December 15, 2003


Chapter V - On the Development of the Intellectual and Moral Faculties (Charles Darwin, Descent of Man [1871])

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

Sadly, such ideas have consequences.

The Culture of Death: Who Will Decide When You Should Die? (Nat Hentoff, December 1st, 2003, Village Voice)

I have debated bioethicists who are true believers in the "duty to die" when care is "futile." These exchanges have been on college campuses, radio, and television. When I bring up the history of "futile care" in pre-Hitler Germany (as I did in last week's column), the "duty to die" advocates become deeply offended. Nonetheless, they are sincerely continuing a lethal legacy.

Nancy Valko continues: "Just a generation ago, doctors and nurses were ethically prohibited from hastening or causing death. Family disputes and ethically gray situations occurred, but certain actions such as withdrawing medically assisted food and water from a severely brain-damaged but non-dying person were considered illegitimate no matter who was making the decision.

"But," Nancy Valko emphasizes, "with the rise of the modern bioethics movement, life is no longer assumed to have the intrinsic value it once did, and 'quality of life' has become the overriding consideration. Over time, the ethical question, 'what is right?' became 'who decides?--which now has devolved into 'what is legally allowed?' "

In the aforementioned November 4 Philadelphia Inquirer story, Stacey Burling reported what physicians and bioethicists consider a worrisome obstacle to expanding "what is legally allowed."

"Hospital leaders [around the country] fear they would lose a lawsuit if they denied care demanded by a family." These officials and bioethicists want more case law to enable them to end lives they consider "futile."

Until the media spend more space and care on who decides whether--and how--certain disabled Americans should die, I recommend your remembering that, as disability rights activists say, many of us are only temporarily able.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 15, 2003 5:26 PM

From Rousseau to Darwin - 140 years. From Darwin to Margaret Sanger - 30 years. From Sanger to Mengele - 30 years. I suppose Peter Singer is the natural heir, but I am sure there are others.

No wonder Nietzsche lost his mind.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 15, 2003 10:05 PM

Note the date, years before Pasteur began the experiments that led to the germ theory of disease.

However erroneous the conception of Darwin in 1871, there is no difference between killing the physically infirm and killing the morally imbecile, which many posters here defend.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 15, 2003 10:46 PM


Agreed. Euthanasia is just as evil as eugenics and both tend towards genocide, as witness pre-Nazi Germany.

Posted by: oj at December 15, 2003 11:14 PM

Consequence of the advances in technology. How long should we really live?

If it were 1900, I'd be on my last legs. And I'm only in my early 40s.

Posted by: Sandy P. at December 16, 2003 1:04 AM

I'm no fan of euthanasia, but when I used the term
"morally imbecile" I was thinking of the Inquistion and all other religious terrorism and murder.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 16, 2003 2:56 AM


Whatever would you do without that Inquisition?

Posted by: Peter B at December 16, 2003 6:02 AM

You might want to be careful here. The 'darwinism = nazi eugenics' argument is a really hopeless non-starter, especially for the religious person.

If Harry didn't mention the Spanish Inquisition, there's always the Crusades, witch-burning, Bloody Mary, Irish sectarian violence...etc

I remember reading about a form of torture used by early english christians on alleged 'non-believers': a wooden bench holds the victim still while all the skin is slowly torn from his body with a scalpel, then salt is rubbed into the raw flesh. Lovely - and all in the name of Jesus Christ.

Now, I know as well as you do that that torture bench has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus Christ or the Bible. Likewise eugenics and explanations for evolution.

Secondly, trying to deny or find apologist arguments for Christian atrocities really is an unwise move.

Darwinists don't need to deny or apologise for Nazi experiments - they know it has nothing to do with them. That's the line Christians should take.

Posted by: Brit at December 16, 2003 8:59 AM


That's quite wrong. Witch burnings, inquisitions, etc., are perfectly consistent with Christianity. They were good things.

Similarly, Nazism was perfectly consistent with Darwinism and from a Darwinian perspective, as he writes therein, getting rid of the weakest members of the species must be a good thing.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 9:10 AM


A) No, Christians do take responsiblity for the evil done in their name. A great deal of thought and debate on this has gone on in most churches for years now. The Irish are an exception, but, hey, you know the Irish. "Nothing to do with us" is heard mostly from secularists;

B) I think most Christians would readily accept that the Inquisition, pogroms, witch-burning, etc point to the conclusion that theocracy is not what G-d had in mind or wants. Most of the religious here support the idea of a mixed society with a civil base based on tolerance and outside theological design. It is the secularists who are demanding religion be hidden behind closed curtains;

C) The Nazi/eugenics connection can be debated, but it is not absurd, nor is the anti-religious/gulag one. Rascially-based anti-Semetism and class warfare were both spawned by so-called scientific thinking with an anti-religious animus. Ideas have consequences. No one is saying Darwin wanted this anymore than Aquinas wanted the Inquisition.

D) Most (99%) of the evils of which you complain occured in Europe, as did the secularly inspired ones. Whether religious or secular, Europe's bane is "the big idea". The EU with its fanatic devotees we discussed yesterday is the current one.

Anyway, the point of this post and others is that modern secularists are the extremists. Not only do they demand society mold itself to the latest science, they disavow any responsibility for the consequences.

