Darwinism

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A recurrent theme from the religious right and the Intelligent Design creationists is that the Nazi racial policies that led to the Holocaust were inextricably linked to Hitler’s reading of Darwin. Some of my earliest blogging at this site addressed this issue
(Did Darwinism lead inevitably to the Holocaust? part 1 – Eugenics and Part 2).

But of course, Intelligent Design creationists cannot let go of this discredited idea. In particular, the Discovery Institute continually presses the accusation that Darwin’s theories somehow inevitably led to the Holocaust, in particular by advancing the ideas of one Richard Weikart. This morning I noted an article at Sensuous Curmudgeon – Hitler & Darwin, Part II – which, quite apart from setting the foolishness of the Intelligent Design creationists in context, provided a link to a particularly interesting paper (Was Hitler a Darwinian? from the historian Robert J. Richards of the University of Chicago.

I’d just like to recommend Richards’ paper (and, indeed, the Sensuous Curmudgeon) which clearly sets out the origins of Hitler’s anti-semitism.  Not that it will deter the Discovery Institute from further distorting history.

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The Huffington Post is one of those website I rarely look at but become aware of though links from more rational blog sites. It does seem to have a reputation for publishing some of the more risible articles out there. David Klinghoffer of the Discovery Institute has now published more drivel trying to link Darwin and evolution to Hitler (David Klinghoffer: The Dark Side of Darwinism)

Hitler’s ideas, Dr. Berlinski carefully notes, “came from many different sources but no honest account will omit Darwin.” A reading of Mein Kampf makes that clear. Certainly, Berlinski says, the men who formulated Nazi ideology “weren’t reading the Gospels.”

Actually,an honest account reading Mein Kampf reveals no such thing.  One of the first postings I made on this blog addressed the supposed links between evolutionary biology and Nazism (Did Darwinism lead inevitably to the Holocaust?).  I see PZ Myers has had his say, as have the numerous commenters at the Huffington Post.
But I can’t see the Discovery Institute ceasing their line of nonsense.

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I’ve always thought of zoological gardens with larger establishments in mind – such as the Zoological Society of London’s Regents Park Zoo, or the Edinburgh Zoo, and expected these respectable zoos to act as sources of information about animals from around the world.  Of course there’s plenty of scope for rather more specialised zoos, such as those focussing on conservation.  Unfortunately it would seem there are also zoos with the purpose of misinforming the public.

I imagine the name of the Noah’s Ark zoo in North Somerset is something of a giveaway.  It is a small, privately run zoo which clearly espouses a creationist agenda.  Now the British Humanist Association has pointed this out, and it’s hit the media (Bristol Evening Post – Zoo attacked over Creationist beliefs; BBC News – ‘Creationist’ zoo causes dismay).  The Bristol Evening Post quotes Noah’s Ark research assistant Jon Woodwood as saying:

“To say that we are not upfront with our beliefs is unfounded – the name Noah’s Ark is the first indicator.  Our education policy is purely based around the National Curriculum.  We are offering our visitors the chance to look at the evolution/creation debate. As it is a free country, that is within our right. Contrary to a small minority of people’s claims we do not teach false science.  This is clearly shown within the zoo, with one exhibition talking about Darwin and another offering another point of view.

“We are slightly different from popular Creationism and hold a view that the natural world around us is the product of both God and evolution.  Although technically Creationists, we do not hold the stereotypical Creationist views that the world was created 6,000 years ago and there is no evolution.”

Woodward went o to say that the number of complaints on this subject was very small (10 in 120,000 visitors).  Interestingly, BBC page has an image of one of the signs at the zoo, with the text:

It also shows how three great people groups are descended from the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham and Japheth.
[and in smaller font] (who could have become the three races of humans alive today, that we knwo as the Semitic, the Negroid/Mongoloid and the White Caucasian).

Rather worryingly, the Evening News article quotes a Visit England spokesman as saying “Noah’s Ark adheres to the Visitor Attraction Quality Assurance Service criteria. We do not comment on the content of any attraction.”  It does seem to me that the content of an “attraction” is rather important when assessing its quality!

Looking through the educational links from the Noah’s Ark website takes you through a variety of relatively inoffensive topics, occasionally written in a curious style.  Unfortunately, a prominent item on the main tool bar menu is Creation Research.

