No, Jerry Bergman: Charles Darwin Was Not Psychotic
Over several decades fundamentalist Christian author Jerry Bergman has developed a cottage industry attempting to place doubt on evolutionary theory by invoking ad-hominem and argumentum ad consequentiam attacks on the person of Charles Darwin. He has variously portrayed Darwin as being grossly more racist and misogynistic than his Victorian peers (e.g., 2011a; 2011b), sadistic and cruel (e.g., 2005; 2011c), and of being the direct causative agent for a ludicrously diverse set of schools of thought and events such as communism (Bergman, 2001a), laissez-faire capitalism (Bergman, 2001b), Freudian psychoanalysis (Bergman, 2010), Nazi political philosophy (Bergman, 2012a), motivation behind the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik (Bergman, 2012b), frontal lobotomies (Bergman, 2018) and Chinese genocide (Bergman, 2019). Needless to say, Bergman’s articles do not meet the academic standards required of recognised, properly peer reviewed academic journals so he resorts to publishing in creationist magazines. Similarly, his books are published either by vanity publishers or a fundamentalist Christian concern specialising in homeschooling textbooks.
This essay discusses and refutes Bergman’s attempts, in two articles (Bergman 2004; 2005) and two book chapters (Bergman, 2011c; 2011d), to convince his readers that Charles Darwin was seriously mentally ill and likely psychotic.
•Bergman's Spurious Logic•
Purely for the purposes of argument, let’s grant that Bergman is correct and every one of the things he’s accused Darwin of are true. Then, if Darwin had been a microbiologist and had discovered penicillin, would that fact render antibiotics ineffectual? Of course not. So how do Bergman’s attacks on Darwin render the mechanisms of evolutionary theory false? He offers no argument, he simply states (Bergman, 2004):
"………….one must consider his mental condition and how it affected his work and conclusions."
Must we do this for all scientists? He further claims (2011d):
"Unfortunately, most Darwin biographers have shied away from this topic, partly because Darwin is now idolized by most scientists and historians."
This statement is both untruthful and a non-sequitur. Darwin is not idolised. Rightfully considered to be of important historical interest is not idolatry. It is also a common creationist tactic to insinuate that modern evolutionary theory remains primarily dependent on Darwin’s 19th century publications, a crude attempt to portray much of current evolutionary biology as unscientific, quasi-religious, undergirded by little more than belief. But evolutionary biology is well past the stage of needing to rely on belief. Supporting empirical evidence is expanding at a rapid rate. Lane (2015), for example, reports a more than four-fold increase, across 22 years, of peer reviewed papers dealing with biological evolution and listed in the then Science Citation Index (now Web of Science). Moreover, this increase was observed for every year, relative to the previous years. By 2013, over 1000 papers a week were being published. If Bergman is correct, if Darwin’s "mental condition" did adversely affect “his work and conclusions” then we would expect Darwinian evolutionary theory, and especially the role of natural selection, to have gone the way of phlogiston. This clearly hasn’t happened precisely because of the sheer amount of empirical data that undergirds the explanatory power of concepts such as common ancestry and natural selection etc.
Bergman is also implying that we should be suspicious of, or only trust investigators whose psychological profile meets some predefined standard of ‘normality’. But again, data speaks for itself. We have numerous examples of investigators who have suffered from reliably identified psychopathology yet, like Darwin, are giants in their respective fields. Mathematician Kurt Gödel, of whom it was written "the subject of logic will never again be the same" was a lifelong hypochondriac with a fear of being poisoned. He would consume large amounts of medication for his self-diagnosed illnesses. Eventually he insisted on eating only food prepared by his wife. When she was hospitalised for several months he starved himself, weighing only 29 kg at his death (Dawson, 2006). The Nobel laureate (among numerous other prizes) mathematician John Nash described his psychological problems (Nash, 1995), first experienced at 31 years of age, as a shift:
"…….from scientific rationality of thinking into the delusional thinking characteristic of persons who are psychiatrically diagnosed as 'schizophrenic' or 'paranoid schizophrenic'"
He was diagnosed as schizophrenic, as was one of his sons, abandoned his first wife and young child and spent periods of several months at a time in psychiatric hospitals (Nash, 1995). Nash was clearly, at times, experiencing psychotic episodes. Does Bergman shows the same antipathy to Nash’s mathematical contributions as he does to Darwin’s biological contributions? I somehow doubt it. Like Nash, the influential population geneticist George Price also deserted his young family. He suffered long standing depression, was a devout Christian convert experiencing numerous visions of Jesus, became a homeless squatter, and eventually committed suicide by cutting his throat (Harman, 2010).
In contrast, Darwin’s personal and professional life was characterised by remarkable stability. In 1842, after three years of marriage, he moved from central London to the small village of Down in Kent (now named Downe; Bergman, 2011d tells us Down is a "city in England"). He lived there continuously until he died at home 40 years later at what was then considered a good old age. He fathered 10 children in 17 years (three of whom died in childhood, not unusual for the time), four of whom became well known in their own right as scientists, a politician and a businessman. He wrote 19 books and published some 150 scientific papers as well as developing the classification system for Cirrepedia, a subclass of barnacles. We can be certain that Darwin’s symptom burden, though no doubt troubling for him and his closest, were nowhere as devastating as that of Gödel, Nash or Price.
Regarding the numerous diagnoses for Darwin’s psychological ailments, Bergman (2004) informs us that "all of these causes have largely been refuted." This is certainly fair to state but, left to hover without further discussion as to why this might be so, we are left with the imputation that Bergman’s putative diagnosis of psychosis is therefore correct. This is logically fallacious. Bergman is invoking a variant of the age-old creationist canard ‘if evolution cannot explain (insert any x) then it must be the case that biblical creation is true’. We can put Bergman’s assertion in the form of a disjunctive syllogism:
P1: Either psychosis accounts for Darwin’s symptoms or something not-psychosis accounts for Darwin’s symptoms.
P2: Something not-psychosis has been "largely refuted" and so cannot properly account for Darwin’s symptoms.
C: Therefore: Psychosis accounts for Darwin’s symptoms.
Note, however, that Bergman renders a false dichotomy. Bergman’s suggested diagnosis of ‘psychosis’ is a singleton. He makes no attempt to specify, according to the diagnoses available under the then current DSM-IV, the category of psychosis that Darwin suffered. In contrast, diagnoses included under the rubric of ‘not-psychosis’ are multiple, not exhaustive, and are subject to increases in medical knowledge. If we take Bergman’s argument back to bare bones we get:
P1: (p) or (not-p)
P2: not (not-p)
C: Therefore: (p)
But in Bergman’s dichotomy ‘not (not-p)’ is equivalent to p. In other words, the logic underlying Bergman’s argument that Darwin was psychotic rests on no more than ‘(p) therefore (p)’. It is a trivial assertion. The fact that alternative diagnoses have been refuted does not make his putative diagnosis the correct one by default. He needs to build his case with a logical progression based on the evidence and, as we shall see, he is very far from achieving this.
