Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Darwin Files, pt. 3

Most folks don’t know the original, full title of Darwin’s seminal book now known as: “The Origin of Species.” “Most folks” includes the senior pastor of the High Church of Atheism, Richard Dawkins. 

It seems, in a public radio debate, Dawkins was berating Christians for their ignorance. He reveled in the charge that most Christians could not name the Four Gospels. But suddenly, his opponent turned the tables and asked the gloating Dawkins for the full title of Darwin’s book. 

He is a militant atheist and the country’s foremost champion of Darwinist evolution – and he was on the radio to accuse Christians of being ignorant of the Bible. 

When the tables were turned, however, an embarrassed Richard Dawkins was momentarily unable to name the full title of his scientific hero’s most famous work.    

In his frustration, he even invoked the name of the deity in which he does not believe, resorting to a helpless: “Oh God.” 

Dawkins, the former Oxford Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, is a dedicated admirer of Charles Darwin, regarding the Victorian pioneer of evolution as the man who explained “everything we know about life.” 

So his memory lapse on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme [sic] was deeply embarrassing.

Obviously, Dawkins’ lapsed memory isn’t of great importantance. But I think the original, full title of Darwin’s work is. Darwin entitled his masterpiece: “On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in The Struggle for Life. 

Now you know why the full title is rarely used! 

What does Darwin mean by “The Preservation of Favored Races”? Interestingly, to answer this question we must turn our attention to “The Descent of Man,” where race is a central theme, a thread from start to finish. 

The first two paragraphs of the tome read, 

 . . . It might also naturally be enquired whether man, like so many other animals, has given rise to varieties and sub-races, differing but slightly from each other, or to races differing so much that they must be classed as doubtful species?  

The enquirer would next come to the important point, whether man tends to increase at so rapid a rate, as to lead to occasional severe struggles for existence; and consequently to beneficial variations, whether in body or mind, being preserved, and injurious ones eliminated. Do the races or species of men, whichever term may be applied, encroach on and replace one another, so that some finally become extinct? We shall see that all these questions, as indeed is obvious in respect to most of them, must be answered in the affirmative, in the same manner as with the lower animals (p. 255). 

Clearly, Darwin speaks of race and racial differences, indeed of racial superiority, in a manner wholly foreign, even anathema, to the muted treatment of race today. And, as with his thoughts on women, appealing to his Victorian culture—in effort to soften his blows—is of no use. His views on race are based on his science not his society. 

Darwin thinks racial differences are so apparent that they are undeniable and require little or no substantiation; that is, racial disparity is axiomatic. 

The variability or diversity of the mental faculties in men of the same race, not to mention the greater differences between the men of distinct races, is so notorious that not a word need here be said (p. 266). 

If we consider all the races of man as forming a single species, his range is enormous . . . widely-ranging species are much more variable than species with restricted ranges; and the variability of man may with more truth be compared with that of widely-ranging species, than with that of domesticated animals (p. 267). 

[M]an is variable in body and mind; and that the variations are induced, either directly or indirectly, by the same general causes, and obey the same general laws, as with the lower animals (p. 277). 

One of the most marked distinctions in different races of men is that the skull in some is elongated, and in others rounded (p. 282). 

Nor is the difference slight in moral disposition between a barbarian, such as the man described by the old navigator, Byron . . . and in intellect, between a savage who uses hardly any abstract terms, and a Newton or Shakespeare (p. 287). 

Judging from all that we know of man and the lower animals, there has always been sufficient variability in their intellectual and moral faculties, for a steady advance through natural selection (p. 328). 

Man has multiplied so rapidly, that he has necessarily been exposed to struggle for existence, and consequently to natural selection. He has given rise to many races, some of which differ so much from each other, that they have often been ranked by naturalists as distinct species (p. 331). 

Notice: racial differences are so great that some of Darwin’s colleagues consider the various races to be entirely different species. (Darwin is rather non-committal on this, opting in the end to see the races as perhaps “sub-species.” We may consider this further in the future.) 

That there are racial differences is self-evident to Darwin; yet how racial disparities come to be remains a mystery to him. 

It was formally thought that the colour [sic] of the skin and the character of the hair were determined by light or heat; and although it can hardly be denied that some effect is thus produced, almost all observers now agree that the effect has been very small, even after exposure during many ages. . . . With our domestic animals there are grounds for believing that cold and damp directly affect the growth of the hair; but I have not met with any evidence on the head in the case of man (p. 269). 

Of all the differences between the races of man, the colour [sic] of the skin is the most conspicuous and one of the best marked. It was formerly thought that differences of this kind could be accounted for by long exposure to different climates; but Pallas first shewed [sic] that this is not tenable, and he has since been followed by almost all anthropologists (p.356). 

The external characteristic differences between the races of man cannot be accounted for in a satisfactory manner . . . We have thus far been baffled in all our attempts to account for the differences between the races of man; but there remains one important agency, namely Sexual Selection, which appears to have acted powerfully on man. . . . Nor do I pretend that the effects of sexual selection can be indicated with scientific precision (p. 359). 

While Darwin denies that environmental pressures alone can account for racial differences (an obvious departure from the Sunday school version of how races developed!); he cannot affirm, with what he considers to be scientific precision, exactly what is responsible for human diversity. I find his honesty here refreshing. 

In the future we shall consider Darwin’s views on race expanded and applied. Until then, thank you for reading and thinking. 

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Charles Darwin, “The Descent of Man,” Great Books of the Western World, vol. 49 (Chicago, London, Toronto: William Benton, 1952)

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