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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Darwin's odd musings on circumcision: Believe whatever you like ... he certainly did

Friend Malcolm Chisholm, who is "finding that the Darwin we have been taught about is not the same as Darwin in his own words" has been reading Darwin's odd musings on circumcision, from the second edition (1875) of Darwin's The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, which he is "wading through." Of this book, he notes,
It was first published in 1868, but the second edition has the chapter on Pangenesis largely rewritten. Since Darwin died in 1882, this is pretty much as close as we get to the synthesis of his life of thought and final positions.
And what were these? Well, certainly not what the Darwin cult will tell you ...

First, he found, Darwin confirms himself as definitely Lamarckian. That is,
He absolutely believes that if a part of the body falls into disuse - or is removed - an inherited effect will reduce the appearance of this part of the body in subsequent generations. The mechanism he proposes for this is "Pangenesis" whereby every bit of the organism is responsible for getting itself inherited into the next generation.

He sees this being achieved via "gemmules" - units of inheritance that each cell (or maybe part of the body) passes on to succeeding generations, where they cause the same character to be expressed. If a bit of the body is removed, it cannot send its signal via the gemmules to the next generation, and so disappears. If a bit of the body falls into disuse, it produces fewer gemmules, so is less well expressed in succeeding generations.
Now, why does this matter? Because the Darwin fanatics attribute magical powers to natural selection (survival of the fittest) to produce major changes - and typically denounce Lamarckism (inheritance of acquired characteristics).

Now, Lamarck (the early French biologist who gave his name to Lamarckism) and Darwin might be right about the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Generations of environmentalists have worried that they are - that eggs and sperm may be damaged by environmental effects, for example, thus introducing acquired characteristics to inheritance. But Lamarckism is nonetheless Bad Thought, Wrong Thought, as you doubtless learned from your Darwinist biology texts.

From what Chisholm has discovered, Darwin himself wouldn't have agreed with those texts. But with the Founder safely dead, the cult carries on regardless.

Which brings us to circumcision. Darwin had given careful thought to the practice, often a religious obligation, and in that case usually performed in early infancy.

Chisholm writes,
If the foreskin is removed, according to Darwin's Lamarckian view, it should be reduced or missing in descendents. No foreskin means it cannot pass on its gemmules. The problem is that foreskins are still with us.

Let's review how Darwin tackles this difficult problem.

(a) He craftily dismisses Mohammedan circumcision in an indirect manner as being practiced "at a later age than the Jews".

But, trying to have it both ways, he notes that Dr. Riedel, Assistant Resident in the North Celebes, "writes to me that the boys there go naked until from six to ten years old; and he has observed that many of them, though not all, have their prepuces (foreskin, removed at circumcision) much reduced in length, and this he attributes to the inherited effects of the operation".
In some Muslim traditions, circumcision is performed in infancy, but in others around seven (traditionally, the "age of reason") and in still others, at puberty. Chisholm notes that there is "quite a bit of sophistry in this writing, allowing Darwin a lot of wiggle room while apparently building his case" - which becomes very difficult when he addresses the Jews because Jewish circumcision is performed on the eighth day.
(b) The situation of the Jews is a lot more difficult for Darwin. He recognizes this as follows: "With respect to Jews, I have been assured by three medical men of the Jewish faith that circumcision, which has been practised for so many ages, has produced no inherited effect."

Even so, Darwin is still able to find empirical evidence for his view: "Blumenbach, however, asserts (12/57. 'Philosoph. Mag.' volume 4 1799 page 5.) that Jews are often born in Germany in a condition rendering circumcision difficult, so that a name is given them signifying "born circumcised;" and Professor Preyer informs me that this is the case in Bonn, such children being considered the special favourites of Jehovah."

Darwin continues: "I have also heard from Dr. A. Newman, of Guy's Hospital, of the grandson of a circumcised Jew, the father not having been circumcised, in a similar condition. But it is possible that all these cases may be accidental coincidence, for Sir J. Paget has seen five sons of a lady and one son of her sister with adherent prepuces; and one of these boys was affected in a manner "which might be considered like that commonly produced by circumcision;" yet there was no suspicion of Jewish blood in the family of these two sisters."
Unconvinced? I gather that Chisholm was too, for he writes,
(c) Just in case the reader is still baffled by all of this, Darwin immediately disposes of any uncertainty by stating at the beginning of the next paragraph: "Notwithstanding the above several negative cases, we now possess conclusive evidence that the effects of operations are sometimes inherited."
Do we?
(d) Later on, Darwin is forced to return to the problem as he expounds on the gemmules:

"But it appears at first sight a fatal objection to our hypothesis that a part or organ may be removed during several successive generations, and if the operation be not followed by disease, the lost part reappears in the offspring."

