The debate over Darwin's blind spots:
Did "survival of the fittest" enable later racism?

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Darwin Defended
An increasing number of scholars and intellectuals are imitating scores of black preachers and other Civil Rights spokesmen in calling Darwin's evolution theory to task for spawning various "scientific" racist ideologies, eugenics, social Darwinism, white supremacy, German rassenbiologie, and the widely prevalent socalled Scientific Racism. Richard Weikart's book pounds away at the Darwinian basis of it all. See "From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany" (2004). Not to excuse Darwin's racial assumptions, but let's be honest, those attitudes were the spirit of the times. The conquistadors from the beginning distinguished "gente de la razón" (people of reason, ie, white men) from the non-white natives. Voltaire, a founder of the Enlightenment, called black folk intermediate between apes and humans. Darwin was merely echoing what a great many of the most enlightened Europeans were saying (although some called it white man's burden, others like Darwin, implied non-whites would be wiped out).

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin in 1881

Darwin Defended

The Debate Over Darwin's Blind Spots

In his personal life, Darwin was blameless

Bob Shepherd by Bob Shepherd
Like other believers, I have perused Darwin and I never fail to be impressed by the seriousness of his effort (and his accomplishment). I do not detect a harsh or hostile attitude toward religion (as one finds for example in Tom Paine). Of course Darwin personally may have been an atheist. But in his biography, he was surrounded with Believing Christians, sedate Anglicans. In his personal life he was blameless. His wife's family were even connected with the evangelical Anglican movement opposing the slave trade.

Watson-CrickRichard Dawkins says of Darwin's accomplishment, that "it is impossible to exaggerate the magnitude of the problem that Darwin and Wallace solved."

Obviously there were glitches, but Darwin frankly conceded those problems. For some two decades he honed and refined, doubting himself, soliciting criticism, second-guessing himself. Later generations in biology and genetics and other sciences have been able to fill in some of the questions Darwin (and his day) never filled in.

And still we are finding little problems. Darwin was sure that the inferior races would soon become extinct. Those were the days of British Empire's triumph -- throughout the world. Inferior races were to be found everywhere.

But white man's burden was the "spirit of the age" (ZEITGEIST), as Richard Dawkins points out. And even the greatest minds of the time were not exempt. Abraham Lincoln, born the same day as Darwin, adamantly stated (one famous speech) his unequivocal opposition to strict equality between blacks and whites.

Darwin actually said:

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla. [Descent of Man, Chapter 6 ]

Richard Dawkins extols Darwin's achievement as both more universal and more timeless than either Freud's or Marx's. Darwin's achievement was comparable to Einstein's, whereas Marx's was more parochial, more limited in scope and emphemeral. Freud's too, was local, less universal than Darwins.

Darwin's Scientific Racism

Bob Shepherd
google-groups, May 16, 2006
George Mosse declares (page 72) Charles Darwin himself was no racist. Nevertheless he cannot deny that, in his own words, the most important and original English contribution to racist thought was made through Darwinism. Ideas like "natural selection" and "survival of the fittest" were eagerly adopted by racial theoreticians. The necessity of struggle seemed to be built into Darwinism, and it added a new scientific dimension to the combat between superior and inferior races. Darwin's own theory of survival and selection was complex, and depended upon environmentalism rather than upon heredity. But racism simplified Darwin, took 'good reliable facts' which he described, and applied them to the struggle for survival and selection of the fittest races.

Darwin sometimes wrote in a way that could be easily misinterpretated as encouraging racial ideas. [Which is why he took the cue from Spencer and in Descent of Man substituted the phrase 'survival of the fittest' in place of 'favoured races' which he had used throughout Origin of the Species.]

The production of healthy progeny became a racial obsession. Darwinism not only encouraged visions of race war; it also led in more immediate terms to the founding of racial eugenics. [From 'Toward the Final Solution' by George L. Mosse, 1978]

May 13, 2006
Allan Chase, who composed a magisterial volume running some 700 pages of closely packed and carefully documented research, exposed the racist USE of Darwinian theory, but nary was there a word of attack upon the fully sound and basic truth of Darwin himself, or the overall validity of evolution.

