Home > book reviews, philosophy > Ten Books…Part X: the obvious choice of Darwin

Ten Books…Part X: the obvious choice of Darwin

The previous entries can be read here. We turn towards Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man, a surprising choice since Origin of the Species was first.

“But it is impossible to distance Darwin from eugenics: it’s a straight logical shot from his evolutionary arguments.”

First off Wiker, if it is straight and logical, why then is it a “shot?” The word “shot” does not imply necessity, it implies a leap. That however is a syntactical objection to Wiker’s criticism much more linquistical than I am used to writing so we will pass it forward. As an overview of the chapter I will again levy the charge that Wiker commits the fallacy of composition. What one person (or group) does with a theory does not mean that all people who believe in the theory condone the same activities.

Secondly, Darwin uses the term “natural selection” which means that without interference certain species will develop certain traits more benefitial to survival and reproduction. Eugenics isn’t natural selection, it is artificial selection, much the way that almonds are grown without large amounts of yummy cyanide or cows are bred to produce more milk. Again, Darwin’s theory isn’t about eugenics it’s about what happens to birds, bees, et al. over vast periods of time.

Wiker, who I’m perplexed on his views regarding evolutionary theory, makes the mistake that almost all creationists make. He claims that, “The pernicious aspect of Darwin’s Descent [of Man] is not the mapping of our ancestry to Chimpanzees or Gorillas. (The following sentence will imply that the pernicious aspect is Eugenics)” This mistake is too much for an academic to committ accidentally. Agree or disagree on evolution, one thing I always make my students aware of is that Evolutionary Theory does not claim that humans are descended from Gorillas or Chimpanzees. It claims that those two groups and us share a distant, common simian ancestor. Michael Jackson’s chimp isn’t a great grandfather but rather one of those cousins that we don’t talk to. So is Wiker pandering? I say, giving him the benefit of the doubt, that he must be but in being so incorrect this book is quickly becoming one that should be included in the title…although more people would have to read it.

Nevertheless, was Darwin in favor of Eugenics? Possibly, he does make the case that human society can suffer if the weak are able to reproduce. Anyone, in Darwin’s words, can see that in animal husbandry–we breed the strong and not the weak. We care for the weak in human civilizations with vaccinations and treatments for various physical limitations.

Does this mean that Darwin wantonly desires the sterilization of those deemed unfit? Since he doesn’t say it’s impossible to note, but Wiker thinks he does not realizing that Darwin did realize a difference between the beasts of the Earth and Humans.

Another point is that Wiker attacks Darwin by showing that Eugenics was a popular science once. He quotes a 1917 American biology text in support of this claim. That text he quotes is “A Civic Biology” the text book used in the Scopes Monkey Trial, defended by Clarence Darrow. The use of that particular text book is purposeful, Wiker’s prose is such that one might be given the idea that William Jennings Bryan (the prosecutor in the case), tried to get the book banned because of the Eugenics definition in the text.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. The book that was used was of no concern, the trial took place because the state law forbid the teaching of any theory other than the biblical account of Creation. Eugenics, was an accepted Science at the time thus not in violation of the law. And calling “Inherit the Wind” a propoganda piece is not only a non-sequitor but just inflammatory.

Just because people in the early 20th century derived Eugenics from the theory of Evolution does not mean that Darwin’s book screwed up the world. If Wiker is correct, that all teaching and application of the theory of evolution must inevitably lead to eugenics; then it would mean that all progress (scientific, medical, etc.) based on that theory would thus be immoral and must be discarded. I hope he thinks of this next year when he gets in line for a flu shot.

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