Evolution… Politically Correct?

I was in the book store last weekend (one of my favorite places, of course!) and looking through the biology section to see if there’s something else I should read for the fun of it. As usual, the Biology section contains things that should be filed under “politics” or “fiction” – the likes of Dembsky and Behe – that have to be sifted through to find actual science books (I’m tempted by Gould’s outrageously thick “The Structure of Evolutionary Theory”… maybe after I finish another bio class or so…) One of these mis-filed political tomes was The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism... Now, I’ve seen that cover a million times and never thought much of it, other than what any rational thinking person would think, “yeah, withhold the politically,” but there’s another outrageous claim embedded in the title that occurred to me – the notion that natural selection is politically correct or in any way liberal.

Creationists and their ilk make this claim that Darwinism is a liberal conspiracy almost in the same breath as saying that it justified social Darwinism, a nebulous term except in that it refers exclusively to Right-wing ideologies. I have to ask – which is it? Liberals are all kinds of things but we’re certainly not social Darwinists. The answer is it is not a liberal conspiracy, but there were individuals who committed the naturalistic fallacy (deriving an ought from an is) and advocated modeling society after evolution – a mindless process that produces mostly extinctions and a lot of misery and pain. Take a breath. A bunch of animals throughout the world just met their bloody end to the claw. The theory of natural selection tells us how things got the way they are, but it’s certainly no model on how things ought to be – it’s the reason why Darwin’s rottweiler, Dawkins, says, “I am a passionate Darwinian when it comes to the science of how life has actually evolved, but a passionate ANTI-Darwinian when it comes to the politics of how humans ought to behave.” Indeed. Remember – a fact can never be good or evil, but almost always useful. At worst, a fact is of little use. That is the underlying philosophy behind science. It would only ever break down if we were living in a Lovecraftian universe where the truth drives men mad.

“Fair enough,” you might say, “well-meaning liberals are planting the seeds of social Darwinism because they’re a bunch of Godless atheists and their atheism is the reason they want to teach Darwinism.” Yes, the headwaters of this notion that there is something liberal about Darwinism must be the association with atheism. I don’t know if anyone told these guys, but most liberals (in America, anyway) are not atheists. In being an atheist, I am unusual among liberals (though that’s the least of my divergence with mainstream liberals). Don’t confuse “secular” with “atheist”. Secular is a rather broad term that includes non-religious people as well as religious people who don’t believe society should be centered around religion. Liberals don’t want to hurt people’s feelings; this is the essence of what “politically correct” means. They don’t want to tell people that their own culture’s beliefs are wrong. This leads me to my last point here – the biggest threat to students getting a good education in “sensitive” subjects, beyond the barriers that might otherwise exist for any subject, isn’t creationists, but overly careful, well-meaning, politically-correct liberal teachers.

Devil’s Advocate

[Wo]men of reason bitch oft about the destroyers of reason – people who pay scientists to fudge their reports in disfavor of human impact on climate change, people who try to downplay evolution’s importance in shaping life on this planet, holocaust deniers and so on.

The end result, however, is ultimately a deeper understanding. Those who strain to come up with any minute flaw in generally accepted ideas will actually contribute to it as a very passionate and crazed devil’s advocate. In this way, our understanding of climate, biology and history will only deepen. Indeed, last year saw strides in evolution and biology and I can’t help but think evolution “skeptics” had a role to play in this.