Last night, Glenn Beck blended his anti-progressive polemics with anti-evolution dogma, attacking Charles Darwin as "the father of modern day racism" who "plant[ed] the seed that leads to progressivism, eugenics." He expanded on this critique on the radio this morning, saying that Darwin wrote about "the savages" and announcing: "I understand why Darwin has to be taught in schools now. You have to teach evolution, because if you don't teach evolution, progressivism falls apart." According to Beck and his cohorts, a direct line can be drawn between Darwin, eugenics, and Hitler: "Charles Darwin is the father of the Holocaust."
Much of what Beck is referring to can be found in Darwin's The Descent of Man, published in 1871 -- in particular Chapter 5, titled "On the development of the intellectual and moral faculties during primeval and civilized times." And, indeed, Darwin's writings are peppered with terminology and assertions that, to modern sensibilities, are offensive. That Darwin was writing at a time in which theories of racial superiority were widely accepted -- the United States had just wrapped up a war predicated on the notion that blacks were inferior to whites -- is not exculpatory but does add some needed context.
But to lay blame for "modern racism," eugenics, and the Holocaust at Darwin's feet is not only wrong, it's phenomenally lazy and an act of profound cowardice from a self-styled "thinker" like Glenn Beck.
From the August 20 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program:
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Next week, right-wing commentator S.E. Cupp's new book, Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media's Attack on Christianity (Threshold Editions - April 2010), will be released complete with a foreword by Fox News host Mike Huckabee.
The Washington Post asked the National Center for Science Education's Joshua Rosenau "to weigh in on Cupp's scholarship" on the issue of evolution. Given Cupp's track record of misinformation on a variety of issues, it isn't surprising that Rosenau had plenty to take issue with on the subject. The highlights:
S.E. Cupp's handling of science and religion misrepresents the nature of evolution, obscures the science of biology, and dismisses the deeply-held religious views of most Christians outside of the fundamentalist subculture. This is the sort of misrepresentation which leads her to concoct an anti-Christian conspiracy on the part of reporters, and - bizarrely - to say that Darwin is "quite literally the Anti Christ" for liberals.
Cupp presents evolution -- and science more generally -- as the enemy of religion. Reporters' "propping up of science," she writes, is an "attack on Christianity." If anything, it is Cupp's approach which insults Christians. Research detailed in Elaine Ecklund's forthcoming "Science vs. Religion," shows that many scientists are religious themselves and do not generally regard science and religion as enemies.
On top of misrepresenting the nature of science and the nature of religion, Cupp's coverage does violence not just to the science of evolution, but to the public's expectations of science journalists and science teachers. She misreports recent history and legal proceedings. She twists math itself to claim that 44 percent is "not a minority."
She concludes by complaining that "the liberal media is not interested in acknowledging our nation as a deeply religious one," and repeats her claim that evolution is a weapon used to attack Christians.
Whether our nation is or isn't "deeply religious" does not change what science is or how it works, and does not change the century and a half of meticulous research which has convinced scientists that evolution is essential to biology and biology education.
And that my friends, is a review of just one chapter.
Sometimes it's healthy to step back from the blaring din of political news coverage, separate oneself from the gritty minutiae of polling data and CBO scores, and look at issues of broader significance and deeper meaning, if only to obtain a fleeting dose of perspective before plunging back into the cable news fray. In that spirit, I wandered over to Dan Gilgoff's God & Country blog at USNews.com, which is featuring a written debate on Darwin, evolution, and Creationism between National Center for Science Education executive director Eugenie Scott and New Zealand-born minister Ray Comfort. Comfort, as I noted last month, is celebrating the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species by publishing his own edition of the landmark scientific work with a 50-page Creationist screed tacked on as an introduction, and this re-release of Darwin is the very the reason Scott and Comfort are locking horns.
The initial posts from Comfort and Scott should immediately clue you in to the motivations each person brought to the debate. Comfort's opening statement is little more than a pitch for his books and television program. He carries on about commenters on Amazon.com and atheists, and lobs insults at Richard Dawkins with the likely goal of getting Dawkins to respond. Only once does he attempt to address issues of scientific weight, and the result is comically absurd. Comfort writes that "believers in evolution" cite as evidence "small bumps on whale bones (proving it once had legs), or experiments with bacteria, or conjecture that modern turkeys were once dinosaurs." His response, in its entirety, is a sneering "Sure." To finish things off, he mocks Mormons and "believers in evolution" as being equally foolish and gullible.
