the unfortunate return of dennis sewell

November 26, 2009 — 25 Comments

You might remember Dennis Sewell, the pundit who penned a hackneyed article about the evils of evolution in The Sunday Times, heavily relying on worn and tried creationist canards, and quoting Ann Coulter as some sort of authority on the theory of natural selection. If you thought his column was a waste of otherwise perfectly good bandwidth, you haven’t seen anything yet because the man has an entire book about the dire misuse of Darwin’s work by pseudoscientific movements of racists and bigots to capitalize on the manufactroversy of the creationist movement and the naturalist’s bicentennial. In other words, he’s a shameless hack with absolutely zero regard for the actual science, and who’s more than willing to drag a dead luminary through verbal muck if at the end of the day he gets a dollar or two out of it. Or since he’s British, we should probably say quid…

charlie darwin

While you might say that I’m probably being a bit harsh, check out his interview with Time Magazine where he opines on Darwin’s legacy and questions why the scientist is even in the history books at all, ascribing it to an intense public relations effort by biologists. The fact that we could pick out hundreds of scientists who’s ideas are celebrated today but have been used for nefarious means or corrupted to justify the ideas of groups which clearly lacked the ability or the desire to actually understand them, bothers him not at all. This issue got about two short paragraphs of lip service in his aforementioned promotional piece and it doesn’t stop him from the nonsensical declaration that school shooters and sociopaths trying to apply natural selection to those around them must be examples of how Darwin’s work promotes “disturbed thinking.” It’s as if Sewell never looked up what the term non sequitur means. But in this lurid display of witlessness, two quotes really stand out…

I think we have to decide what status we are going to give to the human race. Most of the world’s religions hold that human life is sacred in some way. In teaching common descent with animals, we also have to examine what is special about human beings, and why they deserve to be treated differently and granted certain rights.

Anyone care to guess why religions hold human life is special? Because they’re made by humans who want to survive and thrive, controlling the behavior of societies and ensuring that we stay at the top of the food chain so we can propagate our species. Does he think that biology classes are taught by PETA? Does he not know that natural selection would actually dictate that we’d have a vested interest in working with each other for our mutual benefit so we can survive and spread our genes? This is one of those collections of words which are supposed to mean something profound, but end up making vacuous, nonsensical statements.

What has the theory of evolution done for the practical benefit of humanity? It’s helped our [basic] understanding of ourselves, yet compared to, say, the discovery of penicillin or the invention of the World Wide Web, I wonder why Darwin occupies this position at the pinnacle of esteem. I can only imagine he has been put there by a vast public relations exercise.

Right, why do we need to know the theory of evolution? I mean it’s only the driving force behind most of today’s medicine and the fundamental framework for cutting edge inventions and discoveries in biology. In his book, Sewell lets fly with the painfully dimwitted assertion that Darwin’s work hardly holds as great of a place in the scientific hall of fame as the discovery of DNA. You know, the DNA which was found when scientists wanted to reconcile Mendel’s work on heredity and the theory of natural selection and has since been one of the biggest tools for evolutionary research? Did this idjit happen to forget his brain on a dark shelf somewhere before he set off to defile Darwin’s memory some more?

If Sewell tried to be intellectually honest, he could’ve found all that on the web, the invention he considers a lot more important than anything Darwin ever did. And speaking of the web, did you know you could find plenty of sociopaths, bigots, racists and even a homicidal maniac or two congregating on far flung websites? Should his next great expose be on Tim Bernes Lee and the dark legacy of the web he funds to be far more important than one of the seeds for modern biology? Nah. That’s not controversial enough to raise a ruckus and line his pockets so he’ll stick to Darwin. In an era when every airheaded loudmouth gets to publish a screed, it makes sense to go for the manufactroversy and force yourself into the spotlight.

[ illustration from a t-shirt and comic strip by Aaron Diatz ]

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  • lawton

    What a ridiculous post.

    In the TIME article Sewell makes clear that he has no truck with Creationism and accept the theory of evolution by natural selection is ‘scientifically undeniable’.

