Monday, October 22, 2007

Professor Watson in Trouble

I have never had much time for James Watson or Francis Crick. They seemed to me to combine overbearing arrogance with over achievement. The treatment of Rosalind Franklin and the way she was airbrushed out of history still causes my hackles to rise, even though the picture has now been largely corrected. Both Watson and Crick were also neo-atheists before the event. Watson is quoted in The God Delusion, IIRC, as finding theists so embarrassing that he has no idea what to say to them.

So the I allowed myself half a smile at how he has come a cropper with some inflammatory remarks about race and IQ. Any one who bases conclusions about general intelligence on the outcome of IQ tests is being extremely foolish. Richard Dawkins himself has been uncharacteristically silent over Watson's defenestration, but his familar Sue Blackmore did try to defend him up to a point.

The most interesting article is in today's Guardian because it sheds some historical light on the whole matter. Johnjoe McFadden looks at the history of the eugenics movement. The supporters of eugenics are a role call of prewar 'freethinkers': George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Marie Stopes and Virgina Woolf. What the article does not tell us is that both Catholic and Protestant Churches fought hard and ultimately successfully for the human rights of the handicapped, disadvantaged and mentally ill. However, the death blow to eugenics was the Nazis actually doing what English progressives only talked about. Only by changing sides have freethinkers been able to get onto the right side of this argument and start to champion universal human rights themselves. Watson, perhaps, never realised that the world has moved on.

Click here to read the first chapter of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science absolutely free.


Bjørn Are said...

Good article as usual!

I have made some comments of my own here:

Bjørn Are said...

Others have also been inspired by you this time, James, ref.

As you by some whim of fate don't read Noregian, I will mention that you here get support from the editor of the Norwegian Secular Humanist magazine, "Humanist". Among the things he says, is that christians in the particular area of eugenics have reason to be more proud than humanists.

James said...

Well done picking up Chesterton's work on the subject. The man really was a prophet. Thanks for the link to the Norwegian humanists too!

Best wishes


SlagleRock said...

I think part of the problem is that people equate intelligence with worth or value. So to say that some people are less intelligent than others is to say they're not as valuable. The Christian answer to this, that our worth is based on God's unconditional love for each individual, is particularly relevant here.

Of course, the other part of the problem is that he insulted an entire ethnicity, and used bogus science to back it up.