Scott's riposte, on the other hand, is a thoughtful dissection of Comfort's publicity stunt. She observes that Comfort, in addition to appending his introduction to Origin, excised "no fewer than four crucial chapters" that contain "some of Darwin's strongest evidence for evolution." Responding to Comfort's mockery of "small bumps on whale bones" and "conjecture that modern turkeys were once dinosaurs," Scott points out that there "are splendid fossils of dinosaurs that have feathers and of whales that have legs-and even feet." (See: Georgiacetus vogtlensis and Beipiaosaurus inexpectus.) I particularly enjoyed Scott's closing line, in which she expressed her "faith that college students are sharp enough to realize that Comfort's take on Darwin and evolution is simply bananas" - a sly reference to Comfort's well-known and widely mocked theory that bananas prove the existence of God.
There's an argument to be made that the media should not grant publicity-seeking clowns like Ray Comfort legitimacy they haven't earned by allowing them a seat at the table, and the best support for that argument is the sort of nonsense that Comfort brought to bear in his opening statement for USNews.com. But if a crank like Comfort is going to get his 15 minutes, then it's helpful to pair him with someone like Scott, whose measured grasp of scientific reality makes Comfort's cynicism and self-promotion seem all the more crass.
On NPR's All Things Considered, host Noah Adams, introducing a report on President Obama's September 8 speech to schoolchildren, stated that "some parents and conservatives ... called it a political intrusion into the school day." But NPR did not note that one of the conservatives quoted in the report, Texas State Board of Education member Barbara Cargill, has repeatedly engaged in political intrusions into the Texas school system, seeking -- sometimes successfully -- to change Texas schools' curriculum to fit her conservative ideology.
The New York Times featured an op-ed yesterday by Robert Wright of the New America Foundation proposing "A Grand Bargain Over Evolution," whereby two warring groups -- the "intensely religious" and the "militantly atheistic" -- might find a scrap of common ground concerning Darwin's theories and "learn to get along." The proposal is wrapped in scientific jargon and relies heavily on intellectual history and high-minded philosophizing. There's just one problem.
The "bargain" stinks.
Here's how Wright sees things -- the atheists "insist that any form of god-talk, any notion of higher purpose, is incompatible with a scientific worldview," whereas the religious refuse to believe that natural selection is capable of producing creatures as complex and morally attuned as Homo sapiens, which means God "had to step in and provide special ingredients at some point." Both these viewpoints are "wrong," according to Wright, and are in need of some tweaking. For the religious, Wright proposes that they accept that God "initiat[ed] natural selection with some confidence that it would lead to a morally rich and reflective species." For the atheists, Wright prescribes that they accept that "any god whose creative role ends with the beginning of natural selection is, strictly speaking, logically compatible with Darwinism," and that "natural selection's intrinsic creative power ... adds at least an iota of plausibility to this remotely creative god." Voila -- amity achieved.
But this doesn't seem like much of a "bargain." He's asking believers in God to continue believing in God, but to also believe in natural selection as one of God's works. But for the atheists, he's essentially asking that they toss out their beliefs. Being an atheist in predicated upon one principle idea -- that there is no "higher power" at work in the universe. To ask an atheist to acknowledge, in Wright's words, "at least an iota of plausibility to this remotely creative god" is to ask that atheist to stop being an atheist. He's asking one group to merely alter their belief structure, and another group to completely undermine the basic tenet of theirs. Some "bargain" ...
Radio host Bill Cunningham compared the Cincinnati Zoo to Eugene "Bull" Connor, the Birmingham Public Safety commissioner infamous for using dogs and fire hoses against civil rights demonstrators in the 1960s. Cunningham made the remark while criticizing the zoo's decision to pull out of a promotional partnership with the Creation Museum, which seeks to "affirm the truth of the biblical record of the real origin and history of the world and mankind" and reportedly contains a display featuring "a triceratops with a saddle on its back."
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MSNBC's Natalie Morales framed a judge's decision regarding the teaching of intelligent design in a Pennsylvania school district as "a major clash between faith and evolution," despite the judge's explicit statement that such an assumption "is utterly false."
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On CBN's The 700 Club, host Pat Robertson claimed that "the evolutionists worship atheism" and that because "evolution becomes their religion" it is "an establishment of religion contrary to the First Amendment." Robertson went on to suggest that evolution advocates were "fanatics," stating further, "it is a religion, it is a cult. It is cultish religion."
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