    Many writers have addressed the fact that Darwin’s work has been used to further bad political and social programmes such as eugenics and racism. One of the most prolific writers who looked at these themes was Stephen Jay Gould. Was Gould anti-evolutionary-science?
    Is Dick Lewontin anti-science? Grow up.

    If you had read Sewell’s book you would know that it is a political book that examines how concepts from Darwinian science have been used – sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally – by various political groups. It is not a religious tract nor a contrarian take on evolution. Far from being a fast buck (or quid) piece of populism, it is an intelligent, sober take on a complex and IMHO rather interesting side of political and social history.

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  • Greg Fish

    It’s far more ridiculous that Sewell doesn’t seem to know anything about the theory he tries to critique and doesn’t just address that misconceptions of Darwin’s, work which were crafted by Francis Galton and Herbert Spencer by the way, were used by racists and eugenicists, but goes on to say that Darwin’s work inspires disturbed minds and psychotic school shooters.

    I couldn’t care less that he’s not a creationist. What I care about is that his “complex take on social and political history” is laden with fundamental misconceptions and a total lack of factual research on the scientific side. His DNA statement alone would be enough for us to discard it as little more than hackneyed punditry masquerading as insight since he didn’t even care to spend five minutes looking up the history of genetic research.

  • lawton

    It’s far more ridiculous that Sewell doesn’t seem to know anything about the theory he tries to critique

    But he isn’t trying to critique the theory of evolution. He says it is “undeniable”.

    In his book, Sewell lets fly with the painfully dimwitted assertion that Darwin’s work hardly holds as great of a place in the scientific hall of fame as the discovery of DNA.

    No he doesn’t. I have his book in my hand and I have checked every appropriate index entry – and nowhere can I find any such statement. Unless you can provide a page reference, I have to include that you made this one up.

    misconceptions of Darwin’s work which were crafted by Francis Galton and Herbert Spencer

    It strikes me that Sewell is perfectly clear about the distinctions between Darwin, Galton and Spencer. And very precise about which passages of Darwin may have given rise to mis-application.

    is laden with fundamental misconceptions and a total lack of factual research on the scientific side.

    It isn’t a science book. There is little science in it. But what few references to science there are appear to me perfectly accurate.

    I suspect you haven’t even read the work you so pompously denounce.

  • Greg Fish

    “But he isn’t trying to critique the theory of evolution.”

    No, he only says that Darwin’s addition to it is over-hyped and inspires lunatics because they talk about concepts that are nowhere to be found in the naturalist’s work but instead were written by Victorian demagogues.

    “I have his book in my hand and I have checked every appropriate index entry…”

    Terrific. I’m sure everyone else who bought a copy will do the same. Likewise, we should also keep in mind that work on antibiotics Sewell holds up to be superior to Darwin’s work would hardly be possible without it.

    “It strikes me that Sewell is perfectly clear about the distinctions between Darwin, Galton and Spencer.”

    Not in his interview with Time or in The Times articles. Instead of saying that his work was being abused and crafted into pseudoscientific ideologies, Sewell holds Darwin as the point man for all the arising issues. It’s as if by very virtue of writing down what he did, the naturalist is now to blame, even when he was taken out of context and misquoted to justify what he thought wasn’t supported by facts.

    Darwin is the name that sells. Therefore, referring to Galton and Spencer who aren’t nearly as known, isn’t going to move copies off the shelf.

    “It isn’t a science book. There is little science in it.”

    No excuse to get the science wrong or misrepresent it. Sure what you saw may seem right to you, but have you thought for a moment that you might not have that good of an idea of the science involved? You’re praising the accuracy of a book who’s writer asks why we even care about the theory of evolution anyway and that the only reason he can think of is hype and PR. If you have to ask what evolution gave biologists and doctors, you clearly don’t know what the theory entails.

    Likewise, how do you derive a historical text based on a scientific theory but include little science in it? It’s kind of like writing a book about cooking through the ages in a certain region but forget to include what was being cooked.

  • lawton

    concepts that are nowhere to be found in the naturalist’s work but instead were written by Victorian demagogues.

