Sunday, November 08, 2009

Enshrinement of Half-Truths Makes For Bad History

Comfort, Cameron, Stein and critics all indulging in revisionist history

As Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort continue their campaign to distribute copies of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species with a specially-written introduction, many of those who are concerned about their campaign are still struggling to formulate a fitting response.

Randy Olson seems to have predicted that particular response.

Well, maybe predict isn't the right word. As Olson notes, the response to the kind of ideas proposed in Comfort's introduction -- blaming Darwin's theory for the Holocaust and for the Eugenics program carried out by Nazi Germany -- has been seen before.

It was seen throughout 2008, as critics vented their spleen at Ben Stein's Expelled.

"Both Stein and Cameron invoke the dishonest and inaccurate suggestion that Darwin inspired Hitler," Olson writes. "Both are celebrities playing the lead role for the anti-evolution forces. And both will elicit the same response from the world of science: thousands of furious, hateful comments on the science blogs crying foul -- and in both cases, all that ranting and rage won’t compete with the anti-evolution messaging."

There's a reason why all that ranting and rage won't compete with the "anti-evolution messaging".

It's because in this case, the anti-evolution messaging is true. Or, rather, half-true.

Individuals like Olson seem to be operating under a wishful delusion. They insist that Darwin's theories didn't inspire Adolph Hitler to lead Nazi Germany in the planning and execution of its atrocities. Oddly enough, their insistences are also half-true.

But history rarely copes well with half-truths. Wherever someone chooses to tell only half of any story, the other half forever remains to put the lie to the conclusions these individuals draw.

Olson -- and a great many other commentators omitting fully half the story -- choose to overlook the fact that Darwin's theories weren't only central to Hitler's atrocities, but central to the very idea of eugenics as a whole.

The problem for these arguments -- as forwarded by Cameron, Comfort and Stein, among others -- is that these programs have always been based on a very selective reading of Darwin's work. These selective readings often omit entire sentences from within the passages they use to justify their plans. In other cases, they're based on wishful and self-serving interpretations of what is actually there.

What is quickly emerging is one of the more insidious elements of many modern debates: history is being subverted for the purpose of rhetoric, with competing revisionist histories -- each predicated on half-truths -- vying for dominance.

It's becoming clear that the appropriate response to the efforts of individuals like Cameron, Comfort and Stein may not come from the scientific community. Rather, the appropriate response will ahve to come from those who are willing to embrace all the facts surrounding this controversy, and present history as it actually happened, not as either side wishes it did.

The ongoing debate between the pro-evolution and anti-evolution camps is simply not worth suberting history for.

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