Myers' Old Ideas - Evolution News & Views

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Myers' Old Ideas

300px-Eugenics_Quarterly_to_Social_Biology.jpgP.Z. Myers takes me to task for this irony that I recently pointed out : the data he cited to argue that Christian faith and prayer were irrelevant to advances in cancer care actually came from a children's hospital-- St. Jude's Hospital-- that was founded explicitly on Christian faith. In fact, St. Jude's Hospital was founded explicitly on a prayer. Myers sneers at my observation, and he extols science and mocks the culture of faith from which modern science and medicine arose:

Hmmm. Given that the data shows a change, a rise in cancer survival within the past few decades, was there some breakthrough in prayer efficacy 20 years ago? Thumbs in vs. thumbs out in the folded hands thing? Accent on the "A-" or on the "men!"? Sudden change from the old useless lazy god to a new and improved go-getter god? I suspect the correlations all show the effectiveness of entirely secular improvements in treatment, since the god-stuff hasn't changed from it's [sic] usual ineffectiveness at all...Egnor makes much of the fact that churches built hospitals, and that the data came from a religiously funded organization. Christians aren't that stupid; they can recognize a successful paradigm when they see it, and can jump on the bandwagon quite well. These hospitals founded by churches are using medicine, not faith, to do their healing. We're sloshing about in the mud of religion, so you can't credit the muck when something rises above the superstition to shine simply because everyone's hands are filthy with dirt...Faith and prayer do nothing.
Myers, of course, isn't the first scientist to proclaim the supremacy of science divorced from the culture and ethics that gave rise it. Exaltation of science and denigration of Christian faith has had quite a run since the last half of the19th century. Myers' idolatry of science and scorn for our religious heritage has antecedents.

On August 1, 1872, the journal "The Fortnightly Review" published this essay :

"Statistical Inquiries Into the Efficacy of Prayer"
The efficacy of prayer seems to me a simple, as it is a perfectly appropriate and legitimate subject of scientific inquiry. Whether prayer is efficacious or not, in any given sense, is a matter of fact on which each man must form an opinion for himself. His decision will lie based upon data more or less justly handled, according to his education and habits. An unscientific reasoner will be guided by a confused recollection of crude experience. A scientific reasoner will scrutinise each separate experience before he admits it as evidence, and will compare all the cases he has selected on a methodical system...The greater part of mankind, during all the historic ages, have been accustomed to pray for temporal advantages. How vain, it may be urged, must be the reasoning that ventures to oppose this mighty consensus of belief! Not so. The argument of universality either proves too much, or else it is suicidal. It either compels us to admit that the prayers of Pagans, of Fetish worshippers, and of Buddhists who turn praying-wheels, are recompensed in the same way as those of orthodox believers; or else the general consensus proves that it has no better foundation than the universal tendency of man to gross credulity...[Atheists]can dwell on the undoubted fact, that there exists a solidarity between themselves and what surrounds them, through the endless reactions of physical laws, among which the hereditary influences are to be included. They know that they are descended from an endless past, that they have a brotherhood with all that is, and have each his own share of responsibility in the parentage of an endless future. The effort to familiarise the imagination with this great idea has much in common with the effort of communing with a God, and its reaction on the mind of the thinker is in many important respects the same. It may not equally rejoice the heart, but it is quite as powerful in ennobling the resolves, and it is found to give serenity during life and in the shadow of approaching death.

The author of this essay was Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton shared Myers' exaltation of science and disdain for Christian faith and prayer, although Galton's views are more nuanced and less explicitly venomous than Myers'.

Galton was the father of eugenics-- the application of the principles of scientific breeding to human beings. Scientific eugenicists were without exception Darwinists, and the rationale for eugenics was explicitly based on a Darwinian understanding of the origin of man. According to Darwin's theory, man arose from lower animals by a purely materialistic process of random mutation and natural selection. Divine agency-- design-- of any kind was denied. Natural selection entailed struggle for existence-- "survival of the fittest"-- and eugenicists noted that ordinary human compassion and altruism had undesirable effects on human 'stock' that enabled survival of the weak and that degraded the human race. In fact, eugenecists were particularly despondent about improvements in medical care, such as the smallpox vaccine, that allowed less robust people to survive epidemics. Charles Darwin, in the sixth chapter of "Descent of Man", explicitly lamented the impact of the smallpox vaccine on the quality of the human race:

...the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this [vaccines to prevent epidemics] must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

Eugenicists had a scientific answer to the problem of 'allowing our worst (human) animals to breed': take control of human reproduction. Scientific breeding of human beings was the eugenic answer to mankind's woes. Eugenics dominated medical science and practice in the United States for half a century, and was indispensible to German medicine in the 1930' s and early 1940's.

Myers of course isn't an explicit eugenicist. Few Darwinists are anymore, although there are exceptions. To paraphrase Myers, Darwinists aren't that stupid; they can recognize an unsuccessful paradigm when they see it, and can jump off the bandwagon quite well. Yet modern Darwinists haven't left the procession. Myers embraces whole-heartedly Galton's fundamentalist Darwinism and atheist-materialist view of the relationship between science, faith, and medicine. Galton and Myers -- scientists without medical training or experience-- were and are ignorant of the culture that actually gives rise to advances in medical care. Genuine advances in modern medicine, such as vaccines and the remarkable improvements in the cure rates for childhood leukemia, are the result of a complex interplay of good science, compassionate care, and the passion of many ordinary men and women to better the lives of others, often at great sacrifice to themselves. Genuine advances in modern medicine are the products of a culture-- Christian culture.

Galton's idolatry of science and his rejection of Christian faith-- a view hardly distinguishable, except by its erudition, from Myers' view-- had a profound influence on 20th century medical science and practice. Ideas have consequences, and ideas have antecedents. The science that rose from these atheist and Darwinist ideas-- the science of eugenics-- gave rise to the darkest era in the history of medicine. Myers' virulent Darwinism and his anti-Christian bigotry are just uncommonly repellant expressions of Galton's intrinsically repellant ideology. The metaphysical basis for eugenics-- the Darwinist understanding of human origins-- lives on in the atheist claque in contemporary science.

What is it about Myers' exaltation of science and hatred of Christian culture that we still don't understand?