Dawkins fans take on Campolo

Richard Dawkins’ blog reposted Campolo’s opinion piece. Comments are rather brutal, on both sides — I think it’s all semi-safe for work, not safe for classrooms.

Creationists get nasty when they can’t find evidence to support their claim that Darwin was racist, or to make any kind of signficance argument.

Earlier post on Campolo’s piece here.

12 Responses to Dawkins fans take on Campolo

  1. […] racism, with their political work and money), or without reading what Darwin actually wrote. (See responses here, and […]


  2. Bad says:

    we might be able to find other approaches to the discussion.

    I think we’ve tried just about every approach we can think of. Nothing much seems to work better than anything else.

    The thing is, creationists aren’t stupid. They see that science is not tethered to and subservient to their belief system. They see that as a threat no matter how nice and inoffensively you try to frame things.


  3. EDIT: I accidentally stated exactly the opposite of what I wanted to say in one of my statements! In the first paragraph of my comment I mistakenly wrote that I “know much about the man and can’t rule that out.” I MEANT to write that “I do NOT know much about the man and can’t rule that out.”

    Wow — what a difference a word makes! Sorry about that, and my apologies to Mr. Campolo (again, whom I know very little about at all). :)


  4. As one who does not subscribe to the entire package that tends to be lumped under the term “evolution,” let me say that I found many aspects of Campolo’s piece annoying, as well. While I am loathe to assume that he is being purposefully deceitful (though I know much about the man and can’t rule that out), some of his comments are, at best, horrible exaggerations, and they do no real benefit to any cause that comes to mind.

    Even if the tenets of evolution are taken by some to justify racism, it seems odd to decide what should be taught or not taught based upon how it could be misused. Shouldn’t our schools aim to teach what is true, regardless of how some may abuse that truth and regardless of the flaws (factual or fanciful) inherent in those who first discovered that truth?

    I believe that there are worthy critiques of Evolutionary Theory out there and that it is good that those voices are heard (that is, if they can be heard over the cacophony on not-so-worthy critiques). Even scientists suffer at times from the maladies of “groupthink” and “proof by mutually agreed assumption” and the self-correcting nature of science generally benefits from the odd voice here and there pointing out what others are either missing, ignoring, or addressing incorrectly.

    But articles like Campolo’s that strain to attach racism so solidly to Darwin’s theory do their authors a disservice in the end. I may disagree strongly with the broad package that is sold to us as “evolution”, but I do agree that it is an idea that is worth discussing on its own merits and not to be judged by the faults of its earliest proponent — whether the faults are real or imagined.


  5. Rebecca says:

    I think that Jason’s comment is important, because it represents a widespread viewpoint. Many people think that understanding evolution leads to “Social Darwinism,” which was indeed a racist viewpoint, though not one that actually has anything to do with biology. Others sincerely believe that simply studying evolution leads to a loss of faith, amorality, or various other consequences with no connection to science.
    One of the central problems in discussions of evolution and the teaching of it is the fact that so many people believe that it is evil. That is, creationists don’t typically understand and reject evolution, but rather they consider it a pernicious doctrine that their children should be shielded from. How can we possibly discuss something when one side of the discussion cannot, for reasons of conscience, learn enough to be able to discuss it knowledgeably?
    Often, we react to this by abusing the creationists, rather than admitting that we have a real problem here. If we recognize that many creationists feel about having their children taught about evolution as we would feel if ours were to be instructed in fascism, we might be able to find other approaches to the discussion. Perhaps finding a way to discuss natural selection and adaptation without bringing in the origin of life would allow us to get past that obstacle, and keep so many future adults from being ignorant of one of the central concepts of biology.


  6. mpb says:

    A couple of items to note–

    “natural selection” is NOT survival of the fittest. It is selection against an individual. Whatever genes are represented by that individual are lost to the population (individuals) of genes that remain.

    “Race” has never had anthropological or human biological value because it ignores human variation. One of the best explanations is by George Armelagos and the other is the Human Biology by Harrison et al of Oxford.(Harrison GA, Weiner JS, Tanner JM, Barnicot NA. 1977. Human Biology (Second Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press. also a later edition)

    Armelagos references

    been awhile since I read it but Vernon’s book is good, too The biology of human action
    by Vernon Reynolds
    Type: Book
    Language: English
    Publisher: Oxford ; San Francisco : W.H. Freeman, ©1980.
    Edition: 2nd ed | 5 Editions
    ISBN: 0716712407 9780716712404 0716712393 9780716712398
    OCLC: 6085309


  7. oceallaigh says:

    Two caveats.

    1. Since behaviors are traits that can be selected for or against, one can reasonably ask, “If race consciousness has no adaptive value in a population, it should disappear from that population. Why has it not?”

    2. Traits acted upon by natural selection can leave very few traces in the genome. (The traces are there, but they may be a small fraction of the total DNA.) The rift lakes of Africa contain hundreds of species of cichlid fish that are all descended from a single species, and are scarcely distinguishable from each other on the basis of simple DNA sequence comparisons. Yet they are strikingly different in size, shape, color, habitat, food choice, breeding behavior, etc. (cf. Darwin’s finches).

    Interestingly, in the youngest of the rift lakes, Lake Victoria, numerous species of cichlid fish were forming, but eutrophication of the lake starting in the 20th century destroyed the visual cues by which the species recognized each other, and, if I understand the matter correctly, the species were collapsing back into one. (Actually, with the introduction of the Nile perch, an efficient and catholic piscivore, into Lake Victoria, these “proto-species” now mostly exist in the aquaria of research laboratories and hobbyists in Europe and North America.)

    It may be (and I emphasize may; there is a vast literature on both genetic and anthropological aspects of human physical and behavioral evolution, and I am not au fait with it, I deal with amoebae ;) – that present-day race consciousness reflects those periods of time when human populations were relatively isolated and self-contained, and any “other” was a potential threat. The periodic “swamping” of such populations with e.g. mass migrations helps, perhaps, to explain the genetic mélange underlying today’s observable inter-population physical differences.


  8. Ed Darrell says:

    I am aware of one example of where Darwin compared the “race” of dark-skinned Tasmanian aboriginals to Europeans in Tasmania. He found the native, dark-skinned Tasmanians superior.

    That’s opposite the claim made by Campolo and others who fail to read Darwin but choose to comment on what they think Darwin might have said, had Darwin misunderstood his own work as badly as Campolo does.


  9. Bad says:

    It’s also worth noting that it was modern biology and sociology that finally drove a stake through the heart of the idea that race represents especially significant differences. Evolutionary biology did away with the idea that any living human was more or less evolved than any other. Common descent demonstrated that we are all related (an idea which many theologians of earlier ages were unsure of, as it happens). Genetic studies pretty much destroyed the idea that races were or even had been that separate, showing lots of intermixing in pre-civilization eras as well as a surprising amount even in the racist modern eras. According to modern biology, race today is real only in the sense of some genetic clusters around continents, but not necessary around what most people think of as racial features (for instance, dark skin is a convergent trait primarily related to the environment, but not all dark skinned peoples are more related than any are to lighter skinned peoples). And while we may or may not discover some overall slightly different statistical distributions between people of different ancestry across measurable traits, the overwhelming evidence is that just about everyone from every race falls in the same basic ranges, so it makes little difference to slice people up based on apparent race.

    And so on. It used to be an accepted fact (even amongst civil rights leaders!) that different races had different inherent “souls” and even destinies: that race defined who and what you were and could be. Today, such ideas are pretty much utterly destroyed. That’s not to say that there is no racism anymore, but its pretty solidly on the run compared to what it used to be for most of human history.


  10. oceallaigh says:

    Actually, Bad’s comment opens a window on the “race” thing that might be of some use – and might also generate some noise. Please understand that, underneath all the thunder and lightning, there are many people who are investigating such questions seriously, methodically, meticulously. People of whom you’ll not hear outside of the pages of Evolution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_(journal)), because they don’t claim to have “the” answer or even a part of “the” answer, just maybe a small piece of the debate.

    My oversimplification: “race” becomes a favored circumstance in an evolutionary progression if and only if the conditions for fitness are so stringent that only one genotype can compete successfully.

    The best examples of this are, in fact, from human-mediated selection (I try not to call it “artificial” because, last I knew, Homo sapiens are neither divine nor robotic). Darwin knew this; he inferred most of his principles of natural selection from his close observations of human-mediated selection.

    Maize, as grown in westernized mechanized agriculture, is “racist” because, in any given field, only one genotype meets the stringent conditions for survival and reproduction imposed by the farmer. Note that under such stringent circumstances, any significant change in conditions (for instance, the introduction of a previously-unexperienced blight fungus) can cause the selected race to change from being “most fit” to being “extinct” in the blink of an eye. Only a genetically diverse (i.e. non-racist) population will contain individuals which can survive and reproduce under such a challenge.

    Thus, “racism” in humans would be consistent with evolutionary theory only in conditions under which none of us would wish to live. And under which we would be extremely vulnerable.


  11. Bad says:

    A descriptive scientific theory doesn’t “support” anything: it describes what happens and what happened. A study of biology would demonstrate that rape is common amongst many animal species, does that mean that reality supports rape? Does astronomy support the crashing of asteroids into the planet, decimating all life on earth?

    Furthermore, no version of survival of the fittest is particularly amenable to racist motives in any case: it’s just too unpredictable and complex in any specific application. Natural selection isn’t about picking what sorts of people any group happens to find most desirable. It’s about certain traits proving naturally beneficial and other detrimental, but only in the context of the current environment. If anything, evolution supports the idea that a wide genetic diversity and variation in traits (including racial traits) is a strength, not a weakness, for a species. No amount of second guessing by humans as to what the “best” traits are makes much sense. In fact, most examples of artificial selection have demonstrated that such while directed evolution can bring out a few desired traits in a population, the downside is that the loss of long-term contact with a real natural environment makes the species less adapted for life outside of the narrow corridor of domestication we built for it.


  12. Jason says:

    Question: to the extent that Darwin’s theory pretty firmly supports the “survival of the fittest”, does it not then make room for a racist approach to life. I’m not saying that Darwin was a racist, but wondering if his theory does not inadvertently make room for racism.


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