Evolutionist coopts the field for social justice

Holly Dunsworth is a biological anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island, and appears to be somewhat of a biological ideologue—at least as far as male-female differences are concerned. For instance, she’s questioned my claim, supported by substantial evidence, that sexual selection (probably involving male-male competition) was likely responsible for human sex differences in size and upper-body strength (see here and here). The second link discusses her bizarre “alternative” theory for these differences, which is simply wrong, and she’s never responded to my critique.

Now Dunsworth has moved on, and is pushing social justice on the website of The Evolution Institute, David Sloan Wilson’s think tank funded in part by the Templeton Foundation. Her new article (click on the screenshot below) argues that all teachers of evolution must come to grips with both the dark past and supposedly dark present of evolutionary biology: namely, that it has been used to buttress eugenics and social Darwinism in the past, and is now used, via genetic determinism, “to justify civil rights restrictions, human rights violations, white supremacy, and the patriarchy.” She also mentions “anti-theism” as one of the bad outcomes of evolutionary biology. Really?

Dunsworth’s thesis is that this connection between human evolution and immoral and harmful programs has turned people away from human evolution, and that we have to “reclaim” it by producing and teaching a “sprawling, heart-thumping, face-melting epic, inspiring its routine telling and retelling.” She adds, “It’s time for a human evolution that’s fit for all humankind.” Unfortunately, Dunsworth’s version of evolution “fit for all humankind” seems to involve “evolution that comports with my ideology”, with “my” being “Dunsworth.”


Now there’s no doubt that evolution was historically misused to justify various forms of oppression (racial hierarchies come to mind), and there’s no doubt that Dr. Dunsworth means well in her effort to use introductory evolution courses as a form of social engineering. I am not questioning her motives but her program.

I differ with three claims she makes in her articles.

1.) People are turned off by human evolution, and in fact reject it, because it was historically misused. This appears to be the main claim buttressing her article, and I don’t see much evidence for it. Here’s what she says:

Human origins should be universally cherished but it’s not even universally known. It just doesn’t appeal to most people. This goes far beyond religion. Human evolution hasn’t caught on despite it being over 150 years old.  Where it has, it’s subversive or offensive. We have a problem. How could my life be subversive or offensive? How could yours?

Leaving aside the non sequitur of the last sentence, I’d say that human evolution (or evolution in general) hasn’t caught on because it has implications that bother people, especially religious ones—not because evolution is connected with racism, the patriarchy, and so on. Sure, creationists will bring up these connections (Nazi eugenics is a favorite one) to denigrate Darwinism, but, as Steve Stewart-Wiilliams shows in his excellent book Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: How Evolutionary Theory Undermines Everything You Thought You Knew (recommended reading), the bulk of opposition to evolution comes from its attack on human exceptionalism. And human exceptionalism is the bulwark of Abrahamic religion.

That is why many people who accept evolution bridle at the idea that humans have evolved. (Remember that the Butler Act whose violation led to Tennessee’s Scopes Trial prohibited the teaching not of evolution, but of human evolution.) It’s religion, Jake, and there’s ample evidence that rejection of evolution is deeply connected with acceptance of religion. Not so much evidence that rejection of human evolution comes because it’s connected with propping up racism and the patriarchy.

If Dunsworth wants human evolution to catch on in America, she’d be better off loosening the grip of religion than instantiating her human-centered social justice course on evolution.

2.) Evolutionary biology is still being pervasively misused in America to justify oppression. The evidence for this claim is thin, though there are of course a few white supremacists around who might do this. But Dunsworth indicts more mainstream figures:

Genetic and biological determinism have a stranglehold on the popular imagination, where evolution is frequently invoked to excuse inequity, like in the notorious Google Memo. Public intellectuals like David Brooks and Jon Haidt root what seems like every single observation of 2018 in tropes from Descent of Man. And there’s the White House memo that unscientifically defines biological sex. Evolution is all wrapped up in white supremacy and a genetically-destined patriarchy.  This is not evolution. And this is not my evolution. I know you’re nodding your head along with me.

No, I’m not nodding, at least in agreement. The fact is that genetic determinism deserves a hearing, and the stuff that Dunsworth suggested might not be so wrong after all. Dunsworth seems to be a big opponent of evolutionary psychology in attacking Brooks, Haidt, and even James Damore, who all raise the possibility that there are evolved/genetic differences in behavior and cognition between men and women. The fact is that none of these people use that viable possibility to excuse inequity. They may use it to explain inequity, as did Damore, but his explanation, as he said repeatedly, was not to stamp women as innately inferior in tech skills. Rather, it was to explain why there’s not gender parity at Google. As more recent work has shown, the inequities in tech and other fields may represent hard-wired average differences between the sexes in preference and interest.

