Irving Kristol and Evolution

| 28 Comments

With all the hagiography going on for conservative “intellectual” Irving Kristol, who died on September 18, let’s not forget one of his many idiotic statements: that Darwinism is on the way out because it “is really no longer accepted so easily by [many] biologists and scientists.”

As Glenn Morton has exhaustively shown, the trope that “more and more scientists doubt evolution” is one of the oldest falsehoods in creationism. But then, Kristol believed that not all truths were suitable for all people, an echo of Martin Luther’s view that lying for his god was acceptable.

Anti-evolution idiocy seemingly ran in the family. In 1959, Kristol’s wife Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote a terrible book, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, demonstrating a lack of understanding of biology and a warped view of Darwin’s influence. One perceptive reviewer penned that Himmelfarb had “an advanced case of Darwinitis, a complaint that afflicts those of a literary bent and strong attachments to pre-scientific culture, who find in the theory of evolution a disturbing and mysterious challenge to their values”. Kristol wrote a favorable review of Himmelfarb’s book for Encounter, without bothering to mention that he was Himmelfarb’s husband. So much for Kristol’s ethics.

Read more at Recursivity

28 Comments

Anti-evolution idiocy seemingly ran in the family.

Ah, well, common trait found between a husband and wife would not be something that runs in the family (except in cultures that accept endogamy (marriage between cousins) like the remnants of the old Ottoman empire, some clans of South India and, ahem, if one were to believe the caricatures of the comedians, Appalachia :-)).

I first heard of Kristol ~12 years ago from Ronald Bailey’s excellent article (second link in Jeffrey Shallit’s post). If Bailey’s suspicion is correct, people like Kristol might not be as misunderstanding - or denying - of evolution as they appear. I find it interesting, and possibly relevant, that one has to go back to 1986 to find Kristol’s detailed arguments against evolution. The more detailed, the more chance of being embarrassingly bad. And having someone criticize it.

Anti-evolution activist organizations like the DI urge people to “examine both sides,” yet they have no problem when their biggest fans uncritically look only at their side. But I have to wonder if many of those fans do occasionally look at the devastating critiques of anti-evolution arguments, find them uncomfortably convincing, and react by backpedaling into “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Frank J said: … and react by backpedaling into “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

AKA “plead the Fifth” or: “I refuse to answer on the grounds that I know I would take it in the shorts if I did.”

So did Kristol hold cult-like adherence to a socio-political/”religious” ideology, and feel obliged to deny basic science because of that?

Or did some underlying cognitive/emotional problem cause him to both deny scientific reality, and adhere uncritically to a rigid ideology?

There is no evidence of Martin Luther ever having said that lying for God was acceptable. That myth has been presented at Joyce Arthur’s website and she provides a rather obscure reference for it. It is a book by someone named Sissela Bok and SHE made reference to a book by someone named Max Lenz, an also obscure writer.

I have searched all over for a more reliable source for that Luther quote and cannot find any.

Frank J said:

If Bailey’s suspicion is correct, people like Kristol might not be as misunderstanding - or denying - of evolution as they appear. I find it interesting, and possibly relevant, that one has to go back to 1986 to find Kristol’s detailed arguments against evolution. The more detailed, the more chance of being embarrassingly bad. And having someone criticize it.

Given the views of the Neocons as expressed at The Project for a New American Century (one of the founders of which is Irving Kristol’s son William), it would not surprise me that much of this is cynical exploitation of ignorance and fear.

The advanced societies of this planet draw resources and strategic materials from all over the globe. That means gaining and maintaining access and keeping shipping routes open indefinitely. The conflicts and pressures placed on other societies to maintain access and keep costs low have always been part of that picture.

Apparently the Neocons figure that maintaining a relatively large population of ignorant, exploitable people who can be duped into doing what ever wily and cunning political types want is vital to their maintaining power and access to resources.

Where better to turn than to religious institutions and their tactics of nurturing fear, guilt and ignorance that have been honed for centuries by the demagogues of these cults.

