Nearly ten years ago I started a book on Creationist misuse of intellectual history. I never finished it, which is probably for the best. The file is unfortunately MIA and all I have remaining was a section that I turned into a talk that I gave at ASU in 1999. Over the next few days, I’ll be posting the text of that talk. Enjoy and feel free to comment.
“Pithecophobes of the World, Unite!”
Revisionist ‘History’ and Creationist Rhetoric.
“This monkey mythology of Darwin is the cause of permissiveness, promiscuity, pills, prophylactics, perversions, pregnancies, abortions, pornography, pollution, poisoning, and the proliferation of crimes of all types.”
With these words, Braswell Deen, Chief Justice of the Georgia Court of Appeals neatly summarized many of the Creationist concepts of Darwinism and its supposed cultural resonances. Deen is also the author of Evolution: Fact or Fiction? , a 1981 pamphlet issued by the Bible-Science Association in which he describes himself as an expert on “human origins from a law-science perspective” (whatever that may entail). He is one of a number of legally trained commentators who demonstrate opposition to
naturalistic explanations in general, and Darwinism in particular. All of these commentators exhibit what William King Gregory called “pithecophobia” – the morbid fear of apes, particularly as cousins.
The Tale of the Darwinian Marxists
It is fair to say that Charles Darwin, Karl Marx & Sigmund Freud, the triad that are often seen as fathers of the zeitgeist of the Twentieth Century, have all received their fair share of criticism. Some would argue that they swept their brush too broadly over the canvas of human experience, yielding to generalizations with an ignorance of particulars. Others would claim that they were just plain wrong. In predicting the demise of Darwinism during a televised debate, the mathematician David Berlinski would
“Darwin’s theory of evolution is the last of the great 19th century mystery religions. And as we speak, it is now following Freudianism and Marxism into the nether regions. And I am quite sure that Freud, Marx, and Darwin are commiserating one with the other in the dark dungeon where discarded gods gather.”
Berlinski’s rhetorical excess aside, all three remain important figures in the pantheon of intellectual giants (discarded gods though they may be perceived to be). Indeed, Darwin and Marx remained entwined in the minds of many critics of evolutionary theory, whether academic or popular. Jacques Barzun’s Darwin, Marx and Wagner remains a typical example of the former, which squarely blames the flowering of materialism for the problems of the Twentieth century. Henry Morris, the founder of the Institute
for Creation Research (ICR) assures us that “it is well known than not only the early Communists, such as Marx and Engels, were atheistic evolutionists, but also that all the leaders of Communism since have been the same.” In The Long War Against God, Morris claims that “Marxism, socialism, and communism, no less than Nazism are squarely based on evolutionism.” He assures us that “Marx felt his own work to be the exact parallel of Darwin’s. He even wished to dedicate a portion of Das Kapital to
the author of The Origin of Species.” The fable has passed on into the common currency of the Creationist movement here in the United States. For example, A Walk Through History, a 1994 video issued by the Institute for Creation Research, features John Rajca (the curator of the ICR Museum of Creation and Earth History) teaching the following to a group of schoolchildren: “Karl Marx here, [points to picture of Marx] wanted to dedicate his book on communism, Das Kapital, to Darwin because
he said this is where he got his ideas for a political system.” To many Creationists, evolution is inescapably linked with communism, both ideologies supporting each other, and evolutionary thinking making communism possible.
Such connections between Darwin and Marx have been effectively refuted by historians for quite some time. The myth of the link between the two figures was created after Marx’s death by Friedrich Engels’ graveside oration to Marx, and supported by later Marxists such as Filippo Turati, Edward Aveling & Ludwig Büchner as evidence for the ‘scientific’ nature of their worldview. In particular, it has been proven that a letter evidently written by Darwin to Marx, apparently asking that Marx not dedicate the second
volume of Das Kapital to him, was in fact addressed to Aveling asking that his A Student’s Darwin (1881) not be so dedicated, Darwin being opposed to Aveling’s vehement anti-Christian rhetoric and not wishing to have his name associated with such radicalism. While it is true that Marx sent Darwin a copy of the second German edition of the first volume of Das Kapital upon its publication (1873), Darwin’s lack of linguistic ability prevented him from reading the book and only pages up
to 105 (of 822) were cut. The question however remains as to how Marx was (if at all) influenced by Darwin, for Morris informs us that Marx “became profoundly committed to Darwinism” and Rajca (quoted earlier) sees Marx as saying that it was from Darwin that he got his ideas. While he initially described The Origin as containing “the natural-historical basis of our outlook”, he eventually would view Darwinism as a bourgeois ideology which mirrored the bourgeois competitive struggle in capitalist society.