A few lines later: "Circumcision has been practised by the Jews from a remote period, and in most cases the effects of the operation are not visible in the offspring; though some maintain that an inherited effect does occasionally appear."

Immediately following this he says: "If inheritance depends on the presence of disseminated gemmules derived from all the units of the body, why does not the amputation or mutilation of a part, especially if effected on both sexes, invariably affect the offspring? The answer in accordance with our hypothesis probably is that gemmules multiply and are transmitted during a long series of generations--as we see in the reappearance of zebrine stripes on the horse-in the reappearance of muscles and other structures in man which are proper to his lowly organised progenitors, and in many other such cases. Therefore the long-continued inheritance of a part which has been removed during many generations is no real anomaly, for gemmules formerly derived from the part are multiplied and transmitted from generation to generation."

Hence the continued appearance of foreskins actually supports Darwin's Lamarckianism based on Pangenesis implemented through gemmules.
In other words, based on almost no serious evidence, Darwin insisted on a Lamarckian interpretation of circumcision (why?) And insisted on having both ways. If the evidence didn't support him, it really did.

And this is the Great Prophet of evolution?

Chisholm adds,
This stuff is very significant. "The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication" was intended by Darwin to show how evolution works in detail and provide evidence for it. What is does show is that Darwin had views very different from those attributed to him today, but it was these views that created the foundation - at least in Darwin's mind - for the Theory of Evolution.
Maybe in Darwin's mind. But when Richard Dawkins reverently whispers that "whispers that Darwin's Origin of Species is "not just the most precious book in my library, but the most precious book in the library of our species," he does not have in mind a real book. The real book, Origin of Species, like Variation, which Chisholm has been reading, is just an old book about a theory about how species originate that is now slowly being disconfirmed for most of the cases cited.

The book that materialist atheists like Dawkins read and adore is not an earthly book, it is a heavenly book - the creation story that shows how they slowly ascended from gibbering apes to gullible devotees.

Oh and, by the way, here's one of Richard Dawkins's "Four Horsemen" of atheism, Christopher Hitchens, carrying on against circumcision. Hat tip to Mariano at Life and Doctrinaire Atheism blog.

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Preach it, brother! A regular shower of blessings from Saint Charles Darwin

Hiram Caton who (as regular readers will recall) is the retired Aussie political science prof who enjoys sending up the currently raging Darwin cult, writes to say that he has now drunk deep from the "clear-thinking oasis" available at Richard Dawkins's site.

And he sends back this message to all you peoples who still sit in darkness and have not yet seen the great light:

I just completed my pilgrimage to the 'clear-thinking oasis', as the shrine is called, the An inspiring, edifying experience that filled my cup with a rosary of blessings.

Marvellous portraits of Mr. Dawkins etched him indelibly on my mind. And the fulsome library of DVDs: The Enemies of Reason, the Root of All Evil, the Four Horsemen, and the most recent, The Genius of Charles Darwin, which takes novitiates into the inner sanctum--Richard Dawkins' splendid library.

He shows us his first edition copy of The Origin of Species and whispers that it's 'not just the most precious book in my library, but the most precious book in the library of our species'.

I suddenly realized that it's the TRUE holy book and that my Darwin doubts exploit the shadows between Reason and the Root of Evil, Superstition. I cleansed my mind by accepting that it's Either/Or: Dawkins and Reason or THEM. The reward was immediate sense of exalted freedom!!

In addition to DVDs, the site offers novitiates a variety of charms and amulets that express the conversion to clear-thinking: T-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs which convey the message of Dawkins' outreach, the 'Out campaign' (copied from the gay/lesbian outing).

The message is simple: Look at me, I am a proud ATHEIST. Lots of potential here, like 'I'm a SELFISH GENE', or, 'ABOLISH the Archbishop'.

And the Four Horsemen? What or who could they be? Why none other than the Four Evangels--Dawkins, Dennett, Chris Hutchins, and Sam Harris, chatting about the evils of religion and the blessings of clear-thinking.

But wait: which one is Pestilence? which is Famine? Death? The acolyte's acquired clear thinking is left to figure it out.

The active atheists assure us that understanding their gospel is easy. Thus, in the Genius of Charles Darwin, Dawkins interacts with school kids, shows them fossils, and tells them that natural selection is a simple idea that they can understand. That should be enough, but they persist in their faith.

