Tuesday, 22 November 2005

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How to Seem to Skin a Darwinist while Being Skinned by One Todd Zywicki's smear of PZ Myers (via Crooked Timber) works according to a familiar logic: Describe Darwinism Efface the Historical Record Show Countless Millions Starving Or Possibly Oppressed Or Certainly Dead Blame Darwinism Shoot Darwinists Drink Punch Eat Pie Dance Dance Dance So only items one through six actually obtain, but this sad display of smearing Myers' because he misunderstood Scott Adams' confounding post about the credibility gap of both the evolutionarily inclined and the intelligent design crowd irks. Myers rightly points out that said gap only exists among those who belong to the ID crowd. Only if you are a non-scientist who believes an ideologically charged issue should be decided by people unqualified to speak to its validity will you believe evolutionary thinkers as credible as ID advocates. Predictably, the one blinkered by ideology attempts to prove his opponents are too, and so Adams assails Myers for being unable to empathiz . . . understand ID "arguments" and Zywicki (for reasons all his own) calls him a Lysenkoist. What we have here is a misunderstood notion of what caused past atrocities maliciously applied to present day politics. We have people calling on the wisdom and authority of non-specialists to explain subtle distinctions lost on some of the finest minds of our time. (Watching Gould and Dawkins disagree is almost as entertaining as a pissing contest involving streams of actual urine falling on your actual face.) And when someone with the requisite qualifications responds . . . we hear the tired cry of elitism from minds which favor comforting lassitude. As Adams' ignorance attests, assumption and opprobrium are more effortless than thought. Which brings me to a related conversation my stalwart stalking-horse, John Emerson, brought about. All I can say is that I'm thankful my conversation with Doug Johnson avoids the shallow gunplay of anti-intellectual brouhahas. The core issue is similar: a misrepresentation of the historical stature of Darwinian theory is used to condemn contemporary Darwinian theory. Just as Lysenko's ideological application of Lamarckian theory . . . Here is my measured and intellectually honest response to Doug's measured and intellectually honest query: First, and most importantly, the reason not to link Darwin to the eugenics movement (outside of familial relations) is simply that up until "The Modern Synthesis," Darwinism wasn't the dominant evolutionary theory; in fact, there were many competing evolutionary theories--some of which, like Lamarckism, were antithetical to Darwinian theory, shunning core ideas like "natural selection." The reason we look back, after the Modern Synthesis (established in the '30s and '40s) and think there's a relationship between Darwinian theory and eugenics is because, in the end, a variation of Darwinian theory turned out to be correct. had Lamarck been correct, we'd probably all intuit a connection between acquired characteristics and eugenics (and think that because some people cannot acquire benefitial characteristics, they should be put down). Let me put it this way: Vernon Kellogg, writing about the decline of Darwinian thought among evolutionists in Darwinism Today (1908), sought...

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