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Friday, August 7, 2015

Deceptively Dissing Darwin

I've read many books promoting apologetics. Some have been decent, some have been dull, and some have been outright awful. One of the worst I've ever read is Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley's The Godless Delusion: A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism. The book itself is nothing special, loaded with the usual poppycock about "atheistic materialism," "atheists have no basis for morality," "a society based on atheism is doomed," etc. But most of all, it is a rather insulting book, containing little to no respect of any kind towards atheists. The following Amazon review sums it up nicely:
I enjoyed how this book lays out how Atheism is irrational when you take it to its logical ends. I did not appreciate though the many times the authors kept saying "if the new atheism continues to spread our society is doomed!". The name calling and cheap shots were uncalled for. If I were an Atheist I would have set the book down. The first 40 pages aren't even worth reading.
Having made it through the first 40 pages and beyond, I can vouch for this. It's also sur-prising that the book engages heavily in presuppositional apologetics, since this is a Catholic response to atheism, and I assumed that presuppositionalism was largely a Protestant apologetic tactic. Granted, the authors cite Protestants for their arguments, including the infamous presupposition-peddler Greg Bahnsen (whose claims have been thoroughly addressed and refuted numerous times).

But specifically I want to address one particular section of their book that I feel is not only wrong, but is also horribly deceptive and insulting to the memory of Charles Darwin. Surprise surprise, our authors throw out the usual tripe about how the worst regimes in history were led by atheists like Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. And even more surprising (i.e. not surprising at all), they provide not a shred of evidence that these men's atheism had anything to do with the crimes they committed (see Earl Doherty's discussion here under the section titled "The Question of Atheism"). But of course we can't forget the Christians' favorite example; Adolf Hitler, who our authors spend a good deal of time discussing. Of Hitler, they write: 
[M]uch nonsense has been written about Hitler being a Christian, believing in God, and opposing atheism. But whatever this madman said at times in order to gain the confidence of the German people--who were at least culturally Christian--Hitler was clearly committed to a vision of the world that was essentially Darwinian and Nietzschean. [Godless Delusion, p. 80]
Yes, much nonsense indeed. It's "nonsense" that Hitler himself said he was a Christian and believed in God. It's "nonsense" that Hitler himself said he opposed atheism. It's also "nonsense" that the Nazis banned books promoting "the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism" and books that "ridicule, belittle or besmirch the Christian religion." All nonsense in the eyes of Mr. Madrid and Mr. Hensley. And what evidence do these men present to show that Hitler only said and wrote these things to "gain the confidence of the German people"? (spoiler!

Despite this, our authors maintain that Hitler "saw himself as implementing a Darwinian 'law of nature' that would result in the 'elimination of the unfit' and bring about a civilization fit for a master race" [p. 81]. And this is supported by the other usual tripe about how Darwin's theory of natural selection was the basis for the Nazis' eugenics program. For now we'll look past the fact that this idea has been refuted over and over and over and over again. Instead, I would like to focus on a particular passage from Darwin's The Descent of Man that our authors quote. Or rather, they quote someone else quoting and interpreting what Darwin wrote. That someone is Discovery Institute fellow Benjamin Wiker, who analyzes passages from Darwin's writings in order to argue that "Darwin believed that the evolution of morality would require the extermination of 'less fit' races and individuals." 

Madrid and Hensley, while quoting Wiker, write:
Wiker quotes Darwin saying something truly remarkable, hinting broadly at something we're not aware Nietzsche ever having advocated--although Hitler most certainly did:
We civilized our utmost to check the process of elimination [i.e. the elimination of human beings]; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of everyone to the last moment....Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man...excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. [p. 104. Note that "elimination of human beings" was inserted by Madrid and Hensley]
Boy, that sure sounds like Darwin advocated eugenics, huh? There's just one little problem though. This quote from Darwin is taken entirely out of context. This was brought to light when fellow Darwin-disser Ben Stein quoted the same passage in his propaganda piece piece of shit deceptive trash film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The passage Mr. Stein, Mr. Wiker, Mr. Madrid, and Mr. Hensley didn't bother to quote appears right after Darwin's quote cited above, which states:
The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. Hence we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected, by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage. [Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, pp. 168-169]
Commenting on the issue, John Moore wrote:
Stein quotes from a passage in Darwin's writing that appears to endorse the notion that for a species to thrive the infirm must be culled. He omits the part where Darwin insists this would be "evil" and that man's care for the weak is "the noblest part of our nature." When I asked Stein about this on my radio show he deadpanned, "If any Darwin fans are listening and we have misquoted him, we are sorry; we don't mean to diss Darwin."
Now the reason I find all this so important has to do with the timeline of events here. Expelled was released in 2008 and was exposed on this point shortly thereafter. However, The Godless Delusion was published in 2010, i.e. a full two years after it was proven that the above passage was taken out of context. But despite this, our authors felt the need to go ahead and (mis)quote the exact same passage for the exact same purpose. But wait, you might say, maybe our authors were somehow unaware of Ben Stein's film and his quoting of Darwin. Isn't that possible? Nope. Because right after quoting Wiker quoting Darwin, our authors write the following:
But then, when economist Ben Stein points out in his film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed that aspects of Darwinism led to Hitler and his eugenics program, the secular establishment roars: "This is outrageous! Darwin never said anything that could be taken as a justification for anything Hitler did!" [p. 104]
For the record, it wasn't just the "secular establishment" calling BS on this. Here's a fellow Catholic saying so too. And what I find "outrageous" is the idea of people deceptively quote-mining dead men in order to further an agenda. Especially when in all likelihood they know they are being deceptive and taking words out of their proper context. The way I see it, there are only two possibilities. Either Mr. Madrid and Mr. Hensley knew their quote from Darwin was taken out of context, but ultimately just didn't care and decided to use it and misrepresent it anyway. Or, they possibly didn't know it was taken out of context, in turn meaning that neither of these men did the work they should have done and checked to see if the passage was being represented correctly. Deceptiveness or incompetence, take your pick. Either way, this is not how people who consider themselves "scholars" should behave. The evidence strongly demon-strates that Darwin did not support eugenics, and to suggest otherwise, as these men have done, is appalling and dishonoring to the memory of a man who tried, to the best of his abilities, to do the best science he could and help us further understand our place in the world.

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