    Actually, except for a one word mention of eugenics in the TIME article, Sewell seems focused on an idea that was Darwin’s own. Although many/most Englishmen of Darwin’s class were racist (by today’s standards) only Darwin declared it as a matter of scientific ‘fact’ that the white race was ‘higher’ in the evolutionary scale than the black races. No-one else would have been qualified to pronounce on racial superiority in specifically evolutionary terms. Since Darwin discovered evolution by natural selection, his teaching became the scientific orthodoxy for the next seventy-five years or so. School text books used in the US before WWII instructed pupils that, just as Darwin had said, blacks were biologically inferior…. had evolved less far etc.
    I seems to me perfectly fair to point to Darwin as the originator of scientific racism. All the scientific racists said he was. And Darwin’s pronouncements on this are crystal clear.

    work on antibiotics Sewell holds up to be superior to Darwin’s work would hardly be possible without it.

    Nonsense. The early discovery of antibacterial effects of penicillin was done by Lister before Darwin was born. Fleming did not rely on Darwin.

    Besides you are making a mountain out of a molehill. Sewell does not say that Darwin’s work is unimportant. He acknowledges that it helps us understand ourselves. He merely wonders aloud why Darwin occupies ‘the pinnacle of esteem’. Many others share that puzzlement. We could all suggest alternatives for the ‘greatest scientist’ laurels: Newton, Einstein etc. The recent vogue for Darwin is just that. When I was at college no-one would have cited Darwin as history’s greatest scientist.

    have you thought for a moment that you might not have that good of an idea of the science involved?

    I do. At least, until one gets to some of the new stuff on epigenetics.

    Likewise, how do you derive a historical text based on a scientific theory but include little science in it?

    I just read a couple of books on terrorism that didn’t go into great theological detail about Islam. And rightly so.

    It appears to me that all the things you claim are in Sewell’s book/argument aren’t there at all. While much of what you say is missing, is there after all.

    I say again – it generally helps to at least acquaint oneself with a book before critiquing it.

  • Greg Fish

    It seems that neither you or Sewell, read anything about the history of the theory. Darwin’s work was not the entire theory of evolution. Yes, it’s true that he had racist beliefs and ideas because he was raised with them like all Victorian men of wealth. However, he was a staunch abolitionist and wrote that all humans should be treated with respect.

    And since he provided a mechanism for a theory brewing since the early 1800s, there were plenty of famous scholars who were well qualified to opine on racist beliefs and attitudes. True to their formative education, they separated people into “evolutionary castes” and promoted this as science. Galton was considered to be a fully qualified scientist in his own right, even though in Chapter 6 of Descent of Man, Darwin calls his cousin’s ideas naive, far too idealistic and based on shaky ideas of heredity which fail to convince him of their validity.

    To say that Dawrin’s theory was taught as orthodoxy for some 75 years is to ignore that until his work was matched with Mendel’s, it was considered pop sci, kind of like today’s ideas in New Scientist and Popular Mechanics articles and many schools across the West still taught what we know today as creationism. Did you or Sewell forget about the Scopes trial when society in the U.S. was stunned that anyone would actually teach the theory of natural selection in school to impressionable and godly children? It was not until the 1930s when evolution became considered hard science in the halls of academia.

    “The early discovery of antibacterial effects of penicillin was done by Lister before Darwin was born. Fleming did not rely on Darwin.”

    Did I say discovery? No. I said work on antibiotics. Today’s antibiotics require a good idea of how bacteria evolve, to what they build resistance and how to find their genetic weak points.

    “… we could all suggest alternatives for the ‘greatest scientist’ laurels: Newton, Einstein etc.”

    See this is the most ridiculous part of Sewell’s argument and yours as well. It’s as if you think Dawrin is being worshiped by biologists and was somehow named the greatest scientist of all time. That never happened. He’s considered among the greats, not the greatest of them all since there’s no way to actually name someone to that post. Darwin is up there with Newton, Einstein, Planck, Dalton and Heisenberg as someone who a contribution to a previously unknown field of science and helped kick start a revolution in his or her field.

