TGC Takes A Dig at Darwin

(Jay Nelsestuen) #1

Saw this on Facebook just now:

Whereas the British Empire of the early 19th century had been dominated by Christian reformers such as William Wilberforce, who sold slave badges that proclaimed, “Am I not a man and a brother?”, Darwin’s writings converted an empire with a conscience into an empire with a scientific philosophy. Four years after Darwin published The Origin of Species, James Hunt turned it into a justification for slavery. In his 1863 paper, “On the Negro’s Place in Nature,” he asserted: “Our Bristol and Liverpool merchants, perhaps, helped to benefit the race when they transported some of them to America.”

When The Melbourne Review used Darwin’s teachings to justify the genocide of indigenous Australians in 1876, he didn’t try and stop them. When the Australian newspaper argued that “the inexorable law of natural selection [justifies] exterminating the inferior Australian and Maori races”—that “the world is better for it” since failure to do so would be “promoting the non-survival of the fittest, protecting the propagation of the imprudent, the diseased, the defective, and the criminal”—it was Christian missionaries who raised an outcry on behalf of this forgotten genocide. Darwin simply commented, “I do not know of a more striking instance of the comparative rate of increase of a civilized over a savage race.”

There were many good thoughts in the comments on the Facebook post. There’s some good discussion happening on some of the threads. One example:

Darwin’s work has been cited by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons, much as religious scriptures have been. Darwin himself was an adamant opponent of the slave trade and of genocidal campaigns against indigenous peoples. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t use terms like “savage.” Of course he did, as did almost all the Victorian era British thinkers. Including the religious thinkers. Perhaps it’s best to read Darwin and examine which of his ideas have held up, which have not, and which have been modified by subsequent scientists. Judging his work in the way suggested in this article is really not sensible.

Many (like this one) immediately noticed that this argument could be turned on its head against Christians, namely, that since many people have abused and misappropriated the Scriptures to justify genocide and the like, then we ought to reject them as well. The fallacy is clear.

Others also noted the conflation of Darwinian evolution and social Darwinism. One does not lead to the other, though it is often assumed that they are inseparable.

What are your thoughts? Was Darwin an evil man, or a product of his time? Does the misuse of his ideas give us reason to reject evolution? Can social Darwinism be rationally concluded on the basis of evolutionary theory?

(Phil) #2

Fertile soil to plow. If we reject evolution based on misuse of ideas, what then are we to do with Calvin and Luther? For that matter, with the Bible itself, since as you stated, it too has been misused.

(Larry Bunce) #5

An idea can’t help who believes it, or what evil conclusions some may draw from it. Christianity has been used as a basis for persecution of Jews throughout history. The Protestant Reformation has also been responsible for actual warfare between Christian groups, and these all were done by people who believed that humans had been specially created by God, and considered themselves to be good Christians.
The GC article is a very old ad hominem against Darwin.

(Jay Nelsestuen) #6

I’d be curious to find out what you mean here. Do you mean the Catholic persecution of Protestants (and vice versa), i.e. Bloody Mary? The Reformed persecution of the Anabaptists? To what do you refer?

I grant that the Protestant Reformation was (and in many ways still is) rather messy, largely because there was no separation of church and state at that time. The church held the rule of law, and heresy was a serious charge, often punished by death. The magisterial Reformation, then, was indeed quite problematic. (I must be noted that Calvin, however, is recognized as laying the groundwork for religious liberty, though it would not be fully realized in his time.)

(Steve Schaffner) #7

Presumably the Thirty Years War, the Huguenot wars, various smaller wars.

(Larry Bunce) #9

Thank you @glipsnort for filling in some examples of actual religious wars in Europe. I was thinking offhand of the violence in Ireland, but thought there had been wars on the Continent also.
I presume the term “Social Darwinism” was coined to make Herbert Spenser’s reactionary philosophy seem to be ‘scientific,’ but it seems to have made Darwin’s ideas seem more ominous–guilt by association.

(Dennis Venema) #10

I see one of the commenters on Facebook has noticed that this quote of Darwin’s, at the end of the above section, actually comes from his much earlier book, the Voyage of the Beagle (published in 1839) and was written in 1836. As such it cannot be, as it is implied in the TGC article, that this quote is a response to the Melbourne Review’s article in 1876. This is highly misleading, and it’s far from the only problem with the article.

