Poor old Darwin. So misunderstood by his followers. He was actually a nice old chap with fairly tame ideas, but his extremist disciples took his thoughts a bit too far. At least that is the spin being put out by many Darwinists and atheists today.
While more sober minds see a clear line between Darwin’s ideas and many of the horrible social experiments of the twentieth century, including Nazism, defenders of Darwin argue that at best there is no connection, or at worst any such episodes are aberrations or perversions of what Darwin believed.
But is that the case? Most people are not even aware of the full title of his 1859 masterwork: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. That last half of the title, often overlooked, sounds like it could come straight out of a Ku Klux Klan manual. [Ed. note added July 2014: In the Origin subtitle, Darwin would have primarily intended the word ‘races’ to refer to groupings of plants and animals. However, he did indicate his belief that man was essentially just one more animal by writing in it of “the differences between the races of man, which are so strongly marked” (in the context of variation and selection). Though this hints at the racist implications of his theory applied to humans, these only became truly explicit in his later book, The Descent of Man, as highlighted in this article.]
A very interesting article appeared lately in the decidedly liberal religious journal Commonweal, taking on this notion of the ‘gentle Darwin’.1 The anti-creationist Peter Quinn argues in that Darwin was not quite so squeaky clean when it comes to dangerous social implications of his theory.
Quinn argues that Darwin’s biological theory had very real ramifications for social theory. Says Quinn:
Indeed, the whole ugly world of eugenics needs to be seen for what it really is: very much an outgrowth of Darwinian thought. As Quinn notes:
Indeed, ‘by the time Darwin published the second edition of The Descent of Man in 1874, he had added Francis Galton’s eugenic theories and Herbert Spencer’s “survival of the fittest” social philosophy to the mix, calling Hereditary Genius, Galton’s treatise on the biological nature of intelligence and moral character, “remarkable” and Spencer “our greatest philosopher”.’ Note that Galton, the Father of Eugenics, was Darwin’s first cousin, and indebted to his theories.
Writing in a manner in which even Hitler would be proud, Darwin made it quite clear that certain races are to be preferred over others. Says Quinn:
‘All races, as it turns out, descend from the same ancestor but some are more descended than others. “I do not think that the Rev. Mr. Zincke takes an exaggerated view,” Darwin declares, “when he says: ‘All other series of events—as that which resulted in the culture of mind in Greece, and that which resulted in the empire of Rome—only appear to have purpose and value when viewed in connection with, or rather as subsidiary to … the great stream of Anglo-Saxon emigration to the west.’”’
‘Sounding more like Colonel Blimp than Lieutenant Columbo, Darwin envisions a far grimmer future for races or sub-species less fit than the Anglo-Saxon. “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world,” he predicts. “At the same time the anthropological apes … 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 civilized state … even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of now between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla.”’
‘Darwin is cavalier about the extermination of lesser breeds. He estimates that minimal force will be required, for “when civilized nations come into contact with barbarians the struggle is short, except where a deadly climate gives its aid to the native race.”’
His followers were quite happy to run with such ideas, and Darwin would not seem to disapprove. Consider his son:
It is time Darwin is taken off his pedestal and treated to rigorous and penetrating scrutiny. Numerous works have been penned on this subject. Richard Weikart’s From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany would be a good place to begin for those who are really interested in such matters. The truth is, bad ideas have bad consequences, and Darwin had his fair share of them.