We know a great deal about Darwin’s medical history from both himself and diverse sources close to him. We have primary source documents such as Darwin’s own diary of health, started on Jan 1st 1849, which was meticulously kept; his correspondence with various doctors, friends and scientific colleagues; his autobiography; his wife Emma’s diary (albeit much less detailed than Charles’); as well as the writings of his children and of other family members. Darwin’s symptomatology was complex including marked symptoms of neurological and psychological concern and, unfortunately, there are no biological samples available. Briefly, from primary sources, we can glean that the following physical and psychological symptoms were present at some point in his life:
Dermatological: Eczema (widely considered to meet the criteria for atopic dermatitis) began at 19 years of age on the lips and spreading to the hands. He grew his voluminous beard to hide facial eczema. Recurrent boils. As he aged he was observed to show a darkening of skin pigmentation.
Gastrointestinal: While at university in Cambridge he was a member of the ‘Gourmet Club’ (aka the ‘Glutton Club’) and attended their famously voluptuous banquets. Later, frequent attacks of abdominal pains, nausea and cyclical vomiting, flatulence. It is possible that his vomiting was the cause of his tooth decay in adulthood.
Cardiovascular: Darwin suffered occasional cardiac palpitations at an early age that became more common in his middle years, especially under physical exertion. However, as a young man he was physically fit enough to regularly walk 50 km a day in hilly terrain in Wales and he hiked to the summit of several mountains in South America and undertook long walks in very hot conditions in inland Australia, also climbing the 1271m Mount Wellington. He last walked to the summit of a 1000m+ Welsh mountain in 1842, aged 33 years. By the time he moved into Down House he reports being unable to walk long distances and not on steep gradients. On March 7, 1882 he experienced "a sharp fit of pain" in his heart for the first time. Cause of death less than six weeks later was listed as myocardial ischaemia.
Neurological: Motion sickness throughout life. Frequent migraines, sometimes with visual aura. Episodes of giddiness. Tinnitus. Peripheral neuropathy. Later, temporary memory losses (1863; 1867, both coinciding with an outbreak of eczema, and in 1873) likely caused by transient ischaemic attacks.
Autonomic Dysfunction: Frequent episodes of abnormal tiredness. Facial flushing. Abnormally sensitive to heat and especially cold conditions. He frequently shivered and felt cold when others were unaffected, had house fires lit even in warm weather and usually dressed more heavily than others.
Musculoskeletal: He developed rheumatism in his back in middle-age (probable fibromyalgia). Episodes of eczema and rheumatism appear to have had an inverse relationship.
Psychological: Mild dyslexia (diagnosed from his handwritten documents; occasional poor spelling with tendency to invert some letters and transpose sequences of numbers). Difficulty learning other languages. Tone deafness. Anxiety. Panic attacks. Agoraphobia. Mild to moderate depression. Episodes of crying.
General: Episodic manifestation of symptoms. Symptoms appear or exacerbated by both disturbing and excitable, enjoyable events. A tendency for strong amelioration of all symptoms by hydrotherapy. Attenuation of symptoms after approximately 60 years of age.
A crucial distinction when considering the primacy of Darwin’s psychological symptoms is whether they were (a) purely psychogenic, i.e., distinct from his physical symptoms with endogenous causality; (b) socio-psychogenic, i.e., with some underlying situational or exogenous causation, and related to his physical symptoms; or (c) related to his physical symptoms in terms of being a psychological and/or behavioural response to underlying physical ill-health. Bergman (2011d) firmly commits to the purely psychogenic camp:
"The psychogenic view of Darwin’s sickness is now the most widely accepted cause."
It is surprising as to who Bergman recommends as the most authoritative references for this claim. He gives two citations. Both fail to secure his claim. The first (Young, 1997) agrees with Bergman for the extent of half a sentence in his introduction:
"…….and today the psychogenic hypothesis holds the field."
Young (1997) then proceeds to demolish the psychogenic hypothesis, replacing it with his own physical causation diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus. And Bergman’s second citation? He cites his own article (Bergman, 2004) from a non-peer reviewed magazine published by the Institute for Creation Research. This article is merely a shorter variant of his 2011d book chapter and a large percentage of the text is identical (they even share the same title). Just a few years later Hayman (2015; a professor of pathology who has produced probably the most comprehensive assessment of Darwin’s symptomatology to date) has considered the psychogenic model to be:
"…….too outlandish to deserve any deep consideration."
Bergman is attempting to convince that Darwin was intrinsically and seriously psychiatrically ill and that his physical symptoms were secondary or unrelated to his psychiatric problems. However, he appears to have no proper understanding of current psychiatric diagnoses. His definition of psychosis as "a severe, incapacitating mental disorder" (Bergman, 2004; he offers no definition at all in 2011d) is wholly insufficient as a diagnostic criterion for any psychiatric condition. DSM-IV (current at the time Bergman was writing, but little different to DSM-V today) lists psychotic disorders as characterised by a patient experiencing at least two of the following: visual and/or auditory hallucinations, delusional beliefs, disorganised or incoherent speech and thoughts, grossly disorganised or catatonic behaviour, diminished emotional expression or lack of volition. In an apparent attempt to meet DSM criteria Bergman (2011d) claims that Darwin’s diary entries describe:
"…….fits of depersonalization, hallucinations, suicide thoughts, obsessive compulsiveness, bizarre behavior, sadism (such as his inordinate love of killing animals), and evidence that he suffered from an anti-social personality disorder and an immature relationship with his children."
This list is a mixture of hyperbole and fabrication. Bergman does not directly cite any of Darwin’s diary entries, instead he references Adler (1989). For reasons outlined below this is another strange choice. By way of example of Bergman’s misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) of the evidence, nowhere in Darwin’s diaries, letters or autobiography does he mention having had hallucinations. He does, however, write of "stars in the eyes", i.e., of visual auras accompanying migraines and, as Bergman (2011d) mentions this phenomenon, it seems reasonable to assume (in the absence of any further discussion from him) that this must be what Bergman considers as visual hallucinations. However, visual hallucinations meeting the criteria for psychosis are by definition, subjective, imaginary. In contrast, visual disturbances with migraine are caused by neural overexcitation in primary visual cortex from veridical sensory inputs. They are not hallucinations.
In contrast, Darwin did report feelings that are perhaps episodes of depersonalisation, such as "treading on air and vision". However, the reference provided by Bergman for this claim is merely ‘Kaplan and Sadock, Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry’, with no year or publisher given. An examination of editions published pre-2011 (e.g., 2005) reveal that, in a volume of more than 2,100 pages, the term ‘depersonalization’ occurs only twice. Neither mention is with regard to Darwin (his name does not even occur in the text). Even ignoring this obtuse citation, Darwin’s reported symptoms would not have even met the then DSM-IV criteria for depersonalisation, never mind depersonalisation with psychosis, as he mentions the episodes in clear terms of a perceptual disturbance and remains fully aware it is occurring. A person suffering from psychosis would not have this awareness. Under the later DSM-V criteria Darwin’s symptoms would best fit a diagnosis of derealisation. And, again, derealisation is not a symptom of psychosis, it is more closely connected to neurosis.