Here it’s clear the owners of the zoo have their own take on creationism in which the fossil record reflects recolonisation after the Noachian flood.  The page goes on to spread the usual creationist canards…

Palaeontologists have struggled for more than a century to find transitional fossils to confirm the predictions of Darwinism. But, with some exceptions, these have not been found. See Darwinist steps of faith – the many missing links (at the time of writing this blog article, this link was to a page still to be written). Radioisotope dating has been used to show that the fossil record unfolded over billions of years. We suggest that while the method is not itself invalid, the dates produced by it are not supported by the primary evidence of the rocks and fossils themselves. See An Earth billions of years old?

There appears to be a mixed message here.  On the one hand, brief outlines of educational material, backed with larger expositions of an unfounded creationist agenda.  Noah’s Ark seems to push an identity as an attraction that can offer an range of educational activity, but on the evidence of its website, this seems to be a cover for a significant creationist agenda.  And I don’t think this can be purely based on the National Curriculum – after all people presumably don’t go to a zoo for RE!

I have to conclude that the BHA has a point, and that Visit England really ought to reflect on the meaning of “quality”.

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The science journal Nature reports that a Turkish popular science magazine, Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology), has been forced to withdraw its March cover story concerning Darwin and evolution (Turkish scientists claim Darwin censorship).

As part of this process, the magazine’s editor lost her job.  It seems as though this is an act of political interference from Turkey’s research funding and science management organization, TÜBİTAK, who recently took over running the magazine.  The article in Nature reports that

In an interview with Milliyet, one of Turkey’s highest-circulation daily newspapers, the editor of Bilim ve Teknik, Çiğdem Atakuman, confirmed that she had been removed from her post over the affair, but declined to comment further because she is still a TÜBİTAK employee.

Milliyet reports that the editorial changes were ordered by TÜBİTAK’s vice-president, engineer Ömer Cebeci. Neither Cebeci nor TÜBİTAK’s president, Nüket Yetiş, were available to be interviewed by Nature, and the agency has released no official statement on the matter.

If true, this is nothing short of appalling – that in a supposedly secular nation (albeit under seige by reactionary Islam) such ideologically motivated censorship should be conducted by a national science research organisation horrifies me.  I guess many readers of this blog will be aware of the bizarre creationist buffoon Adnan Oktar (aka Harun Yahya), who engineered the banning of Richard Dawkins’ website in Turkey, and who has flooded the world with irrational and stupid books proclaiming Darwinist evolution as dead.

I am saddened by the nature of the comments appended to the Nature article, and suspect the hand of Adnan Oktar and his followers.  They start with some reasonable comments (from both Turks and non-Turks), but then descend into a series of absurd creationist rants (all signed with Turkish-sounding names).  At the risk of sounding totally geeky, perhaps it would be interesting to to know the origin of the comments and whether this looked like an orchestrated response.  Some examples:

Harun Yahya has long told about a global Darwinist dictatorship, which has control over almost every institution, publication etc all over the world. But this dictatorship will eventually collapse. What has happened now here in Turkey is just an example of standing up against this dictatorship. Bravo!

Clearly a devotee of Adnan Oktar there, I guess, and with an unhealthy dose of conspiracy theory.  Perhaps a tinfoil hat would help.  Here’s an example of spectacular ignorance:

If there is no evidence in a theory, we do not believe it. This is as clear as the sun in the sky. There is – NO – evidence for any gradual development in nature. Where do you find step by step evolution in nature? Half developed noses? Half developed smelling ability? Half developed ribosomes? Half developed pancreas? Half developed lungs? Just do not breath for more than a few minutes, you die! Reason and logic work hand in hand and science decides on reason. Darwin was wrong! There is no evolution in the entirety of living organisms. Otherwise, the earth would be filled with mutants and all fossils unearthed would come up to be freaks. Please think without prejudice for a few seconds. Darwin fooled the entire world.

Pretty much classic boneheaded ignorance there, and on a par with Adnan Oktar’s intellectual capability (i.e. severely limited).  I would suspect a coordinated campaign by Oktar’s brigade of Islamic creationists.

