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Himmelfarb on Darwin: An Enduring Perspective After 50 Years, Part 2

Reissue of the 1962 revised edition of Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution
Reissue of the 1962 revised edition of Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution

In part 1 it was demonstrated that Gertrude Himmelfarb’s Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution is the book Darwinists love to hate. In order to understand why a rather detailed examination is required. Of course, this is a big biography and an exhaustive account cannot be given here, but a summary investigation will make the source of the Darwinist’s discomfort obvious.

Darwin is divided into six “books”: 1) “Pre-history of the Hero;” 2) “Emergence of the Hero;” 3) “Emergence of the Theory;” 4) “Reception of the Origin;” 5) “Analysis of the Theory;” and 6) “Darwinism.” The first four books are an interesting read and provide a valuable backdrop to the treatment that follows, but Himmelfarb is weakest on Darwin’s early years. She completely passes over Darwin’s Edinburgh period where he joined the Plinian Society in November of 1826 and attended all but one of the ensuing 19 meetings until April of 1827. According to Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, this was young Charles’ introduction to “seditious science.” While this is crucial in understanding the development of Darwin’s theory, it will not be gleaned from this book.

Also, Himmelfarb believes that Darwin was uninterested in and ill-equipped to appreciate the philosophical implications of his theory. Probably a better suggestion is that Darwin wasn’t so much disinterested in philosophy as he was just a bad philosopher, or at least a very superficial one. She as much as admits Darwin’s anemic reading in the field: “What little reading he did in philosophy was parochial in the extreme. . . . It is difficult to take seriously a discussion that had, as its most frequently cited moralist and philosopher, the historian William Lecky” (p. 375).1 When Darwin appended a list of moral philosophers he had relied upon in preparing his Descent, philosophers he “assured” his readers that they would be familiar with, Himmelfarb notes that 26 were British “and that [they] are today, quite as assuredly, entirely unknown.”

Nevertheless, what Himmelfarb misses in the early years she more than makes up for in the last two books devoted to an analysis of the theory and the ideological ism that it would turn into. Here in these two sections more than anywhere else reside the sources of anger, revilement, and consternation for the Darwinists.

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New at Access Research Network: On Darwin’s Philosophical Imperative

British physicist David Tyler writes (15 December 2009): Ulrich Kutschera is a German biologist and Darwin scholar who has reached the conclusion that Darwin’s 1859 treatise conveys a “philosophical imperative”. By this is meant the strict separation of “scientific fact and theories from religious dogmas”. Kutschera rejects the claims of some that “evolutionary theory and Bible-based myths are compatible”. From an ID perspective, Kutschera’s essay warrants a critical analysis because there are points of agreement and major areas of disagreement. Let us start with the central claim that Darwin “strictly” separated scientific facts and theorising from religion. It is fair to say this was his stated approach – but did he achieve it? Darwin presented himself as working in the Read More ›

Intelligent design and elite culture: These are the people who invented silk stockings for men, so what should I expect?

Trust the French to turn efforts to “control” Internet communications into a cruel comedy.

PARIS — Dominique Broueilh is an unlikely cyberdelinquent, much less a political dissident. But earlier this year, Ms. Broueilh, 50, a homemaker and mother of three, found herself the target of a police investigation and a lawsuit from a French cabinet official because of a comment she had posted online.

Ms. Broueilh had come upon a video of the official, Nadine Morano, the secretary of state for the family, caught in a seeming untruth regarding her presence at a 2007 conference. “Oh, the liar,” Ms. Broueilh wrote, under a pseudonym, in comments below the clip.

The judicial police called in May on a weekday afternoon.

“I said to myself, ‘This must be a joke, it’s not possible,’ ” Ms. Broueilh recounted in a telephone interview from her home in St.-Paul-lès-Dax, south of Bordeaux. “It’s ridiculous, after all.”

The police said Ms. Morano, a combative politician and one of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s closest allies, had subpoenaed Ms. Broueilh’s Internet protocol address, obtained her identity and brought suit against her for “public insult toward a member of the ministry,” an offense punishable by a fine of up to $18,000.

– Scott Sayare, “As Web challenges French leaders, they push back” (New York Times, December 12, 2009)

Couldn’t make this stuff up.

First, this is fascism reborn. Second, a politician who can’t deal with edgy comments should be a docent in The Museum of Typewriters somewhere. So why isn’t she?

You really must read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts:

“The Internet is a danger for democracy,” said Jean-François Copé, parliamentary chief for the governing party, the Union for a Popular Movement, in a recent radio interview.

[ … ]

“I find we’re entering a strange society,” said Henri Guaino, one of Mr. Sarkozy’s closest counselors, speaking on French radio in September. “We can no longer say anything, we can no longer do anything. It’s absolute transparency — it’s the beginnings of totalitarianism!”

Beginnings of totalitarianism? I would say that the bright, sterilizing light of transparency is the end of totalitarianism. But read the rest yourself, and weep for France, a once great nation, and the progenitor of our French Canadian culture.

The main problem isn’t that these elite French twits think as they do, but that a majority votes for them. They could be returned to fashionable idleness in one single fair election.

As a Canuck free speech journalist, I say to the French generally: Get yer faces out of the buttered escargots and tell those upper crusts, You are not smart enough to tell me how to live.

Actually, I am at a loss to think of a better demonstrated proposition anywhere.

One friend has asked me whether this trend will affect the intelligent design controversy. Read More ›

This is not a coffee moment: Canadian columnist advocates worldwide one-child policy – fast back to the Stone Age

A friend writes, shocked, that a premier columnist, Diane Francis, at Canada’s National Post, recently wrote a column advocating a worldwide mandatory one child policy. She got plenty of attention. I replied,

In fairness, that is only columnist Diane Francis’s opinion. I have not heard that it was endorsed by the paper’s editorial board and doubt that it will be.

Hers would, of course, be a disastrous policy because there would not be nearly enough people to fulfill all the roles in society that make for modern progress, comfort, and longevity.

Population bombers have always failed to grasp this fact: If there were only 2 million people in the world, the pace of innovation would be very slow.

So population bomb-ism will, among other things, slow the pace of innovation.

Is that not a key reason that the pace of innovation in the Stone Age was in fact so slow?

The problem I see is this: Read More ›

More coffee!! Your doctor needs to know what would have worked for someone’s hypothetical reconstruction of Stone Age man before she can treat you effectively …

Apparently, evolutionary biologists/psychologists (if there is any difference, I would be glad to know*) are trying to get jobs adding to the cost burden of medical schools, fronting their speculations to doctors in training, a friend advises. See this story by Daniel Cressey (“Groups say med school training must evolve,” Nature Medicine 15, 1338 (2009) doi:10.1038/nm1209-1338a, paywall, of course):

Medical training must adapt to include coursework covering evolutionary biology, according to a group of leading researchers.Momentum for such change seems to be building.

I bet. In an age of skepticism about all the nonsense evolutionary biologists front, they need to attach themselves to a system that people are still willing to fund.

“The case for ensuring that physicians and medical researchers are able to use evolutionary biology just as fully as other basic sciences is compelling,” says Randolph Nesse, of the University of Michigan, lead author of the paper. “The constraints that inhibit change are severe, however. Most medical schools do not have a single evolutionary biologist on the faculty.”

Nesse’s paper cites examples of where evolutionary knowledge can benefit those working in medicine. An awareness of why humans have evolved the fever response, for example, could help doctors understand when it is safe to use drugs to block fever.

Rubbish. Pharmaceutical studies on living patients in real time do that. No one proposes to give the drugs to Old Stone Age Man, but rather to a toddler, an overworked near-retirement executive, or a frail older senior. The latter two would not even have been alive in the Old Stone Age.

