February 1, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Darwin Praise Service Begins

The celebrations in honor of Charles Robert Darwin for his 200th birthday (Feb. 12) and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his influential book On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection (Nov. 29th) are well underway.  It is hard to think of any other scientist who gets the kind of gushy adulation heaped on this one man.  It borders on religious euphoria.  Some examples:

  1. Science News:  The January 31 cover of Science News shouts “Happy Birthday Darwin” against a backdrop of his famous “tree of life” sketch from the Origin.  The website contains a 36-page tribute to Darwin.  Editor-in-Chief Tom Siegfried led off with an opening editorial entitled, “Modern biology owes unpayable debt to Darwin.”  Who is the “greatest practitioner of all time” in sports or the physical sciences?  Siegfried says the question is likely to end in a divided vote.  That was his lead-in to this announcement:

    But then there’s biology.  The greatest biology of all time?  There’s only one answer.  Any other vote invalidates the voter as unqualified.  It’s Darwin.

    He doesn’t tell you just what he thinks about Darwin.  He tells you what you have to think to be considered “qualified” to have an opinion.  Voting for Pasteur, for instance, would not only invalidate your vote; it would disqualify you as a voter.
        Continuing on with the Dobzhansky mantra (12/19/2008), Siegfried added, “No scientist’s birthday warrants more hullabaloo and hoopla.”  On the inside back cover, Siegfried took quotes from Darwin about religion and converted them into an interview.  He asked Darwin questions about atheism, religion, design and God, and picked out quotes guaranteed to make natural theology and intelligent design look bad.  If Darwin is being voted world’s greatest biologist, why would his theological opinions matter?

  2. National Geographic:  Another cover story for the Darwin Bicentennial, from National Geographic Magazine (Feb. 2009), teased with the line, “What Darwin Didn’t Know.”  Inside, two lengthy articles discussed Darwin’s original ideas and those of the “Modern Darwins” who have extended them.  If Darwin didn’t know something, it wasn’t his fault – the sciences of genetics and molecular biology hadn’t been invented yet.  Any errors he made were due to his being imprisoned in the 19th century.
        Quasi-religious adulations continued inside with Matt Ridley’s article, “Modern Darwins”  Ridley portrayed today’s Darwinists as precocious children who would make their daddy proud.  Darwin’s core idea of mindless, purposeless, unguided natural selection was presented as unquestionable fact:

    • In 1953, Francis Crick, together with a young American named James Watson, would make a discovery that has led inexorably to the triumphant vindication of almost everything Darwin deduced about evolution.
    • To understand the story of evolution—both its narrative and its mechanism—modern Darwins don’t have to guess.  They consult genetic scripture.
    • Darwin’s greatest idea was that natural selection is largely responsible for the variety of traits one sees among related species.  Now, in the beak of the finch and the fur of the mouse, we can actually see the hand of natural selection at work….
    • Darwin, who assumed that evolution plodded along at a glacially slow rate, observable only in the fossil record, would be equally delighted by another discovery.  In those same Galapagos finches, modern Darwins can watch evolution occur in real time.
    • What better evidence for Darwin’s belief in the commonality of all species than to find the same gene doing the same job in birds and fish, continents apart?
    • In The Origin of Species, Darwin tactfully left unspoken how his theory would extend that commonality to include humankind.  A decade later he confronted the matter head-on in The Descent of ManHe would be delighted to know that a certain gene, called FOXP2, is critical for the normal development of both speech in people and song in birds.
    • His notion of sexual selection was politely ignored by most Victorian opinion, which was mildly scandalized by the thought of females actively choosing a mate, rather than submitting coyly to the advances of males…. But we now know Darwin was right all along.
    • In one of his flights of fancy, Darwin argued that sexual selection might account for human racial differences…. The jury is still out on that particular idea, but there are hints that Darwin might be at least partly right…. Either way, the explanation leads straight back to Darwin’s two theories—natural and sexual selection.
    • Just as Darwin drew lessons from both fossil armadillos and living rheas and finches, his scientific descendants combine insights from genes with insights from fossils to understand the history of life.

