Ventriloquists for Darwin

(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.

32 thoughts on “Ventriloquists for Darwin

  1. bq. 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.

    I’ll happily agree with the proposition in general, but the following sentence seems to be, at best, only mostly true. Creationism is certainly associated with a sociology of the world, and that sociology’s dominant response to ethnic or racial difference has resonated throughout history, and was used to justify, among many other indignities, chattel slavery in the Americas.

  2. I’m not saying creationists don’t do bad things. Abolitionism arose quite independently of Darwinism, and the Brits were already abolitionists by the time Darwinism came up. But there is also an interesting (and I believe still largely untold) story of the rift between the “anthropologists” and “ethnologists” in the UK in the 1860s, largely over the issue of race. I think a similar rift took place in France, with one result being Emile Durkheim ultimately calling his chair “Sociology” partly because “Anthropology” was taken up by Paul Broca’s polygenist racist craniological school.

    And there was also a correlation in the 18th-19th century between being a monogenist (single origin of humans), an abolitionist, and a biblical literalist – versus being a polygenist, pro-slavery, and a biblical interpretationist – which was cross-cut by Darwinism. There were some nuanced positions (Louis Agassiz, for example), but I don’t think we can blame slavery on creationism.

    To return to the modern era, though, I suspect that people who bomb abortion clinics tend to be creationists. But they don’t do their evil stuff “for” creationism in the same sense that, say, the eugenicists sterilized people “for” evolution. I hope that’s a clarification, apologies for rambling.

  3. That’s fine – I don’t know enough about eugenics, though the practices of forced sterilization of Native America, for instance, seem to my pop-psycho-cultural eye to interact with darwinism less on the basis of program, and more on the basis of justification, which is, I was attempting to imply above, what it shares most significantly with equally nasty usages of creationism.

    Thomas Jefferson’s own comments on Native America, for instance, were that they were a red crayon sketch, to be covered over by the more civilized hues of Americas european invaders/immigrants. This is a metaphor Jefferson uses to justify and naturalize european dominance and destruction of native america, not a program-generating idea.

    The flip side is that both darwinism and creationism can be used to justify (or determine) programs in quite apposite areas of political discourse. Simply saying “when adam toiled and eve span…” will probably evoke one of the most famous combinations of fundamentalism/leftism, but William Jennings Bryan famously opposed darwinism (for precisely the reasons you lay out) and championed creationism.

    I don’t want to be misunderstood to be arguing on behalf of either darwinism or creationism here (press me, I’ll claim I “believe” in evolution, though I do not have an expert’s understanding of the methods required to justify that), but I’m not convinced that either the science crowd or the creationist christians are actually basing their policies on their ideologies as much as their are justifying them by reference to them.

  4. From this I gather that detrimental ideas and violence have been atteched to both Creationism and Darwinism (which are cosmologies rather than a scientific theory like evolution). So are those negative effects inherent in the cosmologies or a distortion? And do distortions reflect something that was hidden in the original cosmology?

  5. Just a thought: the thing about Creation is that it is in the past, and Evolution is going to happen in the future, so there is not really anything you can do to ‘further’ Creation in the same way that you can ‘further’ Evolution.

    But then again that is Jon’s point — ‘bad’ version of evolution have a self-certainty and hubris that leads them to believe they 1) can predict the future and 2) control and change it. This is not the careful ‘all knowledge is provisional’ model which scientists aspire too.

    Hmm… I guess that the inverse of self-confident Evolutionism would be self-confident Creationism. Which would be hubristic approaches to the past… maybe bad versions of biblical archaeology? Maybe it would be interesting to compare the downfall of William Albright-style biblical archaeology to E.O. Wilson’s more recent retractions that Jon mentions above.

  6. When did science come to be about your beliefs, anyway? I always thought it was about method.

    Do you think that important scientific work is being done by evolutionary psychology despite the beliefs of its practitioners? Or, in the end, do their beliefs matter as much as their method?

  7. Oh, I think ev psych can (and ought to) be judged as crap methodologically, independently of the beliefs of the practitioners.

  8. “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?” I think that’s a funny line! I tend to think there’s something interesting in the new breed of ‘evangelical’ atheists — which is that they meet their interlocutors on the plane of claims that actually matter, claims about what the truth is. The happy ecumenicism of non-believing anthropologists strikes me as a form of a bad faith at best and as a kind of condescension at worst. But that is less a comment on what you’ve written here than a comment on several book reviews of Dawkins (and Dennett and Hitchens) that I have seen lately, like “this”:,,2265446,00.html one.

