Uncle Karl disses evolution for no good reason

June 2, 2012 • 8:29 am

UPDATE: Karl has asked that I make this correction:

Several people have noted that I quoted Richard Dawkins as describing anti-evolutionists as  “stupid, wicked, or insane.”  The Dawkins quote should have been “ignorant, stupid or insane.”  Richard gets enough flak from Christians without me adding fuel to that fire


As you know, I am fond of Karl Giberson although he’s an evangelical Christian and an accommodationist who once worked for BioLogos (they’ve since parted ways). But from time to time he does things that I find very odd, and erode my affection. One of them is his column “Mythologizing evolution” that came out two days ago at HuffPo.  It’s so scattered and unfocused that I can’t be sure what Giberson is trying to say.  But the impression that the column leaves is that there’s something deeply wrong with evolution.  That itself is odd, because I know Karl accepts evolution, at least in its theistic flavor.

What got Karl’s ire up was my recent series on “Mencken week” at this site; Giberson links to it but can’t quite bear to mention my name (go ahead, Karl—I’m not ashamed!).  As far as I can discern, these are Karl’s points:

  • Evolution is a myth.  As he says about my Mencken story (note also his title):

“The series represents ongoing efforts to enhance the mythology of evolution, efforts that have been particularly successful when it comes to the Scopes Trial.”

He uses the word “myth” and “mythology” twice more in his piece. Well, how many Americans are going to read “myth” in its meaning as “a story—even a true one”?  Most of them will read it in its more common meaning: “a false or concocted story.” Karl is too smart not to know that. Either that, or he’s clueless. You don’t call evolution a “myth” these days unless you want to pander to creationists.  If you must characterize it, call it a “true story”.

  • Mencken unfairly tarred William Jennings Bryan. I agree to some extent: Bryan was a serviceable statesman for a long time, and had some decent political views. As I said when I posted Mencken’s obituary of Bryan, I found it a bit over the top.  But remember that Mencken’s reportage on Bryan was from the Scopes trial, and there Bryan was indeed a doddering old fool. Just read some of his testimony from that trial.  This is from Bryan’s classic cross-examination by Darrow. (Yes, a defense lawyer cross-examined a prosecutor, for Bryan considered himself an expert on the Bible, and actually wanted to be cross-examined. That was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made.)

DARROW: And you believe that is the reason that God made the serpent to go on his belly after he tempted Eve?

BRYAN: I believe the Bible as it is. And I do not permit you to put your language in the place of the language of the Almighty. You read that Bible and ask me questions and I will answer them. I will not answer your questions in your language.

DARROW: I will read it to you from the Bible: “And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field. Upon thy belly shalt thou go and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.” Do you think that is why the serpent is compelled to crawl upon its belly?

BRYAN: I believe that.

DARROW: Have you any idea how the snake went before that time?

BRYAN: No, sir.

DARROW: Do you know whether he walked on his tail or not?

BRYAN: No sir, I have no way to know. [Laughter.]

  • Some evolutionists were racists and eugenicists. Yep, Giberson raises this old trope again: I swear, he’s starting to use the tricks of undiluted creationism, which he claims to deplore. He says:

The concerns about evolution that Bryan expressed — perhaps inarticulately — represent a dark chapter in the history of Darwin’s theory that many of its champions today would like to suppress as they mythologize the story of evolution. In Bryan’s day evolution was almost universally believed to sanction draconian measures to improve our species by eliminating the less fit. The textbook from which John Scopes supposedly taught evolution — George Hunter’s “A Civic Biology” — spoke in chilling language of “parasitic” families that do harm by “corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease.” The students were warned of the importance of preventing the propagation of such a “low and degenerate race.”

