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Benjamin Wiker - The Darwin Myth
Posted: 09 October 2009 09:23 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and is also a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute. His books include Answering the New Atheism and Ten Books That Screwed Up The World. His Newest is The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Dr. Benjamin Wiker talks about his book The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin. He argues that Darwinism is a distortion of evolution, and based on the secular and atheistic influence of the “radical Enlightenment.” He shares his skepticism of other historians’ accounts of Darwin’s anguish over the implications of his views for religious belief. He contends that Darwin was a third-generation religious skeptic, and that he had an atheistic agenda from early in his life. He relates Alfred Russell Wallace’s critiques of Darwin’s atheistic account of evolution by natural selection, and defends Wallace from the charges of Spiritualism. He compares evolutionists who accept natural selection with neurologists who think neuroscience may or will entirely account for the human self (without a soul), and suggests both views are based on ideology. He explains his motivations to criticize Darwin based on what he argues are the immoral effects of Darwinism in society. He links Nazism, Social Darwinism and eugenics to Darwinism. He talks about abortion in the context of the eugenics movement of the early 20th century. He discusses the “is-ought problem” in philosophy, and the “naturalistic fallacy.” He criticizes Darwin’s accounts of how human morality may have evolved. And he argues against creationists who reject evolution, even while he himself attacks “evolution by natural selection.”

http://www.pointofinquiry.org/benjamin_wiker_the_darwin_myth

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Posted: 10 October 2009 12:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I’m so glad there are more POI podcasts to listen to, but I have a feeling that this one is going to leave me VERY frustrated.

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Posted: 10 October 2009 01:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Because of his attitude in the interview, I will assume that Dr. Wiker chose the title/subtitle of his book. The title and the majority of his argument qualify only as ad hominem attacks on a man dead for almost 130 years. Dr. Wiker said little (and if his vita is complete, he is little qualified) to speak about the actual evidence put forward by Darwin. Instead, it appears that he has written a book by beginning with a conclusion (Darwin’s wickedness) and then by running in search of evidence. This is a tactic that seems to define publications from The Discovery Institute.

Nonetheless, I’m perplexed about his reasons for writing the book in this particular way. Does he think that atheists and humanists will stop believing in natural selection if somehow he can convince us that Charles Darwin had the morals of a gutter snipe? Does he really imagine that atheists are hero worshipers bent on maintaining Darwin’s honorable legacy? And thus by shooting holes in Darwin’s integrity, does he simultaneously think he chips away at atheism’s foundation?

Or instead, as I suspect, is he trying to give Christians justification to hate Charles Darwin, and thus reject the science that spawned from his theory before they examine the evidence?

The real moral culprit here is Dr. Wiker himself. He is directing criticisms that no one EXCEPT anti-science Christians really cares about. He is thus throwing coals on the fire that will heat up their efforts to undermine science education in the US, and possibly elsewhere. Although he feigns support for an evolutionary theory (so long as his deity is involved), Dr. Wiker’s argument appears to be tailor-made to encourage Christian Fundamentalists to resist teaching the theory (and its history) in schools.

So if that was the purpose for Dr. Wiker’s book, then there really was no justification for interviewing him on “Point of Inquiry.” In the end, the personage and principles of Mr. Darwin are irrelevant. The pieces of evidence and the theory that weaves them together are all that matter. I expect that Darwin’s moral compass was both as principled and as flawed as anyone’s. His contribution to our world was in recognizing the way in which parts of the biological puzzle fit together, not in teaching us how to treat one another. That duty belongs to others, and unfortunately Dr. Wiker, in spite of his ethics credentials, has given us good reason to question his own moral compass.

DJ, you handled this with your usual tact and poise. However, I really wonder if there is any compelling rationale for giving a non-scientist theologian a platform to speak on this topic. I could understand the possibility of Francis Collins or a biologist associated with the BioLogos Foundation, but Dr. Wiker doesn’t have the academic chops necessary to address this topic from anything but an apologist’s point of view.

