Did Darwin Promote Genocide?

(system) #1
Darwin’s views on race and culture are backwards by today’s standards, but it's wrong to blame him for the atrocities that followed his life and work.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/did-darwin-promote-genocide

(Dr. Ted Davis) #2

Undoubtedly readers will want to talk about this, and I anticipate critical comments as part of the conversation. Darwin wrote extensively about human evolution and cultural interaction, so any short essay will provide only a partial picture of the full truth. My primary concern here is the way in which Phil Moore’s essay almost totally misrepresents Darwin’s attitude toward slavery and genocide, by lifting a few words wholly out of context.

As stated above (and be sure to read the linked column), I realize that Darwin was a racist by our standards today. But, racism did not equate (and does not equate now) with support for what Americans called “the peculiar institution” of slavery. Many racists have abhorred slavery as an abomination, but Moore doesn’t provide readers a clue about this. Likewise, belief in cultural superiority does not equate with support for genocide. It wasn’t, and isn’t, quite that simple.

(Jay Nelsestuen) #3

@TedDavis, thank you for this, and thank you for responding to my initial post here as well. This was very concise, yet thorough, and I greatly appreciate your work.

(Dr. Ted Davis) #4

Thank you, @AdCaelumEo (Jay), I appreciate your appreciation.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #6

I hope people understand that being a creationist does not prevent one from being a racist and being an evolutionist does not make one a racist. People are racists and non-racists for many reasons Still it is interesting to see if Darwin was a racist or not.

However for people who are really concerned about the problem of ethics, I think that this is the wrong problem to address. The right question is, What is the ethical implications of “the survival of the fittest?”

Ethics do make a difference, even though we might think that do not. Dawkins brushes off the implications the survival of the fittest, even though he does not provide an alternative or reason to to reject it.

(Mark Twombly) #7

Thank you for this intriguing article. It would seem the idea that Darwin promoted genocide to be a stretch, so I appreciate that accusation being addressed.

That said, one cannot ignore what Darwin revealed in the original title of his book: ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.’ Clearly Darwin was a racist, and his ideas fueled the fires of racism that had always existed.

I believe it is important for Christians to evaluate the fruit - the concrete outcomes - of ideas. The story is not a positive one for Darwinism. Darwin’s own son Leonard was the president of the British Eugenics Society from 1911 - 1928, and there are many other direct impacts. I recommend this article on the impact of Darwinism on western society for serious consideration.

While this article is full of straw man arguments and obfuscations, I believe we must be very honest about both the origins and preservation of favored ideas which continue to do great damage to many peoples to the present day.

Mark D. Twombly

(Lynn Munter) #8

Look, I’m not saying he wasn’t racist, but you can’t conclude it based on that title.


(Jay Nelsestuen) #9

You are correct. In fact, the title doesn’t really refer to humans at all. “Races” in that sense is roughly analogous to species or variations of a species. See here: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA005_2.html

(Matthew Pevarnik) #10

This whole thing is ridiculous. I really appreciate the article but the fact that we have to write it is completely sad and very very unfortunate. Basically it stems from evolution equals Satan. That’s all the people ever really trying to say and it is such a bad representation of science and the theory itself. Who cares what Darwin thought or didn’t think. His life is interesting but the point of science is not what did the original person actually believe but can it stand up to 150 years of scrutiny. And it is proven that it indeed has been able to stand up to it so it doesn’t even matter with Darwin thought himself. Opinions?

(GJDS) #11

I do not think that Darwin personally promoted some form of genocide that he derived from his outlook - but I do think that his views on natural selection gave a scientific credibility to genocidal outlooks. We have a classic case in which the Australian prime minister talked of how humane he and his fellow Britain citizens were towards the natives by allowing them to become extinct, as nature meant; they were not inclined to murder them outright even though this would give a helping hand to nature.

This material is an extract from a speech - it is also part of the reason aborigines were not counted during a census - the constitution refused to recognise them as humans as white chaps are! It is a travesty to historical facts to think that evolution did not provide the basis and frame for such view.

(John Dalton) #12

I think that might be overstating it. People did not seem to lack such previously. As Americans (in the larger as well as lesser senses) we do not need to look very far for examples. I think your earlier sentence states the case better: “I do think that his views on natural selection gave a scientific credibility to genocidal outlooks.” Perhaps even, just some new language and rationalization to apply.