The Four Horsemen also take this view: if you just impartially consider the facts, and refuse to comply with social demands, why you are free! This is pretty much a repetition of modern rationalist conviction, although the French enlighteners realized that if you want mass conversion, propaganda and the guillotine are helps.

But isn't something missing? Why is religion historically so ancient, and so persistent even when glamour icons from Madonna to Hugh Hefner market emancipated selfhood with huge success? Might there be an evolutionary explanation of religion that links it with human sociability and the 'struggle for existence'? Dawkins thinks not. Natural selection has given us the big brain capable of emancipating ourselves from our apelike past: we use contraceptives to thwart the drive to reproduce. Well, not all evolutionists agree. There is another point of view at his own Oxford University, where the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion is in the midst of an extensive, well-funded investigation of the evolutionary origins of religion.

Let me wind this up with a quotation from Thomas Huxley that expresses the epitome of the clear-thinking oasis. In an essay, the Influence on Morality of the Decline in Religious Belief, Huxley delivers his acid judgment: 'Few social evils are of greater magnitude than uninstructed and unchastened religious fanaticism; no personal habit more surely degrades the conscience and the intellect than blind and unhesitating obedience to unlimited authority'. This was written in 1877, after France's revolutionary turmoils created secular fanaticisms able to surpass the religious variety.

Thanks for this anointed word, Brother Hiram! Folks, you can watch all the most anointed atheist shows on line at the Dawkins site, but you will have to put down money, I fear, for the atheist kitsch.

And, like I always say, keep those shards and fetters coming!

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Intelligent design and popular culture: Design acknowledged - embarrassingly - in stone

A friend writes to say,

Hey Denyse - I visited Washington, DC earlier this year and took this photo of one of the signs inside the Library of Congress....FYI.
Thank you much!

Voices from the past ... which is why I find the churchy scientists who insist that the universe shows no evidence of design (but there really is a God anyway) to be such a remarkable social exhibit. Their accommodation to the New Atheist movement is staggering - considering that that movement is not based on any evidence, but quite the contrary.

I have always respected the old atheists, while disagreeing with them. But I bash the New Atheists regularly over at The Mindful Hack: All profanity, no profundity.

While we are here, the mosaic in the ceiling of the entrance to the Royal Ontario Museum (the Rotunda Ceiling, 1932) reads "THAT ALL MEN MAY KNOW HIS WORK."
I have it on a nice bit of note paper here, and am informed in the figure note that the quotation, "taken from the Book of Job, sums up in one sentence the purpose for which a museum devoted to the arts & sciences stands."

It's a beautiful piece of work, and I just cannot think how the wrecking ball missed it.

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Expelled movie's intelligent design theorists only the tip of the iceberg?

I'm told that the book Slaughter of the Dissidents will ship this month.

Ben Stein's movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed has been called the "tip of the iceberg" regarding the discrimination that exists in academic and media communities against those who challenge Darwin's theory of evolution. With the release of Jerry Bergman's new book, Slaughter of the Dissidents, you are about to meet the rest of the this Titanic-sized iceberg. Bergman experienced the slaughter of his own career over thirty years ago while teaching at Bowling Green University, which started him on a life-long quest to document the academic and religious discrimination exhibited against students, scientists and educators who dare to doubt Darwin. Bergman interviewed over 300 people in his quest to document one of America's growing hate crimes. He also went to great lengths to interview folks on both sides of each case and sought to have each victim review his case description before publication. Kennedy, Eidsmoe, Bergman and Wirth lay the ground work in the opening pages to help you understand the context of this situation. Then Bergman dives into a page-turning narrative describing how career after career was mowed down by the big Darwinian machine...and there is no end in sight of this growing discrimination, unless you get this book into the hands of everyone who cares about our academic and religious freedoms.
Actually, I am surprised that anyone is surprised by this. While the intelligent design theorists have certainly had a rough ride, many others have as well. And usually for much the same reasons - they presented evidence of the failings of trendy or politically correct ideas.

Political correctness tends to advance third-rate scholars, and the third-raters can only keep their positions by preventing anyone from questioning their oft-repeated bread-and-butter lines. Anyway, I am looking forward to my copy of Slaughter. I hope they put a chapter up on the Web.
It turns out you can get a free chapter if you sign up here. And here is a response by publisher Kevin Wirth to claims that all of the Expelled people were just imagining things ...

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