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Posted: 10 October 2009 10:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I wouldn’t be so harsh on the author and the choice of podcast topic. I find the topic interesting.

I’m sure many of us have witnessed fundamentalists who claim that they were once “atheists” to give the allusion that they made an informed decision to become religious. The author is claiming that Darwin exagerated his pre-Beagle religiosity. This sounds like a worthwhile discussion of history to me.

The author seems to have an axe to grind and a desire to damage Darwin’s reputation, which fits the general goals of the Discovery Institute. I like hearing arguments of groups that have worldviews I find disturbing or dumb.

I also like that interviewing people with these views allows direct questions to them about issues like why scientists accept evolution by natural selection and whether there is some conspiracy.

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Posted: 11 October 2009 04:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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dmoreau - 10 October 2009 10:57 PM

I wouldn’t be so harsh on the author and the choice of podcast topic. I find the topic interesting.

I’m sure many of us have witnessed fundamentalists who claim that they were once “atheists” to give the allusion that they made an informed decision to become religious. The author is claiming that Darwin exagerated his pre-Beagle religiosity. This sounds like a worthwhile discussion of history to me.

The author seems to have an axe to grind and a desire to damage Darwin’s reputation, which fits the general goals of the Discovery Institute. I like hearing arguments of groups that have worldviews I find disturbing or dumb.

I also like that interviewing people with these views allows direct questions to them about issues like why scientists accept evolution by natural selection and whether there is some conspiracy.

Sorry if I sounded too snarky. I hope I made it clear that I haven’t read the book, but the subtitle itself accuses Darwin of lying. And the interview hung on that very line detailed accusations of Darwin’s supposed hidden agenda to extract God from the story of life’s diversity.

I think Dr. Wiker has cherry-picked his facts to back up his pre-set conclusions. For example, after Darwin failed at his medical studies, he began studying for the priesthood, at his father’s insistence. This choice of a life/career in the church makes no sense if both were rabid atheists. Perhaps both had questions about church teachings, but since when does doubt equate with atheism? If that were the yardstick, then we could count St. Augustine among the atheists. Heck, I credit my studies of religion & the Bible with giving me the insight to forego theism a few years later.

If anything, this interview highlights once more how difficult it is to trust apologists and the true believers. And honestly, that saddens me. Perhaps that’s why I sounded so snarky.

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People often argue over the term “god” without defining it. It is almost as if they are using the same term to refer both to a penguin and to a quiche. While both may contain eggs, that’s hardly their most salient characteristic.

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Posted: 11 October 2009 10:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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NH Baritone - 11 October 2009 04:58 AM
dmoreau - 10 October 2009 10:57 PM

I wouldn’t be so harsh on the author and the choice of podcast topic. I find the topic interesting.

I’m sure many of us have witnessed fundamentalists who claim that they were once “atheists” to give the allusion that they made an informed decision to become religious. The author is claiming that Darwin exagerated his pre-Beagle religiosity. This sounds like a worthwhile discussion of history to me.

The author seems to have an axe to grind and a desire to damage Darwin’s reputation, which fits the general goals of the Discovery Institute. I like hearing arguments of groups that have worldviews I find disturbing or dumb.

I also like that interviewing people with these views allows direct questions to them about issues like why scientists accept evolution by natural selection and whether there is some conspiracy.

Sorry if I sounded too snarky. I hope I made it clear that I haven’t read the book, but the subtitle itself accuses Darwin of lying. And the interview hung on that very line detailed accusations of Darwin’s supposed hidden agenda to extract God from the story of life’s diversity.

I think Dr. Wiker has cherry-picked his facts to back up his pre-set conclusions. For example, after Darwin failed at his medical studies, he began studying for the priesthood, at his father’s insistence. This choice of a life/career in the church makes no sense if both were rabid atheists. Perhaps both had questions about church teachings, but since when does doubt equate with atheism? If that were the yardstick, then we could count St. Augustine among the atheists. Heck, I credit my studies of religion & the Bible with giving me the insight to forego theism a few years later.

