Pharyngula

Was Darwin a racist?

Since Ed Darrell made such a comprehensive comment on the question of whether Darwin was as wicked a racist as the illiterate ideologues of Uncommon Descent would like you to believe, I’m just copying his list here.

  1. Remember the famous quarrel between Capt. FitzRoy and Darwin aboard the Beagle? After leaving Brazil, in their mess discussions (remember: Darwin was along to talk to FitzRoy at meals, to keep FitzRoy from going insane as his predecessor had), Darwin noted the inherent injustice of slavery. Darwin argued it was racist and unjust, and therefore unholy. FitzRoy loudly argued slavery was justified, and racism was justified, by the scriptures. It was a nasty argument, and Darwin was banned to mess with the crew with instructions to get off the boat at the next convenient stop. FitzRoy came to his senses after a few days of dining alone. Two things about this episode: First, it shows Darwin as a committed anti-racist; second, it contrasts Darwin’s views with the common, scripture-inspired view of the day, which was racist.

  2. Darwin’s remarks about people of color were remarkably unracist for his day. We should always note his great friend from college days, the African man who taught him taxidermy. We must make note of Darwin’s befriending the Fuegan, Jeremy Button, whom the expedition was returning to his home. Non-racist descriptions abound in context, but this is a favorite area for anti-Darwinists to quote mine. Also, point to Voyage of the Beagle, which is available on line. In it Darwin compares the intellect of the Brazilian slaves with Europeans, and notes that the slaves are mentally and tactically as capable as the greatest of the Roman generals. Hard evidence of fairness on Darwin’s part.

  3. Darwin’s correspondence, especially from the voyage, indicates his strong support for ending slavery, because slavery was unjust and racist. He is unequivocal on the point. Moreover, many in Darwin’s family agreed, and the Wedgewood family fortune was put behind the movement to end slavery. Money talks louder than creationists in this case, I think. Ironic, Darwin supports the Wilberforce family’s work against slavery, and Samuel Wilberforce betrays the support. It reminds me of Pasteur, who said nasty things about Darwin; but when the chips were down and Pasteur’s position and reputation were on the line, Darwin defended Pasteur. Darwin was a great man in many ways.

  4. Watch for the notorious quote mining of Emma’s remark that Charles was “a bigot.” It’s true, she said it. Emma said Charles was a bigot, but in respect to Darwin’s hatred of spiritualists and seances. Darwin’s brother, Erasmus, was suckered in by spiritualists. Darwin was, indeed, a bigot against such hoaxes. It’s recounted in Desmond and Moore’s biography, but shameless quote miners hope their audience hasn’t read the book and won’t. Down here in Texas, a lot of the quote miners are Baptists. I enjoy asking them if they do not share Darwin’s bigotry against fortune tellers. Smart ones smile, and drop the argument.

  5. One might hope that the “Darwin-was-racist” crap comes around to the old canard that Darwin’s work was the basis of the campaign to kill the natives of Tasmania. That was truly a terrible, racist campaign, and largely successful. Of course, historians note that the war against Tasmanians was begun in 1805, and essentially completed by 1831, when just a handful of Tasmanians remained alive. These dates are significant, of course, because they show the war started four years prior to Darwin’s birth, and it was over when Darwin first encountered Tasmania on his voyage, leaving England in 1831. In fact, Darwin laments the battle. I have often found Darwin critics quoting Darwin’s words exactly, but claiming they were the words of others against Darwin’s stand.

  6. Also, one should be familiar with Darwin’s writing about “civilized” Europeans wiping out “savages.” In the first place, “savage” in that day and in Darwin’s context simply means ‘not living in European-style cities, with tea and the occasional Mozart.’ In the second, and more critical place, Darwin advances the argument noting that (in the case of the Tasmanians, especially), the “savages” are the group that is better fit to the natural environment, and hence superior to the Europeans, evolutionarily. Darwin does not urge these conflicts, but rather, laments them. How ironic that creationist quote miners do not recognize that.

Isn’t it odd how the creationists are so divorced from reality that they can’t even concede that Darwin was an abolitionist, and are so reduced in their arguments against evolution that they’ve had to resort to the desperate “Darwin beats puppies!” attack?

Comments

  1. #1 dorid
    March 22, 2007

    You know, I don’t see why there is any surprise at the Fundie Quote Mines… They do the same thing to scripture. It’s the only way they can believe what they do. If they look at the Bible as a whole, they find it riddles with inconsistencies if taken literally, so they grab a phrase here and a phrase there where they think it will support their cause, and the rest is totally neglected. Of course bring UP one of those neglected passages and the Fundie will only reply that it is WE who don’t understand/ are taking it out of context, or that it’s some sort of Holy Mystery, while adhering strictly to that small percentage of the Bible that backs up their agenda.

    They get to pick and choose, it’s a matter of their faith.

    I wonder how many of them KNOW the root of the word “heretic”?