Not for a minute do I, or many other evolutionists, want to suppress this dark chapter in the history of genetics (by the way, more geneticists espoused this stuff than evolutionists, and no, Hitler didn’t rely on Darwinism to kill the Jews).  Steve Gould wrote an entire book on this gloomy chapter in our history, for crying out loud: The Mismeasure of Man.  Yes, it was a sad instance of science being misused to further extra-scientific aims. There will always be people willing to misrepresent and misuse science—sometimes even the scientists themselves. But does this cast any doubt on the truth of evolution? No! Jesus, Karl, think of how your own Christianity has been far more severely misused  (if one considers that “misuse”) to persecute other people.  If we’re the goose, you’re a far bigger gander!

  • Not all creationists are buffoons and morons.  This seems to be Giberson’s biggest beef:

Such images [Mencken’s portrayal of Bryan as a rustic] serve the purposes of those that want evolution to be our creation myth. Anyone who rejects evolution must be, according to Mencken, an ignorant mangy buffoon. Or, as Richard Dawkins has stated, in language only slight more temperate, “stupid, wicked, or insane.”

Such uncharitable caricatures of the critics of evolution make it easy to dismiss their concerns. If our critics are buffoons, we can ignore them.

. . . [Giberson’s last sentence] In the same way, we should listen more carefully to the critics of evolution today. Not all of them are stupid, wicked or insane.

Now tell me if those last two sentences aren’t ambiguous, implying that perhaps, those critics of evolution have something meaningful to say.  That is, maybe there are problems with evolution.  That’s easy to read, especially if, like most readers of PuffHo, you don’t know Karl’s beliefs or history.  But perhaps what he means is simply that we should listen to the critics of evolution simply to understand their mindset.  I’m fine with that; in fact, that’s what Jason Rosenhouse did in his fine new book Among the Creationists.  It always helps to fight a battle if you understand the enemy.

And no, not all critics of evolution are stupid, wicked, or insane. Some of them are simply ignorant, either willfully or otherwise. See Jason’s book for a close-up look at the enemy.  But all of them are deluded by faith.

It would have been nice, given the pervasive opposition to evolution in the U.S., if Karl had said something about his own acceptance of evolution. But the rest was silence.

Oh Karl, my friend, you’ve lost your “Uncle” moniker again!

28 thoughts on “Uncle Karl disses evolution for no good reason

  1. Straining at gnats? Perhaps, as Mencken himself might say, Gilberson absorbed his piety with his mother’s milk, and just can’t abide even a deserved criticism of the folly of religion. So he looks for nits to pick.

    1. To be sure, theology is always yielding a little to the progress of knowledge … but this yielding is always done grudgingly, and thus lingers a good while behind the event. So far as I am aware even the most liberal theologian of today still gags at scientific concepts that were already commonplaces in my schooldays. H.L. Mencken, Minority Report, H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks (1956)

  2. The “Salem hypothesis” has been put forward that a lot of educated critics of evolution are in engineering fields rather than in fields of scientific investigation.

    I have also noted that an awful lot of them are trained as lawyers (Ben Stein, Ann Coulter, the agnostic Vincent Bugliosi, and of course Bryan).

    1. If it’s any consolation, there’s one up-and-coming lawyer (son of Hempenstein, who just made Dean’s list @ Cooley!) who isn’t. And, he tells me of some of his professors there who most distinctly are not in the creationary camp, either.

      Otherwise, when I’m confronted by a religious wackaloon pushing that side, I just reply, “By your mythology.” Far easier than tangling with specifics, and for the most part none of them have ever entertained the notion that what they’re following is a myth.

  3. Jerry: Your points are mostly well-taken. I did naively overlook the misinterpretation that many readers would put on the word “myth.” I do think, however, that social darwinism, while not denied by the champions of evolution, is downplayed inappropriately and dismissed as a misunderstanding. I think we would do well to understand, as you suggest, how evolution is being viewed by its critics. It is a mistake to suppose that the issue is entirely about evidence.

    1. Yes, Karl, I’ve never said it was about evidence: it’s about the power of faith to make people IGNORE evidence. But why didn’t you give your own view of evolution in the piece? Was that a deliberate omission?