Posted by: Peter B at December 16, 2003 9:18 AM


I'll ignore the first part of that post as being either sarcasm, or beneath contempt.

"Nazism was perfectly consistent with Darwinism... "

Nope, nothing to do with it. Darwinism explains how evolution has occured in populations over vast timescales.

"...from a Darwinian perspective, as he writes therein, getting rid of the weakest members of the species must be a good thing"

Nope, Darwinism is a purely descriptive theory, not proscriptive. If you still don't understand that, you're a dolt.

Posted by: Brit at December 16, 2003 9:23 AM


Not sarcasm at all--the Christian repressions flow from peoples morals and beliefs--they are about who people choose to be.

The Darwinian eugenicism is based on what you are--your immutable racial, physical, mental characteristics. As you can see from the quote, Darwin thought it a good idea to get rid of the dross.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 9:40 AM

"The Descent of Man" was published in 1871. "Origin of Species" in 1859. In the latter publication Darwin merely states the inevitable attitude which was developed among rational/materialists under the spell of 19th century scientific rationalism. To state that the rise of 20th century rational/materialist programs were unrelated to the kind of "misinterpretation" of Darwinism which Darwin himself was susceptible is kind of strange.

The truth of Darwinism is not the point. The complete surrender to it's pure materialism is. It has implications and has yielded real and horrible results. Even worse than the Inquisition.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at December 16, 2003 9:41 AM

Peter: believe me, if it comes to an argument with "secularists who are demanding religion be hidden behind closed curtains" - I am firmly on your side.

Look chaps, I'm just trying to help you out here. You have to separate the serious and genuine arguments against Darwinism, from the ones that just make you look like an ignorant fool.

You may as well yell "I am a brainless moron" as use this laughable "a-belief-in-darwinism-leads-to-nazism" stuff.

That's not argument; it's comedy.

Posted by: Brit at December 16, 2003 9:59 AM


You might find the following enlightening:

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 10:14 AM

How about a particular interpretation of Darwinism? Again, the scientific validity of Darwinism is not the point. I don't recall the premise that "a belief in Darwinism leads to nazism" stuff, but as a socio-political justification for eugenics or racialism? Mischaracterizing the concerns of some regarding the views Darwin spelled out in the Descent of Man accomplishes nothing.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at December 16, 2003 10:26 AM

I'm well aware of the atrocities committed by the nazis, and their various loony justifications for them. They used all sorts of loony justifications for their actions, not just a nutty misinterpretation of evolution.

Look, if someone out there did try to use darwinism as a justification for genocide, I'd be right there with you to tell him he's an idiot. Except I would be pointing out to him that he doesn't know anything about darwinism, not that natural selection is false. Go and look up 'descriptive' and 'proscriptive' in the dictionary.

Tom C/OJ: you're coming awfully close to an argument which runs: natural selection may be true, but we should suppress it/rubbish it in case some loony government deliberately misinterprets it and starts acting like a nazi.

This is hopeless on so many levels:

1) Most practically: too late! The theory of natural selection is already out there and well known. The way to prevent more loony misinterpretations is not to suppress or muddy the theory - that can only be counter-productive - but to clarify it, and demonstrate why natural selection is an 'is' not an 'ought'.

2) suppressing a theory that explains the history of evolution in case of future misinterpretation has all the logic, actually, even less logic than taking a history explaining the causes of World War I, and burning it 'so that wars may never happen again.'

Like that episode of the Simpsons where Sspringfield gets hit by a meteor, and the inhabitants run off to destroy the observatory to 'prevent' another one falling.

Posted by: Brit at December 16, 2003 10:42 AM


Yes, I'd make that argument: even if Darwinism is true it should be treated as if it's not because it renders a world not worth having. In fact, we see this process ongoing in America where after a brief epoch of Darwinian ascendancy most Americans have turned against it. It is no coincidence that secular Darwinist Europe is dying away while America continues to ascend as a result.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 10:52 AM

Suppressing? Understanding the implications of the quasi religious attachment many have to rational/materialism would be more like it. Many in the Darwinian crowd, for example, honestly believe that a purely scientific/rationalism is the cure for man's imperfections. All the critics say is "be careful", scientific rationalism , absent other influences, may not be quite as reliable as the materialists insist.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at December 16, 2003 11:03 AM


Darwinism "renders a world not worth having".
If that's what you think, and you choose not to believe Darwinism, I'm not someone who is going to try and make you. I've said that before.

I wouldn't ban religion from schools, or close down churches. I'm not interested in trying to convince you that natural selection is true - leave that to Dawkins. I only try to clarify what natural selection says, and object to the laughable slander that because i believe in natural selection i must believe in eugenics.

Personally, I have no problem with a world created by natural selection.

What I have a problem with is someone telling me that I ought not to be allowed to believe something. The suppression of beliefs is hardly very 'American', eh?

Posted by: Brit at December 16, 2003 11:05 AM


To the contrary, America is incredibly conformist and routinely represses those whose moral beliefs are antithetical to Americanism. That's why we've had repeated Red Scares, wiped out white separatists after OK City, rounded up Muslims after 9-11, went to war over slavery, maintain the largest prison population in the world, etc. Darwinism denies the fundamental premise of the American experiment, that "all men are Created equal". Pretty few of us would rather have Darwinism than America.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 11:15 AM

explain how "Darwinism denies the fundamental premise of the American experiment, that "all men are Created equal". "

I don't understand that.

