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Darwin himself was racist

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Claim

Charles Darwin was himself a racist, referring to native Africans and Australians, for example, as savages. This shows that evolution is inherently racist.

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Quote

"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).

Responses

  1. Regardless of whether or not it's true, what does this accusation have to do with whether or not Darwin's theories are valid? This is like stating that Lutheranism is wrong because Martin Luther held anti-Semitic views.
  2. By contemporary standards, Darwin probably would be considered racist (and at the very least a racialist). However, by the standards of his day, Darwin was remarkably egalitarian and progressive, inasmuch as he was a staunch opponent of slavery and had compassion for members of other races and felt they should have legal rights. It is important to point out that in Darwin's day, even the most famous and progressive African-American civil rights leaders (W.E.B. DuBois, for example) still believed that the different races were distinct and had different "characters" as a people.
  3. Since this Creationist argument is implicitly dependent on the proposition that the racism of a theory's proponents is a valid reason to reject a theory, it is worth noting that a number of prominent Creationists have been racist. The list includes Louis Agassiz, who denied that blacks and whites were even of the same species; George MacCready Price, who held that Negroes were a degenerate form of Homo sapiens; and Henry Morris, who, in 1976, argued that the "genetic character" of "Hamites" (including both Asian and African peoples) is such that they are often "displaced by the intellectual and philosophical acumen of the Japhethites and the religious zeal of the Semites". Indeed, the religious alternatives to Darwin's theories during his time were not racially egalitarian at all: the major debates prior to Darwin were whether Africans were a separate species created inferior, or whether they represented a more advanced state of "decay" form of the original purer race of human being.
  4. Darwin in The Descent of Man (chapter 7), after much consideration, concluded that all human races were probably the same species. He used the word "sub-species" for races, to designate that there were different varieties which did not differ significantly enough to be considered independent species. He thus undercut one of the major arguments for racism. Later discoveries by evolutionary biologists would further fatally undercut any scientific basis for racism by showing just how similar and united the human species is, especially when compared to other far more diverse species.
  5. Darwin was raised in a family that strongly opposed the trade of african slaves; his Grandfather, Erasmus, presented strong arguments against the trade in many of his works.
  6. It can equally be argued that the Christian God (should he exist) is racist; many passages of the Bible detail episodes of deep racial prejudice and genocide, sometimes under God's direct instruction and other times under the excuse that God forgave its participators - the same argument applied by participants in the Crusades and during the Holocaust to excuse their own mass-killings.
  7. In its own article on the subject, CreationWiki makes the ridiculous claim that evolution was conceived primarily from the mind of a racist after he had 'rejected God', somehow expecting readers to automatically associate this rejection with racism and other unattractive human traits. In fact, it was Darwin's faith and respect for the faith of others that caused him to neglect publishing his theory, and later to avoid publicly debating it with figures such as Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. Additionally, CreationWiki's entry is written with grammar that suggest a juvenile author, omitting speechmarks, trying to emphasize its point by writing in capital letters, and generally writing in a non-encyclopedic style; for example: "Notice AFTER God is rejected then racist human evolution theory developed."
  8. A man's views, opinions and ideas cannot be deduced from a handful of quotes, taken out of context, that he may have been forced to say to prevent attack from his peers; for instance, beloved American political figure "Honest" Abraham Lincoln has been quoted as saying: "I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races...there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality... I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."
  9. add more responses

Darwin's own words which refute this claim

Our naturalist would likewise be much disturbed as soon as he perceived that the distinctive characters of all the races were highly variable. This fact strikes every one on first beholding the negro slaves in Brazil, who have been imported from all parts of Africa. The same remark holds good with the Polynesians, and with many other races. It may be doubted whether any character can be named which is distinctive of a race and is constant. Savages, even within the limits of the same tribe, are not nearly so uniform in character, as has been often asserted. Hottentot women offer certain peculiarities, more strongly marked than those occurring in any other race, but these are known not to be of constant occurrence. In the several American tribes, colour and hairiness differ considerably; as does colour to a certain degree, and the shape of the features greatly, in the Negroes of Africa. The shape of the skull varies much in some races; and so it is with every other character. Now all naturalists have learnt by dearly bought experience, how rash it is to attempt to define species by the aid of inconstant characters.

But the most weighty of all the arguments against treating the races of man as distinct species, is that they graduate into each other, independently in many cases, as far as we can judge, of their having inter-crossed. Man has been studied more carefully than any other animal, and yet there is the greatest possible diversity amongst capable judges whether he should be classed as a single species or race, or as two (Virey), as three (Jacquinot), as four (Kant), five (Blumenbach), six (Buffon), seven (Hunter), eight (Agassiz), eleven (Pickering), fifteen (Bory St. Vincent), sixteen (Desmoulins), twenty-two (Morton), sixty (Crawfurd), or as sixty-three, according to Burke. This diversity of judgment does not prove that the races ought not to be ranked as species, but it shews that they graduate into each other, and that it is hardly possible to discover clear distinctive characters between them. - Charles Darwin; The Descent of Man, 1871

Although the existing races of man differ in many respects, as in colour, hair, shape of skull, proportions of the body, &c., yet if their whole structure be taken into consideration they are found to resemble each other closely in a multitude of points. Many of these are of so unimportant or of so singular a nature, that it is extremely improbable that they should have been independently acquired by aboriginally distinct species or races. The same remark holds good with equal or greater force with respect to the numerous points of mental similarity between the most distinct races of man. The American aborigines, Negroes and Europeans are as different from each other in mind as any three races that can be named; yet I was incessantly struck, whilst living with the Feugians on board the "Beagle," with the many little traits of character, shewing how similar their minds were to ours; and so it was with a full-blooded negro with whom I happened once to be intimate.

He who will read Mr. Tylor's and Sir J. Lubbock's interesting works can hardly fail to be deeply impressed with the close similarity between the men of all races in tastes, dispositions and habits. This is shown by the pleasure which they all take in dancing, rude music, acting, painting, tattoing, and otherwise decorating themselves; in their mutual comprehension of gesture-language, by the same expression in their features, and by the same inarticulate cries, when excited by the same emotions. This similarity, or rather identity, is striking, when contrasted with the different expressions and cries made by distinct species of monkeys. There is good evidence that the art of shooting with bows and arrows has not been handed down from any common progenitor of mankind, yet as Westropp and Nilsson have remarked, the stone arrow-heads, brought from the most distant parts of the world, and manufactured at the most remote periods, are almost identical; and this fact can only be accounted for by the various races having similar inventive or mental powers. The same observation has been made by archeologists with respect to certain widely-prevalent ornaments, such as zig-zags, &c.; and with respect to various simple beliefs and customs, such as the burying of the dead under megalithic structures. I remember observing in South America, that there, as in so many other parts of the world, men have generally chosen the summits of lofty hills, to throw up piles of stones, either as a record of some remarkable event, or for burying their dead.

Now when naturalists observe a close agreement in numerous small details of habits, tastes, and dispositions between two or more domestic races, or between nearly-allied natural forms, they use this fact as an argument that they are descended from a common progenitor who was thus endowed; and consequently that all should be classed under the same species. The same argument may be applied with much force to the races of man.

As it is improbable that the numerous and unimportant points of resemblance between the several races of man in bodily structure and mental faculties (I do not here refer to similar customs) should all have been independently acquired, they must have been inherited from progenitors who had these same characters. - The Descent of Man; Charles Darwin; 1871

As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. If, indeed, such men are separated from him by great differences in appearance or habits, experience unfortunately shews us how long it is, before we look at them as our fellow-creatures. Sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is, humanity to the lower animals, seems to be one of the latest moral acquisitions. It is apparently unfelt by savages, except towards their pets. How little the old Romans knew of it is shewn by their abhorrent gladiatorial exhibitions. The very idea of humanity, as far as I could observe, was new to most of the Gauchos of the Pampas. This virtue, one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and more widely diffused, until they are extended to all sentient beings. As soon as this virtue is honoured and practised by some few men, it spreads through instruction and example to the young, and eventually becomes incorporated in public opinion.

The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognise that we ought to control our thoughts, and "not even in inmost thought to think again the sins that made the past so pleasant to us." Whatever makes any bad action familiar to the mind, renders its performance by so much the easier. As Marcus Aurelius long ago said, "Such as are thy habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of thy mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts." - Charles Darwin; The Descent of Man, 1871

The western nations of Europe, who now so immeasurably surpass their former savage progenitors, and stand at the summit of civilization, 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.

...

