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Darwin: The Father of Modern Racism?

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August 25, 2010 Tags: Science & Worldviews

Today's video features Denis Alexander. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Editor's Note: The popular commentator Glenn Beck referred to Charles Darwin as "the father of modern-day racism." Certainly, Beck's sentiments are nothing new; links between Darwin and racism, as well as to eugenics and other destructive ideologies, are mentioned constantly by opponents to the modern theory of evolution. But are these links valid? In the video above, Denis Alexander shares his thoughts on the relationship between evolution and ideologies.

Alexander notes that while the biological theory of evolution is not itself an ideology, it has been used for ideological purposes since 1859 to defend everything from eugenics to capitalism to racism to atheism. The reason, he asserts, is not because of any true support, but rather because people often try to use the popular scientific theories of the day to support all sorts of ideologies.

He also notes that the phrase "survival of the fittest", often tied to Darwin and stated as a core part of evolution, was in fact coined by science popularizer Herbert Spencer, and that the phrase is in fact a poor description of the complicated processes involved in evolution. Unfortunately, the phrase was picked up during the World War I-era as a way to support the "might makes right" mentality, and the misunderstanding was used to justify all sorts of failed ideologies.

Similarly, Alexander notes that the fact that evolution admits there are variations between people in regards to genetics has been used to justify racist ideology. However, once again, this is a case of ideology using something for its own agenda; the biological process of evolution itself does not in any way justify such racist thinking, and in fact diversity is beneficial to populations.

For more on the supposed links between racism and eugenics, see Michael Zimmerman's post "Social Darwinism: A Bad Idea with a Worse Name" and Karl Giberson's post "Who Cares About Darwin?"

UPDATE: Michael Zimmerman has just posted another article on the topic. You can find it here.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

Denis Alexander is the Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge, to which he was elected a Fellow in 1998. Alexander writes, lectures, and broadcasts widely in the field of science and religion. He is a member of the International Society for Science and Religion.

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Trevor K. - #27699

September 1st 2010

Why does anyone feel the NEED to hold onto evolution? What is it that drives one to accept that death came before Adam - thereby nullifying the importance of death and as a result destroying the meaning of Jesus’ death on the stake?

Here’s something for those who would like to consider another point of view:


John VanZwieten - #27752

September 1st 2010

Trevor K.,

Do you actually read any of the presentations here?  Or are you just spamming all the threads with your link to just-so creationism?

Fr. Robert (Anglican) - #27768

September 1st 2010

On a moral level, I don’t know how Charles Darwin, or Darwinism can be sustained?

Trevor K. - #27788

September 2nd 2010

@John VanZwieten - #27752

Actually, I do both - read and spam.

I find it totally strange that people are actually defending Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Has someone actually delved into the history of the belief that everything made itself and then published it on Biologos?

I believe that the theory of evolution flies directly in the face of God and is an affront to Him because it denies His word.  Nowhere in the bible do I read that God says He used an evolutionary approach to creation.

I do read, however, that it does state the very opposite - as far as I read and understand - everything happened instantaneously after he spoke. And in six days, nogal!

So how one can go so far from the basic word as to defend an atheistic belief I simply fail to comprehend.

Why do you NEED evolution? To justify what, exactly? But then, you are free to believe what you want - the consequences will eventually reveal themselves - either way.

Jeffrey L Vaughn - #27889

September 2nd 2010

A generation after Calvin, Geneva got into the slave trade.  The Dutch Republic dominated it and made it almost exclusively race based.  After them the Presbyterians of England followed by the Presbyterians of New England, were the major slave traders.  The Geneva Bible notes justified the that trade.

