Vernon Kellogg: An Inadvertent Critique of Scientism

August 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

Writing seven years after the date of the excerpt below, Vernon Kellogg in an article for ‘The Atlantic’, wrote a response to William Jennings Bryan’s stand against evolution. Something made famous by The Scopes Trial in 1925.

Kellogg’s 1924 essay was entitled ‘The Modern View of Evolution‘. In it Kellogg, a biologist, writes from a position that understands the importance of making a distinction between ‘Social Darwinism’ and ‘Darwinian Evolutionary Theory’. For an excellent summary of Bryan’s views after the Scopes Trial was closed, I recommend checking out ‘The Last Message of William Jennings Bryan’.

Bryan points to the same distinction in his concerns about evolutionary theory. However his overall argument becomes generalised, which overshadows his points. In my view, outside this, his closing statement is outstanding.

The excerpt below is from Kellogg’s assessment of the impact of scientism, something that pushed him beyond pacifism. As a result he became an advocate for the just resistance against such views. Scientism is defined as an ‘exaggerated trust in the efficacy of  science‘ (Merriam-Webster).

Although I am not yet in complete agreement with the narrator when he suggests that Darwin later succumbed to Social Darwinism/Scientific Socialism.The video attached is legit and worth watching.

The historical value here is found in its contemporary relevance as an indictment against scientism and totalitarianism.

Theology remains a necessary critique (Barth) and this seems to back that up.

To Whom It May Concern,
Vernon L Kellogg‘One by one any German would give up, in all matters in which he acted as a part of the German administration, all of the thinking, all of the feeling, all of the conscience which might be characteristic of him as an individual, a free man, a separate soul made sacred by the touch of the Creator.
And he did this to accept the control and standards of an impersonal, intangible, inhuman, great cold fabric made of logic and casuistry and utter, utter cruelty, called the State — or often, for purposes of deception, the Fatherland.
There is fatherland in Germany, but it is not the German State. It is German soil and German ancestry, but not the horrible, depersonalized, super-organic state machine, built and managed by a few ego-maniacs of incredible selfishness and of utter callousness to the sufferings, bodily and mental, of their own as well as any other people in their range of contact.
But this machine is a Frankenstein that will turn on its own creators and work their destruction, together with its own.
Such sacrifice and degradation of human personality as national control by such a machine requires, can have no permanence in a world moving certainly, even if hesitatingly and deviously, toward individualism and the recognition of personal values…
…Well, I say it dispassionately but with conviction: if I understand theirs, it is a point of view that will never allow any land or people controlled by it to exist peacefully by the side of a people governed by our point of view.
For their point of view does not permit of a live-and-let-live kind of carrying on. It is a point of view that justifies itself by a whole-hearted acceptance of the worst of Neo (social) Darwinism, the omnipotence of natural selection applied rigorously to human life and society and culture.
The creed of the All-macht (omnipotent power) of natural selection based on violent and fatal competitive struggle is the gospel of the German intellectuals; all else is illusion and anathema.
The assumption among them is that the Germans are the chosen race (the Ubermensch), and German social and political organisation the chosen type of human community life, and you have a wall of logic and conviction that you can break your head against but can never shatter – by headwork.You long for the muscles of Samson…
Here the pale ascetic intellectual and the burly, red-faced butcher meet on common ground here. And they wonder why the world comes together to resist this philosophy – and this butcher- to the death!
Any people who have dedicated itself to the philosophy and practice of war as a means of human advancement is put into a position of impotence to indulge its belief at will.
My conviction is that Germany is such a people, and that it can be put to this position only by the result of war itself. It knows no other argument and it will accept no other decision[i]. ’
Vernon Kellogg, 1917 
(Biologist and Director of The Commission for the relief of Belgium 1915-1916)

 

Sources:

[i] Kellogg, V.L. 1917 Headquarters Nights: A Record of Conversations and Experiences at the Headquarters of the German Army in France and Belgium (Annotated) (Loc. 459-460). Rueggisberg Press. 2010 Kindle Ed.

Image: Vernon Lyman Kellogg Wikipedia

#Lestweforget

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