Exploring the Social Imagination

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Dark Side of Charles Darwin

Before I give you to read two reviews about the book The Dark Side of Charles Darwin by Dr. Jerry Bergman, I would like to remind speaking as a sociologist, that science does not exist outside the social reality.
 The Dark Side of Charles Darwin is a book written by Jerry Bergman. Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology at the college level for over 30 years. He has 9 degrees, including 7 graduate degrees, and has authored over 800 publications. He is not only the author of The Dark Side of Charles Darwin but also the co-author of In Six Days and Persuaded by the Evidence.
I provide two reviews. The first is by Fritz R. Ward - "There is actually some discrepancy between the title of this book and the contents. Darwin's "dark" side is not, for the most part, something deeply sinister as some might infer from the title. It is rather that Darwin was subject to the same follies as most humans are. He was at times pompous, disagreeable, and inclined to overestimate his own abilities and competence. He was often unwilling to abandon his own ideas, even when he knew they were wrong, and he was not above attacking on a personal level those who found professional points of disagreement with him. And he was above all, a man of his time, specifically Victorian England. His "dark side" then is the Darwin that is not so much sinister as he is human. Historians have written about these issues for years, and the best of the their work is well summarized in this new book by Jerry Bergman.

Darwin's life comes in for some critical examination by Bergman. He reviews literature on Darwin's health, his views on Christianity, his scholarship, and his views on racism and sexism. Most of what appears in this book is widely known to specialists, but it is rarely compiled in such a comprehensive fashion. Yes, Darwin was explicitly trying to undermine Christianity. The myth that he found evidence for evolution and then gradually moved towards agnosticism, while promoted by Darwin himself, is largely untrue. Darwin's work was an explicit attempt to resolve a problem, theodicy (how to justify an all loving God in a world that includes sorrow and death) that vexed Victorian theologians by simply removing God from nature altogether. And while Darwin's influence on theology is still widely felt, both by atheists and unorthodox theists, his actual scientific work was often wanting. Darwin was not above plagiarism, where it suited his purpose, nor was he above falsifying evidence when it promoted his theories, most especially in his book "The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals." He also continued to support his pangenesis ideas even after they were empirically falsified.

But Darwin's failures in these areas are hardly unique. Confronted with contrary evidence, few scientists are as responsible as the late Sir Fred Hoyle in simply abandoning their theoretical models. Indeed, many scientists today are not above covering up their reliance on others or shoddy scholarship when it suits their purposes. But in some areas Darwin's views went far beyond what was the norm for his own age and profession. Bergman demonstrates that racism and sexism, widely attributed to followers of Darwin misapplying his work, were concepts actually found in Darwin's writing. Indeed, they were central to his thesis. Yes, it is true that Darwin opposed slavery. But it is equally true that his own writings were often more racist than was typical for Victorians.

In the final analysis, none of this should matter to the "science" of evolution. If Darwin was correct, and many people still believe he is (though by all accounts, his theory of pangenesis has been completely displaced by gene theory, and Darwin himself viewed the latter as central to understanding evolution) then what difference does it make if he had personal shortcomings? And the answer is, none at all. But I suspect that this book will receive unfavorable reactions from many who believe in evolution anyway, and this despite its careful summation of critical historical scholarship that is well documented in the endnotes to each chapter. The reason is that Darwinian thought is at once more and less than what is commonly considered science proper. For some writers like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, it is the basis of a secular religion. Darwin is thus not simply a scientist who did careful research on barnacles, collected species while on an expedition, and occasionally wrote longer treatises which have been somewhat discredited. He is the founder of a cult, and his status among the followers of this cult is near sainthood. But as all good religious scholars know, the criteria for sainthood must also include hearing from the Devil's Advocate. Such a voice has been conspicuously absent from the popular hoopla that surrounded the 150 year publication celebration of 'The Origin of Species.' This new book by Jerry Bergman fills that void nicely.
 There is actually some discrepancy between the title of this book and the contents. Darwin's "dark" side is not, for the most part, something deeply sinister as some might infer from the title. It is rather that Darwin was subject to the same follies as most humans are. He was at times pompous, disagreeable, and inclined to overestimate his own abilities and competence. He was often unwilling to abandon his own ideas, even when he knew they were wrong, and he was not above attacking on a personal level those who found professional points of disagreement with him. And he was above all, a man of his time, specifically Victorian England. His "dark side" then is the Darwin that is not so much sinister as he is human. Historians have written about these issues for years, and the best of the their work is well summarized in this new book by Jerry Bergman.