Bergman’s use of the term ‘psychotic’ is a prime example of employing three dishonest tricks of the trade used by unscrupulous authors; the ‘clickbait’ strategy, Betteridge’s Law and the ‘red herring’ strategy. The clickbait strategy refers to deceptive titles about an article’s content intended to lure readers (Blom & Hansen, 2015). Apart from the word ‘psychotic’ appearing in the title of Bergman’s 2004 article and the 2011d book chapter it occurs nowhere else in either text. Betteridge’s Law of Headlines is an old journalistic trick relying on a question that implies only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer is possible. The concept is explained by Marr (2004).
"If the headline asks a question, try answering 'no'…….A headline with a question mark at the end means, in the vast majority of cases, that the story is tendentious or over-sold. It is often a scare story, or an attempt to elevate some run-of-the-mill piece of reporting…...hunting for real information a question mark means 'don't bother reading this bit.'"
Betteridge popularised the concept in a now disappeared blogpost (2009):
"Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no…….[authors] know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it."
As will be discussed further, this certainly applies here. There is an academic equivalent referred to as Hinchcliffe’s Rule (Shieber, 2015) although the strategy occurs far less frequently in titles in academic publications (Cook & Plourde, 2016). However, Bergman’s articles never appear in recognised peer-reviewed academic journals so Betteridge’s Law is the most appropriate description here. In terms of a red herring, it seems Bergman is cynically employing the word ‘psychotic’ in the title, not in any accepted psychiatric sense, but as a layperson or ‘Hollywood’ notion of 'madness or lunacy with evil intent.'
The related term ‘psychosis’ also appears once only in both texts. From Bergman (2004):
"Many persons conclude he had a classic, essential mental disturbance bordering on psychosis."
So who are these "many persons" who have diagnosed Darwin as "bordering on psychosis"? Bergman offers no references to support this claim, preferring to simply pepper the text with generic terms such as "psychic", "mental health problems", "serious psychiatric disorders", "mental disorder", "mental condition", "mental disturbance", "mental disease", "mental stability" etc. In Bergman (2011d) he gives a modified version of the claim:
"Some authorities concluded that Darwin’s mental disturbance bordered on a full-blown psychosis."
Bergman provides a single reference for this statement. It is the Adler (1989) paper referred to above, entitled simply ‘Darwin’s Illness’. The paper discusses a tropical parasitic disease, Chagas disease. The only psychological/neurological symptom is dementia, occurring in the later stages. There is no mention of psychosis in David Adler’s paper. It seemed possible that Bergman had confused David Adler with his brother Saul Adler, the Israeli microbiologist who had first published his Chagas hypothesis thirty years earlier with a paper with an identical title (Adler, 1959). Saul Adler had also published a letter to the editor of the British Medical Journal with the same title (Adler, 1965). But neither of these mention psychosis. In any case, Saul Adler is on record as denouncing the very notion of a psychogenic basis for Darwin’s ill-health.
•Bergman's Guilty, Depressive Darwin•
Prior to Bergman’s 2004 article there is only a single book (Kempf, 1920), two papers (Kempf, 1918; Alvarez, 1959) and one letter to the editor (Good, 1954), published by medically qualified authors, that even vaguely hinted that Darwin suffered from ‘psychosis’. The first diagnosis was proposed by the psychoanalyst Edward Kempf (1918). Read today, Kempf’s paper comes across as near comical. For example, he quotes from a letter written by Darwin on 6th September 1831, to his sister:
"Ask my father if he thinks there would be any objection to my taking arsenic for a little time, as my hands are not quite well, and I have always observed that if I once get them well, and change my manner of living about the same time, they will generally remain well. What is the dose? Tell Edward my gun is dirty."
In full Freudian mode, Kempf immediately locks on to the perceived sexual symbolism in Darwin’s ‘not quite well hands’ and his ‘dirty gun’, diagnosing the cause of his symptoms as the failure to control his "onanistic curiosities of youth." Based on the then newly minted Oedipus complex (Freud, 1910) Kempf further suggested that Darwin’s "psychopathic traits" were the result of his suppressing affective cravings, in order to gratify other cravings. Psychoanalysts have tended to consider the cause of Darwin’s symptoms, both physical and psychological, to be socio-psychogenic, particularly centred around repressed anger toward his allegedly tyrannical father, Dr Robert Darwin (Pasneau, 1990; Hayman, 2015). Kempf is no exception, however, in both Kempf (1918; 1920) he discusses Darwin’s ailments in clear terms, not of psychosis, but of neurosis. From Kempf (1920):
"The causes of Darwin’s anxiety neurosis may be attributed to his complete submission to his father whereby he deprived himself of all channels of self assertion in his relations with his father or anything that pertained to him……..Through the renunciation of all envy and all competitive interests in life, such as ambition for priority, and the unreserved acceptance of his father’s word and wisdom, Darwin by adroitly accepting diversions, succeeded in keeping suppressed all disconcerting affective reactions with no more inconvenience than that of producing nutritional disturbances, uncomfortable cardiac and vasomotor reactions, vertigo and insomnia."
It seems clear then, that Kempf is proffering a textbook, old-school Freudian psychoanalytic analysis and is not using the term ‘psychopathic’ in anything like the way intended by Bergman. Bergman makes no mention of Kempf in his 2004 article but later refers to his work in a single sentence (Bergman, 2011d; he erroneously refers to him as ‘Rempf’ both in text and references). It is unsurprising that Bergman chooses to virtually ignore Kempf, as he has also published an article (Bergman, 2010) in which he claims that Darwin was directly responsible for Freud’s atheistic psychoanalysis. This article continues Bergman’s antipathy for primary source documents; of the 54 references, only one is from Freud himself. Hayman (2015) notes of Kempf’s synopsis:
"The conclusion is erroneous; even the facts of this statement are not in accord with the record, regardless of the conclusion."
It is important to note that, although Darwin wrote that his symptoms worsened when he was aware of the import that his work would have on his father, he never expressed anger toward his father either in words or behaviour. Thus the notion that he had repressed anger toward his father is mere speculation. According to Darwin’s daughter Henrietta her father had stated (Darwin, 1887) that his father was:
"…….a little unjust to me when I was young, but afterwards I am thankful to think that I became a prime favourite with him."
The ‘little unjust’ phrase was with regard to his days of hunting and drinking (discussed later) without an apparent serious aim in life. According to Darwin (1887) his father had scolded him:
"You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family!"
However, Darwin immediately goes on to describe his father in fond terms:
"His chief mental characteristics were his powers of observation and his sympathy, neither of which have I ever seen exceeded or even equalled. His sympathy was not only with the distresses of others, but in a greater degree with the pleasures of all around him. This led him to be always scheming to give pleasure to others."
Aydon (2002) wraps up the sentiment:
"…….it stretches words to breaking point to describe Darwin’s father as a tyrant……..If Robert Darwin was ever a despot, he was one of the most benevolent despots who ever drew breath."