  2. #2 Steve LaBonne
    March 22, 2007

    Not only anyone who knows anything about Darwin’s life and writings, but anyone who has a freaking clue who the Wedgewoods were, would be aware that Darwin was highly progressive on racial issues relative to his time and place. The Cretinists and IDiots are as ignorant of history as they are of science.

  3. #3 J-Dog
    March 22, 2007

    Excellent Post – Thanks! I am sure Dembski and DaveScot will be working on their apologies ASAP, or as soon as they get a clue.

  4. #4 carlman23
    March 22, 2007

    Here’s another quote from Darwin, not necessarily about race, but rather socio-economic inequality (which is tightly linked to ethnicity in most countries anyways):

    If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.

    Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle

    Wow, strange thing for the EVIL FATHER OF ALL EUGENICS to say…

  5. #5 amph
    March 22, 2007

    Good idea to copy this excellent comment and thanks to Ed Darrel for it. I had already copied and saved it to have it at hand when I need it. Of course I have read Desmond & Moore, but is not that easy to find the appropriate quotes when you need them.

  6. #6 tristero
    March 22, 2007

    Thanks for copyuing the comment for us.

    The real issue, I think, is that the 19th century Darwin is less bigoted than the 21st century Limbaugh. So what’s Limbaugh’s excuse? Drug addiction?

  7. #7 David Livesay
    March 22, 2007

    This is like arguing about whether George Washington would be a Democrat or a Republican if he were alive today. The parties, let alone the issue that currently define their respective platforms, didn’t exist in Washington’s time, so it’s just pointless to speculate.

    Likewise, the term “racism” didn’t exist in Darwin’s time, and even today it has so many different definitions that one can argue almost endlessly as to whether or not a given contemporary figure is a racist.

    Personally, I accept the definition that many black American activists use that defines all white Americans as racists. I choose to accept this for myself because I feel that by denying that I am a racist, I am not taking responsibility for acts and omissions that perpetuate the oppression of black people and other minorities, and absolving myself of responsibility blunts the incentive for change. To me, denial of racism is like denial of alcoholism. Acceptance is the first step to recovery, but recovery is a never-ending struggle.

    If I were to apply the same standard to Darwin, I’d have to say that he was a recovering racist like me, but I don’t apply the same standards to other people, and, as I implied above, it would be anachronistic anyway.

    When it comes to other people, I am inclined to practice the Christian motto: hate the sin but love the sinner. (I am not a Christian, but I think this is a very groovy idea. I wish the Christians actually practiced it.) That is to say that I think it is more productive to identify racist acts, attitudes, statements and policies than to label people as racists. Calling someone a racist only makes them defensive (or proud, in some unfortunate cases). Identifying racist acts, attitudes, statements and policies gives the perpetrator an opportunity for reflection and, hopefully, change.

    In Darwin’s case, he certainly was way ahead of his time when it comes to matters of race. Simply stating that all human beings are descended from a common ancestor went way beyond what creationists of his time were willing to admit. Creationism left room for separate creation, and race was a major component of many people’s unwillingness to accept Darwinism. Only later did certain racists seize on the notion of whites occupying a higher rung on the ladder of progress–a concept actually rooted in Lamarckism rather than Darwinism.

    So at best, charges of racism flung at Darwin by creationists are missiles hurled by residents of vitreous domiciles or, to put it in terms more familiar to them, “why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

  8. #8 David Livesay
    March 22, 2007

    By the way, the name of the young Fuegian befriended by Darwin was Jemmy, not Jeremy, Button.

  9. #9 Ricardo Azevedo
    March 22, 2007

    Good list. One more point: Darwin had repeated heated arguments with his friend Asa Gray (the American botanist) over slavery and the American Civil War. Again, Darwin was on the abolitionist side.

  10. #10 eric
    March 22, 2007

    His wife’s family name is Wedgwood (of pottery fame), not Wedgewood, by the way.

  11. #11 PZ Myers
    March 22, 2007

    And Gray was also a fundamentalist Christian (although not so stupid and insensible as the modern kind).

  12. #12 Jeff
    March 22, 2007

    Not sure that “bigot” is the right word for intolerance of “psychics” or “seances”. Since fortune telling, psychics, mediums, etc are by definition liars and charlatans, there can be no prejudice where they are concerned.

  13. #13 Caledonian
    March 22, 2007

    Personally, I accept the definition that many black American activists use that defines all white Americans as racists.

    Making a prejudgement about a class of people based on the color of their skin?

    Yes, you are a racist. And the first step in recovering is to abolish your concept of racism.

  14. #14 Chet
    March 22, 2007

    To me, denial of racism is like denial of alcoholism. Acceptance is the first step to recovery, but recovery is a never-ending struggle.

    Not everybody who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic. So too, it’s possible to live within a system that institutionalizes racism and recognize that without being, yourself, racist.