Posted by: Brit at December 16, 2003 11:18 AM

Obviously we wouldn't be Created with inalienable rights by a Creator and men would be inherently unequal, some fitter to survive than others, the survival of some even a detriment to the species.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 11:24 AM

"some fitter to survive than others" - medicine tells you that, not darwinism.

And neither medicine nor darwinism tells you anything about Rights...that's the Constitution (or in our country, the statute books).

finally, remember: descriptive vs proscriptive.

I believe natural selection accounts for how evolution has occured (the 'is') I also believe that every human being has equal rights, whether they are disabled or a sports star (the 'ought').

If you think there is anything inconsistent in the above, whether you are a Creationist, an Intelligent Design theorist or a Nazi eugenics experimentor, it is simply because you have misunderstood what natural selection says.

Posted by: Brit at December 16, 2003 11:32 AM


That's precisely wrong and exactly what separates America from Europe--in America we believe rights come from the Creator and therefore precede the State. Therefore, a State, when it infringes those rights, becomes illegitimate. The secularist belief that rioghts come from the State means that rights are merely political and necessarily temporary. Darwinism is thus compatble with Europe in a way that it's not with America.

Meanwhile, go back and read the Darwin quote--he's quite clear that Darwinism tells us that the unfit should at least be allowed to die, maybe be culled.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 11:43 AM

ok. "Darwinism" as I use the word refers to natural selection as the descriptive explanation for evolution, as it is understood today by evolutionary biologists. Not to every bloody word Darwin wrote!

That's got that one out of the way.

The whole God-given rights versus state-developed rights debate is an argument i'm not going to bother entering into here.

I'll be quite happy if you acknowledge that my position is logically coherent, whether you agree with it or not: that natural selection explains evolution, but says nothing about what ought to be the case in human society.

Posted by: Brit at December 16, 2003 11:58 AM

What's logical about preserving unfit members of our species who will inevitably lead to our degradation as a biological entity? Why wouldn't we treat humans like any bred animal and seek to improve the stock? Logically.

The voice of logic is Olver Wendell Holmes asking if three generations of imbeciles isn't enough.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 12:11 PM

(see Philosophy of Fascism, esp.Bergson)

Why are you so apoplectic? If Christians can acknowledge the dangers of living of a society governed exclusively with reference to Christian principles and teachings, why are you so resistant to the idea that Darwinism triumphant is a threat. Call me looney, but I have little doubt that a society run by Dawkins would be a pretty scary and dangerous place for many.

Posted by: Peter B at December 16, 2003 1:01 PM

I'm not apoplectic. Actually I'm a bit bored.

I'm only interested in natural selection as a scientific explanation of the history of evolution. No matter how much you try to force it to, it does not inform my political/social thoughts about how a society SHOULD be ordered, which are basically conservative (with a small 'c', in the English sense)

using 'darwinist' to mean 'one who believes in natural selection', there are there are Tory darwinists, socialist darwinists, centre-right darwinists, centre-left darwinists, commie darwinists, radical free-market darwinists....

Posted by: Brit at December 16, 2003 1:29 PM

I'd rather have merely political and temporary and conditional rights than none at all, which is what I'd get if Orrin were in charge.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 16, 2003 3:02 PM


Yet you stay in America where they're religious. Odd, eh?

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 4:47 PM

OJ, Tom, Peter:
For your position regarding Darwinism to be coherent, you have to maintain that if the Origin of Species had never been published, Nazism would never have occurred. That means you have to also conclude that racialism was unknown until Darwin's little tome.

Communists made similar claims: capitalism was the root of all evil in the world. Doing so required them to ignore virtually all of human history.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 16, 2003 7:13 PM

What Harry said.

Contrast the rights we enjoy with the ones we would have if secular government were to give way to Judge Moore.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 16, 2003 7:15 PM


Had people not come to believe in Darwinism/eugenics the Holocaust would not have occurred.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 7:15 PM


The judge who ruled againt Justice Moore did so from under a sculpture of the Ten Commandments, was sworn into office on a Bible, and relied on a Constitution that enshrines God given Rights. It's not a secular society.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 7:17 PM

The Holocaust would not have occurred? Just what do you think the expulsion of the Jews from Spain amounted to? You act as if 20 centuries of anti-Semitism had nothing to do with the acts of Nazism. The only difference was that the 20th century brought the industrial means to bear on long existing absolutist aspirations.

Not judge. Judges. He swore on a Bible to defend the Consititution of the United States.

I did precisely the same thing, many times. I happen to know the difference between the two.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 16, 2003 7:48 PM


And for your position to be coherent, you would have to argue that, were it not for Christianity, the Jews would have sailed through the Middle Ages in comfort and security.

Posted by: Peter B at December 16, 2003 7:49 PM

Two thousand years of anti-Semitism but it took a nation that believed in Darwinism/eugenics to produce the Holocaust--hardly a coincidence.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 7:56 PM

Wrong. My position is merely that Darwinism is irrelevant to Hitler and Nazism. Had Darwin never been born, and the theory of natural selection delayed for 200 years, we would still have had the opportunity to save the Jews from extinction.