If anything, this interview highlights once more how difficult it is to trust apologists and the true believers. And honestly, that saddens me. Perhaps that’s why I sounded so snarky.

I like when POI has people from DI as featured guests. I enjoy hearing the arguments of “the other side”. Gives me a chance to prepare cogent replies to their arguments.

I would have liked a question concerning whether Wiker believes that supernatural phenomena is required in a complete account of evolution. It isn’t particularly controversial to say that there might be other mechanisms apart from natural selection. For example, epigenetics seems to allow for “inheriting” non-genetic characteristics acquired by ancestors during their lives. It is controversial to claim supernaturalism is required.

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Posted: 11 October 2009 11:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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dmoreau - 11 October 2009 10:42 AM

It isn’t particularly controversial to say that there might be other mechanisms apart from natural selection.

Actually, not only is it not controversial to say that there are other evolutionary mechanisms other than natural selection, but this represents the mainstream of evolutionary biology. Keep in mind that mainstream evolutionary biology is neo-Darwinism, and incorporates findings about heredity and population biology that Darwin did not incorporate into his theory or came well after his time. When I was taking evolutionary biology and population genetics, I learned about natural selection as one of several evolutionary mechanisms, albeit, a core one. Others included genetic drift, mutation, and sexual selection. Areas of controversy, but still well within the realm of mainstream scientific debate, include the role of factors like epigenetics, regulator genes and embryonic development (eg, evo-devo), horizontal gene transfer, and whether well-established mechanisms like natural and sexual selection play as large of a role as had been previously thought.

It is controversial to claim supernaturalism is required.

This was clearly Wiker’s weakest point. As I understand the idea of paradigm shifts, radical theories gain acceptance when old ones fail have explanatory power. Hence, the shift from Ptolemaic to Copernican astronomy, phlogiston to oxygen theory, creationism to evolutionary biology and historical geology, etc. What Wilker is implicity claiming here is that there’s not just a paradigmatic crisis with neo-Darwinian evolutionary biology (and that in itself is arguable), but that there’s a crisis with scientific naturalism itself. And to that I say, what is his evidence? What phenomenon are better or more elegantly explained by recourse to supernatural causes? (Perhaps I have to read his book for his claims in that regard.) More importantly, can supernatural causation ever be empirically tested and are supernatural explanations falsifiable? That’s especially important, because I don’t see how such explanations could even be brought into the realm of science if such is not the case.

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Posted: 11 October 2009 02:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Interesting podcast.  It’s nice that Point of Inquiry has interviews with the other side.  I think it’s pretty rare for them to return the favor.  I had to laugh at the guy’s bias.  I’m only partway through the podcast, but I’m already wondering how many times the guy is going to use the word “radical” in regard to Darwin.  It seems like he’s trying to marginalize Darwin as much as possible.  When DJ Grothe mentioned Darwin’s kindness to Wallace, I knew that Wiker would contradict or minimize it somehow.  Hey - I was right!  I must be psychic!

I almost get the feeling that Intelligent Design advocates think that disparaging and minimizing Darwin has the same effect on Evolution as disparaging and minimizing Jesus has on diminishing Christianity.  That’s a completely wrong understanding of the situations though.  Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter if Darwin was the most evil person on earth.  It doesn’t change the scientific facts on the ground.  Intelligent Design advocates just don’t seem to grasp that.

I thought the whole point about abortion being an extension of evolution/darwinism was overdone.  Wiker claims that eugenics is a result of seeing humanity as an extension of the animal kingdom.  BUT, the part of eugenics that relies on evolutionary theory would be in the domain of “microevolution”.  Creationists of all stripes admit that “microevolution” is real.  So, the question is this: if Person A believes in “microevolution” and person B believes in “microevolution” and “macroevolution”, which one has better justification for human eugenics?  Neither of them.  Eugenics relies on microevolution, and even creationists have to admit the reality of microevolution.  It’s silly for creationists to dance around as if they’re in some morally superior position.  At best, all they can claim is that theism gives special value to humans*, and atheism doesn’t.  But, that’s a separate question from the creationism/evolution.