      1. It’s starting to look like the old…

        “with friends like these”

        *shakes head sadly at Uncle Karl*

    2. But the key issue is: whose fault is it if evolution TODAY is equated with social Darwinism? Does this incessant and predictable reference to social Darwinism nearly a century ago reflect any real problem with accepting evolution TODAY? Or, is it a convenient distraction – stemming from the fact that contemporary creationist arguments are intellectually bankrupt? (So they must resort to an obvious misapplication of natural selection). What shall we consider next – how acceptance of evolution led directly to Stalin’s massacres?

      1. Except of course that the Government of the former Soviet Union, in the presence of one Joe Stalin rejected Darwin’s theory of natural selection in favor of Lysenko’ s Lamarckian “theory”.

    3. I was about to chip in and say that I thought Jerry had misread your term “the mythology of evolution” in “The series represents ongoing efforts to enhance the mythology of evolution, efforts that have been particularly successful when it comes to the Scopes Trial” but I see you got here before me!

      All fields of human endeavor in due course attract a surrounding mythology. The events of the Scopes Trial have been extensively mythologized in the popular accounts, as you point out; this has nothing to do with the integrity of evolutionary theory.

    4. Karl,

      Your deceitful slur connecting Darwin and Nazi death camps is inexcusable.

      As you know, Hitler’s final solution was the dream of many Christians for millennia, as Hitler explained it to his own party:

      The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them in ghettos, etc, because it recognized the Jews for what they were. … I recognize the representatives of this race as pestilent for the state and for the church and perhaps I am thereby doing Christianity a great service by pushing them out of schools and public functions.
      —Adolf Hitler, 26 April 1933

      In calling for Jews to be killed, Hitler was consciously following in the footsteps of Church Fathers such as Saint John Chrysostom, who quoted Jesus Himself speaking in the Gospel of Luke to sanction murdering Jews:

      The Jewish people were driven by their drunkenness and plumpness to the ultimate evil; they kicked about, they failed to accept the yoke of Christ, nor did they pull the plow of his teaching. Another prophet hinted at this when he said: “Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn heifer.” … Although such beasts are unfit for work, they are fit for killing. And this is what happened to the Jews: while they were making themselves unfit for work, they grew fit for slaughter. This is why Christ said: “But as for these my enemies, who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and slay them.” (Luke 19:27)
      —John Chrysostom (349–ca. 407), Eight Homilies Against the Jews, Homily 1

      Is this patristic genocidal legacy ever discussed at your own church, Saint Chrysostom’s?

      I challenge you to find a single instance in which Hitler mentions Darwin or social Darwinism. All of Hitler’s speeches are online at Google books. Search The Essential Hitler: Speeches and Commentary for all instances of “Darwin” or “evolution”. Hitler never referred to Darwin: searching for “Darwin” yields “No results found”. Searching for “evolution” yields twelve results, none of them referring to biological evolution.

      1. I do remember Hitler explicitly rejecting evolution in Mein Kampf, saying that a fox always stayed a fox, a human always stayed a human, etc. You know, the traditional creationist argument about ‘kinds.’

        I wonder if Giberson knows that eugenics was recommended by Plato in The Republic and practiced in Sparta? Was that because of evolutionists too?

        1. It isn’t even necessary to believe in evolution – just selective breeding, artificial selection – to support eugenics.

          Eugenics would still be a good idea if we could only get around the pesky ethics of having fallible humans decide for other otherwise free humans which pairs should be allowed to reproduce.

      2. Excellent rebuttal to the Darwin/Nazi connection.

        Other than having a better command of the written English language I can not see any notable difference in the behaviour of Karl Giberson and Joe G., the subject of the “God has sent me a toy” post.

      3. It should be noted that the writings of the founder of the Lutheran Church, one Martin Luther, wrote even worse screeds against the Jews

    5. Dear Dr Giberson, you say:

      “Anyone who rejects evolution must be … as Richard Dawkins has stated … “stupid, wicked, or insane.”

