Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Expelling a Big Lie

Here is Richard Dawkins, correcting one of the central lies of Expelled, that Darwinian natural selection is linked with Nazism, anti-semitism, eugenics, and related ideas:

Now, to the matter of Darwin. The first thing to say is that natural selection is a scientific theory about the way evolution works in fact. It is either true or it is not, and whether or not we like it politically or morally is irrelevant. Scientific theories are not prescriptions for how we should behave. I have many times written (for example in the first chapter of A Devil's Chaplain) that I am a passionate Darwinian when it comes to the science of how life has actually evolved, but a passionate ANTI-Darwinian when it comes to the politics of how humans ought to behave. I have several times said that a society based on Darwinian principles would be a very unpleasant society in which to live. I have several times said, starting at the beginning of my very first book, The Selfish Gene, that we should learn to understand natural selection, so that we can oppose any tendency to apply it to human politics. Darwin himself said the same thing, in various different ways. So did his great friend and champion Thomas Henry Huxley.
To accept the science of evolution is not, in any sense, to accept any theory about human society or race relations.

Period. Full stop.


Where have my round spherical toys gone? said...

Just one question: You state that "Scientific theories are not prescriptions for how we should behave." Then, you later state that you are "Anti-Darwinian when it comes to the politics of how humans ought to behave." Didn't you just contradict yourself, by saying that Scientific theories don't tell us how to behave and then saying you oppose how a specific scientific theory leads us to act?

Dale said...

spherical, there's no contradiction. I'll be happy to attempt to clear it up: there's such a thing as Social Darwinism, in which people draw social, political and moral inferences from the scientific theory of natural selection. Dawkins is saying it is wrong -- "wrong" meaning a fundamental misunderstanding and misapplication of the science, and also "wrong" meaning odious on ethical and socio-political grounds -- to draw those inferences.

In the particlar passage you cited, he is making the latter point more than the first, but if you read a little Dawkins -- and I assure you it won't take much -- you will find that he has made both criticisms of Social Darwinism abundantly and clearly.

For what it's worth, the Richard Dawkins web site, from which I excerpted his comments, is a very lively place in which people are free to debate his ideas. You are welcome there. Please understand I am *not* dismissing you from here -- I welcome your comments and appreciate your engagement with what I've written -- but your comment here, as written, seems best directed at Dawkins himself, and I want to make clear that is an option before you.