* And even that is debatable, since the God of the Old Testament orders the genocide of people and slaughter of their children.  Life is cheap to the God of the Old Testament.

[ Edited: 11 October 2009 08:10 PM by tinyfrog ]
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Posted: 11 October 2009 05:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Good program, and I compliment POI for giving time and space to have a critical dialog with someone from the other side. The interview was very civil and gracious, and I compliment both Wiker and Grothe for an intersting interview.

Now that said, I really would have liked to have hard more on exactly what is Wiker’s scientific case against natural selection as a primary evolutionary mechanism? Does he even have a coherent case? Because the impression I got is that he just simply doesn’t like Darwin or Darwinism, and seems to be arguing that due to its supposed negative social effects, Darwinism just can’t be true. Which is definitely a kind of inductive argument from an a priori conclusion if I ever heard one. Its unfortunately not the first time I’ve heard such a line of argumentation, either. A few biologists on the academic left have floated similar arguments, notably Joan Roughgarden’s arguments against sexual selection, and Lynn Margulis’ arguments against selection and competition in general, both based on the idea of Darwinism as a male, patriarchal competitive paradigm. (I think its particularly sad to see Margulis, who has made such important contributions to the understanding of symbiosis and evolutionary biology, to now pursue a position that, while being an extension of her earlier work, pushes it in such a fringe direction.) I’ve also seen plenty of this in arguments about the basis of human behavior between the evolutionary psychology and social constructionist camps, both of which are guilty of a priori dismissal of social or biological hypotheses, respectively.

This, of course, is a terrible approach to science, namely trying to wish away potentially valid findings just because one happens not to like their ethical implications. Its also a case of mistakenly thinking an “is” wholly determines an “ought” (though I would argue, “is’s” have some bearing in rationally evaluating “oughts”), a point that you addressed during the interview. I definitely agree with NH Barritone in this regard – even if Darwin was a complete scoundrel, that wouldn’t have any bearing on whether or not Darwinism is a sound theory.

After the interview, I looked up other work by Benjamin Wiker to see what he was all about. It seems like arguing from prior dislike describes some of his prior work, and colors not only his approach to evolutionary biology, but philosophy as well. It turns out that he was the author of an amazingly philistine book that came out last year, 10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn’t Help. Basically, its a list of books that would predictably end up on a fundamentalist Christian enemies list, notably, books by Nietzsche, Marx, Alfred Kinsey, Margaret Mead, Betty Friedan, and, yep, Darwin’s Descent of Man. These books, according to Wiker, led straight to the horrors of 20th Century totalitarianism and, conversely, to the moral breakdown of the 1960s. That somebody like Nietzsche is open to a lot of different interpretations and is used in the service of a wide variety of different philosophical and political ideas is lost on Wiker. And likewise, even though he’s quick to draw a line straight from Marx to the gulag, the Bible doesn’t appear on his list of bad books, in spite of the horrors that were committed in the name of those ideas, which strikes me as a case of special pleading.

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Posted: 12 October 2009 04:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I think DJ gave Wiker far too easy a ride here. Although DJ touched on most of the points I would want put to Wiker, he let the guy wriggle out of them with a short answer and a laugh, when Wiker really needed to be pinned down properly on the fallacies he was presenting.

