Pat Buchanan makes a monkey of himself about evolution

July 2, 2009 • 2:34 pm

Pat Buchanan has been pretty much an idiot all along, but he really put his foot in it in yesterday’s column on the falsehood of evolution.  Relying heavily on the book The End of Darwinism: And How a Flawed and Disastrous Theory Was Stolen and Sold, by Eugene G. Windchy, Buchanan makes the following blatantly stupid claims (direct quotes from Buchanan’s piece):

Darwin, he demonstrates, stole his theory from Alfred Wallace, who had sent him a “completed formal paper on evolution by natural selection.” “All my originality … will be smashed,” wailed Darwin when he got Wallace’s manuscript.

Yeah, like Darwin hadn’t worked for twenty years before he got Wallace’s letter and manuscript. . .

Darwin’s examples of natural selection — such as the giraffe acquiring its long neck to reach ever higher into the trees for the leaves upon which it fed to survive — have been debunked. Giraffes eat grass and bushes. And if, as Darwin claimed, inches meant life or death, how did female giraffes, two or three feet shorter, survive?

Can’t Buchanan grasp the notion of probability of death, or of relative fecundity? And — God help us — Buchanan drags out the example of Piltdown Man, failing to add that the hoax was uncovered by scientists:

Discovered in England in 1912, Piltdown Man was a sensation until exposed by a 1950s investigator as the skull of a Medieval Englishman attached to the jaw of an Asian ape whose teeth had been filed down to look human and whose bones had been stained to look old.

He can’t help himself, rolling out this old creationist chestnut:

For 150 years, the fossil record has failed to validate Darwin. “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontologists,” admitted Stephen J. Gould in 1977. But that fossil record now contains even more species that appear fully developed, with no traceable ancestors.

I wonder what he’d think of Australopithecus afarensis.  Finally, Buchanan quotes Stephen Jay Gould:

In 1981, Gould had this advice for beleaguered Darwinists: “Perhaps we should all lie low and rally round the flag of strict Darwinism … a kind of old-time religion on our part.”

Buchanan, like all creationists, has failed to give the whole quote (see here), which refers to some paleontologists’ view that perhaps, for the good of the pro-evolution movement, they should mute their discussion of punctuated equilibrium:

But most of all I am saddened by a trend I am just beginning to discern among my colleagues.  I sense that some now wish to mute the healthy debate about theory that has brought new life to evolutionary biology. It provides grist for creationist mills, they say, even if only by distortion.  Perhaps we should lie low and rally around the flag of strict Darwinism, at least for the moment — a kind of old-time religion on our part.

But we should borrow another metaphor and recognize that we too have to tread a straight and narrow path, surrounded by roads to perdition.  For if we ever begin to suppress our search to understand nature, to quench our own intellectual excitement in a misguided effort to present a unified front where it does not and should not exist, then we are truly lost.

Gould’s advice here is to not rally around the flag of Darwinism, but the exact opposite: to engage in open and honest discussion about the data.

Really, Buchanan is being more of an idiot than the IDers themselves — at least they pretend to be sophisticated.  It’s distressing (but not surprising) to see a man whom many regard as a public intellectual show such willful ignorance.  Somebody send him a copy of WEIT!

Thanks to Dan Dennett for calling this to my attention.

43 thoughts on “Pat Buchanan makes a monkey of himself about evolution

  1. His quotemine of Gould is especially egregious when Gould went out of his way to point out its stupidity and/or dishonesty:

    Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists—whether through design or stupidity, I do not know—as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups. Yet a pamphlet entitled “Harvard Scientists Agree Evolution Is a Hoax” states: “The facts of punctuated equilibrium which Gould and Eldredge…are forcing Darwinists to swallow fit the picture that Bryan insisted on, and which God has revealed to us in the Bible.”

    If he is (as it seems) permitted to lie for Jesus, is he still allowed to lie as stupidly for Jesus as he did in that article?

    Glen Davidson

  2. How such a pathetic, racist, xenophobic, anti-intellectual moron is regarded as “intelligent” is beyond me. It still amazes me that he is often on news shows as if his opinion is worth an ounce of spit.

  3. Watch for this to trickle down to further conservative pundits in your local papers. I know who to keep an eye on in Pittsburgh.

  4. Never underestimate the self-induced ignorance of one convinced that their salvation depends on what they believe.

    All the evidence in the world cannot convince the true believer that his fairytale is wrong, but the most idiotic bias confirming blather is “proof” that it is true.

    Education is the only means of innoculating against such mind viruses. Buchanan is as infected with his “woo” as Tom Cruise is with his. They both would recognize each other as brainwashed, I suspect– but they are blind to it in themselves.

    Faith infections cause anognosia. The afflicted display arrogance while imagining themselves humble and display ignorance while imagining themselves “knowledgeable” about “higher truths”. Sometimes I just want to lock them all in a room together and see which brand of crazy emerges victorious. (It makes me think about mental hospitals which have more than one patient convinced that they are God.)

      1. Um, a rhetorical question is not an attempt to rationalize anything. It is meant to expose the lack of rationality. – Glen Davidson

        The problem with your question though is that it leads to an implied assumption that Hitler was influenced by Darwin. I don’t think that was your intent but, that is how the question is phrased.

        And just for any christians that might read this. Hitler wanted to breed a super race not create a new species. Selective breeding has been practiced by humans since before recorded history, with animals and plants (more recently) and even to a limited extent using humans. The knowledge of breeding needed by Hitler to formulate his plan was known long long (very long) before Darwin.

    1. Or Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism?

      Besides, I’m pretty sure most of the Nazis considered themselves Christian as do most white supremacist and other anti-Semitic groups today.

      1. German army belt buckles in both WWI and II stated Gott Mit Uns. This needs to be thrown back in anyone subscribing to the Darwin-caused-the-Holocaust party line. And if they complain that the Holocaust wasn’t a facet of WWI, two words: mustard gas.

      2. Gott mitt uns is also on the coinage, and the Dutch have a version of that saying on their coinage too. The US has “In God we trust,” which expresses the same sentiment, i.e., we believe we are doing God’s will.

        As for gas, The French were probably the instigators to this particular atrocity. They might have started out using a non-lethal version but they set a dangerous slippery slope precedent.

        Both ideas are non sequiturs.
        Belief in religion or the lack of belief does not lead to atrocity. The belief that you can get commit these crimes without punishment is the key aspect.

      3. Actually, belief in religion CAN lead to atrocities… all one needs to do is believe those atrocities are part of god’s plan.

        However, people are not inspired to do violence because of the myriad of invisible undetectable entities they don’t believe in. If you don’t believe in mythical beings, you don’t get messages directing your behavior from such.

        Clearly, the hijackers and well as the leaders of the Inquisition believed they were doing god’s will. I think much anti-semitism is due to people imagining that jews are responsible for the death of their “savior”. Don’t gloss over the role faith has played in human suffering.

  5. I’m somewhat perplexed by the quote he chose to demonstrate that Darwin “stole” the theory. One that directly implies that “Darwin had been working on it for a while and got scooped” is not quite “Darwin received that paper and thought, WOW, I need to borrow this”

  6. I’m confused — how does Darwin “stealing” Wallace’s theory imply that the theory is wrong?

    1. I think the goal IS confusion– if one slings enough mud, smoke, negativer verbiage, sneaky semantics, obfuscations, etc. then the true believers will hear what they want to hear and translate evolution as “evil-lution” in their minds. Then they can pat themselves on the back for thinking they understand evolution while basking in the comfort and imagined humility of “revealed truth” as preached by Pat Buchanan.

      It’s akin to the strategy of a defense attorney with a guilty client. Confusion beats clarity when the facts are all against you.

    2. Actually Darwin didn’t “steal” Wallace’s theory. They knew of each oteher’s work and undoubtedly had some discussions, but it wasn’t a theft. But you know that!

      1. As the author of The End of Darwinism I wish to rebut a couple of the baseless complaints here.

        Wallace and Darwin did not know of each other’s work. Wallace was in the Malay Archipelago, and Darwin was secretive about his ideas–even though they were not new.