      The Dawkins quote was actually: “… if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)”. Don’t you think it somewhat dishonest of you to have omitted the “ignorant”, especially since Dawkins considers the “ignorant” to be the likeliest? See Ignorance is no crime for Dawkins’s commentary on this.

    6. Dear Dr Giberson, you say:

      This, of course, is the sordid tale of Social Darwinism — a misapplication of Darwin’s ideas that died in the Nazi death camps along with those the Nazis perceived to be from a “low and degenerate race.”

      On what basis are you asserting that the Nazi’s took their motivation by Darwin (however misapplied)? The truth is the opposite, they despised and banned Darwin’s ideas. Their racial ideology was religious and creationist.

      The Nazis regarded the Jews as a “low and degenerate race” because they considered it to be a separate creation. They believed that God had created the Aryan “master race” as “God’s highest handiwork” and that God willed that these Aryans be preserved as God had created them in the Garden of Eden.

      The Nazi’s considered that allowing the diminution of the Aryan race by permitting interbreeding with Jews “would sin against the bountiful Creator of this marvel and would collaborate in the expulsion from Paradise.” (Quote from Mein Kampf).

      Can I invite you to read my account of this which shows that the doctrines underpinning the Holocaust derived far more from Christian and creationist theology than from anything Darwin said.

    7. “[S]ocial darwinism”, or just “Darwinism”, the dishonestly conjured up targets for god zombies to blame every bad thing on.

      You, giberson, and many, many other godbots (and yes, you are a godbot) try to make it look as though nothing bad ever happened before Darwin lived and published his books, and that Darwin is responsible for ALL the bad thoughts and actions of every human being who has ever lived.

      You obviously don’t realize, or won’t admit, that humans have been doing bad things to each other and to everything else on this planet since WAY before Darwin. You also don’t realize, or won’t admit, that RELIGIOUS people have done FAR, FAR, FAR more damage to humans and everything else on this planet than non-religious people or so-called “Darwinists” have ever done or could ever do.

      Like other religious zombies you live in a fog of delusion and are blind to reality.

      The hatred aimed at Darwin by you religious wackos is truly astounding. You need someone to focus your hatred on and Darwin is a convenient target. Your hatred of him is based mostly on your insecurity, and you’re insecure because deep down you know that your religious beliefs are total bullshit. You thumpers hate Darwin because he gets most of the credit (whether deserved or not) for exposing the fallacy of ‘special creation’, and you just won’t tolerate anyone dispelling any part of that self-serving, self-aggrandizing ‘myth’ that props up your ego. You, and other sky daddy pushers, just can’t stand the thought (or the evidence) that you are no more ‘special’ than an ape, a fish, or a sponge.

      Grow up, and quit blaming Darwin for human nature. He didn’t CAUSE people or anything else to evolve. He didn’t CAUSE anyone to be a racist or a eugenicist. He didn’t CAUSE Hitler or anyone else to be genocidal. He didn’t CAUSE anyone to be violent, selfish, murderous, greedy, deceitful, sadistic, dishonest, vicious, immoral, amoral, indifferent, malicious, evil, or any of the other negative things that have been erroneously applied to Darwin or the term “Darwinism”.

      Hey, do you want someone or something more deserving to blame for all of the bad shit? Someone or something that really should get all the blame from a Nazarene god believer like you? How about blaming your god? After all, you do believe that your god created everything, don’t you?

      1. I barely let this comment through because of the invective. Look, we don’t call other posters “religious wackos” unless they’re really gonzo, and Karl isn’t. You could have made your points in a more civil manner, though I do understand your frustration at the Nazi card.

        Please try to keep the discourse here a bit more respectful.


        1. He’s “really gonzo” to me, and I think it’s hypocritical of you to say that my comments are “invective”, uncivil, and disrespectful to giberson when you spend so much time and effort in using what could be described as uncivil, disrespectful “invective” against religious people and their beliefs.

          Just because you personally like giberson doesn’t mean that anyone else has to, and if you don’t think that what you say against religious people and their beliefs could be described as “invective”, or uncivil or disrespectful, just ask someone who’s religious.