Barb Rainey said:

There is no evidence of Martin Luther ever having said that lying for God was acceptable.

Quick googling shows tons and tons of secular humanists and anti-religious websites attributing this quote

What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church … a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them.

to Martin Luther via a book Briefwechsel Landgraf Phillips des Grossmuthigen von Hessen mit Bucer, vol. 1. by Max Lunz mostly via the reference made to it by Sissela Bok in her book Lying: Moral Choice In Public and Private Life‎, New York: Pantheon Books, 1978, p. 47.

Most fact checking websites like snopes consider this quote not fully verified. May be some of the Panda readers from Germany would take up the search and dig up that German book and improve the credibility of the quote.

someone named Sissela Bok

Sissela Bok is not some “obscure writer.” She is a well-known philosopher. She is also the wife of Derek Bok, a former president of Harvard, and (I just learned) the daughter of Gunnar Myrdal and Alva Myrdal, both of whom, incidentally, won Nobel Prizes. I am sure she has made mistakes, but in general I would be inclined to trust her scholarship over that of, um, someone named Barb Rainey.

Moreover, an excellent case could be made that Mrs. Bok’s husband may have been the last great president that Harvard University has had (I won’t discuss a certain former president of Harvard with a Ph. D. in economics now working for the President of the United States nor his most recent successor, a Harvard historian.):

Matt Young said:

someone named Sissela Bok

Sissela Bok is not some “obscure writer.” She is a well-known philosopher. She is also the wife of Derek Bok, a former president of Harvard, and (I just learned) the daughter of Gunnar Myrdal and Alva Myrdal, both of whom, incidentally, won Nobel Prizes. I am sure she has made mistakes, but in general I would be inclined to trust her scholarship over that of, um, someone named Barb Rainey.

I’ve heard of Irving Kristol for years, but this is the first time I have heard about his attacks on “Darwinism” though I should have known better, having read his wife’s book back in high school and feeling rather underwhelmed by her arguments.

Barb:

The quote is correct and Luther said it. You have not provided a single reason to doubt it.

The quote comes from an incident in Luther’s life that is well-documented and attested to in many books. Briefly: Philip of Hesse (1504-1567), a German nobleman committed bigamy in 1540. Luther counseled him to lie about the bigamy, saying it would be for the good of the Christian church. This incident is discussed in many places, including here and in The Life and Letters of Martin Luther by Preserved Smith, Houghton Mifflin, 2nd edition, 1911, p. 381. This book is available through Google books here. This last link also contains the text of the quote in question.

Sissela Bok’s book, Lying is not “obscure”. It was published by a mainstream publisher, and I have a copy in my own personal library. Bok is a well-regarded philosopher.

Max Lenz’s book, Bok’s source of the quote, is an edited version of the correspondence of Phillip of Hesse (1504-1567), entitled Briefwechsel Landgraf Philips des Grossm”uthigen von Hessen mit Bucer. This book, admittedly, is more difficult to find (the letters of an obscure 16th century German nobleman being not exactly fodder for Oprah’s book club) but it exists, is in 3 volumes, was published by S. Hirzel in Leipzig from 1880-1891. If you looked for the book, you may have had difficulty finding it because several sources give the title incorrectly with “Phillips” instead of “Philips”. Furthermore, it was reprinted by Zeller in Osnabr”uck in 1965. There are copies in the Harvard University Library, for example. You don’t seem to have done even the most cursory efforts to find this source or look at it.

But no longer: the book is available online here:

http://fig.lib.harvard.edu/fig/?bib=003466003

You can find the quote on page 373 of volume 1. Later I will post the original, a transcription into roman letters, and a translation.

Next time, Barb, make a little more effort before you claim that a quote is a “myth”.

Jeffrey Shallit quoting a “perceptive reviewer”:

[Himmelfarb] had “an advanced case of Darwinitis, a complaint that afflicts those of a literary bent and strong attachments to pre-scientific culture, who find in the theory of evolution a disturbing and mysterious challenge to their values”.

That calls to mind C. P. Snow’s “two cultutes” speech, which was coincidentally (?) made the same year as Himmelfarb’s book.