If you need to point a finger to find a source, Geneva, the generation after Calvin, is to blame.

beaglelady - #27983

September 3rd 2010

I’ve never heard of the web site you mentioned.  I don’t get most of my information off the web, but from reading books.  In any case, one can’t disprove Darwin’s scientific theories by showing that they had bad social effects.  But from a historical point of view it is still important to know whether or not they had bad social effects.

whathathdarwinwrought.com is a Discovery Institute site, that is obvious.  The registrant is the Discovery Institute.  The DVD features your Discovery Institute Senior Fellows David Berlinski, Richard Weikart, and John West.  Looking through the discussion and study guide I see the same old same old, including the quote-mining of Darwin.  Darwin’s scientific theories didn’t have bad social effects.  Someone has to misappropriate them for that to happen. Before the holocaust, the Bible was used to justify centuries of antisemitism, slavery, and racism.

beaglelady - #27984

September 3rd 2010

Furthermore, if the holocaust can be traced to Darwin, why haven’t the Jewish people (besides the two in the DI and Ben Stein) caught on?  As a matter of fact, when the movie Expelled came out and tried to blame the holocaust on Darwin, the Anti-Defamation League issued a harsh rebuttal.

And I don’t get all my information exclusively from the internet. Do you get all of yours from the Discovery Institute?  I get information from books, magazines, newsletters, museums, talks, lectures, tours, classes, sermons, PBS shows (Nature, Nova, American Experience), and yes, the internet. 

The internet has a goldmine of information. Internet connectivity is part of the infrastructure of a modern country, for Pete’s sake.  Much good information found elsewhere is duplicated on the internet.  Does information become invalid when it’s on a network?  Of course discernment is necessary to find reliable information on the internet because there’s plenty of garbage also, but the same can be said for books and everything else.

Rich - #27992

September 3rd 2010


There’s a difference between (a) using the internet occasionally and judiciously, as a supplementary source of information, after acquiring an education of the traditional kind (where one learns to distinguish informed discussion from trash), and (b) leaning heavily on the internet for both primary sources and secondary, critical writing.  Many of the essential primary sources are not on the internet (and cannot be, for copyright reasons), and much of the secondary discussion on the internet is conducted by untrained amateurs, a few smart, but most not so smart.  And because the internet is quick, because it’s easier than driving half an hour to a good library and spending another two hours perusing a number of scholarly books, it encourages incomplete and inferior research.  Also, one can quickly come to *sound* like an expert on almost anything by surfing the web, picking up some jargon and unread references and current opinions, while really having a very shallow understanding.  Unfortunately that happens in most internet. discussions to some extent—people bluff.  I’ve caught many fakers whose knowledge of Behe, Darwin, Aquinas and other writers is virtually entirely from internet skimming.

Rich - #28020

September 3rd 2010


I don’t know how you can say “Darwin’s scientific theories didn’t have bad social effects”, unless you have done serious scholarly work in the area that West and Weikart are working in.  Have you?  If not, why is your opinion so strong that you would just dismiss trained scholars without reading their arguments?  Is not such a dismissal a textbook example of “prejudice”?

allyn - #28047

September 3rd 2010

The original title of Darwin’s work was “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”. Doesn’t that say it all?

beaglelady - #28614

September 7th 2010

I don’t know how you can say “Darwin’s scientific theories didn’t have bad social effects”, unless you have done serious scholarly work in the area that West and Weikart are working in.

Darwin’s scientific theory is just that, a scientific theory. People can twist it for evil purposes, but it is a scientific theory.  Since I haven’t done serious scholarly work in the area that West and Weikart are working I’d like to know what Holocaust scholars think about their work.  I pointed out that the Anti-Defamation League didn’t think much about Ben Stein/Expelled. Don’t their opinions count for anything?

Rich - #28635

September 7th 2010


Forget about Expelled!  We’re not talking about Expelled.  We’re not talkng about the Anti-Defamation League’s review of Expelled.  We are talking about two very good scholars who have written serious books about the effects of Darwinian ideas on 20th-century social and political life.  You have dismissed their conclusions without having read their books or even knowing what arguments they use.  And now that I have challenged you on that, your excuse for not reading them is “I need a second opinion”.  You don’t need a second opinion in order to pick up a book and read a chapter, to see if it’s any good.  Are you afraid of infection, or something?

Your remark about scientific theories, which indicates that you think science stands in isolation from the rest of human knowing, shows that you are unfamiliar the history of ideas.  Such a separation simply cannot be maintained.  Ideas from one field impinge upon another all the time, all throughout human history.  You should ditch this NOMA-compartmentalizing as fast as you possibly can.

By the way, you’ve told me what you HAVEN’T studied, but not what you HAVE studied.  What is your field?  I can usually tell, but in your case I can’t put my finger on it.

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