Rather, Chase zeroed in on many aspects of the racist USE of Darwinian theory (might makes right). He listed four major ways or cults that scientific racism has manifested in the days since Malthus and Darwin.

(1) Eugenics
(2) Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer, NOT Darwin
(3) Malthusianism
(4) Teutonism, later rechristened Nordicism

Bob Shepherd
google-groups, April 10, 2009
My gut reaction is that Darwin (and most of the framework of "Darwinian Evolution" in the succeeding generations) never, by and large, intended to answer every possible question, but rather was content in the overall ability of the (Darwinian) perspective to ANSWER the broad generalities being posed.

If we get right down to it, whatever "system" one develops, even religious or mythological or strictly literary ones, really claim nothing more. When something resonates, or helps us make sense of the world, or merely speads to us (at an inner interpretive level), we "second the emotion" -- so to speak.

While I certainly would respect the intelligible efforts of Fossil Lin, I might suggest the limitation of the critique of evolution is in the detail. Rather than hair-splitting, perhaps we should step back and check the overall framework, as it were.

There are actually traditions, some quite old, affirming a common "cousinhood" of humans with other forms of earth-life. We ought not be too hasty in dismissing non-European traditionalism. Actually, the "Christian" Bible originated, almost wholly, not in Europe but from Shemitic and Hamitic and Cushitic sources, and pre-sources. The Mosaic tapestry had roots in, yes, AFRICA. Not Europe.

Consider this statement found in the Bible ( I said in my heart concerning the estate of man, that God might reveal to them, that they are beasts. So little difference. They begin the same, they end the same. Composed of the same stuff, breathe the same air. Surely no difference. So that a man hath no preeminence above a beast. The only difference being (the son of) man's spirit (Adam's) goes upwards, while the beasts spirit goes downwards. Qoheleth, or Ecclesiastes.

Dixi in corde meo de filiis hominum,ut probaret eos deus, et ostenderet similes esse bestiis. Idcirco unus interitus est hominis et jumentorum, et æqua utriusque conditio. Sicut moritur homo, sic et illa moriuntur. Similiter spirant omnia, et nihil habet homo jumento amplius: cuncta subjacent vanitati, et omnia pergunt ad unum locum. De terra facta sunt, et in terram pariter revertuntur. Quis novit si spiritus filiorum Adam ascendat sursum, et si spiritus jumentorum descendat deorsum?

{Posted just for fun. My Latin intelligibility is not very advanced!!!}

Darwin is a giant. Not because he got every detail perfect. Rather, he never even pretended to have all the answers. But he has withstood (or his reputation actually stronger now than ever) the attacks of the thoughtless. Perhaps because (so to speak) he was asking the right questions.

But why are fundamentalists offended? Why do so of the Christian community feel so threatened or alarmed? I personally do not sense any disrespect intended to anyone's core values, or spiritual "treasures." At any rate, to each his own. Varied strokes for varied folks.

Here is a quote by a modern theologian, Frank Sheed, essentially calling for something of a truce between Christianity and Darwinian SCIENCE.

Sheed writes, "The Fathers and Doctors of the Church never thought of Genesis as giving a scientific blueprint of creation." Sheed goes on to quote from St. Augustine "De Genesi ad litteram" to the effect that Genesis is not to be taken litterally, but rather by the Spirit.

Bob Shepherd
Posted on google groups
Darwin was a product of his age. One can find white supremacists galore during that whole period, but Darwin himself, Victorian though he was, could hardly be classed with the crudest or the more virulent racists. He seemed to embrace the "White Man's Burden" view of British imperialism.

I admit that sometimes non-whites have objected to the idea that, as Darwin expressed in Descent of Man, the inferior races will soon be replaced by the superior ones. But remember, Darwin was hardly alone in his somewhat smug or condescending attitude toward colonial races. In those days even the IRISH were considered essentially tribal --- as Darwin himself alluded to (also in Descent of Man).

The Enlightenment was by and large a "whiteman" accomplishment. A corollary of this, the hostility between religion and science (might well be labeled an artificial development) within the Euro-centered "science" of that day and age.

Truth be told, the Genesis versus Darwin BATTLE raging for so long in some respects appears rather silly. Darwin studied religion for three years (Anglican). His physician-father was a nominally religious man. His wife Emily was staunchly religious.