Society has moved past the point where genetic determinism is widely used to excuse inequities or to oppress people. You won’t find that in Brooks, Haidt, or Damore. You might find it in some marginalized and odious white supremacists, and in some evolutionary psychologists who go well beyond the realm of evidence in their genetic determinism. But too many people have gone the other way, as Steve Pinker showed in The Blank Slate. In my view we need more discussion of genetic determinism, not less.

3. We should spend a lot of time in evolution class teaching about the ways evolution has been used to promote bad social consequences. This is what Dunsworth wants (the caps are hers):

Evolution educatorseven if sticking to E. coli, fruit flies, or sticklebacksmust confront the ways that evolutionary science has implicitly undergirded and explicitly promoted or has naively inspired so many racist, sexist, and otherwise harmful beliefs and actions. We can no longer arm students with the ideas that have had harmful sociocultural consequences without addressing them explicitly because our failure to do so effectively is the primary reason these horrible consequences exist. The worst of all being a human origins that refuses humanity.

I’m sorry, but there’s too little time in evolution class as it is to promote the misuses of Darwinism the way Dunsworth prescribes. By all means, teach this history in a class about biology and society, or in a class about the history of science. But evolution class is about science, not about the social consequences of science. When I taught half of the introductory ecology and evolution class required for biology majors here, I had exactly thirteen lectures to teach all of evolution, and I didn’t even get a lecture on human evolution. I was equally pressed when I taught a full semester of evolution at the University of Maryland.

Further, just teaching straight evolution has never—at least not as far as I can see—turned any of my students into raging misogynists or racists. In fact, most were pre-meds who regarded evolutionary biology as an annoyance that had no relevance to medicine (though it does).

This is not to say that there isn’t a place for evolutionists to decry any current misuses of evolutionary biology. We do that in popular writings and lectures, and on this site in posts. But if you’re going to co-opt evolution class for Dunsworth’s platform, an even better place to do that would be genetics classes, and not just introductory genetics. After all, her beef is genetic determinism, not just evolution. And why not co-opt chemistry and physics classes to teach about the misuses of chemistry (Zyklon-B, mustard gas) and physics (atomic bombs)? There is a time and a place for all that, but straight science classes are not the place. Our job is to teach science, not engage in social engineering.

And that brings me to exactly what kind of social engineering Dunsworth wants. Many of us can agree on the perfidies of racism and sexism, but Dunsworth apparently wants more: she wants us to condemn the evolutionary-psychology speculations of people like Haidt and Damore as well as genetic determinism in general. What it seems to come down to, as always with these things, is that Dunsworth wants us to teach her particular ideology in a way that will reform society along the lines that she wants. She wants us to condemn Damore, Haidt, and Brooks as those who misuse evolutionary biology at present (the rest is unsavory and unrepeated history). She apparently wants us to denigrate genetic determinism—but whose? Pinker’s? David Buss’s? All of evolutionary psychology?

Sorry, no can do. I do what I can, but I’m not getting on Dunsworth’s social-justice train.

At the end, Dunsworth offers a list of suggested alterations of evolution courses. I’ll let you see them yourself; some are okay, others not so okay. And I’ll note, just because I appreciate good writing, that Dunsworth’s article isn’t a shining specimen of that genre, as in this introduction to her list of suggestions:

Here I offer some general suggestions for how to do that and I’m speaking to all of us, whether we teach  a course dedicated to human origins and evolution, whether we teach a course dedicated to evolution and only cover humans for part of it, whether we teach a course dedicated to evolution but exclude humans entirely… because we all have to actively fix this. Learners will apply evolutionary thinking to humans, whether or not your focal organisms are human. Making rules in one domain and transferring them to new ones is humanity’s jam. Eugenics is proof that our jam can go rancid.

And while we’re actively disassociating the reality of evolution (which is just a synonym for ‘nature’ and for ‘biology’) from all the terrible things humans do in its name, we can help make it more personal as we all deserve our origins story to be. We deserve a human origins we can embrace.

Eugenics simply isn’t a big problem these days, though it may revive in a narrow way with the possibility of altering embryos with CRISPR. But nobody wants to go back to the days of Galton and the Kallikak Family. As Pinker has emphasized, the arc of morality has bent upwards. And, by the way “evolution” is not “just a synonym for ‘nature’ and for ‘biology.”

I’ll confront racism and sexism in my own way, and not in evolution class. And I reject out of hand Dunsworth’s indictment that I’m “unethical” in not using class time to push her social agenda. That’s about as authoritarian as an Authoritarian Leftist can get.

h/t: Grania


  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I suppose by “so many racist, sexist, and otherwise harmful beliefs and actions” she wants the reader to blame evolution for :

    – guns
    – violence
    – wars
    – other bad stuff that happens over a long time span
    – Anything else besides religion

    But who can say.