Darwin's life comes in for some critical examination by Bergman. He reviews literature on Darwin's health, his views on Christianity, his scholarship, and his views on racism and sexism. Most of what appears in this book is widely known to specialists, but it is rarely compiled in such a comprehensive fashion. Yes, Darwin was explicitly trying to undermine Christianity. The myth that he found evidence for evolution and then gradually moved towards agnosticism, while promoted by Darwin himself, is largely untrue. Darwin's work was an explicit attempt to resolve a problem, theodicy (how to justify an all loving God in a world that includes sorrow and death) that vexed Victorian theologians by simply removing God from nature altogether. And while Darwin's influence on theology is still widely felt, both by atheists and unorthodox theists, his actual scientific work was often wanting. Darwin was not above plagiarism, where it suited his purpose, nor was he above falsifying evidence when it promoted his theories, most especially in his book "The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals." He also continued to support his pangenesis ideas even after they were empirically falsified.

But Darwin's failures in these areas are hardly unique. Confronted with contrary evidence, few scientists are as responsible as the late Sir Fred Hoyle in simply abandoning their theoretical models. Indeed, many scientists today are not above covering up their reliance on others or shoddy scholarship when it suits their purposes. But in some areas Darwin's views went far beyond what was the norm for his own age and profession. Bergman demonstrates that racism and sexism, widely attributed to followers of Darwin misapplying his work, were concepts actually found in Darwin's writing. Indeed, they were central to his thesis. Yes, it is true that Darwin opposed slavery. But it is equally true that his own writings were often more racist than was typical for Victorians.

In the final analysis, none of this should matter to the "science" of evolution. If Darwin was correct, and many people still believe he is (though by all accounts, his theory of pangenesis has been completely displaced by gene theory, and Darwin himself viewed the latter as central to understanding evolution) then what difference does it make if he had personal shortcomings? And the answer is, none at all. But I suspect that this book will receive unfavorable reactions from many who believe in evolution anyway, and this despite its careful summation of critical historical scholarship that is well documented in the endnotes to each chapter. The reason is that Darwinian thought is at once more and less than what is commonly considered science proper. For some writers like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, it is the basis of a secular religion. Darwin is thus not simply a scientist who did careful research on barnacles, collected species while on an expedition, and occasionally wrote longer treatises which have been somewhat discredited. He is the founder of a cult, and his status among the followers of this cult is near sainthood. But as all good religious scholars know, the criteria for sainthood must also include hearing from the Devil's Advocate. Such a voice has been conspicuously absent from the popular hoopla that surrounded the 150 year publication celebration of 'The Origin of Species.' This new book by Jerry Bergman fills that void nicely."

The second review is by Jan Peczkis - "This iconoclastic work is based on in-depth scholarship. It is undoubtedly a major contribution to the history of science. Whether you idolize Darwin or scorn him, you will learn something new. Rather than repeating other reviewers, I focus mostly on specific issues.

In 2005, Judge Jones (as many other judges before him) insisted that there is no conflict between evolution and theism. (p. 45). Bergman begs to differ. He cites William Provine, who contends that such a position is based on ignorance, intellectual dishonesty, or wishful thinking. (p. 57). Many other cited leading scientists, such as Jerry Coyne, late Stephen Jay Gould, Scott Todd, and others, affirm this incompatibility.

Nor are these selected personages. A survey shows that 98.7% of leading scientists reject a theistic worldview, and 84% rejected all theistic religions. (p. 52). Another survey, of 149 leading biologists, found that only 6% of them believe that evolution has any purpose beyond the survival of the organism. (p. 80). [Some might argue that even the term "purpose of survival" is misleading, as it would imply that evolution is teleological in a sense. Survivorship of organisms is an outcome, not a goal or purpose. Evolution just happens: It has no goals or purposes.]

