January 12, 2008

Former St. Petersburg city council member claims Darwin caused the Holocaust

The St. Petersburg Times continues to excel in its coverage of the politics of Florida's science standards. Today's story on Bill Foster is a case in point. He's a former members of the St Pete city council, and at least until today he was considered a leading contender for mayor in the next election.

The letter is a confection of factual errors, logical fallacies, and blunt misunderstandings of science. (As Brandon Haught reports on the Florida Citizens for Science blog, Foster's argument is a bit of confirming evidence for an extension of Godwin's Hypothesis to open political discourse.) Below is the body of his December 27 letter to the Pinellas County School Board (opened January 7 in the board offices and faxed to the Times on Thursday), copied in its entirety and followed by some analysis. I have tried to reproduce Foster's letter faithfully, down to every period and comma:

Thank you for your thoughtful discussion about the possibility of allowing presentations of alternative theories of creation in the Pinellas County Schools. I am a 1981 graduate of Northeast High School, and can still remember the scientific teaching of Darwin in class, wherein my teacher stated "There is really no scientific evidence to support this theory, but if you want to believe that you descended from monkeys, then feel free to do so". We were, at that time, allowed to discuss alternative theories of creation, and then allowed to make up our own minds. Nothing was presented as scientific fact, and freedom of speech was quite the norm. Discussions about other theories (ie. creation by a God or supreme being) were not quashed, but encouraged so that the well rounded student could make an informed choice. This is what has been lacking in our schools today, and the time has come to change that school of thought.

Whether a belief in the Genesis account of creation, or Darwin's "Origin of Species", both require a certain amount of faith. My favorite definition of "faith" happens to come from the Bible, but is consistent with secular meanings: Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. So true, as any belief in Darwin's theory of evolution requires a great deal of faith: faith in the reliability of the science, and faith in the explanations as to the significant gaps and flaws in the science. The scientific arguments for this Darwinistic religion are unsupported, and yet you allow it to be taught as absolute fact to the exclusion of other theories or debate. You say that creationism should be taught in the Churches and Synagogues, and I agree. However, you teach the antitheses of intelligent design as absolute scientific fact in the very schools which I support, with no room for argument of other theories, and this only serves to confuse and undermine the education of our children.

Evolution gives our kids an excuse to believe in natural selection and survival of the fittest, which leads to a belief that they are superior over the weak. This is a slippery slope. One of the Columbine shooters wrote on his website, "You know what I love? Natural Selection! It's the best thing that ever happened to the Earth. Getting rid of all the stupid and weak organisms." This sick young man wore a T-shirt with the words "Natural Selection" at the time of the murders, and carried out his killing spree on the birth date of Adolph Hitler. All of this took place at the very school where he was taught evolution and Darwin's theory of natural selection.

Darwin's theory led to the idea of "Eugenics", where social engineers could monitor and manage choices to marry and have children. Darwin's own cousin coined the term and campaigned for using human genetics as a means to breed a superior breed of humanity. Many people in American history and abroad adopted this belief, and 33 states created legal programs of forced sterilization to prevent the "feeble-minded" and "human weeds"This social engineering is at the core of Darwinism - just in fast forward.

Many Darwinists believe that nature or natural selection could use a little help from man, and through social engineering, we can produce a highly gifted race of people. By force, we can accomplish what nature does blindly and slowly. Man can engineer this process more efficiently and timely, and must direct its own course. If this sounds familiar, this was the basis for Nazism. Darwinism devalues man, and I believe helped to eliminate a moral compass in Europe that could have prevented the atrocities of the holocaust.

Adolph Hitler duped an entire generation using Darwin's evolution. He sought to preserve the "favored" race in the struggle for survival. First, he would eliminate those he deemed weak and impure as to protect his race (disabled, ill, deformed, deaf, blind, Jews, Gypsies). Second, he sought to expand Germany's borders in order to make room for the expansion of the favored race. Elimination of useless eaters - this is how the fittest survive. We all know how that turned out. Ultimately, some 11 million people, possibly more, were exterminated, all in the attempt to speed up evolution.

