John West — Master Quote-Miner

Buffoon Award

At the blog of the Discoveroids — described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page — there’s a new post by John West (whom we affectionately call “Westie”). Most of you know who he is. Westie is Associate Director of the Discoveroids’ creationist “think tank,” which makes him one of the chief Keepers of their wedge strategy. He was also an early winner of the Curmudgeon’s Buffoon Award, thus the jolly logo above this post.

Westie’s latest is Noted Darwinist Sir David Attenborough Calls Humans “a Plague”. After a tirade about the obvious evils of coercive population planning (we don’t disagree there), Westie then — inevitably! — blames this newest evil on Darwin. We’ll give you some excerpts, with bold font added by us and his links omitted. He says:

In reality, the Earth is capable of producing plenty of food for those currently living in Ethiopia and other parts of the world, and starvation in Africa (and elsewhere) during the past century has had little to do with overpopulation and a lot to do with government corruption, incompetence, and the misuse of food as a weapon by tyrannical regimes (e.g., Stalin’s “harvest of sorrow” in Ukraine during the 1930s).

As we said, there’s no argument about that stuff. But toward the end of his essay, Westie gets lost in the creationist twilight zone:

This promotion of population elimination as the highest human good undoubtedly has many roots, but Charles Darwin certainly played a formative role. After all, it was Darwin, inspired by the Rev. Thomas Malthus, who enshrined death and the struggle for existence as the great engines of progress in nature.

Darwin “enshrined death and the struggle for existence” as the great engines of progress? Well, not exactly. Malthus did give Darwin the idea for the mechanism for evolution. As we wrote in What Did Darwin Do?:

Darwin credits Thomas Malthus for sparking his idea of natural selection. See his autobiographical notes: at page 83-84 (at that site, search for “Malthus”):

[Quote from Darwin:] In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement ‘Malthus on Population,’ and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work …

Twenty years after reading Malthus, in Origin of Species, Chapter 3 – Struggle for Existence, Darwin wrote:

Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving, for, of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive. I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man’s power of selection.

[…]

We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey … .

[…]

A struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase. Every being, which during its natural lifetime produces several eggs or seeds, must suffer destruction during some period of its life, and during some season or occasional year, otherwise, on the principle of geometrical increase, its numbers would quickly become so inordinately great that no country could support the product. … It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms … .

That’s hardly “enshrining” death, and it’s certainly not a plea for coercive government population controls. Rather, it’s an accurate description of what happens in nature that causes species to evolve.

Perhaps, due to his kinder, gentler character, Westie prefers to go tiptoeing through the tulips, ignoring reality, and deluding himself into thinking that the intelligent designer — blessed be he! — has it all planned out so everything happens prettily and painlessly, as in one of those cooking shows on television where the lovely lady whips up a five-course meal without getting her delicate fingers dirty. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but mother nature is a tough old gal, and she wears a bloody apron.

At this point, to “prove” his accusations against Darwin, Westie engages in a bit of quote-mining:

As he wrote in his book On the Origin of Species: “Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows.” [Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species (1859 edition, J. Murray, London), p. 490.]

Westie links to the book, but not to the chapter in which his quote appears. We’ll remedy that oversight. It’s from the last paragraph in Darwin’s final chapter of Origins, Chapter 14, in which he said, with Westie’s mined segment shown in red:

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Again we ask: Is Darwin “enshrining” death? Or is Westie engaging in some particularly shabby quote-mining? To help you decide, here’s more from Westie’s essay, which follows immediately after his mined quote:

Ever since Darwin, thinkers influenced by him have been preoccupied with death and population elimination as ways to usher in their utopias. Children, who used to be cherished as gifts from a loving God, became increasingly viewed by intellectual elites as deadweights, either because they were produced by races supposedly lower on the evolutionary scale, or because of an effort to apply the Darwinian-Malthusian understanding of nature to human society.

Yes, “ever since Darwin,” and certainly never before. And unquestionably because of Darwin. Westie’s mined quote makes that so very clear. Doesn’t it?

Westie’s next and final paragraph is a veritable climax of malice, including accusations against Darwin not only for the eugenics movement but also “the population control movement and the abortion crusade.” Except for abortion, which Darwin never championed and which hasn’t been a topic for our blog, we’ve debunked all of those nonsensical claims (see Racism, Eugenics, and Darwin), and we won’t bother doing it again.

So there you are. We always have fun discussing Westie’s little essays. And you gotta admit — whatever else you may think of Westie, he’s a great creationist.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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5 responses to “John West — Master Quote-Miner

  1. Alex Shuffell

    I never knew about Malthus’ influence on Darwin, thanks. x
    Unless this is getting too off topic, what does make a creationist a great creationist?

  2. From Alex: “Unless this is getting too off topic, what does make a creationist a great creationist?”
    This is my take. A great creationist is simply the most outrageous, most insane, and most verbose of the creationists.

  3. I wonder if Westie is related to our canned fish manufacturer here underside whose slogan is “John West is best”.
    BTW, they’re getting canned over here for destructive fishing practises.

  4. To think that West was teaching at Seattle Pacific University and had a brief tenure as dept. chair. I heard he left, or was asked to leave, when he kept feeding his students his anti-science/anti-Darwin diatribes. These days he writes for churchie papers/magazines and speaks at churches, often offering several days of “discussions” and continues on with his anti-Darwin (who was a Nazi as are all evolutionists) tirades.

    So he states “Children, who used to be cherished as gifts from a loving God,…” Doesn’t he mean the Intelligent Designer here?

  5. Clearly (to me at least) West felt compelled to write a piece on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and this sad little irrelevant bit of tripe was the best he could do.