ARTICLE: More than a Mentor: Leonard Darwin’s Contribution to the Assimilation of Mendelism into Eugenics and Darwinism

An article of interest in the Journal of the History of Biology:

More than a Mentor: Leonard Darwin’s Contribution to the Assimilation of Mendelism into Eugenics and Darwinism

Norberto Serpente

Abstract This article discusses the contribution to evolutionary theory of Leonard Darwin (1850–1943), the eighth child of Charles Darwin. By analysing the correspondence Leonard Darwin maintained with Ronald Aylmer Fisher in conjunction with an assessment of his books and other written works between the 1910s and 1930s, this article argues for a more prominent role played by him than the previously recognised in the literature as an informal mentor of Fisher. The paper discusses Leonard’s efforts to amalgamate Mendelism with both Eugenics and Darwinism in order for the first to base their policies on new scientific developments and to help the second in finding a target for natural selection. Without a formal qualification in biological sciences and as such mistrusted by some “formal” scientists, Leonard Darwin engaged with key themes of Darwinism such as mimicry, the role of mutations on speciation and the process of genetic variability, arriving at important conclusions concerning the usefulness of Mendelian genetics for his father’s theory.


To quote-mine or not to quote-mine…

“It is interesting to contemplate a supporter of intelligent design, clothed with errors of many kinds, with misquotes gracing their writings, with various misrepresentations here and there, and with ignorance showing from their mouths, and to reflect that these in-elaborately constructed forms, so like each other, and dependent on each other because everyone else thinks they are ridiculous, have all been – unfortunately – produced by laws acting around us.” – Charles Darwin, 1859

In this post by ID-sympathizer and Darwin-to-Hitler historian Richard Weikart, a review of a new biography of Darwin by Paul Johnson, these words are actually strung together: “While some of his discussion about social Darwinism makes sense, he overplays his hand, damaging his credibility. While he correctly argues that Darwin was a bona fide social Darwinist, he mistakenly insists that Darwin opposed vaccinations and other medical interventions that allowed the weak and sickly to reproduce. This is a widespread myth among anti-Darwinists that has been propagated by quoting Darwin out of context. It is true that in Descent of Man Darwin mentioned that vaccinations (and other public health measures) could promote the reproduction of the weak, but Darwin immediately added that because of our social instincts, ‘we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind.'” (emphasis mine)

Weikart, a Professor of History at California State University, Stanislaus and author of two books linking Darwin to Hitler (which are widely criticized by Darwin historians, notably Robert J. Richards), is a Fellow of the Discovery Institute, the definitive intelligent design organization, AKA ” the quoting Darwin out of context”-generator. Weikart appeared in the DI’s film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, talking with Ben Stein about Darwin and Hitler:

Following that bit in the “documentary,” you will see this scene:

Here are the words of Darwin that Stein gives us from The Descent of Man (1871):

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. 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. 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. Hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

This surely sounds like Darwin is supportive of eugenics. However, as many were quick to show just after the film was released, this is a pathetic attempt to misquote Darwin to those who didn’t know better – the intended audience for the film. All one has to do is look up where the passage came from in Darwin’s book (and this day in age it is so simple a task). From pages 168-169 in the first edition of The Descent of Man, published by John Murray in London in 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.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with a certain and great present evil.

Oh, Darwin was not advocating for eugenics at all. How dishonest of the filmmakers. I find it ironic that Weikart, having appeared in this film in a scene adjacent to probably the most public instance of Darwin misquoting for the benefit of antievolutionism, himself is criticizing another historian for quoting Darwin out of context. Oh, Darwin-haters, you’re so hard to understand!

ARTCILE: Patrick Geddes and the politics of evolution

File:Patrick Geddes (1886).jpg

Patrick Geddes (1854 - 1932)

Forthcoming in Endeavour:

Patrick Geddes and the politics of evolution

Chris Renwick

Abstract Ever since they began to be widely discussed during the early nineteenth century, evolutionary ideas have played a controversial role in debates about politics and social reform. Understanding the political commitments of those who have sought to integrate politics and evolution is a complex challenge, though; not least because memories of mid-twentieth-century eugenic policies have frequently shaped how we talk about biosocial science. However, as the case of the Scottish biologist-turned-town-planner Patrick Geddes highlights, while we need to be aware of the broad appeal that biosocial science has historically held, we also need to recognise that current political categories can be misleading when thinking about those of who have put evolution and politics together.

ARTICLE: The Scopes Trial Revisited: Social Darwinism versus Social Gospel

Not new, but I just came across this from the June 2008 issue of Science as Culture:

The Scopes Trial Revisited: Social Darwinism versus Social Gospel

Matthew J. Tontonoz

Abstract To many observers, the recent evolution wars in the US seem a revival of the historic 1925 Scopes trial, with William Jennings Bryan cast as the intellectual forbearer of today’s creationists and proponents of intelligent design. This paper argues against drawing too close a parallel between these two episodes. Using Bryan’s unread closing remarks as a key to his views, this revisionist historical work argues that Bryan opposed evolution primarily for political and ethical reasons—reasons that have been lost to historical memory. Bryan’s overarching concern was the threat to society posed by extrapolations of evolutionary doctrine—namely, Social Darwinism and eugenics. His commitment to the Social Gospel put him at odds with the concept of natural selection being applied to humans. This view of Bryan differs from the one with which we are most familiar. Our faulty historical memory largely reflects the caricatured view of Scopes spawned by the movie Inherit the Wind, a view that, furthermore, reinforces an unhelpful positivistic view of science.

