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Discovery Institute, the All-Purpose Boogey Man

It always amazes me how if you want to bash intelligent design, Discovery Institute, or Darwin doubters generally, you can pretty much say anything you want, however ridiculous, and everyone in the Darwin choir will sing hallelujah and never bother to fact check what you say. At the Huffington Post, science writer John Farrell debuts with an awkwardly written blog trying to pick a fight with John West on Darwinism’s sinister race-war theme (“Bad Faith (in Science): Darwin as All-Purpose Boogey Man?“). The post struck a nerve, garnering 1,266 comments as of this writing.
Says Farrell,

West wants his readers to realize that Darwin’s racism had murderous overtones and that therefore the science of evolution must be suspect.

Farrell means that West wants readers to “think” or “believe” not “realize,” which implies that he actually agrees with West. But never mind Farrell’s incompetence as a writer, the second half of his sentence is clearly false, an absurd straw man. I challenge Farrell to show me anything John West has written that implies such a thing — namely, that because Darwinain science is well suited to justify and inspire evil, that by itself makes the ideas “suspect” as science. What any reasonable person would say is that the racist element in classical Darwinism, along with the wicked uses it’s been put to historically, together form a good reason to take a second, fresh, and objective look at the science — evaluating it, however, strictly on its own scientific merits. That’s very different from the caricatured stance attributed to West by Farrell.
Farrell goes on to quote at length the famous passage from the Descent of Man that ranks human races in order of their being near or far from apes and that predicts that races closest to the apes — “negroes and Australians” — will be “exterminated,” leaving a more yawning gap than at present between “civilized” men and the lower apes.

The interpretation of the passage is beyond doubt. What’s so chilling about it is, first, Darwin’s presentation of genocide as an inevitable outcome of human history, and second, his dispassion in the face of that (as he sees it) fact. Yet Farrell blithely proceeds to turn the obvious meaning on its head. “Darwin’s point,” we learn, “is that eventually these populations, too, will become more civilized than even his own Caucasian race, and the resulting larger gap between humans and their relatives will be due to the greater degree of civilization present in human populations.”
So Africans will become more civilized in Darwin’s view — how? By being dead, killed off by Europeans? Because obviously that’s what the man was in fact talking about. It is by the “lower” human races and the “higher” apes being exterminated that, in Darwin’s sanguine prophecy, the gap between man and ape will widen. Can Farrell neither read nor write? If he can read, he might want to take a glance at Richard Weikart’s brief and lucid comments on Darwin’s exterminatory thoughts, confirmed even by Desmond and Moore’s recent Darwin’s Sacred Cause. In their view, which is pretty authoritative even with Darwin defenders, it was following Darwin’s digesting of Malthus in 1838 that his thinking took the sinister turn that it did.
Farrell concludes by lamenting “these ceaseless ideological attack on Charles Darwin,” with Discovery Institute “smear[ing] the character and the motives of the founders of evolutionary biology.” Again, a lie. No one I work with doubts Darwin’s personal character — his rectitude and gentleness as a family man, his personal kindness, his genuine concern about the evils of slavery. However, opposing the enslavement of Africans doesn’t mean you regard them as your equal or that you do not foresee, even with a shocking indifference, their ultimate “extermination.” Opposing cruelty to animals similarly doesn’t mean you regard them as your equal.
This is all so straightforward. It’s been stated so clearly by so many scholars so many times, that it boggles the mind that someone like Farrell can fail to understand unless, his admiring readers, he really does not want to understand. If I misjudge him, I’d be delighted to see a further explanation of his views published on Huffington Post — which bans the opposing point of view from being expressed, as I’ve discovered personally — by all means.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.