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December 2, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2009 / 17 Shevat 5769

What would Darwin do?

By Paul Johnson


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With the 200th anniversary of his birth, tomorrow, the preeminent historian reconsiders the influential theorist


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | The more I see of the intellectual world and its frailties, the more I appreciate the truth of G.K. Chesterton's saying: 'When people cease to believe in G-d, they do not believe in nothing. They believe in anything.' It is one of the tragedies of humanity that brain-power is so seldom accompanied by judgment, skeptical moderation or even common sense. The vacuum left by the retreat of formal religion is most commonly filled, today, by forms of pantheism. Zealots devote their lives to 'saving' the rainforests, deserts or habitats of endangered species. They believe, passionately, in pseudo-scientific myths like climate change, global warming and the greenhouse effect. Some worship science as a faith and a way of life. Others hate it. Occasionally on the Quantocks I see fierce young men in semi-military kits, often crudely armed, who vary their activities between physically attacking staghound followers and besieging laboratories where animals are used for experiments.

I do not exactly fear them, any more than I fear the Muslim suicide bombers whom they so much resemble. But their appearance, on the heath once tramped by those gentle nature-lovers Coleridge and Dorothy and William Wordsworth, adds to my concern about what is happening to the world.

The atheistic pantheists who have now taken to advertising their beliefs on buses stand close to those who wish to deify Charles Darwin, and have taken the opportunity to do so on the 200th anniversary of his birth. Of course they are not the first. Leslie Stephen, a former clergyman who lost his faith as a result of On the Origin of Species, 'admired Darwin as a god', and some of the things he wrote, about his centrality in modern intellectual history, have the flavor of the Apocalypse. Much rubbish is currently being published about Darwin as a 'super-scientist' and 'transcendental prophet of the humanist triumph' (two expressions I have noted in the last week, one on the BBC). They do not do the poor man justice, for he was not only a fine scientist but a modest man of rare decency and dignity who would have found his current apotheosis repellent and frightening. If ever a good man needed to be saved from his followers, it is he.

It is important to realize that Darwin was a man of exceptionally strong emotions, albeit capable, in his work, of cool ratiocination. The central event of his emotional life was not the development of his theory of natural selection, although that gave him great joy and satisfaction. It was the death, from fever, of his ten-year-old daughter Annie in 1850. Annie was his favorite child and his intense affection for her was reciprocated in full. He said he had never needed to rebuke her for the slightest fault; she was 'an angel'. When she became chronically ill in her ninth year, from some kind of gastroenteritis, or typhoid, Darwin's concern for her was overlaid with guilt, for he suffered from similar complaints all his life and he believed she had inherited his constitution. He attended her throughout her final prolonged illness, marked by phases of recovery followed by relapses, and he often sat with her all night. His description of her sufferings — and his own — make harrowing reading. When she finally died, emaciated, a skeleton, he could not bring himself to attend her pathetic funeral. He was tortured by remorse and rage, and quoted Tennyson's 'In Memoriam':


Are G-d and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life?


Twice during her death-agony, Annie made touching efforts to sing, and her destruction seemed to Darwin such an act of unthinking wickedness as to destroy for ever his faith in a benevolent universe. He was to write in The Descent of Man, 'The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.' But this was something Darwin himself could never do. His thoughts continued to circulate around the death of his beloved child. He never got over it. It killed his belief in G-d and eternity much more comprehensively and finally than anything uncovered in his scientific enquiries. Darwin never forgot Annie: her fate overshadowed the rest of his life and colored his thoughts indelibly. He wrote a letter, six years after her death: 'What a book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horridly cruel world of nature!'

This quotation illustrates what seems to me a weakness in Darwin's theory of natural selection, and one shared by almost all his followers, especially his most enthusiastic ones. He and they have a tendency to attribute moral qualities to a process which, by its nature, ought to be entirely impersonal. Nature is not, and cannot be, cruel. The weakness is illuminating because it points to a more fundamental one. Although natural selection eliminates design (and so G-d the Creator), Darwin seems reluctant to drop design entirely. He drops it logically but it keeps popping back. He often implies that Nature 'designs' things.

