Busted Logic and Elite Goals: Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution

Or, “The anti-Darwinian Stance: Doctorate Level”

A serious opponent of Darwin, ready to dedicate his life and career to overthrowing the idol, will have to make a deep study of Gertrude Himmelfarb’s Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution.

Much as I loathe Darwin and especially the ideology his writings led to, my life has taken a different course that does not permit a 20+ year dedication strictly to breaking the back of his dehumanizing – and unreal – vision of reality.

Fortunately, others have done the hard work – including Gertrude Himmelfarb. I am grateful to all of them!

And while I can’t focus on the issue to the extent I’d like to, I can at least get a decent grasp on the depth of Darwin’s subtle deceptions with the lengthy review in Himmelfarb and Her Haters, by Michael Flannery.

A very lengthy excerpt from this very long article:

For Himmelfarb Darwin’s presentation of his theory is most vulnerable not in his marshalling of evidence — that was thin enough — but rather in his means of handling it. “What Darwin was doing, in effect, ” she observes, “was creating a ‘logic of possibility.’ Unlike conventional logic, where the compound of possibilities results not in a greater possibility, or probability, but in a lesser one, the logic of the Origin was one in which possibilities were assumed to add up to probability” (p. 334). Essentially, Himmelfarb accuses Darwin of making an argument from ignorance:

As possibilities were promoted into probabilities, and probabilities into certainties, so ignorance itself was raised to a position only once removed from certain knowledge. When imagination exhausted itself and Darwin could devise no hypothesis to explain away the difficulty, he resorted to the blanket assurance that we were too ignorant of the ways of nature to know why one event occurred rather than another, and hence ignorant of the explanation that would reconcile the facts to his theory. When one botanist argued that his theory was contradicted by the fact that some forms remained unaltered through long periods of time and wide expanse of space, Darwin admitted the objection to be “formidable in appearance, and to a certain extent in reality.” But this did not deter him:

“Does not the difficulty rest much on our silently assuming that we know more than we do? . . . . Certainly a priori we might have anticipated that all the plants anciently introduced into Australia would have undergone some modification; but the fact that they have not been modified does not seem to me a difficulty of weight enough to shake a belief grounded on other arguments.”

Somehow the fact that no adequate explanation suggested itself today seemed a warrant for the belief that such an explanation would suggest itself in the future, and the explanation, moreover, would be bound to vindicate his theory. Thus the argument from ignorance was made the prelude to a confident affirmation:

“We are far too ignorant, in almost every case, to be enabled to assert that any part or organ is so unimportant for the welfare of a species that modifications in its structure could not have been slowly accumulated by means of natural selection. But we may confidently believe . . . ”

It may be objected, however, that in the logic of science, as in the logic of grammar, three negatives do not normally constitute a positive.

To be sure, a scientific theory that explains equally well a variety of contradictory phenomena may still be true; there are reputable theories that cannot, in this sense, be falsified, and hypothetical reasoning is a legitimate, even necessary, scientific technique. The difficulty with natural selection, however, is that if it explains too much, it also explains too little, and that the more questionable of its hypotheses lie at the heart of its thesis. Posing as a massive deduction from the evidence, it ends up as an ingenious argument from ignorance (pp. 335-336).

This kind of writing infuriates Darwin’s defenders who are not used to such frank talk coming from the likes of a historian. And yet Himmelfarb is not the only one. Many have followed her in questioning Darwin’s logic and his argument (see, for example, Jacques Barzun, Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage, 1941; William Irwin Thompson, At the Edge of History, 1971; Robert Henry Peter, “Tautology in Evolution and Ecology,” American Naturalist, 1976, and “Predictable Problems with Tautology in Evolution and Ecology,” American Naturalist, 1978; Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, 1985; Thomas Nagel, The View From Nowhere, 1986; Stanley L. Jaki, The Savior of Science, 1988; R. F. Baum, Doctors of Modernity: Darwin, Marx & Freud, 1988; Phillip Johnson, Darwin on Trial, 1993; David Stove, Darwinian Fairy Tales, 1995; Didier Maleuvre, “Can We Believe in Darwin?,” Comparative Literature, 2001; James Le Fanu, Why Us?, 2009). Nevertheless, despite skeptics, Darwin’s theory was able to rise as the reigning paradigm in biology and moreover retain that status to the present day. How so?

Himmelfarb offers a couple of reasons, neither of which was based upon the weight of any purported evidence. Quoting a letter from Darwin to Asa Gray on December 21, 1859, Origin’s author recommended that the book, released that previous month, be read by “intelligent men, accustomed to scientific argument, though [curiously enough] not naturalists.” But as Himmelfarb notes, “What he [Darwin] did not properly appreciate, however, was that it was less as intelligent men ‘accustomed to scientific argument’ that they judged and approved the Origin than as intelligent men susceptible to philosophical prejudice” (p. 296). More specifically, it was the anfractuous nature of the argument itself that worked mischievously on its behalf:

It was probably less the weight of the facts than the weight of the argument that was impressive. The reasoning was so subtle and complex as to flatter and disarm all but the most wary intelligence. Only upon close inspection do the faults of the theory emerge. And this close inspection, by the nature of the case, was largely vouchsafed. The points were so intricately argued that to follow them at all required considerable patience and concentration — an expenditure of effort which was itself conducive to acquiescence. Only those determined in advance to be hostile were likely to maintain a vigilant and hence critical attitude. In his rapid volley of expectations, where one might fail, another would hit the mark, and where one line of defense had to be abandoned, another was hastily erected. And there were few to point out that in the strategy of reason, as in the strategy of warfare, the cause was not better served by a succession of feeble defenses than by a single strong one.

More important, however, than any assets which Darwin’s theory might be thought to possess was the bankruptcy of his opponents. The only serious rival, as a general theory, was creation (pp. 350-351).

Himmelfarb is right. William Paley’s venerable argument that a watch found in a field suggested a watchmaker was powerful analogous argument for design and teleology in nature. However, at the time he made it in 1802 few details were known about complexity in the natural world. Paley’s apologetic could in many ways be answered by prior skeptics like David Hume. Paley’s waxing eloquent on the divine beauty of his garden looked more like romantic effusion than sober analysis, and he often saw God’s hand in virtually everything in nature raising the question (as Darwin himself did), if God is omniscient and benevolent then whither evil and pain? Paley and the authors of the Bridgewater Treatises insisted that all creation demonstrated God’s manifest “infinite wisdom and power and goodness.” Cornelius G. Hunter is quite correct in his Darwin’s Proof  when he notes, “Natural theology was lopsided. Yes, the world is amazing, but the natural theologian’s happy view of nature could hardly be justified in light of the real world. It is easy to see why this version of natural theology supplied a ready source of material for its opponents” (p. 90).

But there is yet a third reason why Darwin’s Origin was so readily accepted; Himmelfarb has already alluded to it when she suggested that Darwin’s supporters were found among those already philosophically inclined to accept it. This is an important point and one that she concludes with in assessing the nature of the so-called Darwinian revolution. Skeptic and freethinking philosophers had clearly prepared the way for a wholly naturalistic account of creation and biological life.

A super-condensed summary: The Right Sort decided to back Darwin to the hilt, because they didn’t like God.

At all.

A final excerpt:

In the end, Gertrude Himmelfarb presents a complete and honest portrayal of Darwin and his theory, and her points are compelling:

  • Darwin’s “logic of possibility” stood logic on its head by turning conjectural possibilities into alleged scientific probabilities.
  • In meeting objections to his evolutionary theory by suggesting we simply didn’t know enough about the operations of nature, Darwin really developed little more than an argument from ignorance.
  • Darwin’s natural selection proved, even for him, inadequate to explain the most important features of human evolution.
  • Darwin attempted to fill in the gaps by increasing reliance upon two subsidiary theories: pangenesis and sexual selection (both of which have been subsequently shown to be without scientific merit).
  • Because Darwinian evolution attempted to explain virtually everything, it could be given a wide range of social applications; its role in the eugenics movement of the early 20th century is unmistakable.
  • Darwin effected a revolution, but a distinctly conservative one that built upon previous secular and humanistic ideas and one that ratified England’s industrial revolution “red in tooth and claw.”

If the Darwinian faithful cannot abide the less than ideal portrait that emerges they have only their Down House hero to blame.

I love the dig at Enlightenment Conservationism — “Service to the State! Glory to the Race!”

The Left Wing of the Enlightenment — “Service to the State! Power to the Party!”– was never completely comfortable with Darwin. They liked him for his quiet but pure hatred of God, but disliked the anti-egalitarian implications.

As I will not kneel in worship to the State, or the adoration of Power, I am completely comfortable in casting both viewpoints into the eternal flames.

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