Spain produced its own version of the Holocaust. The result was to virtually eliminate any trace of Jewry in Spain.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 16, 2003 8:18 PM

Few deaths though. It takes Darwinism to believe that you need to cleanse their polution from the gene pool. And given Darwinism it's justified. If all life is a struggle for survival between those genetically like you and those less like, may as well slaughter other races.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 8:26 PM


The expulsion of the Jews from Spain and the Holocaust are a bit different. I abhor them both but I can see that they are not the same. Without the enlightenment the French Revolution would not have occured but either would the American. Doesn't mean they are the same. The difference was the American tendeny to rely on natural rights vs. the French reliance on materialism. End of story.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at December 16, 2003 8:28 PM

According to the Jews, many deaths, Orrin.

You cannot expel people from their homes, especially not in medieval conditions, without most of them dying.

And, yes, Peter, I'll argue that without the Christians the Jews would have sailed through the Middle Ages in comfort and security. A lot more than they actually enjoyed, at any rate.

The Jews in China lived quietly and peaceably for centuries, because the Chinese were not Christians.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 16, 2003 8:37 PM

And look at China. I'll take Christendom.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 8:39 PM


Actually, I tend to agree with you, although let's both admit we are way out on a limb here. Now, will you admit nazism would have been impossible without 19th century science?

Posted by: Peter B at December 16, 2003 9:00 PM

I'm not completely up on Mein Kampf, but from what I remember, Nazism was predominantly about near-mystic, fanatical racialism.

If someone were to come up with a theory that people with higher register voices were morally inferior, you would blame the person who used any available means to come to a preconceived conclusion, not acoustics.

19th century science did not invent racialism, or slavish adherence to argument from authority.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 16, 2003 10:05 PM

But Darwinism argues that each race is locked in strugfgle with every other and that inferior races contaminate the gene pool. That's ample reason to expunge them.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2003 10:13 PM

"But Darwinism argues that each race is locked in strugfgle with every other and that inferior races contaminate the gene pool."

You can howl this kind of nonsense all you like OJ, but you'll be unable to take part in any kind of sensible debate until you get over these hopeless basic misconceptions.

Nobody who understands and believes in the theory of natural selection thinks that "each race is locked in struggle with every other", let alone that "inferior races (whoever they are) contaminate the gene pool" so therefore "we (whoever 'we' are) should expunge them".

Natural selection explains how we got where we are now.

It makes no qualitative judgements about where the world should go.

Natural selection deals in the effects of tiny percentage and probability differences over long periods of time.

If an entire population gets wiped out in one go by external it a volcano eruption, a meteor shower, a World War or genocide, that has nothing to do with natural selection.

Gas chambers and H-bombs are not 'darwinian forces'. A 'darwinian force' is gene x conferring a 0.05% greater chance of reproduction than gene y.

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 4:38 AM


But many did believe that, didn't they? And things happened as a result. Were they a reasonably forseeable consequence of what Darwin said? We say yes. Nietchze certainly thought so.

You and Jeff persist in answering "bad science" to every objection. You seem to buy into the popular belief that science is just a bunch of objective facts and that humans swirl around them with total free will making decisions to use them for good or bad. I presume you deny there is anything called a scientific imperative or tecnological imperative that influences us. In this you ressemble thousands of liberal commencement speakers telling graduating classes the world is both a horrible mess and their oyster and inviting them to go out and remake it for good with the aid of science. When they blow it, your answer is simply they didn't do their sums right.

Let's take the pill. When it came out, social conservatives and some faiths objected that it would have detrimental effects on the family and would loosen sexual morality in destructive ways. Scientists and liberals pooh-poohed the idea and insisted there was no "evidence" to link the existence of the pill with irresponsible behaviour--everyone would have the choice and most would use it responsibly within marriage, etc. Now we have record divorce rates, STD's, millions of single parents and a booming mental health industry (even though we have lot's of sex education to help people make the right, informed "choices").

Now, are you going to argue that that was not forseeable and that society just might have continued to follow its traditional ways? Do you continue to deny there is any forseeable link between the invention of the pill and its consequences?

We are arguing as much about human nature as science. Also, I can't seem to square the fact that you guys are always touting the self-correcting, self-improving side of science, but then look to what it says at any point in time as TRUTH.

Posted by: Peter B at December 17, 2003 7:01 AM


Having Aryan genes conveyed a greater chance of survival than having Jewish, gypsy, Slavic, etc. genes, no?

You want Darwinism but none of its logical consequences--tough.

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2003 8:10 AM

Darwin at least understood the implications:

" the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race"

Hitler simply drew upon it in Mein Kampf:

"In general it should not be forgotten that the highest aim of human existence is not the preservation of a state, let alone a government, but the preservation of the species."

"In the struggle for daily bread all those who are weak and sickly or less determined succumb, while the struggle of the males for the female grants the right or opportunity to propagate only to the healthiest. And struggle is always a means for improving a species' health and power of resistance and, therefore, a cause of its higher development...Nature does just this by subjecting the weaker part to such severe living conditions that by them alone the number is limited, and by not permitting the remainder to increase promiscuously, but making a new and ruthless choice according to strength and health. No more than Nature desires the mating of weaker with stronger individuals, even less does she desire the blending of a higher with a lower race, since, if she did, her whole work of higher breeding, over perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, night be ruined with one blow. Historical experience offers countless proofs of this."