  15. #15 Louis
    March 22, 2007

    While I applaud the excellent efforts of PZ and Ed, this is a “debate” that causes me to sigh enormously and reach for my copy of “Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman” which I read as solace in times of great trauma. The blame I place at the feet of the IDCists and their ilk btw, don’t worry.

    Was Darwin a racist by 21st century standards? Yes, read his works and you’ll find ample evidence. Was Darwin a racist by 19th century standards? Well excepting the fact that as someone mentions racism was a fledgling concept at best during the 19th century, no he was not. He was far in advance of the 19th century zeitgeist. Dawkins has made this point well as have many others. It also appears that Darwin could teach more than a few modern people about humility and tolerance. Were Darwin’s ideas about race different from many of his peers? Yes they were. Were they vastly ahead of their time in their racial and abolitionist sentiments? Yes they were. As a matter of personal opinion would Darwin struggle to cope with 21st century racial tolerance? No he wouldn’t. Guess what: BIG FUCKING DEAL.

    As many, many, MANY others have pointed out, this is supremely irrelevant to evolutionary biology. Not only that but it’s supremely stupid for the cretinous IDCists and their vile ilk to bring this up. If they would have us believe that a series of ideas rises or falls not on the basis of the evidence but on the basis of a skewed analysis of their adherents’ morality then they are in DEEP shit.

    Obviously should anyone have the temerity to point this out one is deemed committing argumentum ad hominem, prejudiced etc etc.

    Kudos to those people who assemble the evidence to contradict their claims.

    Louis

  16. #16 PZ Myers
    March 22, 2007

    I have been called a “bigot” for criticizing astrology. It’s a very common defense mechanism: if someone dismantles your belief system, accuse them of doing so on the basis of irrational prejudice.

  17. #17 Raymond
    March 22, 2007

    Great post, but let’s also remember that we read Darwin and continue to develop evolutionary theory because the science behind it is solid, not because of (or in spite of) his personality.

    I’ve read that Newton could be a rather abrasive jerk, but much of his science and calculus have proved correct.

    But again, great post, I do think it’s useful to show how much the ID side will distort facts.

  18. #18 Bryson Brown
    March 22, 2007

    I also seem to remember a passage in The Voyage of the Beagle where Darwin comments on watching sailors and Tahitians working outdoors (on the beach?): He says something to the effect that it doesn’t take long before one begins to see the Tahitians, with their dark skin, as healthy looking, in contrast to the pale, red, blotchy Europeans. (Twain also makes similar unflattering comparisons of European complexions compared to darker skin.) Contrast this, for example, with a guy like Agassiz, who was a real, straight-up xenophobe, and of course one of the last serious scientists to reject evolution.

  19. #19 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 22, 2007

    David Livesay wrote:

    Personally, I accept the definition that many black American activists use that defines all white Americans as racists.

    I don’t.

    I define racism as discrimination for or against an individual or group on the grounds of race alone. By that definition, the attitude of some black American activists is itself racist.

    Racism isn’t a white or black or brown or red or yellow problem, it’s a human problem and that is the only way to deal with it.

  20. #20 CalGeorge
    March 22, 2007

    What I find disturbing is his acceptance of casual violence towards animals, e.g.:

    We found on St. Paul’s only two kinds of birds — the booby and the noddy. The former is a species of gannet, and the latter a tern. Both are of a tame and stupid disposition, and are so unaccustomed to visitors, that I could have killed any number of them with my geological hammer.

    This deer is exceedingly abundant, often in small herds, throughout the countries bordering the Plata and in Northern Patagonia. If a person crawling close along the ground, slowly advances towards a herd, the deer frequently, out of curiosity, approach to reconnoitre him. I have by this means, killed from one spot, three out of the same herd.

    At Bahia Blanca, a recent establishment in Northern Patagonia, I was surprised to find how little the deer cared for the noise of a gun: one day I fired ten times from within eighty yards at one animal; and it was much more startled at the ball cutting up the ground than at the report of the rifle. My powder being exhausted, I was obliged to get up (to my shame as a sportsman be it spoken, though well able to kill birds on the wing) and halloo till the deer ran away.

  21. #21 Robert
    March 22, 2007

    I also deny the charge that all white amreicans are racist. Such a statement is inherently racist as it presupposes an attitude based only upon race. You can’t cure alcholism with more booze, and you can’t cure racism with more prejudice.

  22. #22 Louis
    March 22, 2007

    Disturbing NOW, not disturbing THEN.

    Still irrelevant.

    Louis

  23. #23 David Livesay
    March 22, 2007

    Caledonian, Ian and Chet:

    Thank you for proving my point: there is no universally accepted definition of what racism is today.

  24. #24 Bryson Brown
    March 22, 2007

    CalGeorge,

    Even here, Darwin shows up quite well when compared to his contemporaries. I recall reading a report of the man who apparently killed the last of the Carolina Parokeets, describing the experience as filling him with a sense of power and exaltation. By all evidence from his writings (and the comments of others), Darwin was sentimental and soft-hearted for his time– a time when casual cruelty and brutality towards animals was very common and widely accepted.