(GJDS) #13

I agree with you in that any theory can do anything on its own, and also that before natural selection there were people that saw other races as inferior. What my examples show (and others) is that NS was welcomed as a means to rationalise, justify, and make “normal” both ideas and practices of genocide. I think you need to address this aspect and then place the many examples in the context of active genocide and passive acceptance of it as “part of nature”.

(John Dalton) #14

It would be interesting to see if any research in that vein had been done. I guess that there must be some writing on the topic in general; I’ll be taking a look. I’m a little confused by this though: “before natural selection there were people that saw other races as inferior”. Are you saying “genocide” didn’t exist previously? Or requires ideas of natural selection? Even to take the recent Hutu/Tutsi genocide as an example, I wouldn’t imagine such ideas associated with it. People have not lacked for supposed reasons to slaughter other peoples as far as I can see. The appearance of natural selection was (in this context) just one more rotten apple in the barrel, and a rather small one I think.

(GJDS) #15

It would be interesting to find any research on this - my outlook is formed by some time I spend many many years ago on slavery during the rise of empires such as the British empire, and some reading I did on Australian aborigines. This limited material seemed to me to fit in with the popular things we seem in the media from time to time. I see NS as adding to what I had read, and by no means the exclusive cause - but statements such as that of the Aust PM as the country became a nation, galvanised the role of NS to such outlooks. Perhaps I should add that the Australian constitution was written at that time and all Australian citizens and all States had voted to adopt this - so it is not a small apple in a barrel of rotten apples, but a very big rotten apple. We may debate the actual understanding of the common man of NS and evolution, and that is why I use phrases such as “it is natural … and so on”.

(Christy Hemphill) #16

The Aztecs sacrificed 20,000 enslaved people to their gods every year, decimating the populations of surrounding people groups. All without the benefit of Darwin’s theory to rationalize their behavior. People in power will use whatever ideological or religious tools advance their purposes. No one needed Darwin to be a racist. The conquistadors and slave holders of fairly recent history did fine appealing to the Bible to support their racist and or genecidal actions. Correlation does not equal causation in the cases you are citing.

(GJDS) #17

I cannot see your point @Christy - we all acknowledge that humans have committed atrocities - the discussion is how Darwin’s theory impacted on outlooks and behaviour. The examples I gave clearly show that an entire population took the extinction of a race of humans as a natural development, as the workings of natural selection. If they clothed this in religious garb, atheists garb, or anything else is beside the point - it justified and promoted on a vast scale racism and genocide. I am sure you do not mean to deny this fact.

(Christy Hemphill) #18

How do you prove that the knowledge of a scientific theory engendered racist outlooks? I just think that is pure speculation. Pointing out the fact that they used it to justify their racist outlook doesn’t prove it caused it. It’s not like the world was free of racism and genocide until Darwin got people thinking along certain lines and the world changed. That’s my point.

(George Brooks) #19

And yet, ironically, one of my own high school friends wrote a book that included this specific idea - - that Darwinism was to blame for the Holocaust…

But I guess I could be wrong about something … maybe we aren’t friends anymore. I was trying to explain that you cannot use Carbon dating on something millions of years old… and he blocked my Facebook account. But that was probably for the best … he’s not even an Evangelical - - and it was driving me nuts that he was writing a book mostly to pander to the Right Wing politics that was taking over America…
His book was published in 2013.


I should point out that one of the competing and popular hypotheses at that time was that human ‘races’ had been separately created, polygenism, and therefore some were inherently inferior. A fairly popular Biblical interpretation was that Blacks were descended from Ham and, since they were cursed by God, were inferior and so could be ruled (or eradicated if they cause trouble).

As far as Australia, I’ll note the US census did not count most Native Americans until relatively late (the US constitution has “excluding Indians not taxed” for calculating representation and Native Americans were not usually considered citizens until 1924 and often restricted from voting). The justifications may have changed over the years but justifications would have been found no matter how much twisting is needed. This does not affect the question of whether the theory of natural selection is accurate or not.

(GJDS) #21

This is odd by any standard - I had made the point a few posts before that no theory by itself does anything. If I made an uncharitable interpretation of your previous remark, I would have to conclude that you equate natural selection with Aztec human sacrificial religious practices. No-one is proposing a cause by any theory. The topic @Christy is promoting … and NS has been used for this by the truck load, supported by so called scientist (or as I said, an entire population, which includes many prominent scientists), voted in this way.