But Darwin had a curiosity and an inquisitive nature that the world ought to praise -- and emulate. I sense no intention on his part to disrespect religion, or to belittle faith, or in any way to attack traditionalism. Rather, it was (sad to say) the other way around. Those doing the attacking were "Christians." Those who were apparently threatened by the views Darwin proposed (suggested) were religious people.

Here is a quote by a modern theologian, Frank Sheed, essentially calling for something of a truce between Christianity and Darwinian SCIENCE.

Sheed goes on to quote from St. Augustine "De Genesi ad litteram" to the effect that Genesis is not to be taken litterally, but rather by the Spirit. See St. John chapter 3. Things meant to be spiritually discerned. (We cannot see the wind, but we discern it by its effects.)

The modern world rightly gives the Genesis account its due place, but there are many beautiful and inspiring creation myths. Peruse some of the creation myths, origin accounts, of native peoples throughout the world. Some passed down by oral tradition. Or go to the sub- continent of India, whose scriptures in some instances are even older than our Western (Hebrew-recorded) ones.

google-groups, April 6, 2006
James Carroll loves the Catholic Church. He loves Christianity, but I think he loves truth more, and his obvious desire is to correct and heal (amend) the faith he loves, and improve it. Thus, Constantine's Sword traces the sudden appearance of anti-Semitism during the Gentile Christianity that appeared once the church found itself in a position of secular power and authority. Carroll is blunt in his indictment of Christian bigotry, but he barely mentions the bitter anti-Semitism of Luther.

"And the scientific Enlightenment, pursuing its decidedly nonreligious agenda, added its own twist to this legacy, especially in the figure of Charles Darwin (1809-1882). He applied his own idea of the survival of the fittest to racial, ethnic, and national groups of human beings. Like certain species of grass, some racial groups are destined to survive and thrive, while others, like less hardy grasses on the scorched savanna, are destined to wither and disappear. "At some future period not very distant as measured in centuries," Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man, "the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races."

The Swedish writer Sven Lindqvist, reflecting on this legacy of European colonialism, commented, "We want genocide to have begun and ended with Nazism." But it didn't. Hitler was less the beneficiary than the product of religious and racial assumptions that had their origins, perhaps, in the Jew-hating sermons of Saint John Chrysostom or Saint Ambrose, and certainly in the blood purity obsession of Torquemada. The line between these two phenomena carves the narrative arc that achieves its apogee with the 'Germanizing' of Darwin, especially in Nietzsche, at least as he was caricatured by the Nazis. Hitler's all-encompassing ideology of race was a "vulgarized version," in one scholar's phrase, of the social Darwinism that held sway in the imperial age among both intellectuals and the crowd. It was the dominant cultural and political idea of the day. 'The air he [Hitler] and all other Western people in his childhood breathed was soaked in the conviction that imperialism is a biologically necessary process, which, according to the laws of nature, leads to the inevitable destruction of the lower races. It was a conviction which had already cost millions of human lives before Hitler provided his highly personal application.' [p 476-477]

Edward Simon [a professor of biology at Purdue University and himself a Jew] has commented:

"I don't claim that Darwin and his theory of evolution brought on the holocaust; but I cannot deny that the theory of evolution, and the atheism that engendered it, led to the moral climate that made the holocaust possible."

["Another Side to the Evolution Problem," Jewish Press (Jan. 7, 1983). ]

White Man's Enlightenment, for all its achievements, promoted racism

The Enlightenment, a profound European acheivement, paved the way for a tremendous increase of interest in science and learning. Darwin and Spencer eventually stepped into the void with their inquiry into biology and origins. One question they tried to answer was for their day not unusual: why is white man superior? To our day the very question seems wrong. The very assumptions seem flawed. But at the time, scientific racism was all the rage. Gabriel Sivan writes : "The Biblical concept of man's fundamental unity was jettisoned so as to attribute different origins to various ethnic groups on the basis of physical characteristics. The mental and moral nature of the white European, associated with anthhropological data, was interpreted to prove the 'innate superiority' of the white man and the 'natural inferiority' of all colored races. [Sivan p 103]

Voltaire had claimed Negroes constituted an intermediate stage between whites (humans) and the anthropoid apes. Darwin predicted the imminent extinction of the inferior races. The eugenicists even proposed helping the extinction process along. Then Hitler actually did so -- attempting to wipe out an entire race, deemed in his Rassenbiologie to be inferior, Untermenschen in German.

