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Coming to Grips with the Truth About Social Darwinism

We live today in what many call the Information Age. Digital technologies have brought a revolution in the rapid, global exchange of ideas through the Internet, satellite communications, "smart" phones technologies, and more. Unfortunately, this has not necessarily resulted in a better-informed public. Spin doctoring by media elites, agenda-driven pundits, and "experts" committed to protecting turf and status rather than to critical analysis have made it harder to get at the truth than ever before.

This has been the case notably in coming to grips with the legacy of social Darwinism. (See "Did Darwin Give Birth to Social Darwinism?") While its roots in Darwinian theory are unmistakable, some like historian Robert J. Richards desperately seek to distance the two with arguments more anfractuous than the moves of an Olympic gymnast. It is indeed a sight to behold! Such efforts prompted one University of Pennsylvania historian, the late Henrika Kuklick, to observe that "scholars have wasted their time trying to exonerate Darwin of responsibility for Social Darwinism, for he was a Social Darwinist." When ideological fervor and paradigm defensiveness trump facts, such a voice of reason falls on deaf ears.

Thus our study of the past, with its implications for the future, is in need of an injection of strong truth serum. While it seems increasingly difficult to come by, it can be found in the outstanding new website featuring the scholarship of Dr. Richard Weikart: From Darwin to Hitler, including the new documentary from Discovery Institute, The Biology of the Second Reich. As a historian of science, I highly recommend it.

Michael Flannery

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Michael A. Flannery is professor emeritus of UAB Libraries, University of Alabama at Birmingham. He holds degrees in library science from the University of Kentucky and history from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has written and taught extensively on the history of medicine and science. His most recent research interest has been on the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). He has edited Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace’s World of Life Challenged Darwinism (Erasmus Press, 2008) and authored Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (Discovery Institute Press, 2011). His research and work on Wallace continues.