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Listen: John West on Scientific Racism and the Cachet of Darwinism in the Humanities

David Klinghoffer

Scientific Racism

In the second part of a podcast with J.C. Derrick of World Magazine, Discovery Institute’s John West makes some important distinctions about the social impact of Darwinism. 

A Rationale for Racism

Regarding scientific racism, yes, of course, before Darwin there were Christians and others who regarded the human races as unequal. But this was against the spirit of their own faith. Darwin, on the other hand, provided a seemingly rock-solid scientific rationale for invidious comparisons among the various races. 

In Darwin’s view, everything about humans ultimately can be explained by this process of natural selection, or survival of the fittest, acting on these random variations in nature. And the point here is that natural selection acts on a population of individuals according to the environment they’re in. So it selects for things that help you survive in a particular environment, in a particular population.

And so Darwin said, we shouldn’t expect that natural selection — because it acts on different populations differently according to different environments — that it produces races of equivalent capabilities. We should in fact expect races to have significant differences in their mental capacities, among other things.

And so it wasn’t so much that Darwin was just a residual racist like everyone was racist at his time. It was that he actually provided a scientific agenda, a research agenda, if you will, for several decades of evolutionary biologists and anthropologists and people enamored with IQ testing and all sorts of people to actually look into, try to show, just how the races were inherently unequal because in a Darwinian sense, that’s what they were expecting to find.

Scientists largely followed in this way of thinking until religious and civil rights leaders, not other scientists, ultimately shamed them out of it.

Between Science and the Humanities

On the “cachet” of neo-Darwinian evolution, Dr. West notes that the theory enjoys the most worshipful respect not from scientists but from scholars in the humanities and social sciences, in other words, those least likely to know much about the evidence and data supportive, or not supportive, of Darwinism:

Because once it entered culture, I mean things like political science, sociology, psychology, these all took their presuppositions from 19th century natural science, including Darwin. And they’re just accepting them as a truism.

Scientists, if you catch them writing or speaking among themselves in a strictly professional context, may admit to cracks and doubts in evolutionary theory. Social scientists and humanities scholars are a different story. For them, perhaps, it’s the prestige of Darwinian theory, not the strength or weakness of the science, that motivates an uncompromising defense.

Listen to the rest of this excellent conversation here. See also, “How Is Darwin’s Idea Dangerous? John West Counts the Ways.”

Photo credit: José María Mateos, via Flickr (cropped).