Friday, February 15, 2008


Add Ben Stein to the list of conservatives who have gone crazy over evolution. I've seen him ranting about Darwin on TV, and now we have this piece.

Stein believes evolution was a theory that arose due to the politics of the era, not due to any evidence. Here's a taste:

But it fell to a true Imperialist [Darwin], from a wealthy British family on both sides, married to a wealthy British woman, writing at the height of Imperialism in the UK, when a huge hunk of Africa and Asia was “owned” (literally, owned, by Great Britain) to create a scientific theory that rationalized Imperialism. By explaining that Imperialism worked from the level of the most modest organic life up to man, and that in every organic situation, the strong dominated the weak and eventually wiped them out.

Darwin offered the most compelling argument yet for Imperialism. It was neither good nor bad, neither Liberal nor Conservative, but simply a fact of nature. In dominating Africa and Asia, Britain was simply acting in accordance with the dictates of life itself. He was the ultimate pitchman for Imperialism.

Now I'm not going to argue science with Stein, since the few scientific arguments he makes are so laughable that I have to assume he hasn't the slightest knowledge of evolution. And I won't go into (as others have) how fascinating it is to see a conservative make such a post-modern claim--that's there's no objective truth, only the interplay of power structures.

But I will note that Stein doesn't even get history right. Darwin was no more or less "imperialist" than others around him, including opponents of his theory. (And if anything, he was less racist.) While we're at it, Alfred Russel Wallace, who came up with the idea independently, wasn't at all in Darwin's position, socially or economically.

No one needed Darwin to prop up British imperialism. It was doing fine and felt fully justified long before the theory of natural selection was around. The idea, in fact, that Darwin, consciously or otherwise, created evolution to support his nation's policies is bizarre. Darwin himself sat on his theory for many years because he knew how revolutionary and unsettling it would be. Most of the criticism of his work was--far from raising whites over dark-skinned people, or Europeans over Africans, or the British over other nationalities--that it brought us all down to the level of animals.

We still hear echoes of this argument today. What we don't hear is any rationality from Ben Stein.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! I expected more rationality from Ben Stein. Actually, most of his economic theories have always seemed to have a strong dose of Social Darwinism in them (which I take to mean that he believes the people on top generally got there by doing something better than other people, and not by some injustice).
His article commits the major offense of most "Intelligent Design" types. It locates some gap in the evidence or even in the theory itself (e.g. -- "it does nothing to explain the origin of life itself") and uses that gap to dis the whole theory -- without ever describing the gist of the actual theory or offering any substitute for how species actually develop. (I always want to ask these people -- if one species was not born gradually from another species, what do you think happened? God says "poof" and a brand-new animal suddenly appears where there was none before?)
Another major gap in his reasoning is positioning Darwin as a privileged imperialist. Back when birth order was the rage, I remember reading that Darwin, as a younger brother, was among the group more likely to up-end the establishment with revolutionary ideas.

9:32 PM, February 14, 2008  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Actually, the creationist argument is even weaker. They have to claim there's "poof" and one species disappears only to be replaced by a very similiar species a bit later in the same general area, and this happens over and over and over.

Recently some have tried to make a science out of birth order. I'm not especially familiar with their evidence, but I'm skeptical.

I remember reading years ago a conservative stating he didn't believe in Darwin, but he thought social Darwinism made sense.

11:54 PM, February 14, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting; social Darwinism is merely capitalism?

12:23 AM, February 15, 2008  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Social Darwinism is not capitalism, but some confuse the two.

2:09 AM, February 15, 2008  
Blogger New England Guy said...

The man hosted a quiz show and is a TV personality- by definition, his opinion is suspect.

That being, to the extent he had an argument, to echo the posts above, he was describing Herbert Spencer not Charles Darwin.

Social Darwinism is a different set of beliefs from capitalism but does tend to be especially espoused by people who have done well (or whose grandfather did well) at capitalism .

Though SD is prominently a prevalent belief for those at the top of any type of society or within any cultural grouping.

8:46 AM, February 15, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Though SD is prominently a prevalent belief for those at the top of any type of society or within any cultural grouping."

And what do the people at the bottom believe?

5:37 PM, February 15, 2008  

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