    • Posted November 23, 2018 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      Of course one can blame evolution for guns, violence, wars etc. In the end evolution has produced everything, everything good and everything bad. But what is the point of blaming a blind watchmaker? Just as well one could blame the sun for having produced life on earth, and with it all the evil.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted November 23, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        global warming could be included – if it wasn’t the sun’s fault.

  2. Kiwi Dave
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Typo: ‘rejection of evolution is deeply connected with acceptance of evolution’.

    • Posted November 23, 2018 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Whoops, I’ll fix it, thanks.

      • Richard benton
        Posted November 23, 2018 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        Wow proofreading the prof good dude😇

        • Richard benton
          Posted November 23, 2018 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

          Good call ruined my joke

  3. Posted November 23, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    “Making rules in one domain and transferring them to new ones is humanity’s jam”

    Evolution is an “is”, and, as Hume taught us, one cannot get an “ought” from an “is”. Dunsworth fails to appreciate that.

    “It [evolution] just doesn’t appeal to most people.”

    Most Americans maybe, but most others in the Western world accept evolution. There is no mainstream rejection of it in the UK, for example. (The difference being, of course, religiosity.)

    And while I’m on:

    Now there’s no doubt that evolution was historically misused to justify various forms of oppression (racial hierarchies come to mind), …

    Is that really true? Most racial hierarchy ideas were creationist, in which the different races were separate creations.

    The evolutionary versions of racial hierarchy ideas were then polygenist (humans might have evolved from monkeys, but the different races evolved separately from separate lines of monkey).

    It’s hard to defend racial hierarchies given the Darwinian recent common ancestor of all humans, along with Darwin’s “never say higher or lower”.

  4. Posted November 23, 2018 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    The fact is that genetic determinism deserves a hearing, …

    “Genetic determinism” is usually taken to mean the idea that *only* genes have a significant affect on outcomes, and that environment does not. Thus it is generally a bogey-man phrase and a strawman, in that no-one these days argues for it.

    The better idea, of course, is that both genes and environment have significant effects, but that is not usually called “genetic determinism”.

  5. George
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    The link to her site at URI does not work. Try this one:

    • Posted November 24, 2018 at 1:10 am | Permalink

      It slams teaching of evolution in school as “outdated evolutionary dogma”. I have no idea how evolution is taught at US schools, and I am ready to believe that the textbook chapters could be better written, but to put this on your page… poor idea IMHO.

  6. DW
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    This “evolution is misused to foster eugenics” is utterly absurd. Eugenics is based on animal husbandry. The core of evolution is natural selection and eugenics is unnatural selection. The people who promote eugenics as evolution are no different than the people who claim quantum physics supports their woo. It’s not a “misuse” of quantum physics when Deepak Chopra waxes poetic; it’s simply not quantum physics at all!

    So when some Nazi says he wants to cull the “weak” in the name of evolution, that’s not evolution’s fault.

    • mikeb
      Posted November 23, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      The obvious flaw in eugenics (of the Nazi stripe, that is) is that someone has to nominate themselves to do all that selecting.

      I wonder who that gets to be?

      As for eugenics in the broad sense–I’m all for it. Who doesn’t want the genome cleaned of tendencies for Type 1 diabetes, breast cancer, schizophrenia, and on, and on?

      • Richard benton
        Posted November 23, 2018 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        Sub dats da good stuff

        • Richard benton
          Posted November 23, 2018 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

          Well,and then eugenics was based on seriously now outdated information on genetics and was guided by prior White supremacist ideology.Ideology first don’t waste my time with the facts That was some serious social engineering and look where that got us

      • Posted November 26, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        Depends – what are the side effects of doing so? Schizophrenics do say that it does seem to promote creativity. (That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing it cured.) But take, say, autism, where the trade off is not as obvious?

  7. GBJames
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 2:31 pm | Permalink


  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    “sprawling, heart-thumping, face-melting epic, inspiring its routine telling and retelling.”

    Hell with revisionist biology, Dunsworth’s real calling is writing for Variety.

    Any time goddiness creeps into science, cherchez la femme Templeton dosh.

    • mikeb
      Posted November 23, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      That quote made me puke, too.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 23, 2018 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      I don’t want my face melted off, thank you very much.

      (What the hell can that possibly mean?)


      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 23, 2018 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        My theory, which is my own, is that it’s an allusion to this scene from one of the Indiana Jones movies:

        • ubernez
          Posted November 23, 2018 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

          Are you thin at one end, larger in the middle, and thin at the other end?

  9. mikeb
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Even as an English teacher interested in evolution, this ticks me off to no end.