" [Speaking against artificial population control:] For as soon as procreation as such is limited and the number of births diminished, the natural struggle for existence which leaves only the strongest and healthiest alive is obviously replaced by the obvious desire to 'save' even the weakest and most sickly at any price, and this plants the seed of a future generation which must inevitably grow more and more deplorable the longer this mockery of Nature and her will continues. And the end will be that such a people will some day be deprived of its existence on this earth; for man can defy the eternal laws of the will to conservation for a certain time, but sooner or later vengeance comes. A stronger race will drive out the weak, for the vital urge in its ultimate form will, time and again, burst all the absurd fetters of the so-called humanity of individuals, in order to replace it by the humanity of Nature which destroys the weak to give his place to the strong. "

" For anyone who believes in a higher development of living creatures must admit that every expression of their life urge and life struggle must have had a beginning; that one subject must have started it, and that subsequently such a phenomenon repeated itself more and more frequently and spread more and more, until at last it virtually entered the subconscious of all members of a given species, thus manifesting itself as an instinct. "

"The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel, but he after all is only a weak and limited man; for if this law did not prevail, any conceivable higher development of organic living beings would be unthinkable. The consequence of this racial purity, universally valid in Nature, is not only the sharp outward delimitation of the various races, but their uniform character in themselves. The fox is always a fox, the goose a goose, the tiger a tiger, etc., and the difference can lie at most in the varying measure of force, strength, intelligence, dexterity, endurance, etc., of the individual specimens. But you will never find a fox who in his inner attitude might, for example, show humanitarian tendencies toward geese, as similarly there is no cat with a friendly inclination toward mice. Therefore, here, too, the struggle among themselves arises less from inner aversion than from hunger and love. In both cases, Nature looks on calmly, with satisfaction, in fact. "

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2003 8:17 AM


Argument 1: The social consequences of widespread acceptance of natural selection as the explanation for evolution, regardless of its truth or falsehood, may be bad... for example, if there is a lot of misinterpretation of the theory in the way that Nazi eugenics misinterpreted it. Therefore we ought not to believe it.

Argument 2: the theory of natural selection actually DOES justify nazi eugenics. Therefore we ought not to believe it.

Argument 1 is a fair comment, and is the argument you are putting forward. I happen to disagree with it, but i'll come on to that in a minute.

Argument 2 is the one OJ is trying to use in this thread. It is ignorant at best, and disingenuous nonsense at worst.


so, back to Argument 1. Ok, so supposing there's a real danger of eugenics or genocide resulting from a widespread acceptance of natural selection.

what's the solution? Do you:

a) try to suppress the theory, not let kids read about it, burn the books?


b) clarify the theory and explain why a belief in natural selection has nothing to do with eugenics?

I'd say (a) is too late and too impractical.

So I'd go for (b)..try to clarify the theory. (Wow, I'm actually doing it now on this very blog! Bully for me...).

Note that (b) does NOT mean: insist that natural selection is definitely true, or ban all religion in schools.

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 8:24 AM


If Darwinism is correct and every generation of every species varies genetically and there is a natural struggle among the variations to see who survives to the next generation, why is the banding of the genetically similar against the disimilar not a natural process? Mind you, Darwinists, stuck trying to reconcile altruism with selfish genes, argue that we'll act to preserve the genes that have been passed on. Why wouled we not act to limit the competitors with those genes?

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2003 8:35 AM


you keep making the same objections based on the same errors. This is the last time, as there's no point in the two of us endlessly repeating ourselves.

1) natural selection is a descriptive theory, not proscriptive. you cannot use it to justify any actions. There is no ought from an is.

Here's a pretty direct parallel: someone arguing that because the law of gravity is true we ought not to send rockets to the moon.

2) 'selfish' is a metaphor for explaining how some self-replicating genes happen to become more prevalent than others in a population.

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 8:46 AM


You're abnthropomorphizing. There is not "justification" for natural processes--whatever happens is natural. Genocide is just part of the struggle to survive, one whose cause is ably described by Darwinism. It's futile to question it.

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2003 8:52 AM


" There is not "justification" for natural processes--whatever happens is natural. "

Hallelujah! Yes! At last you get it!

So where do you go from here, OJ?

Would natural selection predict the massacre of Jews by Nazis?

Of course it wouldn't! That's among the most ludicrous things I've ever heard. You'll doubtless now go on to argue that natural selection would also predict that the Allies defeated Germany, because of their superior genes, and that the inhabitants of Hiroshima were killed by the atom bomb because of their genetic inferiority to the Americans.

One of the mistakes your average European makes is to think that, in biological terms, the entire recorded history of mankind is a fairly long time, so natural selection would have had a significant effect on human beings in that time.

One of the mistakes your average American makes is to think that 200 years is a long time.

But you're the first person I've heard who thinks that, in biological terms, the period 1930-1945 is any time at all.

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 9:02 AM


Exactly. It's all just a struggle and some survive and some don't. Morality is just an artificial Judeo-Christian construct. You may as well weep over gravity as regret the inexorable process of natural selection.