    Rex: claims about Creation are often enough these days tightly linked with claims about the End. Among many of my close relations, this has taken a rather weird turn of late: a belief that Barack Obama might be the antichrist. Again, I drift off topic, but only to say that many adherents of certain Creation myths also adhere to myths about the End, and that these same folks are engaged in all kinds of projects to hasten its arrival.

    BUT, here is a comment that I think is on topic: Isn’t *anthropology* a science that purports to be about people’s beliefs? Does anthropological interest in beliefs related to say, sickness and curing, or witchcraft, or cosmologies, or whatever, does that interest also make you apprehensive? Or do I misunderstand the nature of your apprehensiveness?

  9. “claims about Creation are often enough these days tightly linked with claims about the End.” There is a rather tight philosophical/theological relationship between creation, the end and the structure of time along the way, at least in the Christian tradition (which is what we are talking about, right?). See:
    -“History” in Crapanzano’s _Serving the Word: Literalism in America from the Pulpit to the Bench_ (Note the ways that a certain presupposed relationship to end and beginning of time structure “literal” reading.)
    -_The Sense of An Ending_ by Paul Kermode, similarly, talks about the form and quality of time in relationship to theologically structured models of the shape of time., where it ends, where it begins.
    -Also, for an old-school take (though still widely read in the Christian community), there is always St Augustine’s _Confessions_, especially the stuff on time. Note that Ricoeur’s _Time and Narrative_ is basically a long riff on Augustine and Aristotle (Rhetoric).

    All of this makes thinking about Creationism vs Darwinism very interesting. While creationism is logically dependent on a (created) beginning and a (judged and redeemed) end (with agentative free will in a sense the necessary derivative of the relationship between the two). Darwinism seems to specify a beginning and a process, but has no ending built in (as far as I can see).

    Back when I was doing research on NeoPentecostal forms of talk there was a memorable sermon in which the pastor at the working class SE Portland church attacked Darwinism. Why? Because it insulted individual human dignity. “I believe,” he said, “that I was born here, in my family, in this generation, with a purpose! What do the evolutionists believe?” he said, “slime and time. It’s all slime and time.”

    There is some connection here with one’s preferences for creationism or Darwinism… but this is probably a more humanist point.

  10. This is moving tangentially away from Jon’s article, but I just wanted to point out that though many of the debates that we see in the US with Darwinism vs. Creationism take Christianity as their religious backdrop, the same conflict is currently happening in an Islamic context in Turkey. If you are interested in the links being made between Christian and Muslim Creationists, here is a great audio report:

  11. Jon,

    You express you preference for ‘un-scientific creationism’ over ‘scientific racism’. That’s fine – but why do you see that as the relevant set of alternatives? Scientific racism is hardly a mainstream movement in modern evolutionary biology. (Recall, after all, that Watson, whom you mention in your post, lost his position due to his comments.) Finding evolutionary theory to be more plausible that divine creation hardly commits one to racist views, after all.

    A second point: I don’t know if you meant your post to come across this way, but it looks like you are using guilt by association (eugenics, the ‘science wars’) and ad hominem (‘schmuck’ and ‘bigger schmuck’ ) to make evolutionary biologists look generally despicable. Seems like sort of cheap shot.

  12. Just what is Marks’ point about group selection? It may be less “reductionist” than individual or genic selection, but it is surely no more inherently “progressive” – JP Rushton and Kevin MacDonald are group selectionists. Social organicism, which is often associated with group selection, has historically been touted by fascists, Nazis and Leninists. Not to mention Herbert Spencer. As for anti-reductionist rhetoric, see Anne Harrington on the complex relationship of Nazism to holistic psychology and biology. This is not to claim that group selection and social organicism are inherently evil; perfectly nice people with benign agendas can endorse them. In addition, modern group selection – whose advocates posit that religion and other curious features of social life are group-level adaptations rather than epiphenomena or nonadaptive memes – tends to be even more Panglossian/pan-adaptationist than Dawkinsian genic selectionism.

  13. Actually, my take on this debates is that it is really something that only Christians worry about — including the ones who think they’re no longer Christian because they are Scientists (E.O. Wilson has been very straightforward in his biography about his Christian upbringing). The fact that the culture trait is diffusing to Turkey is interesting.

