January 19, 2008


The evolution of Darwin's bad influence: a review of Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science by John G. West (Bruce Ramsey, 1/18/08, The Seattle Times)

John G. West, who disbelieves in Darwinism, has written a book on its bad cultural consequences, from eugenics to permissive sex education. West's opponents will not read it, because he is a fellow of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle think tank that has championed Intelligent Design. And that is too bad, because even those who believe in Darwin's theory of evolution, as I do, can concede that some things done in its name have been less than pleasing.

It is dangerous to think that a new idea conquers all. West recounts how the believers in Darwinism colonized the fields of criminal justice, social welfare, psychology, economics and the management of personnel and of human reproduction.

In criminal justice, Darwinism put new clothes on the old idea of determinism — that free will is an illusion, that man is a "meat machine" determined by genes or environment. If the will is an empty vessel, the criminal has no responsibility. (But then, neither does the prosecutor.)

West recalls how an early I-couldn't-help-it plea was presented to the courts in the case of Leopold and Loeb, two upper-crust teenagers who, for the hell of it, murdered a 14-year-old boy. They hired Clarence Darrow, who argued famously that the bad influences on them made them do it.

That was in 1924. Eugenics — the application of animal breeding to humans — was also big back then. In 1927, the state of Virginia's program of sterilization reached the Supreme Court. Considering whether the state should be allowed to cut the tubes of Carrie Buck because she was "feebleminded," Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said it could, famously declaring, "Three generations of imbeciles is enough."

Mr. West has set himself too easy a task. The real challenge would be to try and write a book (or even a pamphlet) about any benefit that an ideology that exists only to justify such pathologies might have brought. As Philip S. Skell pointed out in The Scientist, Darwinism doesn't even contribute anything useful in the field of biology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 19, 2008 7:05 AM

Darwin Day? That's not until February sometime--today is Robert E. Lee Day.

Posted by: Lou Day at January 19, 2008 1:11 PM

Given this particular reviewer's biases, oj, we should assume that Mr. West's gift horse has acceptably healthy teeth.

Posted by: ghostcat at January 19, 2008 1:44 PM