  25. #25 David Livesay
    March 22, 2007

    I also deny the charge that all white amreicans are racist. Such a statement is inherently racist as it presupposes an attitude based only upon race.

    No, not entirely on race. In fact, they don’t even characterize white people as a race. The white race is a concept invented by white racists. Their criticism is of white American culture. But it’s interesting that you focus only on the matter of race, which I believe is part of the reason they characterize us as racist.

  26. #26 Stanton
    March 22, 2007

    When they say “white,” Mr Livesay, they tend to refer to people of Anglo-Saxon and or Scandinavian/Teutonic descent.
    And as such, as according to your declaration that all “white” Americans are inherently racist, would I be considered half-racist, due to my being part English and German, from my father’s side, or would I be 3/5ths racist because my mother has a little Dutch in her from the Dutch merchants that once set up shop in Taiwan?

  27. #27 lockean
    March 22, 2007

    Anyone claiming Darwin was more ‘racist’ than his contemporaries–however the term is defined–either hasn’t read Darwin or hasn’t read his contemporaries.

    BUT…

    I would point out that there were lots of abolitionists whom we would view as extremely racist. Not all abolitionists opposed slavery on humanitarian grounds.

  28. #28 thwaite
    March 22, 2007

    Another thank-you for highlighting this excellent response by Ed Darrell.

    A minor nitpick: the only Darwin biography cited by Darrell and subsequent comments is Desmond & Moore’s. I’d reccommend instead the more recent effort by Janet Browne, in two volumes, VOYAGING and THE POWER OF PLACE. Since I don’t have the second volume at hand, I can’t say for sure she covers his ‘bigotry’ toward spiritualism but it’s a safe assumption.

    I highlight Browne because she avoids Desmond’s presumption that Darwin’s insights were merely a kind of ‘social reflex’ in which his milieu of economic capitalism was writ large into nature. Desmond & Morris persist in this view even in their introduction to a recent reprint of the DESCENT OF MAN – despite the fact that Darwin’s theory of sexual selection and mate choice (usually by females within mammals) can’t be said to be inspired by the Victorian world’s roles for women.

    The most detailed study of Darwin’s creativity is still the 1974 DARWIN ON MAN by Gruber & Barrett – this is based on individual psychology, not social psychology.

  29. #29 valhar2000
    March 22, 2007

    Indeed. I read once a letter supposedly written by Lincoln in which he argued that black people are constitutionally less intelligent and less moral than white people, but insisted that that did not justify slavery.

    So we coudl stand here criticizing Lincoln, or we woucl be grateful that he ended slavery, and then grateful again that other people ended segregation later on.

  30. #30 Colugo
    March 22, 2007

    Yes, Darwin and many evolutionists of the late 19th and early 20the century were racists by our standards. But so were most of those who rejected evolution during that time, including most Christians. (Similarly, Muslims of the period reinterpreted the Koran to justify the trans-Saharan slave trade.) Some were more virulent racists than others, and there were many more virulent than Darwin. (Darwin looks good compared to Haeckel, whom I have made the case for not rehabilitating; rather, he should be regarded as a disgraced intellectual ancestor.)

    Scores of evolutionists, conservatives, Christians, and progressives of that period fail modern standards when it comes to race, eugenics, or Social Darwinism. A.R. Wallace and Franz Boas are notable exceptions. Boas’ demonstration of the separability of race, language, and culture was a milestone in modern thought. But even Boas would fall short of modern standards of cultural sensitivity.

    While I think it is healthy to be disillusioned about revered figures, it is disingenuous to focus on their flaws without a proper context of the period and an understanding of their larger historical legacies just for the sake of tearing them down. (Some have cited Lincoln’s personal racism in the service of cheap attempts to discredit his legacy.)

    To condemn Darwin and evolution on those grounds is like condemning Christianity because of the racist beliefs of most Christians of that period.

  31. #31 pablo
    March 22, 2007

    Years ago on one of Bill Maher’s shows, the numbnuts actor who played one of the Dukes of Hazard(i forgot his name) said that the Origin of Species was written as a justification for slavery and that the real title was “The Origin of Species: Or Proof of the Inferiority of the Negro”. Maher looked shocked but did not refute the guy. I rarely yell at my television, but did that time.

  32. #32 Peter McGrath
    March 22, 2007

    The Voyage of the Beagle, chapter 21. Having left Brazil he thanks God he will never again set foot in slave country, and has a fine rant about it.

    There are none so blind as those who cannot be arsed to read.

  33. #33 Chuck
    March 22, 2007

    It’s nice that Darwin wasn’t as racist as the scripturally-inspired racists around him, but at the same time it doesn’t really matter either way. Darwin’s personal political and social opinions are irrelevant. Even if Darwin was a detestable man (which he wasn’t) with barbaric opinions (which, as a man of his time, he probably had one or two), it doesn’t change the fact that common descent and evolution are simple empirical facts about the world, and the theory of natural selection on variation best explains those facts.

