what he has quoted was not Darwin’s words and views, but those of Galton and Greg, with whom he is disagreeing, and Pat Hayes at Red State Rabble fisks him more properly. But since a critical edition of the Descent of Man, from which this is taken, is now available online, as are all Darwin’s works, there really is no excuse for the stupidity of Dembski, who displays all that is bad about humanity in his mendacity. So let’s look at the actual text, shall we?

We begin with Darwin speaking:

With civilised nations, as far as an advanced standard of morality, and an increased number of fairly well-endowed men are concerned, natural selection apparently effects but little; though the fundamental social instincts were originally thus gained. But I have already said enough, whilst treating of the lower races, on the causes which lead to the advance of morality, namely, the approbation of our fellow-men?the strengthening of our sympathies by habit?example and imitation?reason?experience and even self-interest?instruction during youth, and religious feelings.

Then he moves on to the views of Galton and Greg (the text Dembski quoted is bolded):

A most important obstacle in civilised countries to an increase in the number of men of a superior class has been strongly urged by Mr. Greg and Mr. Galton,18 namely, the fact that the very poor and reckless, who are often degraded by vice, almost invariably marry early, whilst the careful and frugal, who are generally otherwise virtuous, marry late in life, so that they may be able to support themselves and their children in comfort. Those who marry early produce within a given period not only a greater number of generations, but, as shewn by Dr. Duncan,19 they produce many more children. The children, moreover, that are born by mothers during the prime of life are heavier and larger, and therefore probably more vigorous, than those born at other periods. Thus the reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous members. Or as Mr. Greg puts the case: “The careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman multiplies like rabbits: the frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting, ambitious Scot, stern in his morality, spiritual in his faith, sagacious and disciplined in his intelligence, passes his best years in struggle and in celibacy, marries late, and leaves few behind him. Given a land originally peopled by a thousand Saxons and a thousand Celts?and in a dozen generations five-sixths of the population would be Celts, but five-sixths of the property, of the power, of the intellect, would belong to the one-sixth of Saxons that remained. In the eternal ‘struggle for existence,’ it would be the inferior and less favoured race that had prevailed?and prevailed by virtue not of its good qualities but of its faults.

Note that Dembski tries to imply this is Darwin’s view, by starting after the “Thus” and capitalising the “the”. What does Darwin say in return? This:

There are, however, some checks to this downward tendency. We have seen that the intemperate suffer from a high rate of mortality, and the extremely profligate leave few offspring. The poorest classes crowd into towns, and it has been proved by Dr. Stark from the statistics of ten years in Scotland,20 that at all ages the death-rate is higher in towns than in rural districts, “and during the first five years of life the town death-rate is almost exactly double that of the rural districts.” As these returns include both the rich and the poor, no doubt more than double the number of births would be requisite to keep up the number of the very poor inhabitants in the towns, relatively to those in the country. With women, marriage at too early an age is highly injurious; for it has been found in France that, “twice as many wives under twenty die in the year, as died out of the same number of the unmarried.” The mortality, also, of husbands under twenty is “excessively high,”21 but what the cause of this may be seems doubtful. Lastly, if the men who prudently delay marrying until they can bring up their families in comfort, were to select, as they often do, women in the prime of life, the rate of increase in the better class would be only slightly lessened.

In other words, what Greg says is not right – fears of being outbred are not warranted. In fact, Darwin thinks late marriage is not going to affect the birthrate much, but will improve survival rates of death during birth (a major problem in those days).

His conclusion, a few pages later, is this:

If the various checks specified in the two last paragraphs, and perhaps others as yet unknown, do not prevent the reckless, the vicious and otherwise inferior members of society from increasing at a quicker rate than the better class of men, the nation will retrograde, as has occurred too often in the history of the world. We must remember that progress is no invariable rule. It is most difficult to say why one civilised nation rises, becomes more powerful, and spreads more widely, than another; or why the same nation progresses more at one time than at another. We can only say that it depends on an increase in the actual number of the population, on the number of the men endowed with high intellectual and moral faculties, as well as on their standard of excellence. Corporeal structure, except so far as vigour of body leads to vigour of mind, appears to have little influence.

In other words, overall rate of population increase, not the increase of any part of it, is what will make a good nation, and the body structure, so prominent in the thinking of the eugenicists, is not correlated with civilisation. Darwin is as always measured in his tone, and fails to shout out his argument in ways a Dembski might understand, but there it is in black and white. Someone with a PhD in Philosophy ought to be able to read a text better than that. One might think Dembski is deliberately spinning the truth, or as we call it in technical philosophy, lying.

Yes, Darwin contrasts civilised nations against “lower races”. Of course, since race in this sense just means a related group of people, his ranking here is of the culture and morality, not the biology – Darwin did not clearly distinguish between biology and society, but in general terms he ascribes moral progress to societies. The idea that all cultures were of equal worth was not entertained at the time (because, after all, he thought there were morally advanced societies. Hey, wait a minute – so do we!).