1. You cannot draw a line from ‘this happens in nature’ to ‘here’s how humans should behave’. And if one was going to draw such a line, one would not require Darwin’s ideas to do so. Saying ‘slavery in ants means slavery is allowed in humans’ is like saying ‘fish live in the sea, therefore we should live in the sea’. Wiker’s answer was that Darwinists can’t claim that the is/ought’ fallacy applies here, but not to altruism or empathy.
This is a straw man. Biologists do not claim we SHOULD be altruistic because of evolution, only that altruism can be EXPLAINED by evolution. Thus half his argument falls down from the start.
2. As pointed out by others, it wouldn’t matter if you found out Einstein was an arsonist, or Newton was a kleptomaniac. Similarly, the question of whether Darwin was racist, or even whether or not he had an ‘atheist agenda’ has no bearing on whether natural selection is sufficient to explain biological diversity. Wiker presents no argument that it isn’t.
3. There’s nothing much in eugenics that doesn’t draw on ideas already well established in farming. If you kill off a species or race, it can’t reproduce any more. Wiker even quoted Darwin as saying ‘We wouldn’t farm animals this way’, but failed to make the connection that animal husbandry has been around for thousands of years longer than Darwinism.
4. Wiker is completely disingenuous in drawing a line from Darwin to Hitler, when Mein Kampf is full of biblical references but doesn’t mention Darwin at all.
5. Saying evolution leads to ideas Wiker doesn’t like is no different to saying that Einstein’s ideas about gravity lead to people dropping objects on your head, therefore Einstein was both immoral AND wrong.
6. Most egregiously, Wiker doesn’t even seem to understand how science works. If you start with the assumption that the supernatural is required to explain a specific phenomena, then it’s not good science.

To be honest, I had to skip the last ten minutes, as ultimately Wiker’s smug laugh, and the easy ride he was getting, got too frustrating to listen to. I understand the idea of ‘give all sides the chance to make their case’, but that shouldn’t mean they should be allowed to spout nonsense relatively unchallenged.

[ Edited: 12 October 2009 04:37 AM by Andrew Ryan ]
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Posted: 13 October 2009 11:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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This doofus kept dropping the phrase “radical Enlightenment” as if it were self-evidently the ultimate curse word! Gives one an insight, I suppose, into what must pass for intellectual discussion in the bizarre, self-contained circles of christian apologetics.

I found it inexplicable that DJ gave him such a smooth ride. POI erred in providing time for this protracted, unchallenged ad hominem against ONE OF OURS and a truly great human being.

Something is truly awry when one can’t (or won’t) step up to the plate to defend Charles Darwin, Dammit!

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Posted: 13 October 2009 01:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Just wanted to say I thought DJ did an excellent job with this interview. Wiker’s reasoning is pretty weak, and I thought DJ exposed that with some very pointed and articulate challenges. Wiker mostly avoided providing any satisfying answers.

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Posted: 13 October 2009 03:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I finally listened to the podcast and it was everybit as frustrating as I anticipated. I spent all my time listening exclaiming “that’s not true”! and didn’t take detailed notes of what I wanted to refute, I probably wouldn’t have anything to add to the above messages except that the guest did a great job of dressing up his ideas and put a great big bow on top to make it more palatable to the christians who DO believe in evolution as well as a god.

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Posted: 13 October 2009 06:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I find it absolutely astonishing how a person, who is as well-spoken and well-informed as Benjamin Wiker, comes to these type of conclusions. How is it that one can understand the mechanism of natural selection and deny its power at the same time?

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Posted: 13 October 2009 11:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I haven’t had time to listen to the entire cast, but one thing I noticed that he seems to be as down on facts as much as any other Creationist is these days. I’m pretty skeptical of his books so I doubt I’ll read this one. He has turned out to be just as Disappointing as Behe and Collins were in there episodes.

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Posted: 15 October 2009 06:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I maintained my cool up until he started saying there was a relationship between Darwinism and Social Darwinism. The latter merely hijacked the name and has nothing to do with Darwinism, the only link is the phrase “survival of the fittest”, which as we all know is so often interpreted in a completely different sense from Darwin’s intent. Like fascism and eugenics, the point about Social Darwinism is that it is brought about by choice, the exact opposite of Natural Selection. For someone to come out and accuse Darwin of lying and then use such twisted arguments to support his case is at best disingenuous and really, well, let’s call it by its name “lying”.

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