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Monday, October 22, 2007

Watson’s descent down Mt. Improbable: A summary

John West of the Discovery Institute has a long and interesting post on the historical role of Watson’s research lab in promoting eugenics: (Note: Go here and here for previous stories on eminent geneticist Watson’s descent into political correctness hell.)
Eminent evolutionist James Watson, winner of the Nobel Prize for co-discovering the structure of DNA, is sparking controversy in Great Britain for suggesting that blacks are inferior to whites due to evolution. But there is nothing particularly extraordinary about Watson's views. As I document in chapter 7 of my forthcoming book , there is a long history of evolutionists using Darwinism to justify racism—including Darwin himself.

Watson is past director and current Chancellor of the prestigious biological research lab at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. Ironically, that lab has deep connections to Darwinian racism of years gone by. Early in the twentieth century it was the headquarters for one of the most virulent American eugenics groups, the Eugenics Record Office, which promoted forced sterilization and opposed immigration to America by ethnic groups considered lower on the evolutionary scale than Anglo-Saxon whites. Back then the lab was directed by Harvard-trained geneticist Charles Davenport. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Davenport held views about blacks and evolution hauntingly similar to Watson's.

The current flap started with a profile of Watson in the Sunday Times in England, where Watson's views were described thus:
He says that he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”, and I know that this “hot potato” is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level”. He writes that “there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so”.

Watson's comments are inspiring a furor in England, where he has just arrived for a speaking tour.

I keep having to pinch myself to remind myself that many educated, intelligent people actually don’t know about the role Darwin’s theory has played, almost from its inception in promoting eugenics and upholding racism.

All the more strange is the fact that there should be no surprise about why. Essentially, the view of human history that Darwin outlined made racism appear reasonable to his contemporaries, just as it does to Watson today. According to Darwin, humans were not planned, they just happened. The smart ones survived.

And mark what follows: Just as ravens are, generally speaking, smarter than pigeons, so one race of humans could be, generally speaking, smarter than another. And - this is the payload - in the materialist context that Darwin and his fellows accepted (and Watson accepts today) relative intelligence is an indicator of value. In other words, the consequence of making humans out to be “just another animal species” is that racism becomes a reasonable, defensible view for which evidence can be accumulated - evidence on which judgments of value can be made.

As I have written elsewhere, to prevent the very considerable social unrest that a materialist system must generate, the materialist makes and enforces thousands of political correctness rules against telling the truth, precisely to avoid raising the spectre of such summary value judgements. Hence the fall of ex-Harvard prez Larry Summers for saying only what everyone knows: That more men than women are naturally interested in math and hard sciences. Even if Summers were wrong, the question is at least debatable. But he isn’t wrong, just politically incorrect.

Seek and Find draws my attention to this article in American Thinker on the Watson affair, noting more or less the same thing:
The Truth is that the outrage here isn't Dr. Watson's remarks; they're either true or not. What's outrageous is that we're suffering under the yoke of those to whom Truth means nothing -- the practitioners of a dark faith. They don't care if a statement is correct, only whether it's politically correct. They hate the Truth when it contradicts their agenda, and they'll stop at nothing to still the tongues of those who would dare voice it. Racists? These miscreants are infinitely worse. They are Truthists.
And what is the Truth about racial differences? For one thing, is it logical and rational to claim that, except for appearance and a few diseases and conditions of the body, every group is the same in every way?

This is the left's implication, and it's absurd. It seems especially odd when you consider that most of these inquisitors are secularists who subscribe to the theory of evolution. Yet, despite their belief that different groups "evolved" in completely different parts of the world, operating in different environments and subject to different stresses, they would have us believe that all groups are identical in terms of the multitude of man's talents and in every single measure of mental capacity. Why, miracle of miracles, all these two-legged cosmic accidents, the product of a billions-of-years journey from the primordial soup to primacy among creatures, whose evolution was influenced by perhaps millions of factors, wound up being precisely the same. It's really the best argument for God I've ever heard, as such a statistical impossibility could only exist if it was ordained by the one with whom all things are possible.

Theodore Dalrymple has noted that the chief purpose of political correctness is public humiliation in the interests of social control - by forcing otherwise decent people to lie - and, I would add, to watch others be destroyed only for saying what everyone knows or suspects is true.

Hasn’t there always been racism? Yes, but a non-materialist system, whether Western or Eastern, can reject racism without forcing people to lie. In the Western monotheistic systems, every gift comes from God and therefore all humans are equal in God’s eyes. The idea that inherent value arises from something other than God’s favour is heresy. In an Eastern system, no one escapes karma (the accumulated effects of one’s choices), and thinking oneself superior is a state of illusion, not progress toward reality. Materialism is actually the only intellectually well developed system I know of in which differences in ability actually become differences in value.

It will be interesting to see how the Darwin industry spins the Watson affair next year, given their big plans for the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth. Me, I am going to see the Expelled movie, which opens. I gather, on Darwin’s birthday.

Note on race and intelligence: I think Watson has a much poorer case than Summers. True, IQ is mostly inherited. But the difference IQ makes becomes important mainly at the margins. A child who is severely developmentally delayed may need assisted living all his life, and a child who is very bright may become the next world chess champion. But what about the billions of us somewhere in the middle? If anyone thinks that the difference between one teacher and another, one dentist and another, one auto mechanic and another, is likely to turn on a few IQ points, that person is not a very skilled observer of the marketplace. Second, it is a great error to assume that because a region (cf Africa) is underdeveloped, therefore its people are dumb. They used to say that about Ireland, today’s “Celtic Tiger.” Now they say it about Africa, which may likewise be entirely transformed a century from now. The causes of underdevelopment must be sought in the specifics of history, not generalizations based on grand concepts like intelligence. An African friend complained to me years ago that one of his country’s problems was that, in general, men had little regard for technical disciplines like engineering, preferring to study philosophy. He knew many doctors of philosophy but no one who could fix his air conditioner. If my friend is correct, the problem doesn’t turn on intelligence at all, but on what his society values. I should think it much harder to get a doctorate in philosophy than a certificate in air conditioner repair.

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