Glenn Beck on Darwin

Beck: “I am not a history teacher.” No shit, Sherlock.

On his program today, Beck espoused the anti-evolutionist claim that Darwin is somehow responsible for racism; he seems to imply that Darwin can be traced to the practice of slavery in America. Slavery, however, was an institution that predated Darwin’s birth and one which he was revolted by (during the Beagle voyage and, as some historians have argued, led to his developing a theory of evolution with common descent). He surprises his viewers with the historical connection between abolitionist Wedgwood with his famous image “Am I Not a Man and a Brother? and his grandson Charles Darwin. Darwin was…. wait for it… “the father of modern-day racism.” Yes, a famous abolitionist had a famous racist for a grandson. But, Darwin was himself a passionate abolitionist, and any claims of racism must be taken in context of the time he lived.

In the beginning of this segment (at this link), Beck urged his viewers to go out and read and get the information for themselves. Why, then, Beck, do you depend on misleading anti-evolutionist propaganda about Darwin and don’t go out and read about it for yourself? Here’s two suggestions: Voyage of the Beagle and Darwin’s Sacred Cause.

The shit that refuses to be flushed

The shit:

Wallace, too?

Wallace, too?

Just back in June, Michael Ruse argued against  the tired argument that Darwin was somehow responsible for Hitler and the atrocities of the Holocaust. And now we must defend Newton. He is responsible, after all, for bombs dropping and bullets speeding. Not really, but it follows the same logic.

A Discovery Institute fellow has once again lambasted Charles for events which occurred after his death. See “The Dark Side of Darwinism” by David Klinghoffer for The Huffington Post on July 2, which reads, in part:

Darwin elaborated a picture of how the world works, how creatures war with each other for survival thus selecting out the fittest specimens and advancing the species. In this portrait of animal life, man is no exception. Any animal that strives to preserve the weak, as man does, is committing racial suicide. “Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind,” Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man, a policy “highly injurious to the race of man.”

Hitler did nothing more than translate the competition of species into obsessively racial terms. John West reminds us that while it’s true that Darwin himself was by all accounts a kind and gentle man, he was “better than his [own] principles.” The outline of a campaign of extermination — of whatever groups might be deemed unfit — is right there in the notorious fifth chapter of the Descent. Darwin assured readers that human sympathy would prevent such a horror, but his own concept of morality was itself an evolutionary one. Moral ideas evolved along with the species. There is nothing transcendentally compelling about our “sympathy.”

Darwinism was itself a major agent of dispelling sympathetic sentiments. Evolutionary thinking inspired modern scientific racism. For Darwin, evolution explained the phenomenon — so he saw it — of racial inferiority. Some races were farther up the evolutionary tree than others. Thus, in his view, Africans were just a step above gorillas.

In the hands of American racists, such observations came to justify not only eugenics but ugly restrictive immigration legislation like the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, authored by a congressman from Washington State, Albert Johnson. He was inspired by the bestselling eugenics advocate of the time, Madison Grant, whose influential book The Passing of the Great Race sold more than a million and a half copies. The Johnson-Reed law, which excluded Asians from immigrating to the United States, was one of the irritants in U.S.-Japanese relations that led ultimately to the Pacific side of World War II.

“Ideas have consequences” — that is the often repeated mantra of this meaty documentary. Which is, come to think of it, another fact of history that tends to get lost, or suppressed, in discussions of Darwinism.

A picture of how the world works carries implications about how the world should work, must work. If morality is stitched into the fabric of reality rather than being merely a useful fiction, then here is no observation about reality that has no moral consequences. That much the victims of moral Darwinism, over the past century and a half, have found out to their sorrow.

Again, the application of a particular science – good or bad – does not say anything about whether said science is correct/true/proven/confirmed/what have you. Many blogs have responded to this beaten and ludicrous claim, so here are some links:

The Sensuous Curmudgeon: Klinghoffer Disgorges a Creationist Gusher (7/3/10)

The Sensuous Curmudgeon: Hitler, Darwin, and … Winston Churchill? (7/5/10)

PZ: Huffpo. Creationist. Nazis. Mix together and flush. (7/5/10)

The Primate Diaries: Darwin and Hitler, Again? (7/6/10)

The Primate Diaries: Responding to Discovery Institute at Huffington Post (7/6/10) & Eric was censored!

Thoughts in a Haystack: Shameless Assholes (7/7/10)

Please be patient, I am evolving as fast as I can!: Klinghoffer . . . again! (7/7/10)

Religious Dispatches (Lauri Lebo): HuffPo Columnist Tries to Link Darwin with Hitler (7/8/10) & Greg takes note

Robert J. Richards, an historian of biology and Darwin scholar, addresses the claim: Darwin –> Haeckel –> Hitler in his book The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought, and he has several papers/chapters on the same topic available on his website (here, here, here, and here). A review of the book went up on Skeptic and Richards responded to the “hyperbolically misleading review.”

Back to Klinghoffer. He urges Steve Newton of the NCSE, who wrote a piece for HuffPo a few days before where he stated “David Klinghoffer… has tried to link Darwin to Dr. Mengele, H.P. Lovecraft, Chairman Mao, and Charles Manson,” to check out a new documentary titled What Hath Darwin Wrought? – a film produced by none other than the Discovery Institute. Unbelievable! Essentially: “Hi, my name is David, I am with the Discovery Institute. You don’t accept my argument, so let me give you another opinion. It’s also from the Discovery Institute. Trust me, we have no biased agenda.”