    This is a nonsensical argument coupled with a lack of knowledge about the history of Darwin’s ideas, how they were met and ignoring how long it took for his contribution to become a widely accepted mainstream scientific theory. I assure you, there will be just as much hype around Einstein’s sesquicentennial and bicentennial. But I bet no one will be writing about how Einstein is overrated and his work inspired New Age woo peddlers to talk about energy in homeopathic pills or physicists working on nuclear weapons, blaming him for almost bringing about the apocalypse via nuclear war. It doesn’t tap into the deep seeded hatred of a large enough anti-science crowd.

    “I say again – it generally helps to at least acquaint oneself with a book before critiquing it.”

    That’s funny because you, who seem to have read the book from cover to cover and memorized every word of it told me yourself that it has very little science and that’s ok because it’s not a science book, just one that uses a scientific theory as its jump off point. And from what you’re summarizing here, I keep seeing a total lack of research into not just the science, but the history of the theory and the people involved.

    So far, all your comments merely reinforce the notion that it’s a sloppy book written by an even sloppier writer who hasn’t gotten his head around either the relevant science or the history of the matter. Darwin being taught as an orthodoxy prior to the Scopes trial and the modern new-Darwinian synthesis? No other respected scientists to enshrine racist attitudes of Victorian England in pseudoscientific tomes? Really? Come on. Even a brief look on Wikipedia would tell you that’s not right.

  • lawton

    I’m afraid when it comes to sloppiness, you could give lessons in it. Take this piece of nonsense:

    Did you or Sewell forget about the Scopes trial when society in the U.S. was stunned that anyone would actually teach the theory of natural selection in school to impressionable and godly children?

    The whole point of the Scopes trial was that teaching evolution was the norm and US society was stunned that the state of Tennessee was trying to turn back the clock by banning it. Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution from a school text book that had been in service in Tennessee’s schools for many years.

    By the way, that text book – Civic Biology said that part of evolutionary theory was the ‘fact’ that blacks were less highly evolved than whites. A ‘fact’ that most of the eminent biologists of the period (the 1920s) concurred with.

    this is the most ridiculous part of Sewell’s argument and yours as well. It’s as if you think Dawrin is being worshiped by biologists and was somehow named the greatest scientist of all time. That never happened.

    You must have been asleep for twelve months.

    There have been hundreds, even thousands, of events – many paid for with taxpayer’s money – to commemmorate the Darwin anniversary. The Newton anniversaries have passed relatively unnoticed.

    http://darwin-online.org.uk/2009.html

  • Greg Fish

    “I’m afraid when it comes to sloppiness, you could give lessons in it.”

    Ooh, careful there. You might want to prove a point before going after your target…

    “The whole point of the Scopes trial was that teaching evolution was the norm and US society was stunned that the state of Tennessee was trying to turn back the clock by banning it.”

    Like I said, even a cursory primer on Wikipedia wouldn’t hurt. The Scopes Trial came about because it was illegal to teach natural selection and evolution in Tennessee. That’s right. The very “orthodoxy” of Darwin’s theory was being outlawed in the U.S. at the time and in the wake of the trial, creationists created anti-evolution provisions for public schools some of which stood until 1965. If it was so normal to teach evolution, why would creationists be successful in “turning back the clock” across the nation after the state won the Scopes Trial?

    By the way, what were you saying about sloppiness again?

    “There have been hundreds, even thousands, of events – many paid for with taxpayer’s money – to commemmorate the Darwin anniversary.”

    How exactly does this prove that some cabal elected Darwin to be the greatest man of science who ever lived? He’s a popular figure in the UK and a lot of Brits are proud of his contributions to modern biology which is still quite fresh and rapidly expanding, hence his fame. Like I said, wait until another relatively modern superstar scientist hits these milestones and then we can compare apples to apples.

    I do have to say though, I wonder why you so fervently support Sewell even when his supposedly thought-provoking, in-depth analysis can’t withstand a five minute search on the web and all his big arguments show an obvious lack of historical knowledge?

  • lawton

    what were you saying about sloppiness again?