In a letter to the Lancet the Scottish psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Rankine Good (1954; erroneously called an ‘English psychiatrist’ by Bergman, 2011d) extended the Oedipal speculation:
"If Darwin did not slay his own father in the flesh, then in his Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, etc., he certainly slew the ‘Heavenly Father in the realm of natural history."
Bergman’s fundamentalist Christian stablemate Grigg (1995) laps up Good’s psychoanalytic hypothesis (also referring to him as ‘English’) by claiming that Darwin knew:
"…….that his theory was sheer atheistic materialism - a bombshell which when released on Victorian society would undermine people's faith in God, the Bible, and the Church. In effect, he was shaking his fist at Almighty God."
Apparently in agreement, Desmond and Moore (2011) assert that Darwin’s symptoms were exacerbated whenever he worked on his evolutionary hypothesis. Unfortunately, they appear to have taken a leaf out of Bergman’s book when it comes to misrepresenting Darwin:
"Worries about his heresies made him repeatedly ill…….Five times while writing the Origin of Species he was forced to decamp to a rest home to take the water cure, his nerves wrecked……But the real cause “of the main part of the ills to which my flesh is heir”, he admitted, was the Origin’s inflammatory case for the evolution of life by a chancy natural selection, and the expected uproar over its bestial implications…….Later, at his spa, sending out copies of the Origin, it was “like living in Hell".
The nested quotes in (my) bold are both lifted directly from Darwin. Their insinuation, provided by their surrounding text, however, is fabrication. Here are the original words in bold found in the letter Darwin wrote to his second cousin William Fox on 12th Feb. 1859:
"I have been extra bad of late, with the old severe vomiting rather often & much distressing swimming of the head…….My abstract [On the Origin of Species] is the cause, I believe of the main part of the ills to which my flesh is heir to; but I have only two more chapters & to correct all, & then I shall be a comparatively free man."
Darwin goes into no more detail and says nothing about ‘chancy natural selection’ or an ‘expected uproar’ or ‘bestial implications’. He 'admits' nothing of what Desmond and Moore claim. It reads as no more than the typical lament of any author with a deadline. The second bold nested quote is found in a letter to Joseph Hooker (27th Oct or 3rd Nov 1859):
"I have been very bad lately; having had an awful “crisis” one leg swelled like elephantiasis - eyes almost closed up - covered with a rash & fiery Boils: but they tell me it will surely do me much good. - it was like living in Hell."
Again, contrary to Desmond and Moore, Darwin is saying nothing here about his book, but describing the side effects of his medical treatment.
There is something fundamentally wrong with Good’s (1954) and Grigg’s (1995) view of Darwin suffering debilitating guilt regarding evolution and his heavenly father, for it ignores two important things. Firstly, it would have been perfectly rational for Darwin to worry about the reception that his book might receive. He had once been a student of the anatomist and zoologist Robert Grant and had seen how later he lost his seat on the council of the Zoological Society of London due to his atheist inclinations (denying any place for the supernatural in biology) and his perceived blasphemous ideas about Lamarckian evolution (Desmond, 1989). Secondly, Darwin’s physical symptoms were present in a reduced state long before he had ever thought of speciation. Even when he was still impressed by William Paley, and even when he still believed in the Bible as being literally true. Darwin (1887) assures us he had no sudden deconversion on the ocean to the Galapagos:
"I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation…….But I was very unwilling to give up my belief…….Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct."
There is no substitute for going back to the primary sources as Esterson (2011) has meticulously done:
"…….close examination of Darwin's letters and notebooks demonstrates that there is no correlation between Darwin's severe bouts of illness and his working on evolutionary theory. If anything, the contrary was the case: when not well enough to work on his writing commitments, he sometimes turned to his notes on the transmutation of species."
Next, gastroenterologist Walter Alvarez (1959) temporarily swapped medical fields and suggested that Darwin suffered from "an inherited minor equivalent of a depressive psychosis." However, current DSM-V criteria for ‘depressive psychosis’ requires one or more of the standard psychotic symptoms of visual and/or auditory hallucination and delusional thoughts. Darwin suffered neither. Bergman (2004; 2011d) ignores this contribution from Alvarez but in Bergman (2011d) he does reference an earlier work in which Alvarez (1943) suggests that:
"…….extreme degrees of asthenia such as Darwin suffered from are commonly equivalents of melancholia…….Darwin inherited a tendency to melancholia……. from his mother’s stock."
It is important to note here that the term ‘melancholia’ was used very differently in the 19th century than today, where it has become largely redundant in medical parlance. In Darwin’s day, melancholia was synonymous with delusional beliefs and lunacy, such as a lay view of ‘psychotic’ might be today. However, during the 20th century, the term became synonymous only with some degree of clinical depression. The term melancholia still appears in the DSM-IV and DSM-V, as endogenous depression with melancholic features such as profound sadness and anhedonia. Accordingly, Bergman (2004) provides two quotes, years apart, attempting to convince that Darwin was suicidal. Both are ‘clutching at straws’. The first is from Darwin’s son, Leonard. According to Bergman, this passage is evidence that Darwin’s "mental disorder" affected his feelings for his children:
"As a young lad I went up to my father when strolling about the lawn, and he, after, as I believe, a kindly word or two, turned away as if quite incapable of carrying on any conversation. Then there suddenly shot through my mind the conviction that he wished he was no longer alive."
Bergman declines to reference Leonard Darwin as the source of this quote but instead references the psychiatrist Ralph Colp (1977; who although not psychoanalytically trained, tended to be somewhat sympathetic to socio-psychogenic explanations; see also Pasneau, 1990). By referencing Colp, Bergman is able to evade the original context in which the quote occurs. Had Bergman correctly cited Darwin (1929), the reader would be made aware that Leonard Darwin actually prefaces this quote as merely one of "two trifling personal recollections." Leonard Darwin was born in 1850. He describes himself as a young lad at the time of which he is writing, let’s conservatively say 10 years old. That would mean Bergman’s evidence relies on the recollection of a 79 year old of an event that occurred maybe 69 years earlier, perhaps more. Darwin could as likely have been in deep thought about some scientific matter as intending on suicide; the reminiscence of a young child decades later is hardly a credible source to use to bolster a psychiatric diagnosis. In any case, Leonard Darwin’s recollection is followed by this:
"I must, however, end on a more cheerful note, or I shall give on the whole a false impression. My father spoke of his life as a happy one, and this was certainly true, though it was greatly marred by very long periods of discomfort and suffering, which mercifully got decidedly less frequent towards the end of his life. Visitors generally failed altogether to realise how bad was his health, for he always brightened up in conversation."
Darwin himself concurs (1882/1958):
"I have therefore been compelled for many years to give up all dinner parties; and this has been somewhat of a deprivation to me, as such parties always put me in high spirits."
Bergman’s duplicitous handling of Darwin’s role as a father is further revealed by this passage (Bergman, 2011d):
"As analysis of Darwin’s letters reveal that Darwin’s wife, Emma, was "always the mother, never the child, Darwin always the child, never the father.""
