Pharyngula

Old fossil “disproves” Darwin!

The old fossil is Pat Buchanan, who has published a freakishly antiquated diatribe against Darwin. It’s extremely old school — he uses arguments straight out of 1960s era “scientific creationism”, trying to tar Darwin with guilt by association with Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler. He is apparently inspired by a “splendid little book,” The End of Darwinism: And How a Flawed and Disastrous Theory Was Stolen and Sold, by a creationist crank named Eugene G. Windchy. You can get an idea of Windchy’s level of scholarship by this quote:

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.

John Lynch has rebutted this claim; I rather doubt that Marx could love someone as bourgeois as Darwin, a prosperous landowner and investor, a fellow who thought his greatest success in life was his talent as a businessman, and I can be fairly confident that any affection would not have been returned. And please, don’t even mention the false claim that Marx wanted to dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin.

It’s not enough to link Darwin to Marx; Windchy also has to turn Hitler into a committed Darwinist. You’d think he’d stop to marvel at the idea that Darwin could have inspired two such antagonistic philosophies, but Windchy and Buchanan aren’t quite that thoughtful.

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.”

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.

For being a “hard-eyed Darwinist”, Hitler certainly seems to have failed to make much use of the theory. Read Mein Kampf and you will find nothing about Darwin or evolution, but you will find much about God. And don’t his strange notions about an Aryan Islamic empire simply mark Hitler as a crazy crackpot, and say nothing at all about Darwin?

They do make some outrageous accusations against Darwin: he was a thief and a liar who stole his whole theory from Wallace.

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.

Unfortunately for their thesis, Darwin’s writings are preserved to an amazing degree — the history of his idea can be traced almost to the day. We know that he was putting together an outline of his theory within a few years of returning from the voyage of the Beagle; we have an early draft of his thesis written in 1842, well before the contact with Wallace; we have his correspondence where he bounced these ideas off his colleagues. He didn’t steal his theory at all, but had it well formulated before Wallace wrote his fateful letter, triggering him to finally publish.

You only have to read Wallace’s own gracious account of his interactions with Darwin to see how false Windchy’s claims are.

In conclusion I would Only wish to add, that my connection with Darwin and his great work has helped to secure for my own writings on the same questions a full recognition by the press and the public; while my share in the origination and establishment of the theory of Natural Selection has usually been exaggerated. The one great result which I claim for my paper of 1858 is that it compelled Darwin to write and publish his Origin of Species without further delay. The reception of that work, and its effect upon the whole scientific world, prove that it appeared at the right moment; and it is probable that its influence would have been less widespread had it been delayed several years, and had then appeared, as he intended, in several bulky volumes embodying the whole mass of facts he had collected in its support. Such a work would have appealed to the initiated few only, whereas the smaller volume actually written was read and understood by the educated classes throughout the civilised world.

There’s another case where Windchy/Buchanan accuse Darwin of lying.

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.

He doesn’t claim to believe in a Creator in the Origin. There is a brief mention of the possibility of a Creator initiating the universe in later editions of the book, but it’s more compatible with a deistic view than anything. He was an unbeliever in any specific religious doctrine, but that does not make him at all hypocritical to have considered the possibility of a creator beginning the whole process.

How much more can Buchanan get wrong? How about everything.

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?

Like most animals, they’ll eat whatever is physiologically advantageous…but they prefer the leaves and shoots of acacia trees, where a long neck to reach the branches is advantageous. If you actually read the Origin, Darwin proposes several advantages of the long neck: for feeding, but also for observing predators, for combat, and as part of the defensive strategy of growing to large body size, and he uses the giraffe as an example of a general principle: “The preservation of each species can rarely be determined by any one advantage, but by the union of all, great and small.”

None of this has been debunked.

All Buchanan can do is a standard Gish Gallop, next bringing up canards like Piltdown Man, Nebraska Man, and a typically distorted version of punctuated equilibrium. It’s quite a performance, and it really takes a lot of work to distill stupid down to something quite as concentrated as what Buchanan presents.

This man actually ran for president? There are times I have to stand appalled at the lack of discrimination in our political process.