One or two comments have been left by individuals who say they are Turkish postdocs working overseas, and reading those just makes me so sad and sympathetic for their situation.

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Heresy Corner reports (Creationists disrupt Vatican Darwin conference) that mad Turkish creationist Adnan Oktar sent a fellow buffoon along to disrupt the Vatican’s conference on evolution.  They even recorded a video, albeit garbled.

Adnan Oktar, of course is the crazy Turkish creationist (aka Harun Yahya) who mails out huge green books lavishly illustrated with fossils and extant species, with the aim of showing that there has been no evolutionary change.  Unfortunately for Oktar/Yahya, any reasonably close examination reveals an extraordinary level of ignorance (e.g. spider crabs are not crabs, fishing flies are not really insects, etc).

From the Reuters report (Anti-Darwin speaker gagged at Vatican evolution conference, a particularly loaded title if you ask me):

At the end of the first session Oktar Babuna, a Turkish doctor and collaborator of prominent Turkish anti-Darwin campaigner Harun Yahya [aka Adnan Oktar],asked for the floor to put forward a question. Babuna, a proponent of the Islamic creationist campaign against evolution, spoke about his view that there were insufficient transitional forms from species to species to support the theory of evolution.

After he began speaking two professors on the dias, Francisco J. Ayala of the University of California at Irvine and Douglas Futuyma of the State University of New York were visibly irritated. Someone in the hall can be heard saying “turn the microphone off” and seconds later two organisers approached Babuna. One of them abruptly took the microphone away from Babuna and another ordered him to go back to his seat.

I can’t actually make much out of the audio, other than that it seems as though Babuna merely rehashes Oktar’s ludicrous claims that there are no transitional forms (well he does apparently have a peculiar idea of what such transitional forms might look like).

Does anyone else find it amusing that a Vatican conference on evolution is disrupted by a creationist?

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Andrew Marr has written and presented a three part BBC TV series on the impact of “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” – I managed to cath the second half of last night’s installment, which was the first.  He’s written an article on the BBC News website, The danger of worshipping Darwin, in which he writes about his atheism and asks whether we are elevating Darwin to a religious figure.  In fact I don’t think he really thinks this is the case (and I wonder whether the article is really intended as a publicity piece for his TV series).  At the end of his article, he concludes

I believe Darwin was right and that as science advances, he is proved more prescient, not less.

But religions are absolute. They bring their truth and then repel all boarders. They divide mankind into the saved and the ignorant damned.

In this story, there is no us and them. Darwinism, as I take it, is a creed of observation, fact, a deep modesty about conclusions and lifelong readiness to be proved wrong.

I don’t say it offers everything that religion can. But I do say that, in this respect, it is better.

However we celebrate the old man, we mustn’t let his work crust into creed or harden to dogma.

I think in the course of his article, Marr answers his question – there is no chance of Darwin’s work, or that of his successors crusting into creed or hardening into dogma – for there lies the difference between science and religion.  Being founded on evidence, evolutionary concepts will always be subject to revision and modification. I think that the possibility of the perception of “Darwin worship” has been one of the potential problems with the Darwin 200 celebrations, but I think if there is such a public perception, it is mistaken.

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There’s a report at Yahoo news (Cardinal says atheist’s theories “absurd”) with more information on the present Vatican conference I mentioned yesterday.  In a bizarre but typically tortuous statement,Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican‘s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said

the Catholic Church doesn’t stand in the way of scientific realities like evolution, saying there was a “wide spectrum of room” for belief in both the scientific basis for evolution and faith in God the creator.

“We believe that however creation has come about and evolved, ultimately God is the creator of all things,” he said on the sidelines of the conference.

But while the Vatican did not exclude any area of science, it did reject as “absurd” the atheist notion of biologist and author Richard Dawkins and others that evolution proves there is no God, he said.

I suspect that the phrase “creation has come about” is a bit of a giveaway, leading to the statement about a god being the creator of all things.  As The Freethinker has pointed out, the cardinal misrepresents Dawkins here.  Amusing, particularly with the next paragraph:

“Of course we think that’s absurd and not at all proven,” he said. “But other than that … the Vatican has recognized that it doesn’t stand in the way of scientific realities.”