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2003 9:07 AM

Bless you, OJ. You come out with some splendid comments.

Here's an example of natural selection:

In large, mixed flock of sheep, shaggy-haired sheep have a 2% higher chance of successfully reproducing than short-haired sheep. 100 generations later, there are a lot more shaggy-haired sheep than short-haired ones in the flock.

This is NOT an example of natural selection:

In large, mixed flock of sheep, shaggy-haired sheep have a 2% higher chance of successfully reproducing than short-haired sheep.

One day a farmer comes along and shoots all the short-haired sheep. There are now a lot more shaggy-haired sheep than short-haired sheep.

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 9:18 AM

How is that not natural selection? Is Man not natural? If the shaggy sheep survive you're arguing that they had an easier time finding mates or whatever, but if a predator finds them ugly it's suddenly unatural?

Do you view Man as somehow completely outside of the bounds of Evolution?

When was the magic moment that the biological laws that created and shaped all life in the Universe stopped having any effect on us?

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2003 9:28 AM

No magic moment, OJ.

It is clear that you really have not understood what natural selection studies or explains.

Genes have determined that Lennox Leweis is a better athlete than say, me. He could really beat me up.

But I could still shoot Lennox Lewis dead with a gun. If he did, would it be because I was genetically superior?

'Darwinian forces' would be irrelevant in that case to the the survival of me and the death of Lennox.

Women might find George Clooney more attractive than me (unlikely as that seems). He might be able to sire lots of kids by lots of different women, if he wanted to. I've got to settle for my missus.

But George Clooney could have his testicles severed in a chainsaw accident. Now I've got more kids than George. My genes are now more prevalent in the gene pool than poor old GC's.

Nothing to do with my genes.

Natural selection takes effect over LARGE populations, over LARGE timescales, and it depends mostly on tiny probabality percentages.

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 9:46 AM

On an individual level, no. But if Britain invaded Kenya and killed all the Kenyans, natural selection would indeed have selected out Kenyans in favor of Brits.

Posted by: OJ at December 17, 2003 9:58 AM

No, Britain would have wiped out the population of Kenya. That's all you can say. Natural selection had no say in the matter.

The inhabitants of Hiroshima were not wiped out by 'natural selection'. The H-bomb killed them.

Natural selection explains why gazelles run fast, why giraffes have long necks, why some birds are big and some are very small.

Natural selection does not explain how each individual gazelle happens to die.

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 10:02 AM

Six million dead Jews wasn't a matter of individuals.

Posted by: OJ at December 17, 2003 10:12 AM

To clarify, think of it this way:

Scenario 1: Britain drops a bomb on Kenya, kills all the inhabitants, then 2 million Brits go and live in Kenya.

One month later, Kenya is now 99% white.

Scenario 2: 2 million Britons move to Kenya and begin breeding with the locals. The white 'British' gene happens to be 'stronger' than the black Kenyan gene, and tends to dominate in mixed offspring... and Britons are also much more fertile than Kenyans, producing twice as many kids.

100 generations later, Kenya is 99% white.

In scenario 1, we ask: why is Kenya 99% white? The answer? Britain dropped a bomb and emigrated there.

In scenario 2, we ask: why is Kenya 99% white?
The answer....natural selection!!!!

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 10:13 AM

Do you view Man as somehow completely outside of the bounds of Evolution?

When was the magic moment that the biological laws that created and shaped all life in the Universe stopped having any effect on us?

Posted by: OJ at December 17, 2003 10:21 AM

Is man 'outside the bounds' of evolution? No.

Do the forces of natural selection determine my every decision or action? No. Maybe my genes have a lot to do with my behaviour, I don't know. that's for the neuroscientists and the experts to debate. The fact of natural selection does not.

Do the forces of natural selection explain world wars, mass killing etc? No - that's for political historians to explain.

Does evolution explain how man appeared on the Earth? Yes.

Will evolution determine what happens to man from now on? Not necessarily.

Does evolution have an it purposely taking us somewhere? No.

Is the recorded history of mankind anything more than the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms? No.

Natural selection explains why that pigeon I once saw in Trafalgar Square was grey, small and had 2 eyes.

The mayor of London wiped out all the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. That pigeon is now dead. Did natural selection kill it? No, that swine of a Mayor did it.

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 10:35 AM

But if a flock peregrine falcons had been flying over and ate all the pigeons in Britain that would be natural selection? Or does that too escape Natural Selection?

Posted by: OJ at December 17, 2003 10:42 AM're getting a bit closer to asking interesting questions, I'll give you that!

First things first: natural selection is not the appropriate explanation for every natural phenomenon that occurs. Pompeii was a natural phenomenon. Its inhabitants were no different genetically from the inhabitants of Rome, but suddenly there are no Pompeiian genes in the pool.

The study of natural selection is the study of how small, random changes at the genetic level can produce dramatic changes in populations on a larger scale over veeeeery loooooong periods of time.

It explains why the we have the wonderful and varied menagerie of lifeforms that we do have on this earth.

If a flock of falcons one day ate all the pigeons in england...i'd say, we're dealing with a miraculous phenomenon here. I would not use the kinds of things that natural selection uses to explain population changes, to explain the sudden disappearance of pigeons. I'd be seeking other explanations...