        Upon receipt of Wallace’s paper, Darwin looked into his old notes and correspondence, came up with two
        documents he thought advisable to publish, and finagled it so they would appear ahead of Wallace’s paper.
        Only one review is known. A geologist dismissed Dawin’s work as nothing new. He criticized Wallace’s paper for its claim that evolution could proceed indefinitely from the original type. This idea Darwin borrowed without attribution when writing The Origin of Species.
        Wallace generously gave credit to Darwin because he was young, naive, and self-effacing Until Darwin’s death he did not find out about the true attitude of the older man. (I think at that time Lyell told him what had happened in 1858.)
        Darwin made use of Wallace’s giraffe example in the Origin’s 6th edition, without giving credit.
        In 1988 Stephen Gould began a campaign to get this “weak and foolish speculation” out of the textbooks. He had limited success. The giraffe still can be seen in some textbooks.

  7. the whole quote … which refers to some paleontologists’ view that perhaps, for the good of the pro-evolution movement, they should mute their discussion of punctuated equilibrium …

    Well, that sounds oddly familiar . . .

  8. Buchanan is a big time catholic. Even this insular, sex abusing institution to which he pledges his fealty accepts evolution. Is Pat turning on his church? He pretty much disowned his wacko sister Bay when she became a Mormon when she got married (since reconciled).

    1. I hate discussing punctuated equilibrium with creationists anyhow since they have no clue a relatively short period of time means millions of years.

      Moreover, you can have tiny genotypic changes that beget huge phenotypic changes (achondroplasia, for example… and the descent of dogs from wolves). You can also have huge phenotypic changes including speciation without any visible effects in the fossil record. A fossil record is only about (macro) phenotypic changes… and most dead things decompose– we are lucky when we happen to stumble across fossils (and we’ve gotten no no help from omniscient entities and their supposed holy texts and spokespeople, I might add.)

      Molecular genetics proves that evolution is a fact… and in decoding genomes we are given a stunning glimpse into the process. Even if we never found a single fossil, the DNA evidence is overwhelming and detailed in its record of life.

      To me, “Punctuated equilibrium” is like “missing link” and “macroevolution” and “scientism”… they are terms creationists like to use to obfuscate understanding so that they can slip their god in amongst the confusion.

      When I hear people using these terms, I always think I’m talking to a person who imagines themselves to have more expertise on evolution than they actually have. These people have a vested interest in not understanding evolution while imagining that they understand everything there is to know on the subject. After a while, you get a feel for them because they don’t show any interest in new discoveries like the chromosome #2 fusion– stuff that real experts find fascinating. Instead these self-appointed experts stay stuck on some old argument throwing stones at those who could teach them something if they weren’t so sure they knew all there is to know all ready.

    2. I posted the above in the wrong section… I meant to post how much I loved this quote by Yakaru, and I plan to repeat it…

  9. You should do a little research on Australopithecus afarensis, it is no longer considered a direct link in human evolution. In fact, neither is Cro-Magnon, Neanderthal, or Homo-erectus. In fact the more evidence we find, the less branches we seem to have on our evolutionary tree. We better hope Al Gore doesn’t hear about this. We can’t afford to lose any more trees.

    Darwin probably didn’t steal anything from Wallace, but it’s too bad he never gave his grandfather any credit though. He did read his works, and Lyell’s Principles of Geology before he ever looked at those finches. He had formed some assumptions before he looked at the data. That does always lead to different conclusions.

    It appears Darwin did put his book out there pretty hurriedly, once he knew Wallace was going to publish. He had been sitting on it for awhile. Wallace did look at things a little different than Darwin too, I wonder where evolutionary theory would be today if Wallace had gained acceptance first.

    Piltdown Man is an example of shoddy science if it could be in the British Museum of Natural History and all the textbooks for forty years before anyone checked it real close. Do we want to find a “missing” link so bad, we’ll accept almost anything? I had a dog once that spent his whole life digging in the dirt for bones, I never thought about asking the government to pay his salary though.

    Hey, and you shouldn’t insult slime either, remember, it was one of your grandpas too. And then there was chemicals, and rock. Well, it depends on how far back you want to take your family tree.

    If we are evolved from apes though, our brain evolved from an ape’s brain, how do we know we are asking the right questions?

    I’m not sure why people are so defensive of Gould’s quotes. He did admit there is a real lack of transitional fossils. That’s why he and Eldridge came up with punctuated equilibrium. Giant leaps of evolution which left no evidense behind. He did explain why we shouldn’t expect to see many on the species level, but he still admitted they are not there. He didn’t really have a problem with their absense, I don’t know why so many others do. Well, maybe I do.

