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Darwinism — “A cult in which few believe this side of Berkeley and Harvard Square”

Who made the following predition: “Like the Marxists, the Darwinists are going to wind up as a cult in which few believe this side of Berkeley and Harvard Square.” Phil Johnson did over a decade ago. But these actual words are Pat Buchanan’s and were published today.

Tom Bethell Puts Darwinism on Defense
by Patrick J. Buchanan
Posted Dec 18, 2005

http://www.humaneventsonline.com/article.php?id=10966

Among the most influential men of the 20th century were a pair of 19th century scholars: Charles Darwin and Karl Marx.

Recent years have not been kind to either. Marxism-Leninism, the ideology that welded together and drove the Soviet empire, has been discredited by the horrors it produced and the colossal failure of Marxist theory when put into practice.

Comes now Darwin’s turn. In his 1859 “The Origin of Species” and other works, Darwin posited his thesis that man is not the work of any Creator, but a being that evolved from lower forms of life out of the primordial ooze.

In his “Politically Correct Guide to Science,” Tom Bethell, who Tom Wolfe calls “one of our most brilliant essayists,” has, in 36 pages, gathered and briefly described a few of the difficulties that Darwinists are facing in defending their dogmas against skeptics.

For generations, scientists have searched for the “missing link” between ape and man. But not only is that link still missing, no links between species have been found. As Bethell writes, bats are the only mammals to have mastered powered flight. But even the earliest bats found in the fossil record have complex wings and built-in sonar. Where are the “half-bats” with no sonar or unworkable wings?

Their absence does not prove — but does suggest — that they do not exist. Is it not time, after 150 years, that the Darwinists started to deliver and ceased to be taken on faith?

In the Galapagos Islands, which Darwin visited in HMS Beagle in 1835, his later disciples discovered, after a drought, that the beaks of finches expanded 5 percent to help them crack the dried and hardened seeds — i.e., Darwinian adaptation. But when the rains returned, researchers found the beaks returned to normal size.

No one denies “micro-evolution” — i.e., species adapting to their environment. It is macro-evolution that is in trouble.

The Darwinian thesis of “survival of the fittest” turns out to be nothing but a tautology. How do we know existing species were the fittest? Because they survived. Why did they survive? Because they were the fittest.

While clever, this tells us zip about why we have tigers. It is less a scientific theory than a notion masquerading as a fact.

For those seeking the source of Darwin’s “discovery,” there is an interesting coincidence. Darwin and his collaborator Alfred Russel Wallace both read Thomas Malthus’ famous “An Essay on the Principle of Population.” Malthus theorized that since the production of food grew by small annual increments, while population was almost doubling with each generation, the struggle for food would lead to conflicts and wars in which only the strongest would survive.

Bethell is not alone in suggesting Darwin smuggled Malthus’ mid-Victorian political economy into biology. As Bertrand Russell observed, Darwin’s theory is “essentially an extension to the animal and vegetable world of laissez-faire economics.”

Marx’s ideas also seem to have a Malthusian root. Marx predicted that the great wealth spawned by capitalism would be accumulated by fewer and fewer capitalists. And as it was, the constant expansion and immiseration of the proletariat would lead to a workers’ revolution in which the expropriators would be expropriated. This was catnip for anti-capitalists.

But American capitalism proved Marx dead wrong. While U.S. capitalism did indeed create plutocrats, the years 1865 to 1914 saw historic gains in the incomes and well-being of workers. By World War I, to the rage of Lenin, even Marxists theoreticians were saying the old boy’s theories needed some serious revision.

There are other questions Darwinists need to answer. If believing that Christ raised people from the dead is a matter of faith — and it is — is not the Darwinist claim that nature created life out of non-life a matter of faith? If it is science, why can’t scientists replicate it in microcosm in a laboratory?

If scientists know life came from matter and matter from non-matter, why don’t they show us how this was done, instead of asserting it was done, and calling us names for not taking their claims on faith?

Clearly, a continued belief in the absolute truth of Darwinist evolution is but an act of faith that fulfills a psychological need of folks who have rejected God. That picture on the wall of the science class of apes on four legs, then apes on two legs, then homo erectus walking upright is as much an expression of faith as the picture of Adam and Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Hence, if religion cannot prove its claim and Darwinists can’t prove their claims, we must fall back upon reason, which some of us believe is God’s gift to mankind.

And when you consider the clocklike precision of the planets in their orbits about the sun and the extraordinary complexity of the human eye, does that seem to you like the result of random selection or the product of intelligent design?

Prediction: Like the Marxists, the Darwinists are going to wind up as a cult in which few believe this side of Berkeley and Harvard Square.

