A Philosopher's Blog

Darwin & Cameron

Posted in Religion, Science by Michael LaBossiere on November 22, 2009
Charles Darwin, photographed by Julia Margaret...

Image via Wikipedia

Kirk Cameron, formerly of Growing Pains, has lent his skills to the defense of creationism against Darwinism. He is currently involved in handing out a version of Darwin’s book with a new introduction. Not surprisingly, the introduction is highly critical of Darwin.

While there are some reasonable criticisms of evolution and it is quite possible to give reasonable arguments in favor of teleology (see, for example, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas), this introduction seems to focus primarily on ad homimen attacks against Darwin. To be specific, the main criticisms seem to be allegations that Darwin’s theory influenced Hitler, that Darwin was a racist and that Darwin was a misogynist.

The logical response to these charges is quite easy: even if these claims were true, they have no bearing whatsoever on the correctness or incorrectness of Darwin’s claims. After all, these are mere ad homimen attacks.

To see that this sort of reasoning is flawed, simply consider this: Adolf Hitler believed that 2+2=4. Obviously the fact that Hitler was a wicked man has no bearing on the truth of that view. Likewise, even racists believe that fire burns and to say that this makes the claim about fire untrue is obviously false.

To use another example, it has been argued that Hitler was influenced by Christianity. However, it would be a logical error to infer that Christianity is flawed because a wicked person was influenced by it (or believed in it).

Interestingly enough, certain atheists attack religions in the same manner that Darwin is being attacked here: by noting that people who did terrible things were Christians/influenced by Christianity (such as the impact of Christian antisemitism on the Holocaust). Obviously, this sort of tactic is based on a fallacy whether it is used against Darwin’s theory or against a religious view.

 

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13 Responses

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  1. magus71 said, on November 22, 2009 at 9:35 am

    “While there are some reasonable criticisms of evolution and it is quite possible to give reasonable arguments in favor of teleology”

    Those arguments don’t get much press time, do they?

    One thing that you don’t speak of here, however, and something that I’ve always considered, is the virtual Pandora’s Box of evils that Darwinists open upon the world–without even considering it. For instance, if evolution is true, can not one race be “superior”?

    At a lower level, it seems most Darwinists would not even agree that there are significant differences between the races. Evolution would not only make those differences possible–but probable. Cameron merely shows people that if we are to accept evolution as truth, we must accept the horrible aspects of that truth. Most people can’t or won’t.

    And I believe that while ad hominem arguments are inferior, they can be effective ways of calling into question motivation and credibility.

    For instance, did Mark Fuhrman plant the bloody glove on OJ’s estate? We’ll likely never know. But the fact that he used the “N Word” in a taped interview caused many black jurors to distrust him. The same goes for Darwin. While Darwin may have been a racist (a logical choice given his science),this is not a de facto argument against his science. It is an indirect way to show that Darwin wasn’t just out to find the truth. He had ideas and motivations that many would find wrong today. So maybe his conclusions, if drawn from incorrect premises, is also wrong.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 22, 2009 at 8:18 pm

      Teleological arguments do get some press time, but not that much. After all, the best ones are rather complex and hence not the sort of thing that fits well into the target audience of most media. However, if the claims that person made were adequately supported, then the claims would not lose credibility because of that person.

      Creationist arguments do get some press time, but often the versions presented are the most simplistic.

      True, there are ad homimens that are relevant. Legitimate attacks on credibility, objectivity, knowledge and so on are logically fine. For example, showing that someone has racist tendencies would make the person’s testimony against a member of that race a bit suspect. However, those claims are still subject to assessment and might turn out to be adequately supported by other (non biased) sources.

      However, even if Darwin were a racist and sexist, that would not count against his theory. After all, it can be assessed on its own grounds and thus found lacking or not. Even if he were motivated by pure hate of women and a burning racism, his motivations are not relevant to his claims. Such views would be relevant to being suspicious of claims he made about women and people of other races.

    • alex said, on November 24, 2009 at 9:57 am

      I think to say that evolution suggests that one species or race is “superior” to another is to misunderstand evolution. The only time I think this claim would be made in the context of evolution is when one species survives while another dies out, and in this context – as with all others in evolution – the only difference is that one was more well adapted to its environment than the other.

      As evolutionary biologists would tell you, all humans are the same species, even if they are of different race, and the genes do transfer between the races quite a lot, particularly in modern times.

      At the same time, I don’t think you’ll find any evolutionary biologists pretending that there aren’t differences between species. I think what they do say though, is that the differences are largely superficial.

      Whether something is “significant” is subjective. In terms of evolution, the primary measure of significant differences between animals is whether they are the same species (can produce fertile offspring). For humans to branch into species there would need to some geographical separation which is sustained for thousands of years. Then perhaps we’d have significant differences.

      So no, evolution is not racist, nor does it encourage racism, except in the cases where it is misunderstood.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 24, 2009 at 5:58 pm

        To expand on Alex’s point, under the scientific theory of evolution (as opposed to the versions modified to serve various political and social agendas) the only “superiority” is the fitness to survive. There is, in fact, no normative element about superior races or species. That which survives is fit, because fitness is measured in terms of survival. Further, fitness is measured by species and not between individuals in a species (although there is some debate about this).

        Obviously, the notion of survival of the fittest can be misapplied and used to “justify” racism.

    • sauer kraut said, on November 25, 2009 at 2:45 pm

      To get a better view of Darwin’s cultural views – including today’s definition of racism – you might want to read some books on that subject. Steven Jay Gould’s Panda’s Thumb is a good starting point. Look at Essay No. 4, Darwin v. Wallace gives good background on the matter.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on November 22, 2009 at 9:58 am

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

    http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/22061/

    The effects of an animal’s environment during adolescence can be passed down to future offspring, according to two new studies. If applicable to humans, the research, done on rodents, suggests that the impact of both childhood education and early abuse could span generations. The findings provide support for a 200-year-old theory of evolution that has been largely dismissed: Lamarckian evolution, which states that acquired characteristics can be passed on to offspring.

  3. Arnab Das said, on November 23, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    this debate never ends,does it? :)

    wasnt Darwin criticised when he pointed out we came from apes? wasnt Galileo tried for heresey? wasnt Copernicus laughed at?

    i dont think i should say anything more.

    the only thing which science doesnt still explain is the origin of the universe. hmm…Geneva might give us the answer!

  4. magus71 said, on November 26, 2009 at 6:52 am

    “The problem with Cameron and his Living Waters friends is that they want one view to be the only view and for all questions to stop being asked.”

    Really? Is he arguing that international laws should be passed controlling the teaching of evolution or asking that trillions more be spent controlling the flow of info?

    Or is that just the “scientists” and populist politicians doing tha?

  5. magus71 said, on November 27, 2009 at 3:31 am

    Here’s a great example of what happens to “science” when it’s set upon a pedestal that looks a lot like a religious alter:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703499404574559630382048494.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    You get suckered. The same people who press for the global warming-happens-because-humans-bbq-hot dogs-theory are many of the same people that are militantly sure of evolution’s absolute truth. I’ve debated them, and I assure you, there’s no changing their minds.

    They can’t be trusted in my opinion.


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