Keep Darwinism Out of Pandemic Response
Two Darwinians inject “survival of the fittest” into the current crisis. So if the virus kills a patient, is it the fittest?
Across America and the world, volunteers are working hard to help those affected by the COVID-19 crisis. On Special Report (Fox News) today, host Bret Baier interviewed Chef Jose Andres, whose organization World Central Kitchen is providing 225,000 meals a day to people across America, regardless of politics, religion or age, who just need a plate of food to keep going. With help from restaurateurs and chefs in cooperation with governors and mayors, they have already served more than 4.5 million fresh meals in 200 cities. Jose’s passion to serve his fellow Americans to help the country get through the crisis is evident in his expression and gestures. Injecting Darwinism into this scene would be like playing white noise so loud that the host and guest would have to run for cover.
That’s essentially what two Darwinians from the University of South Carolina have done. Look at the title of their piece at The Conversation above a huge picture of Darwin’s hoary face with baggy eyes: “What does ‘survival of the fittest’ mean in the coronavirus pandemic? Look to the immune system.” Pragash and Mitzi Nagarkatti offer this blessing to the likes of Jose Andres:
Charles Darwin popularized the concept of survival of the fittest as a mechanism underlying the natural selection that drives the evolution of life. Organisms with genes better suited to the environment are selected for survival and pass them to the next generation.
Thus, when a new infection that the world has never seen before erupts, the process of natural selection starts all over again.
In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, who is the “fittest”?
This is a challenging question….
They even put the iconic diagram of Darwin’s finches in the article. How on earth is talk about “survival of the fittest” and “natural selection” going to help Jose feed the elderly during the pandemic?
There is some worthwhile material in the article. The Nagarkattis spend most of their time discussing educational facts about the human immune system, and how it works. That’s good to know; it’s a highly complex system that shows foresight and design, with flexibility to handle a wide variety of potential threats. Every day we each depend on the two-phased counterattack that the immune system mounts against pathogens, including the novel coronavirus. A diagram of the virus’s attachment point to a cell’s receptor accompanies a discussion about how the cell breaks that ability to attach, preventing the virus from entering the cell and making copies of itself. That is only one aspect of the immune system’s multi-pronged strategy.
But what’s Darwin got to do with this? Are the Nagarkattis insinuating that if the virus kills the human race, it wins the fitness contest? They tiptoe around this question. Perhaps they sense that an inhumane answer would be toxic to their careers. Instead, they compare human beings with each other, insinuating that the people with the best immune systems are the fittest.
With this coronavirus, it isn’t easy to know who are the fittest individuals. It isn’t necessarily the youngest, strongest or most athletic individuals who are guaranteed to survive this coronavirus. The fittest are those with the “right” immune response who can clear the infection rapidly without mounting excessive inflammation, which can be deadly.
This answer is hardly better than insinuating that the virus would be the fittest for vanquishing the opposition (the human race). Essentially, it’s just a variation of Social Darwinism: the unfit should not be helped, but allowed to die. That’s natural selection at work, and who are we to interfere?
The insensitive folly of this kind of Darwinian thinking can hardly be overstated. The Editor of The Conversation should shame these two back into their labs with tightly-fitting masks that prevent them from speaking, and heavy gloves that prevent them from typing, and issue an apology to the website’s readers. The National Institutes of Health, instead of funding these two, should exile them to the Galapagos and let them compete for ‘fitness’ against the iguanas. Let them learn about natural selection there.
But their article is not just insensitive, it is illogical. These two don’t even understand Darwinism itself! Why must we keep explaining this? They present a junior-high level of Darwinian imagineering that evaporates under inspection. For one thing, they are equating survival with fitness, which is a tautology: the fittest survive because the survivors are fit. Darwinian fitness is not about athletic ability or nutrition, but mere survival. Even worse, though, is the moral equivalence of Darwinian fitness. If the virus wins by killing the human host, that is morally good in Darwinian terms, because there is no judge and no standard of morality. In fact, from the virus’s point of view, a human that mounts a successful defense has the “wrong” immune response because it prevents Captain Virus from winning the fitness game. In Darwin’s fantasy world, nobody is out there in the stands cheering or weeping; Stuff Happens – that is all!
The Social Darwinists understood ‘fitness’ to mean the Law of the Jungle, where only the strongest should be allowed to live. They criticized those who wished to serve the weak and the poor. ‘Let nature take its course,’ they would argue, claiming that assisting the ‘unfit’ was actually harmful to the human race. We all know how that movement ended! “Never again” is the cry now. But if the Nagarkattis were consistent with Darwinian assumptions, they should just shut up and watch whatever happens; if the virus kills the human race, so be it. Or worse, they should stand in the way of Jose Andres and prevent him from feeding elderly patients in hospital beds, because that would be ‘against nature.’ Pray hard that they do NOT act consistently with their Darwinian beliefs!
“Oh,” but some will say, “modern Darwinism includes concepts like ‘inclusive fitness’ that explain why people want to help one another. It even has an explanation for the origin of altruism.” Don’t fall for that ruse. It is just as amoral as old-fashioned Darwinian fitness. No consistent Darwinist can preach that humans ‘should’ help the weak or helpless. Moral words like ‘should’ are not found in the Darwin Dictionary. If people do help other people, that’s just a behavior that evolved. It is no more ‘good’ than playing the role of the slothful slacker. In Darwin’s world, cooperators and cheaters both evolve by natural selection – and natural selection, we keep having to repeat, is the vacuous Stuff Happens Law. We could take this point to the reduction ad absurdum by claiming that preachers, moral philosophers and even Social Darwinists are all just victims of their selfish genes. These authors, even, wrote their article as pawns of evolutionary forces. Consequently, any claim to truth-telling implodes.
Darwinism is an empty, useless, harmful belief. It explains nothing but keeps popping up uninvited. It’s like an infection, a mental virus. Wash your hands of it! Build up antibodies to the Darwinavirus so that your mental fitness will not be immunocompromised. Then share your antibodies and vaccinate your friends and family against it, so that they will not be lost.