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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Update!: Aussie prof who protests Darwin Exhibition misrepresentations is NCSE associate

I have recently enjoyed a most interesting correspondence with Hiram Caton, retired poli sci prof and former colleague of the late David Stove who is attempting to set right the many misrepresentations in the current Darwin Exhibition, which has travelled from the American Museum of Natural History to various points (some near you probably). The main problems can be traced to ridiculous hagiography, of course. I have often pointed out (and am certainly not the first to do so), that Darwinism functions as a sort of religion for its fervid supporters, often in desperate conflict with transcendent faiths.

It now emerges that Prof. Caton, who is not affiliated with any religion, is an associate of the National Center for Science Education, the American Darwin education lobby, a relentless promoter and enforcer of Darwin in the tax-supported school systems. Specifically, he tells me that he is
an evolutionist who opposes the introduction of creationist concepts into secondary school biology. In fact, I'm an associate of the lead organization in the struggle against the creationists, the National Center for Science Education. The NCSE is aware of my article.

He is also listed as a supporter of the Darwin Day celebrations.

I should think Caton is trying all these people’s patience rather sorely, and all the more so because he is planning a full scale essay on the discrepancy between the theory and evidence for Darwinism, for which details will likely be available here.

Now, speaking of discrepancies, I don't see any discrepancy in principle between wanting to prevent creationist concepts from being taught in secondary schools and wanting to knock the stuffings out of the Darwin myth.

Indeed, contrary to widespread legacy media mythmaking, even the Discovery Institute, the ID think tank, does not not want intelligent design (ID) concepts taught in schools.

(And I suppose only religious school systems could consider teaching actual "creationist" concepts, as such, since these concepts are clearly linked to theism, the Bible, etc.)

Similarly, I rarely encounter people who do not want evolution taught in schools. They want its baggage train to be unloaded somewhere else. Unfortunately, it often isn't.

Some interesting comments from our correspondence that Dr. Caton has given me permission to post:

Here is the skinny on Caton's key observations:
^The Origin is based on principles, which I specify, that had been in place for about 50 years. ^The evolution concept had *saturated* public opinion in the UK by 1860. The notion that public prejudice against evolution obstructed its publication is nonsense. The idea of a 'missing link' between apes and humans was also widespread. ^The natural selection principle was first published *before* Darwin departed on his voyage and was independently discovered again in 1836 by Darwin's old pal, Edward Blythe. ^The eugenics idea wasn't discovered by Galton; it was clearly stated by the French translator of the Origin in 1863, who attributed it to Darwin; he didn't disavow the attribution. Three of Darwin's sons were members of the Eugenics Society and one, Leonard, was a major force in the society. A key figure in the creation of Neo-Darwinism, R A Fisher, was a dedicated eugenicist. Fisher's patron was Leonard Darwin. ^Darwin's writings had virtually no effect on experimental biology of his day, eg, Pasteur, Robert Koch. ^Two of Darwin's most vocal advocates, Huxley and Ernst Haeckel, denied that natural selection was the generative principle of evolution; for Haeckel it was Lamarckism.


While we are here, in 1969, I studied Victorian literature at a small university in Ontario. While Darwin's Origin was certainly identified as a milestone, it was only one of many milestones. I was clearly given to understand that the mindset it typefied was already a commonplace. That was not emphasized as a talking point. It emerged clearly from our studies. One result is that Darwin hagiography obscures the true history of the modern era.

What has been the reaction to his observations?
A number of leading evolutionists and historians have commented on my essay. None question my facts (well, one questioned one important claim). But some expressed unease about my criticism of the Great Man. My response is that I criticize only the interpretation of his reputation, and its creation in the first place. I state in the article what I think his real achievement was, and I hail it as a great scientific achievement. In correspondence with creationists, I plead that they exaggerate the influence of Darwin/evolution on the secularization process. By far the greatest influences are liberal and socialist blank slate theory. That influence is so great, indeed, that many evolutionists abandon Darwin when it comes to the crunch: the inheritance of behaviors, such as sex, race, and age differences: they endorse the blank slate belief. To put it another way, the Darwinian Revolution didn't happen in the social sciences. The controversy over sociobiology and over the Bell Curve are hot spots on that map.


Hmmm, yes indeed. Although Darwinism and liberal "blank slate" theory (= if outcomes are not equal, society is unjust) are not often in direct, perceived conflict, in any actual conflict, blank slate will win.

One thinks of former Harvard president Larry Summers, completely orthodox in his rejection of intelligent design, but utterly destroyed by "blank slate" political correctness about women in science.

I noted, in response to Caton that I do not think that high school science classes should be discussing the ID-Darwinism uproar:
It is difficult enough to teach basic concepts. Unfortunately, however, some want to import to Canada an American-style controversy by pushing evolution as early as possible, as an antidote to creationism/ID. As I have said, that would greatly help both the creationists and the ID guys - but at the expense of the public and the student. (You see, these kinds of issues can’t get as hot in Canada all by themselves, because our system is not nearly as polarizing as the American one. There is no functional equivalent here of the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, or the Christian Right. Publicly funded voluntary religious schools are legal here, with little controversy. People rarely sue school boards and school boards do not pull “Dovers”. So Canada is not a natural setting for such a controversy. But if it does become a setting, well, business will boom for me. But I don't want it to happen anyway.

That said, I think teachers should not be forbidden to respond to student questions, let alone given documents to read aloud, or propaganda to cite. Teachers are either professionals or they aren't. If they cannot be assumed to generally have good judgment about teaching, it's all over anyway.

My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

Animations of life inside the cell, indexed, for your convenience.

My review of sci-fi great Rob Sawyer’s novel, The Calculating God , which addresses the concept of intelligent design. My reviews of movies relevant to the intelligent deisgn controversy.

My recent series on the spate of anti-God books, teen blasphemy challenge, et cetera, and the mounting anxiety of materialist atheists that lies behind it.

My review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God , my backgrounder about peer review issues, or the evolutionary biologist’s opinion that all students friendly to intelligent design should be flunked.

Lists of theoretical and applied scientists who doubt Darwin and of academic ID publications.

My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy at the University of Minnesota.

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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