    Could such a man ever make a mistake?  Yes; Ridley said Darwin did not understand inheritance.  Mendel’s work had never reached his attention.  “The monk’s fate was to die years before the significance of his discovery was appreciated,” Ridley lamented.  “But his legacy, like Darwin’s, has never been more alive.”  Darwin scores even when in error.
        The magazine’s celebration began with David Quammen retelling the Darwin adventure tale on the Beagle, followed by a timeline of events and theories by Darwin and the Modern Darwins.  Quammen corrected some misconceptions about the “mythic account” of Darwin’s voyage, and the timing of his conversion to evolutionism.  But in the end, he praised his book to high heaven: “Almost inarguably, it’s the most significant single scientific book ever published.  After 150 years, people still venerate it, people still deplore it, and The Origin of Species continues to exert an extraordinary influence—though, unfortunately, not many people actually read it.

  3. Sacred Cause:  A new book by Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin’s Sacred Cause, elevates Darwin further by claiming he was an abolitionist like his birthday-mate Abraham Lincoln.  The BBC News says that abolition was a driving force behind Darwin’s theory.  This idea might seem surprising to readers aware that Darwin announced in The Descent of Man that it was inevitable the fitter races would eventually exterminate the weaker races.  After all, wasn’t the subtitle of Darwin’s Origin “The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”?
        An English gentleman, Darwin was clearly repulsed by the cruelty toward slaves he witnessed.  His belief in the common ancestry of all races of mankind stood against the racist views of those who attributed human races to separate origins.  In that respect, Darwin’s unification of humanity is like the Biblical view that all men are descendents of Adam, except that Darwin has mankind arising from apes, and the Bible has mankind falling from grace.  Desmond and Moore seem to omit, though, whether “survival of the fittest” could promote racial equality.  Common ancestry aside, the Haeckels, Brocas and Hitlers to follow certainly ranked the human races by fitness and intelligence – using Darwin’s “law of nature” for support.

It should be understood that these adulations sit on top of daily, weekly, yearly expressions of praise and admiration for Charles Darwin in the scientific journals and popular press.  Often these expressions are stated in opposition to religious views or scientific arguments for design.  A question few of the modern Darwins seem to be asking, though, is how could a scientist possibly design a theory that removes design from the conceptual realm?  (See quote at top right of page.)

Is it possible for the world to go crazy?  If you don’t think so, look at history.  Look at what some ancient civilizations thought about the world, the universe, and life.  Despite great achievements in architecture and technology, they held beliefs that strike us as absurd – yet in their day, those beliefs were intuitively obvious.  Sometimes they were enforced by the state with severe punishment, even the ultimate punishment.  Darwin today serves as a kind of prophet of Marduk who brings enlightenment and explains the world.  You’re not entitled to have opinions about him.  Failure to honor the Marduk of the age, or his prophet, is not only insane, it is a capital crime.
    One method for detecting absurdity is to find self-refuting arguments.  These can never be overturned by more evidence, because they are self-refuting – they are false by definition.  Evolutionary theory is full of them.  (1) Darwin built a law of nature on chance, which is the contradiction to law.  (2) Darwin reasoned that the mind is an evolved artifact of blind accident, undermining the very basis of reason.  And (3) Darwin rendered design an illusion, using his intelligence to design this claim this about his own brain.  In these and other ways, Darwin tricked the world into thinking he had come up with a stunningly elegant unification of biology in alleged “natural” terms, when those very ideas refute themselves.  How could this happen?  One reason is that tautologies are always intuitively obvious.  To say, “Life evolved because natural selection brought them into existence,” sounds perfectly fine, till you realize the sentence conveys no information.  It begs the question it is supposed to answer.  Darwin’s adventure tales, his admittedly detailed observations, his Mosaic visage, and his gift of eloquent rhetoric were all dandy things, but they cannot rescue his doctrines from collapse.  They are self-refuting.  Hullabaloo and hoopla can be fun.  Fantasyland has good fireworks, too.  But no amount of celebration can save a self-refuting belief system.
    Can self-refuting doctrines really fool a world of scientists and smart people?  It happens.  Absurdities have fooled the elite of many a civilization.  We’re only human.  We don’t know everything.  We’re gullible.  For certainty, we need a revelation from the One who knows all things.  Having an anchor in eternal, immutable things is a prerequisite for consistency.  You cannot build a progressive system from the ground up without assuming the very thing you need to prove: that there are absolutes against which one can measure progress.  Even if one could pull oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, the effort would be vain without ground to stand on.  Darwinism is anchored in the quicksand of contingency.  Its aspiration to provide understanding, the opposite of contingency, is doomed.  Lacking an absolute, the hullabaloo and hoopla around Darwin is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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