That didn’t take long. Anthony Horvath has responded to yesterday’s post about his commentary on James Watson’s racist remarks. It’s an interesting (if lengthy) read, and he tries to clarify one or two points, but mostly he takes it as an opportunity to recite another one-sided litany of scientists behaving badly.
I think his list is a bit short. Scientists, like any other group of people, have their good eggs and their bad eggs–mostly good, but even a small number of bad ones can make quite a stink. That’s why it’s important to judge things on their own merits, rather than on the basis of who says them. But Horvath does not discuss the merits or demerits of racism. He just tries to fan around the stink.
Utterly absent from his post is any reference to some of the other examples I gave. For example, what about the Spina Bifida ‘experiment’ where more than a dozen SB children died in a test to see if people would defer to scientists who said that the children had no chance? Apparently, many people would defer. Not mentioned in my post but a good example of that (and mentioned elsewhere on my blog) is the infamous Milgram experiment, where it is notable that the ’scientist’ deferred to was a biologist. Dawkins would be proud.
I also mentioned the Tuskegee Study. And not mentioned, but worthy of mention would be Margaret Sanger’s eugenics advocacy also targeting black Americans. That three out of the four examples here seem to target black people would seem to imply that for all of Herr Professor’s bluster, scientists have on occasion thought that experimenting on black people was acceptable. I’ll leave it for the evolutionary scientists to sort out just why that is.
I’m not an evolutionary scientist, but I’ll take a stab at it: it’s because scientists, as individuals, are fallible. (I believe I’ve mentioned that before?) Meanwhile, since we’re sorting things out, why do you suppose all of Horvath’s examples portray scientists in a negative light? Why does he not mention that mainstream scientists are just as disapproving as anyone else over such misdeeds? Why does he not give examples of scientists making good and exemplary moral decisions? (I’ll leave the answers as an exercise for the reader…)
Horvath claims that I’m agreeing with his point when I say scientists are no less ethical than any other group.
AH: …there is no reason to believe that they are especially more logical or rational than anyone else… or more ethical.
tP: Nor are they any less logical, rational, or ethical than other people, on average.
AH: That is already an admission of my point.
If he and I are in agreement about scientists being neither more nor less ethical than other groups, why then does he go on to recite a litany of scientific “wrongs,” with no mention of the fact that such offenses are a tiny percentage of the things science is doing right? Let me point out once again that the scientific community is at the forefront of those denouncing Watson’s racist remarks. If anyone is giving Watson “undue regard” just because he’s a scientist, it’s the science-haters, not the science supporters. Heck, just flip through the scientific journals. Scientific culture is rife with scientists insisting that a conclusion be supported by evidence, and not just assumed because some scientist asserted it.
Apparently, what Horvath objects to is deferring to scientists.
If we have no reason to think that scientists really are specially privileged to speak to ethical questions or even to behave ethically- and Herr Professor seems to agree that they aren’t- then why are we asked to defer to them left and right?
The simplest and most accurate answer is that we’re not being asked to defer to them, except in their particular fields of expertise. And in the latter case, we should defer to them because they’ve learned more about it than we have. But Richard Dawkins doesn’t expect everybody to believe that God is a delusion merely out of deference to his status as a scientist. That’s why he wrote a whole book giving his arguments against God instead of just issuing a press release that said “There is no God and I’m a scientist so end of discussion.”
I’ll skip over most of the rest of his post, where he tries to insinuate that I somehow disputed the link between genetics and Down’s Syndrome (?!), and such. Let’s just look at a few remarks of his on the topic of racism.
I had my first ever experience of being described as racist and somehow siding with Dr. Watson’s alleged ‘racist allegations.’
Readers may recall that I never described Horvath as being a racist. I merely pointed out that, in the debate over whether or not the process of evolution justifies racist beliefs and practices, the vast majority of scientists insist that it does not, and Horvath takes Watson’s side in asserting that it does. Now, Horvath feels like this is a point that needs some clarification, so he wrote the following. See if you can tell whether or not he agrees with Watson about racism making sense from a Darwinist point of view.
Now, I did struggle to discern where I agreed with Watson on a genetic basis for racism…
Darwinism is essentially survival of the fittest. It makes logical sense that ‘inferior’ genes be kept out of the pool. Racism makes sense from a Darwinist point of view.
Kindly allow me to disagree. Evolution is an observation, not an ethical mandate. It makes no judgments whatsoever about some genes being “superior” or “inferior” to others, nor does it confuse “genes” (which exist in great variety even within a single individual) with “race” (which is an artificial, cultural distinction more than a scientific one). Nor does it imply, in any way, that an individual’s value as a person is limited to the reproductive chances of his or her genes. Evolution is simply the observation that, in a given population of individuals, characteristics which contribute to successful reproduction are likely to increase over the course of many generations, and those which inhibit successful reproduction are likely to decrease over the same.
For example, I recently read about a certain kind of lily that was famous for having large, beautiful blossoms. Visitors to the island where the lily grows would often pick the prettiest and largest of these to take home with them, thus preventing those specimens from reproducing. Over many generations of such selective influence, scientists have noticed that the large-blossom lilies are becoming fewer and fewer, and the small-blossom variety are becoming more common. Does that mean that small blossoms are “superior” to large ones? Not at all. The Darwinian observation is simply an observation, not a moral judgment or an ethical imperative.
To continue, Horvath goes so far as to concede that “Darwinists” in general reject racism.
But their denial cannot come out of their Darwinism. This rejection of racism has to emerge from some other place, some moral code of some kind.
Well duh. Rejection of racism doesn’t come from the weather report, either. Like “Darwinism,” it’s an observation, not a moral system. And “Darwinism” does not observe any kind of racially-linked moral value that would make one race inferior, or superior, to any other. The value judgments, for or against racism, are coming from somewhere outside of evolutionary science. And it’s the value judgments that define what racism is, and why it’s wrong. Darwin has nothing to do with it.
No matter what Horvath and Watson say.