    I went to a writer’s conference for teachers recently, where I mentioned that I’m interested in Darwin and evolution in culture. One of the presenters later in the program went off on an off-topic rant about “eugenics” and “Darwin’s cousin” and the evils to which science has been used (the ranter was a Psych Prof). I wonder whom she was addressing in her rant?

    Anyway. . . as a writing teacher, I teach evolutionary concepts through the analogy with language: cognates across languages are like homologies; vestiges exist in spoken and written language, such as the unused letters in “knight”; languages are grouped into phylogenies; and variation is rampant in language as it is across species. All this Darwin pointed out in Descent of Man.

    The major point I make in my evolution module in my writing class is that the Great Chain of Being is dead (aka the Ladder of Life). Racism and the other isms are based on this ancient, false, GrecoRoman-Christian idea, that of the hierarchical, fixed, perfect chain of species. It is this view of the universe that racism springs from: as worms are “lower” than apes, so Africans (and the Irish, etc.) are “lower” than the English.

    Darwin’s “I think” tree of life overturned the Ladder of Life once and for all. And that should be the end of racism (but it isn’t because the Ladder of Life hangs on like death in the culture).

    • peepuk
      Posted November 24, 2018 at 1:56 am | Permalink

      “Darwin’s cousin”

      Probably Sir Francis Galton, half cousin of Darwin and eugenics-pioneer. Besides that he was a brilliant scientist and statistician.

  10. Posted November 23, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Pshew! I know whose lectures on evolution I would attend.

  11. Joe Dickinson
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    But guess who really likes Dunsworth over on the Pharyngula site. Has anyone else ever tried the following argument with people who basically want to deny any genetically determined differences (among individuals) in cognitive attributes? Without worrying about definitions or what IQ tests really measure, I think we can agree that humans, on average, are “smarter” than chimps and, by inference, the last common ancestor. For that difference to be produced by evolution, there must have been heritable variation for “intelligence” throughout the period during which that divergence arose. Wouldn’t it be surprising if we live in the unique moment when all such heritable variation is gone?

    • Les Faby
      Posted November 23, 2018 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      I agree about Pharyngula. It has been off the rails for at least the last 5 years. I swear sometime in the distant past, it used to be worth reading. I still remember the Emperor’s New Clothes. Does anyone know what made it change to the unpleasant mess with its posters trying to outdo each other in orthodoxy and insults?

      • BJ
        Posted November 23, 2018 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

        Atheism +, and PZ wanting to establish himself as the leader of what he thought was a rising group. He could finally be the super important, super cereal guy he totally is. Excelsior!

        This was PZ on the threat of not having social justice incorporated into all atheism meetings, talks, videos, and having anybody who wanted to consider themselves part of the atheist community also being forced to accept all that the SJWs said they must: http://southpark.cc.com/clips/155237/al-gore-is-super-awesome

  12. Posted November 23, 2018 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Her thesis can be summarized as “I want you to use your class time to spread my political beliefs”, and shame on you if you don’t.

    • Posted November 24, 2018 at 1:15 am | Permalink

      + 1

      • A C Harper
        Posted November 24, 2018 at 3:16 am | Permalink

        + 1 more.

        More than 3 billion years of evolutionary processes repackaged to suit 40 years of unvalidated political ideology? I don’t think so.

        Plus by criticising the previous era’s ‘political interference’ with the ideas of evolution she undermines her current desire to ‘interfere’ with the presentation of evolution.

  13. puddleg58
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    We don’t need male-male competition and sexual selection to explain differences between males and females, though no doubt it played a part.
    Human females carry the fetus for 9 months and nurse the infant for longer; the infant is essentially helpless for many years – no other animal is like this.
    Our ancestors fought predatory animals, prey animals, and other human tribes, as well as their closer neighbours.
    It is not in the interests of such a species for females to do half the fighting. As pregnancy and nursing became more extended, aggressive females did not pass on genes as often, and nor did males whose extra strength did not compensate for the presence of less aggressive females.
    The end result of this is that as outside threats diminished human males were left strong enough to control human females to an unnecessary degree, and became habituated to this, where female power sharing would have been more useful, but this was a relatively modern development (and is probably what is intended by the “patriarchy” hypothesis/ conspiracy theory).

    • Posted November 24, 2018 at 1:20 am | Permalink

      I agree, except about the “unnecessary degree”. It is unnecessary from our point of view, but I think that it had a function: to minimize the chance that the female would pick another male’s genes behind the Lord and Master’s back.

      • puddleg58
        Posted November 24, 2018 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

        Agreed, it has had that function.
        Another way of looking at this is that if male aggression (I am more interested in aggression than strength) is compensation for adaptive female non-aggression, then males are “fighting for two”. You could even say it is an example of altruistic violence, the instinct has to go beyond what would be personally necessary if females were taking a more equal share in fighting with outsiders/predators/prey, as is perhaps more the case with many other species.

    • Posted November 24, 2018 at 1:25 am | Permalink

      With such evolutionary biologists, one hardly needs creationists.

  14. JohnE
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Evolution is not a philosophy that says anything at all about how people “should” behave. It is simply the well-supported observation that organisms change over time, and the well-supported theory as to why that happens. According to the National Academy of Science, the occurrence of evolution is also a fact. Thus, blaming evolution and the biologists who teach it because knowledge of the fact of evolution has caused some people to do bad things is much like blaming physicists for teaching about gravity, since some people might misuse their knowledge of the fact of gravity to shove people they dislike off cliffs.

  15. Michael Hart
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    My understanding (from my archaeologist friends) is that this is the sort of thing that drove so many university anthropology departments into a messy divorce between the evolutionary archaeologists and the cultural anthropologists.

    I like the word in the title of the OP (“coopts”) which alludes to a sort of personal branding in this polemical approach to teaching. The writer finds a “jam” that can be made into her own distinctive approach to teaching evolution, and then promotes it as a way to increase the visibility of her personal brand. Any publicity or attention it grabs (even spot-on criticism like in the OP) is good for the brand. This personal branding seems to have become more common among academics who aspire to have a gig on the side as a public intellectual. Maybe that’s just my own mean-spirited take on what’s intended to be public engagement, but it is hard not to notice how much of actual present-day evolutionary science has to be ignored in order to hold the view that teachers of evolution should be teaching about racism and misogyny.

  16. Posted November 23, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    I recall when Nicholas Wade wrote a book claiming the ubiquity of genetic determinism he was met with trenchant opposition from geneticists, evolutionary biologists and biological anthropologists, 150 of whom signed a letter to the NYT.

    And Jerry’s one-time student and collaborator Allen Orr wrote a devastating critique of it–


  17. rickflick
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink


    • Richard benton
      Posted November 23, 2018 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      Hello rickflik update my ignorant working class computer illerate self what does the “sub” thing mean?Is it an acronym?Whats the history of this meme? Obviously its😆 approval?Jus making small talk😇

      • GBJames
        Posted November 23, 2018 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        It means “I want to get comments emailed to me and I can’t unless I make a comment and check the little check box”. It is short for “subscribe”, but more easily typed.

        • Richard benton
          Posted November 23, 2018 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          Thanks dude😇

  18. Richard benton
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Well my take on eugenics is that it’s a case of good intentions gone bad.Certainly all the sad imperfections that arise in human birth are enough to turn anybody’s stomach.The prince Machiavelli (which was once listed on the Chicago Tribunes top 10 must read) made some sage observations on the perils of what was certainly analogous to our modern social engineering mania

  19. Posted November 23, 2018 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    It seems the SJWs want us to spend every waking minute fighting the white male patriarchy. If there are any activities where we don’t do that, they will show us the error in our ways. Nothing is safe from their sterilizing death ray!

    • Richard benton
      Posted November 23, 2018 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      I’ve got heat shields 😘

  20. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    “We should spend a lot of time in evolution class teaching about the ways evolution has been used to promote bad social consequences.”

    What a f%&king waste of time.

    As I remember it from my long-ago schooldays, we had enough to do to learn the subject matter. Never mind digressions into sociology.

    I hereby propose that elementary physics classes (i.e. basic mechanics and kinematics) include significant segments on the social evils of the Industrial Revolution which it made possible. Who needs to learn Newton’s Laws when they could be learning about social ills in 19th Century slums?


    • Richard benton
      Posted November 23, 2018 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

      Yea!!Instead of doing the hard work of doing something that might actually improve the living standards of the dispossessed…like I dunno-Norman Borlaug

  21. BJ
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    This is the new thing: any and every subject, no matter how unconnected to social justice, must include social justice indoctrination. There are papers proposing this and how to do it for every single subject under the sun.

    The ideology must permeate every moment of life, lest someone stray down the wrong path!

    • dd
      Posted November 23, 2018 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      We are living in an age of religious and non-religious fundamentalism.

      And their proponents are our version of Savanarolla and Calvin….

      • GBJames
        Posted November 23, 2018 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

        What is “non-religious fundamentalism”?

        • Christopher
          Posted November 23, 2018 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

          Packers fans?

        • BJ
          Posted November 23, 2018 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

          Any fundamentalism that doesn’t revolve around a religion.

        • BJ
          Posted November 23, 2018 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

          I get your question, in that the word originally referred to an American Protestant movement, and then spread more generally to strict adherence to other religions. But it has become common usage as applied to non-religious movements/ideologies. The second definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.”

          • GBJames
            Posted November 24, 2018 at 8:54 am | Permalink

            Then rigorous science is an example of fundamentalism? I think the word is being misused.

            • BJ
              Posted November 24, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

              Come on, man. Once again: reductio ad absurdum. You know exactly what the word means, how it develops, and why it’s being used. I don’t know why you’re trying to start yet another argument.

              • Posted November 24, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink


              • GBJames
                Posted November 24, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

                Reductio ad absurdum? No way. It is reductio look it up in the dictionario, dude

              • BJ
                Posted November 24, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

                GBJames, I don’t even know what you’re talking about anymore. For the last two days, multiple people have argued with you, and on multiple occasions you have become rude, irritating, and utterly refused to engage their arguments. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but I’m done talking to you until you’re in a better mood or something. Maybe next week. You’re usually a lot better than you’ve been the last couple of days and I usually like having you around and talking to you, but not these past 48 hours. You’ve been nothing but nasty and consistently dodged arguments that disproved your comments.

              • GBJames
                Posted November 24, 2018 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

                Sorry to disappoint, BJ. I’ve been trying to express the principle by which religious and non-religious can be treated equally. I’m honestly not being hostile.

                I will cop to being annoyed by the misuse of the word “fundamentalism”. I guess I’ve heard the old “fundamentalist atheist” trope just one too many times.

              • Posted November 24, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

                Isn’t the problem with “atheist fundamentalists” the fact that atheism really only has one belief and even that is really lack of belief? I don’t think one can have a fundamentalist based on non-belief but pretty much any set of beliefs can have its fundamentalists. They’re just the subset of believers who refuse to accept any questioning.

              • BJ
                Posted November 24, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

                It’s OK, and I came on strong just now as well. It was really yesterday’s thread that got to me. Like I said before, I really do value you as a commenter. You’re one of the few people with whom I regularly disagree and still end up having productive conversations that make me think about my positions. It just seemed like you’re been pretty annoyed lately. Hey, maybe it’s the time of year; after all, this all occurred the day after Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving can be real tough, especially if you have a family that likes to talk politics (our hostess set a “no politics” rule for our gathering, and boy did it make things pleasant. Everyone was far happier).

              • GBJames
                Posted November 24, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

                Heh. As it happens this is a problem I have with my brother. How we can be so similar politically and end up so far apart is a mystery. We vote exactly the same. Yet he thinks I’m a bigot and I think he’s a woo-head. At least our parents are both dead and don’t need to listen to us. You and I should both be grateful he doen’s hang out here.

              • BJ
                Posted November 24, 2018 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

                Rare are the times when people make nice and show respect to each other on the internet. I think this all speaks pretty highly of the environment Jerry has fostered on this site!

        • dd
          Posted November 23, 2018 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

          Non-religious fundamentalism is also known as “secular fundamentalism”, which roughly, is the religion of left-wing academics, media, etc..

        • Posted November 24, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

          MAGA for one.

          • GBJames
            Posted November 24, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

            I don’t see how that fits any reasonable definition of “fundamentalism” unless you consider “supporting the Orange Menace no matter what” to be strict adherence to the basic principles of a subject or discipline.

            • Posted November 24, 2018 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

              I think you nailed it. I would also add their unquestioning belief in the many false conspiracy theories that are promoted by right-wing media and Trump himself.

            • BJ
              Posted November 24, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

              That’s not adherence to basic principles of a subject or discipline. First, what is the subject or discipline? Second, what are the principles? “Support X person” is not a principle. People who support Trump do, despite your surprise that they can be more nuanced than “hur I support stupid Cheeto Man,” disagree on certain policies. They just all happened to vote for the same guy and support him.

              This is like calling Clinton support — or supporters of any politician you don’t like — fundamentalists.

              • Posted November 24, 2018 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

                By your argument, we are incorrect in calling Christian fundamentalists using that label because they believe in God or Christ. It isn’t the support for a single person, Trump, that makes MAGAs fundamentalists. It’s the blind belief in the elements of the Trump agenda. Off the top of my head, these include (in no particular order): locking Hillary up, global warming is a hoax, immigrants are evil and a big problem, other countries can be bullied to the US’s advantage, all our troubles are caused by the elites. I’m sure there are more.

              • GBJames
                Posted November 24, 2018 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

                Paul, you’ve just listed irrational beliefs. Irrational beliefs and fundamentalist beliefs are the same things.

              • Posted November 24, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

                It’s perhaps getting a bit too nit-picky but I disagree. Fundamentalists believe their tenets blindly but that doesn’t make the tenets wrong. I’m sure there are Fundamentalist believers in manmade global warming who haven’t spent a moment thinking it through. Irrational means they’ve thought it through but didn’t use logic or reason.