In other places we learn more. Dinesh D'Souza doesn't hold back in exposing Darwin's white, Anglo paternalism. Darwin's defenders (myself included) are hard put to explain away the great man's own words. I want to find a way to excuse remarks of Darwin himself on the inferior races. Great as he was, the man was human. White supremacy (and white man's burden) were attitudes endemic to those times.

"The End of Racism is a must read. It is powerful, searing, honest and definitive in its sweep as it chronicles and analyzes the history, taboos and myths that have shaped and shattered the American mosaic. A tour-de-force, this book uncovers the half-truths and outright lies disguised as black scholarship and civil rights policy, and earns for D'Souza his entitlement to scathing attacks from the racial fanatics and demagogues." (from a Review)

White Man's Enlightenment
Truly earth-shaking in many ways, Europe's Enlightenment spawned achievements that have been undoubtedly brilliant for mankind, from science and technology to philosophy and atheism, to capitalism and modern industry, but one side effect has been Darwinian racism. One debunker, Karl Stern, has suggested that men use a different way of thinking, perhaps a different part of the brain. My source is Adrienne Rich. Is the Enlightenment mode of thinking restrictedly masculine? Rejecting the feminine mode of knowledge associated with intuition, spirituality, and poetry, has white man bulldozed modernity into a hyper-male pattern of thinking that has resulted in flawed, and rigid, and un-holistic distortions of reality? See The Flight from Woman, 1985. [ISBN 0913757519]

Darwin's racism : his own words indict him (Dinesh D'Souza)
It was
Darwin's theory of evolution which would provide the strongest possible justification for modern racism, and the most dangerous obstacle to any liberal effort to affirm, the equality of the races. [p124. End of Racism]

An irony of American history is that Thomas Jefferson, slave-owner, was the one who inscribed into America's formative document those immortal words

All men are created equal

By the middle of the [19th] century, whites who wished to espouse a doctrine of Negro inferiority found their views supported by the latest trends in Western science. Soon they would discoveer an even more comprehensive rationale for bigotry, which was provided by Charles Darwin. Today, many writers make a strenuous effort to distance Darwin from racism, cite his record as an opponent of slavery, and blame the racism that subsequently took his name on an unscientific "social Darwinism" whch is generally branded as a distortion of the theory of evolution. But as we are about to see, Darwin thought otherwise.
Quite deliberately, Darwin subtitled his Origin of Species "The Survival of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." Endurance and success on earth, Darwin suggested, could be attributed to the ability of races to adapt themselves to the threats and challenges of the natural environment. Here, then, was an entirely secular and scientific explanation for the civilizational achievements of Europeans, and for the relative backwardness of other peoples: whites were simply in the evolutionary vanguard, and the backward races were the unfit peoples on their way out. George Stocking writes, "The primitive and the savage were now associated with the apelike and the animal not simply by analogy but by derivation." [End of Racism p 129]
Arguing that "Extinction follows chiefly from the competition of tribe with tribe, and race with race.," Darwin found that "When civilised nations come into contact with barbarians the struggle is short." He predicted that as a result of the continuing evolution, higher races like the Caucasian would develop into more advanced species while barbaric races like while barbaric races like Negroes and Australian aborigines would be eliminated. Even in the West. Darwin worried, "With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick we institute poor laws. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.... There should be open competition for all men; and the most able should not be prevented by laws or customs from succeeding best and rearing the largest number of offspring."
In a strong defense of Darwinism, Thomas Huxley proclaimed in 1865:
It is simply incredible that ... our prognathous relative ... will be able to compete successfully ... in a contest which is to be carried out by thoughts and not by bites .... The highest places in he hierarchy of covilisation will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins. [Thomas Huxley: Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews. p20]
Essentially, Darwiun helped to legitimize the racist application of the principle that "might is right." [p132. End of Racism]

if God does not exist, Dostoyevsky warns, everything is permitted. The secularism and racism embodied in Darwin prevailed, and increasingly race began to replace religion as the gnostic key to history. Essentially, Darwin helped to legitimize the racist application of the principle that "might is right." [p132. End of Racism]

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. (Charles Darwin. Descent of Man)

White Man's Enlightenment, for all its achievements, promoted racism
Gabriel Sivan, British scholar of the Bible (especially the 'Old Testament')

takes the rationalist 'Enlightenment' to task for attempting to define and justify the 'racial superiority' of white man.
(Starting in the 18th century onward).