    1. If we are evolved from apes though, our brain evolved from an ape’s brain, how do we know we are asking the right questions?

      We did not evolve from apes. We evolved from the same ancestor as apes.

      Same is true of slime.

      1. Richard Dawkins and his ilk are correct. And so is NewEnglandBob– we share a common ancestor with all apes of today (including humans)… in fact we share a common ancestor with all life on this earth. The common ancestor we share with apes is a primitive form of all the apes (including us) that exist today but we don’t “come from” animals that exist today –just as zebras don’t come from donkeys–but they are equine and share a common primitive equine ancestor that is neither donkey nor zebra.

    2. Is this you “Dr. Arv”:

      Dr. Arv Edgeworth // Jun 23, 2009 at 6:24 pm

      No, my degree is from a small bible college in West Virginia

    3. First you write: “…Australopithecus afarensis, it is no longer considered a direct link in human evolution. In fact, neither is Cro-Magnon, Neanderthal, or Homo-erectus.”

      So these are different branches on the tree of human evolution?

      And then in the very next sentence you write: “In fact the more evidence we find, the [b]less[/b] branches we seem to have on our evolutionary tree.” [emphasis mine]

      You just contradicted yourself.

    4. “I’m not sure why people are so defensive of Gould’s quotes. He did admit there is a real lack of transitional fossils.”

      Not quite right. Gould thought that there was a lack of transitional fossils at the species level, but not at the level of larger groups.

      “That’s why he and Eldridge came up with punctuated equilibrium. Giant leaps of evolution which left no evidense behind.”

      A “lack of transitional fossils” at the species level is not why he and Eldridge proposed punctuated equilibrium. It was proposed because he and Eldridge thought the evidence pointed toward a more herky-jerky model of evolution instead of a steady gradualist one.

      “He didn’t really have a problem with their absense, I don’t know why so many others do. Well, maybe I do.”

      I don’t know what the big problem is either! Creationists that are butthurt over the very idea of common decent sure love to obsess over the incompleteness of the fossil record, though.

  10. Arv,

    Of course I know the latest stuff about A. afarensis; it’s in my book. But whether or not it’s on the line to modern H. sapiens is not relevant to its status as a transitional form.


  11. Arv, are you in denial about common descent? Do you believe humans were “poofed” into existence by a god? If so, can we see the stellar evidence that led you to this decision so that we can assess whether you are worthy of having an adult conversation on this subject?

    I think you’ve failed to impress anyone here but yourself with your (imagined) expertise.

  12. Now if Darwin stole ideas from Wallace, how is it that they were very good friends even after the publication of Darwin’s book? Why does Wallace even praise Darwins work? The two didn’t get along very well much later in their lives since Wallace believed in the spiritualists and Darwin hated them with great passion because they dupe are rob the bereaved.

  13. A fossil may not be a direct link to a modern species, but it most definitely links backward to a common ancestor. Natural selection has apparently branched out in many directions to arrive at the “winning combinations” that exist today.

    Using the tree of life analogy, Arv, this means that we are part of the longest branches… but we all meet up with the other branches on the path back towards the trunk.

  14. Ah, the ‘ol “extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontologists” Gould quote mine. If I had a nickel for everytime a creationist used that (or everytime an ID creationist tried to make the case that Gould was an ID advocate because of punctuated equilibrium) I would have a nice little nest egg for retirement.

  15. Eugene Windchy @8

    You write:
    “…Wallace and Darwin did not know of each other’s work….”

    But one sentence later you write:
    “Upon receipt of Wallace’s paper, Darwin…”

    Tell me, why on earth did Wallace send his paper to Darwin if, as you claim, he was not aware of Darwin’s work?

    1. Wallace knew Darwin wss interested in evolution. He did not know what ideas Darwin had formed. He sent his paper to Darwin asking Darwin to forward it to Lyell. Lyell, Wallace hoped, would get his paper published by a scientific society. Wallace’s previous major work on evolution was published only by a magazine on the order of Natural History and attracted little attention, except for a few interested persons such as Lyell and Hooker. Darwin misunderstood the paper.

  16. Gould’s advice here is to not rally around the flag of Darwinism, but the exact opposite: to engage in open and honest discussion about the data
    HA HA HA Yeah, Gould was ‘open and honest ‘ about data.

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