The Left Doesn`t Like Darwin Either
But somebody should ask liberal
pundits if they believe in the preservation of favored
races in the struggle for life.
Nor do many liberal commentators
know that much of Darwin`s second most important book,
The Descent of Man, consists of an evolutionary
explanation of human racial differences.
In it, Darwin
the various races, when carefully compared and measured,
differ much from each other — as in the texture of
hair, the relative proportions of all parts of the body,
the capacity of the lungs, the form and capacity of the
skull, and even the convolutions of the brain. But it
would be an endless task to specify the numerous points
of difference. The races differ also in constitution, in
acclimatization and in liability to certain diseases.
Their mental characteristics are likewise very distinct;
chiefly as it would appear in their emotions, but partly
in their intellectual faculties."
This means that Darwinian science
is on a collision course with
progressive egalitarians. Darwinism requires
hereditary inequalities. What natural selection selects
is genetic difference. In his famous
The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote,
"Variability is the necessary basis for the action of
selection." The left fears true Darwinian
science because the politically correct dogma of our
factual equality cannot survive the relentlessly
accumulating evidence of our genetic variability.
Darwin did not dream up the Theory
of Evolution. Many earlier thinkers, like his
Erasmus Darwin and the great French naturalist
Jean Baptiste Lamarck, had proposed various schemes
of gradual changes in organisms.
Darwin`s great contribution was the
precise engine of
Lamarck, for example, had
believed that giraffes possess long necks because
their ancestors had stretched their necks to reach
higher leaves. This stretching somehow caused their
offspring to be born with longer necks. Darwin, however,
argued that the proto-giraffes who happened to be born
with longer necks could eat more and thus left behind
more of their longer-necked children than the
proto-giraffes unlucky enough to be born with shorter
Selection remains the most
underexploited concept in American intellectual life. It
has applications far beyond biology.
Conservatives intellectually disarm
themselves when they let distaste for
Darwinism cause them to ignore the explanatory power
Of course, what most people are
interested in is the
religious controversy over Darwinism. I`m not going
to end that dispute, but please allow me to explain why
it`s not as dire an issue as most of the participants on
either side assume. Neither stance logically rules out
thinking in selectionist terms.
Consider this: When your doctor
prescribes a ten-day course of antibiotics to you, he
insists you take all ten days worth of pills, even if
you feel fine after two days.
This logic is derived directly from
Darwin`s theory of natural selection. If you only take
two days of antibiotics, you are likely to kill just the
bacteria most vulnerable to the medicine and leave alive
antibiotic-resistant germs. If you keep doing that,
you may accidentally create a new version of the
bacteria that can`t be killed by the antibiotic.
The good news is that there are no
Creationists so dogmatic that they preach taking only
two days worth of penicillin on the grounds that Darwin
must have been wrong. Indeed, the logic of natural
selection is widely recognized to be virtually
Darwin seems to lose out with the
public primarily when his supporters force him into a
Thunderdome death match against the Almighty. Most
people seem willing to accept Darwinism as long as they
don`t have to believe in nothing but Darwinism. Thus,
strident tub-thumping for
absolute atheism by evolutionary biologists like
Richard Dawkins, whom the new issue of Discover
Magazine rightly criticizes as
"Darwin`s Rottweiler," is self-defeating.
Instead, what excites vast
controversy is the issue of whether Darwinian selection
explains everything. Nobody doubts that selection
explains the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria
and much else. But many doubt it can explain every
single feature we see about us. Biologists, in contrast,
typically assert that Darwinism can explain all of life,
with no need for any miraculous interventions.
So is the natural selection glass
100 percent full or just 99.9 percent full—with the
occasional miracle necessary to fully account for the
wonder of life as we know it?
Strikingly, that question appears
fundamentally unanswerable by scientific methods.
Although the theory of natural selection has been vastly
useful in understanding the biological world, nobody has
a time machine to go back and check every possible
moment in the history of life on Earth.
The biologists` assumption that no
miracles are needed to explain the universe is itself a
form of faith.
Interestingly, the concept of a
miracle is far less inimical to science than many
biologists assume. As science fiction novelist
Jerry Pournelle pointed out to me, a miracle is, by
definition, an exception that proves the rule. So, a
belief in miracles, unlike a belief in magic,
presupposes a belief in natural laws, which is a
necessary condition for science.
Thus, Christendom could develop
modern science, while China could not. Historian S.A.M.
Adshead of New Zealand wrote a fascinating little book
full of aphorisms called
China in World History.
He noted that the
medieval Chinese focused on magic and technology
while the Europeans concentrated on theology and
science. Early on, the Chinese profited more from their
more practical approach, but in the long run, the
Western approach proved best.
Yet what critics of Darwinism fail
to understand is that this a priori dislike of
miracles is the appropriate professional
prejudice of biologists. The
Sidney Harris cartoon summed it up. A lab-coated
researcher is filling the left and right sides of a
black board with equations, but the only thing
connecting the two clouds of symbols are the words,
"Then a miracle occurs." Another scientist suggests,
"I think you should be more explicit here in step
two." Relying on miracles in science is like relying
on the lottery in retirement planning.
Different professions require
different professional prejudices. If you should ever
defense attorney, you would want him to follow his
trade`s ethic of battling to have you acquitted even if
he assumed you were guilty. Judging you is not his job.
Yet we wouldn`t want
judges to think that way.
Similarly, biologists will be more
productive if they don`t just throw their hands up and
declare a miracle when faced with
something they can`t yet explain.
But the problem comes when
biologists try to inflate this useful professional
prejudice into the primary principle of the cosmos.
Indeed, evolutionary biologists` views on religion tend
to be positively sophomoric compared to those of
physicists and astronomers.
This is because cosmologists have
learned humility the hard way. They were twice burned
badly in the 20th Century, when their smug atheistic
assumptions about the nature of the universe—that what
we can see is all there is and all there ever was—turned
out to be radically wrong.
The first was developed in part by
the Jesuit mathematician
Father Georges Lemaitre, who certainly did not mind
that its "Let there be light" narrative fit well
St. Thomas Aquinas`s Prime Mover proof for the
existence of God.
The second, introduced by physicist
Brandon Carter in 1974, resembles the
Rev. Paley`s Argument from Design for the existence
of God by pointing out that our universe seems
suspiciously fine-tuned for the evolution of intelligent
life. For instance, if gravity were much stronger the
Big Bang would have quickly collapsed back on itself;
much weaker, and stars and planets couldn`t have formed.
To avoid admitting a Designer,
cosmologists had to postulate that beyond our natural
world, there must exist a, shall we say,
"supernatural" world. Maybe, they say, there is a
"superuniverse" comprising an infinite number of
universes, all with different natural laws.
Philosopher Robert C. Koons notes,
"Originally, atheists prided themselves on being
no-nonsense empiricists, who limited their beliefs to
what could be seen and measured. Now, we find ourselves
in a situation in which the only alternative to belief
in God is belief in an infinite number of unobservable
parallel universes! You`ve come along way, baby!"
Still, no matter what the
metaphysical implications, we can`t forget Darwin`s
great insight about our world: selection matters. Life
is not 100 percent Lamarckian.
People vary, and we can`t always
mold them into whatever we want them to be.
The left has long hated this
insight because it suggests that there are limits to the
effectiveness of social engineering.
Ironically, the institutions that
help the prestige of the left survive, the elite
universities, are elite precisely because they carefully
select applicants using the standardized test scores
that leftists routinely denounce in other contexts.
On immigration policy,
neoconservative intellectuals apparently assume that for
the U.S. to adopt the
Canadian and Australian approach and select
immigrants that most benefit current citizens would be
Well, the world
doesn`t always work the way fashionable
intellectuals say it does. It takes science to figure
out how the world does work. We ignore it at our peril.
[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and