The Biblical concept of man's fundamental unity was jettisoned so as to attribute different origins to various ethnic groups on the basis of their physical characteristics. The mental and moral nature of the white European, associated with anthropological data, was interpreted to prove the "inate superiority" of the white man and the "natural inferiority" of all colored races.

[Voltaire, a founding father of the Enlightenment, claimed that] the Negroes constituted an intermediate stage between white humanity and the anthropoid apes! During the 19th century, Germany became the focus of pseudo-scientific "research" on racial origins, although otherwise responsible figures in England and France were also affected by this new and absurd preoccupation.

[The Bible and Civilization. by Gabriel Sivan. Pg 103]

Some very "alternative" (not to say controversial) thoughts
Can we save a Theory, by correcting its omissions?
Rahasya Poe in her column Science Faction

  1. As much as evolutionists would like to believe, there are definite deficiencies in the theory of evolution, the main one being what is referred to as the "missing link," which marks our sudden jump from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens.
  2. More than 30,000 clay tablets have been found with stories such as the Epic of Creation, which predates the [Hebrew] story of Genesis by many centuries, and the Epic of Gilgamesh, which predates the [Hebrew] story of Noah by many centuries. It would strain credulity to not see that the early [Hebrew] Biblical stories originated from these Sumerian clay tablets that speak clearly of an earlier civilization called the Annunaki.
  3. For thousands of years there have been, and still are, thousands of sightings of unidentified flying objects in our skies; there are even cave drawings of UFO's going back 10,000 years or more.
  4. Every ancient text that I have read -- The Book of Enoch, the Bible, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and many others -- speak clearly of anomalous events and beings flying in our ancient skies and bringing advanced knowledge to humans.
  5. Almost all indigenous peoples with an oral tradition that dates from antiquity tell similar stories of visitations by beings from the skies.
  6. We are discovering other planets in our own galaxy all the time and the official estimates are in the hundreds of billions of possible planets in our universe, many of which could feasibly support life.
Are We Alone
(Rahasya Poe writes in Lotus Guide, Chico California)

We should also keep in mind that Zecharia Sitchin, a Hebrew scholar and linguist with many academic credentials and a lifetime of research and experience has collaborated with other academics in many fields.

The American Revolution hero (and firebrand), Deist Tom Paine, also weighed in on the idea -- of life beyond earth -- Are We Alone?

Another recent, and readable, discussion from a life sciences perspective is The Divine Code of Life : Awaken Your Genes and Discover Hidden Talents. by Kazuo Murakami, Ph.D

Quakers : those Great Heretics : still making trouble
A recent book (by David Boulton) titled Godless for God's Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism offers recent, critical contributions by Quakers which would surprise many Christians. Some Friends are actively engaging the implications of human evolution, cognitive anthropology, evolutionary psychology, body-mind questions (esp. the 'relaxation response'*), primatology, evolutionary history, evolutionary biology, biology and consensus decision-making, online especially, in terms of Quaker nontheism.

*Also see books by Herbert Benson, MD.

Darwin's Genius
Teilhard once said, "Let truth appear but once to a single soul, and nothing can ever stop it from invading everything and setting everything ablaze."
Paradox: a biblical vindication of atheism

Dogged persistence is the key to science

Zecharia Sitchin, Hebrew scholar & linguist

Teilhard de Chardin: a Christian Evolution

The persecution of Velikovsky by "Science"

Adolf Hitler's embrace of Darwinian racism

To believe or not to believe (Rahasya Poe)

Bill Nye, a bow-tied "science guy" (soapbox)

A Cambridge Anglican trained in theology

The Jesuit and the Skull - by Amir D. Aczel