Sunday, November 7, 2004

Be Careful The Analogies You Draw

Professor Lindgren points out that the liberals who are imagining that they are getting ready to refight the Scopes trial of 1925--in the words of David Brooks:
It's ridiculous to say, as some liberals have this week, that we are perpetually refighting the Scopes trial, with the metro forces of enlightenment and reason arrayed against the retro forces of dogma and reaction.
have it wrong. Lindgren quotes from the textbook that Scopes was teaching from--and some of it is so offensive that no liberal would even allow it in a classroom today, much less allow a teacher to use it as a textbook:
The Races of Man. — At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; The American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.


Improvement of Man. — If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor of the future generations of men and women on the earth might not be improved by applying to them the laws of selection. This improvement of the future race has a number of factors in which we as individuals may play a part. These are personal hygiene, selection of healthy mates, and the betterment of the environment.
Now, Lindgren makes the observation that
Here 1920s science was right about the basics of evolution, but was wrong about social Darwinism and white genetic supremacy and was immoral to advocate eugenics.
I am always amazed at the strange and often racist role that evolutionary theory has played in Western civilization. From my book Black Demographic Data, 1790-1860: A Sourcebook p. 36:
Reginald Horsman’s Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism describes how Enlightenment notions of the essential equality of mankind declined between 1800 and 1850. Where the Enlightenment had seen national differences as historical accidents of relatively minor importance, Romanticism glorified nationalism and localism; Enlightenment rationalism gave way to Romantic glorification of emotion. [Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981), 158.] These changes in European belief merged with the American need for an ideology to justify slavery, the removal of the Indians, and the Mexican War. The emerging “science” of phrenology (i.e., determining personality and intellectual capacity by measuring the shape of the skull) also encouraged this belief in racial difference.

Devout Christians, as well as many proponents of white racial superiority, perceived this theory of white superiority as being at odds with the predominant Creationist viewpoint. For the most part, Creationists denied the possibility of separate races because the Old Testament book of Genesis had no description of separate Creation, and not enough time had elapsed since Adam and Eve for the development of differing races. Proponents of white racial superiority either dodged the Creationist issue or actively used the “facts” of racial difference to attack Creationist perspectives. [Horsman, passim. William Stanton, The Leopard’s Spots: Scientific Attitudes Toward Race in America 1815-59 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), provides an even more detailed study of this subject—and with a wit that is sorely lacking in most scholarly works.]
Creationists often attack Darwinian evolution for promoting Social Darwinism, and its activist offspring, eugenics and the Holocaust. If evolution is true, it does not matter if it gives birth to ugly and evil theories. But it is a bit amusing to consider the same crowd that argues that truth is a social construct reflecting the dominant class's race, economic interest, and ethnicity defending evolutionary thought, with the really dark results that it has sometimes produced.

The experience of my wife and I going through California primary and secondary schools was that teachers often taught evolution in a dogmatic manner, as a Revealed Truth. Even today, there are some serious questions from serious scientists, such as Biochemistry Professor Michael Behe, that simply do not get taken seriously in how evolution is taught. Confronting some of these questions would not only get away from this Revealed Truth approach to teaching biology, it would also bring a little humility into this subject--a recognition that there remain some significant and important questions about the mechanisms of evolution.

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