Darwinism and Social Darwinism

Darwin did have theories of evolution, and interspecies struggle (“wedging”) was a part of it, though intraspecies competition was more important, and he recognized that cooperation was also a part. But what is this “hierarchy of organisms”? Darwin explicitly opposed any sort of scala naturae.

My point, and I did have one, was that when Egnor says that Darwin was a scumbag moron Nazi, the proper response is not to say that modern science has moved beyond Darwinism.

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I attributed that to Hitler, not Darwin. When I said “Darwin’s theories of evolution, inter-species struggle, a hierarchy of organisms”, I didn’t mean “Darwin’s theories of evolution, Darwin’s theory of inter-species struggle, Darwin’s theory of a hierarchy of organisms”.

Having said that, it’s also true that Darwin believed some humans were more advanced than others, and believed in a racial hierarchy.

He was also convinced that evolution was progressive, and that the white races—especially the Europeans—were evolutionarily more advanced than the black races, thus establishing race differences and a racial hierarchy.

This was followed by the Nazis.

Social Darwinism was indeed a thing, and a terrible thing, but it didn’t come from Darwin or from the field of Biology at all and should never have been called that. David Sloan Wilson (whatever you think of multilevel selection) covers this very well in his new book “This View of Life.” Here’s an essay where he kind of gets at it also: Toward A New Social Darwinism – The Evolution Institute

Eugenics, on the other hand, did come from scientists in Europe and North America, decades after Darwin. Eugenics and social Darwinism are, of course, related, but they are also distinct, neither has any grounding in science, neither were promoted by Darwin, and science has rejected them long ago (though more atonement is certainly warranted). In fact, in “The Descent of Man,” Darwin pointed out that, between any two groups of humans, the cultural differences enormously outweigh the biological ones. That argues against eugenics.

Anyone who continues to pin pseudoscience racist ideologies on evolutionary theory or Charles Darwin ignores an abundance of reputable historical sources and, therefore, should be ignored.

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I note that the article provides no citation or quote to support this claim.

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He’s probably thinking of statements like this.

The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.

The western nations of Europe, who now so immeasurably surpass their former savage progenitors, and stand at the summit of civilisation, owe little or none of their superiority to direct inheritance from the old Greeks, though they owe much to the written works of that wonderful people.

There is apparently much truth in the belief that the wonderful progress of the United States, as well as the character of the people, are the results of natural selection; for the more energetic, restless, and courageous men from all parts of Europe have emigrated during the last ten or twelve generations to that great country, and have there succeeded best.

One of the contributors to the TalkOrigins anti-quote mine project actually says that Darwin did believe that certain people were less evolved.

At this time it was common for Europeans (based on an older notion of a “chain of being from lowest to highest”) to think that Africans (“negroes”) were all of one subspecific form, and were less developed than “Caucasians” or “Asians”, based on a typology in around 1800 by the German Johann Friedrich Blumenach. In short, Darwin is falling prey to the same error almost everyone else was, but not in the Origin, in the Descent, which was published around 13 years after the Origin. So far as I can tell, he was not hoping for the extermination of these “races”, though.

Darwin was against slavery, but it’s clear he believed that white people were “civilized” and other people were “savages”. He also believed that ethnic groups were either raised or degraded over time through natural selection.

All of that refers to culture and technology, not genetics or other inherent superiority, except perhaps for the reference to the U.S. Curious that and Englishman should declare Americans a superior race. Or a race at all.

He doesn’t say “the lower cultures” and “the higher cultures”, he says “the lower races” and “the higher races”. Obviously he thinks that the “higher races” have superior culture and technology, and he thinks this is the product of them being “higher races”. It’s difficult to avoid the sense of hierarchy raised by words like “higher” and “lower”. If we spoke like this today, people would rightly call us racist even if we tried to excuse it by saying “But I’m just saying their culture is lower than ours”.

The fact that he attributes the differences in the “races” to natural selection, and argues that “races” can advance or degrade through natural selection, also shows that when he speaks of “higher” and “lower” races, he doesn’t simply mean “races which for some reason we can’t understand, have higher culture” and “races which for some reason we can’t understand, have lower culture”.

Not curious given his scientific beliefs. He believed the best and brightest Englishmen had moved to the Americas, and that this provided an excellent population on which natural selection worked to produce a superior race to their origin, just as he identified the Western nations as superior to their “savage progenitors”.

I doubt he meant it in any technical sense. You’re making too much of the precise wording. The only mention of selection is in the third quote. And here he makes no mention of race but refers to people from all over Europe.

Can you support that with something actually written by Darwin?

I did that here. I am not convinced that when Darwin spoke of higher and lesser “races”, he actually just meant “various different cultures”. Nor am I convinced that when Darwin spoke of various groups of people advancing or degrading through natural selection, becoming superior or inferior to others in the process, what he really meant was just changes of culture.

This particular quotation, in which Darwin speaks of a great difference between “the Caucasian and some ape as low as a baboon”, in contrast to the allegedly small difference between “the negro or Australian and the gorilla”, is difficult to interpret as saying anything other than that he believed Caucasians were far above the apes, whereas “the negro or Australian” was barely above them.

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state as we may hope, than the Caucasian and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

It was the specific mention of the holocaust that I was objecting to.

There’s no doubt that the Nazis were influenced by the eugenics movement and social Darwinism, but that influence only extends to their own eugenics program, not necessarily to the holocaust. There’s also no doubt that they were also influenced by existing German anti-Semitism and the pre-Darwin white supremacism of Gobineau et al, as well as Koch’s work, all of which are far more relevant to the holocaust than Darwinism, social or otherwise. But those are rarely mentioned, whereas the far more tenuous link to Darwin is raised continuously.

For example:

I note that you don’t say that Koch and Pasteur were being used for something Hitler was motivated to do on other grounds (anti-Semitism).

I also note that the three (not two) references to Pasteur/Koch are still more than there are to Darwin.

I object strongly to insinuations that the Nazis were atheists or Darwinists, rather than theistic anti-Semites. I suspect you would be similarly concerned if there were constant claims that the Nazis were Christadelphians.

No you didn’t, and you don’t here either. Both examples are referring to cultural or technological superiority, not to evolutionary superiority.

It’s not hard to interpret Darwin’s words as saying something other than your interpretation - it’s only necessary to read and understand them, rather than quote-mining them.

(Hint: he doesn’t say “the Caucasian”, he says “a more civilised state […] than the Caucasian”; and he doesn’t even compare those to the same type of ape.)

Ok well I am going to side with the historians and scholars who disagree on that point. But we agree on most of this.

No, because anti-Semitism is a necessary cause, but not a sufficient cause to explain Hitler’s expressed reasons for treating the Jews the way he did. His expressed reasons were racial purity and the struggle of the superior races over the inferior races. If anti-Semitism was a sufficient cause, then the “bacilli” argument wouldn’t be needed either.

But as Joshua has already pointed out, we’re not looking for references to Darwin, we’re looking for references to social Darwinism. Similarly, you cite statements about bacilli even if they don’t mention Pasteur or Koch, and you’re entirely right to do so; establishing the concept of Hitler being on an anti-bacterial crusade does not require specific references to Pasteur or Koch, only the anti-bacterial language.

So do I. As I’ve said, I just don’t think it’s accurate to say “They weren’t motivated by evolution, and therefore they weren’t motivated by social Darwinism”.

Yes. But I wouldn’t then turn around and say “The Nazis weren’t Christadelphians, therefore Christadelphians can’t be racist”. There have been racist Christadelphians. Some of the earliest Christadelphians lived in the southern states during the Civil War era (which was when our sect emerged), and they had extremely poor views on slavery (which wasn’t helped by the fact that some of them were tobacco growers). Other Christadelphians had to remonstrate with them. Likewise, some Christadelphians in South Africa sided with apartheid, to the horror of Christadelphians elsewhere.

I need to see evidence that references to “higher” races and “lower” races actually means “higher culture” or “lower technology”. Given the fact that Darwin speaks of races as sub-species, I think that’s a stretch. Likewise, when he speaks of ethnic groups as being elevated or degraded by natural selection, I don’t think he means their culture was elevated or degraded by natural selection.

I don’t believe I am quote mining them. I have found this same interpretation across a wide range of sources, some of which I have quoted here.

  1. One of the contributors to the actual TalkOrigins anti-quote mine project.

At this time it was common for Europeans (based on an older notion of a “chain of being from lowest to highest”) to think that Africans (“negroes”) were all of one subspecific form, and were less developed than “Caucasians” or “Asians”, based on a typology in around 1800 by the German Johann Friedrich Blumenach. In short, Darwin is falling prey to the same error almost everyone else was, but not in the Origin, in the Descent, which was published around 13 years after the Origin. So far as I can tell, he was not hoping for the extermination of these “races”, though.

Is he an anti-evolutionist, or quote mining?

  1. The author of this paper. Is he an anti-evolutionist, or quote mining?

  2. The author of this article.

In this passage, widely quoted by opponents of evolutionary theory, Darwin suggests that the break between “man and his nearest allies” will be widened through the extinction of the great apes, leaving a gap between the more civilised man “and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla”. No doubt about it: he regards Africans and Australians as closer than Europeans to the apes. This, he implies, is a natural condition that will frustrate any cultural efforts to mitigate it.

Is he an anti-evolutionist, or quote mining?

  1. The author of this book.

The visible obvious gulf between gorilla and man thus also foregrounds the supposed ‘fact’ that the lowest savages lie somewhere between the ape and the civilized man, in that lacuna between Troglodytes gorilla and Homo sapiens (wise man, civilized man).

Is he an anti-evolutionist, or quote mining?

  1. The author of this article.

He saw natural selection at work in the killing of indigenous peoples of Australia by the British, wrote here of blacks (some of the “savage races”) being a category close to gorillas, and spoke against social programs for the poor and “weak” because such programs permitted the least desirable people to survive.

Is he an anti-evolutionist, or quote mining?

  1. The author of this article.

From earliest times until after mid-20th century the belief was prevalent—even by enlightened people such as Charles Darwin—that non-Europeans were inferior, which encouraged disparagement of them.

Is he an anti-evolutionist, or quote mining?

This looks like a pretty natural reading of Darwin. I haven’t even started on other sources which read him the same way.

I’m much less worried about Hitler (he was not a scientist and clearly had other motivations) and even Darwin, than say Ronald Fisher, who helped develop population genetics (with Haldane and Wright) and was fundamental to the modern synthesis.

I was reading up on Fisher, Haldane, and Wright the other day and came across Fisher’s support for eugenics. According to his Wikipedia page, Fisher said in 1950 that :

evidence and everyday experience showed that human groups differ profoundly “in their innate capacity for intellectual and emotional development” and concluded that the “practical international problem is that of learning to share the resources of this planet amicably with persons of materially different nature”, and that “this problem is being obscured by entirely well-intentioned efforts to minimize the real differences that exist”

This quote is so ironic to me as I’m reading Steve Olson’s Mapping Human History and David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here, which use the field Fisher was instrumental in developing to destroy his argument about race.

So, between Fisher and the Human Zoos, I feel already like there is quite a lot to talk about regarding evolutionary biology and racism, and I’m just scratching the surface. I’m not sure sweeping it under the rug does much good as it certainly seems to give ammunition to those ill-inclined to evolutionary science already.

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To be fair, Fischer’s role in the development of the field of statistics is probably just as important as his role in evolutionary biology.

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Anti-Semitism has a long history in Germany, from the Crusades, via the Black Death persecutions and Luther’s works, to the 19th century völkisch movement. It was sufficient to explain the reasons given for many pogroms in Europe that occurred before Darwin and could not have been influenced in any way by social Darwinism. Hitler’s political use of existing anti-Semitism in Germany would be sufficient to explain his expressed reasons even if Hitler hadn’t himself been anti-Semitic.

Social Darwinism was neither a necessary cause (since other events did not need it) nor a sufficient cause (because it doesn’t relate to religion)

His expressed reasons were racial purity and the struggle of the superior races over the inferior races. If anti-Semitism was a sufficient cause, then the “bacilli” argument wouldn’t be needed either.

No, I haven’t done that.

Which anti-bacterial language in reference to the Holocaust suggests it didn’t result from eugenics of social Darwinism.

Again, I haven’t done that.

I haven’t done anything like that, either.

You aren’t replying to my comments at all, you’re attacking a field of straw men.

You cited one yourself earlier:

"The western nations of Europe, who now so immeasurably surpass their former savage progenitors, and stand at the summit of civilisation, owe little or none of their superiority to direct inheritance from the old Greeks, though they owe much to the written works of that wonderful people.

Most of those sources don’t even quote Darwin’s words, so can’t possibly be quote-mining. None of the ones that do quote Darwin chopped off the first part of his reference to Caucasians so that he appears to be referring to current Caucasian societies rather than future societies of unspecified race.

I am talking about the fact that he said his expressed reasons for treating them in a particular way. His expressed reasons included the fact that he considered them sub-human. In order to identify people as untermenschen and other people as ubermenschen, you need some concept of a racial hierarchy, just as in order to consider them figuratively as bacteria, you need a concept of bacteria.

A concept of racial hierarchy explains why he said explicitly that he was a member of a superior race overcoming an inferior race. A concept of bacteria is insufficient to explain this. A concept of anti-Semitism is insufficient to explain this.

I am not saying it was a necessary cause for the Holocaust, nor that it was a sufficient cause for the Holocaust. I am saying it was a contributing factor to the Holocaust, and I am saying that it is a sufficient cause for the language of racial hierarchy used by Hitler and the Nazis.

Racial purity and the struggle of the superior races over the inferior races, is explicitly the doctrine of Social Darwinism. It is not the concept of anti-bacterial cleansing.

Exactly.

You linked directly to this page, containing quotations from Hitler which use the bacterial imagery without citing either Pasteur or Koch. Specifically, these.

  • "more and more perverted through the Jewish virus”
  • “immune to the virus”
  • “infected by this bacillus and to die”
  • “Aryan race and the Jewish bacillus”

If you didn’t mean to present them as evidence, maybe you shouldn’t have linked to them.

This is a non sequitur. Just because Hitler used anti-bacterial language in reference to the Holocaust, does not mean it did not result from the eugenics of Social Darwinism. His use language of the eugenics of Social Darwinism with reference to the Holocaust, indicates it did indeed result from the eugenics of Social Darwinism.

After all, which of these references did he mean literally, and which did he mean figuratively? Did he mean Jews were literal bacteria, or was he using the word figuratively? Figuratively. Did he mean the Jews were literally untermenschen, or was he using the word figuratively? Literally.

So you agree they were motivated by Social Darwinism? Or you don’t agree? Which is it? I can’t tell now.

I think you have, because you claimed that since Hitler used anti-bacterial language to describe the Holocaust, it could not have been motivated by Social Darwinism. You represented them as mutually exclusive here.

I don’t think that’s valid.

I don’t see any evidence there that “race” means “culture”, and not “subspecies” as Darwin defines it elsewhere.

So do you believe they’re anti-evolutionists?

I didn’t cut it off. I started well before the reference to the Caucasian. I quoted this.

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state as we may hope, than the Caucasian and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

Yes, that’s the quote most often used to show that Darwin was a racist. But one must, in order to do that, suppose that “civilized” is some sort of heritable character intrinsic to “the civilized races” rather than a cultural descriptor. It’s at best ambiguous.

Now, was Hitler’s antisemitism rooted in Social Darwinism? I doubt it. His justifications are post hoc. I think his antisemitism was non-rational, finding a scapegoat for Germany’s problems in a traditionally despised group. That tradition is at bottom religious, but Hitler’s connection to the religious basis are indirect enough that we can ignore the connection. He merely absorbed it from his society, intensified it, and reflected it back.

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