  34. #34 Steve LaBonne
    March 22, 2007

    For me the point of defending Darwin is not that it matters to contemporary science (of course it’s completely irrelevant in that respect), but simply that Darwin was really quite a good person as well as being a great scientist, and it’s sad to see his memory smeared by malicious idiots.

  35. #35 Shmuel
    March 22, 2007

    What does this have to do with science? You guys trying to start a cult of personality or something?

  36. #36 Steve LaBonne
    March 22, 2007

    Schmuck, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume- just this once- that you didn’t see the comment I just posted before posting yours.

  37. #37 Steve_C
    March 22, 2007

    Shmuel doesn’t pay attention.

    Idists have been quote mining Darwin’s writing and essentially saying he was racist thereby proving he was wrong.

    Creationist see Darwin as an evil bad guy who tried to kill god.

  38. #38 David Livesay
    March 22, 2007

    When they say “white,” Mr Livesay, they tend to refer to people of Anglo-Saxon and or Scandinavian/Teutonic descent.
    And as such, as according to your declaration that all “white” Americans are inherently racist, would I be considered half-racist, due to my being part English and German, from my father’s side, or would I be 3/5ths racist because my mother has a little Dutch in her from the Dutch merchants that once set up shop in Taiwan?

    It wasn’t my declaration. You’d have to ask the black activists of whom I spoke for their opinion on the matter. I imagine their answer would have more to do with your participation in a culture of oppression than where your parents came from, but I would be guessing.

    As for what I think, I already said I don’t apply those standards to anyone but myself, didn’t I? Could I have made that any clearer? I said I only care about criticizing what people say and do, not labeling them as racist or non-racist, so your family history really doesn’t enter into the question.

  39. #39 Kagehi
    March 22, 2007

    At the risk of sounding like an ass, I am going to say that there are only *two* real definitions to racism and only one is imho valid. The first, and valid one, is the one that arises when some group with specific characteristics decides some other group isn’t good enough, treating them poorly based on that BS standard and then goes on to teach their kids that its OK to do the same thing. The other, invalid, definition is when things like what happened in the LA riots occur. Some easilly self-identifying group, not the ***self identifying*** part, decide to all move into the same neighborhood. Some sort of crime, like drug trafficing or gangs appears, the usual mess of idiot parents decry the death of a bunch of their kids to the cops that are trying to make the place safe, so they decide that because 95% of the people being arrested or shot by cops in a 95% “their race” area are that race, the cops must be “racist”.

    Sorry, but I don’t fall for the BS, “Insisting I can’t hit you over the head with a cross is a conspiracy against Christians.”, definition of intolerance, why the hell should I accept the, “You have/work for the wrong skin color to be telling me I look like a suspect in the robbery two clocks away and arresting me for it!”, defense? And how is that not itself more racist?

    But, the real problem is, how the hell long can anyone expect to have to put up with that sort of thinking, before they react to it the same way some of us here do to even “mild” forms of defenses for religion? After all, that second definition for racism basically amounts to, “As the oppressed party, I have the right to be as racist as I want, but you are still the real racist!” Sounds damn familiar. Just replace “the first instance of racist with “religious” and the later part with “trying to destroy religion”. And just like in religious circles, the most damning thing they can claim to one of their own is, “You’re a traitor to your own side!”, when someone dares say, “I agree, you people are being stupid.”

  40. #40 frog
    March 22, 2007

    Mr. Darwin, when did you stop beating your wife?

  41. #41 Mr Darwin
    March 22, 2007

    Beat my wife? Dude, what are you smoking? Have you seen my wife? You’d crack a metal bar on her jaw. You don’t beat women like her unless they ask you to beat them, and then you get it in writing.

    Christ Almighty, the boot-faced old baggage would kick my sorry arse if I dared think of beating her. There’s only one thing I’m beating and it’s creationist idiots.

  42. #42 Ed Darrell
    March 22, 2007

    One more area we agree, P.Z. Thanks for the attention — if I’d known, I’d have provided some links.

    I used Desmond and Moore simply because that’s the book generally cited by the anti-Darwin group. I learned a long time ago that they will claim one does not know their text, unless one cites their text; it is also true that in almost every case, what they claim Darwin did, or said, or caused, that is bad, is dead wrong, according to the texts they cite.

  43. #43 Saint Gasoline
    March 22, 2007

    I say we take Jesus out of context, just to shut them up.

    Hey guys, Jesus said that he came not to bring peace, but a sword! And he didn’t mean this in a metaphorical sense about divided families, either! He’s totally gonna chop you up, Kill Bill-style!

  44. #44 frog
    March 22, 2007

    The jury is instructed to ignore the statements of Mr. Darwin as non-responsive.

