In last Monday’s issue of the Daily, Ben Caleca wrote a response to Ray Comfort’s shenanigans regarding “The Origin of Species” (Survival of the creationists, 11/23/2009). It’s important to note that his actions weren’t limited to our own campus: Comfort handed out his augmented “Origin” at dozens of universities across North America. We felt that Comfort got off too easy with one essay of criticism, so we’re here to offer more.
First of all, there are flaws with the campaign itself. Handing out copies of “The Origin of Species” is a remarkably odd tactic that seems to be based on the idea that the original words of Charles Darwin are important to evolutionists in the same way that the original words of Jesus would be to Christians or the original words of Muhammad would be to Muslims. This is blatantly wrong. Evolutionary biology has advanced considerably since Darwin, and false or immoral beliefs espoused by Darwin do nothing to undermine the credibility of the Modern Synthesis. If Darwin made errors about heredity and held racist beliefs, so much the worse for Darwin. But evolution still happened, and natural selection was still the primary force. One might as well publish a version of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica with a preface saying, “See? Newton didn’t know about the Big Bang and thought women were inferior to men! This proves that gravity is a lie!” This is the level of scientific argumentation to which Ray Comfort has reduced us.
Like most creationist farce, Comfort continues his assault on evolution with statements that are at best highly misleading and in many cases outright false. Most significantly, Comfort blurs the distinction between mutation and natural selection, a distinction which is absolutely critical to evolution. He cites evidence that mutation is random and non-directional, and then tries to make it sound like this implies natural selection is random and non-directional. This is patently false: Mutation is random, natural selection is non-random and evolution requires both. This is the sort of elementary error that could have been corrected by reading the Wikipedia article on “Natural selection” or skimming the introduction to any textbook on evolutionary theory.
Comfort also quotes out of context. He quotes Darwin about the complexity of the human eye, but fails to mention the subsequent paragraph in which Darwin explains this complexity in light of evolution. Comfort quotes scientist Stephen Jay Gould several times as challenging Darwinian evolution, when in fact Gould devoted his entire career to supporting Darwinian evolution. Similarly, Comfort cites anthropologist Roger Lewin as criticizing macroevolution when Lewin has written several books defending macroevolution, especially the evolution of human beings from apelike ancestors. Comfort cites the Archaeoraptor hoax as if it undermines the huge body of evidence found since then on other feathered dinosaurs like Shuuvia, Sinosauropteryx, Sinocalliopteryx, Yixianosaurus and many others. Comfort even quotes biologist Richard Dawkins — yes, Dawkins — as if he was supporting creationism. One might as well quote Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, in support of evolution.
Worst of all, Comfort makes a disingenuous and inflammatory association between Darwin and the Holocaust. He asserts that Hitler was Darwin’s “famous student,” when in fact there is no evidence that Hitler had even read Darwin and substantial evidence that Darwin would never have supported anything like Hitler’s genocide. Yes, Hitler used (and abused) evolution to support his claims. The Nazis also used a bastardized version of germ theory to support their agenda. By Comfort’s standards, this ought to discredit modern medicine. Hitler also believed the Earth revolves around the Sun — does that make heliocentrism immoral?
Comfort suggests that readers Google the phrase “Social Darwinism,” as if the mere use of the word “Darwinism” implies that such policies are a direct consequence of Darwinian evolution. Just as Christian Science is neither Christian nor scientific and the Democratic Republic of Congo is neither democratic nor republican, Social Darwinism is hardly social and scarcely Darwinian. Social Darwinism was nothing more than an attempt to graft modern scientific authority onto racial prejudices.
Indeed, traditions of racism, misogyny, ethnocentrism and anti-Semitism have existed in European society for centuries. Such views can be found in the writings of the Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas, some 600 years before Darwin (we might say 600 BD). Tremendous acts of brutality against groups of people were committed by Julius Caesar (1900 BD) and Genghis Khan (700 BD). Christians engaged in acts of violence against other groups during the Crusades (600 to 800 BD) and the Conquistadores’ invasions (100 to 400 BD). Where were the “Judeo-Christian values on the sacredness of human life” that Comfort describes in his publication in these cases? Depraved bloodshed has been part of human history from the beginning. We can no more blame Darwin for the Holocaust than we can blame Newton for rape or Einstein for murder.
Patrick Julius and Ewan Compton are officers of the University chapter of the Secular Student Alliance.