History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Deconstructing Darwin

March 14th, 2006 · No Comments

Deconstructing Darwin

Alan Richardson Lecture, March 4th 1999

Stephen R.L.Clark


It is not irrational to criticize Darwinian theory, as being, in its developed form, an incitement to crime. The message of Darwinism in the abstract is that species are not natural kinds, and that there is no reason to expect ‘evolutionary progress’. In its concrete manifestations, in Darwin’s writings as well as in his followers’, it is more usually assumed that the poor, sick, savage – and Irish – are ‘unfit’, and will be eliminated soon (unless a misguided compassion delays the process). Even a more sociable Darwinism (emphasising the value of social feeling, and even of self-sacrificing heroism) insists that we can only ‘really’ mind about our kin and those few others who might do us good, and should for that reason act to prevent the poor or sick or ‘savage’ from breeding. Darwinists, though inconsistently, allege that we are always bound to be enduring the Malthusian tragedy, and cannot expect people to be more rational, generous or compassionate than they would be in such dire conditions. Because there ‘must’ be such a struggle for survival we ‘civilized’ folk initiate it. These ethical effects do not flow from the bare bones of Darwinian theory (that we are all related, with four thousand million years of history, and that populations change their character in part because of differences in the number of viable offspring resulting from the particular traits of the parent population), but they are so entangled with Darwinism as this is popularly presented that we have good reason to complain when our children are taught such ‘Darwinism’ as the only rational theory. On the contrary, if ‘Darwinism’ were the only truth, we could have no interest in the truth, nor any reliable way of uncovering it.

Tags: Evolution

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