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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Deprogram from Darwin legends - free and fun!

I now have a chance to say more about retired Australian political science prof Hiram Caton's new Web site on the pious Darwin legends that currently infest popular media. (I first mentioned it here but couldn't follow up until now.)

Caton, a friend and associate of the late David Stove, author of Darwinian Fairy Tales, has done extensive research on the real story behind Darwin and his Origin of Species - and no, it is not the pious legends you will be hearing on public television.

Both Caton and Stove are recognized as agnostic philosophers with limited use for pious legends in science or religion (must be something in the air Down Under?) Anyway, here is Caton's beginning stab at hauling away the trash (and his deceased colleague would be proud):
^Belief that the Origin was a 'revolutionary' scientific breakthrough conflicts with the fact that public opinion was at the time saturated with the evolution idea. It was so widespread that in 1860 the showman P T Barnum put on display a freak, styled Zip the Pinhead, alleged to be the 'missing link' between apes and humans.

^The natural selection principle was first stated in 1831 by Patrick Matthew, and was independently discovered in 1836 by Darwin's naturalist colleague, Edward Blyth. Herbert Spencer came close to a formulation in 1852, and Alfred Wallace discovered it in 1858.

^The Origin did not found modern biology. By 1850 it was a thriving science whose leading men were Louis Pasteur, Claude Bernard, Rudolph Vircow, and Robert Koch. Darwin, a naturalist, was not involved in this research mode. Conversely, evolution was not a parameter of experimental biology.

^The Origin did not instigate a 'revolutionary' disruption of science from religious belief. That antagonism became a cultural force thanks to the French Revolution. By the 1830s, French and British radicals invoked evolution as a rebuttal of religious beliefs about God's creation.

By 1860 this position was widespread throughout Europe and Latin America. Conversely, numerous scientists and clergymen believed in the compatibility of science and religious faith. That includes the discoverer of the first quantitative biological laws, Gregor Mendel.

^The only practical application of Darwinian theory with potential cultural impact was eugenics, devised by Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton. Three of his sons were dedicated to the eugenics cause, and one of them, Leonard, was the patron of a key figure in the creation of neo-darwinism, R A Fisher, as well as President of the Eugenics Society
Dr. Caton tells me that his Web page, Whither Progress? on "Major Changes in Evolution Theory" is almost finished, and thanks me for reporting his views accurately, noting
I believe that you know that I don't believe that the extensive revisions and corrections of Neo-Darwinism imply rejection of evolution; rather the improvement of our understanding of it.
Yes, I got that. He argues that " ... the Modern Synthesis is obsolete, and that a new grasp of evolution is in the making, has been argued by numerous authors. My purpose here is to highlight some major innovations that have transformed evolution science.", which he does. Darwintrolls, this is not for you. Serious thinkers, have a look.

Check out his deprogram from Darwin legends here.

Dr. Caton also writes me to record, for historical purposes, the response of one much-feted "religious" Darwinist,
Among the responses I've had from my mailouts is one from a prominent evolutionary biologist , who is giving a paper on Darwin and religion at the Duquesne University Darwin celebration in November 2009. He wrote:

"Your synopsis says a number of truths, but they may amount to half-truths, since they seem to me to miss (but not only) what is the most important contribution of Darwin to the history of ideas: that he completed the Copernican Revolution by bringing the design of organisms into the realm of science. At a non-technical level, I elaborate this notion in my recent Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion (Joseph Henry Press, 2007)."
Caton then offers his response:

Good morning Professor!

Thanks very much for responding to my email. I'm aware that you are among those to whom my evidence is in opposition. Specifically, I maintain that Darwin was but one in a long line of naturalists and experimental scientists whose study of living nature was based entirely on natural causes. In 1859, the British and American public had been exposed to the evolutionary naturalism of Herbert Spencer and the Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.

Commentators such as Ernst Mayr dismiss Vestiges as romantic garble of no scientific significance. That view was also expessed by some scientists of the time, e.g., Herschel and Sidgwick.

Nevertheless, Vestiges presented what was for many (e.g. the young Alfred Wallace, Abe Lincoln) a convincing argument that living nature could and should be explained entirely on natural principles (documented in Secord's Victorian Sensation).

Furthermore, there was an extensive purely naturalistic evolution literature, mostly in French, from 1790--1840, documented by Corsi, The Age of Lamarck).

On p. 159 of your book you write: "Indeed, a major burden was removed from the shoulders of believers when convincing evidence was advanced that the design of organisms need not be attributed to the immediate agency of the Creator, but rather is an outcome of natural processes." Perhaps today (not all believers would agree), but not historically. In 1864 Pope Pius IX decreed the Syllabus of Errors. Eighty errors are enumerated under ten headings: Pantheism, Naturalism, and Absolute Rationalism; Moderate Rationalism; Indifferentism and Latitudinarianism; Socialism, Communism, Secret Societies, Biblical Societies, Clerico-Liberal Societies; Errors Concerning the Church and Her Rights; Errors about Civil Society, Considered Both in Itself and in its Relation to the Church; Errors Concerning Natural and Christian Ethics; Errors Concerning Christian Marriage; Errors Regarding the Civil Power of the Sovereign Pontiff; Errors Having Reference to Modern Liberalism. Under the last three headings, the encyclical deals extensively with varieties of the demand for separation of church and state. Under the first heading, the first six errors are:

1. There exists no Supreme, all-wise, all-provident Divine Being, distinct from the universe, and God is identical with the nature of things, and is, therefore, subject to changes. In effect, God is produced in man and in the world, and all things are God and have the very substance of God, and God is one and the same thing with the world, and, therefore, spirit with matter, necessity with liberty, good with evil, justice with injustice. - Allocution "Maxima quidem," June 9, 1862.

2. All action of God upon man and the world is to be denied. -- Ibid.

3. Human reason, without any reference whatsoever to God, is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood, and of good and evil; it is law to itself, and suffices, by its natural force, to secure the welfare of men and of nations. -- Ibid.

4. All the truths of religion proceed from the innate strength of human reason; hence reason is the ultimate standard by which man can and ought to arrive at the knowledge of all truths of every kind. -- Ibid. and Encyclical "Qui pluribus," Nov. 9, 1846, etc.

5. Divine revelation is imperfect, and therefore subject to a continual and indefinite progress, corresponding with the advancement of human reason. -- Ibid.

6. The faith of Christ is in opposition to human reason and divine revelation not only is not useful, but is even hurtful to the perfection of man. -- Ibid.

Notice that Evolution is not one of the ten headings. Nowhere in this document is evolution or Darwin mentioned. Nowhere. So according to the Church, not Darwin, but pantheism, naturalism, and absolute rationalism should be credited for freeing believers from the burden you mention.

Dr. Caton also advises me that
Several other mailout recipients have identified errors in my history, but on inspection they turn out to non-errors, and of course I've responded as I did to (the) Professor.

His email persuaded me that my response to him should go up on the legend website in an expanded form. I'll also include the London Times obituary of Darwin. It's a long-very long-eulogy whose extravagance is matched only by praise of Stalin and Mao. Darwin is the greatest scientist and thinker of all times, &c &c. He's so great that the writer doesn't even compare him with anyone else--except Newton, who, of course, he excels.
Well, Dr. Caton, the BoBos need a god and I guess his name is Darwin.

Anyway, if you have read this far, check this out.


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