The words in bold are provided by Bergman within the quotation marks. Given the lead up to the quote a cursory reader might assume that this is a quote from one of Darwin’s own letters or perhaps a letter addressed to Darwin. It is neither. This quote (nor anything similar) occurs nowhere in Darwin’s correspondence. It was penned by an Andrew Bradbury and is found within an unpublished essay on his website where he argues that Darwin plagiarised Edward Blyth. Bergman lets it hang, and makes no recognition of Bradbury’s opinion.
Bergman’s second quote regarding suicide which he claims "cast doubt on his mental stability" comes from a letter Charles Darwin wrote to Joseph Hooker (10th Feb., 1875):
"You ask about my book, & all that I can say is that I am ready to commit suicide: I thought it was decently written, but find so much wants rewriting…...I begin to think that every one who publishes a book is a fool."
Again, Bergman cites Colp (1977) and so again, the context is lost to the reader. The quote is truncated and over half is missing. Here is the quote in full. The missing section is in bold:
"You ask about my book, & all that I can say is that I am ready to commit suicide: I thought it was decently written, but find so much wants rewriting, that it will not be ready to go to Printers for 2 months and will then make a confoundedly big book. - Murray will say that it is no use publishing in the middle of summer so I do not know what will be the upshot; but I begin to think that every one who publishes a book is a fool."
There is nothing about this passage that suggests mental instability. Darwin is clearly frustrated and writing in jest; he is complaining that his publisher wants some rewrites and also wants to delay publishing. He might as well have written ‘I am ready to tear my hair out’. This is confirmed by the footnote to this letter which make no mention of Darwin’s mental state but by way of explanation informs us that Darwin’s publisher John Murray "often preferred to bring out books close to November, when he held a sale dinner for book trade."
That Darwin was at times depressed is not disputed, he mentions low mood frequently in his writings, however there is no evidence he suffered from ongoing clinical depression (Colp, 1977). As Janet Browne (2002) sees it:
"Darwin scarcely showed the impenetrable misery, hopelessness, mental distortions, or inability to participate in normal existence that are the usual clinical signs of depression."
Hayman (2015) agrees:
"Darwin did have psychological symptoms but these were part of his illness, not the cause…….He had feelings of guilt, he was often miserable and dejected with his illness and at some times he may have had true depression."
•Bergman's Anxious, Agoraphobic Darwin•
Bergman (2004) makes great play of Darwin’s agoraphobia referring to his “very secluded, hermit-like lifestyle” and goes on:
"The diagnosis of the cause of his mental and physical problems includes a variety of debilitating conditions, but agoraphobia with the addition of psychoneurosis is most probably correct."
As with depression and guilt, Bergman appears to be back-pedalling from his suggestion of psychosis and placing himself within the more heavily populated psychiatric ‘neurosis’ camp. DSM-V describes agoraphobia as a marked fear or anxiety about two (or more) of the following five situations: using public transportation, open spaces, enclosed spaces, in a crowd, or outside home alone. We can dispel two characteristic symptoms immediately; Darwin showed no fear of open spaces and often walked or rode his horse Tommy in the open for his exercise. Also, Darwin’s symptoms were alleviated when he left home, without his wife Emma, to stay at health spas. Agoraphobia is associated with the fear of having a sudden onset panic attack in any of the applicable settings. Patients suffering with panic disorder are often apprehensive, being unaware when an attack may occur and unsure what they can do to prevent an attack. This is a reasonable fear. It is not a delusional pattern of thought.
The fact that there are markedly discrepant views on this matter suggests that a diagnosis of agoraphobia is not as clear-cut as Bergman makes out. After an analysis of Darwin’s diary and personal correspondences, Colp (1977) presents evidence that during his 40 years at Down House Darwin had spent 2,000 days away from home. Bergman (2011d) responds to this fact with an astonishing arithmetical blunder "…….2,000 days in 40 years is around only three days a month." This is an error of about two weeks per year. Darwin would be expected to spend large amounts of time at home primarily because he worked from home. Bergman further ignores the fact that this is an averaged figure which includes numerous lengthy absences. For example, he would be an inpatient, alone, at health spas for weeks at a time. On the 4th October 1859, for example, he travelled, alone, 400 km from his home to a spa in Ilkley in Yorkshire. His family joined him, staying not at the spa but in an apartment nearby, between 17th October and 24th November. Darwin returned home, alone, on 7th December, having been away from Down for over two months. During his time away, despite his alleged agoraphobia, he incurred a sprained ankle on one of his many walks on the wide open spaces of Ilkley Moor. His attendance for several days at 16 annual meetings of the Council of the Royal Society is well documented. The Darwin family even leased a cottage on the Isle of Wight for six weeks from the photographer Julia Cameron. So much for the hermit. Desmond and Moore (1991) are usually keen to paint Darwin as an invalid, but even they disagree with Bergman, making no mention whatsoever of agoraphobia. Hayman (2015) simply lists agoraphobia under "conditions that may have been present."
The episodic nature with sudden onset of Darwin’s physical symptoms is also something that Bergman (2004) picks up on. He seems to think that this is indicative of a psychogenic causation. He offers the following quote, purportedly from Darwin:
"At another time, Darwin had a “house full of guests” and after he visited the parish church for a christening, he was “back to square one” and his good health “had vanished ‘like a flash of lightning’” and sickness (including the vomiting) returned."
True to form, Bergman does not cite Darwin. This sentence comes from Desmond and Moore (1991) and is included here verbatim except for Bergman’s addition of quotation marks, the contents of which are presented here in bold. These quotation marks do not occur in the original version because the authors are not, contrary to what Bergman is obviously trying to convey, claiming to be quoting Darwin. And neither can they be; the earliest recorded written use of the phrase “back to square one” is from the mid-20th century. One wonders, then, why Bergman has gone to such trouble. Why not use a direct quote from Darwin telling us that his physical symptoms often occurred with sudden onset?
•Bergman's Sadistic, Sociopathic Darwin•
Bergman (2004; 2011c) makes a failed attempt, then, to properly "consider his mental condition" with his inability to legitimately chain together Darwin’s psychological symptoms and build a plausible diagnosis of psychosis. Nevertheless, he ploughs on with a behavioural analysis designed to portray Darwin as being a sadistic sociopath from childhood (though Bergman doesn’t actually use the term ‘sociopath’ his intention is obvious).
If Darwin really were a sadistic sociopath we would be more likely to evince this from the many people who knew him personally and wrote about him. Yet Bergman can furnish not a single record of someone who knew Darwin stating, that in their experience, he had a sadistic streak. There are no quotes to this effect provided by any of Darwin’s family or friends, indeed, from anyone who had even met him casually. While a medical student in Edinburgh, Darwin fainted while observing a surgical procedure and his squeamishness in the sight of blood was one of the reasons he decided against medicine as a career. One would think this would go some way to negate a charge of being sadistic, forcing Bergman (2011c) to sidestep Darwin’s blood sensitivity. He does so, merely mentioning in a single sentence that he had "dealt poorly" with the sight of blood.
One of Darwin’s friends at Cambridge was J. M. Herbert, who later became a County Court Judge in Cardiff, Wales. Here are two of his reminiscences of Darwin as a young man (Darwin, 1887):
"It stirred one's inmost depth of feeling to hear him descant upon, and groan over, the horrors of the slave trade, or the cruelties to which the suffering Poles were subjected to at Warsaw…….These, and other like proofs have left on my mind the conviction that a more humane or tender-hearted man never lived."
"…….he was the most genial, warm-hearted, generous, and affectionate of friends; that his sympathies were with all that was good and true; and that he had a cordial hatred for everything false, or vile, or cruel, or mean, or dishonourable. He was not only great, but pre-eminently good, and just, and loveable."
After Darwin’s death, his long-time friend Rev. Brodie Innes had this to say (Darwin, 1887):
"On my becoming Vicar of Down in 1846, we became friends, and so continued till his death. His conduct towards me and my family was one of unvarying kindness, and we repaid it by warm affection. In all parish matters he was an active assistant; in matters connected with the schools, charities, and other business, his liberal contribution was ever ready, and in the differences which at times occurred in that, as in other parishes, I was always sure of his support."
Bergman ignores testimony such as this, preferring to pin his argument on hyperbole. Frequent lying and deception have long been considered a childhood indicator of sociopathy, though according to the current DSM-V, a diagnosis is not possible until adulthood. So Bergman (2005) sets out his stall by pointing out Darwin’s (1887) alleged proclivity for lying:
"…….as a little boy I was much given to inventing deliberate falsehoods, and this was always done for the sake of causing excitement."
Bergman gives no examples of the kind of monstrous lies of which young Darwin was capable. Luckily for us, Darwin (1887) provides the particulars for his admission:
"I told another little boy (I believe it was [William Allport] Leighton, who afterwards became a well-known lichenologist and botanist), that I could produce variously coloured polyanthuses and primroses by watering them with certain coloured fluids, which was of course a monstrous fable, and had never been tried by me. I may here also confess that as a little boy I was much given to inventing deliberate falsehoods, and this was always done for the sake of causing excitement. For instance, I once gathered much valuable fruit from my father's trees and hid it in the shrubbery, and then ran in breathless haste to spread the news that I had discovered a hoard of stolen fruit."
This is the only reference Darwin makes to childhood lying in his autobiography and so Bergman must be basing his entire insinuation on only these two recollections. Surely he is aware that there is nothing untoward here? He cannot seriously consider these kind of pranks from young boys to be evidence of psychopathy? Reduced empathy and cruelty to animals has also long been associated with psychopathic traits in childhood (de Wied et. al., 2021) and so Bergman (2005) attempts to capitalise on this too:
"One side of Darwin rarely discussed in popular and scientific literature was his powerful sadistic bent…….A clearer example of his sadistic impulse was when, as a young boy, Darwin "beat a puppy……. simply from enjoying the sense of power.""
Placing Bergman’s passage in its proper context, here is the event described by Darwin (1887):
"Once as a very little boy whilst at the day school, or before that time, I acted cruelly, for I beat a puppy, I believe, simply from enjoying the sense of power; but the beating could not have been severe, for the puppy did not howl, of which I feel sure, as the spot was near the house. This act lay heavily on my conscience, as is shown by my remembering the exact spot where the crime was committed. It probably lay all the heavier from my love of dogs being then, and for a long time afterwards, a passion."
Darwin’s description of this event is 100 words long. Bergman (2005) lifts a mere nine words from it to convince his readers and follows this with a quite extraordinary conclusion:
"He even admitted that he later felt much guilt over his behavior, indicating that he knew his actions were wrong. At this time, he still had a strong faith in God, and this fact may partly explain his guilt."
So the devout young Darwin’s faith is strong enough to feel guilt at having mistreated an animal, but apparently not strong enough to refrain from engaging in that behaviour in the first place? And how does Bergman explain Darwin’s sea-change in attitude toward the mistreatment of animals after he had lost his faith?
Bergman now moves onto the relatively few years of his life that Darwin took part in a favourite sport of the English middle-class rural gentry. Darwin took up hunting at 15 years of age and was initially very enthusiastic. He was introduced to hunting by extended family members and his participation initially had the blessing of his father. Bergman (2011c) offers 18 separate quotes directly associated with Darwin’s hunting years and all have been carefully chosen to place Darwin in as bad a light as possible. It is interesting, however, to examine the sources of those quotes. Six are from Darwin himself; four of the six come from two adjoining paragraphs of his autobiography. So why not amalgamate the most relevant passages into one quote? After all Bergman ordinarily has no problem combining sentences separated with ellipses, even when the excerpts are several pages apart. The fact is that Darwin’s discussions of hunting in England in his adolescent and young adult years make up a miniscule part of his autobiography. Bergman has deliberately padded out his text to make these quotes appear to be more expansive in the narrative than they actually are. The remaining 12 quotes are from the authors of four books, the earliest of which was published a century after Darwin’s death. Three very short quotes (just a few words each) are from Gale (1982) and he also relies on "Harvard Professor Browne" (Browne, 1995) with four citations from a single page and one from an adjoining page. Neither author offers anything that Darwin has not already told us quite candidly in his autobiography. The inclusion of Gale (1982) seems especially superfluous because the book concerns itself, not with Darwin’s personality or pastimes, but with the scientific evolution of his theory and he discusses the hunting years hardly at all. A less than cynical reader might even come to the conclusion that Bergman has cited this book because of its famously misleading title, ‘Evolution Without Evidence’. However, Gale (1982) does not actually claim that Darwin lacked evidence, quite the contrary.
According to Bergman (2011c) Darwin also:
"……...enjoyed exhibiting his skill at being able to kill birds and rabbits by hurling stones."
Yet nowhere does Darwin actually say he enjoyed doing this. So Bergman cites Croft (1989) as his source. Laurence Croft is the author of a variety of self-published books. Two of these centre around Darwin having converted to Christianity on his deathbed. Even Answers in Genesis disclaim this fable (see Mitchell, 2009) and Wheeler (2018) reviewing one of these books for Church Times advises:
"The author seems to thrive on controversy, and likes to speculate where the evidence is tenuous" further mentioning "the repetitions, the poor sentence structure, and the shaky grammar."
The only time Darwin mentions actually killing birds with stones comes in a single sentence from a letter addressed to his father from the Beagle, written 8th February - 1st March 1832 when he visited St. Paul, a tiny uninhabited island in the Atlantic:
"It is totally barren, but is covered by hosts of birds. - they were so unused to men that we found we could kill plenty with stones & sticks."
He then relates how they loaded all the birds onto the boat. But why do this if they, as Bergman insinuates, were killing purely for sadistic pleasure? He wasn’t doing this for science; Darwin records only two species of birds on the island and both were previously known. Most likely, being on a ship in the middle of the ocean, they were hunting for food. This is confirmed by a second letter written several months later on 1st - 6th June 1832 to his friend J. M. Herbert:
"The birds by myriads were too close to shoot, we then tried stones, but at last, proh pudor! [for shame!] my geological hammer was the instrument of death. We soon loaded the boat with birds & eggs. Whilst we were so engaged, the men in the boat were fairly fighting with the Sharks for such magnificent fish, as you could not see in the London market."
Bergman completely ignores an important aspect of Darwin’s visit to St. Paul. Darwin was doing far more than killing birds for food. From closely observing the interactions between species on the isle he is now believed to have been the first person to describe a food web (Egerton, 2007). Bergman also conveniently forgets that when Darwin visited St. Paul he was a devout Christian (Darwin, 1887):
"Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers…….for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality……."
Darwin’s diary tells of his first visit to Rio de Janeiro, which he spent hunting with two Portuguese priests. Like Darwin they had a strong faith in God and so must have also been per Bergman, sadists. If taking part in hunting is the sign of a sadistic psychopath, then one also wonders what Bergman makes of the numerous Christian hunting organisations such as Hunters for Christ, "The purpose of our group is to fellowship and share the Good News with men, women and children in the outdoors through the enjoyment of the shooting sports and hunting."; Christian Hunters Of America, "our primary mission is to serve based on ministry, seminars, and hunts"; Christian Outdoor Fellowship of America, "using God’s great outdoors through hunting, to promote the gospel and a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ" etc. And what of the numerous US states that allow a designated day off school ('Deer Day' and 'Youth Deer Day') for young people to go hunting. I note that Bergman declines to pen articles holding his sadistic fellow Christians and local politicians to the same standard he expects of Darwin.
Accordingly, it was in South America, at about the same time that Darwin began to lose his faith, that he started to make comments about the suffering of animals (Darwin, 1845):
"One day, riding in the Pampas with a very respectable ‘estanciero,’ my horse, being tired, lagged behind. The man often shouted to me to spur him. When I remonstrated that it was a pity, for the horse was quite exhausted, he cried out, ‘Why not? – never mind – spur him – it is my horse.’ I had then some difficulty in making him comprehend that it was for the horse’s sake, and not on his account, that I did not choose to use my spurs."
Indeed, his observations of the natural suffering experienced by animals was part and parcel of his gradual loss of faith (Darwin 1882/1958):
"That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Some have attempted to this in reference to man by imagining that it serves for his moral improvement. But the number of men in the world are as nothing compared with that of all other sentient beings, and these often suffer greatly without any moral improvement…….for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time?"
Bergman, however, downplays the notable moral ambiguity he later felt for his enthusiasm for hunting. From Darwin’s autobiography (1887)
"How I did enjoy shooting! but I think that I must have been half-consciously ashamed of my zeal for I tried to persuade myself that shooting was almost an intellectual enjoyment."
"Although, as we shall presently see, there were some redeeming features in my life at Cambridge, my time was sadly wasted there, and worse than wasted. From my passion for shooting and for hunting, and, when this failed, for riding across country, I got into a sporting set, including some dissipated low-minded young men. We used often to dine together in the evening, though these dinners often included men of a higher stamp, and we sometimes drank too much, with jolly singing and playing at cards afterwards. I know that I ought to feel ashamed of days and evenings thus spent, but as some of my friends were very pleasant, and we were all in the highest spirits, I cannot help looking back to these times with much pleasure. But I am glad to think that I had many other friends of a widely different nature."
Bergman also considers Darwin’s interest in insects to have been pathological. As a young man Darwin developed a strong scientific interest in entomology (as with hunting, introduced to him by an extended member of the family) and he started collecting insects, especially beetles. He soon gained a reputation as a competent entomologist. While still a 20 year old student in Cambridge several of Darwin’s observations and specimens were included in the then standard text book on British insects. Darwin later wrote (1887):
"No poet ever felt more delighted at seeing his first poem published than I did at seeing, in Stephens’ ‘Illustrations of British Insects,’ the magic words, "captured by C. Darwin, Esq.""
While visiting St. Paul he also identified two new species of tics (Amblyomma hirtum and Amblyomma darwini) both only found on this tiny Atlantic island and the Galapagos in the Pacific. Many of the insects he collected while aboard the Beagle have been exhibited at the Natural History Museum at the University of Oxford and the Natural History Museum of London for more than a century. More recently, Darwin’s entomological ‘wind’ hypothesis has been tested in Antarctica and found some support (Leihy & Chown, 2020). Sadly, when discussing Darwin’s interest in entomology Bergman (2005) perversely ignores all scientific accomplishments, concentrating solely on his "attitude toward killing" and that he "collected with abandon."
Contra Bergman, Darwin's flirtation with hunting lasted for a few years only. On his return from the voyage of the Beagle, aged 27 years, and despite repeated requests from his social set, he refused to attend hunts precisely because he had come to view hunting as cruel and crude. As he put it (Darwin, 1887):
"…….gradually I gave up my gun more and more, and finally altogether, to my servant, as shooting interfered with my work, more especially with making out the geological structure of a country. I discovered, though unconsciously and insensibly, that the pleasure of observing and reasoning was a much higher one than that of skill and sport."
Add this reminiscence from Darwin’s son, Francis (Darwin, 1887):
"…….he picked up a bird not quite dead, but lingering from a shot it had received on the previous day; and that it had made and left such a painful impression on his mind, that he could not reconcile it to his conscience to continue to derive pleasure from a sport which inflicted such cruel suffering."
In his later years, in 1875, when the anti-vivisectionist campaigner Frances Power Cobbe formed a petition (and soon after, a parliamentary bill) to ban experiments on live animals, Darwin was, according to Desmond and Moore (1991) "atypically British, an animal lover who loved his colleagues." However, he was concerned that medical research would be seriously set back if Cobbe was to succeed. From (Darwin, 1887)
"I quite agree that it is justifiable for real investigations on physiology; but not for mere damnable and detestable curiosity. It is a subject which makes me sick with horror, so I will not say another word about it, else I shall not sleep to-night."
Darwin then helped draft a pre-emptive law, with a "more humanitarian aspect" as Darwin put it, allowing for animal experimentation to be, for the first time anywhere, regulated, allowed only under licence and with abuses corrected by "the improvement of humanitarian feelings." He also testified to the Royal Commission on Vivisection and was described in several newspapers as "an animal lover."
Another facet of Darwin’s work was his research on the similarities between animal and human emotions. He was largely responsible for the now widely accepted notion that the difference between Homo sapiens and other animal species, both cognitively and emotionally, is one of degree rather than of kind. As he wrote (Darwin, 1872):
"My object in this chapter [ch. III – Mental Powers] is to show that there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties."
"Only a few persons now dispute that animals possess some power of reasoning. Animals may constantly be seen to pause, deliberate, and resolve. It is a significant fact, that the more the habits of any particular animal are studied by a naturalist, the more he attributes to reason and the less to unlearnt instincts."
"Man not only uses inarticulate cries, gestures, and expressions, but has invented articulate language; if, indeed, the word invented can be applied to a process, completed by innumerable steps, halfconsciously made. Any one who has watched monkeys will not doubt that they perfectly understand each other’s gestures and expression, and to a large extent, as [Swiss naturalist and physician] Rengger asserts, those of man."
