Holocaust ≠ natural selection

Aaron Kinney makes a good point about claims that the Holocaust was Darwin-inspired:

I would argue that even if Hitler really did use Darwin’s theory as inspiration for the mass-murder of Jews, he got it wrong. Throwing millions of Jews into death camps is, in my opinion, artificial selection! It is stacking the decks, not proving the superior adaptability of a breed of human.

Exactly so. There are a lot of mistaken ideas about how an individual demonstrates a natural superiority to other individuals, and foremost among them is this belief that it always involves being “red in tooth and claw” and exterminating the competition (secondmost: that it is always those who have the most babies who win). Simple-minded aggression and heedless procreation actually seem to be very poor strategies for human beings, who are more the slow and deliberate type of replicator, dependent on conspecific cooperation. The kind of social Darwinism/eugenics that Hitler favored was not evolution or Darwinism—it owes more to farming folk knowledge than to the complexity of evolutionary theory.

Not that that will matter to the people peddling the Darwin-Hitler link. I think they’d have a better case if they were arguing for a pigeon fancier-Hitler link.

The Republican War on Science

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Chris Mooney is trying to kill me.

It’s true. He sent me this book, The Republican War on Science(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) (now available in a new paperback edition!), that he knew would send my blood pressure skyrocketing, give me apoplexy, and cause me to stroke out and die, gasping, clawing in futile spasms at the floor. Fortunately, I’ve been inoculating myself for the past few years by reading his weblog (now also in a new edition!), so I managed to survive, although there were a few chest-clutching moments and one or two life-flashing-past-my-eyes experiences, which will be handy if I ever write a memoir.

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The Catholic Church retreats into the darkness, again

George Coyne, the Vatican astronomer, has been sacked. Red State Rabble and John Wilkins speak out on it.

They cite one source condescendingly claiming that Coyne “appointed himself an expert in evolutionary biology,” while Bruce Chapman of the Discovery Institute (speaking of unqualified gits appointing themselves the status of ‘expert’) calls Coyne an “evangelizing Darwinist,” and blames his fall on his radical theology. It seems to me that Coyne was actually a highly qualified scientist who was well-informed about the general principles of science, and who informed the Vatican about the actual status of the discipline of evolution within the domain of science. What this represents is a case of Catholicism once again rushing to bury its head in the sand—they can’t have someone who honestly represents the uncomfortable facts of science speaking out, after all. I’m sure his replacement will be better steeped in the dogma, will confine himself to a much less forthright position, and appreciates theology more than the science.

I hope George Coyne uses the freedom from one set of duties to reconsider that religion thing. It must be hard to serve two masters, especially when one is about enlightenment and knowledge, and the other is about ignorance and dogma.

New York has everything

I’m sorry to say that on our last trip to New York, we missed this museum.

Peruse an 1814 sketchbook by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai and eventually you’ll come across a bashful, wide-eyed octopus. You’d never guess that the innocent creature leads a secret life of debauchery. But a few years later, there he is on a woodblock print, still wide-eyed, now presented by Hokusai in a moment of infamous passion—his bulbous head pushed between the legs of a young woman, delivering a rather well-received session of cunnilingis. Hilarious and startling, it’s just one example of the explicit shunga, or “pictures of spring,” in an exhibition at the Museum of Sex surveying four centuries of Japan’s cartoonish pornography.

Next time!

(via 3quarksdaily and Jennifer Ouellette)

Shermer on Salon

Don’t let the first paragraph stop you—it’s awful. Once the reporter gets out of the way and lets Shermer get going, though, it’s a good interview.

Here’s the bad part of the opening:

Some of Shermer’s ivory towerish science pals, like Richard Dawkins and the late Stephen Jay Gould, told him not to bother with the I.D. boosters, that acknowledging them meant going along for their political ride, where the integrity of science was being run into the ground.

Gould and Dawkins have both said we shouldn’t debate creationists—we shouldn’t elevate them to the same status that science holds. But both certainly have ripped into ID; the argument isn’t that we shouldn’t criticize them forcefully, but that we shouldn’t give them the opportunity to pretend their dogmatic foolishness is the equal of science.

After that, though, the article is good godless fare.