Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Eugenics and Peanut Butter: Robbie's Week 2 "New and Hot"

I was really interested in Darwin's endorsement of what we would call pseudoscience in his autobiography; I wrote a little about this in my book review on amazon.

Darwin didn't really know any better, did he? After all, he lived in the 1800s – ideas about cranial localization probably seemed intuitive. That was my reaction, at least, but Darwin's relationship with his half-cousin Francis Galton, the father of eugenics, apparently has a history of being used against him.

While this article, from Salon, titled “Louisiana calls Darwin a racist” is not that new, it shows the Louisiana legislature taking this tack in 2001, arguing that Darwin “'teaches that some humans have evolved further than others,” providing “the main rationale for modern racism.”

The debate about this measure (which was passed, forcing the teaching of evolution come with a disclaimer) is interesting. Proponent pin the blame for racism squarely on Darwinian evolution. Critics argued that instead of drawing attention to “weaknesses” in Darwinian evolution, the measure was intended to weaken the teaching of evolution in Louisiana public schools.

I think that these critics are right; it's important to take into consideration the same historical context that led Darwin to not discount phrenology outright when examining his ideas about non-European peoples. This is certainly not a defense of those views, but is an apology for them.

What I find interesting, though, is that this is another example of a debate about Darwin's character being used against the theory of evolution. Should it make us uncomfortable that a long dead scientist made some comments implicitly suggestive of eugenics? Probably. But why do me, and many others, feel the need to defend Darwin's character? Why does Darwin's shadow still fall on the evolution debate? It's an interesting question; I'll let you know after I think about it some more.

In lighter news, creationists believe in pseudoscience too, explaining that peanut butter disproves evolution. I don't know where this clip comes from, but it's another interesting argument against evolution. Via boingboing.

Robbie Torney

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