Saturday, March 22, 2008

Evolutionary Confusion

About a year ago, in a letter appearing in the local press, the correspondent argued that: a) liberals were forcing the teaching of evolution on honest, upstanding citizens, and b) if evolution were indeed fact – as opposed to theory – then humans should not deign to protect any animal species or classify them as “endangered.”

After all, evolution dictated survival of the fittest, did it not?

In fact, the miffed letter writer erred on both counts, and those errors disclose the price of ignorance that we pay in this country. Not only in terms of issues – from endangered species, to the reality of global warming, and the uselessness of “missile defense” - but also the extent to which the electoral process itself is warped by misinformation

First, liberals have never “forced evolution” on anyone. Rather, the teaching of evolution has been dictated by countless facts and evidence (including genetic, DNA links) which would merit its teaching for any enlightened population. In truth, the whole realm of biology is dependent on an evolutionary underpinning to thoroughly understand the origin of species, and the process of adaptation.

This is why various scientific organizations (e.g. The American Geophysical Union, American Association for the Advancement of Science, etc.) have from time to time inveighed against efforts – in assorted school districts – to either limit the teaching of evolution or place it in opposition to known religious doctrines (“creationism” and more recently, “intelligent design theory”)

They appreciate the price in ignorance that will be paid by our young people years later, and the learning deficit created. Placing them at a disadvantage to students of other nations (as numerous standardized test results already disclose). Unable to even recognize that a theory is the highest fact standard for science, in which the predictions of a hypothesis have been formally confirmed – over and over.

Second, ‘survival of the fittest’ was never uttered or stated by Charles Darwin himself, in any of his treatises. It was, rather, promoted by the English sociologist Herbert Spencer, in a misguided attempt to extrapolate Darwinian principles to the social sphere. (E.g. The Study of Sociology, 1873, serialized for an American audience in Popular Science Monthly)

In his serialized tracts, Spencer absolutely repudiated all state assistance to the poor, needy, physically feeble, or infirm – based on a bastardized “survival of the fittest” concept. He believed, erroneously, that people are like beasts that had to be forced to compete for precious resources. If they didn’t do this, they’d produce degenerate, weakened humans- unfit in the evolutionary scheme. Hence, the name “Social Darwinism”.

This Social Darwinism remains embedded in the current incarnation of rabid individualism disseminated by ideologues, who salivate non-stop at the prospect of using it to dismember social safety nets. Offering pitiful “faith-based” services in return.

In terms of eliminating species that encroach into human habitats, advocates confuse natural selection (a valid Darwinian principle) with human interference in ecologies. Decimating them to expand artificial human environments. Evolution has nothing to say about artificial expansions of an aggressively over-populating species. It does, however, assert the same limits of adaptation and resources will apply to that species as any other.

In this sense, humans – in their immense hubris and species-chauvinism- must realize they cannot detach themselves from the natural world and the laws that inevitably apply there.

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