Darwin on the argument from Ignorance again

| 15 Comments

“…it is always advisable to perceive clearly our ignorance.”

Darwin Wrote:

“We can allow satellites, planets, suns, universe, nay whole systems of universes, to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by special act.”

Charles Darwin as quoted by Gavin Rylands De Beer

15 Comments

These quotes are great stuff. But what I’d like to know is - in light of what we know today, compared to what Darwin knew, how would we rewrite his chapter 5 in the Descent of Man

http://www.infidels.org/library/his[…]pter_05.html

We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; 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 every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised 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.

Arun worries about how Chapter 5 might be rewritten, but Arun doesn’t show the full range of Darwin’s conjectures on how we alter our own evolution.

For example, after that section Arun quotes, Darwin also wrote this:

In every country in which a large standing army is kept up, the finest young men are taken by the conscription or are enlisted. They are thus exposed to early death during war, are often tempted into vice, and are prevented from marrying during the prime of life. On the other hand the shorter and feebler men, with poor constitutions, are left at home, and consequently have a much better chance of marrying and propagating their kind.

Is there any danger of any nation worrying about sending its best off to fight and die? How might Darwin rewrite that today?

Or this:

Man accumulates property and bequeaths it to his children, so that the children of the rich have an advantage over the poor in the race for success, independently of bodily or mental superiority. On the other hand, the children of parents who are short-lived, and are therefore on an average deficient in health and vigour, come into their property sooner than other children, and will be likely to marry earlier, and leave a larger number of offspring to inherit their inferior constitutions. But the inheritance of property by itself is very far from an evil; for without the accumulation of capital the arts could not progress; and it is chiefly through their power that the civilised races have extended, and are now everywhere extending their range, so as to take the place of the lower races. Nor does the moderate accumulation of wealth interfere with the process of selection. When a poor man becomes moderately rich, his children enter trades or professions in which there is struggle enough, so that the able in body and mind succeed best. The presence of a body of well-instructed men, who have not to labour for their daily bread, is important to a degree which cannot be over-estimated; as all high intellectual work is carried on by them, and on such work, material progress of all kinds mainly depends, not to mention other and higher advantages. No doubt wealth when very great tends to convert men into useless drones, but their number is never large; and some degree of elimination here occurs, for we daily see rich men, who happen to be fools or profligate, squandering away their wealth.

We can be relatively certain Darwin was opposed to primogeniture – but then, so were Jefferson and Lincoln. Darwin wrote:

Primogeniture with entailed estates is a more direct evil, though it may formerly have been a great advantage by the creation of a dominant class, and any government is better than none. Most eldest sons, though they may be weak in body or mind, marry, whilst the younger sons, however superior in these respects, do not so generally marry. Nor can worthless eldest sons with entailed estates squander their wealth. But here, as elsewhere, the relations of civilised life are so complex that some compensatory checks intervene. The men who are rich through primogeniture are able to select generation after generation the more beautiful and charming women; and these must generally be healthy in body and active in mind. The evil consequences, such as they may be, of the continued preservation of the same line of descent, without any selection, are checked by men of rank always wishing to increase their wealth and power; and this they effect by marrying heiresses. But the daughters of parents who have produced single children, are themselves, as Mr. Galton has shewn, apt to be sterile; and thus noble families are continually cut off in the direct line, and their wealth flows into some side channel; but unfortunately this channel is not determined by superiority of any kind.

Few among the creationists note that Darwin appeared to share their distaste for the Catholic Church, though it may be more fair simply to say that Darwin complained of the evil effects of the Inquisition:

Who can positively say why the Spanish nation, so dominant at one time, has been distanced in the race? The awakening of the nations of Europe from the dark ages is a still more perplexing problem. At that early period, as Mr. Galton has remarked, almost all the men of a gentle nature, those given to meditation or culture of the mind, had no refuge except in the bosom of a Church which demanded celibacy; and this could hardly fail to have had a deteriorating influence on each successive generation. During this same period the Holy Inquisition selected with extreme care the freest and boldest men in order to burn or imprison them. In Spain alone some of the best men – those who doubted and questioned, and without doubting there can be no progress – were eliminated during three centuries at the rate of a thousand a year. The evil which the Catholic Church has thus effected is incalculable, though no doubt counterbalanced to a certain, perhaps to a large, extent in other ways; nevertheless, Europe has progressed at an unparalleled rate.