    I was saying that your handling of historical facts about the Scopes trial was sloppy. Here’s how:

    You wrote in relation to Scopes that:

    …society in the U.S. was stunned that anyone would actually teach the theory of natural selection in school

    This suggests you think that before Scopes evolution was not taught in US schools.

    I set you right on this by saying:

    The whole point of the Scopes trial was that teaching evolution was the norm and US society was stunned that the state of Tennessee was trying to turn back the clock by banning it.

    I’m right. If you had even read the Wikipedia entry you cite you would have learned that the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools was banned by the Butler Act.

    The Butler Act came into force on March 21st 1925.

    The Scopes trial started on May 25th 1925.

    So, the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools had been banned for just over 2 months before Scopes. Prior to that, it had been legal to teach it and it was routinely taught. So it’s unlikely anyone was ‘stunned’ by the idea of teaching evolution. It was the norm.

    Your phrase that ‘US society was stunned’ by the very idea that evolution should be taught strongly suggests you also believe that prior to 1925 evolution was not routinely taught in most states of the union. Again, you are wrong. Most states taught evolution routinely before 1925.

    in the wake of the trial, creationists created anti-evolution provisions for public schools some of which stood until 1965

    This statement is strictly true. However, only two states actually passed laws banning the teaching of evolution in the wake of the Scopes trial: Mississippi and Arkansas. Most states in the US continued teaching evolution as they had before.

    Therefore, your characterization of US society being appalled at the very notion of teaching evolution in 1925 is utterly false. Just as I said, the teaching of evolution was normative before Scopes (even in Tennessee!).

    Now do you see what I meant by sloppiness?

    I wonder why you so fervently support Sewell even when his supposedly thought-provoking, in-depth analysis can’t withstand a five minute search on the web

    You are yet to prove him wrong on a single matter of fact. All you have done is allege that he says something in his book that isn’t there. That – and disagree with him about whether Darwin deserves to be at ‘the pinnacle of esteem’ (a subjective matter in the end). Hardly the basis for any critique.

    By contrast, you yourself have made a number of historical errors and illogical inferences.

    My interest – along with most of my colleagues – is for the science community to maintain a scrupulous regard for truth and factual accuracy. It seems to me that you are being as cavalier as the creationists. Polemicising with such vigor on a text you have not even read seems to me the equivalent of reaching a conclusion without examining the data. Basically, my beef is – you’re letting the side down.

  • Greg Fish

    I see that this discussion is totally pointless because you simply take things out of context and try to refute them with random claims for which you provide absolutely no reference other than your personal interpretation of the facts or distorting what was said. Really, sometimes I wish I could debate like that. No sources, no links, no need for actually reading the reply, just say whatever I think.

    I, at the very least, gave an actual link. You’ve given rhetoric by which you declare what people thought about the theory of evolution in the 1920s while completely and utterly ignoring the powerful creationist movement, then pass this off as fact. Then, you try to stick in something about accuracy and truth because you just have to defend Sewell and he just has to be right, even when he’s making random assertions.

    Really, I see no reason to continue indulging you in revisionist debates and circular arguments based on Sewell’s opinions.

  • lawton

    I, at the very least, gave an actual link.

    Yes, along with the false impression that the said link would support your contention. In fact, it said the opposite of what you implied it said.

    Citing stuff to bolster an argument that, on close inspection, does no such thing was a favorite ploy of the Holocaust denier David Irving. In the end it was his undoing. But then, integrity’s not perhaps your strong suit either.

  • Greg Fish

    Really? Are you serious? Have you ever heard of Goodwin’s Law?

    Are you telling me that because I go by what a reference says and you make loud and absolute proclamations citing the voices in your head when you disagree, accusing me of lying in your hysterics, I should be compared to a Holocaust denier?

    You’re either a paid shill for Sewell’s publisher, an overly passionate imbecile with no reading comprehension, or both. I’m leaning towards the last option at this point.

    Again, if you bothered to actually do anything but spout off once in a while, you would find a brief history of how evolution was taught in the U.S. and the fact that the Butler Act rose out of the dispute between scientists and creationists and that evolution was not taught as an orthodoxy as per your claim. At this point, my humble advice would be stop making a rabid fool of yourself sooner rather than later.

