Saturday, November 28, 2009

Why Do Secularists Make a Such a Saint Out of Darwin?

British political journalist Dennis Sewell has a new book coming out and a review of it is available in Time online here. Sewell is a Darwin iconoclast who views Darwin's influence as including a great deal of social and political harm, as well as some scientific benefit. He apparently is not saying that he disbelieves in biological evolution; he is saying that the effects of this new knowledge have been utilized for many bad ends, such as racism and eugenics. So, for example, when asked if we should re-assess Darwin's legacy, he replies:
"Bicentennial celebrations have portrayed Darwin as a kindly old gentleman pottering around an English house and garden. What that misses is the way his ideas were abused in the 20th century and the way in which Darwin was wrong about certain key issues. He asserted that different races of mankind had traveled different distances along the evolutionary path — white Caucasians were at the top of the racial hierarchy, while black and brown people ranked below. [Racism] was a widespread prejudice in British society at the time, but he presented racial hierarchy as a matter of science. He also held that the poor were genetically second-rate — which inspired eugenics."
When asked if, "all things considered, do you believe Darwin was a great luminary in the path of human progress?" he replied:
"What has the theory of evolution done for the practical benefit of humanity? It's helped our understanding of ourselves, yet compared to, say, the discovery of penicillin or the invention of the World Wide Web, I wonder why Darwin occupies this position at the pinnacle of esteem. I can only imagine he has been put there by a vast public relations exercise."
That seems to be just about right to me.

The book is The Political Gene: How Darwin's Ideas Changed Politics but it does not seem to be listed on yet.


slaveoftheking said...

They make a saint out of him because he is their foundational prophet; as Dawkins says, he made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. (Or at least, so the atheists think.)

Human Ape said...

Atheists don't use religious words like 'saint'. Darwin is greatly respected by scientifically literate people, including many religious people, because his natural selection idea, which he provided evidence for, was a brilliant idea that is today now stronger than ever.

Biologists agree Darwin is the father of modern biology. In my opinion Darwin should also be given credit for killing god. Please see my new blog, Darwin Killed God, at

Dan said...

Meh. People look for heroes, everyone does. Darwin did work up a significant theory in biology (whether one agrees with it or not) and so I find it of little surprise. Since we all have confirmation biases in our thinking, we overlook our heroes' shortcomings and foibles. It makes no difference if you're an atheist or a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim.