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Who Cares What Darwin Was Like?

Who Cares What Darwin Was Like?


There are a lot of books on Darwin in existence, and these tend to idolize him. This book is quite different. It is undoubtedly a major contribution to the history of science. Even if you already know a lot about Darwin, you will learn something new.

Creation-evolution issues commonly end up in the courts. In 2005, Judge Jones (as many other judges before him) asserted that there is no conflict between evolution and traditional belief in God. (p. 45). Bergman shows that this is untrue. He cites eminent scientist William Provine, who makes it clear that such a premise is based on ignorance, intellectual dishonesty, or wishful thinking. Many other leading scientists cited by Bergman, such as Jerry Coyne, the late Stephen Jay Gould, Scott Todd, and others, are also of the opinion that evolution and traditional belief in God are not compatible.  (Of course, one can hold contradictory beliefs at the same time, but this does not make them compatible.)

In fact, most scientists recognize this incompatibility. A survey shows that 98.7% of leading scientists reject a theistic worldview, and 84% rejected all theistic religions. Another survey, of 149 leading biologists, found that only 6% of them believe that evolution has any purpose beyond the survival of the organism. [Strictly speaking, even the term “purpose of survival” is itself misleading, as it would imply that evolution  has some kind of concern for living things. Survivorship of organisms is an outcome, not a goal or purpose. Evolution just happens: It has no goals or purposes.]

Atheism was no stranger to Darwin’s family. Darwin’s father and grandfather had been atheists. Darwin contended that religion can best be undermined by promotion of evolution rather than by open attacks on religion. His “soft” atheism was driven by the desire not to antagonize believers, and probably also was motivated by his desire not to alienate his devout wife.

Darwin had many severe psychological problems. Bergman suggests that at least some of these problems stemmed from Darwin’s internal conflicts regarding his rejection of God and other implications of evolutionary theory. (p. 108, 111, 117). Interestingly, Darwin may have suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a developmental disorder that is not as severe as conventional autism.

This work presents many interesting facts. For instance, did you know that children tend to disbelieve evolution because they see the world as filled with design and purpose? (Could it be that God created them with this kind of thinking, just as he had created our hearts to have a God-shaped vacuum? (p. 76). Evolution education aims to teach children, and adults, to see the world as purposeless, and to see the design in nature as an illusion.

How many of Darwin’s ideas were actually his? Bergman shows that Darwin often copied from others without giving them proper credit. For instance, English naturalist Edward Blythe (1810-1873), a creationist, came up with the ideas of nature selecting the most adapted before Darwin did. Otherwise, Darwin’s ideas were quite primitive, even for his time. He basically believed that traits were prepackaged, and passed on to the next generation. (Modern genetics teaches that it is information that is passed on the successive generations).

Racism and sexism were common in Darwin’s day, and some have suggested that Darwin’s acceptance of these views were merely because of his being part of a society that held them. Bergman, on the other hand, shows how Darwin went far beyond the prevailing views of his time. Darwin actively developed, extended, and promoted racism and sexism in terms of his theory. For instance, Darwin’s firsthand experience with South American Indians, along with his theory, led him to develop and promote the notion that these peoples are less evolved than white Europeans. (p. 219). Darwin also promoted eugenics, or belief in the perfectibility of man through selective breeding.

Darwin also studied the differences between men and women. Applying his evolutionary theory to these differences, Darwin saw men as subject to “the survival of the fittest”, while women were less so. For instance, men took active part in wars, which tended to weed out weaker men. For this, and similar reasons, Darwin believed that men were self-evidently more evolved than women. (pp. 246-247).

The reader who does not have a strong background in biology can still get a lot out of this book. It has many different topics, many not mentioned in this brief review, that can hold the reader’s interest.

The Dark Side of Darwin, by Jerry Bergman. 2011. New Leaf Publishing/Master Books, 256 pages.

John Woodmorappe
June 2011

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