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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Darwinism and pop culture: Attempts to pretend that Darwin did not extend his theory to human society

Many attempts have been made recently to rescue Darwin from the charge of supporting social Darwinism, but as with the attempts to exonerate him from supporting racism, they only lead people to discover the documentary evidence for themselves. British physicist David Tyler reflects on this phenomenon. Just admitting it and getting past it would solve the problems, but then Darwin could no longer be the subject of dog-like veneration and ridiculous hagiography. Anyway, here's Tyler:

Darwin was an advocate of Social Darwinism

In this Bicentennial year of Darwin's birth, there are many who want to drive a wedge between Darwinism as a scientific theory and Darwinism as a philosophical, social or political theory. Here in the UK, we have a Templeton Foundation-funded project called "Rescuing Darwin" which seeks to do exactly this. Darwinism, it is claimed, is essentially a scientific theory and it needs to be rescued from the atheists, the social-engineers and others who are taking it far beyond the domain of science. Here is an excerpt from the report "Rescuing Darwin".

"Social Darwinism did not have the monopoly on interpreting evolution. Indeed, in its time evolution has been used in support of every "ism" imaginable, including socialism, capitalism, racism, eugenics, feminism, theism and atheism. As George Bernard Shaw once remarked, Darwin "had the luck to please everybody who had an axe to grind". The key point is that, from the earliest times, evolution was understood - and sometimes rejected - as a philosophical, social or political theory, rather than simply a biological one." (page 25)

This strategy of presenting Darwinism as science with no philosophical or ideological baggage deserves to be critiqued and challenged. Many of us argue that science necessarily implies a philosophical underpinning, and that metaphysical foundation inevitably affects the way science is practised. This blog, however, is concerned with the evidence from history. What was Darwin's own thinking about laissez-faire social Darwinism? Does he deserve to be rescued from those who have inappropriately applied his science to the workings of human society? Or is he being expelled from his own house?
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