To be certain, racism is not a scientific theory, but it is a large part of evolution, and if allowed to go unchecked, we may be damned to repeat history. There is a place to discuss micro-evolution, in that people and species have adapted over time to their environment and circumstances. I choose to believe that this, too, is of God, but it is evolution none the less. When scientists look at the intricacies of cell structures, or the wonders of the human body, male and female, they simply cannot make a case that all of this occurred by happenstance or natural selection. Why not simply embrace the opportunity for a discussion that there may be some intelligent design to this process? Throw in the case that there is still no fossil record or evidence to support Darwin, and all you have left is a theory. If evolution were true, then there should be countless numbers of transitional forms (e.g., 100% reptile; 75% reptile - 25% bird; 50% reptile - 50% bird; 25% reptile - 75% bird; 100% bird and many transitional forms between each of those). Our science labs and museums are loaded with fossils, and yet, none support Mr. Darwin.

None of Darwin's theories can be replicated or proven in a laboratory, and yet, by blind faith, many still believe in evolution. The Religion of Darwin is the only one accepted in the public school, and the time has come to change that fact. Some people think that I am misguided to believe in the Genesis account of creation. I happen to share a similar view about people who believe that all species evolved or morphed from a single cell. The beautiful thing about this country is that we all have a right to believe in whatever we choose. I may disagree with your science fiction, and you may disagree with my Bible, but we should be free to discuss each others theories, and none should be excluded from the dialogue. Such discourse is not a violation of the Constitution, but rather is encouraged by the First Amendment.

Please consider allowing some discussion of alternative theories in the Pinellas County classroom. As any theory, one needs to investigate, discuss, and arrive at a conclusion based upon faith. I have no faith in Darwin, but do have an extreme amount of faith in each of you to do what is right for our kids. Kindly consider this, and if you have any questions or desire to discuss this matter further, then please feel free to call me.

I will let the National Academy of Sciences take care of the scientific blundering through its pamphlet Science, Evolution, and Creationism (free download!). Let me quickly dispose of the historical claim that evolutionary thought is at the root of eugenics and Nazi racism. It is true that from the late 19th century through WW2, plenty of people abused the metaphor of natural selection to argue for eugenics, but evolutionary theory was neither the starting point of such arguments nor responsible for it. Europeans and Americans had held racist and other prejudiced views for centuries before Darwin, and they had come up with various cockeyed theories to justify their prejudices long before. For example, the saw about the "Curse of Ham" came from Genesis 9:20-27 and had been used for centuries to justify race-based slavery. The abuse of evolutionary metaphors is neither unique nor early in the very long history of invidious prejudice.

Nor is it an accurate understanding of evolution. Apart from the ethics and a dozen other problems, one of the bigger flaws in eugenics theory is in the idea that evolution is about species "improvement," as if there is a unidimensional scale measuring the quality of a population. As many biologists would point out, humanity is not the pinnacle of evolution, its end product and the gold medal. There is no great chain of being or ladder of evolution "rising" from one-celled animals to us. Instead, homo sapiens is an accidental byproduct of millions of events that could have turned out differently. As you can find in dozens of books, humans comprise the remaining twig on a pruned branch of the very large bush we call life on Earth.

That accidental or contingent success of homo sapiens ties eugenicists to the religious opponents of evolution. Neither group is willing to give up the hubris of a humanity-centered universe. In retrospect, one should not be surprised that Darwin's The Origins of Species would spark both tremendous opposition by clergy at the time and also a deep misunderstanding by the advocates of eugenics. It's hard to accept that you're not at the center of the universe. What you do with that understanding then depends on one's ethical choices, and it's in the realm of ethics and morality that religion belongs. For example, I know environmentalists who stake their decision on the obligation to shepherd the earth that they think God imposes on humans. And I know environmentalists who make the existential argument that our meaning as humans is determined by what we do with our accidental status, including the consequences of our living on the Earth. Likewise, I know that defenders of pollution can make religious arguments (the Earth's resources are given to humans by God) and secular ones (we'll destroy the economy!). But while science should inform the discussion of policy, the ethical and political decisions are in the human realm. As Stephen Jay Gould argued, science and religion teach about different things. And the question of a science curriculum should revolve around sound science.

In short, the rise of Social Darwinism and the eugenics movement is certainly a blot on history, but it should have absolutely no consequence for whether evolution is at the center of a biology curriculum.

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Posted in Education policy on January 12, 2008 9:49 AM |