    Wait, Mrs. Darwin… Argggggg…. (Snap).

  45. #45 Rupert
    March 22, 2007

    These people who say Darwin is racist, where do they stand on gay marriage?

    Just askin’.

    R

  46. #46 darrell
    March 22, 2007

    Some easilly self-identifying group, not[e] the ***self identifying*** part, decide to all move into the same neighborhood. Some sort of crime, like drug trafficing or gangs appears, the usual mess of idiot parents decry the death of a bunch of their kids to the cops that are trying to make the place safe

    I actually LOLed here…and I probably would have ROFLed…but I’m at work.

    Yeah, that’s it. Black people DECIDED to move into ghettos. They all got together and had a big meeting about it. It wasn’t the only housing they could afford, or descrimination on the part of landlords (and other residents) in majority white areas. They just up and decided it would be a great idea. And then crime just APPEARED. Poof! Just like that. And police totally don’t target people based on race, or just assume that everyone in said neighborhood is a threat…ever. You can ask them about it.

    Your silly fantasy sounds suspiciously like an IDist…

  47. #47 forsen
    March 22, 2007

    PZ, I really can’t see why you feel have to take this discussion at all. The IDiots are trying to move the focus of the discussion away from the scientific facts, to an attempt to discredit Darwin by ad hominem attacks.

    Here’s the main point I’m trying to convey: Whether Darwin had opinions which by today’s standards can be defined as racist has no correlation whatsoever to the scientific validity of modern evolutionary biology.

    As with all human ideas, Darwin’s theory arose in a social, ideological & historical context. Darwin’s context was Victorian, imperialist England; with it’s fair amount of disregard for any culture which had not reached what was considered the pinnacle of human civilization – cricket and tea-time.

    To whatever extent Darwin tried to distance himself prom this background, he did not succeed completely IMO. Traces of this can still be seen in some of his works, most preeminently in Decent of Man.

    From the perspective of the history of ideas, this may be interesting. From the perspective of natural science, it’s completely irrelevant.

    Modern evolutionary biolology has progressed far beyond Darwin’s original premise. Those of you with a degree in the natural sciences know all this already, but in The Origins of Species, for example, Darwin promoted theistic evolution. Evo-devo doesn’t stand and fall with Darwin’s personal credentials.

    Therefore, I cannot see why we have to defend Darwin in person in this manner. Evolution is not a religion for us – there is no need for us to build holy shrines for our ‘prophets’, or canonize them after their death. The validity of the theory relies on tons of empirical inquiry, not the personal credentials of the official founder.

    The IDiots have second to none basis for discrediting the theory of evolution by means of natural science. Therefore they try to move the discussion over to the fields of ideas and morality, by attack Darwin himself. I do not think we should step into that trap so easily.

    Greetings from godless Sweden*, and keep up the good work! /Daniel

    *The most secularized country in the world, according to many polls… I think you would enjoy it over here =) By some strange coincidence, Minnesota happens to be the State in the US where the highest percentage claim Swedish ancestry. Look up your family tree =)

  48. #48 Colugo
    March 22, 2007

    forsen has a good point.

    There is something of a celebratory quasi-adulation of Darwin with Darwin Day, Darwin Sunday, the Beagle Project et al. I don’t find anything particularly wrong with all of that. It’s done all of the time with dead statesmen. Still, there isn’t nearly as much hullabaloo over Newton, the greatest scientist ever. Another historical figure who is comparable to Darwin as a subject of public celebration is William Shakespeare.

    Interestingly, in parallel with the increasing profile of Darwin Day there is a greater tendency to resist the ‘Darwinist’ label. The antipathy to the term ‘Darwinist’ may have as much or more to do with the Sociobiology Wars and the neo-Darwinist vs ‘pluralist’ evolutionist fight (remember the term “Darwinian fundamentalism” from a decade ago?) than with ID. I recall some cheerfully accepting the term.

    There are different kinds of revered figures: 1) those who directly affect social events, 2) those who have ideas that influence social events, 3) those who advance human knowledge of the world and ourselves.

    In none of those cases do these individuals necessarily have to lead exemplary lives or have the most astute or progressive views on all matter. They don’t need to. (In a lot of cases, even people known for wonderful social changes are horrible to their families or have shockingly bigoted views on some matters. Welcome to the real world.) The important thing is that they had a beneficial impact. In the case of Darwin, that impact happens to be enormous. There is no need to make him into a saint, or even a figure who need be personally admired other than his contributions to advancing human understanding. Not that there are not things about Darwin to admire, or at least sympathize with, beyond his science.

    (Aside: The reverence for type 3) is really pronounced in the cases of Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, although I would suggest that their brilliance in their particular fields gave them no particular insight into social and political affairs. The same is true of a lot of people who trade in their expertise in one domain to support their positions in another. Anyone’s views in any field stand or fall on their own.)

  49. #49 Troy Britain
    March 23, 2007

    For those interested I have a collection of quotes from Darwin on race and slavery on my site.

  50. #50 NC Paul
    March 23, 2007

    This type of discussion makes my eyes bleed, but someone has pointed out that what Darwin did or didn’t believe makes no difference to the validity of his observations and modern evolutionary biology?

    And that if IDiots’ best line of attack on evolution is making ad homs, then that says more about the vacuity of ID than it does about validity of evolution.

    Someone’s said that, right?
    Yes?
    Good.
    You may continue the bickering. 🙂

  51. #51 Steve LaBonne
    March 23, 2007

    Aside: The reverence for type 3) is really pronounced in the cases of Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, although I would suggest that their brilliance in their particular fields gave them no particular insight into social and political affairs.

    Some of us, however, thoroughly approve of many of their stances on social and political affairs, on their own merits. And appreciate these men as humanitarians in addition to admiring their intellectual achievements.

  52. #52 forsen
    March 23, 2007

    Paul, that was a very good summary of the posts… without the eye-bleeding. =)

  53. #53 Caledonian
    March 23, 2007

    Although we can still agree that it wasn’t their physics/logic brilliance that made their positions on social and political issues valuable – their specialized skills didn’t grant them general insight.

    We don’t need to believe that their positions were good or bad in order to believe that.

  54. #54 Steve LaBonne
    March 23, 2007

    Caledonian- yes, I agree.

  55. #55 Caledonian
    March 23, 2007

    Huzzah!

    I think a lot of religious people have trouble understanding things that just aren’t religious. We honor lots of people for their contributions to science without viewing them as saints (either literally or metaphorically) or insisting that they had some special connection to Truth that can be disrupted by showing they were terrible people.

    Thing is, it’s hard to tell whether they’re just making a social attack, or they really think that disparaging Darwin will make the theory of evolution weaker. My hypothesis is that they view everything in social terms and social terms only, so they don’t understand how we can be unfazed by mudslinging.

  56. #56 Pat Hayes
    March 23, 2007

    The really fascinating thing about Dembski’s post on Darwin is that none of it reflects Darwin’s thought. The first sentence quoted is a summary of the views of Galton and Greg. The rest of the paragraph is Darwin quoting Greg.

    Why?

    Because in the succeeding paragraphs Darwin goes on to demolish their arguments which, after all are an attack on the theory that humans have evolved.

    Either Dembski didn’t bother to read the context — few others have bothered to check, always a mistake with the quote mining crowd — or he’s so blinded by IDeology that he’s incapable of understanding the meaning, or he’s so cynical that he believes he can get away with anything.

    Take you pick, but any way you slice it, the quote Dembski offers has nothing whatever to do with what Darwin himself believed.

  57. #57 Kagehi
    March 23, 2007

    Black people DECIDED to move into ghettos.

    Some revisionist history there? The moving came first, the ghettos second. Most of the New York “ghettos” where the prime places to live at one time. And who the hell said black or ghetto. My old home town has become the new “in place” for families trying to escape the big city to go to. In 1980 we had 0 gangs, no drug trade to speak of (save for maybe some pot someone bought in those big cities), and low crime. By 1990, dozens of families concluded it was “ideal”, whole new neighborhoods where built to accomidate people moving there and we had:

    1. Increased crime.
    2. Drug dealers being arrested.
    3. Several gangs.
    4. One nasty incident where a dozen high school kids and the owners of the only laundry mat in town where arrested. What for? Public sex and cocain usage. Seems all those non-working arcade machines where set around the windows to “hide” what was going on from the cops who where no more than a block and a half away… Some old ladies wash machine broke and she was the only person in the entire town that needed to use the place.

    Guess what! The only people not blaimed for **any** of this where the parents who dragged their drug running gangster kids 2,000 miles into the country to “get them away from bad influences.”

    Sorry, but the reason we have more ghettos today that we did before isn’t because there is some racist conspiracy against group X. Its because group X wants someone to wave a magic wand to make all the crap they ignore, then blame everyone else for not fixing, go away, then when the magic wand doesn’t materialize, they simply move some place “safer”, and blindly and ignorantly drag the crap with them. I don’t give a @#$#@$# if they are white, black, purple, green or fracking irridecent blue. The problem isn’t racist cops, racist society or disadvantage. It is entirely about puting your own house in order *first* before you decide to drag your moth eaten beliefs and prejudices into my house, where the only result is to give the moths more to chew in.

    Now, we can talk about what needs to be done to help people in those areas to change things so they are no longer a source of such problems, but… in my experience, this happens in only tiny pockets at a time, doesn’t last long, since the people around them often refuse the help and you are right back to square one. Or, they tell you to get lost, then once you are on the right side of the magic dividing line between their territory and yours, scream about how no one is helping them.

