Friday, September 03, 2010

The Mendacious David Klinghoffer

To borrow a phrase: Either David Klinghoffer isn't very bright or he doesn't think his readers are. Over at Evolution News and Views, he has taken the tragic circumstances at the Discovery Channel involving the unhinged gunman who took the station hostage and turned them into an anti-evolution tirade in a post titled "James J. Lee, Hostage-taker and Darwinist". The gunman made a list of demands, many of them written in terse, angry tones. One such demand demanded we stop showing programs of the "
...birth of any more parasitic human infants and the false heroics behind those actions. In those programs' places, programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility must be pushed."
Another demand reads:
"Civilization must be exposed for the filth it is. That, and all its disgusting religious-cultural roots and greed. Broadcast this message until the pollution in the planet is reversed and the human population goes down! This is your obligation. If you think it isn't, then get hell off the planet! Breathe Oil! It is the moral obligation of everyone living otherwise what good are they??"
The point here is that the gunman clearly had a psychotic break with reality. What precipitated this can only be guessed. It is not the first time a mentally unstable person took hostages and it will not be the last.

But what got our esteemed Dr. Klinghoffer upset was demand number 7, which reads:
"Develop shows that mention the Malthusian sciences about how food production leads to the overpopulation of the Human race. Talk about Evolution. Talk about Malthus and Darwin until it sinks into the stupid people's brains until they get it!!"
He mentions Thomas Malthus three times, always in the context of overpopulation. One of the influences of Charles Darwin was the essay that the Reverend Malthus wrote about human overpopulation. Darwin understood that the reason that overpopulation HAD NOT happened was because there was competition for resources. Malthus' essay on population growth1 was a hypothetical model only. The gunman wasn't concerned about evolution. That was not what was driving his anger. Overpopulation and pollution were driving his anger. That is obvious on the face of it—to everyone except David Klinghoffer, who then uncorks this:
My purpose here, of course, isn't to suggest that Darwinism drives people mad or anything like that, but merely to point out, as I've done in the past, the strange attraction Darwinian theory exerts on some people who are crazy, or wicked, or both. This is a truth that's suppressed again and again, yet it remains true.
This is a blatant misrepresentation of what the gunman's concerns were and if Klinghoffer doesn't know that he should. If he does, and I suspect he does, then that is mendacious behavior. His point may not be to suggest that Darwinism drives people mad but it is to suggest that there is a connexion between adherence to the theory and the kind of behaviour exhibited by the gunman.

Toward the bottom of the piece, he lists a litany of names of people supposedly informed by Darwin who have gone on rampages and killed multiple times before being either arrested or themselves, killed. That all of these individuals are mentally unbalanced is something that Klinghoffer conveniently leaves out. He also mentions both Hitler and Stalin as being inspired by Darwin, connexions that are easily rebutted, something else that Klinghoffer fails to notice.

But just for the sake of argument, lets say he is right and that "Darwinism" is an ideology that leads people to violence against their fellow man. I wonder what other ideologies might do the same thing? As I mentioned in a post several months back, Jeffrey Schloss has addressed this issue. He writes:
The historical record amply and indisputably confirms the fact that references to Darwin and to ideological principles attributed to the evolutionary process were frequently employed by the intellectual architects of the Reich, at the very least in this way. That Darwin was used (or abused) in Holocaust thinking seems uncontestable. But it is also not necessarily very interesting. Darwin has been used in this way for many other social movements very different from fascist eugenics: e.g., racial egalitarianism, feminism, anti-feminism, Marxism, and free enterprise capitalism. Big ideas can be used, or misused, for all manner of big causes, and Darwinism – like the Bible – has been claimed to justify or inspire many.
Klinghoffer seems to think the connexion between Darwin and Hitler is worthy of mention. What about the connexion between Christianity and Hitler? Richard Steigmann-Gall, in his article Apostasy or Religiosity? writes:
Many bishops of the Lutheran state churches saw in Nazism the explicit fulfillment of a Protestant politics. In 1931 the Lutheran Landesbisch of Mecklenburg, Heinrich Rendtorff, proclaimed:

"Many members of the Protestant Church today live with their complete thought and
feeling in the National Socialist movement. The Protestant Church is therefore obliged, by its calling, to seek out the individual and to serve him, to seek him in his own circle, which means especially in the National Socialist movement.... The National Socialist movement passionately affirms social thought and brotherhood. Therefore it stands for a concern which is also one for the Protestant Church.... The Protestant Church must, for the sake of its calling, hear and thankfully greet the great intent coming out of the National Socialist movement."

After Hitler's appointment, Rendtorff was no less enthusiastic: 'The Protestant communities of Mecklenburg should know in this hour that their state church in its faith says ajoyful and strong yes to German Volkstum ... to the German nation'.
Even many confessional Lutherans who would later join the Confessing Church subscribed to these political views. The most noteworthy in this regard was Otto Dibelius, the General Superintendent and later Bishop of Brandenburg. After the NSDAP's electoral breakthrough in September I930, he certified the Nazi movement as Christian: 'The National Socialists, as the strongest party of the right, have shown both by their programme and their practical deportment in Thuringia that they have a firm, positive relationship to Christianity ... We may expect that they will remain true to their principles in the new Reichstag.' After the seizure of power Dibelius continued to view Nazism this way, even to the point of excusing Nazi brutality.2
From this account, it is clear that the organized church was not just aware of Nazism but had wholeheartedly embraced this ideology that was responsible for the killing of over 6 million jews. What are we to make of this? If "Darwinism" is responsible for Hitler, than surely "Christianity" is as well. Are we to take from this that both ideologies are evil and we should actively fight against them and their followers?

Or is it just possible that Schloss is right: that just because someone misapplies a scientific theory or even an ideology is not necessarily a reflection on those that promulgated it or even of the theory or ideology, itself. Darwin was no more responsible for the killings at Colombine than was Jesus for the gassing of the Jews. I, somehow, don't think that Klinghoffer would be willing to place the blame for racism, genocide and the evil of the twentieth century at the foot of Jesus Christ. Nor should he. The problem is not with the ideologies but with Klinghoffer's facile argument.

1Malthus, T. (1817). An essay on the principle of population, as it affects the future improvement of society. With remarks on the speculations of mr. Godwin, m. Condorcet, and other writers. By TR Malthus.
2Steigmann-Gall, R. (2000). Apostasy or religiosity? The cultural meanings of the Protestant vote for Hitler. Social History, 25(3), 267-284.

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