While I have not read much of Himmelfarb or Kristol, I have heard a lot of commentary from their son on TV, radio and online over the years. Not once, however, did I ever read or hear him discuss evolution. With few exceptions like Ben Stein and Ann Coulter, far-right commentators are reluctant to discuss evolution. I strongly suspect that most of them, regardless of how science-challenged they may be, are smart enough to know that what most of their fans believe is simply not supported by evidence. The ID scam provides a neat rhetorical loophole (cast doubt on evolution but avoid saying what happened instead), but the best way to avoid antagonizing the audience is to avoid the topic entirely.

Oh, and if you want to see why Barb is so frantically trying to discredit the Luther quote, see this page:

http://www.christianbook.com/html/a[…]rs/1384.html

Who wants to bet that this is Barb?

Jeffrey Shallit said: Next time, Barb, make a little more effort before you claim that a quote is a “myth”.

Of course, it is possible Barb actually found the original quote and knows the provenance of it. But then she might have thought, “Would it be an useful lie, a powerful lie, but a lie for God, not against, to deny Martin Luther said that? I am (im?)morally bound to deny the quote by Martin Luther, I am sure he would accept and may even applaud”.

And on top of everything, Max Lenz was one of the most prominent and highly respected German historians of the late 1800s early 1900s. He was a Lutheran, and wrote a biography of Luther, among other things.

Luther did not invent the “lying for Jesus” approach to Christianity. That goes back to Paul, who advocates dissembling to get converts.

Jeffrey Shallit, after providing the provenance for the quote, said:

http://www.christianbook.com/html/a[…]rs/1384.html

Who wants to bet that this is Barb?

ravilyn sanders said:

Of course, it is possible Barb actually found the original quote and knows the provenance of it. But then she might have thought, “Would it be an useful lie, a powerful lie, but a lie for God, not against, to deny Martin Luther said that?…”.

(I’m trying very hard to feel sorry for Mrs. Rainey right now, but these posts were just beautiful.)
I’m not going to assume intentional dishonesty in this case, but instead hope we’ve all learned a valuable lesson about doing the research. Hopefully a nice display of academic integrity will follow.

Way to Go Shallit! I found Barbrainey starting a thread in snopes.com to check the veracity of this quote and quite quickly concluding that it was probably taken out of context.

Probably an attempt at credential inflationism. A link to that posting will have the prestigious “snopes.com” domain name in the link, but it links to a member messages forum posting, not the main, verified, stamp of approval bearing snopes.com page.

So I took the trouble of registering there to post a link to your posting here. But you have beaten me to the punch. I see you have posted a followup yourself. Very well done, Sir. Hats off.

He did a great job pushing the “we should worship immortal, all-powerful invisible persons who are above human laws and run the world with invisible hands and magic” science and the “God was a realtor in the MidEast” science, which are two well-grounded disciplines you can believe in, so why fault him for a little slipup in the evolution department? That wasn’t his job one way or the other.

Now i wonder if this is the famed “Barb” that posts at UD. We had considered that “Barb” was one of Dembski’s undergraduate students trolling for extra credit, but this new information suggests more parsimonious hypotheses.

Erasmus, FCD said:

Now i wonder if this is the famed “Barb” that posts at UD. We had considered that “Barb” was one of Dembski’s undergraduate students trolling for extra credit, but this new information suggests more parsimonious hypotheses.

I know that Barbara is common name, but, given the circles, I wonder if this is also the Barb in P.Z.’s dungeon?

…(marriage between cousins) like the remnants of the old Ottoman empire, some clans of South India and, ahem, if one were to believe the caricatures of the comedians, Appalachia :-)).

Not to mention a certain biologist, as well as a certain physicist. ;-)

dNorrisM said:

…(marriage between cousins)

Not to mention a certain biologist, as well as a certain physicist. ;-)

While Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein both married their cousins, a more remarkable case is Sewall Wright. He was the offspring of a cousin marriage. He not only was a remarkably brilliant biologist, one of the two greatest of the founders of the modern evolutionary synthesis but … wait for it … he was also the inventor of the inbreeding coefficient and of the major means of computing it!