Pray for them this Christmas season, and enjoy yourself with a reading of Bethell’s fine and funny little book.

Mr. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of The Death of the West, The Great Betrayal, and A Republic, Not an Empire.

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24 Responses to Darwinism — “A cult in which few believe this side of Berkeley and Harvard Square”

  1. That Buchanan sure has the gift of gab!

  2. Darwin writes in his autobiography: “In October 1838 I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on , from long continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved and unfavourable ones to be destroyed.”

    http://www.trufax.org/avoid/manifold.html

  3. Hi Bill – I am sorry to be off-subject here but I don’t know how to send you note without doing it this way.
    In the New Scientist website Leonard Susskind, inventor of string theory, is interviewed on the subject “Is String Theory in Trouble.”
    I found the following interchange interesting as regards ID.

    Q: If we do not accept the landscape idea are we stuck with intelligent design?

    A:I doubt that physicists will see it that way. If, for some unforeseen reason, the landscape turns out to be inconsistent – maybe for mathematical reasons, or because it disagrees with observation – I am pretty sure that physicists will go on searching for natural explanations of the world. But I have to say that if that happens, as things stand now we will be in a very awkward position. Without any explanation of nature’s fine-tunings we will be hard pressed to answer the ID critics. One might argue that the hope that a mathematically unique solution will emerge is as faith-based as ID.

    In another interchange Susskind acknowledges that “The logic of the anthropic principle requires the strong assumption that our kind of life is the only kind possible.” He then goes on to provide an argument from ignorance re. the possibility of the existence of non-carbon-based life when he writes: “Why should we presume that all life is like us – carbon-based, needs water, and so forth? How do we know that life cannot exist in radically different environments? If life could exist without galaxies, the argument that the cosmological constant seems improbably fine-tuned for life would lose all of its force. And we don’t know that life of all kinds can’t exist in a wide variety of circumstances, maybe in all circumstances.” Finally, in this interchange, he admits that “in my heart of hearts, I just don’t believe that life could exist in the interior of a star, for instance, or in a black hole.” (http://www.newscientist.com/ch.....5.800.html)

  4. For once Pat Buchanon knows what he is talking about. LOL!

  5. “If scientists know life came from matter and matter from non-matter, why don’t they show us how this was done, instead of asserting it was done, and calling us names for not taking their claims on faith?”

    HA! HAHA! HAHAHA! So true! That made me laugh. One could make a sitcom out of Darwinism.

  6. Buchanan described the dichotomy perfectly:

    #1 religion must be taken as a matter of faith
    #2 undirected evolution must be taken as a matter of faith

    ID doesn’t need to be taken on faith. The evidence for it is stark and overwhelming. Unfortunately for those who’ve a vested interest (psychological, financial, or otherwise) in the faith of #2, ID is a show stopper. ID doesn’t cancel the requirement for faith in #1 but neither is it a show stopper.

  7. perfectly put, Dave.

  8. Hi everyone, my first post here.

    It will be interesting to see how the more vocal of the neo-darwinists, respond to this. Pat’s old political enemies might look quite tame in comparison.

  9. Bethell via Buchanan:
    “The Darwinian thesis of “survival of the fittest” turns out to be nothing but a tautology. How do we know existing species were the fittest? Because they survived. Why did they survive? Because they were the fittest.”

    My jaw dropped when I read this. Bethell first made this argument in 1976, and it was immediately and convincingly refuted by Stephen Jay Gould. 29 years later Bethell is still trotting it out as if it were fresh, without even mentioning or attempting to address the refutation.

    What’s especially amusing about this is that Bethell (via Buchanan) doesn’t seem to understand that his own stated acceptance of microevolution is fatal to the tautology accusation:
    “No one denies “micro-evolution” — i.e., species adapting to their environment. It is macro-evolution that is in trouble.”

    Take the example of antibiotic resistance. According to Bethell, natural selection says that the bacteria that survive under pressure from antibiotics are (tautologically) the ones that survive. According to evolutionary biologists, there is an independent criterion for assessing the capacity for survival. The bacteria that survive tend to be the ones that have the ability to reduce or eliminate the harm done by the antibiotics. Quite a difference. Hardly a tautology.

    Buchanan spends four paragraphs apparently trying to link Darwin’s theory with Marxism via Malthus, and then to wound Darwin’s theory by shooting down Marxism. This seems ridiculous, but otherwise I can’t explain why he spends four paragraphs (about 20% of the entire article) on this topic when the title of the article is “Tom Bethell Puts Darwinism on Defense”. Let’s look at the reasoning. Buchanan writes:

    1. “Darwin…read Thomas Malthus’ famous ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population.’”
    2. “Marx’s ideas also seem to have a Malthusian root.”
    3. “American capitalism proved Marx dead wrong.”