  14. I believe that Marks has a legitimate point; among of the defensive reactions to the rise of Intelligent Design have been distortions of the history of eugenics and the whitewashing of early Darwinists like Haeckel and Galton.

    Some relevant sources:

    Patrick Bratlinger. 2003. Dark Vanishings: Discourse on the Extinction of Primitive Races, 1800-1930

    Robert Proctor. books: 1988. Racial Hygiene. 1999. The Nazi War On Cancer.

    G Stein. 1988. Biological science and the roots of Nazism. American Scientist 76:50-58.

    Paul Weindling. 1989. Health, race and German politics between national unification and Nazism, 1870-1945.

    Charles Darwin, letter to William Graham, 1881: “I could show … natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit. … Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.”

    Francis Galton, 1884 letter to a colleague: “The Jews are specialized for parasitical existence upon other nations.”

    Ernst Haeckel, The Wonders of Life, 1905: “Hundreds of thousands of incurables-lunatics, lepers, people with cancer, etc. – who are artificially kept alive … without the slightest profit to themselves or the general body.”

  15. Unfortunately it is not so clear that scientific racism doesn’t have a home in mainstream evol biol. Henry Harpending is a member of the National Academy of Sciences in Anthropology. In 1995 he reviewed Rushton and The Bell Curve favorably in Evolutionary Anthropology. (A counter-review was solicited from George Armelagos.) In a brand-new Cambridge Univ Press text called Anthropological Genetics: Theory, Methods, and Applications, edited by Michael Crawford (University of Kansas, not the Phantom of the Opera), the last word is given to Harpending, who concludes with a favorable citation of the infamous modern racist psychologists Arthur Jensen and Philippe Rushton, assuring the reader that “[g]roups differ in intelligence” and “certainly do not have equal potentials”. Me, I’m just a dumb ol’ country anthropologist, but I sure don’t want him speaking for me, or for the field of anthropology.

  16. There is a different debate over the role of religion in science taking place in India. Meera Nanda’s attacks on “superstition” aren’t particularly helpful anthropologically, but they are a good starting place.

  17. Jon,

    There is a big difference between being able to point to a small number of scholars in some field that represent some marginal position, and showing a position to be a mainstream school of thought in that discipline. Blurring the difference between these two very different kind of arguments is a time-honored rhetorical strategy for misrepresenting scientific consensus (popular, for example, among both creationists and global warming deniers). I want to give you the benefit of the doubt that this is *not* what you are trying to do: can you give us some compelling evidence that scientific racism is a *mainstream* school of thought in *modern* evolutionary biology?

    If you can’t, then my question is: of what significance are the views of someone like Harpending for understanding the role of scientific racism in evolutionary biology? After all, there are a few creationist physicists, but that doesn’t mean that physics, as a discipline, provides support for creationism.

  18. I brought up Harpending specifically because of his rank in the scholarly community (i.e., higher than yours and mine). And as Colugo asks, What about Vincent Sarich? I co-authored some papers with him in the 1980s and still regard him as a friend, but reviewing his book on race was exceedingly unpleasant yet something I felt an obligation to do. The review is here, if anyone is interested:

  19. “You express you preference for ‘un-scientific creationism’ over ‘scientific racism’. That’s fine – but why do you see that as the relevant set of alternatives?”

    Because if he didn’t frame things in that manner, what would he have left? A bunch of random anecdotes about people he doesn’t like, most in bygone eras, that’s neither particular representative nor comprehensive. and none of which has the least bit of bearing on any substantive issue of scientific validity.

    I sure hope this slipshod method isn’t indicative of how your scholarship proceeds. And I hope the bizarre free-associative transition from the third to fourth paragraph isn’t indicative of your writing or thinking.

  20. As an academic grandson and great-grandson of Biblical Archaeologist W. F. Albright (stick that in your kinship chart!) I’m excited to see how the analogy with E. O. Wilson would play out.

    Wrinkle: Albright did have a theory of history and it was…evolutionary! (see his From the Stone Age to Christianity). In some vague and ramified way he got it from Hegel, whose dialectic culminated in…Christianity.

    What about Evolutionism vs. Creationism? I think our antinomy’s fallen and can’t get up. For Hegel and Albright at least, a progress-based morphology of history was the best way to smuggle a Christian teleology into a respectably empirical model of how things happen.

    Maybe one reason Creationism is so marginal to respectable scholarship is that Evolutionism stole its place as teleology centuries ago.

  21. I find Jon Marks’s take on “darwinism” and its adherents, and the reaction thereto, quite interesting. You see, I’m not an anthropologist at all, and therefore probably don’t have any business speaking here. I’m a Starving Writer who is writing a Great medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals. This Masterpiece started out as something quite different, but it still had Neandertals,and since I knew absolutely nothing about them to begin with, I had to immerse myself in a crash course on human evolution, which include more general evolution. I also had to resurrect what little I knew from my anthropology days(yes, I was a major when my hair wasn’t gray), and that actually helped, plus various things from the biology courses I’d taken. So I’d kind of have to agree with Jon Marks about a belief in “darwinism”, which I have no belief in. There is no Church of St. Darwin out there, despite those who, as Dr. Marks says, claim to speak for him.

    There *is* such a thing as evolution. It goes on all the time, every day, even as we speak. And it can be measured — scientifically, in various ways. It can even be observed, indirectly, by scientist and nonscientist alike. Every time a mutation turns up in some organism, that is evolution in action. But none of you need to have this repeated to you. And it has nothing to do with belief or nonbelief in a deity, as Dawkins and some others seem to be implying. It is *this* that I think anthropologists(and scientists of other kinds) ought to be repeating, over and over and over again, to the Dawkins types of the world(though they probably won’t believe it), to the creationists(they won’t believe it either), and to the “general public”, some of whom probably will come to understand this. Eventually. That is the only way scientific ignorance can be overcome.
    Anne G

  22. Marks is raising a issue that anthropologists ought to be discussing. Currently within mainstream science and academia there appears to be a small resurgence of, to put it in neutral terms, investigation of racial cognitive differences. Bruce Lahn’s (debunked) theory. The “smart Jews” thesis. Some of the discussion surrounding the “accelerated human evolution” paper. Gregory Clark’s A Farewell To Alms. The statements of LSE’s Satoshi Kanazawa.

  23. I’m not sure I need to respond to “Bad” (I have a mental image of debating electronically with Michael Jackson), but let me clarify a couple of points.

    First, “Bad” does not seem to distinguish between professional judgments and personal feelings. It’s not about “people I don’t like” – which is obviously a clumsy rhetorical device to de-legitimize my points. As I said, I like Vince Sarich; I even like Henry Harpending. This is about their ideas, and specifically about their ideas as ostensible spokesmen for evolution.

    Second, “Bad” seems to suggest that “That was then, this is now” in spite of the evidence I and other respondents have adduced that scientific racism is very much a living issue. The question I raised is, Is it worse than creationism? My point is that as long as Darwinism is tethered to racism, it is burdened by racism, and it should be a higher priority of Darwinism to sever that connection. In denying the problem, as “Bad” does, we guarantee that the association can remain. I don’t see how Darwinism is served by doing so.

    What I am suggesting is that neither creationism nor scientific racism is good, but that as a scholar and citizen (and an anthropologist), I would rather be perceived as being “soft” on creationism than as being “soft” on racism. Evolutionary biology should not be maintained as an intellectual space where racism can be allowed to flourish. And if we allow it to be, then we can’t really be surprised if people gravitate to non-racist alternatives. They have enough reasons for being anti-evolution, we don’t have to give them more.

    Finally, when people rant about a “substantive issue of scientific validity” in this context, it is usually an indication that they are preparing to brandish something like Phil Rushton’s (whom I hear is also very nice, although I’ve never met him) data that show that the average IQ of sub-Saharan Africans is 70, i.e., indicative of mild retardation. Again, I’ve written a little bit about this. I apologize again for this, but here is a review essay recently out, if anyone is interested, from the Encyclopedia of Race and Racism:

  24. Agreed, Anne G.

    Nevertheless, for good humanists good science is a problem, because its operations may produce inconvenient facts like the superior aerodynamics of airplane wings over a nice qalicheh.

    Thinking along with science, in the current state of the art there is robust confidence about evolutionary variability between individuals and within groups. Under the correct conditions, those variations become thresholdy and you’ve got an anthropologist rather than a pygmy chimp. Pause for some complications as we consider the flipping operations of Hox genes.

    Humans are not exempt from this way evolutionary biology works. It’s therefore true that in this story it is disturbingly possible to think of the thresholds as racial thresholds and the variations in question as better/worse or higher/lower ones. Those would have to be cultural judgments, however, because all good scientific evolution wants to ‘talk’ about is whether you can get that seed cracked with your beak, buddy.

    Another disturbing thing about this discussion is that the hypothesis of stable human racial variation has not been dismissed a priori as a tenet of humanist faith. Let’s look, the good scientist says; the racists could be right (because they’re right, not because they’re racists). Science has no way to tell us that’s not a question we should ask or answer, as Weber said in his nicely decentering essay. E.g. it could be that white people are, for reasons of separate situated evolution and thus by racial destiny, clueless ethnocentrists and environmental scourges; or at least so much trouble to train up in those respects that it would be more efficient just to dust ’em.

    But good scientists want to answer the question correctly, not prejudicially. Humanism is a prejudice and science is not a humanism, but science does have an ethic that works for us here. Because fortunately, the way human population dynamics have worked none of the conditions for stable racial variation have been met. Unless one has an axe to grind and an ideologically selective approach to data. Which is not good science.

  25. Carl:

    I don’t think Jon Marks, let alone any “humanists” are dismissing the “threholdness” of some kinds of evolutionary changes. As far as the “stability” of racial categories goes, that’s the problem. The racists think “races” have existed, in some way, forever, through time and space. But (a) “races” as they are now conceived by many people, are actually *socially constructed* categories, which don’t necessarily correspond to biological ones. This is why most anthropologists(and many others), don’t believe there are any such things as biological “races”. If you want to test the reality of this, think of the “racial” categories you know, then take a trip to, say, Brazil(I have relatives by marriage there), and ask Brazilians what *they* think “racial” categories are. You might be surprised. This is another reason why anthropologists(and others) don’t think biological races exist.

    This is *aside* from actual evolutionary changes that take place, all the time, among all groups of people. But since people tend to mix with other people over time(although the most adjacent groups are the *most* likely to exchange genes), these evolutionary changes can spread from one population to another, just through gene exchange. This is especially true nowadays, when lots of people travel or end up living somewhere other than where they were born. What JOn seems to be saying is, that creationistsx obviously have no “science” behind their beliefs, despite their claims(and they do make them). But those he calls “scientific racists” or other “ideologues” who jump onto the bandwagon of “Darwinism”, *claim* they have science on their side. I don’t happen to think they do. And this is a *belief*, but it’s based on my understanding of evolution and the way people actually act. Call it “politically correct” thinking if you will, and I make no claim that it’s “scientifically right”. But it’s odd that Dr. Marks has come to conclusions that are similar to mind, and he’s a trained biological anthropologist.

    Just some food for thought,
    Anne G

  26. Anne, the meanings of bodies and their various similarities and differences are ‘socially constructed.’ The bodies must be there in the first place, however. So in science what we’re apparently talking about is ways to get through the fog of social construction to the bodies. But because we’re both biologically embodied and social what we always end up with is body/society hybrids, as Bruno Latour keeps telling us.

    E.g.: “But the very notion of culture is an artifact created by bracketing Nature off. Cultures – different or universal – do not exist, any more than Nature does. There are only natures-cultures…” *We Have Never Been Modern* (1993).

    I think we agree about this, although it’s hard to tell since you’re apparently correcting me for agreeing with you and amplifying on a tangent.

  27. For such cultures-natures in relation to race, Brazil is an excellent example. So is the Caribbean, as Dylan has remarked in another thread. It’s quite right that not only do Brazilians and, say, Jamaicans ‘do’ race differently, what they do is not really well described by the binary concept of race as theorized by, say, the noted Euro-American W.E.B. DuBois.

    This does not mean they do not stigmatize and one-up each other based on appearance, including skin color, and a whole bunch of other junk. No paradise here, just a different way to do hell that only looks better because we don’t know what to look for. Stuart Hall gets at this elegantly when he talks about becoming “black” when he got off the plane from Jamaica in London. That whole way of thinking was foreign to him and to Jamaicans in general until, he says, the ’70s. However, he also talks about the consequences growing up of being the darkest-skinned member of his own family.

  28. Strong, you said “The happy ecumenicism of non-believing anthropologists strikes me as a form of a bad faith at best and as a kind of condescension at worst,” then cited a review I went and read by John Gray.

    I’m all about bad faith, because I tell people all the time that truth is relative but I totally think I’m right. (Actually, I think I’m an ironist when maybe I’m just delusional.)

