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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Darwin's odd musings on circumcision: Believe whatever you like ... he certainly did

Friend Malcolm Chisholm, who is "finding that the Darwin we have been taught about is not the same as Darwin in his own words" has been reading Darwin's odd musings on circumcision, from the second edition (1875) of Darwin's The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, which he is "wading through." Of this book, he notes,
It was first published in 1868, but the second edition has the chapter on Pangenesis largely rewritten. Since Darwin died in 1882, this is pretty much as close as we get to the synthesis of his life of thought and final positions.
And what were these? Well, certainly not what the Darwin cult will tell you ...

First, he found, Darwin confirms himself as definitely Lamarckian. That is,
He absolutely believes that if a part of the body falls into disuse - or is removed - an inherited effect will reduce the appearance of this part of the body in subsequent generations. The mechanism he proposes for this is "Pangenesis" whereby every bit of the organism is responsible for getting itself inherited into the next generation.

He sees this being achieved via "gemmules" - units of inheritance that each cell (or maybe part of the body) passes on to succeeding generations, where they cause the same character to be expressed. If a bit of the body is removed, it cannot send its signal via the gemmules to the next generation, and so disappears. If a bit of the body falls into disuse, it produces fewer gemmules, so is less well expressed in succeeding generations.
Now, why does this matter? Because the Darwin fanatics attribute magical powers to natural selection (survival of the fittest) to produce major changes - and typically denounce Lamarckism (inheritance of acquired characteristics).

Now, Lamarck (the early French biologist who gave his name to Lamarckism) and Darwin might be right about the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Generations of environmentalists have worried that they are - that eggs and sperm may be damaged by environmental effects, for example, thus introducing acquired characteristics to inheritance. But Lamarckism is nonetheless Bad Thought, Wrong Thought, as you doubtless learned from your Darwinist biology texts.

From what Chisholm has discovered, Darwin himself wouldn't have agreed with those texts. But with the Founder safely dead, the cult carries on regardless.

Which brings us to circumcision. Darwin had given careful thought to the practice, often a religious obligation, and in that case usually performed in early infancy.

Chisholm writes,
If the foreskin is removed, according to Darwin's Lamarckian view, it should be reduced or missing in descendents. No foreskin means it cannot pass on its gemmules. The problem is that foreskins are still with us.

Let's review how Darwin tackles this difficult problem.

(a) He craftily dismisses Mohammedan circumcision in an indirect manner as being practiced "at a later age than the Jews".

But, trying to have it both ways, he notes that Dr. Riedel, Assistant Resident in the North Celebes, "writes to me that the boys there go naked until from six to ten years old; and he has observed that many of them, though not all, have their prepuces (foreskin, removed at circumcision) much reduced in length, and this he attributes to the inherited effects of the operation".
In some Muslim traditions, circumcision is performed in infancy, but in others around seven (traditionally, the "age of reason") and in still others, at puberty. Chisholm notes that there is "quite a bit of sophistry in this writing, allowing Darwin a lot of wiggle room while apparently building his case" - which becomes very difficult when he addresses the Jews because Jewish circumcision is performed on the eighth day.
(b) The situation of the Jews is a lot more difficult for Darwin. He recognizes this as follows: "With respect to Jews, I have been assured by three medical men of the Jewish faith that circumcision, which has been practised for so many ages, has produced no inherited effect."

Even so, Darwin is still able to find empirical evidence for his view: "Blumenbach, however, asserts (12/57. 'Philosoph. Mag.' volume 4 1799 page 5.) that Jews are often born in Germany in a condition rendering circumcision difficult, so that a name is given them signifying "born circumcised;" and Professor Preyer informs me that this is the case in Bonn, such children being considered the special favourites of Jehovah."

Darwin continues: "I have also heard from Dr. A. Newman, of Guy's Hospital, of the grandson of a circumcised Jew, the father not having been circumcised, in a similar condition. But it is possible that all these cases may be accidental coincidence, for Sir J. Paget has seen five sons of a lady and one son of her sister with adherent prepuces; and one of these boys was affected in a manner "which might be considered like that commonly produced by circumcision;" yet there was no suspicion of Jewish blood in the family of these two sisters."
Unconvinced? I gather that Chisholm was too, for he writes,
(c) Just in case the reader is still baffled by all of this, Darwin immediately disposes of any uncertainty by stating at the beginning of the next paragraph: "Notwithstanding the above several negative cases, we now possess conclusive evidence that the effects of operations are sometimes inherited."
Do we?
(d) Later on, Darwin is forced to return to the problem as he expounds on the gemmules:

"But it appears at first sight a fatal objection to our hypothesis that a part or organ may be removed during several successive generations, and if the operation be not followed by disease, the lost part reappears in the offspring."

A few lines later: "Circumcision has been practised by the Jews from a remote period, and in most cases the effects of the operation are not visible in the offspring; though some maintain that an inherited effect does occasionally appear."

Immediately following this he says: "If inheritance depends on the presence of disseminated gemmules derived from all the units of the body, why does not the amputation or mutilation of a part, especially if effected on both sexes, invariably affect the offspring? The answer in accordance with our hypothesis probably is that gemmules multiply and are transmitted during a long series of generations--as we see in the reappearance of zebrine stripes on the horse-in the reappearance of muscles and other structures in man which are proper to his lowly organised progenitors, and in many other such cases. Therefore the long-continued inheritance of a part which has been removed during many generations is no real anomaly, for gemmules formerly derived from the part are multiplied and transmitted from generation to generation."

Hence the continued appearance of foreskins actually supports Darwin's Lamarckianism based on Pangenesis implemented through gemmules.
In other words, based on almost no serious evidence, Darwin insisted on a Lamarckian interpretation of circumcision (why?) And insisted on having both ways. If the evidence didn't support him, it really did.

And this is the Great Prophet of evolution?

Chisholm adds,
This stuff is very significant. "The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication" was intended by Darwin to show how evolution works in detail and provide evidence for it. What is does show is that Darwin had views very different from those attributed to him today, but it was these views that created the foundation - at least in Darwin's mind - for the Theory of Evolution.
Maybe in Darwin's mind. But when Richard Dawkins reverently whispers that "whispers that Darwin's Origin of Species is "not just the most precious book in my library, but the most precious book in the library of our species," he does not have in mind a real book. The real book, Origin of Species, like Variation, which Chisholm has been reading, is just an old book about a theory about how species originate that is now slowly being disconfirmed for most of the cases cited.

The book that materialist atheists like Dawkins read and adore is not an earthly book, it is a heavenly book - the creation story that shows how they slowly ascended from gibbering apes to gullible devotees.

Oh and, by the way, here's one of Richard Dawkins's "Four Horsemen" of atheism, Christopher Hitchens, carrying on against circumcision. Hat tip to Mariano at Life and Doctrinaire Atheism blog.

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