Dec 092005

According to Newsweek Darwin was “an ardent abolitionist” , deeply offended by Christians who owned slaves (p. 56 of the print magazine for Nov. 28, 2005)…

Well, let’s see what a relative declared of the biological and ‘spiritual’ Darwins in general:

“Gwen Raverat was a daughter of Charles Darwin’s son George. She wrote a wonderful book entitled Period Piece, (1952), about her childhood and her numerous Darwin relatives. Late in that book she remarks that the Darwins in general ‘were quite unable to understand the minds of the poor, the wicked, or the religious.’ [Raverat, G. (1952), Period Piece, Faber and Faber, London, p. 209.]

This is most profoundly true. And it is true not only of Darwins, or of Darwinians of the blood royal such as Galton, but of all Darwinians of what might be called ‘the pure strain’ of intellectual descent from Darwin: for example Fisher, Darlington, E. O. Wilson, and Richard Dawkins. And it means, of course, a rather large gap in their understanding of human life; since the poor, the wicked, and the religious, must make up, on any estimate, at least three-quarters of all human beings.

But true as Gwen Raverat’s remark is, and far as it goes, it does not go nearly far enough. For there are many and large classes of people who are neither poor nor wicked nor religious, but who are still a closed book to the characteristically Darwinian cast of mind. They are the heroes, the adoptive parents, the men who do not kill every enemy they successfully fight, the intelligent mothers who detest kidnappers… (Stove’s p. 224)”

“… Erasmus Darwin especially reprehended: clerical celibacy. And this reprehension, too, he managed to pass down a long way: at least as far as Charles Darwin’s children. Darwinians nowadays, of course, all hate the catholic because of its opposition to most forms of contraception. But throughout the 19th century they all hated it for an almost opposite reason: the celibacy which it imposes on its clergy. In Darwin households, and closely related ones, no two opinions were possible about clerical celibacy: it was obligatory to be brim full of indignation about it. Charles’s eldest daughter, Henrietta Litchfield, got an especially heavy dose of this hereditary indignation; from which it is a reasonable inference that Charles himself had got an especially heavy one. His cousin, Francis Galton, quite certainly did.”

The reason that Galton gave in print, for reprehending clerical celibacy, was this. That by it, European civilisation had been wilfully deprived, for nearly 1,000 years, of all the valuable progeny which could have been expected from many of the best and ablest men and women who ever lived. Think of the intellectual endowments of an Aquinas, and of the moral gifts of a St Francis or a st Teresa of Avila. And then recall that, by the deliberate policy of the Catholic church, all of this vast fund of heritable human wealth has been condemned to perish with the bodies of those celebrated individuals [Galton, F. (1869: 1962), Hereditary Genius, Darlington, C.D. (ed.), Collins Fontana Library, London, pp.410-2.]

Galton was the founder of the eugenics movement, and his reasoning about clerical celibacy naturally recommended itself to all his fellow eugenists, who were, of course, Darwinians without exception. For my own part, however, I do not believe that his published reason was the only or even the main reason for Galton’s detestation of clerical celibacy. In fact I think it was a smokescreen.

For a start, it is childlessness which is the unforgivable sin against … evolution: childlessness as such, no matter whether lt be voluntary or involuntary, or how it may be brought about. It is nature’s law, and the goal of all life is to have as many descendants as possible. What reprehension is too severe, then, for those who have none at all? And yet Francis Galton, Henrietta Litchfield, and Darwin’s most devoutly eugenist son, Leonard, (who was also the mentor of the eugenist R.A. Fisher), were all, though married, childless themselves. What an infinity of shame they must all have felt! No wonder Leonard Darwin laboured all his life under a strong conviction of inferiority, not only to his father, who had seven children, but to his four brothers, who at least managed to produce nine children among them.

But even if we suppose that it was exclusively, (though illogically), voluntary childlessness which excited the reprehension of Darwinians, why they confine their indignation to clergy who were voluntarily childless? There are plenty of other classes of people, after all, who are voluntarily childless.

… why, then, were the Darwinians not just as indignant about them, as they were about Catholic priests and nuns?

Darwin’s daughter Henrietta was not a writer, so we do not know what reasons she would have given in print for her furious indignation about clerical celibacy. But she appears, from a wonderful account given of her by one of her nieces, to have thought that clerical celibacy could only be an invention of cruel spoilsports [See Raverat, G. (1952), Period Piece, Faber and Faber, London, Ch. VII, esp. pp. 133-4.]. If it was so, then her reprehension of clerical celibacy was simply a late and partial outcrop of the old evolutionism, of the late l8th and early 19th centuries…

… ln those revolutionary days, evolutionism had been a package deal which had universal sexual emancipation, and good times had by all, as a prominent component, along with regicide, anti-clericalism, and atheist terrorism. This was, of course, the evolutionism which Charles Darwin laboured all his life to live down; partly by the simple stratagem of saying as little as humanly possible about his grandfather Erasmus who, in addition to all his other offences, had inconsiderately anticipated so very much of the contents of The Origin of Species.

This was also the real ground, I believe, of the detestation of clerical celibacy among 19th century Darwinians in general. It was the old anti-clericalism, and sexual emancipation, coming to the surface in the uncongenial environment of late 19th century England. If so, then Galton’s lament, about the wonderful children that Aquinas or St Francis might have had, was as hollow as it always sounded. This hypothesis at least explains, (as I say), why it was clerical childlessness alone that evoked Darwinian reprehension.

(p. 218-219)

… what is going on is just this. wherever Darwinism is in error, Darwinians simply call the organisms in question or their characteristics, an error! wherever there is manifestly something wrong with their theory, they say that there is something wrong with the organisms. (p. 220)

… . But the moral arrogance of Darwinians is thrown entirely into the shade by their intellectual arrogance. Because what their theory says about man is badly wrong, they say that man is badly wrong: that he incorporates many and grievous biological errors… Can intellectual arrogance – not to say madness – go further than this Darwinian business, of categorising many human attributes as errors? Why yes it can, and among Darwinians it often does…. (p. 221)

… Darwinism is a mere festering mass of errors: and of errors in the plain honest sense of that word too, namely, falsities taken for truths… (p. 224)

Reference (pages in parenthesis, Stove’s emphasis):

Click to download a complete zipped PDF of David Stove’s classic book Darwinian Fairytales (16 megabytes).

This copy of the book is posted temporarily with the consent of Stove’s literary executor James Franklin.

 Posted by at 10:56 am
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[…] e: To see the errors in the statement of Darwin’s Son, E. O. Wilson, click here. To see about the ‘Intellectual’ Family of Darwin click here. […]

16 years ago

Thank you fdocc, excellent piece. Darwinian arrogance knows no bounds. It is becoming abundantly to me the root of Darwinism is not science but anti-clericalism.

16 years ago

The next comment is a valuable piece: