Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin

 
On February 12, 1809, both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born, a rather interesting coincidence. There are other odd concurrences in their two lives: Both of their mothers died quite early, within a year of each other — Charles’s mother, Susanna, in 1817 and Abraham’s mother, Nancy, in 1818. Both lost three children.
 
Even more interesting, both were adamant abolitionists, Charles perhaps more so than Abe. To say the least, Darwin was hot-headed for the North to win the Civil War and drive slavery into extinction. As he wrote in a letter, "Some few, & I am one, even wish to God, though at the loss of millions of lives, that the North would proclaim a crusade against Slavery. In the long run, a million horrid deaths would be amply repaid in the cause of humanity. . . . Great God how I shd like to see that greatest curse on Earth Slavery abolished." He admired Lincoln, but thought him much too timid.
 
Darwin’s hatred of slavery was not casually or fashionably adopted. The abolitionist cause was taken up with great fire and indignation by Charles’s grandfathers, Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood. Erasmus and Josiah fought side by side with the great William Wilberforce against the British slave trade. The Darwin-Wedgwood family alliance, fused in the marriage Charles’s parents, Robert Darwin and Susanna Wedgwood, produced a united front of aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings, all sternly and solidly anti-slavery.
 
Today, noted Darwin scholars Adrian Desmond and James Moore argue, in their Darwin’s Sacred Cause, that Darwin’s hatred of slavery "shaped Darwin’s views on human evolution." Certainly an appropriate and timely addition to Darwin scholarship on this, the 200thanniversary of Darwin’s birth.
 
 
But before we do too much celebrating of birthdays and morally upright causes, we’d better take a closer look at Darwin’s views and his legacy. Darwin hated slavery, and Darwin confirmed slavery as natural. He hated racism, but his theory of human evolution was fundamentally racist. His heart and head were in complete contradiction.
 
The heart and head. Read Desmond and Moore’s well-documented book, and you’ll be in no doubt about where the Darwins stood on slavery. But read Darwin’s own Descent of Man and shudder.
 
The Descent of Man was the book Darwin didn’t write when he penned the Origin of Species. He was well aware of the implications of his theory of evolution for human beings, but he held off, and so he spoke only of plants and animals in the Origin. This, itself, was an act of self-preservation. He knew that if the Origin contained the implications of applying natural selection to man, he would be howled out of England as a gutter atheist and a subverter of morality.
What Darwin didn’t see, what he refused to see, was that his own theory entirely undermined his cherished moral stand against slavery. Even worse, it demanded an abominable kind of racism, a racism he blithely accepted.
 
Let’s trace all this out. As a hearty abolitionist, Darwin was originally convinced that human slavery was a purely human and strictly artificial (i.e., unnatural) institution. But then he was astounded to witness for himself the "rare Slave making ant." As he crowed to one of his friends in a letter, he had seen "the little black niggers in their master’s nests." Darwin was both shocked and delighted to find that there was such a thing as slave ants, where larger red ants capture smaller black ants, and the little black ants then do their master’s entire bidding. According to his theory, the only explanation for slavery among ants was, of course, natural selection, and that is the explanation he gave it in his Origin of Species, calling it both an "odious" and "wonderful" instinct — odious according to his heart, wonderful according to his theory, but natural nonetheless.
 
But if (as he argues in the Descent)natural selection explains everything about human beings, from the shape of their heads to the shape of their particular societies, then wouldn’t it be the case that the existence of slavery among human beings was due to natural selection? If so, then human slavery would be as natural as ant slavery. Darwin shied away from drawing this obvious conclusion in his Descent; in fact, he said precious little about slavery. Perhaps he understood all too well the implications and couldn’t face them. What little he did say was, however, damning for his abolitionist cause — namely, that the "great sin of Slavery has been almost universal." In terms of his theory, that means only one thing: Human evolution has found slavery even more useful for the survival of the fittest than ant evolution.
 
Desmond and Moore try to smooth away the obvious implications. They argue that Darwin proposed that all human beings have a common evolutionary ancestor precisely because that would mean that Africans and Europeans would come from the same branch in the evolutionary tree, and hence share a kind of evolutionary brotherhood.
 
But here’s the problem. Common ancestry doesn’t keep slavery from being natural. "Natural" means "according to the principle of natural selection." There is no doubt that all ants, slaving and non-slaving, have a common ancestor, and that natural selection produced both variant species — not by taking a wrong turn and a right turn, but simply by branching off. According to Darwin’s theory, there is no doubt that all men in all human societies, slaving and non-slaving, have a common ancestor. Natural selection has produced these social variants, not by taking a wrong turn and a right turn, but simply by branching off. There is no wrong or right turn. Whatever contributes to a society’s self-preservation is affirmed by natural selection. That is the core argument of Darwin’s Descent of Man.
 
 
Even more lamentable, common ancestry didn’t keep Darwin from the most pernicious racist conclusions, either, because what is really important in human evolution is what happens after the races branch off. While human beings may have a common ancestor ("a hairy quadruped, furnished with a tail and pointed ears, probably arboreal in its habits"), "since he attained to the rank of manhood, he has diverged into distinct races, or as they may be more appropriately called sub-species." The races themselves reflect divergence, not commonality. "Some of these, for instance the Negro and European, are so distinct that, if specimens had been brought to a naturalist without any further information, they would undoubtedly have been considered by him as good and true species."
 
That natural selection works different wonders in each race; that is, the effect of natural selection in picking some "favoured races" to climb higher is expressed in the differences between the races themselves. The "lowest" races remain most apelike in appearance and most savage in mental and moral appearances; the "highest" look like, well, good Englishmen and have the most developed moral and mental abilities.
 
And here’s the kicker. Since human evolution goes forward by the very same means that it climbed to its present state, the struggle between, and extinction of, existing human races must continue. "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," Darwin wrote in the Descent of Man. "At the same time the anthropomorphous apes" — that is, those that look most like the human sub-species lowest on the evolutionary scale — "will no doubt be exterminated. The break [between human beings and apes] 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."
 
A simple, detached scientific description of evolution at work — and this, from a fervent abolitionist. On this vision, people like "the negro or Australian" were something like intermediate species, less evolved from the ape, and hence more likely to lose in the relentless struggle of the fit against the unfit. The struggle cannot itself be blamed, for it is this very struggle between tribe and tribe, race and race that had driven human beings above the level of anthropomorphous apes. That same struggle pushed hard enough to produce the Caucasian, eventually creating a man capable of formulating a theory of evolution.
 
He was born 200 years ago today. Happy birthday, Charles Darwin.
 


Benjamin D. Wiker is the author of the upcoming
The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (Regnery, May 2009).

Benjamin D. Wiker

By

Benjamin Wiker is Professor of Political Science and Senior Fellow of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University. His newest book is The Reformation 500 Years Later: 12 Things You Need To Know. His website is www.benjaminwiker.com, and you can follow him on Facebook.

  • Alison Wedgwood

    A wonderful new book

  • Brennan

    Fascinating…
    While I love Wedgwood products, I find it interesting that if Wedgwood is suffering to extinction, that it is no embraced as “natural selection”…

    Mr. Wiker,
    Bravo…

  • Solon

    “Lincoln, who would cruelly be caricatured by cartoonists as an ape, shared his birthday of February 12 in 1809 with the quixotic author of ‘The Descent of Man.’ And Lincoln’s years spent in New Salem, Illinois as a store clerk, mill manager, and rail splitter while educating himself, courting Ann Rutledge, and keeping a pet hound (1831-1837), were almost exactly coterminous with Darwin’s expedition on the ‘Beagle’ to South American and Australasia.”

    -George W. Rutler: “Coincidentally”, p.61.

  • Joyce

    I thought Wiker’s article sounded like hogwash. He is a proponent of Intelligent Design and is associated with the highly political right-wing Discovery Institute.

    So much for objective scholarship on Darwin.

  • Marc

    This article is interesting, but seems to make no comment on the validity of evolution per se. It does, however, point out that atheistic evolution necessarily leads to social Darwinism, the view that some races are more advanced than others.

    The simple fact is that equality does not exist in nature (Darwin’s nature and modern evolution

  • Gene Branaman

    Interesting point, Joyce.

    Despite Mr Wiker’s affiliations & personally held beliefs, facts remain facts & easliy verifiable – objectively speaking. It’s also true that the personal points of view of others can prevent them from being able to grasp or accept easliy verifiable, objective fact. “Hogwash?” No. As an individual who has read quite a lot of his work, please be assured that Mr Wiker is an impeccalbe researcher. But don’t believe me – I’d invite you to do your own fact checking.

    Let us know what you discover, won’t you?

  • sandman42

    [smiley=tongue]This article IS hogwash. Wiker can be found clearly associated with the “wolf in sheeps clothing” creationist movement, the Discovery Institute. These appalling traits of fact twisting and quote mining are their trademark, and replaces original, rigorous research. It insults my intellect as well as my faith, and the pernicious linking of evolutionary science to racists, nazis etc. is just the latest tactic from people who face a shrinking world for their IDeas. Many more people have been hurt by the title of their religion than “Social Darwinism”, which is nothing to do with the man himself or real science. Does this mean our church should be labelled as racist or as the basis for all evil found in the corporeal world ? Can we please do better next time ? Thanks !

  • Carl

    The “Darwin supported slavery” tripe is just another fabricated smear against Darwin rolled out by desperate Creationists. Unable to undermine Darwin’s science, the Creationists attack him in some other underhanded way. Lame.

    Even FAUX News Glenn Beck, that repository of truth and reason [smiley=laugh], played the “Darwin supported slavery” hand recently. Evidence he received his right-wing “Happy Birthday, Darwin!” talking points for the week.

    I thought social conservatives embraced “social Darwinism” (which has nothing to do with Darwin and everything to do with social conservatives). Survival of the fittest. You’re on your own. Unregulated free-market capitalism.

    It takes a special kind of Christian to be a social conservative.

  • Geoffrey Miller

    “This article IS hogwash.”

    How can you be so confident? Have you read the Darwinian corpus in question? I don’t know either way, but I will do my own research and read the primary sources before making a judgement call.

    On the other hand, I do know that your comment is entirely unjustified and falls under the category of a logical fallacy known as ad hominem. Saying “he is not credible” proves nothing. You must, though it be demanding (the price for Reason is high), demonstrate how the argument at hand is not credible by producing empirical data. In this case, that means you need to show where he quotes his sources irresponsibly and provide the proper quotations.

  • Mark P. Shea

    The “Shut up, he explained” quotient is extra high in the comboxes today. Guilt by association. Baseless accusations. Astounding misreading (“The “Darwin supported slavery” tripe is just another fabricated smear against Darwin rolled out by desperate Creationists.)

    Ahem. The whole point of the article is that Darwin *personally* opposed slavery, but held a philosophy which supported it. Sorry, dudes, but social Darwinism had its name for a reason.

    Being associated with DI does not, so far as I know, automatically make somebody an ID supporter. That’s the first link of logic dropped in the hysterical replies. Nor does being an ID supporter (assuming Wiker is) automatically make somebody wrong when he produces quotes from Darwin which, well, make it pretty clear that there was a major conflict between his philosophy and his heart.

    Shouting “guilty by association” might work on the playground, but you guys have to do better than that. Start by distinguishing between Darwin’s actual contribution (the common sense theory of natural selection) and the massive superstructure of philosophy, ethics, theology and metaphysics built on top of it by all sorts of cranks and quacks (including Darwin in his worse moments). One can grant (as I do) that ID is riddled with problems without having to canonize St. Charles Darwin or declare his philosophical positions inspired by the Holy Spirit.

  • Greg

    …hysteria.

    “One can grant (as I do) that ID is riddled with problems without having to canonize St. Charles Darwin or declare his philosophical positions inspired by the Holy Spirit.”

  • Mark P. Shea

    Yes. Thank you for that fresh evasion. But returning to the fact that this article is not actually about the merits of ID, it would be good if *some*body could actually address Wiker’s points instead of just screaming “guilty by association!”.

  • rd

    thanks, mark, for keeping the thread reasonable.

    to those who so quickly dismissed this article, i’d reiterate what others have said: if you don’t trust wiker, then don’t take his word for it. read the sources for yourself. ‘the descent of man’ is accessible right off of google. and while you’re at it, you might as well read spencer too.

    i’d also recommend christoph cardinal sch

  • Ad Hominem: Argumentum Ad Homine

    “This article IS hogwash.”

    How can you be so confident? Have you read the Darwinian corpus in question? I don’t know either way, but I will do my own research and read the primary sources before making a judgement call.

    On the other hand, I do know that your comment is entirely unjustified and falls under the category of a logical fallacy known as ad hominem. Saying “he is not credible” proves nothing. You must, though it be demanding (the price for Reason is high), demonstrate how the argument at hand is not credible by producing empirical data. In this case, that means you need to show where he quotes his sources irresponsibly and provide the proper quotations.

    Mr. Miller, can it not be said that the kettle is calling the pot black? Since this was just a Birthday nod article, perhaps when the new book comes out, you will find the empirical data you seek…
    The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (Regnery, May 2009).

  • Fr. Phil Bloom

    Since England had already abolished the slave trade two years before Darwin’s birth, how much courage did it take for him to oppose slavery?

    As Benjamin Wiker and Mark Shea underscore, the real problem is the racism that runs through “Descent of Man.” How much influence did his racism have on the development of eugenics in our country and Nazism in Germany?

  • Peter Freeman

    I’d recommend reading Francis Collins’s The Language of God for a mature, scientifically modern discussion of how a scientific belief in the evidence for evolution as a process of creation can be married to a Christian theological view (and, more close to home, Benedict’s “In the Beginning” is always a good follow-up).

    I always find it a bit silly when people try to dismantle evolution because they find contradictions or downright morally objectionable statements in Darwin’s writing.

    Darwin was not divinely inspired, and he’s a fairly early voice in the popularization of evolution theory. He’s allowed to get parts of the theory wrong.

    Heck, the Church fathers aren’t always 100% orthodox all of the time, but that doesn’t mean we toss them out as heretics (or, at least, we don’t toss all of their writings out as heretical).

    What I think is most valuable from the article above is that it shows how science is a descriptive method of analyzing causation that is separate from the fields of morality and divinity.

    Science is allowed to tell us how our bodies evolved…it just isn’t allowed to tell us what is right or wrong, or what does or does not exist beyond the realm of the perceivable.

  • Mark P. Shea

    I always find it a bit silly when people try to dismantle evolution because they find contradictions or downright morally objectionable statements in Darwin’s writing.

    I know what you mean. I always find it a bit silly when people try to dismantle critiques of morally objectionable statements in Darwin’s writing by screaming “guilty by association” and trying to portray it as an attack on evolution.

  • Richard Webb

    Evolution on Trial

    If we hope to understand the true origins of life, kids need to learn the FLAWS in current evolution theory so as future scientists they will question the assumptions, re-evaluate the evidence, and draw humanity closer to the truth and wonder of our universe.

    Evolution is on trial because Darwin presumptuously took an unsupportable leap back to Origin of Species! The holes are gaping wider all the time as scientists prove with mathmatical, logical, and testable precision that Darwin may have explained adaptation, but that does not extrapolate backward to origin of the species.

    Even Albert Einstein is quoted as marveling at the rules of God’s creation. Ignorance is a refusal to recognize errors and consider other options. Refusal to recognize gaping holes in the THEORY of evolution is tantamount to creating a cult religion based on nothing but blind acceptance of flawed doctrine.

    Follow the Money! Are some scientists afraid their life’s work and big grants are based on faulty assumptions promulgated within an incestuous inteligentcia that missed or ignored the big picture?

    Why are courts involved in science anyway? Why do we allow ONE judge to stifle the dialectic process? Lawyers should

    Only a desperate despot would scream “I’m right, I’m right — Don’t dare disagree with me”! Are we seeing that frantic rant as scientists desperately hang on to frayed remnants of their beloved evolution theory? Ben Stein’s movie Expelled documents the phony inteligencia’s attempted cover-up.

  • sciteacher28

    Evolution on Trial

    If we hope to understand the true origins of life, kids need to learn the FLAWS in current evolution theory

    My goodness, more hogwash so soon ? What kids really need to be taught is rational scientific thought and a sound foundation in hypothesis generation and testing. This does not include singling out evolution as a special case, nor masquerading ID as a credible alternative. Single judges hand out decisions every day, but long before Dover the peer review system had callled out ID for what it is – the biology equivalent of astrology. The field of evolutionary biology is alive and well testing the mechanisms of speciation and many other topics. The same goes for many unanswered topics in physics and chemistry. The debate is shrill because of school board crackpots and the deep pockets of the likes of DI pushing different versions of fiat creationism where they dont belong – the science class. However, I am not sure where a viewing of “expelled” belongs – perhaps the high school locker room ?

  • Daniel

    Just because Darwin formulated a questionable opinion about slavery and society, it should have nothing to do with discrediting the theory of biological evolution.

    By the author’s thinking, you could also justify that all the ideas our founding fathers ideas should be questioned because of a compromise on slaves equaling 3/5’s a person. But it’s precisely because of the work of our founding fathers, even with wording that we’ve thankfully changed, that the United States is and will continue to be a beacon of light for the free world.

    FYI – I don’t like to see catholicism and intelligent design intermingled as it is on this web site. I don’t want catholicism and intolerance mixed. When ID has been put to the same level of testing that evolution has, then I’ll welcome it.

  • mike,uk

    was darwin the first nazi ?, God made chimps ,why, because he can . we did not evolve .we were made in his image hence we were given ,jesus, anything else comes from the evil one. why did jesus teach us in simple terms? darwin thinks we came from monkeys , to distract the godless from a god bigger and more clever than he was , you only have to see the the fruit of his labor in order to know who his master was not, give dawin up for lent; read your bible , get a grip, god bless you all, ps, have you seen the way chimps drive ? they should resit their driving tests ,i mean?

  • Russell

    I think Darwin knew that all ants are slaves. That one species could make another species work for their colony doesn’t mean they’re any worse off because they are existing only for some colony. I’m sure Darwin could see an analogy in human societies that is somewhat weak. The fact that he was an abolitionist just means he didn’t feel compelled to follow “Social Darwinism”.

    Hi Daniel. Even our Founding Fathers were better than what some people make them out to be. Slaves were counted as three fifth a person as a compromise but the authors of the Constitution did not want to count them at all. The reason is the counting was to determine the number of representatives in Congress. Counting slaves who couldn’t vote would give the slave states more representation in Congress. Read The Federalist, 54, James Madison.

  • Russell

    If you attack Darwinism you totally miss Evolution. The form of Darwin’s argument is actually a conditional statement. If descent with modification and natural selection occurs then evolution occurs.

    Evolution has been missed in the attack on Darwinism because the argument for evolution depends on evidence of evolution: The sequences in the fossil record and genetic analysis of living species (For instance two distantly related species having the same “mistakes” or “junk DNA” in the same locations on their chromosomes.). So, we have ample evidence that supports evolution regardless of descent with variation and natural selection.

    So, what we have is scientists really gathering evidence for the mechanism of evolution. Is it Darwinism (Unintetional) or is it Intelligent Design (Intentional)? Or, is it both? If it is Intelligent Design, was there only one designer or more than one (analogous to human designers)?

    No one really gathers evidence for evolution anymore. The evidence being gathered is to construct the most accurate Tree of Life.

  • The Doubting Thomas

    Putting aside most of the above comments,it should be noted by both Darwinists and anti’s that Darwin set the standards for the proof of his own theory:

    He stated that there would “be [a] truly enormous” number of fossilized intermediate species (say between a Deer and an Elk) if his theory were correct. They would be found in the fossil record.

    After 150 years of examination, they have not been found. He has thus disproved his own theory, and further discussion is not necessary. He theory is flat out wrong at the core; evolution did not happen by his description.

    Why do we even consider discussing the man and worse, teaching this error to our children.

  • Matt

    Why even bother to have an article about Darwin be posted by a member of the discovery institute it’s obviously gonna be an attack. Darwin’s discoverys in science have little to with human morality. And if Wiker bothered to read Darwin’s books it’s blatantly clear that he wrote it so people wouldn’t interpret it like that. The source of social Darwinism was not Darwin but Herbert Spencer and the tradition of Protestant nonconformism going back to Hobbes via Malthus. Spencer’s ideas of evolution were Lamarckian. The only real connection between Darwin and social Darwinism is the name.

    Further more evolution has already been accepted by Pope John Paul and many other prominent members of the catholic church so the Catholics running this website should be ashamed that they even posted an article like this

  • Jonathan CHM

    Genesis 1:27, “So God made man in his own image”.
    Genesis 2:7, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.”
    Genesis 2:21-22, “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam,

  • Matt

    Genesis 1:27, “So God made man in his own image”.
    Genesis 2:7, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.”
    Genesis 2:21-22, “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam,

  • Al Fontaine

    Bravo, Mr. Wiker! Bravo!

    To me, Mr. Wiker

  • Oswaldo Viana

    Hey, there was a lot of great comments to this article in the old website (InsideCatholic.com), where are they?? What a pity…

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