Ravilyn Sanders said:

Anti-evolution idiocy seemingly ran in the family.

Ah, well, common trait found between a husband and wife would not be something that runs in the family (except in cultures that accept endogamy (marriage between cousins) like the remnants of the old Ottoman empire, some clans of South India and, ahem, if one were to believe the caricatures of the comedians, Appalachia :-)).

It’s the preferred kind of marriage among Zoroastrians.

Wheels : Hopefully a nice display of academic integrity will follow.

In the snopes.com message board where she started the thread back in Dec 08 doubting this quote, Barb Rainey has posted a follow up.

Jeffrey Shallit sent me that answer in an email yesterday. I guess I was a bit brash calling the quote a myth. Shallit sent another email stating that a lot of famous people have been known to make statements that most people have never heard off. And this is one of them,

Barb Rainey

JPS said:

Erasmus, FCD said:

Now i wonder if this is the famed “Barb” that posts at UD. We had considered that “Barb” was one of Dembski’s undergraduate students trolling for extra credit, but this new information suggests more parsimonious hypotheses.

I know that Barbara is common name, but, given the circles, I wonder if this is also the Barb in P.Z.’s dungeon?

after reading this brain bleedingly stupid pile of idiocy I am inclined to share your suspicion.

(html fail, here is link)

http://www.uncommondescent.com/cult[…]mment-335287

Erasmus, FCD said:

after reading this brain bleedingly stupid pile of idiocy I am inclined to share your suspicion.

(html fail, here is link)

http://www.uncommondescent.com/cult[…]mment-335287

Ouch. That has all the depth and gravitas of “The Christmas Shoes”.

Ravilyn Sanders said:

Anti-evolution idiocy seemingly ran in the family.

Ah, well, common trait found between a husband and wife would not be something that runs in the family (except in cultures that accept endogamy (marriage between cousins) like the remnants of the old Ottoman empire, some clans of South India and, ahem, if one were to believe the caricatures of the comedians, Appalachia :-)).

Not to nitpick, but endogamy is not marriage between cousins. Endogamy is required marriage within a specified social group as opposed to required marriage outside of a specified social group. For example, some societies require clan endogamy, others require clan exogamy. In most societies that practice cousin marriage, it is exogamous, i.e. outside the lineage or family. The copusins are thus the closest exogamous partners.

In addition, marriage between cousins is not as exotic as you might think. Historically, first cousin marriage was legal in about one third of the United States. Still is in close to that number I believe. Nor are these states limited to Appalachia. First cousin marriage was considered highly desireable among the elite upper crust society of America and England, because it kept family fortunes together within the extended family.

Curiously, in most lineal societies, As opposed to our bilateral system, first cousins could be either ideal partners or forbidden, depennding not upon biological distance but upon the side of the family they traced cousinship through, e.g. a man could marray first cousins on his mothers side in a patrilineal society, but first cousins on his fathers side would be forbidden as incest. The reverse would be the case in a matrilineal society. This was one of the monkey wrenches thrown at simplistic reductionistic sociobiological explanations of incest rules.

Such lineal societies far outnumber bilateral societies like our own, thus historically cousin marriage was completely normal, even preferential, through much of human history.

At least the “Christmas Shoes” song is sung with honest conviction. Sincerity is a state of denial for our latest IDiot visiting from the World of Dembski. Barb doesn’t even have one single thought pregnant with ample veracity within her intellectually-challenged mind. She may think that she’s a good lyricist, but frankly, I have seen a lot better from Tim Rice and Bernie Taupin. What more can you expect from yet another Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg Drone posting at Uncommon Dissent:

fnxtr said:

Erasmus, FCD said:

after reading this brain bleedingly stupid pile of idiocy I am inclined to share your suspicion.

(html fail, here is link)

http://www.uncommondescent.com/cult[…]mment-335287

Ouch. That has all the depth and gravitas of “The Christmas Shoes”.

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