    But I see Gray in good faith trying to understand that he doesn’t have the weaponry to fight a war about what truth is; noticing that having those sorts of fights is an inevitable consequence of the structure of truth claims; and sort of gamely trying to referee without irrelevantly taking sides. Am I right about what he’s doing, and is that an enterprise with which you have any sympathy?

    By the way, “bad faith” the way you use it is a product of the version of existentialism that was the last gasp of the greco-euro-american philosophical tradition’s attempt to discover the nature of absolute truth. So it looks like it makes sense only as a claim to that sort of truth, as a way of ‘unmasking’ inauthentic truth positions. Is that what you meant?

  29. The last time I checked, when Dawkins publishes, authorship is ascribed to *Richard Dawkins* and not to Charles Darwin. So how is it, now, that Dawkins can be said to be ‘speaking for’ Darwin? Same goes for any other working scientist. They are individuals, and their work should be judged accordingly.

    Most working evolutionary biologists probably feel, understandably, that they have better things to do (i.e. doing science) than engage cultural anthropologists and these types of critiques.

  30. “Scientific racism is worse than un-scientific creationism. After all, nobody was ever killed or maimed or sterilized in the name of creationism.”

    If groups have, on average, different results though then this can lead to resentment. Particularly, if it is assumed that everyone is born equal. If you assume that then inequality must be due to unfairness or discrimination.

    Steven Pinker and others have pointed this out, in terms of the Armenian Jews, the Chinese in Malaysia, or Indians in Kenya/Uganda.

    Also, the blank slate assumption has been central to some of the Marxist ideologies that lead to massacres, such as the Kulaks under Stalin, Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ and Pol Pot’s ‘Year Zero’.

    William Saletan has recently discussed the problems with collecting test scores by race and focussing on the ‘achievement gap’. By doing this, research into the cause of the gap (including that by Jensen & Rushton which you attempt to disiss with name calling) is unavoidable.

  31. “The review is here, if anyone is interested”

    A couple of things about that review of Sarich & Miele’s book.

    1. Very clearly race or ethnic groups do have a biological basis. Dr Neil Risch has found that small genetic differences have evolved between races
    because of the geographic isolation of generations of sub-Saharan Africans, Caucasians, Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans. (See, for example, Risch et al., Am. J. Hum. Genet. 76:268–275, 2005.)

    Risch has shown that by analyzing DNA, can correctly
    match an individual’s self-described race in 99.9 per cent of cases. In an interview he has also noted there is a greater chance, of incorrectly identifying an individual’s self-described gender.

    2. Two groups that form distinct clusters are likely to exhibit different frequency distributions over various genes, leading to possible group differences.

    Two groups that form distinct clusters are likely to exhibit different frequency distributions over various genes, leading to group differences.

    This leads us to two very distinct possibilities in human genetic variation:

    Hypothesis 1: (the PC mantra) The only group differences that exist between the clusters (races) are innocuous and superficial, for example related to skin color, hair color, body type, etc.

    Hypothesis 2: (the dangerous one) Group differences exist which might affect important (let us say, deep rather than superficial) and measurable characteristics, such as cognitive abilities, personality, athletic prowess, etc.

    Note H1 is under constant revision, as new genetically driven group differences (e.g., particularly in disease resistance) are being discovered. According to the mantra of H1 these must all (by definition) be superficial differences.

    A standard argument against H2 is that the 50k years during which groups have been separated is not long enough for differential natural selection to cause any group differences in deep characteristics. I find this argument quite naive, given what we know about animal breeding and how evolution has affected the (ever expanding list of) “superficial” characteristics. Many genes are now suspected of having been subject to strong selection over timescales of order 5k years or less.

    The predominant view among social scientists is that H1 is obviously correct and H2 obviously false. However, this is mainly wishful thinking. Official statements by the American Sociological Association and the American Anthropological Association even endorse the view that race is not a valid biological concept, which is clearly incorrect.

    The predominant view among social scientists is that H1 is obviously correct and H2 obviously false. However, this is mainly wishful thinking. Official statements by the American Sociological Association and the American Anthropological Association even endorse the view that race is not a valid biological concept, which is clearly incorrect.

    It is important to note that any group differences are statistical in nature and do not imply anything about particular individuals. Rather than rely on the scientifically unsupported claim that we are all equal, it would be better to emphasize that we all have inalienable human rights regardless of our abilities or genetic makeup.

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