The Dark Side of Charles Darwin: a Critical Analysis of an Icon of Science.
More than 200 years after his birth in 1809, and 150 years after the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, Charles Darwin is still considered one of the greatest scientists who ever lived.
The 100-plus biographies of Darwin published in English are all favorable, according to Bergman. But without disputing Darwin's many scientific accomplishments, such as his study of worms, or his reputation of being a kind and generous person and a model husband and father, Bergman focuses on the dark side of Darwin, in both his personal life and scientific work.
Darwin's work marked a critical turning point in science. For most of history, Bergman writes, science and religion were largely co-workers in exploring the material world. Scientists strove to demonstrate evidence of God's design and influence in nature. But after Darwin, the science establishment became militantly opposed even to the idea of design and purpose in nature. Darwin is said to have taught that "life had no plan, but turned instead to an infinity of expedients to cope with what nature threw at it."
Bergman states that Darwin's motives were not primarily scientific at all, but were religious. "In Darwin's own words, his goal in developing and establishing his theory was like committing a murder." What he wanted to destroy was the most common basis for believing in God--the argument from design, sometimes called the cosmological or teleological argument. He spoke about "converting" others to his view, and spoke of obtaining "confessions of faith." This seemed to be the purpose of his vast correspondence--an exchange of more than 14,000 letters with some 1,800 correspondents. This was also the goal of his leading allies, for example Thomas H. Huxley ("Darwin's Bulldog"). Huxley knew of "no plausible hypothesis on the mechanism of change," yet supported Darwin because he was "a staunch advocate of scientific naturalism."
The suppression of dissidents (which is so powerfully shown in Ben Stein's movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed) began even before the political war against the creationists was largely won by Darwinists, writes Bergman. Those who had widely divergent theories about possible mechanisms of evolution presented a united front against creationists.
While jurists and many religious authorities have asserted that evolution and theism are compatible, Bergman states that "the most eminent life scientists of our age agree, and have expressed themselves in the strongest terms on the matter, that a clear unbridgeable contradiction exists between Darwinism and theism." He quotes Cornell University biology professor William B. Provine to the effect that Darwin understood that if natural selection explained adaptation, the "argument from design was dead and all that went with it, namely the existence of a personal God, free will, life after death, immutable moral laws, and ultimate meaning in life." Bergman apparently thinks that scientists who proclaim the compatibility of evolution and religion may be doing so hypocritically, out of fear that they will lose their federal funding.
Darwin insisted that evolution was random and undirected, and understood very well the implications. Bergman quotes a study of 149 leading biologists of whom 90 percent believed that evolution has no ultimate purpose or goal except survival, and that humans are a cosmic accident existing at the whim of time and chance.
Darwin's health was poor. After age 28, he largely lived as a reclusive invalid, detailing his sufferings in extreme detail in his diary. He apparently suffered from agoraphobia and a panic disorder, and many disabling physical symptoms including vomiting and tinnitus. Inner conflict about the truth and implications of his evolutionary theory may have been important contributors, Bergman writes.
One of Darwin's least appealing personality traits was his passion for killing animals. Bergman states that he kept a detailed ledger of the birds that he had shot, and also used poison, hammers, or rocks. In addition, he greatly enjoyed vivisection of animals.
Bergman discusses at great length the question of whether Darwin plagiarized his evolutionary theory. All of the ideas credited to Darwin had been discussed in print by others before him, including his grandfather Erasmus Darwin, whose major influence Darwin never acknowledged.
Almost all of Darwin's field samples were collected when he was very young. At age 22, when he was a divinity student, he was appointed to the position of naturalist on HMS Beagle on its expedition to the Galapagos Islands, more because of his social status than his skills. He did not label the collection site of any of his specimens because he did not think it was important. As the Beagle crossed the Pacific, he ate the tortoises and threw the carapaces, the most obvious clue to the adaptive radiation of the species, into the sea. The 80 mammals and 450 birds that he presented to the zoological society had to be identified and cataloged by experts.
According to references Bergman cites, Darwin even had difficulty telling the finches apart, mixed up the samples collected from various islands, and did not recognize the significance of the shape of their bills, so often cited as evidence for evolution. Darwin apparently wasn't thinking about the development of his evolutionary theory during this voyage; most of his notes concerned geology.
In Darwin's time, there was no knowledge of genetics, much less of cellular biochemistry. He recognized that, as the French scientist Hugo DeVries noted, natural selection could explain only the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest. To explain the source of new genetic information needed to produce the variation on which natural selection could work, Darwin advocated the idea of pangenesis, which can be traced back to Hippocrates circa 400 B.C. This is basically a form of the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, though at one point Darwin dismissed Lamarck's ideas as "rubbish."
Pangenesis posits that each and every part of an organism produces "gemmules" during every stage of the organism's development from embryo to adult. This means that every developmental stage is subject to environmental modification. After being modified, gemmules are released from the cell and travel in the circulation to the gametes. Thus, gametes were viewed as a collection of gemmules derived from somatic units. Modified gemmules could be transmitted to the parent's offspring, and could even be passed in a dormant form to show up in subsequent generations.
Darwin knew of course that surgical alterations were not heritable, but could not explain what kind of environmental modifications could be inherited. Nor could he describe how gemmules were modified, how they were "thrown off," or even what they were. He became extremely angry, however, when his cousin Francis Galton empirically disproved pangenesis by transfusing blood from one type of rabbit into another to see whether the differences could be passed on to the offspring. The evidence notwithstanding, a number of evolutionists still considered pangenesis to be a viable theory for decades.
Although Darwin opposed slavery, his work gives clear evidence that he considered Europeans to be superior and certain other races to be biologically inferior. He also believed that women were less evolved than men. Bergman details how Darwinism formed the basis for the eugenics movement, although Darwin did not support the more brutal and coercive forms of eugenics, which were manifested in extreme form in the Holocaust.
Bergman shows how Darwin's ideas have had a powerful and pervasive--and many would argue highly destructive--influence on our culture. It is also Bergman's view the scientific basis was anything but sound to begin with, and is far from "settled."
Jane M. Orient, M.D.
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|Author:||Orient, Jane M.|
|Publication:||Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
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