  • lawton

    You’ve done it again!

    I think it is you who has the reading difficulty.

    The link you provide says exactly what I have been saying all along – that from shortly after Darwin published the Origin of Species onwards evolution was taught in US public schools.

    Here’s the quote:

    With the widespread acceptance of the theory of evolution in the 1860s after being first introduced in 1859….. public schools began to teach science that was reconciled with Christianity by most people, but considered by a number of early fundamentalists to be directly at odds with the Bible.

    i.e. evolution was taught in US schools from the 1860s.

    So, by the time of Scopes (1925), evolution had been taught in US public schools for well over fifty years. Yet you argued that the US public were ‘stunned’ by the idea of teaching evolution in schools in 1925. Time and again I have tried to correct you on this, but all you do is resort to insult.

    Will you now please accept that in 1925 teaching evolution was the norm in US schools and that creationist attempts to ban it were the exception rather than the rule?

    I am not a shill for any author or publisher. I was drawn to this subject because I have a professional involvement in medical and science policy and in social responsibility in medicine and science.

  • Jypson

    If I may attempt to mediate as an objective bystander. It seems as though the debate is being hung up on the definition of evolution as pertaining to the origins of life.

    …complex biochemistry that makes up life came from simpler chemical reactions, but it is unclear how this occurred.
    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution)

    vise

    Theistic evolution…there is a God, that God is the creator of the material universe and (by consequence) all life within, and that biological evolution is simply a natural process within that creation.
    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theistic_evolution)

    Which was mostly likely taught after the theory of evolution was broadly accepted… (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creation_and_evolution_in_public_education#Early_law)

    If I have been of no help, I shall gladly stand back and continue to watch the fireworks!

    PS. I’m on my work computer which hates me…so I can’t hyperlink, sorry :(

  • Greg Fish

    shortly after Darwin published the Origin of Species onwards evolution was taught in US public schools.

    Thank you for adding the emphasis on what you wanted the link to say rather than actually reading a little further in the sentence and noting that what was being taught was Theistic evolution, which was creationism sprinkled with some science, aka intelligent design. A deity manipulating living things so they evolve into humans was not Darwin’s theory. It was a socially acceptable mashup of the times and one that today’s creationists want to be taught in the classroom.

    You don’t get to pick out the snippet you want, then declare that it proves your point.

    Time and again I have tried to correct you on this, but all you do is resort to insult.

    Right. Because it was me who compared you to a Holocaust denialist and told you to grow up, all the while proclaiming how it was my job to keep scientists honest and accountable in my position as the Overlord of all Science.

    And your behavior is not at all strange. Anyone would engage in a daily debate on a little random blog on the web pointing out that a specific pundit from the UK said that Darwin inspired homicidal maniacs and how stupid and transparently commercial it was. Just read the column and the interview. It’s there in black and white.

  • Frank

    Theistic evolution is not the same as ID or creationism.

    Most people (in US and Europe) today believe in theistic evolution. It just means that there’s no necessary clash between evolution and religion.

  • Jypson

    No necessary clash between evolution and religion? Say what?

  • john hynds

    I have just read a magazine excerpt from Children of the Evolution – Dennis Sewell & agree with gfish. The article smacks of nascent creationist recrimination. Scientific theory & recent discovery within DNA quite simply re-inforce Darwin’s selection hypothosis in far greater imperical detail than he could ever have probably rationalised let alone imagined.

    Accounts of Darwin do declare inherent racism as part of his ethos, just as a thorough reading of the New Testament will reveal Jesus rebuking a Canaanite woman pleading for healing. These are posturings of era & must be examined in their full social context. Likewise the inherrant nature of some of the human species will channel effort into destructive, selfish behaviour & use religious or other beliefe system dogma & or scientific theory & discovery to advance their actions; just as ethical science or much religious or other belief systems will foster altruistic thought & deeds. Evolution & time will decide if a particular strand of this existential behaviour will become predominant within the human species or whether it will be an ongoing battle.

    Free discussion & opinion are championed within democratic society & the battle of ideas is another part of the evolutionary lineage. Surely what really matters is unbiased truth – proof.