Marx twice mentions Darwin’s theory in Das Kapital, both as footnotes, and both in a negative context. These are the only published references of Marx to Darwin. More importantly, Marx chastised a number of his followers, in particular Büchner and Friedrich Lange for attempting to link his ideas with those of Darwin. Büchner’s work was described as “superficial nonsense” and Lange lead Marx to describe the struggle for life as “the Malthusian population fantasy”. Clearly, Marx was no Darwinist. As Ball notes,
“Marx clearly admired and agreed with Darwin’s having finished off teleology in the natural sciences … [In Marx's view] Darwin’s theory of natural selection applies, at best, only to prehuman, preconscious natural history; it does not apply to the epoch of human history in which men consciously transform nature and therefore themselves.”
In other words, whatever Darwin had to say about natural history he had, in Marx’s view, nothing important to say about human history. For Marx, humankind, at least as far as its social development was concerned, lay outside of nature.
The Creationist assertions quoted earlier all date from well after the 1976 realization that the Marx/Darwin association was mythological. Such use of outdated material to support a claim (in this case, Barzun’s 1958 work) in the face of more up-to-date research with refutes that claim is unfortunately typical of popular works attacking evolutionary biology. Of further note is that the association of Darwinism with social theories which are not themselves part of Darwinian biology is prevalent in anti-Darwinian
thought. Such “Darwinistic” ideas (to use the phrase coined by Morse Peckham) have been a constant factor in post-1859 social thought. Darwin’s ideas have been used to support war and peace, co-operation and conflict, socialism, anarchism, social conservatism and eugenic policies. In arguing that racism has no biblical support, Henry Morris states –
“The modern slanderous fallacy that racism – especially the notion of white supremacy – is a biblical doctrine could not be further from the truth … The fact that some have distorted certain biblical passages to teach racism (e.g., the Hamitic curse) does not by any means involve the Bible itself in racism, for it is clearly opposed to it.”
Here, I wholeheartedly agree with Morris, however he seems unable to see that this argument can be made for Darwin’s writings (and Darwinian biology in general) and its supposed support for racism and other claims. Both the Bible and The Descent of Man can be, and have been, used to justify racism, anti-Semitism and white supremacy. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, Darwin and the authors of the Bible “had the luck to please everybody who had an axe to grind”. One could argue that it is a mark
of the sheer intellectual power of both of these works that their ideas appear to be so malleable.
Other publications by Creationists have allied Darwinism with Hitler and Stalin. Such alignment with any unsavory theory, political or otherwise, even if it were true, does not in any way disprove the biological fact of evolution nor the proposed mechanism of natural selection. It is simply a rhetorical strategy aimed at providing emotional support for a (usually) weak position. In this light, it is interesting to examine the words of Walt Brown, director of the Center for Scientific Creationism in Phoenix. Speaking
at a public seminar offering evidence against evolution he would say -
“I used to use it [the term 'creationism'] all the time … ‘isms’ are generally bad … communism, fascism, racism, scientism, secular humanism. If you want to bias someone against any idea, put an ‘ism’ at the end of it. ‘Isms’ may be right or wrong but they are always beliefs. … What we’re talking about is not just a belief, we’re talking about scientific evidence that supports it. … Watch out what the evolutionists do will always refer to this as ‘creationism’. … It’s best to refer to this as creation.”
Note that obviously harmful world-views (fascism & racism) are coupled with ideas like secular humanism, which are somewhat ‘grayer’. This fear of ‘isms’ is reflected in the title of another Creationist work, Evolution, The Root of all Isms. Under Brown’s strategy, Creationist references to ‘evolutionism’ make perfect sense. However, the status of pacifism, Catholicism, and Judaism (to name but three other ‘isms’) is obviously problematic within this framework – at least to pacifists, and members
of the Catholic and Jewish faiths. Even more detrimental to Brown’s argument, is that Henry Morris himself refers to the ICR’s endeavor as scientific creationism, a title given to the field by the vast majority of its supporters and, incidentally, to the major textbook explicating the apparent evidence for creation.
To be continued.