October 22, 2007
Dazed by DNA
Perhaps James Watson should pick up the Good Book.
James Watson, with Francis Crick back in 1962 one of the co-discoverers of the DNA double -helix, is in rhetorical hell for saying in an October 14 interview that he is "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says not really."
Watson also said he sees no reason to believe different races in different parts of the world should have evolved identically, and that while we may hope all groups are equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true."
Now faced with the cancellation of his British book tour (Watson has written a new book, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science) and an international outcry, a "mortified" Watson, 79, is now busily apologizing "unreservedly."
"I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said," Watson said during an appearance at the Royal Society in London. "I can certainly understand why people, reading those words, have reacted in the ways that they have."
"To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief."
Interesting. This is the same un-boring Watson who in the past has been the author of any number of provocative comments that seek to reduce human life down to the size of the double-helix. Watson has said, "You know, the only people who say that stupid people don't exist are people who are not stupid. We know that if we go to homeless people there is an underclass with a very strong mental disease component. Those people can't pull themselves together, the brain just won't allow it. So it is not that they are weak in character, they are seriously unequal."
Watson is a persistent advocate of eugenics--improving human capacity through genetics. As practiced under people such as Margaret Sanger and Adolf Hitler, eugenics also became a convenient excuse to eliminate "undesirables." Watson thinks we can do eugenics right this time, though.
Should Hitler harm us for the next 200 years by saying that we cannot do genetics? People say to me that 'you are acting like Hitler'. People have accused me of being a Nazi just because I won't accept raw evolution, because I wanted to filter it a little and try to improve the quality of human life," he says. "We can say that we want to improve human beings genetically but we don't want to do it by the ways that were attempted in the past."
As William Dembski slyly comments, "Anybody willing to offer predictions about when Darwinists will be getting back big time into the eugenics business?"
For Watson now to wonder how he could have said such things seems disingenuous. The comments track very well with his reductionistic, materialistic scientism. Yes, it's good that he has apologized. But it seems odd that a man of such great learning and accomplishment would be so scientifically naive. Almost any debate in science has a nature vs. nurture component, and for Watson to boil everything down to DNA seems myopic at best. If differering "races" have different IQ or test scores, could some of that difference be explained by life experiences, nutrition, and educational opportunities? Why so quickly resort solely to biological explanations?
Certainly Watson's bias is for materialistic answers to life's questions. As he said once,
"The book of the DNA sequence would in time be regarded as more relevant to human life than the Bible.
"It tells us who we are," he says, adding without a hint of irony: "I've never read the Bible, so I'm not sure I've missed much."
One hopes that in the coming days Dr. Watson will figure out what he has been missing.