The Wyndham Fallacy

Hi again! Sorry for my long absence! I had a pretty busy week followed by a week of being absolutely wiped out by a horrendous cold, so I haven’t had a lot of energy for posting.

I came across another Answers in Genesis post that I thought was worth a mention (via the same route as before; a post on Libby Anne’s Love, Joy, Feminism blog. So hat tip to her once again.) This one was written by someone called Avery Foley and is called Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen? The answer, in case you were wondering, is apparently because anyone who’s a Christian eventually gets to go to Heaven for all eternity. So, uh, that’s quite all right then and glad we cleared that up. Anyway, here’s the bit that I (like Libby Anne) wanted to comment on:

Evolution supposedly progresses by the death of the less fit and the reproduction of the most fit. So, if this the case, why should we help the old, sick, infirm, and disabled? Shouldn’t they be eliminated as less fit? After all, in the world of evolution the strong survive, and tough for you if you’re born weak or less fit. According to an evolutionist’s own worldview, how can death, disease, suffering, cancer, and disabilities really be “bad”? In nature, the weak and ill die off and the strong survive, passing on their good genes to the next generation—this is how evolution supposedly progresses. Death and weakness from disease and mutations is a must for “bad” genes to die out. So by what standard do evolutionists call these things bad? Certainly not by their own standard! To claim a standard for good and bad, they have to borrow from a different worldview—the biblical one—to define what good and bad even are.

Well, first off, I don’t have to borrow from the biblical or any other worldview to say that it’s bad for people to suffer pain or distress or loss of autonomy, and good to take steps to help or prevent situations in which those things happen. Sure, there’s room for plenty of complexities and grey areas and debate around those basics, but I’m still baffled as to why the ‘So how do you even define good or bad without a God, huh? Huh? Huh???‘ question is meant to be such a ‘gotcha’. But what I mostly wanted to comment on here is this bizarre claim that a belief in evolution as a scientific fact somehow requires us to also accept it as a moral imperative.

This is a fallacy that shows up now and again in creationist writings, and it is exactly as logical as saying that, having discovered that gravity causes people to hit the ground when they fall over, we are now morally obligated to push them down. I have for some time thought of this as the Wyndham Fallacy, because it’s rather nicely summed up by a line author John Wyndham wrote in his novel ‘The Kraken Wakes’; the main character tells his wife ‘Darling, if I happen to mention that, as a process, autumn follows summer, it does not follow that I am all for getting a ladder and pulling the leaves off the trees.’

‘The Kraken Wakes’, by the way, is unrelated to evolution and uses that line in a different context. In general, though, it’s in creationist writings about evolution that this fallacy typically shows up. After all, the story creationists believe about how the world got started is one that’s heavily tied in to their morality and their worldview in general; not only does this make it virtually impossible for a creationist to question that version of events (because they so strongly believe it’s morally wrong to believe anything else), but it actually makes it difficult for many creationists to get their head round the fact that beliefs about origin don’t, in fact, automatically have to tie into our moral beliefs, and that the two can be independent.

Or maybe they just push that line as a way of making non-fundamentalists look bad. Why go for accuracy when you can have propaganda?

But either way; no. Yes, in nature the less fit are more likely to die. No, that doesn’t put us under any sort of moral obligation to kill them off. If you think otherwise, I look forward to seeing you at the end of summer with that ladder.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Biblical thinking strongly tends toward the “might is right” paradigm (see, e.g., Book of Job), coupled with the reflex to worship the powerful. (I think this explains a lot of “free market” fetishism as well.)

    It may not be so much projection as such as simply failure to conceive of other approaches that leads creationists to think of evolutionists as wanting to emulate/usurp the roles of what we see as potent forces in all of life. Most of them seem to have had the urge to *improve* on what we see slapped out of them (figuratively or literally) in childhood.

  2. Numenaster says

    “In nature, the weak and ill die off and the strong survive” does not mean that strength confers immortality. EVERYTHING dies, it’s just a matter of sooner or later. The real eugenicists had this one figured out a long time ago: their approach to giving evolution a helping hand was to prevent those they considered less fit from reproducing. And that really is all that would be required, if one was fool enough to think that it were important to assist evolution.

    The degree of callousness required to even pose the question is alarming. It’s as if these people are really eager to find a reason to kill someone.

  3. suttkus says

    But scientific principles are always tied to morality! That’s why all true gravitionalists recognize that it is moral to push people off high cliffs, and immoral to use airplanes.

  4. lanir says

    We’re a sort of social symbiont. We get our initial ideas for right and wrong from our social contract with the society we live in and then tune it or even replace it with what we’ve learned through our experiences. I think that’s too terribly difficult to understand. We don’t survive on our own very well (see post apocalyptic horror genre for a start although they tend to be unrealistic). It makes sense to help other people get by because they or someone who owes them may be helping you next.

    Refusing to help people because you think they’re weak is more like a different religious idea: fate.

    Fundie christianity at least also appears to be a throwback to the old testament idea of defining both sides of the debate. It’s really not just one religion. It’s the religion they practice and the one they ascribe to everyone else, regardless of what that person actually thinks or believes. It’s this dichotomy where everyone is either saved or saveable or they are aiding/worshipping the devil. In the old testament the devil got a new name every time the authors came across a new religion with a different name for it’s god. This devil-focused adversarial religion doesn’t have to make any sense though. Apparently the omniscient deity and his ghost writers developed writer’s block while scripting a plot for why the rest of us are supposedly immoral.

  5. Dr Sarah says

    And that is why refusing to accept the Holy Anti-Gravitational Scriptures is a route to perdition! Repent and accept the true Anti-Gravity faith, I tells ya!

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