    Sorry Darrell, but there are good reasons why every attempt to clean the places that this stuff goes on in have failed, and it has far more to do with the same kind if stupid assed logic that Fundies use to decry conspiracy against their “belief” (just replace race in that), than anything to do with no one wanting to help or trying to do so. Its not going to do a damn bit of good to build a new school some place and hire good teachers, to try to break the chain, if 30% of the kids going there think, “Its a waste of my time. I don’t need to be here! And.. If you make me, I am going to smoke me a few teachers!” Hell, it doesn’t even matter if its only 5% of the students that think that way, it drives off the people that planned to help, results in property descruction that even “safe” schools can’t afford to constantly fix and invariably leads to conditions degrading right back to the, “No one is doing anything to help us!”, level it was before they started. Such change is only possible if at least 80% of the adults both want it, support it and actively defend it. My experience is that probably 60% of them are convinced things can’t change, won’t change, don’t need to change and see any attempt to better their own kids as a @$@#$#@$ invasion, since its much better if Johnny goes to work at the 7-11 to make an extra few bucks to buy food for the table than to have him waste his time learning shit that *they* think won’t get him a better job anyway (and which, they are sadly right about, given that even college people don’t all go on to work at big companies as high level managers).

    How do you change things when the perception is that the entire rest of the world is out to screw you, so you shouldn’t even bother? And what kind of thinking do you honestly believe that engenders, race tolerance?

  58. #58 darrell
    March 23, 2007

    @ Kagehi:

    I’m not sure if I laughed more at your first or second comment…how does it feel to be that defeatist and that divorced from reality?

  59. #59 Steve_C
    March 23, 2007

    Maybe he lives in the Ghetto?

  60. #60 Kagehi
    March 24, 2007

    Who said I was defeatist? But success can’t come from people “outside” the places the problems are in. That has been proven time and again by every attempt of people on the outside to “fix” such places and where the only successes have **always** been when the people living their got fed up, got off their collective asses, and worked to change things. Just try going into some of those places and seeing how many of them actually think things are going to change, or have any interest in “your” ideas about what will change them. Then watch them backpeddle and hand wave when you ask them, “Ok, so what does need to be done to fix it?”

    The continual existence of such conditions in cities is equal part self delusion about how no effort will succeed (held by the people living there) and a feeling by a lot of the people that could help of, “Well screw them! If they won’t help solve the problem, why the hell should I spend all my money trying to solve it either?”

    That’s just reality. And there is a constant rumble of, “Its all about racism.”, running through it, which promotes the delusion that the problem won’t ever be solved and that the reason isn’t because no sane person would bother, but because no one cares at all about the people living there.

    Change only happens when “everyone” contributes. It can’t happen when the disadvantaged hold on to that disadvantage out of pride, ignorance or irrational fear about what the outsiders really *intend* by interfering with them. Looking at the idiocy that happens in this country in other areas, do you honestly think people living in bad neighborhoods here are any more rational than someone living in some other country who allow the local loud mouth to scream about us trying to poison them with medical treatments and food we want to give them? Give me a break. These are places, which in some cases, half the people between the ages of 10-20 are *worse* educated than the people in Africa who refuse grain from the US, because the local nut wants them to think we put poison in it. Ignorance + delusion of destiny + conspiracy = fear of outsiders and disinterest in fixing problems.

    Religion isn’t the only social delusion we are dealing with in this country, just the most pervasive.

  61. #61 Kagehi
    March 24, 2007

    Oh, and just to be clear, how the hell is what I described as having happened in my own home town “divorced from reality”? Hell, just the recent post on Colorado proves my point of what happens when some group with delusional ideas and stupid assumptions go looking for some place else to live. Their delusional ideas and stupid assumptions start infecting the local government and school systems. You honestly think this isn’t even more common when the people pushing the ideas is the new “cool kid” from city X (where they where a drug dealer and gang leader) who is “in” with all the latest cool things?

    Give me a break. I am not the person divorced from reality here.

    And, as I said. Pointing out real problems that people choose to ignore, because its simpler to simply believe “race” is the cause of the BS going on today, isn’t being defeatist. Deciding that you already know the answers and can proceed without even questioning what is going on is.. Well, congradulations GW Bush, lets hear your solution for fixing bad neighborhoods… I am sure it will be just as briliant as the real GW’s for Iraq.

    Oh the irony of being called defeatist for making the same arguments that, “You don’t understand the real problems!”, which everyone here screamed when talking about the war from day one…

  62. #62 zayzayem
    March 26, 2007

    Does Ed have sources for these claims. I’m not doubting them.

    Anyone who can help either send me an email (zayzayem||at||hotmail.com). Or drop me a line on my blog. Or help me out here.

  63. #63 rgz
    February 16, 2009

    This should be taught in schools, and should have be taught to adults on Darwin’s day.

    Also Hitler’s involvement with the church should be taught in schools again. People seem to be forgiving.

  64. #64 Nicole
    February 16, 2009

    Thank for clearing that up – now I’m lying in wait for someone to dare call Darwin a racist in front of me… I love arguments I can win in six seconds flat!

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