    Either Buchanan is off on an irrelevant tangent, or he actually thinks that

    4. This implies that something is wrong with Darwinian theory.

    But why should I be surprised? After all, we are talking about Pat Buchanan.

    Interestingly, he seems to have missed the fact that Marx admired Darwin and sent him a copy of the second edition of Das Kapital when it was published. Had he known this, he could have drawn a direct (albeit still invalid) connection between Marxism and Darwinism, instead of a connection once removed.

  10. “and it was immediately and convincingly refuted by Stephen Jay Gould”

    Convincing to whom? Certainly not to me. Survival of the fittest is circular reasoning at its finest.

  11. “The bacteria that survive tend to be the ones that have the ability to reduce or eliminate the harm done by the antibiotics.”

    So they survive by avoiding harm. Wow. Who would have ever imagined that avoiding harm is beneficial to one’s survival.

    Duh.

  12. You’re going down in flames, Keith. It might be time for a graceful exit before things get ugly.

  13. Keiths

    I do not understand your post. I also do not understand you comment, “What’s especially amusing about this is that Bethell (via Buchanan) doesn’t seem to understand that his own stated acceptance of microevolution is fatal to the tautology accusation”. Could you explain what you mean?

    Dan

  14. Keith,

    “According to evolutionary biologists, there is an independent criterion for assessing the capacity for survival. The bacteria that survive tend to be the ones that have the ability to reduce or eliminate the harm done by the antibiotics.”

    And what is the harm done by antibiotics? Well, antibiotics kill bacteria. So the bacteria that survive are the ones that tend to avoid being killed by antibiotics. And what is “avoiding being killed”? It’s surviving. So the bacteria that survive are the ones that tend to survive.

    “Survival of the fittest” is an empty principle because it does not supply, a priori, any empirical way to determine “fitness” that would permit falsification. Determination of fitness is always done after the fact, when we examine in retrospect why the ones that survived in fact survived. And it must be so, because the fittest always survive… otherwise they wouldn’t be the fittest!

    What biologists do is examine bacteria after they have been exposed to antibiotics and figure out why the surviving ones survived. Because they survived, they must be fittest, and we can investigate why they are fit. Thinking about the pure principle of “survival of the fittest” adds nothing to the investigation and only repeats what everyone has always known.

    The real purpose of “survival of the fittest” is to provide the imagination with a hook on which it can hang all sorts of pseudo-scientific myths about biological development in the past… that’s the value of a null principle, it leaves the imagination unconstrained.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  15. Buchannon seems to be saying (at least in part):
    Darwin is like Marx
    Marx was wrong
    Therefore, Darwin is wrong too.

    Don’t have to be an expert logician to see that this is not the strongest argument in the world (and so Keith is right in this part of his objection). It doesn’t help the cause of ID much if a known ideologue like Buchannon is arguing for a good idea with weak reasoning.

    Having said that, Keith how did Gould debunk the tautology exactly? Seems to me that “fitness” is always defined after the fact, and as such every surviving organism is “fit.” The most fit survives. The survivors are the most fit. The statement is empty regardless of whether it is applied to micro- or macro-evolution.

  16. 16

    Pat Buchanon has never struck me as being very scientifically astute. And “survival of the fittest” is not exactly the conerstone of evolutionary biology. “Fittest” is obviously very subjective.

    Pat is nothing more than a cultural warrior who promotes his version of Christian values as well as his notions of racial purity (keeping white folks white).

    Anyhow, Pat still has a following and his simple minded ideas still get some attention. Nothing new here.

    Chris

  17. It is incorrect to say that every surviving organsism is fit. Fitness is defined in terms of the expected number of offspring, not the actual. The expected number is some complicated function of the characteristics of the oranism. The actual number is the result of both chance and those characteristics. Over much time and many replicates, those with the highest expected reproductive output will produce the most offspring. For example, antibiotic resistant bacteria surive at a higher rate than non-resistant ones when exposed to antibiotics. This does not mean that only resistant ones survive. It does mean that we expect the antibiotic-resistant ones to become dominant in the population over the long term if exposure to the antibiotic continues. In this example, the most fit bacteria are those with the most resistance (all else being equal) – NOT simply those that happen to survive in a given generation. We can, for example, do an experiment where we mix bacteria that we know to be antibiotic resistant with those we know not to be. We tag the resistant ones on some way so that we can identfy them and their descendants. We then run multiple batches where we let the bacteria populations grow either in the presence of antibiotic or not. In the antibiotic treatment we will see the resistant baceteria dominate most of the time. In the other treatment we won’t. These types of experiements have been done thousands of time. We have identified the fit organsims in advance and we then see what we expect to see by the princple of natural selection.

