In the News: Was Darwin a Racist?
The title itself evokes an emotional response that spans the spectrum. Some view Charles Darwin’s famous opus, The Origin of Species, as a negative turning point for human society; others revere it as practically sacrosanct. While both the author and the book have become historical icons, few people likely are aware of the full title of Darwin’s most famous work: The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection—or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The Oxford English Dictionary denotes that, historically speaking, the term “race” referred to a group of persons, animals, or plants connected by common descent or origin—in other words, similar to the way it is used today.
While many have argued that Darwin himself was not a “racist” (referring specifically to the fact that The Origin of Species did not include much discussion about Homo sapiens), his second book left little question about his personal views. Titled The Descent of Man, one entire chapter was dedicated to “The Races of Man.” In that book, Darwin wrote:
At some future period not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous 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 civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as the baboon, instead of as now between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla (1874, p. 178).
While some have argued that Darwin was simply “predicting the future,” the chapter on human races makes painfully clear his beliefs on the subject. For instance, a few pages later in chapter seven, he noted:
Their mental characteristics are likewise very distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotional, but partly in their intellectual faculties. Everyone who has had the opportunity of comparison must have been struck with the contrast between the taciturn, even morose, aborigines of S. America and the light-hearted, talkative negroes.
While Darwin may have maintained an outward concern for social justice, Thomas Henry Huxley, a close personal friend of Darwin’s and an indefatigable champion of evolution (who frequently referred to himself as “Darwin’s Bulldog”) observed:
No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average Negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man. And if this be true, it is simply incredible that, when all his disabilities are removed, and our prognathus relative has a fair field and no favour, as well as no oppressor, he will be able to compete successfully with his bigger-brained and smaller jawed rival, in a contest which is to be carried out on by thoughts and not by bites (1871, p. 20).
The point is obvious: if man evolved, then so did the various races. But more than that, Darwin and Huxley argued further that the “caucasian” race was farther along in the evolutionary process, and thus superior to all the other races.
However, evolutionists do not exactly revel in the thought of being associated with racism (which is one reason that the title of Darwin’s Origin of Species book has been truncated). Most would argue that these views are ancient, and are simply reflections of the culture of that age. Yet the stigma of an “inferior race” took root, and has from time to time continued to spring up in the literature. More than fifty years after Darwin released The Origin of Species, Henry Fairfield Osborn remarked:
The Negroid stock is even more ancient than the Caucasian and Mongolian, as may be proved by an examination not only of the brain, of the hair, of the bodily characters such as teeth, the genitalia, the sense organs, but of the instincts, the intelligence. The standard of intelligence of the average Negro is similar to that of the eleven-year-old youth of the species Homo sapiens (1980, 89:129).
The most recent addition in this evolutionary theory of human races comes from two prominent scientists—Vincent Sarich (one of the founding pioneers of the molecular clock) and Frank Miele (senior editor of Skeptic magazine). Robert Proctor reviewed their 2004 book, Race: The Reality of Human Differences, in the February 5, 2004 issue of Nature. The first six words of his review were: “This is a very disturbing book” (2004, 427:487). Disturbing indeed! The authors categorized people according to race, thereby reinforcing the contemporary ideas of racial hierarchy. How many individuals have ever stopped to fully grasp the true extent of evolutionary beliefs? And yet, the foundations for this racist thinking are being taught in classrooms all across the country. The Bible is clear—God created simply the human race—not a multiplicity of races.
Darwin, Charles (1874), The Descent of Man (New York: A.L. Burt Co.), second edition.
Huxley, Thomas H. (1871), Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews (New York: Appleton).
Osborn, Henry Fairfield (1980), “The Evolution of the Human Races,” Natural History, 89:129, April; reprinted from Natural History, 1926.
Proctor, Robert N. (2004), “Racial Realities or Bombast?,” Nature, 427:487-488, February 5.