(Here is an occasional piece by Jon Marks at UNCC -R)
An international survey a couple of years ago found that only about half of Americans believe in evolution, placing us 33d in the world, on a list of the nations that believe in evolution the most. I find this troubling, but not because it is another demonstration that Americans are morons. That was known to H. L. Mencken in the 1920s, who referred to the American masses as the “booboisie,” and had even worse things to say about creationists. My problem with these data involves the idea of scientists being interested in what I believe.
I would be apprehensive at the State Department taking an interest in my beliefs, and I am just as apprehensive at the scientific community’s interest in them.
When did science come to be about your beliefs, anyway? I always thought it was about method.
If science is indeed about your beliefs, then I have a bone to pick with evolution. It just seems to attract the weirdest ideologues. Consider the post-Darwinian generations: in the 1890s there were the Social Darwinists. A couple of decades later there were the eugenicists. They were Darwinists too: Charles Darwin’s cousin (Francis Galton) was the movement’s founder, and his son Leonard led the British eugenics society after Galton. It’s hard to miss that connection!
In America, paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn and geneticist Charles Davenport led the movement – no conflict of molecules and morphology there! Davenport’s ideas fell into eclipse in America with the accession of the Nazis, and he died in 1944 – as the sitting President of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
The post-War generation is exceptional, with Sherry Washburn reinventing the field of biological anthropology, and the Synthetic Theory (led by Theodosius Dobzhansky) settling into a liberal humanist vision of human evolution.
The next generation, however, brought the Darwinian segregationists, whose work was significant enough to be formally repudiated at the 1961 meetings of the AAA and the 1962 meetings of the AAPA. And they also had an ally in the sitting president of the AAPA, Carleton Coon – who cast the lone dissenting vote and stormed out of the business meeting.
But the next generation brought the sociobiologists, and then the evolutionary psychologists.
The movements – Social Darwinism, eugenics, Darwinian segregationism, sociobiology, and evolutionary psychology – share very little in terms of their particular content. But they do share two notable attributes: (1) the claim to speak on behalf of Darwinism, and (2) a rhetoric explicitly repudiating the field of anthropology.
In Consilience (1998), E. O. Wilson actually wrote, “Ignorance of the natural sciences by design was a strategy fashioned by the founders [of social science], most notably Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, Franz Boas, and Sigmund Freud, and their immediate followers.” Now, a decade later, he’s come around to realizing that group selection actually does happen in humans, so I guess all that reductionist posturing from the early days was mainly blather (Quarterly Review of Biology, 82:327, 2007).
Anyway, I’m sitting around on February 12 – “Darwin Day” – reading “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. Richard Dawkins and his acolytes in Darwinian atheism also don’t care too much for anthropology. Since they believe that religion is only for children and morons, and anthropologists tend to think that religion is for everybody – that is to say, anthropologists believe in cultural relativism – Dawkins has us in an enemy camp. He used to ask, “When you actually fly to your international conference of cultural anthropologists, do you go on a magic carpet or do you go on a Boeing 747?”
And I’m thinking to myself, “If this schmuck speaks for Darwinism, isn’t that an argument against evolution?”
But you know what’s worse? There are even bigger schmucks out there claiming to speak for Darwin. After all, that’s who James Watson was invoking last autumn, when he wrote that “there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.”
So here is my proposition. Scientific racism is worse than un-scientific creationism. After all, nobody was ever killed or maimed or sterilized in the name of creationism.
So as we look towards the upcoming Darwin anniversary (bicentennial of birth, 150 years since the Origin) maybe we need to think less about the creationists – the external enemies – and think more about the erosion from within. The creationists can’t embarrass science; only scientists can do that. Darwin always has ventriloquists behind him, putting thoughts and words in his mouth, and somehow the job always falls to anthropologists to keep his name unsullied.