This is a peculiar and irrational thing to say.  Proving a negative is after all rather difficult.  It seems to me that the evidence of proof lies not with those saying there is very unlikely to be any supernatural deities but with those that aver the existence of a deity.  What evidence does the Catholic church (or indeed any set of religious believers) have for the existence of their deity (or deities)?

Francis Ayala, one of the speakers and described as a former priest and professor of biological sciences and philosophy at the University of California, is reported to have made a firm statement that “Intelligent Design” is blasphemous to both science and religion:

“It is not only not compatible with Christian faith, it is just blasphemous because it predicates from the creator attributes that we don’t want to have from the creator,” he said.

Perhaps he’s been mis-cited by Yahoo News, but I don’t see how something can be blasphemous against science, and I don’t see that reference in the actual quotation used in the article.  And when phrased in that way, it doesn’t represent a particularly robust objection to ID.

I’ve never really wondered about the religious beliefs of scientists before starting this blog, but occasionally they are made apparent.  I’ve blogged recently about Simon Conway Morris, and I noted here the reference to Ayala as a former priest.  Are the other scientific speakers selected on the basis of their theist beliefs?

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I see from the BBC News website (Vatican hosts Darwin conference) that the Vatican is holding a conference to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.  According to the BBC

Scientists, philosophers and theologians from around the world are gathering at the prestigious Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome to discuss the compatibility of Darwin’s theory of evolution and Catholic teaching.

Apparently it’s one of two conferences – the other is about Galileo’s work – the intention is apparently to “to re-examine the work of scientific thinkers whose revolutionary ideas challenged religious belief: Galileo and Charles Darwin.”  Amusingly, the report points out that the Catholic Church never condemned Darwin, as it condemned and silenced Galileo. I suppose that threats of burning at the stake just would’t have cut it in the 19th century.

You can read about the conference at the Pontifica Universita Gregoriana website.  The theme of the conference is explained, sort of, in a typically tortuous piece of text.  On the Aims page, we find that

Thanks to recent discoveries, we can reconsider the problem of evolution within a broader perspective then traditional neo-darwinism. [emphasis mine]

Well, I for one don’t perceive a “problem of evolution”, but I suppose if one’s wedded to a bizarre set of beliefs, one might regard it as a problem.  The program reveals quite an interesting set of speakers – I wonder if there will be any published outcome of the conference.

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The Guardian trumpets “Four out of five Britons repudiate creationism” – after yet another report emanating from religious thinktank Theos (Faith and Darwin).  I haven’t yet had an opportunity to read the report (it’s 116 pages), but Theos helpfully provide a sort of interactive map of their survey results, in which 2060 people were surveyed.   The Guardian’s report indicates the survey might well not be worth the paper it’s written on, judging by the general understanding of a proportion of those surveyed:

The poll also revealed some extraordinary views on more recent writings, with 5% of adults thinking Darwin wrote A Brief History of Time, a bestseller on the science of spacetime, which was written by the Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking and is widely regarded as the most popular science book never to be completed by its readers.

A further 3% of those surveyed thought Darwin wrote The God Delusion, by the arch-atheist and Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, while 1% thought Darwin was the author of The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver.

However, I’m not sure how The Guardian comes up with their statement that four out of five Britons repudiate creationism: they go on to say

The survey suggests there is a widespread lack of religious sentiment across Britain. National average figures revealed that less than a third of adults see evolution as part of God’s plan, 89% dismiss intelligent design and 83% reject creationism as plausible explanations for the existence of human life.

It depends on whatoverlap there is between believers in ID and creationism – if they are non-verlapping sets, then belief in creationism is really 28%, since ID is really a creationist proposal.  I guess I need to get a look at the numbers myself!  I do agree with New Humanist (A godless, rational nation?) that

If the Theos figures are correct and 17 out of 100 people in Britain are indeed creationists, then our education system really needs to address that. It may seem like a small number when compared to, say, the United States, but it’s still 17% too many.

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I just got around to reading Colin Blakemore’s article over at The Guardian (Science is just one gene away from defeating religion).  A nicely written article, though I thought he might have been a bit forthright about the “why” questions that religions try to reserve from themselves (my view is that many of these “why” questions aren’t worth asking…).  As usual, however, the under-educated religious loons appear to have been out in force among the 712 (!) comments.

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