Just like I would not use the kinds of things that natural selection uses to explain things, to explain how the pigeons got wiped out by the Mayor. I'd explain it by saying the Mayor wanted to get re-elected cos the pigeons are unpopular.

Now, if pigeon-eating falcons were introduced into britain...but say they only liked big fat plump pigeons. They get eaten on average a lot more than small pigeons. So gradually small scrawny pigeons become more prevalent...until many many generations later, all pigeons are really quite tiny.

Now I'm sitting in my space-age home ten thousand years in the future, and I ask, what the hell happened to all those fat pigeons we used to have?...

the answer...natural selection got rid of them!

Get it? 'Natural selection' did not kill every single fat pigeon...falcons accounted for most of them.

But when we want to explain why there are no fat pigeons anymore...we use the language of natural selection.

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 11:03 AM


Busy morning. Let's go way back to the A and B you gave me. How about C--doubt the theory on the grounds that its reasonably forseeable consequences call into question its veracity or completeness. But, yes, that is hard to do because you are betting the pot on objective truths, which you say exist independant of human actions or perceptions. But if those truths are evolving and self-correcting as we speak, how can they be truths?

Harry and Jeff like to say that results count in defence of deferring to scientific rationalism. I think that is a good argument, but why do they only claim credit for the positive results and flee the room when we consider the negative?

Posted by: Peter B at December 17, 2003 11:21 AM

But if humans decided they liked fat pigeons and ate them, over a period of years, it wouldn't be natural selection, because intelligent choice intervened? Only unintelligent choice by falcons can be "natural"?

Posted by: OJ at December 17, 2003 11:26 AM

No, the intelligence or otherwise of the falcons and the humans is nothing to do with it.

Natural selection looks at what we have now, and explains how it got there. It is a historical story.

Man breeds dogs, right? In just two generations of careful breeding he creates a prefect pedigree alsation.

Now, you can call that 'natural selection' if you really wanted to stretch a definition, on the grounds that man is part of 'nature' and whatnot, and he's 'selected' the dogs...

...but that's not the kind of thing we use natural selection to explain...that's not what it's about.

Natural selection is what we can use to explain evolution and genetic differentiation over many many generations.

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 11:40 AM

Okay, so we've a natural system where natural selection winnows away until intelligent Man arrives, at which point we become the shapers of evolution.

Whip up the primordial soup in your lab and set the process under way again and I assume you'd concede that Natural Selection will so favor intelligence in general that eventually another intelligent species will arise and it will begin to shape evolution.

Thus, design.

Posted by: OJ at December 17, 2003 11:48 AM

Quite possibly.

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 1:40 PM

Ah, sweet convergence.

Posted by: OJ at December 17, 2003 2:06 PM

Actually, Orrin, the idea that once life starts, intelligence is almost a foregone conclusion is not very popular with Darwinists.

Or historians. For more than 80% of Earth history, there was no intelligence here. As far as we know, that holds for more than 95% of Universe history.

Also, as far as we know, Earth is the only place with intelligence.

You are sneaking teleology in the back door again. That's OK but it isn't Darwinian.

Peter, to go back many, many posts, no I don't see anything extraordinary in Nazi antisemitism as such. The Nazi antisemites got hold of the biggest, most powerful, most technologically advanced machine any antisemites ever had and were able to do more extensive damage with it.

Their market penetration, so to speak, was not much greater, if at all, from earlier, more primitive antisemites. Even at the worst calculus, a third of Jews escaped Hitler. Some bishops did better.

That Nazi antisemitism depended somehow on Darwinism, or even on a weird, distorted version of Spencerism, is arguable, but in opposition I'll just say: Goldhagen.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 17, 2003 5:44 PM


sorry, OJ, perhaps we don't converge quite as neatly as you hope.

the point i'm agreeing to is that a belief in natural selection is not an insistence that natural selection is the only force that will ever shape evolution.

it just explains all the evolution that has so far happened, and it does so without recourse to design.

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 5:57 PM

...although, to avoid further pain, I am willing to let you have that as a logically coherent way of combining God and natural selection.

Personally, I don't believe it you should be squeezing design in there at the front end....

...Occam's Razor :)

Posted by: Brit at December 17, 2003 6:15 PM


But their brethren in physics assume there are myriad planets with intelligent life. And even Darwinists would likely agree that intelligence seems to convey some advantage, no?

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2003 6:18 PM


So the Dodo did go extinct because of Natural Selection?

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2003 6:19 PM

You are going to have to get used to OJ using sophistry and logic chopping to avoid having to come to terms with a theory that, if true, will make an unpleasant mixture with some of his fundamental beliefs. If you were to show a frame-by-frame DVD of every instance of evolution ever, it still wouldn't be sufficient evidence.

Evolution is wrong because it must be, not because it is.

Harry brought the main point into stark relief. Darwinism had nothing to do with Nazism and the Holocaust. The Spanish Inquisition was every bit as evil to the Jews, but chronology makes blaming Darwin something of a challenge.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 17, 2003 6:57 PM


You catch one instance on DVD and I'll eat it. But Natural Selection in no wise contradicts God, which is why so many accept it blithely

Meanwhile, the Inquisition as bad as the Holocaust? You really do have a bad case of religiophobia, eh?

