A while back, when Michael Egnor was prattling on about evolution and antibiotic resistance, I described how Egnor didn’t comprehend the difference between artificial selection and natural selection. In a related post, ScienceBlogling PZ, in debunking the ‘TEH DARWINISMZ KREATED HITLER!!’ canard, puts Darwin’s seminal contribution in context:
There is a central, incredibly obvious fact in Darwin’s insight.
If members of a population die or are killed off, they will leave no descendants for subsequent generations.
It isn’t razzle-dazzle genius. Any idiot can figure that one out–and many idiots have. Farmers have known it for millennia, when they set aside particularly fruitful seed stock or especially robust farm animals for breeding, and eat the rest. Nazis used this elementary logic when they decided to exterminate Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals. Eugenicists used it when they wanted to argue for shifting the distribution of certain properties in a population.
It ain’t “Darwinism”. It’s self-evident, obvious, selbstverständlich, apparent, évidente, transparent. The KKK knows it, farmers know it, dog and horse breeders know it, the Nazis knew it, they didn’t need Darwin to spell it out for them. Blaming that on Darwin is awesomely stupid.
Darwin’s real contribution, the one that had everyone smacking themselves in the forehead and wondering why they didn’t think of it first, was the realization that the natural environment does the killing — that natural selection shapes heredity. The idea of culling populations is not only so easy that a hate-mongering cretin can think of it, but that weather, bacteria, viruses, parasites, predators, etc. have been doing it for eons, with no intelligence required, and that mindless microorganisms have been far greater agents of hereditary change than the worst the Nazis ever accomplished; does Charles Darwin also get the blame for that? Darwin realized that the environment has consequences and can shape the generation-by-generation passage of hereditary traits in populations, and that examination of the natural world reveals that it has been doing exactly that. He realized that ubiquitous forces that are so simple we take them for granted have been quietly and slowly sculpting our heredity since the beginning of life on earth.
In other creationist stupidity, it turns out Ben Stein’s creationist colleagues can’t even manage a one-sided phone call (and Rebecca at Skepchick has the audio).