Here’s the quote in its context (with my emphases):

All the aborigines have been removed to an island in Bass’s Straits, so that Van Diemen’s Land enjoys the great advantage of being free from a native population. This most cruel step seems to have been quite unavoidable, as the only means of stopping a fearful succession of robberies, burnings, and murders, committed by the blacks; but which sooner or later must have ended in their utter destruction. I fear there is no doubt that this train of evil and its consequences, originated in the infamous conduct of some of our countrymen. Thirty years is a short period, in which to have banished the last aboriginal from his native island,—and that island nearly as large as Ireland. I do not know a more striking instance of the comparative rate of increase of a civilized over a savage people.


Darwin’s theories stand or fall separate from his own moral status. However he seems to have had a strong social consciousness.

Voyage of the Beagle has a lot of social critique (and is an interesting read for those who haven’t read it). Darwin came from an anti-slavery family and frequently showed it there and later such as in his letter to Asa Gray 19 January 1863 after the Emancipation Proclamation:

Well, your President has issued his fiat against Slavery—God grant it may have some effect.— I fear it is true that very many English do not now really care about Slavery; I heard some old sensible people saying here the same thing; & they accounted for it (& such a contrast it is to what I remember in my Boy-hood) by the present generation never having seen or heard much about Slavery.

Or in a letter of 5 June 1861

Great God how I shd like to see that greatest curse on Earth Slavery abolished.

Other than by providing an out-of-context quote written decades before, they have provide no evidence that Darwin knew what the Melbourne Review had allegedly written.


I’m no fan of Darwin, but don’t we often say that character attack is usually a sign of a weak argument?


Thanks for pointing this out, Dennis. BioLogos should not be turned into another fake news site.

(Dennis Venema) #14

Jay Wile is a YEC who, like Todd Wood, is a bit of an “outsider” in YEC circles. Here’s his take on Darwin and racism. I agree with his analysis. It’s worth the read.

(Phil) #15

Thanks for posting, good paper and well balanced, unlike the AIG article that was posted today on Darwin and racism. Must be the topic of the week.

In any case, the underlying issue seems to be the ethics of quote mining, and taking things out of context. I am sure we all do it, sometimes accidentally, but should try to do better.

(Jay Nelsestuen) #16

Is that what you think my intention is?

Good grief. I only sought to stimulate discussion.

(Jay Nelsestuen) #17

Wonderful, thank you for the full quote.

(Paul Allen) #18

Evolution is ugly. Survival of the fittest brings death. Evolution is the primal example of the results of the fall of humanity and the world and not the other way around.

(Hugh Farey) #19

Evolution is glorious. Death and rebirth and the constant recycling of the biosphere is a marvel in our eyes and speaks of the eternal creativity of the creator. The fall of Humanity followed by its redemption is a part of this exuberant manifestation of the character of God.


Paul, if animal death is not good, what is your opinion of Jesus’ acts of killing and eating fish?

Honestly looking for your opinion, not trying to set you up or trap you.

(Paul Allen) #21

My first comments were edited by the moderator.

The purpose for the first death of an animal in Genesis was to cover the nakedness of both Adam and Eve. Animals were killed for food only after the Noahic covenant.

So the first death was not good. One animal suffered because of the actions of Adam and Eve. Then permission is given after the flood to eat animals. Your example, of the eating and killing of fish, flows from that permissions under that covenant.

Yet God-directed evolution and evolution requires death before Genesis.

The ugliness of evolution and social evolutionary were raised in the ‘TGC article’ - the statements regarding how white Australians with an ugly evolutionary mindset viewed Australian indigenous people. The author was correct. But it still happens today but not with aboriginals.


So Paul when did carnivorous animals begin to eat meat, which is required for them to live. For that matter, when did the carnivorouus plants begin to eat meat?

(Curtis Henderson) #23

@Paul_Allen1, you are incorrectly connecting the science of evolution to its sociological misapplication. It is similar to me blaming sugarcane for my overindulgence of Girl Scout cookies. I cannot justify my moral weakness by blaming it on the existence of a natural entity.

Sure, there have been philosophers in the past and even today (luckily, an extreme minority) that use the science of evolution inappropriately to support bigoted social hypotheses, but that does not mean that “evolution is ugly”. Like @Hugh_Farey, I see evolution as a beautiful, creative tool that God used to fashion an amazing and fascinating world.

I would also be very interested to hear your hypotheses regarding the sustainability of ecosystems without death. Just as one example - without animal death, plant life would be entirely consumed and food chains/webs would collapse.