The more efficient causes of progress seem to consist of a good education during youth whilst the brain is impressible, and of a high standard of excellence, inculcated by the ablest and best men, embodied in the laws, customs and traditions of the nation, and enforced by public opinion. It should, however, be borne in mind, that the enforcement of public opinion depends on our appreciation of the approbation and disapprobation of others; and this appreciation is founded on our sympathy, which it can hardly be doubted was originally developed through natural selection as one of the most important elements of the social instincts. - Charles Darwin; The Descent of Man, 1871

Important as the struggle for existence has been and even still is, yet as far as the highest part of man's nature is concerned there are other agencies more important. For the moral qualities are advanced, either directly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, &c., than through natural selection; - Charles Darwin; The Descent of Man, 1871

The moral faculties are generally and justly esteemed as of higher value than the intellectual powers. But we should bear in mind that the activity of the mind in vividly recalling past impressions is one of the fundamental though secondary bases of conscience. This affords the strongest argument for educating and stimulating in all possible ways the intellectual faculties of every human being. - Charles Darwin; The Descent of Man, 1871

I will not even allude to the many heart-sickening atrocities which I authentically heard of; -- nor would I have mentioned the above revolting details, had I not met with several people, so blinded by the constitutional gaiety of the negro as to speak of slavery as a tolerable evil. Such people have generally visited at the houses of the upper classes, where the domestic slaves are usually well treated, and they have not, like myself, lived amongst the lower classes. Such inquirers will ask slaves about their condition; they forget that the slave must indeed be dull, who does not calculate on the chance of his answer reaching his master's ears.

...

It is often attempted to palliate slavery by comparing the state of slaves with our poorer countrymen: if the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin; but how this bears on slavery, I cannot see; as well might the use of the thumb-screw be defended in one land, by showing that men in another land suffered from some dreadful disease. Those who look tenderly at the slave owner, and with a cold heart at the slave, never seem to put themselves into the position of the latter; what a cheerless prospect, with not even a hope of change! picture to yourself the chance, ever hanging over you, of your wife and your little children -- those objects which nature urges even the slave to call his own -- being torn from you and sold like beasts to the first bidder! And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbours as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his Will be done on earth! It makes one's blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty: - The Voyage of the Beagle; Charles Darwin, 1839

My wife has just finished reading aloud your 'Life with a Black Regiment,' and you must allow me to thank you heartily for the very great pleasure which it has in many ways given us. I always thought well of the negroes, from the little which I have seen of them; and I have been delighted to have my vague impressions confirmed, and their character and mental powers so ably discussed. When you were here I did not know of the noble position which you had filled. I had formerly read about the black regiments, but failed to connect your name with your admirable undertaking. Although we enjoyed greatly your visit to Down, my wife and myself have over and over again regretted that we did not know about the black regiment, as we should have greatly liked to have heard a little about the South from your own lips.

Your descriptions have vividly recalled walks taken forty years ago in Brazil. We have your collected Essays, which were kindly sent us by Mr. Conway, but have not yet had time to read them. I occasionally glean a little news of you in the 'Index'; and within the last hour have read an interesting article of yours on the progress of Free Thought. - Letter from Darwin to Thomas Higginson, February 27, 1873

I was told before leaving England that after living in slave countries all my opinions would be altered; the only alteration I am aware of is forming a much higher estimate of the negro character. It is impossible to see a negro and not feel kindly towards him; such cheerful, open, honest expressions and such fine muscular bodies. I never saw any of the diminutive Portuguese, with their murderous countenances, without almost wishing for Brazil to follow the example of Haiti; and, considering the enormous healthy-looking black population, it will be wonderful if, at some future day, it does not take place. - Letter from Darwin to J.S. Henslo, March 1834

By the way, a negro lived in Edinburgh, who had travelled with Waterton, and gained his livelihood by stuffing birds, which he did excellently: he gave me lessons for payment, and I used often to sit with him, for he was a very pleasant and intelligent man. - Charles Darwin; The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, 1887

Fitz-Roy's temper was a most unfortunate one. It was usually worst in the early morning, and with his eagle eye he could generally detect something amiss about the ship, and was then unsparing in his blame. He was very kind to me, but was a man very difficult to live with on the intimate terms which necessarily followed from our messing by ourselves in the same cabin. We had several quarrels; for instance, early in the voyage at Bahia, in Brazil, he defended and praised slavery, which I abominated, and told me that he had just visited a great slave-owner, who had called up many of his slaves and asked them whether they were happy, and whether they wished to be free, and all answered "No." I then asked him, perhaps with a sneer, whether he thought that the answer of slaves in the presence of their master was worth anything? This made him excessively angry, and he said that as I doubted his word we could not live any longer together. I thought that I should have been compelled to leave the ship; but as soon as the news spread, which it did quickly, as the captain sent for the first lieutenant to assuage his anger by abusing me, I was deeply gratified by receiving an invitation from all the gun-room officers to mess with them. But after a few hours Fitz-Roy showed his usual magnanimity by sending an officer to me with an apology and a request that I would continue to live with him. - Charles Darwin; The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, 1887

Ch. XXI : Mauritius To England

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