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2003 7:07 PM

No, I don't. But I did read that Netenyahu link, as well as another a recent poster left to an article in a Catholic periodical addressing modern anti-Semitism, and the Church's response to Nazism. They both make for pretty sickening reading.

The Inquisition's reasons were just as awful. In terms of thoroughness, the Inquisition gave up nothing to the Nazis. It was only the fruits of the Industrial Revolution that it lacked.

Natural selection vitiates your notion of morality, because it would mean an aimless process happened to produce some sort of moral sense. Which would make God a gloss over what was already there.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 17, 2003 8:32 PM


It's not aimless if it produced Man and the moral sense which, as you and Brit argue, brings Natural Selection to a halt. It is the means to that end.

Your point about Nazism is obscure--the Church should have reacted more forcefully to Nazism/Darwinism but can hardly be more repugnant in the case than the Darwinists themselves.

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2003 8:48 PM

There you go again, Orrin. The physicist I have recommendedd, Robert Ehrlich, is the most recent to consider the likelihood of other intelligent life in the Universe. He finds it, at best, a chancy proposition.

Physicists have been ruminating on this, without a great deal of evidence to guide them, since Oparin, and I'd say they're about equally divided between thinking intelligence common and thinking it is probably rare. Who knows?

Darwinists, however, not being teleological and knowing the long stretch of life without intelligence here, are pretty uniformly skeptical that intelligence is especially likely to arise. Nothing in Darwinism requires it.

Is intelligence beneficial? Depends. Cockroaches do as well as we do, evolutionarily speaking, and they are no smarter than Democrats.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 17, 2003 9:42 PM

Cool, so we're agreed that there's likely just one place where Darwinism ceased functioning and it's here with us? And you still think Copernicus was right?

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2003 10:08 PM


The thing is, I don't have any particular hopes or desires of showing to OJ that natural selection without design is what he should believe.

I'm well aware that for his own reasons he needs to deny the possibility that man could have got here by accident.

I just want to try to clarify what natural selection is, and to therefore show that a lot of the objections he raises are not objections to ns.

I'm quite happy to let him have the logically possible notion that God 'started off' natural selection. I don't believe it myself, since I see no reason to believe it. But I can never hope to 'prove' it wrong.

Posted by: Brit at December 18, 2003 4:40 AM


That's quite wrong. I have no problem with the idea that Evolution--large scale speciation--is completely random, that it is driven by viruses or radiation or aliens or whatever. My specific problem is with the absurd notion that Natural Selection can ever produce real speciation.

Posted by: oj at December 18, 2003 2:23 PM

Darwinism hasn't ceased functioning, Orrin.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 18, 2003 2:36 PM


No, right there's some disagreement about that among Darwinists. Others hold your view that we're in one of those several thousand year periods of total stasis.

Posted by: oj at December 18, 2003 2:52 PM

Unless you are a Creationist, several thousand years is a vanishingly small amount of time. Using similar reasoning, you would conclude the earth is flat.

Just trying to save you some frustration, although I have to admit it hasn't worked for me : )

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 18, 2003 5:04 PM

We've circumnavigated the Earth and proved it's not flat. Experimentation, a key part of real science.

Posted by: oj at December 18, 2003 5:34 PM

Being in one of the three or four greatest periods of extinction in Earth history hardly fits the definition of statis.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 18, 2003 8:16 PM

Extinction, by definition, isn't evolution.

Posted by: oj at December 18, 2003 8:43 PM

By whose definition, other than yours?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 18, 2003 8:47 PM

Which experiment proves the Earth is round?

Perhaps you meant observing the evidence and being unable to pose a theory other than sphericity to explain it all.

Kind of like natural selection.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 18, 2003 8:49 PM



Alan Shepherd circled a round Earth.

Posted by: oj at December 18, 2003 9:07 PM

Extinction is part of evolution. It changes the dynamic, and that's what it's about. And the current state of life is anything but static.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 19, 2003 1:02 AM

Were Darwinism even mildly plausible, the types of pressures that are creating such a great die off would have to lead to enormous variation and speciation, rather than none.

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2003 1:09 AM


If you were purely and simply arguing that, for scientific reasons, natural selection could not produce speciation, I would never have bothered debating with you.

But in fact, you have come up with all sorts of nonsense, including: ns is incompatible with morality, ns 'justifies' genocide, ns says that 'selfish' genes determine our actions...etc.

There's no point denying that you've argued these things. They're in this thread.

Posted by: Brit at December 19, 2003 4:09 AM


I appreciate your concern...but OJ's heriocally stubborn resistance provides me with admiring chuckles rather than frustrated groans...

But I notice you managed to wring this quote from OJ in the Mayr thread:

"...most Intelligent Designers and Creationists would likely acknowledge that your Natural Selection is as valid. In fact, it seems the means by which the Intelligence Designed and Created. They just wouldn't accede to the claim it is somehow more valid."

...from natural selection being an absurd impossibility to being the quite valid 'means by which the Intelligence Designed and Created.'

I call that one small step for a sophist, one giant intellectual leap for an OJ :)

Posted by: Brit at December 19, 2003 4:40 AM