  • Mircea

    Regardless of what Dennis Sewell *says* (ie that he has no truck with Creationism), he is very obviously a “secular” Trojan for them.

  • Jonathan Martin

    You wrote:

    “Does he not know that natural selection would actually dictate that we’d have a vested interest in working with each other for our mutual benefit so we can survive and spread our genes? This is one of those collections of words which are supposed to mean something profound, but end up making vacuous, nonsensical statements.”

    Your the one making vacuous nonsensical statements here. Because the idea of cooperating with the other beneficial members of a society for mutual benefit is a long shot from believing that ALL human life is sacred and entitled to certain rights.

    Sewell goes to great and convincing lengths to demonstrate that the things he mentions were not pseudosciences at the time. How can something be a pseudoscience when the whole scientific establishment accepts it? By that standard, all science is potentially pseudoscience, since much of it will one day be discredited at least in part in favor of something better.

    Here’s a quote to chew on:

    “The Darwinist ideology simply cannot supply the moral and ethical basis for a democracy we want to live in. Evolved moral sentiments offer an inadequate foundation for a system of universal human rights, or for minorities to assert their rights against a tyrannical majority. They cannot supply the demands of justice; and can provide no grounding for human dignity in the face of runaway genetic technology. A little altruism here, a touch of reciprocity there and the odd example of cooperation for good measure is not enough when there is no compelling reason why the strong should not oppress the weak for their own satisfaction or amusement.”

    -The Political Gene, pg. 234

  • Greg Fish

    … cooperating with the other beneficial members of a society for mutual benefit is a long shot from believing that ALL human life is sacred and entitled to certain rights.

    Personal religious belief falls outside the scope of evolution, as well as science in a general sense. Testing whether something is sacred is an absurd notion. And yes, a concept that we should al cooperate with each other because we will all gain from it as a species, is as close to the idea that all humans are entitled to certain rights as you’ll be able to get to this belief in scientific terms.

    How can something be a pseudoscience when the whole scientific establishment accepts it?

    Scientific establishments change over time. And the “convincing” arguments Sewell makes is due to his distortions of political and social histories. He and his fans are seemingly unaware of 19th century creationists and evolution curriculums worded as the prototypes of today’s Intelligent Design handbooks, arguing that Darwin’s theory was taught as orthodoxy since it was published, something we know to be a serious corruption of well documented history.

    Evolved moral sentiments offer an inadequate foundation for a system of universal human rights, or for minorities to assert their rights against a tyrannical majority.

    That is a really bad quote if you wanted to show Sewell as a profound thinker or any sort of serious debater. It rests entirely on proof by assertion, i.e., he said it so it has to be true. In reality, the idea that all of us carry advantageous genes and should be mixing them as much as possible to accelerate our evolution and breed out disease or genetic conditions afflicting inbred populations fantasizing themselves to be some kind of “superior race” is pretty much the biological justification for universal human rights. If you read some of the links, you would’ve seen this explained in great detail already, several times. But than again, I understand. Research is hard work. Being a defender of a loudmouth pundit trying to make a few quid on appeasing creationists by dragging Darwin’s name through the mud, only requires enough time to copy two quotes and throw out a few indignant grumbles.

  • P Rine

    Sewell’s comment on the Time interview that Darwin’s contribution to humanity is less significant than the invention of the web betrays the philosophy of a Brixton hooligan who believes that the possession of a mobile phone is more important than an understanding of the world you live in.

  • daemon

    I totally have to agree with gfish here in that what Sewell does is distort what was evolutionary theory at the time (now fact) into reconciling with the then society’s beliefs, including racism and later eugenics though they had nothing to do with each other. What I don’t understand from lawton and Johnathan Martin is how you can not see these obvious misconceptions and attempts to frame Darwin as the cause of school shootings, holocaust, the moral decay of society just like Ben Stein in his movie (which is a total hack).

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/02/photogalleries/darwin-birthday-evolution/#tiktaalik-missing-link_7792_600x450.jpg

  • Martin rogers

    This post is utter nonsense. Why do you bother with your site?