Saturday, February 07, 2009

More Association Fallacy at the the DI

John West writes a column for Forbes magazine arguing that the views of Charles Darwin laid the groundwork for the social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer and the like that came after. He writes:

Darwin did oppose slavery, but his evolutionary justification of racism influenced the scientific community well into the 20th century. While most scientists have jettisoned Darwin's scientific racism, there are notable exceptions. In 2007, for example, Nobel laureate James Watson, who co-discovered the structure of DNA, sparked a furor by asserting that black Africans are biologically inferior to whites because of evolution.

What he doesn't mention in this paragraph is that the scientific community of biologists, evolutionists all, roundly condemned Watson for his positions, which are not scientifically founded. But this sidesteps the fact that Darwin was right about evolution, regardless of what his social views were. As Mark Isaak writes:

Virtually all Englishmen in Darwin's time viewed blacks as culturally and intellectually inferior to Europeans. Some men of that time (such as Louis Agassiz, a staunch creationist) went so far as to say they were a different species. Charles Darwin was a product of his times and no doubt viewed non-Europeans as inferior in ways, but he was far more liberal than most: He vehemently opposed slavery (Darwin 1913, especially chap. 21), and he contributed to missionary work to better the condition of the native Tierra del Fuegans. He treated people of all races with compassion.

West continues:

Perhaps Darwinism's most lasting cultural legacy has been the cultivation of a virulent strain of fundamentalism that treats modern science as the solution to all of humanity's problems.

From Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, who confidently asserts that according to science God is a "delusion," to Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer who cites Darwin to justify his view that "the life of a newborn baby is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog or a chimpanzee," Darwinism has evolved into a blunt club to silence discussion by equating any dissenting views on science issues with superstition.

Where is this virulent strain of fundamentalism? As anyone who reads the news knows, Dawkins and Singer, despite being well-known in their fields, are on the fringes socio-politically. There were massive protests to Singer's being hired at Princeton. Dawkins' book The God Delusion has received very few positive reviews.

But this sidesteps the problem of the "Association Fallacy" in which West is engaging. A knows B, B thinks X, therefore A thinks X. Anybody's ideas can be misused. Many people would argue that the existence of nuclear weapons is a manifest example of the misue of nuclear technology, yet I will grant you that no one disputes the existence of that technology. Evolutionary thought doesn't lead to the idea that other ethnic groups are inferior any more than embracing nuclear technology leads to the idea that you should go bomb your neighbors. But even if it did, it wouldn't change the existence of nuclear technology. More arrant nonsense from the DI.

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