Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Darwin "mental disease" gambit

It is a curious fact, not diluted by the frequency - that when anti-evolutionists are pinned against the wall they will often resort to either sheer fabrication, the case of one histrionic and unnamed "pastor" - red herrings. With Charles Darwin's ascent to the pinnacle of biological science this ought not be surprising.

In the past it was based on the canard that "Darwin converted on his deathbed" - when no such thing occurred as pointed out by Daniel Dennett in his Darwin's Dangerous Idea. But give the religious cranks an 'A' for effort in trying to peddle this hogswill far an wide.

Since that didn't pan out too well for them, and since they're still unable (educationally) to address or confront the most basic arguments for evolution (or even pass an elementary test!) their other tactic has been to try to show Darwin had some mental disease....usually given the name "agoraphobia". Since this generically refers to a "fear of open spaces" - most psych gurus and purveyors of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM)-IV, have elected to go with a more esoteric sub-form named 'Social Agoraphobia' . This is to attempt to explain Darwin's apparent reclusive tendencies from about 1850.

Escaping all these pseudo-intellects and geniuses - if they had done their homework on Darwin's history- would be a much more prosaic explanation: that he simply grew weary of the incessant, bombastic attacks on his person and his theory, both in public (churches, meeting halls) and in the press. His strategy then was simply to retire from the constant attacks and let his good friend - Julian Huxley - handle the combat.

This is admittedly difficult to grasp for anyone who has not endured prolonged bouts of verbal or other combat, especially when living in a society hostile to one's views, theories. I briefly experienced it when I first came out as an Atheist in Barbados - in terms of engaging a number of Christians in debate in the island's two main papers. (The Barbados Nation, and The Barbados Advocate).

Eventually, there came a point - by late 1990, when the counter-onslaught was almost ceaseless and occurring on the radio waves as well as print media. Since no human, however gifted or aggressive, could singlehandedly take on more than 330 people at once (counting all the radio calls, letters to the editor, op-eds etc.) over months, I opted to simply withdraw. I ceased any writing, nor did I enagage in any public debates. This didn't change until late May, 1991 - when I finally agreed to debate a Christian colleague at Harrison College, with the topic: "Demons: Fact or Fiction". Of course, as many students queried subsequently attested - I "demolished the dude".

Fair enough, but did my self-enforced exile make me "mentally ill"? No, of course not! It simply made me see that public disclosure and defense of one's views in a religiosity-obsessed culture was not only enervating, but unproductive. I submit the same dynamic applied to Darwin, and no "mental illness" entered into it, no matter how many cited dime store therps insist otherwise. Let us also bear in mind that there were NO Diagnostic & Statistics Manuals to define mental illnesses back then - so all this is by way of retrospectives: taking Darwin's behavior as historically documented and THEN examining it in the template of the DSM and making inferences.

But in no way is this science. And the correlations such as may be found bear no more gravitas or attention, than say the correlation between the frequency of human flatulence and the outgassing of carbon dioxide by ferrite rocks on the planet Mars.

First, Darwin's Origin of Species (published in 1859) was itself a "defensive work". For years while he was writing it, preparing drafts, Darwin had to listen and endure the endless wails, whining and yapping of his critics. As author Carl Zimmer points out (Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, 2001, p. 48):

"Origin of Species is a deeply defensive book, written by a man who had quitely listened for years to other scientists scoff at evolution, and had imagined them scoffing at him as well. He addressed their objections one by one."

Second, as the publication of the book and its circulation grew, the reviews began to take their toll. Nearly all were negative, and all extracted an emotional toll on Darwin. For example, The Quarterly Review excoriated Origin and Darwin and asserted his theory "contradicted the revealed relation of the creation to its Creator " and "was inconsistent with the fullness of his Glory".

Then there were all the times Darwin went to his Anglican church only to be greeted by people doing imitations of apes from the balconies. While he also had to endure sermons attesting to the fact no one's grandma had yet been proven to have come from an ape.

The most devastating effects of all issued from a book review by Richard Owens in The Edinburgh Review that was "stunning in its animosity" (op. cit. , p. 50).The review led to a prolonged public pitched battle between Owens and Julian Huxley that finally erupted in the annual British Association for the Advancement of Science Meeting at Oxford, on June 28, 1860. Owens, the BAAS president, and feeling proud as a peacock strutting - proclaimed to the assembly in his talk that the human brain was "distinct from apes".

Feeling smug, he left the floor to Huxley, who announced he'd just received a letter from a Scottish anatomist who had dissected a fresh chimpanzee brain and discovered it looked remarkably like a human brain, including the hippocampus minor. Owens was floored and humiliated. He also had no way to defend himself.

This paved the way for years of infighting and rancor. Darwin, his work already out there in the public domain - wanted no part of it, and didn't want to be pressed into service - especially in having to contradict then Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. (Who was trying to forge a creationist "theory" based on mixing Owens' ruminations with those of William Paley - the genius who first opined : "because a watch must have a watchmaker the universe must also have a maker". )

Of course, this was over 140 years before dark energy was discovered! (Which agent plays a role in the spontaenous inception of the cosmos).

So, Darwin simply chose the path of least resistance, which modern day dime store psychotherapists have misconstrued as a "disease".

But let's cut these people some slack and grant that Darwin MAY have had an actual disease. Does it make a dime's worth of difference? No, it does not, because in any case Origin is a manifestly clear and coherent book which first defined and laid out the warp and woof of natural selection.

If the latter day would-be nutcrackers and their lackeys want to destroy the theory of evolution, they'll have to take it head on, and disprove all its main contentions and principles - not depend on Darwin having suffered some obscure "mental affliction" - which their febrile brains believe is sufficient to make evolution a moot point.

Not quite, and not by a long shot!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"Let us also bear in mind that there were NO Diagnostic & Statistics Manuals to define mental illnesses back then - so all this is by way of retrospectives: taking Darwin's behavior as historically documented and THEN examining it in the template of the DSM and making inferences."

This is obviously a response to Pastor Mike's latest nonsense blog about atheists following a "nutcase" with a psychosis. At least that's what he generalizes it to using about a dozen or more citations that he probably lifted from sites he googled- then copied and pasted. I KNOW he lacks the educational resources to come up with them by himself. Because he lacks even the basic skills to engage in intellectual argument.

The other thing escaping this cretin (and the bozos he quotes) is that the term "psychosis" didn't emerge until Freud's work many years later.

Aside from that, we know that reclusiveness doesn't mean one is suffering from "psychosis" at all, but could be part of a natural personality type occurring in about 35% of humans, called "introversion".

In introversion the person derives more energy from his own experiences and thoughts, activities (includiing research) and becomes de-energized while having to interact with others. By contrast, the extrovert is energized by interacting with others.

This doesn't mean one is "sick" and the other well, only that certain genes (see the book 'Nature's Thumbprint') give rise to one type or other. Both then are natural, but one type may be perceived as unatural if the person possessing it happens to live in the opposite natured society.

For instance, the USA is largely an extrovert society so views the introvert as unnatural or somehow pathololgical. But this is the wrong inference to draw, because in other socieites -e.g. Sweden, the introvert would be natural and the extrovert unnatural.

Does this mean all introverts should leave the U.S. and move to Sweden? No, that's stupid. It means we each need to tolerate the other's personality type like we need to tolerate the other's religous beliefs, or lack thereof.

There will always be, unfortunately, those who try to make out the exceptional people in their midst -whether atheists, or introverts, as the unnatural ones who are either "sick", "psychotic" or the playpals of "Satan".

Look no further than Pastor Mike for an example of one who does this!