Dendronecrophilia, or necrodendrophilia? I suppose it doesn’t really matter, both refer to the sexual attraction to dead trees. But what the hell does this have to do with anything, and at the very least creationism? Well, I came across this post via a new friend of mine on Twitter, royorbs3, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write about it, since it touches upon, nay, wholeheartedly embraces, the popular creationist notion that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection encourages war, greed and general violence. The post is called “Slouching Toward Columbine: Darwin’s Tree of Death”.
Now do you see where I got the dendronecrophilia thing from? Hey now, don’t get snarky, I know it doesn’t really make sense, ‘tree of death’ does not necessarily equal ‘dead tree’, but whatever, I won’t pass up a chance to use an obscure paraphilia in a title.
So why do creationists love the idea of the ‘Tree of Death’? And what does it really mean?
This criticism of evolutionary theory can be summarised by this quote from the article:
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution with its Tree of Life is applauded by most sophisticated Americans and Europeans as a scientific idea pure and simple, without the aura of dread and terror that, properly, should surround it in our minds.
Why should we so regard it? Not necessarily because of any judgment about whether the idea is right or wrong as science, but rather because of the uncanny way evolution has had of supplying the rationale and creating the backdrop for the most twisted, monstrous social movements that have sprung up in Western culture in the past century and half.
And there we are: Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has provided the motives for various universally-recognised-to-be-bad social movements, and this is bad.
This is a strange argument, as you’ve probably already worked out, because the consequences of a scientific idea on society does in no way affect its truth or explanatory power in the natural world. But what’s even stranger is that the author of this piece, David Klinghoffer, actually admits that this is the case in a follow-up article, that the social impact of a theory has no bearing on its validity as science!
[Emphasis not added by me]Bottom line: Ideas have consequences.
Now does that mean that the Darwinian idea is false as a scientific description of how life developed? No, obviously it doesn’t mean that.
But then again, he does seem to be insinuating something:
As I’ve argued all along, Darwinism’s social record is simply and nothing more than a good reason to take a second look at the science behind it.
Err, what? Why? Of course, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look at the science behind evolution, because we should always inquire into how we know what we know, but the wording seems a bit suss. “…take a second look”? What does that even mean? Reconsider whether it is true, based purely on the notion that bad things have happened because of it? Ridiculous, David, you’re simply using the history of the theory as an excuse to reject it, like you specifically said you weren’t.
Once you have the fact that social consequences have no bearing on validity (also known as the logical fallacy, the argument from final consequences) out in the open, nothing else in the argument makes any sense, and it becomes useless. But let’s just have a brief look at whether Darwin’s “Tree of Life” ever sparked off thoughts of death and destruction inside any evil dictators’ heads.
The main misuse of Darwinian evolution, and the one you hear bandied about by creationists and intelligent design proponents is called “social Darwinism”, where ‘less perfect’ individuals or races are wiped out by the hands of ‘better’ people in order to advance society. Such a philosophy was supposedly used by, of all people, the Nazis in World War Two, but reading some articles written by proponents of this historical idea, such as ones by David Berlinski and, again, David Klinghoffer, they hardly give any evidence to support the link, usually just quotes of people saying that Darwin influenced Hitler and everyone knows this.
Social Darwinism, however, is hardly the same as the theory of evolution by natural selection that Darwin published in “On the Origin of Species” in 1859. For one, social Darwinism employs not natural selection but artificial selection, where instead of the natural conditions of the environment selecting for the best traits, certain people with some degree of power get to decide who lives and who dies. As such, the ideals being selected are completely arbitrary and up to the ones with the weapons, because as you know, in the normal course of evolution, traits that were before useless can become highly selected for when the environment changes. This means that social Darwinism cannot be the sole justification for any action: you have to have a particular bias already installed against a particular group of people for anything to happen.
Plus, it’s not like people weren’t killing people they didn’t like before Darwin came along. Social Darwinism simply gave a twisted rationale to some very powerful people in Europe in the 30’s and 40’s to get rid of some people they didn’t like: the Jews. I’m sure they would have carried out their “Final Solution” even without Darwin’s timely entrance into the world of biology, because rabid anti-Semitism, grounded in religious and cultural ideas, was already a fact of life in most of Europe before World War Two. The bastard offspring in thinking of natural selection applied to human populations would have been used merely as a tool to appear backed by science: but such a backing was non-existent.
The thinking behind both social Darwinism and its vocal anti-evolution haters is even stupider than you might first think, given the appropriate placement of a few analogies to other scientific theories that could be distorted for use in the social sphere.
For example, you can use “social gravitation” to justify crushing people you don’t like with large boulders: because after all, in nature gravity causes things underneath massive objects to be destroyed when falling from a height.
Do you see the parallels between social Darwinism and “social gravitation”? Both involve a human element to select who gets killed. There is nothing in either evolution or gravitation that selects for people you don’t like to be killed: you’re just applying a potentially dangerous scenario to your own hatred of a group of people.
This is because nature is just the way things are, it doesn’t give any indication as to what should be happening. Any justification simply based on nature is invoking the naturalistic fallacy, and it is essentially the same things as saying that herbs are necessarily good for you because they’re natural. But as any skeptic interested in the realm of alternative medicine will tell you, “Arsenic and cyanide are natural too.”
So what’s the outcome of all this? What are the intelligent design proponents and creationists trying to get out of attacking evolution this way, through the “social Darwinism” card? Simply put, they’re trying to discredit the idea in people’s minds on an emotional level before they start planting their roots in the public school systems with “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution, then “Teach the Controversy”, then intelligent design itself as an alternative to evolutionary biology. Public fear of a concept is a powerful tool, especially in regions such as highly religious parts of the US, where any small but emotionally-based argument against evolution is enough to get it put up for removal from the curriculum by the school board.
As such, creationists and intelligent design have a lot to gain by pushing the simply irrelevant notion of the ugly history of perversions of Darwinian thinking and carrying on about the “Tree of Death” that Darwin supposedly nurtured in his little naturalist’s garden before handing it off to Hitler to use against the Jews in the Holocaust. No wonder they can’t stop thinking about it.