(Just what is Darwin saying?)

And of course, one wonders whether Darwin would change his views on morality’s rise through evolution:

We may therefore conclude that primeval man, at a very remote period, was influenced by the praise and blame of his fellows. It is obvious, that the members of the same tribe would approve of conduct which appeared to them to be for the general good, and would reprobate that which appeared evil. To do good unto others- to do unto others as ye would they should do unto you- is the foundation-stone of morality. It is, therefore, hardly possible to exaggerate the importance during rude times of the love of praise and the dread of blame. A man who was not impelled by any deep, instinctive feeling, to sacrifice his life for the good of others, yet was roused to such actions by a sense of glory, would by his example excite the same wish for glory in other men, and would strengthen by exercise the noble feeling of admiration. He might thus do far more good to his tribe than by begetting offspring with a tendency to inherit his own high character.

With increased experience and reason, man perceives the more remote consequences of his actions, and the self-regarding virtues, such as temperance, chastity, &c., which during early times are, as we have before seen, utterly disregarded, come to be highly esteemed or even held sacred. I need not, however, repeat what I have said on this head in the fourth chapter. Ultimately our moral sense or conscience becomes a highly complex sentiment- originating in the social instincts, largely guided by the approbation of our fellow-men, ruled by reason, self-interest, and in later times by deep religious feelings, and confirmed by instruction and habit.

It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an increase in the number of well-endowed men and an advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another. A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection. At all times throughout the world tribes have supplanted other tribes; and as morality is one important element in their success, the standard of morality and the number of well-endowed men will thus everywhere tend to rise and increase.

One might also wonder why creationists tend to mine only those few lines from Darwin that may appear to be embarrassing in the light of 21st century morality (to which most creationists themselves do not subscribe), and they don’t present a fair and unbiased listing of the many, many arguments and ideas Darwin actually presented which shows a more rounded and fair analysis of the vast sea of information used in biology and geology.

ed Wrote:

One might also wonder why creationists tend to mine only those few lines from Darwin that may appear to be embarrassing in the light of 21st century morality (to which most creationists themselves do not subscribe), and they don’t present a fair and unbiased listing of the many, many arguments and ideas Darwin actually presented which shows a more rounded and fair analysis of the vast sea of information used in biology and geology.

Your Honor, the defense is leading the witness…

Ed, your question almost answers itself :-) Just look at how creationists have (mis)quoted Darwin’s comments on the complexity of the eye.

Ed Darrell, Me, a creationist? You sure you aren’t paranoid?

I want to know how the whole chapter would be rewritten, not just the one paragraph that I quoted.

Even if we restrict ourselves specifically to the paragraph I quoted, it doesn’t seem particularly scientific, because Darwin in pronouncing what is injurious to the race of man, seems to be uncharacteristically confused about fitness. Vaccinating people against smallpox is injurious to the race of men if the race of men ever had to return to conditions similar to those of a hundred thousand years ago; but is hardly injurious to people of a highly technical civilization.

It simply doesn’t amount to Darwin at his best, and unless you want to treat Darwin like Moses or Jesus, whose word is Law, I would expect that there are many corrections that can be made. If asking about that is to become a creationist, then I think the creationists are correct in talking about “Darwinism”, namely, the uncritical worship of Darwin. Not that the existence of Darwinism reflects on any way on the theory of evolution, but such Darwinists would be an unwelcome ally, IMO, to the science side of the debate.

-Arun

Ed Darrell,

Here, if it will make you feel better, I’ll “quote-mine” Sir Isaac Newton, or paraphrase him rather - Absolute, true, and mathematical time, from its own nature, passes equably without relation the anything external, and thus without reference to any change or way of measuring of time - and say that is wrong. Then you can excitedly jump up and down and claim that I’m an obscurantist trying to deny physics.

When you’ve calmed down, I’ll explain that since I was a physicist, I know the precise way in which Newton was wrong and has been improved upon. Since I’m not a biologist, I don’t know the myriads of ways in which Darwin has been improved upon. Gould’s “The Structure of Evolutionary Theory” proved to be too ponderous for me. If Panda’s Thumb is not the right place to ask the question, then say so, and I’ll be gone.

