From Laszlo Bencze
As Terry Scambray makes clear in his review of Paul Johnson’s Darwin: Portrait of a Genius (May), Charles Darwin was hardly the scientific giant of present-day adulation. In fact, flattery of Darwin has reached its apogee now that he is often called the greatest scientist of all time, the man who had the “best idea” in the history of mankind.
Yet the truth, as Scambray points out, is that Darwin was very much a man of his time — and a dull plodder at that. He spent eight years writing a four-volume study of barnacles. Yet, oddly enough, barnacles are never mentioned in The Origin of Species. Why? Was it impossible to discern evolutionary evidence in these complex and obscure creatures he knew so well? Instead, he devoted almost every bit of his magnum opus to tedious examples of artificial selection in domestic animals. He brushed away the glaring advantage of artificial over natural selection with rhetoric along the lines of “I see no reason why” natural selection might not have fashioned the eye or any other organ or living thing. For such schoolboy ineptitude he was roundly criticized by his contemporaries, all of whom are now consigned to history’s dustbin, regardless of their skills and biological competency.
All true, but if the money shot is to claim that the mind is not real (so rationally perceived facts do not matter, but political power does), which is the big push today, then Darwin is the great liberator.
Then one of Darwin’s defenders pipes up:
Flogging Darwin with all the old accusations of plagiarism, intellectual dishonesty, blah, blah, blah, is an unproductive and tiresome exercise. By most contemporary accounts, Thomas Jefferson was not a terribly likeable man and was probably a profound hypocrite on racial matters, but that should not detract from his brilliance and the importance of his legacy. The interesting question is indeed a matter of legacies. As one of the pillars of modernism, Darwin’s concept of evolution by natural selection did indeed change the world — and that is what Terry Scambray is truly exercised about. …
It changed the world immeasurably for the worse, as anyone affected by eugenics or any kind of race theory has cause to know. And it stalks again in new glitzy Darwinian race theories reborn.
Laszlo Bencze’s and Arthur M. Shapiro’s letters are good examples of the way the Darwin debate proceeds — the first offers an informed critique of evolutionary theory; the second changes the subject, mentioning assorted extraneous matters while assuming that evolution is true.
Mr. Bencze, for his part, shows that Darwin, contrary to the uncritical devotion he enjoys, was merely a product of his time; in other words, paraphrasing Voltaire, “If Darwin didn’t exist, it would have been necessary for the 19th-century intelligentsia to have invented him” — so desperate were they for a completely materialistic explanation for life. Not to mention, as an inseparable part of this desire, the political necessity for progressives to discredit the ancien régime; in this case, the Tories and their hoary traditions thought to be synonymous with a discredited Christianity.
Intellectual historians, even the great Paul Johnson, appear to understand that Darwin was merely one among many who have tried to show how the world made itself. But for some reason, these historians can’t muster the will necessary to point out his abject failure to do so.
Either one wishes to be seen of men or to be seen in the eye of reality. Only the latter count.
See also: Reviewer [Terry Scambray]: Non-materialist atheist philosopher’s book“flawed but valuable”
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