I find it hard to believe that Darwin worked out a perfect explanation of the origin of species, as some of his present-day followers seem to suppose. On the contrary, Darwin's writings raise as many questions as they answer. For instance, why does natural selection lead to endless complexity? Complex organisms are more fragile than simple ones. They are less capable of repairing themselves when things go wrong. If natural selection has a purpose, surely it is durability rather than complexity. How can it become more durable by becoming more complex? It may be that selection leads to complexity in the short run but in the long run it ought to lead to simplicity, which must make it more durable. Again, there appears to be no mechanism which links lifetime changes in phenotypes to genetic variation. Why is this? Why have not organisms, in the process of natural selection, acquired the ability to pass on acquired characteristics by genetics? There are many other riddles.

My guess is that Darwin's general theory will eventually be overthrown, or fundamentally modified, as Newton's was by Einstein's relativity. Unlike his fundamentalist followers, Darwin was not afraid of change, even if it proved him wrong about some things. He saw science as progressive. He continued to practice science in old age. He studied earth-worms. He found them to be surprisingly intelligent. He turned his billiard room into a working laboratory so he had more room to examine them and see how they responded to stimuli. He had them in earth-pots covered in glass. At night he flashed lights at them — lanterns, candles, paraffin lamps. He found that intense light frightened them but anything dim had no effect. He organized his household to see how they reacted to noise. One played the piano, another the bassoon, or shouted, or shrilled on a tin whistle. He puffed scent and tobacco fumes at them. I wish his followers and panegyrists today would engage in such entertaining and possibly useful activities, instead of treating him as a god.

And I wish the spirit of Darwin would forbid them to engage in the vulgar activity of advertising atheism on buses.

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Previously:

01/27/09: Are you sophisticated? Here's how to find out
01/06/09: What did they talk about in the Ice Age? The weather, of course
09/09/08: Time, and our appalling ignorance of it
08/19/08: Eye-stopping glimpses of an exotic and forbidden world
06/30/08: How to fill a lecture hall, and how to empty it
06/23/08: Americans should count their blessings
05/20/08: Pajamas for Presidents
05/13/08: Literary woodlice boring needless holes in biographical bedposts
04/01/08: When markets come crashing down, send for the man with the big red nose
04/01/08: Quality for dinner. Pass the Fairy Liquid, Old Boy
03/25/08: In search of an American President with brains and guts
03/18/08: Technological warfare against mice won't work. Try cats
03/11/08: What is a genius? We use the word frequently but surely, to guard its meaning, we should bestow it seldom
03/03/08: Fiction as a crutch to get one through life
02/26/08: Impatience + Greed = Trouble
02/13/08: Shakespeare, Neo-Platonism and Princess Diana
02/07/08: Where Industry Has Failed Us
12/19/07: People who put their trust in human power delude themselves
12/12/07: What is aggression?
12/04/07: Pursuing success is not enough
11/07/07: Are famous writers accident-prone?
10/31/07: Courage needed to disarm Iran
09/20/07: Who Will Say ‘I Promise to Lay Off’?
07/24/07: Greed is safer than power-seeking
04/02/07: Benefactors must be hardheaded
03/07/07: American idealism and realpolitik
11/28/06: Space: Our ticket to survival
10/24/06: Envy is bad economics
10/11/06: Better to Borrow or Lend? Rethinking conventional wisdom
08/22/06: Don't practice legal terrorism
08/08/06: A summer rhapsody for a pedal-bike
08/03/06: Why is there no workable philosophy of music?
07/11/06: Historically speaking, energy crisis is America's opportunity
07/06/06: The misleading dimensions of persons and lives
06/06/06: First editions are not gold
05/23/06: A downright ugly man need never despair of attracting women, even pretty ones
04/25/06: Was Washington right about political parties?
04/12/06: Let's Have More Babies!
04/05/06: For the love of trains
03/29/06: Lincoln and the Compensation Culture
03/22/06: Bottle-beauties and the globalised blond beast
03/15/06: Europe's utopian hangover
03/08/06: Kindly write on only one side of the paper
02/28/06: Creators versus critics
02/21/06: The Rhino Principle

© 2009, Paul Johnson

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