              • GBJames
                Posted November 24, 2018 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

                I’ll go with the dictionary.

                I agree with BJ here. There’s precious little principle or discipline in MAGAville to be fundamental about.

                (Nor do I think the MAGAtists have thought much through rationally.)

          • BJ
            Posted November 24, 2018 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

            I know you agreed with me earlier, but MAGA is not fundamentalism; otherwise, any and all political groups would be examples of it. MAGA is just a bunch of people who voted for and support the same person. They don’t agree on every single policy and idea, nor do they need to in order to be “MAGA.” This is like calling Clinton voters fundamentalists.

            • GBJames
              Posted November 24, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

              We agree! I can now go peacefully into that long night!

            • Posted November 24, 2018 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

              I disagree. Any kind of belief shared by a group of people who don’t question their belief’s tenets as deserving of the “fundamentalist” label. Sure, there are fundamentalists on the left. I suspect that there are fundamentalists in practically any field. The MAGAs are significant in their high percentage of fundamentalism. I have no hard data to support my position though.

              • GBJames
                Posted November 24, 2018 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

                I think that you are correct that the MAGA club has a high percentage of fundamentalists. But these are religious fundamentalists that have (something) to be fundamental about. There’s a referent for their religious beliefs that defines fundamentalism. Those MAGA types that are not religious, although a minority, don’t become fundamentalists by virtue of their red hats.

              • BJ
                Posted November 24, 2018 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

                If you look at the definition of fundamentalism, your application of it to Trump supporters doesn’t make sense. Their group has no prerequisite beliefs. You can be part of it while disagreeing with the majority on a host of issues. It can’t be fundamentalism if it’s not organized around a strict and literal adherence to a specific set a principles. If MAGA/Trump supporters are fundamentalists, then the logical conclusion is that we are all fundamentalists, as we all can be grouped into one political movement/group/support for a politician based on some of our beliefs.

                If a word’s definition/usage has no value as a descriptor, it’s useless and doesn’t really have a definition at all.

  22. Negasta
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    SJW’s turn everything they infiltrate to shit.

  23. Posted November 23, 2018 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Dunsworth is all about talking about Hitler, misogyny and murdering kittens and then mentioning some names or groups she doesn’t like. It always comes down to this with religious people, Woke or Abrahamitic.

    I don’t think she’s an honest person deserving serious attention, though I am glad you wrote your critique for the benefit of others who might think this way.

  24. Adam Friended
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    It’s very disappointing to see either side of the political spectrum driving a wedge between evolutionary science and the general public. I would love to see an end to this perpetual conflation of the search for truth and political activism.

  25. Posted November 23, 2018 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    Ironic how the far left and right both cling to human exceptionalism. Another point for the ideological horseshoe, I suppose.


  26. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted November 24, 2018 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    In August our host, in a post about Mr Egnor, linked to an outstanding paper about the canard that Hitler was influenced by Darwin. Worth of linking again for those who missed it.

  27. peepuk
    Posted November 24, 2018 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    Politically motivated reasoning as usual.

    “We should spend a lot of time in evolution class teaching about the ways evolution has been used to promote bad social consequences”

    In principle I agree with this statement.

    Ironically evolution is incompatible with the idea that humans have more intrinsic value than other biological robots like cockroaches or fruit flies. Theory of evolution is your friend in discussions about equality.

    Currently we already employing modern eugenics on embryos to prevent babies being born with single gene disorders. It is far from clear that we shouldn’t do that.

    We are on the verge of an eugenics revolution f.i. creating smarter baby’s. Technological this is not a problem anymore.

    Don’t think this kind of ‘progress’ is stoppable, and I don’t think we know whether this will be a good thing or that society should try to keep humans stupid.

  28. leonkrier
    Posted November 24, 2018 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    The Evolution of Beauty by Richard Prum addresses sexual selection as an independent evolutionary force operating in the same environment as natural selection (cf The Descent of Man). Prum, an ornithologist, addresses ‘female sexual autonomy’ (not power over males)regarding mate choice. This mate choice is based, not upon some ‘genetic pot of gold’ at the end of this choice, but simply that it is what the female prefers. Prum also has constructive criticism of ‘evolutionary psychology.’ Regarding ‘genetic/physical determinism,’ The Equations of Life by Charles Cockell is a most captivating read.

  29. James
    Posted November 24, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    A lot of you (including Jerry) are missing he point here, as are the authors referred to who in the comments who are attempting to de-link ideas about eugenics and societal impacts of evolution.