          Make up your mind, Jerry. You’re coming across like an accomodationist.

          Oh, and since when is associating or equating the acceptance of naturalistic evolutionary theory to Hitler’s genocidal actions and all the other bad things that humans have ever thought or done NOT uncivil, disrespectful “invective”.

          Apparently you’re not as sick and tired of being erroneously, maliciously, and self-servingly equated to murderous monsters, or as sick and tired of god zombies erroneously, maliciously, and self-servingly blaming everything bad on Darwin/”Darwinists”/”Darwinism”/evolutionists/atheists/etc., as I am.

          1. Sorry, but you don’t get to insult other commenters here. Yes, I occasionally use invective against people who aren’t posting on this community, but I don’t allow people posting here to call each other names. You will apologize to Karl for calling him a “religious wacko” or you’ll find yourself posting elsewhere.

            By the way, I do agree with your sentiments and think that Karl’s comparison was was wrong. But that doesn’t give you the write to either call Karl a wacko or me a hypocrite.

  4. Some years ago,in Scientific American, as I recall, there was an article on the nature and importance of myth. The idea was that a myth is a teaching story, and may or may not be based or fact, or truth, or whatever.

    I think a problem with myths of science in general, and evolution in particular, in the hands of the opposition is that they are not fact or truth based. Because I have taught an evolution course on a number of occasions, I am particularly irritated by the lack of knowledge of evolution demonstrated in most creationist criticisms. If one is against something, shouldn’t one understand the nature of the enemy?

  5. To go off on a tangent: is “myth” really ever used to denote a true story? I have never met it used in that sense. “Legend” can certainly be used that way: one can talk about, on the one hand, the legend of the Golden Fleece or, on the other hand, Ernest Shackleton’s legendary rescue mission or Winston Churchill’s legendary speeches. But would any contemporary writer really refer to Ernest Shackleton’s mythical rescue mission or Winston Churchill’s mythical speeches? To my eyes such usage looks not merely wrong, but absurd.

    1. There can be myths about real things, of course.

      So there can be myths surrounding evolution, without evolution being false.

  6. What Dawkins actually said was that those who reject the theory of evolution are either, ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked (but he didn’t want to consider the last). He made the remark in an essay about David Berlinski who he declared was neither ignorant, stupid, or insane, implying wickedness.

  7. “But all of them are deluded by faith.”

    Not all. Some atheists and some non-religious reject evolution because “it doesn’t make sense to them”; my dad was that way. He didn’t understand why his point “why are there still monkeys” made no sense at all.

    And he thought that religions were a crock set up by humans to take advantage of others!

    But yes, MOST resistance to evolution is because of religious reasons.

  8. This claim of Giberson’s, used to help excuse Bryan, is pretty strange “In Bryan’s day evolution was almost universally believed to sanction draconian measures to improve our species by eliminating the less fit.”

    Is Giberson unaware that Clarence Darrow himself spoke out forcefully again eugenics? Or that most of the people who favored eugenics were Christians? Or that conservative, very Christian states like Virginia, North Carolina, and Oklahoma were some of the leading players in the movement? Many, many people who supported the eugenics movement were creationists, so it is weird to try to pretend that the early manifestations of evolutionary theory were almost solely responsible for the eugenics movement.

    Also, a lot of the impetus for the eugenics movement was based on the new understanding of genetics, so if there was a modern cult of “DNA deniers” would Giberson impugn modern geneticists for downplay the role that genetics played in eugenics? It seems to me very strange that eugenics is used solely to criticize modern evolutionary theory, but not modern genetics (which I think clearly shows this is just a religious canard).

    For anyone interested, Panda’s Thumb has a link to Clarence Darrow’s 1926 essay railing against eugenics here: http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2011/09/clarence-darrow.html

  9. “In the same way, we should listen more carefully to the critics of evolution today. Not all of them are stupid, wicked or insane.”
    But how do we tell the difference?

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