It simply doesn’t amount to Darwin at his best, and unless you want to treat Darwin like Moses or Jesus, whose word is Law, I would expect that there are many corrections that can be made.

Why should anyone want to? It’s a historical work.

Thanks for the clarification, Arun.

It simply doesn’t amount to Darwin at his best, and unless you want to treat Darwin like Moses or Jesus, whose word is Law, I would expect that there are many corrections that can be made.  If asking about that is to become a creationist, then I think the creationists are correct in talking about “Darwinism”, namely, the uncritical worship of Darwin

‘Uncritical worship of Darwin’? Who even does that? That’s a classic creationist accusation. Creationists and Fundies in general can only wrap their brains around ‘rival’ schools of thought by categorizing them as religions. So they claim evolutionists ‘worship’ Darwin, in hopes that if they can point out one thing Darwin said wrong, the whole edifice comes crashing down. It doesn’t occur to them that evolution simply develops as we find out more and we’re under no obligation to believe everything Darwin ever said. Science is not a cult of personality.

It simply doesn’t amount to Darwin at his best, and unless you want to treat Darwin like Moses or Jesus, whose word is Law, I would expect that there are many corrections that can be made. If asking about that is to become a creationist, then I think the creationists are correct in talking about “Darwinism”, namely, the uncritical worship of Darwin. Not that the existence of Darwinism reflects on any way on the theory of evolution, but such Darwinists would be an unwelcome ally, IMO, to the science side of the debate.

Darwin has been dead for over a century now. I don’t see why anyone would give a flying fig what he said or didn’t say. Any more than we give a flying fig today that the original US Constitution legalized human slavery (also “not at its best”).

“Uncritical worship of Darwin”? Puh-leeze. The guy’s been dead for a long time. No one cares what he thought.

I agree with Arun that Darwin was not at his best in Descent of Man, at least as sompared to On the Origin of Species.

In Evolution Edward Larson had this to say of it:

Reviewers tended to dismiss it as the musing of a senior scientist, as well they might. “In many ways the book was the man,” Darwin biographers Adrian Desmond and James Moore observe, “pudgy and comfortable, sedate in its seniority, full of anecdote and rather old-fashioned.” It featured tales of pet behavior and speculations about biologic origins of race and gender differences. Darwin’s Victorian biases were apparent throughout. Indeed, like a Victorian curiosity shop, the book contained so many provocative details that its message was somewhat lost in the clutter. Nevertheless, it raised the key issues that would thereafter occupy researchers in the field. (Emphasis added)

Shouldn’t we be arguing about the research, instead of holding poor old Darwin to every one of his 150 year-old words?

‘If asking about that is to become a creationist, then I think the creationists are correct in talking about “Darwinism”, namely, the uncritical worship of Darwin”

‘Uncritical worship of Darwin’? Who even does that?

The statement was subjunctive; it doesn’t assert that anyone displays uncritical worship of Darwin, but rather it says that, *if* people treat Darwin like a God, *then* it is accurate to say that people treat Darwin like a God. There are grounds for criticizing what Arun wrote, but not by mischaracterizing it.

Shouldn’t we be arguing about the research, instead of holding poor old Darwin to every one of his 150 year-old words?

Indeed. I raised this point, and Arun disappeared.

Satellites? Did Darwin really write this? Satellites as we know them weren’t invented until Sputnik in the late 1950’s so if Darwin used this word was he referring to asteroids or comets?

Satellites? Did Darwin really write this? Satellites as we know them weren’t invented until Sputnik in the late 1950’s so if Darwin used this word was he referring to asteroids or comets?

Darwin refers to natural satellites, such as moons.

Satellites as we know them weren’t invented until Sputnik in the late 1950’s

This is an inappropriate use of the word “we”.

http://dictionary.reference.com/sea[…]?q=satellite

sat·el·lite n. 1. Astronomy. A celestial body that orbits a planet; a moon.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PvM published on July 17, 2005 3:45 PM.

Creation Mega Conference 2005! was the previous entry in this blog.

Kennewick Man Hearing is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter