Gene Expression

Evolution was racist

I just got pointed to Confronting Evolution’s Racists Roots via my RSS. This is a common tactic. And it might work for unsophisticated people on the margins. Just like a tract like “Christianity’s racist past” would also sell. Or, “Socialism’s white supremacist heritage.” But intellectually it’s a rather low-brow tactic. The real question is: Is It True? The racism of European intellectuals and the racialist inferences made from evolutionary theory are of historical interest, but not of scientific ones. It isn’t as if a tract with the title “Jesus Christ, Semitic Supremacist,” would disabuse most Christians of the truth of their faith.

This really doesn’t matter except in a meta sense. Many Intelligent Design proponents want to recast their movement as something separate & distinct from the crass lowbrow methods of Young Earth Creationism. John West, who is flogging Darwin’s racism in the article (and has done so elsewhere) is a fellow at the Discovery Institute. Of course it doesn’t surprise me that they’re going this route, but it confirms.

Comments

  1. #1 Greg Laden
    February 26, 2009

    He was here a while back:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2007/11/john_west_can_play_the_violin.php

    We knocked him out and did a dance around his body (see photos in link)

  2. #2 Joshua Zelinsky
    February 26, 2009

    There’s another level that this sort of claim isn’t useful. Even if the claims were correct the science would succeed or fail independently of it. Even if Darwin were Hitler it wouldn’t alter things at all. And if evolution actually had consequences that had racist implications it would mean that racists might unfortunately have a point, not that evolution is necessarily wrong. That evolution doesn’t have such implications is simply icing on the cake.

  3. #3 Pierce R. Butler
    February 26, 2009

    I just finished Carl N. Degler’s In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought, which points out that a crucial boost for eugenics came from the final demise of Lamarckianism.

    But if acquired characters [sic] cannot be transmitted, then the only hope of social reformers … ‘for the permanent improvement of the human stock would … seem to be through exercising an influence upon the selective process.’ … the abandonment of the belief in acquired characters was a stimulus for a eugenics movement. The decline in the acceptance of acquired characters had the additional and immediate effect of hardening the concept of racism among some social scientists. … Behavior that was thought to be derived from race could now, for the first time, be said to be permanent … no amount of education or improvement in the social environment over time could either eradicate anti-social behavior or foster socially desirable actions.

    Charles Darwin & Margaret Sanger may have to make room in the Rogues’ Gallery of Evil Eugenicists for the whole Modern Synthesis Gang – it’s going to be crowded in there!

  4. #4 rob
    February 27, 2009

    Humorously, thinking that the origins of an idea has any bearing on its validity is so common it even has a name: the Genetic Fallacy.

  5. #5 Colugo
    February 27, 2009

    Several pre-Origin speculations on natural selection and evolution concerned human racial origins, competition, and extinction. Just read some excerpts of the writings of precursors of Darwin. Western expansion and concurrent conflict with and subjugation of nonwhite peoples was a crucial part of the context in which evolutionary thought was developed. Of course this is also true of Western religion, art, economics, politics … Since this era was one of colonialism and imperialism, racial conflict in the wake of these forces was necessarily a major component of multiple historical developments. That racial inegalitarianism played a major role in evolutionary biology’s formative years – as it did in other areas of human endeavor in the modern world – should be no surprise.

    Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, 1832:

    “A faint image of the certain doom of a species less fitted to struggle with some new condition in a region which it previously inhabited, and where it has to contend with a more vigorous species, is presented by the extirpation of savage tribes of men by the advancing colony of some civilized nation. In this case the contest is merely between two different races, each gifted with equal capacities of improvement – between two varieties, moreover, of a species which exceeds all others in its aptitude to accommodate its habits to the most extraordinary variations of circumstances. Yet few future events are more certain than the speedy extermination of the Indians of North America and the savages of New Holland in the course of a few centuries, when these tribes will be remembered only in poetry and tradition.”

  6. #6 Ross
    February 27, 2009

    “Even if the claims were correct the science would succeed or fail independently of it. “

    Yeah but the ID’ers like to portray Darwin as the Jesus or Mohammed of evolution (which is why they nearly always call evolution ‘Darwinism’). Whether they genuinely can’t see the difference between the proponent of a scientific theory and the founder of a religion or whether it is just a tactic is an open question.

  7. #7 Mark
    February 27, 2009

    My favorite “argument” in this vein is the “Hitler was gay” meme that gets thrown around in some very traditional Catholic circles, the implication being that support for gay rights will lead to a revival in Nazism.

  8. #8 bioIgnoramus
    February 27, 2009

    “Since this era was one of colonialism and imperialism…”: which one wasn’t?

  9. #9 pconroy
    February 27, 2009

    Ross,

    It’s a tactic, because the focus can be removed from the science and ad hominem attacks launched. Then the debate becomes which is the truer religion, Christianity or Darwinism… and the latter is cast as a cult, which must be crushed!

  10. #10 deadpost
    February 27, 2009

    Ad Hominem and guilt by association oh geez.
    Classic textbook example of what not to do in philosophy/debating/logical reasoning.
    Yet is always the fallacy being thrown around all the time, never dies in real life.

    It seems like the ol’ human psychology of the average Joe is just geared to use ad hominem attacks. We evolved to criticise people or something, not abstract ideas? Sheesh!

  11. #11 Don Uthole
    February 28, 2009

    Read some solid Christian thought at the First Things journal. The theological illiteracy here is palpable.