The ID talking points memo at the moment seems to be to smear Darwin in an attempt to get people to equate agreement with evolution with Hitler and eugenics and the like. It seems to be working, although the history is against them. But even were Darwin the most morally objectionable individual, the theory of evolution now in play has little reliance on his writings. We no more depend on him than physicists are obliged to adopt Newton’s alchemy or Unitarian views. As it happens, Darwin was an honourable man (as was Malthus, by the way) who did his duty and worked for racial equality, but this matters not to the lying, evil and foolish IDiots.

Comments

  1. #1 CCP
    March 24, 2007

    you said it!! (as did, per usual, Darwin)

  2. #2 John Pieret
    March 24, 2007

    Dembski, I’ll bet, got it from that execrable article in Commonweal by Peter Quinn titled The Gentle Darwinians.

    I’m pretty sure there is good enough grounds, with Dembski and Quinn, to put it in the Quote Mine Project. I hope I can have your permission to adapt your response.

    Dembski used to hate being accused of quote mining but maybe he’s beyond … or below … that now.

  3. #3 Bob O'H
    March 25, 2007

    It gets even funnier. Dembski has now admitted to acting like a moron.

    Look at the the other comments quickly, before OilBoy’s disappear. This looks like it’ll run for a few days, so check back if you want some cheap entertainment.

    Bob

  4. #4 John Pieret
    March 25, 2007

    This is just incredible! Dembski admits that he was aware of the context (see Comment 4) but wanted to “highlight Darwin’s attitude toward the Irish and underscore the invidious distinctions of race and ethnicity that his theory engenders.”

    Right! The Irish were never looked down on by the British before Darwin. And, of course, if Darwin was less than politically correct by today’s standards, that’s reason enough to ignore a century and a quarter’s science since then.

    So now he’s claiming he intentionally gave his critics “what appears a minor slip-up, let them attack that, and then show how they’re acting in bad faith because they have ignored the gist.” According to Wild Bill:

    Believe it or not, it really helps that the other side thinks we’re such morons.

    That must be especially true when it comes so naturally!

  5. #5 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 25, 2007

    Ironically, looking at Denyse O’Leary’s most recent comments on UD, you could interpret her hostility to “Darwinism” as being driven by an undercurrent of anti-British racism.

  6. #6 T Bruce McNeely
    March 25, 2007

    “I meant to do that!”

    – Pee-Wee Dembski

  7. #7 John Pieret
    March 25, 2007

    … looking at Denyse O’Leary’s most recent comments on UD, you could interpret her hostility … as being driven by an undercurrent of anti-British racism.

    Just because she is contemptuous of “Brit toffery“?

    Denyse has sure taken to Dembski’s strategy like a loon to water, hasn’t she?

  8. #8 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 25, 2007

    Denyse has sure taken to Dembski’s strategy like a loon to water, hasn’t she?

    Dembski’s strategy:

    1) Open mouth

    2) Place foot firmly in open orifice

    3) Mumble incoherently

    4) Congratulate self on fooling opposition into thinking you are an IDiot.

    5) Further confuse opposition by failing to provide any means of distinguishing between simulated and innate IDiocy.

  9. #9 Nygdan
    March 27, 2007

    I am a little unclear. It seems like Darwin is noting that there is this argument that the tendency of the ‘inferior class’ to have a high rate of reproduction is an obstacle, and then he cites Greg as a further illustration of this view, no?

    He then rejects it as a serious obstacle because the ‘inferior class’ tends to have higher mortality rates, and because he thinks that the overall growth rate, because it will produce more of the ‘superior, ruling class’, will probably outweigh and negatives brought on by the proles. He doesn’t seem to reject it on the grounds that that the inferior class isn’t actualy inferior.

    Of course, he’s trying to explain the major facets of society in scientific terms, and in doing so we can see the basic biases that people of the time had. Darwin doesn’t actually sound any more ‘racist’ in this than, say, a reforming protestant minister would. Or any of the other millions of christian creationists of the pre-darwinian (and thus pre-evolutionary theory) era anyway.

  10. #10 John Wilkins
    March 27, 2007

    “Inferior” here means in status. Of course a great many people thought that inferior status also meant inferior in constitution, but Darwin’s own principles make that an invalid argument, because on his view, if a variety of organism outbreeds another, that means it is the more fit.

    He’s not a modern liberal – that much is clear. But neither does he accept the eugenics argument that we need to exterminate or inhibit the “lower classes” or “lesser races” because ultimately population growth all balances out. It makes sense if you think of it – otherwise the human race would be progressively degenerating as lower classes outbred their “betters”. He thinks that what makes a civilisation better is intelligence, not “corporeal structure”.

  11. #11 Richard Wein
    March 27, 2007

    This is amazing. Dembski wants people to think he’s a moron! Well, I suppose that explains why he writes so much nonsense.

    A commenter in the UD thread has the perfect come-back…

    Dembski: Believe it or not, it really helps that the other side thinks we’re such morons.

    HodorH: This strategy has been especially successful in court cases and recent school board elections.

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