Atheism ran in Darwin's family. His father and grandfather had been atheists. Darwin argued that religion could best be undermined by gradual promotion of naturalism, and not by open attacks on religion. His "soft" atheism was motivated by public-relations considerations (p. 114), and probably also was motivated by his desire not to antagonize his devout wife and his Christian colleagues. (e.g., p. 68). Bergman suggests that part of Darwin's psychological problems revolved around his rejection of God, and other implications of his theory. (p. 108, 111, 117). Interestingly, Darwin may have suffered from Asperger's Syndrome. (pp. 95-96).
This work is filled with interesting information. For instance, did you know that children tend to be resistant to evolution because they see the world as filled with design and purpose? (p. 76). To be successful, evolution education must indoctrinate them to see things in a different way.

Just how original were Darwin's ideas? Bergman presents impressive evidence to show that Darwin copied, even plagiarized, others' ideas. For instance, English naturalist Edward Blythe (1810-1873) came up with the ideas of natural and sexual selection, the importance of variation in selection, and the struggle for existence, before Darwin did. However, Blythe had done it in a creationist context. (pp. 147-148). Otherwise, Darwin believed in pangenesis (p. 189), and held essentially Lamarckian ideas about the transmission of genetic information to successive generations. (pp. 194-196).

Racism and sexism were common in Victorian society, and it has been argued that Darwin's adherence to such views was merely because of his being part of a society that esteemed such views. Bergman, on the other hand, shows how Darwin went far beyond the prevailing views of his time. Darwin actively developed, extended, and promoted racism and sexism in terms of his theory. For instance, Darwin's firsthand experience with South American natives, along with his theory, led him to promulgate the notion that these peoples are less evolved than white Europeans. (p. 219). Darwin also promoted eugenics. Applying his theory to male-female differences, Darwin saw men as subject to "the survival of the fittest", while women were not. For this reason, men were self-evidently more evolved than women. (pp. 246-247)."

Furthermore, I stress Christianity as the catalyst for the 'modern' world. Many intellectuals want to embrace the idea that man is his own beginning and end; "that every human action is actually the effect of a network of material practices." Which, as a sociologist, I cannot disagree with. All of social reality, which science is not separate from, is 'real' as it is experienced through social interaction which I can observe as a network of material practices that have meaning but only for those who practice them in a place as human action/interaction is in relation to place. With that in mind, regarding how the modern world came about, that is obvious. The modern world came about through Christianity based on the same social principle except that a new network arose- a new level of cognitive social imagination; not 'action' based, but 'thought' based. Pagans, all those who worship/worshiped many gods/nature' were caught up in the flesh 'ritualized physical acts in a physical world' . Even native American Indians, though thought of as spiritual people, were and are spiritual animists... those who seek spiritual revelation in the flesh of objects/animals or the sun/moon- things which can be seen. Christians are different from pagans. Christianity gave way to great discoveries because it stated that things which are seen come from that which are unseen. Christianity allowed for the atom to be observed and recognition of quantum physics. It asks that the spirit already in us (not out there in an object/animal) overcomes the flesh as that is not where true reality exists. Dr. E.F. Gallion

1 comment :

  1. Some people get caught by the idea that man is the beginning and end of man. They arrive at this through the view of man's evolutionary chronology; looking at events/discoveries/literature as a means to recognize man's assent. The Bible even as a piece of 'literature' can be used in this chronology. They are oblivious to their own logic. If one gives credence to other forms of literature as a means to gauge man's assent, then the Bible is one of the most amazing pieces of literature in this kind of measure. For me, avoiding the Old Testament and New testament is illogical. The Old Testament is not only an incredible view into man's mind, but also a mathematical instruction for the understanding the cosmos. The concept "new historicism' is what some people think of as something new in view of man's contemplation of the himself and the cosmos connecting to culture as it is experienced in a place. As a sociologist, people fail to recognize that man's real cognitive development was aroused by contemplation of a creator. This cognitive phenomenon occurs in all human groups and from that all imagination about who we are and what it is all about have allowed man to grow out from other animals. As a Christian, Jesus Christ is a alive, no other animal other than man can imagine such a thing.

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