Tom Pittman's WebLog

2010 October 30 -- Truth in Labeling

It's a moral issue: Does a person have the right to control what other people say about them?

There's no simple answer.

Yes, it's a free country, and you can choose (with God's help) what kind of person you will be, and therefore what people can truthfully say about you.

No, it's a free country, and people can say most anything they want (within limits), including about other people, especially (but unfortunately not necessarily) if it happens to be true. Court records are littered with cases where a person was denied the right to choose his own name.

The case in point is one line from my review of Mary Eberstadt's Loser Letters which one reader took exception to:

Good Darwinism approves of racial genocide (eugenics)
He had three numbered objections, the first and most vigorously argued being the label "Darwinism".

In American law, I did not apply the label to him, so he has no standing. In Christian ethics, the strong are morally obligated to defend the weak, but since he apparently considers himself to be one of the class of people to whom the label applies, he could be either strong or weak, but not both.

If the label were to misrepresent the people to whom it is explicitly applied, it would be wrong on the basis of libel. However, the term is both accurate and not applied to any specific persons.

His sole objection lies in the fact that the people to whom it might apply prefer to call themselves "evolutionists".

The problem with that, and the reason I instead use the name of their patron saint, is that the defenders of that religion do so on the basis of slippery or ambiguous definitions. Many arguments are won by redefining a term with a common understanding to have some other, significantly different definition, then (partway through the debate) switching back to the common sense unannounced, so it looks like you are still referring to the same thing, when you are not. It is this dishonest relabelling that offends me, and I refuse to continue using the ambiguous word at all.

The Darwinist defenders argue that "evolution is merely change" or "descent with modification." Everybody knows that things change, and it doesn't take much (repeatable, therefore scientific) study to learn that the descendants of an organism are not identical to it in every way. Using either of these two definitions literally, I am an evolutionist. That is exactly their intent, to define the word so that it describes repeatable, irrefutable scientific observations so everybody can buy into the label -- and then change the meaning to refer to the unobserved alleged continuous change from the first prokaryotes and protozoa millions or billions of years ago through to and including humans today, nevermind that it is this alleged line of descent that is unscientific, unrepeatable, and without supporting evidence. You can see this transition happen in one page on the TalkOrigins website, which incidentally complains that we noticed. The Berkeley website spreads the transition over multiple pages of engaging pictures and text, so it's harder to see it happen. Every one of the defenders does exactly the same thing, varying only the details of the presentation.

My critic's second objection was with the linkage of racial genocide and eugenics to the Darwinists. After Hitler showed us how that comes out, few modern Darwinists will admit to the connection, but it was a popular notion before the war. The fact is, the subtitle on Darwin's Origin of the Species spells it out clearly: "The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life". Darwin and his followers acknowledge that some races are favored in the struggle for life, and some are not. This is a natural, unavoidable, and undeniable implication of the theory.

Darwinists would not shrink back from this implication if they did not borrow their ethics from the Christians. Christianity teaches that "all men are created equal" (that line is not in the Bible), and that the strong should defend the weak -- which is the exact opposite in every way from Darwin's theory. And because our morality is dominant in the USA, and because most people adopt their moral persuasion at an early age from their parents without thinking about it, even the atheists follow Christian ethics unwittingly. Most of them, mostly. We are all better off that they do.

An atheist might justify clinging to the essentials of Christian morality on the basis of self-preservation, but in any particular case selfish behavior serves self-interest better than altruism. Altruism always serves the best interests of the other person. While it is true that the society (and thus the individuals in it) survives better with this ethic in place, there is no way for such an ethic to evolve the first time, because the first person to exhibit this behavior would be preferentially selected against, and thus fail to pass the new gene on to their progeny. Thus while society is the better for having a cultural ethic of altruism, it cannot be explained nor justified on the basis of mutation and natural selection.

We have a long history of Christian influence in our culture, so it's hard to see how much of it is explicitly Christian. Other, non-Christian cultures often praise deceit and treachery, but even there hypocrisy is the homage evil renders to virtue. Christians might argue that these last vestiges of virtuous ethics were inherited from our common ancestor Adam, but that (like all of Darwinism) is speculation.

My critic went on to argue that "evolution was a process of natural selection. Eugenics is a process of artificial selection, and therefore not a part of evolution." The Berkeley website claimed that both natural and artificial selection are equally evolution. What makes "artificial selection" different from the natural variety, the fact that humans did it? Are humans unnatural? Or is it the intentionality? Theistic evolutionists (no friend of either the atheists nor the Biblical Christians) claim that God supervised the whole process, so all of it qualifies as intentional. If long-beak finches choose to mate with long-beak finches thereby giving rise to long-beak offspring, is their intentionality less than white Caucasion male humans choosing to mate with white females? It's an artificial distinction.

His third criticism amounted to an ad hominem assumption that I was ignorant of the teachings of Darwinism. As this constitutes a form of label (to which I object), he thus showed himself to be a hypocrite (see also my blog post "It Takes One to Know One" from 6 years ago). During the short dialog between us, his favorite defense against numerical arguments was "we each have our sample sets." I think that a fitting response here.

He seemed to consider having the last word important, so I let him. It's the Christian thing to do


My review of Mary Eberstadt's Loser Letters
Evolution: The Question
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