    If you believe that natural selection is a tautology than you must disbelieve that species can adapt to their environment – hence the contradiction when Buchanan says the microevolution is true.

    Of all the arguments brought against evolution, “natural selection is a tautology” is one of the
    stupidest. If you don’t understand why, then you are not qualified to debate about evolution and you are only embarrasing yourself and your cause.

  18. “And what is “avoiding being killed”?”

    It’s a question that some miscreant on the public dole will try to get a million dollars in research funding to answer.

    The hell of it is he won’t have an answer at the end of the day.

  19. SteveB wrote:
    “Darwin is like Marx
    Marx was wrong
    Therefore, Darwin is wrong too”

    No, what Buchanan wrote:
    Malthus had a theory about population growth and ensuing struggle for resources.
    Marx drew on Malthus in development of his theory of economics.
    Darwin drew on Malthus in development of his theory of evolution.
    Malthus proved to be wrong.
    Marx proved to be wrong.
    Darwin is being proved wrong.

    I didn’t know I was an “expert logician”, but OK, I’ll take it.

  20. I returned to this thread to elaborate on why natural selection is not a tautology, but I see that vrakj has already done the work. Thanks, vrakj!

    Some additional points:

    Darwin did not coin the phrase “survival of the fittest” (it was Spencer), nor did he use it in The Origin of Species until one of the later editions (5th or 6th — I can’t remember which). I read somewhere that he used it because it had already caught on with the public as the four-word “sound bite” summary of natural selection.

    Biologists tend to use the word “selection”, often only prepending the “natural” qualifier when context makes it unclear whether they are talking about artificial, sexual, or natural selection.

    “Survival of the fittest” is a quite inaccurate description of natural selection, as vrakj explained, because it is simply not true that the “fittest” individuals are the ones that survive. That is precisely why I was careful to use the word “tend” in my original example of antibiotic resistance:

    “The bacteria that survive tend to be the ones that have the ability to reduce or eliminate the harm done by the antibiotics.”

    And not only do unfit individuals often survive, but the fittest individuals often don’t survive. An animal can be perfectly adapted to its natural environment but still have the bad luck to be killed prematurely, if, say, it happens to be on the wrong side of the herd when a predator attacks. Over long periods of time, these flukes cancel out and fitter individuals comprise an increasingly large percentage of the population.

    Bethell (and the other antievolutionists who continue to prop up the tautology argument) prefer “survival of the fittest” to “natural selection” because the former makes it easier to create the impression of tautology: “Who survives? The fittest. Who are the fittest? The ones who survive.” As a rhetorical ploy, it works. Even smart folks like taciturnus, DaveScot, and SteveB get sucked in.

    DaveScot, reacting to the same sentence that I posted above:
    “So they survive by avoiding harm. Wow. Who would have ever imagined that avoiding harm is beneficial to one’s survival. Duh.”

    Dave, natural selection is undoubtedly a simple idea, and obvious once you’ve heard it. After reading the Origin of Species, Huxley famously remarked “How exceedingly stupid not to have thought of that!” Yet something can be obvious without being tautological.

    DaveScot writes:
    “You’re going down in flames, Keith. It might be time for a graceful exit before things get ugly.”

    vrakj, I guess you and I are moths that flew too close to the Darwinian flame. How exceedingly stupid of us to have missed such an obvious tautology. :-)

  21. Tom Bethell has an article in the National Review: http://www.nationalreview.com/.....010829.asp

    In it, he says:
    “As the eminent philosopher of science Karl Popper said, after discussing this problem that natural selection cannot escape: ‘There is hardly any possibility of testing a theory as feeble as this.’”

    In 1978, Popper reversed himself:
    “I have changed my mind about the testability and logical status of the theory of natural selection, and I am glad to have the opportunity to make a recantation.”

    Popper’s recantation is widely known and available on the Web. Can Bethell really be unaware of its existence?

    Tom Bethell is either amazingly incompetent as a journalist, or downright dishonest as a human being.

  22. Keith,

    Can you point me to Popper’s recantation? I’d like to read it…

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  23. Popper’s recantation is at talk.origins. It isn’t exactly a full-throated defense of Darwinism, but Keith is right that Bethell should have mentioned it.

    Dave T.

  24. “If believing that Christ raised people from the dead is a matter of faith — and it is…” For us, maybe, but not for those he raised.

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