"The appearance of dejection in young orangs and chimpanzees, when out of health, is as plain and almost as pathetic as in the case of our children. This state of mind and body is shown by their listless movements, fallen countenances, dull eyes, and changed complexion."
All this put most succinctly by Yarri and Stober (2013):
"Darwin’s work elevates the status of all animals."
Bergman (2005; 2011c) has little regard for the evidence; his take home message is also succinct. He simplistically and clumsily concludes the opposite:
"Darwin evidently suffered from an inordinant (sic) desire to kill animals for most of his life."
He then poses the question:
"One wonders if this "passion" for killing and death might have played a part in developing his ruthless "survival of the fittest" tooth-and-claw theory of natural selection."
And so we return to the logical fallacies expounded earlier. Although Bergman does not bother to define ‘survival of the fittest’ in this article, he does so elsewhere (Bergman, 2001):
"…………involving the triumph of the strong and the subjugation of the weak."
This cannot be stressed strongly enough: Darwin’s theory was in no way intended to be prescriptive. It is descriptive of what he observed in the natural world. The only source for this bogus definition is Jerry Bergman’s article. The concept of ‘fitness’ in biology has a specific meaning. Bergman’s definition is far from what Darwin intended by the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ and it is not a definition that would be accepted by any biologist today. Furthermore, it is not even a phrase originating with Darwin. It was coined by the British polymath Herbert Spencer in his book ‘Principles of Biology’ (1863; note however, that Spencer wasn’t discussing biology, but economics, when he introduced the phrase). Of the six editions of On the Origin of Species published during his lifetime, the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ occurs only in the last two. The original phrase Darwin used was ‘struggle for existence.’ Darwin turned to Spencer’s phrase on the advice of Alfred Wallace who considered it to be less ambiguous in terms of teleology than ‘struggle for existence’. It is obvious that Darwin never viewed either his own ‘struggle for existence’ nor Spencer’s ‘survival of the fittest’ in anything like the adversarial or combative sense that Bergman claims. From the original edition of ‘On the Origin of Species’ (1859):
"I should premise that I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphoric sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny. Two canine animals in time of death, may be truly said to struggle with each other which shall get the food and live. But a plant on the edge of a desert is said to struggle for life against the drought, though more properly it should be said to be dependent on the moisture.......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.......will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring."
In no way, then, does Darwin’s concept chime with Bergman’s wholly fabricated version. There is nothing in Darwin’s description of the mechanism of natural selection that could bring one to understand that what he intended to convey was the superiority of a moral outlook that encompassed "the triumph of the strong and the subjugation of the weak" and this remains the case regardless of Darwin’s mental state.
•If Darwin Was Alive Today•
Hayman (2015) notes that, if Darwin was alive today and a psychogenic or socio-psychogenic basis for Darwin’s symptomatology was assumed, the most fitting current diagnosis (in line with DSM-IV at Bergman’s time of writing) would be that of a Somatization Disorder (also known as Briquet’s Syndrome). This is a chronic condition affecting different organ systems and has a prominent psychological profile. Although some of Darwin’s bodily and psychological symptoms are a good fit (e.g., first presentation before 30 years of age, nausea, vomiting, panic attacks, fatigue, headaches, visual disturbances) there are good reasons for this being (yet another) diagnostic cul de sac. Darwin’s symptoms were not continuous but episodic and often appeared when in friendly company, while Briquet’s patients tend strongly toward persistence and amelioration by pleasurable events and social contact. More importantly, the full constellation of somatisation syndrome symptoms is rare in males and some diagnosticians have claimed that it is never observed in males. When males are diagnosed they nearly always suffer a long-term loss of libido with erectile dysfunction (Golding et al., 1991; Kroll et al., 1979) Darwin’s fecundity alone would appear to scotch this possibility.
If diagnosis was based on the alternative Hierarchical Taxonomy Of Psychopathology (HiTOP; e.g., Conway et al., 2021) Somatization Disorder would also be unlikely. In HiTOP the disorder is only included on a provisional basis on the basis of a paucity of evidence. Similarly, Darwin would fit none of the diagnoses under the Externalizing label/Personality Disorder dimension in HiTOP as there is no sign of substance abuse, attention deficit, anti-social conduct, narcissism or paranoia. He might, however, fit the Internalizing/Fear dimension due to possible signs of generalised anxiety, social phobia and panic disorder, all of which are clear signs of a neurotic, not a psychotic condition.
However, if were Darwin was alive today Hayman (2015) doubts whether he would even receive a primary psychiatric diagnosis at all:
"Under DSM-IV Darwin should not be regarded as having an anxiety disorder (which includes agoraphobia and panic attacks), a somatoform disorder (hypochondriasis), or a mood disorder (depression) – all accepted psychological or psychiatric diagnoses. Darwin’s correct disease classification under DSM-IV is that of mental symptoms due to a general medical condition."
•Conclusion: Bergman Clutching At Straws•
It seems clear that Bergman has no real argument. If he had he would have engaged the subject matter head on with reference to standard diagnostic tools and standard academic protocols. Instead he offers a mishmash of logical fallacies, lax terminology, doctored quotes, unreliable sources, ahistorical claims and a wilful ignoring of facts.
A basic knowledge of clinical psychological medicine would lead anyone to recognise the combination of psychological symptoms Bergman has highlighted as inviting suspicion of Darwin being psychotic actually point strongly toward the neurotic end of the spectrum. Indeed, the majority of psychiatrists who have attempted to diagnose Darwin have held that he either primarily suffered from a neurosis or that his symptoms were neurotic in character with some underlying non-psychological causation (Pasnau, 1990; Hayman, 2015). Nevertheless, it is entirely plausible that Darwin did not suffer any primary neurosis, rather, he suffered from anxiety and related neurotic symptoms as a result of the symptom burden of his long standing physical ailments, manifesting primarily in the gastrointestinal tract and cutaneously, both in longevity and severity.
Even if we were to stretch our imaginations thin enough to entertain the notion that he had successfully hidden hallucinatory and delusional symptoms for several decades, the life-long consistency of his organisational and observational skills coupled with his power of deduction would certainly preclude any reasonable suspicion of psychosis. As for Bergman’s charge of lifelong sadism and insinuation of sociopathy, the evidence suggests that this is almost certainly false, and at the very least a far more nuanced subject than portrayed by Bergman’s selective black and white picture. Hayman (2016) observes:
"Today, these psychogenic diagnoses would not get off the ground; they would not even make it to the launch pad (rejected without submission for peer review)."
Of course, authors like Bergman shy away from submitting their defective wares to peer review. And so writes for a different, less critical audience, allowing the fallacy that Darwin suffered an intrinsic psychological ailment "bordering on psychosis" to persist without challenge. Bergman’s entire enterprise re Darwin, here and elsewhere, is shameful. He adds nothing of value to any of the academic fields in which he pretends to participate.
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