As I have written to friends, Read More ›

Darwin and the darwinian revolution

Himmelfarb on Darwin: An Enduring Perspective After 50 Years, Part 1

Gertrude Himmelfarb
Gertrude Himmelfarb

A few months ago The Panda’s Thumb used the occasion of Irving Kristol’s death on September 18th to denigrate Gertrude Himmelfarb’s 50 year-old  Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution as a “terrible book . . . demonstrating a lack of understanding of biology and a warped view of Darwin’s influence.” The article, written by Jeffrey Shallit, glibly casts aspersions on the late Kristol’s ethic for reviewing Gertrude Himmelfarb (aka Bea Kristol) in Encounter  and failing to disclose that he was the author’s husband (though this writer could find no evidence of that at least with her Darwin), this without once reflecting on the questionable propriety of turning what should have been either a respectful obituary or complete silence into an opportunity to insult both the deceased and his widow. If that isn’t unethical, it is at least indecent. Shallit’s one-sided, high-toned moralizing aside, as the “Darwin year” draws to a close and given the fact that Himmelfarb’s biography of Darwin itself has just marked its golden anniversary, perhaps a careful reflection upon that effort is in order. What can be said of Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution in the dusk of 2009? Is it a terrible book?

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Coffee!!: Should we reject Darwinism due to its obvious support for new atheism?

Recently, a group of friends was mulling over coffee whether one should reject Darwinism in principle because it is the creation story of atheism. One friend argued that we should not reject it just because its staunchest proponents are mostly atheists.

I am not so sure. Consider this: Approximately 80 percent of evolutionary biologists (= Darwinists) are pure naturalists (no God and no free will, according to William Provine’s recent study). Welcome to the world of Minority Report, where social engineering seems completely reasonable, even “humane.” As in the “Humane Society.”

Now let me put a case to you: Read More ›

Probabilities and the Genesis of Life

The important thing to keep in mind concerning probabilities and the origin of life is that proteins, and everything else in a living cell, are manufactured by machinery which is controlled by an abstract-representation digital coding system. Proteins not only don’t self-assemble, they cannot self-assemble, because basic chemistry drives the process in the opposite direction. Once this is taken into consideration all arguments that assert, “But it could have happened by chance,” are rendered ludicrous on their face. By way of analogy, the basic Darwinian argument for the origin of life goes something like this: 1) Clay occurs naturally. 2) Bricks are made of clay. 3) Therefore, there is some (given enough time) probability that houses made of clay bricks Read More ›

The Odds That End: Stephen Meyer’s Rebuttal Of The Chance Hypothesis

The Andes mountains opened up on both sides of us as we drove on one July afternoon along a highway that links Quito, the capital of Ecuador, with the smaller town of Ambato almost three hours further south. The setting sun shone head-on upon two volcanic giants- Tungurahua and Cotopaxi with its snow covered peak just visible through the cordillera. I had traveled along this road many times in previous years and had been repeatedly awe-struck by the sheer beauty of the surrounding land. Today fields extend as far as the eye can see, with the lights of small communities and villages illuminating the mountain slopes.

Volcanoes that periodically eject dangerous lava flows are a rich source of soil nutrients for Ecuadorian farmers. Still, in the eyes of organic chemists such as Claudia Huber and Guenter Wachtershauser there exists a more pressing reason for studying the world’s ‘lava spewers’- one that has everything to do with the unguided manufacture of prebiotic compounds (1). Huber and Wachtershauser’s 2006 Science write-up on the synthesis of amino acids using potassium cyanide and carbon monoxide mixtures was heralded as groundbreaking primarily because of the ‘multiplicity of pathways’ through which biotic components could be made using these simple volcanic compounds (1). Read More ›

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 18: Can the ancient reptile brain help explain human psychology? If so, how? If not, why not?

(Note: : Go here for Contest 16 (“Are materialist atheists smarter than other types of believers?”) and here for Contest 17 (“Why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion?”). )

We have, we are told, three brains – reptilian, mammalian, and primate. Here is a conventional science explanation, and here is the pop psychology that results.

It all sounds bit too neat to me, for two reasons: First, all the areas are interconnected. Second, it is not clear that reptiles uniformly fail emotionally compared to many mammals. See here, for example.

Honestly, it all sounds like pop psychology, straight from the airport paperback kiosk to the bored passenger. But I would be glad to know more. Here is a popularrendition of “reptile brain” theory, as employed by some lawyers in law courts.

So, for a free copy of The Spiritual Brain: a neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul (Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary, Harper One 2007), which argues for non-materialist neuroscience, answer this question: If so, how? If not, why not? What can it really tell us?

Here are the contest rules. Four hundred words or less. Winners receive a certificate verifying their win as well as the prize. Winners must provide me with a valid postal address, though it need not be theirs. A winner’s name is never added to a mailing list. Have fun!

Also, here are some posts at The Mindful Hack that may be of some use or interest: Read More ›

Intelligent design and ecology: Environmental change via biosphere feedback mechanisms

British physicist David Tyler writes at Access Research Network (10 December 2009): With millions of eyes on Copenhagen, this seems an appropriate time to ask whether ID thinking has any relevance to understanding the Earth’s environment. Can design concepts help us weigh the diverse and often conflicting messages? I think ID is helpful, because features of the Earth’s environments and ecologies start to take on new meaning. In this blog, I am thinking particularly of negative feedback mechanisms. Human design engineers will use negative feedback to promote stability and positive feedback to amplify an input signal. They select the mechanisms they need to achieve the desired effect. By analogy, if the Earth is designed for life, we would expect to Read More ›

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 17: Why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion?

This contest has been judged . Go here for winner.

Well, it certainly sounds like debunking to me. According to the evolutionary psychologists, either compassion is a useful gene or it somehow spreads our selfish genes or it is an accidental “spandrel” in our makeup. Or whatever. It’s not a choice, and it’s not identification with another human being derived from the independent reality of a mind thinking today. Humans do it the way ants might do something else.

Evolutionary psychologists never feel the need to debunk rage or deceit, for example, so why compassion?

Here, I reference Robert (“Non-Zero”) Wright’s effort to explain the evolution of compassion. See also Clive Hayden here and Steve Pinker here.

Darwinists and materialists in general keep scratching this itch. Why? What is the threat? Also, how convincing are their claims that society will be better off if we accept their version?

So, for a free copy of The Spiritual Brain: a neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul (Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary, Harper One 2007): Why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion? What’s in it for them?

(Note: For the record, compassion is not necessarily a virtue. The social worker who inappropriately identifies with an abusive mom, as opposed to the child she is employed by the government to protect, is showing misdirected compassion that can end in the child’s death. Compassion must be allied with reason and virtue in order to count as reasonable or virtuous.)

Here are the contest rules. Four hundred words or less. Winners receive a certificate verifying their win as well as the prize. Winners must provide me with a valid postal address, though it need not be theirs. A winner’s name is never added to a mailing list. Have fun!

Notes on compassion that may be of interest: Read More ›

Coffee!! Could Climategaters and Darwinists share a shrine to save money?

In “Promises, Promises,” Stuart Blackman warns: “Ill-judged predictions and projections can be embarrassing at best and, at worst, damaging to the authority of science and science policy. (The Scientist, Volume 23 | Issue 11 | Page 28). (Registration wall) As Michael Gerson, who does not dispute global warming, puts it, in the famous East Anglia e-mail thread: … the dominant voices are ideological. The attitude seems to be: Insiders can question, if they don’t go too far. Outsiders who threaten the movement are “idiots.” This attitude is demonstrated, not only by private e-mails, but also by the public reaction of prominent scientists to those e-mails. They show “scientists at work.” They are “pretty innocuous.” They are “understandable and mostly excusable.” “We Read More ›

[Off Topic] TR on Peace

From Teddy Roosevelt’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:  We must ever bear in mind that the great end in view is righteousness, justice as between man and man, nation and nation, the chance to lead our lives on a somewhat higher level, with a broader spirit of brotherly goodwill one for another. Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy. We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but Read More ›

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 16: Are materialist atheists smarter than other types of believers?

So, for a free copy of the The Spiritual Brain, which argues for non-materialist neuroscience, provide the best answer to this question: Are materialist atheists really smarter than other people? By what measure would we know? What difference does social privilege - such as tenure at a tax-funded institution and general acceptance in popular media make in determining who is smart? Read More ›