    Here’s the problem with your mindset: it’s not that a good understanding of evolution leads to its misuse in the form of eugenics, etc. I can perfectly agree with everyone here that this hasn’t happened in history. The problem is that a POOR understanding of evolution can. It’s the old cliche of “knowing just enough to be dangerous”. So sure, Hitler was not an expert in evolutionary principles and theory when he implemented ideas of selection, etc. into his racial thinking- but he thought he knew some basic ideas about selection (natural or artificial) and was willing to use that little tidbit to achieve his own aims.

    Here’s a more modern example, and it’s why I think evolutionary biologists are STUPID to brush this argument under the rug: the modern alt-right.

    About a decade ago I used to listen to a shock-jock radio program regularly. At first, I listened to it for the laughs. As I matured, I began to realize it was a window into the conservative-populist mindset- what we now call the alt-right. In particular, one of the hosts was borderline obsessed with how his (very limited) understanding of evolution supported his interpretation of racial theories (which was very racist)- and this is a person with a microphone reaching at least hundreds of thousands of people daily! Note that he still has these views and still has a subscriber online platform. He was doing the same as Hitler. He was taking a very limited understanding of reality, and using that little piece he thought he knew to make some pretty outrageous claims about the nature of humanity, AND share those with a very large audience.

    The more I see the right’s populism rise, the more I see this very same misapplication of evolutionary principles to humanity/society. And to be honest, it is NOT a hard trap to fall into. The logic is deceptively alluring if one is already starting from even a slightly-biased mindset.

    Again, let’s be clear- it’s not a good understanding of evolution that leads to its misuse. It’s a poor/limited understanding. It’s not your A+ students you need to be reaching here- it’s the Ds and Fs.

    Thus, I profoundly disagree that we just don’t have the time or a responsibility to at least attempt to ensure our students understand how the principles of evolution can be twisted to fit populist or racial agendas. Especially in today’s world, the costs are far too great.

    • Posted November 24, 2018 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      The remedy is to teach evolution better, not to lard it with Dunsworth’s personal social-justice recommendations. As for Hitler imposing genocide because he didn’t understand evolution right, that argument is laughable. You haven’t read Bob Richards’ arguments on why Hitler wasn’t a Darwinian, apparently.

      Finally, you haven’t absorbed the fact that 1. there’s not time to do this in science class and 2. whose ideology are we supposed to push? There’s a place for this kind of stuff, but it’s not in science class.

      Oh, and as for your claim that those of us who resist making the evolution/social justice connection are STUPID (in capital letters), that’s a rules violation and name-calling of many readers, so you’re gone. Learn to comment civilly, without the name calling.

    • GBJames
      Posted November 24, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Evolution classes should teach evolution. History, including the history of science and it’s misuse, belongs in History classes. These things are not the same.

  30. Posted November 25, 2018 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    As to David Sloan Wilson himself, I think he’s trying to steer a middle ground in the current “science wars” and his recent article on the Lindsay/Boghossian hoax and its larger is actually not bad:


    But yes, the Dunsworth article they published was typical SJW bomb-throwing, and it’s unfortunate. I actually do think there’s a grain of truth hiding in that article, but it’s so lost under Dunsworth’s hyper-ideological POV and laughable fear of James Damore and the like as to cloud whatever she got right.

    I will say, though, that I don’t entirely agree that it’s not worth the “class time” to incorporate this kind of critical look at the abuses of science into the curriculum. In the program where I’ve taught, we do incorporate bioethics somewhere in the curriculum, and some understanding of the abuses of evolutionary theory might well be part of that. That said, I really don’t like her idea that any teaching of evolution at all must contain a lengthy disclaimer denouncing everybody from Francis Galton to James Damore.

  31. Posted November 26, 2018 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I think correcting misinterpretations of the material is a suitable goal for teachers regardless of the subject. But one can only do so much of this.

    It is also important to stress that these “scientific racism” things *are* mispresentations. Bunge suggests, for example, that Lewontin’s _Biology as Ideology_ should have actually been titled _Ideology as Biology_, because pseudoscience (and pseudotechnology) are exactly that – the nonscientific clothed in borrowed language and bad metaphors.

  32. It’s over, man
    Posted December 1, 2018 at 2:56 am | Permalink

    I’m calling it: The Dunsworths of the world are going to win this battle. Social justice has too much momentum in the academe, in tech, & in media—attitudes are being forged, & reason & science will be sacrificed on the alter of social justice.

  33. David Catchpoole
    Posted December 10, 2018 at 4:27 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry, is there a slight mix-up here, i.e. should one of the two ‘evolution’ occurrences actually be ‘religion’ instead?:

    “and there’s ample evidence that rejection of evolution is deeply connected with acceptance of evolution.”

    • Posted December 10, 2018 at 4:29 am | Permalink

      Indeed, the second “evolution” should be “religion”. I’ve corrected this; thank you!

Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: