Thursday, February 22, 2018


[This month I am putting up the same post on both my blogs; one is on the historical Jesus and the other is on Darwin’s racism. The link to the historical Jesus blog is]

Last month on both my blogs, I posted two different brief essays about racism. I realize it is possible to endlessly refine one’s points, with the goal being to get to the essence of racism. There are different angles one can take, so I’d like to do some summing up here. Consider the following a case of thinking in progress.

First, racism is an action system, not a belief system. Racists do not believe in inferiority, but they do believe people can be made to feel inferior. The point for racists is to take actions that will not only deprive a people of well-being but make them believe they deserve this. Statements like “They are inferior” are part of this action system. It is an action intended to make Others believe and feel they are inferior. Racists know very well that inferiority is a lie, but they still think they can make it come true.

Second, racism is filled with many lies, but the idea that racists believe Others are inferior is the primary lie. They don’t believe this at all. The truth that racists always wish to conceal is that their primary goal is to demoralize Others and then convince them they were born demoralized. The demoralization is actually the result of all the actions, including verbal pronouncements, that racists take.

Third, the essence of the demoralization is to make these people believe they are less than human, or to put it another way, to believe they are separate and disconnected from other human beings. Feeling all alone in the world will certainly induce depression. Racists play the game of divide and conquer better than anyone. They will frantically combat those who teach that we are all connected.

Fourth, racists may be good at spotting vulnerabilities in people and exploiting them, but their main job is to create vulnerability. It is just like child abuse: To take someone who was not born vulnerable and make them feel vulnerable. Racists like child abusers hate it when their intended victims discover God or anything (like elements of their own culture) that gives them strength.

Fifth, there is a goal behind the primary goal of demoralization. Racists are not in this to play some kind of macabre game or conduct a vast social experiment as to how effective they can be in demoralizing Others and getting them to believe they are inferior and alone. The demoralization has a point to it. The ultimate goal is take everything from the Other. Once you demoralize a people, you can rob them blind. You can steal their land, their resources, their labor, and their memories and stories. Racists are thieves. In a sense, their only goal is larceny and they will do almost anything to conceal this.

Sixth, greed is behind all racism. Nobody is a racist just for the hell of it. They want something. They want everything. They want all the wealth and all the memories, but mainly all the wealth.

Seventh, since racism is an action system, not a belief system, this means that all true investigation into racism is also an action system. Gaining insights into racism is about undoing racism. If an insight does not contribute to defeating racism, then it is not a genuine insight. For example, exposing the larceny that is behind all racism is important because racists need to keep this a secret so that they can look more moral. They don’t mind being called ideological racists. That is a moral position as far as they are concerned. They are happy to be labeled racists. They love debates about inferiority and superiority because this just furthers their distorted view of the world. But to demonstrate that they are just stealing is what really scares them. They don’t want anyone to see how small they are.

Eighth, not all racists benefit equally from racism. Some get a lot more out of it than others. Somehow the big thieves make the smaller ones believe they have gotten more out of it than they really have. There is no honor among thieves.

Ninth, to combat racism it is absolutely vital not to do anything that favors their cause. Thus, racists, as I said, are very good at playing the game of divide and conquer. So it should be obvious that we must not do anything that plays into their hands. Promote connections, not disconnections. It is a big mistake for any victimized people to promote the idea that the racism practiced against them is totally unique. That just helps racists separate peoples. Each people does experience some unique injustices, but overall, they have more in common and that is what we should seek to understand. Don’t lose sight of the unique features but don’t exaggerate them either.

That is not quite a dozen points, but it will do for now. If anything, I would like to go in the other direction and reduce this number. I could refine our understanding of racism down to three important elements. Racism is 1) an action system, which is 2) intended to demoralize people (chiefly by getting them to believe they are inferior), so that 3) racists can rob them of everything. That is the entire scheme in a nutshell. And racists believe that their materialistic motives and ultimate goals must remain hidden. It is easier to steal if people don’t see what you are doing.

About Darwin, I will just add this. Darwin and many other scientists present themselves as out to discover what the world is like, through theory and experiments. They are out to gain knowledge. I think there might be a little bit of truth to this, but not as much as everyone thinks. Darwin and others were creating an action system. For example, “survival of the fittest” is not so much a description of the world as it is an action which is intended to fulfill itself. It is not an objective truth, it is rather an anthropomorphism framed to project European humans into nature. It is a point of view imposed on nature so that Europeans can declare themselves, through circular reasoning, the fittest and the winners—winners being a euphemism for “the biggest thieves.”

They were creating a system of “knowledge,” the aim of which was to reinforce imperialism. In a succinct way, in Chapter 8 of A Short but Full Book on Darwin’s Racism (available at all online vendors), I give a thorough discussion of how much implicit racism and blatant imperialism can be found in the pages of The Origin of Species. It’s true. Whether scholars want to see it or not is another story.

As for historical Jesus studies, my last post on the historical Jesus blog for January 2018 is about racism. By way of summary here, I will just say that there is not one book by a historical Jesus scholar which will leave you with an overwhelmingly positive impression of ancient Judaism. They all deprecate ancient Jewish culture in one way or another to make these Jews look inferior compared to Jesus. The best aspects of this culture are left out so that ancient Jews will look deficient and small-minded. Gone from scholarly books are Judaism’s dedication to constitutional government, fair treatment under the law, due process, and openness to gentiles. It is all gone and replaced by scholars with a trivialization of Judaism into excessive concern with rituals, purity, Temple sacrifice, and ethnic exclusivity. You will never read a book on the historical Jesus and feel good about ancient Judaism, unless it’s my book True Jew. And if you are Jewish, it is particularly disheartening to read the usual stuff about the historical Jesus, which is why most Jews avoid this subject altogether.

© 2018 Leon Zitzer

Sunday, January 28, 2018


[My two books on Darwin are available at online vendors. The 800 page tome is Darwin’s Racism: The Definitive Case. The 200 page condensation is A Short but Full Book on Darwin’s Racism.]

In my big book on Darwin, I emphasized that racism is not primarily a belief system. It is an action system aimed at making a targeted group feel inferior and then taking everything else from them or denying them everything. Verbal pronouncements, such as “They are inferior”, are very much a part of that action system. “They are inferior” is not a belief, it is an action intended to create feelings of inferiority. But that is not what I would point out as the most essential thing about racism. There is something else about racism that is very pernicious and survives every attempt to defeat it. It continues even when racists lose a battle here and there, and it follows from being an action system. It is simply this: to lay the blame on the allegedly inferior group for everything that goes wrong in their attempts to better their lot.

One of the biggest battles that racists lost was the emancipation of slaves. But that did not even put a dent in racism. There was a lot of talk on the part of liberals about how slavery had debased blacks and how they were not ready for freedom. If emancipation was to succeed, former slaves would have to be lifted up, and if this did not happen, blacks would continue to live debased lives. But the onus was almost always put on blacks. People gave very little thought to the obstacles that whites were throwing in the way of blacks. Those obstacles were mainly in the form of laws denying them rights (such as the right to vote). This also included white rioting. When blacks did manage to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, they were only a white riot away from being pulled down again, as whites attacked and destroyed black businesses.

The interesting thing is that most liberals totally admitted that white people had denigrated slaves and deteriorated the lives of black people in the first place through slavery, but if black lives did not improve after emancipation, that was their own fault. Whites were not to blame for the failures of blacks and for keeping them down through harsh laws and the denial of civil rights. Even though the initial degradation was the fault of whites, the continuing degradation was the fault of blacks for not improving themselves.

The same was done to Indians. Indians would have to learn the white man’s ways, if their lives were to get any better. The deprivation they were continually subjected to by whites was not the problem. What racism did was to shift the conversation always onto the shoulders of blacks and Indians, so that no one paid attention to how whites manipulated the system to serve themselves alone. Only a handful of humanitarians objected to this mischievous misrepresentation of the facts.

In 1796, when Judge St. George Tucker of Virginia published and submitted his gradual emancipation plan to the legislature of his state, he made it clear that the ultimate goal was to get rid of all blacks from Virginia. He knew emancipation in the northern states had not worked out to the benefit of slaves who were still subjected to an onerous system of what he called civil slavery. His emancipation plan specifically called for civil slavery in the hope that this would be so bad that blacks would voluntarily remove themselves from Virginia. Tucker was by no means a liberal, despite his abolition plan. Integration of blacks into society was the last thing he wanted.

But Tucker made two interesting observations. One was the usual one that slaves had been forced to lead debased lives and thus were not ready for freedom. The other was a little more unusual. He noted that slavery had made whites were unfit for equality. The practice of slavery had made white people arrogant and unable to treat blacks fairly. But while Tucker thought former slaves would need uplifting to prepare them for freedom, he made no suggestion that whites needed any education to accept the equality of blacks.

Darwin fits this pattern to a T. His inquiries into the lives of savages always take the form of “what’s wrong with them?” When Darwin looks into the causes of what he believes is the inevitable extermination of savages tribes throughout the world (the darker skinned people), he lays it all on the inferiorities or inadequacies of Native peoples. His favorite cause of extermination is the infertility of Native women. He never asks himself if white people are doing anything to keep the birth rate down. Lessened fertility is a fault in savages. They are biologically inferior. Darwin always stresses biology. Even what he regards as the inferior morality of savages is an issue of biological inheritance for him. Nature made them that way.

Compare, or contrast, Darwin to a contemporary, Herman Merivale whose lectures on colonization were published in the 1840s and republished in the 1860s. Merivale too wrote about the causes of extermination of savages, but his concern was to understand the causes so that extermination could be prevented. Behind his inquiry are the questions “What is wrong with us?” and “Why are we doing this to them?” Darwin shows no concern to stop the extermination. His investigation into its causes serves to promote the inevitability of it. He was always on the lookout for deficiencies in Native peoples. Merivale and Darwin were worlds apart, though they were writing about the same subject.

When Darwin accepts the adage “Never, never trust an Indian,” it prevents him from seeing this any other way. He read another contemporary author who pointed out that subjugated people will resort to lies and deception as a survival tactic; in other words, they are not inherently untrustworthy, it is just what they do from time to time to defeat what the conqueror is doing to them. This had no impact on Darwin—which is ironic when you consider that Darwin was the supposed expert on survival. Darwin’s essential racism was that he was looking for what is wrong in dark skinned people to explain their failure to adjust to European colonialism. Injustice was never the issue for him. He could never see that imperialism had made white people unfit for equality and humane treatment of the Other.

© 2018 Leon Zitzer

Thursday, December 28, 2017


A.N. Wilson’s biography Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker was released here in America on December 12, 2017. It first came out in Britain back in September and I put up my review on this blog in October. I have since posted an abridged version on Amazon.

What I find most puzzling about the book is that Wilson clearly wants to point out Darwin’s failures, yet he passes over Darwin’s two biggest faults: his racist ideas about Indigenous peoples and his commitment to genocide. I understand why idolizers of Darwin omit these things from their discussions, but why does Wilson let Darwin off the hook for his unscientific assessment of non-European people? I cannot think of any reason, unless it is that Darwin’s defects reflect the wider problems in his society and perhaps it is that society that Wilson wants to protect.

Wilson’s discussion of Darwin’s ideas occupies a smaller portion of the book. The larger portion is devoted to straightforward biography, and as a biography, there seems little to justify why Wilson wrote another one. Other than criticizing Darwin’s theory of natural selection, there is little purpose in again going over the well-known details of his career and life. But there is one biographical detail Wilson offers which still bothers me because it offers an incomplete picture of the issue. I did not bring it up in my review, so I will do so now.

Wilson mentions that Darwin had one daughter’s cat destroyed because it had mauled one of his pigeons. I suppose Wilson means to imply that Darwin had a cruel streak in him. But this raises the issue of Darwin’s attitude towards animals and here Wilson fails to deliver.

Generally, Darwin is remembered for his hatred of cruelty to animals. There are a number of anecdotes about this which I relate in my long book Darwin’s Racism: The Definitive Case (in my other book A Short but Full Book on Darwin’s Racism, I skip this issue). But the other side of Darwin is that he believed animals served human beings. He was opposed to any efforts to end experimentation on live animals, if these were necessary to advance medical research. Restrictions, yes. He believed experiments should be performed with anesthetics when possible. But if that were not possible without ruining the experiment, then he was fully in favor of going ahead with it, no matter the pain to the animal. Even when anesthetics were used, Darwin does not seem to have given any thought to how the animal would feel in recovery.

It is not the most important issue in Darwin’s life (which is why I did not bring it up in my review or in my short book), but to drop one detail about killing a cat, as Wilson does, without telling the fuller story is not really fair.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Friday, November 24, 2017


Last month, I posted my review of A.N. Wilson’s Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker (published in Britain in September, but not available here until December). Despite his criticisms of Darwin, he goes very easy on Darwin’s racism, in effect excusing it as being part of another culture that we should not judge by our standards. It is a nonsensical defense of Darwin, but quite common. Recently, I discovered another article that also minimizes Darwin’s strong racist proclivity.

There is so much that is wrongly slanted in the essay “Apes, Essences, and Races” by Brendan O’Flaherty and Jill S. Shapiro in the collection Race, Liberalism, and Economics (2004; edited by David Colander and others). I am talking about the part of the article that deals with Charles Darwin. They acknowledge Darwin’s racism, but do everything they can to soften it. They blame other scientists and even Darwinists for promoting racism, but in Darwin’s case, they make his racism seem like an accident that went against what his theory really stood for.

The authors write, “Darwin unintentionally bolstered the idea of fixed types, reinforcing, instead of undermining, essentialistic thinking.” There was nothing unintentional about it. Darwin was devoted to identifying superior and inferior groups. But these authors think “it was all too easy to misinterpret his meaning to see races as forming an evolutionary scale,” completely missing that this is exactly what Darwin was striving for. Darwin suggested to his cousin Francis Galton that Nature uses superior individuals to create new and better races. These authors fail to confront how deeply embedded racism was in his view of nature. Even in Origin, he constantly promotes the view that nature is a scheme of groups subordinate to groups. Higher and lower figure in Origin as much as in his later work in Descent.

O’Flaherty and Shapiro state that as a result of Darwin’s Origin, “Humankind was once again united as one species, now the product of evolutionary processes.” But the idea that humanity was one had long been the prevailing view (they do recognize this and give it appropriate attention). Breaking up humanity into separate species was relatively new. Darwin did nothing to reverse that. He rather encouraged it. He hardly united humankind when he insisted how divided the races were in intelligence and moral values.

These authors call racist essentialism “the direct antithesis of Darwin's focus on populational variability.”  But Darwin’s ideas about variability did not affect his greater stress on the differences from group to group. In Descent, he would argue that disparity in brain size cannot tell us anything about the relative intelligence of two individuals, but when averages are taken, it can tell us a lot about the differences between human groups, and then he went on to cite statistics that put Australian Aborigines at the low end of cranial capacity. When these authors discuss 19th century scientific racism in the study of the brain and cranium, they leave out Darwin’s embrace of this.

Racism worked itself deeply into Darwin’s thinking. That is the Darwin no one wants to remember. The authors list (on p. 36) eight European scientists who advocated the belief that non-Europeans were biologically inferior. They do not include Darwin, yet he belongs there as much as anyone (he even argued in Descent that moral qualities were inheritable and that this would explain the differences between human races). Most staggering to me is that when the authors get to their brief discussion of the European belief in the extinction of inferior races, they once again fail to even mention that Darwin too was fully committed to this genocidal idea.

The authors are certainly right when they say, “Darwin did not provide any new facts about humans or refute any old ones.” But that was the point for Darwin. He wanted to justify what Europeans already believed about race. He did not want to overturn anything. O’Flaherty and Shapiro miss this. They still think of Darwin as revolutionary and later Darwinists as regressive: “Darwinism was thus compatible with the idea that each race has its own essence, so the idea of racial essence survived the Darwinian revolution intact.” In fact, Darwin performed no revolution. He was as stuck with and firmly believed in racial categories as many other scientists of his day.

These two authors call later Darwinism with its emphasis on inequality of the races a “skewed take on Darwinian theory.” There was nothing skewed about for Darwin. Darwin believed that producing inequality was one of the major results of evolution. Some people did oppose this racializing of the world, but O’Flaherty and Shapiro tend to skip the true humanitarians of the time who defied the idea that savages or dark-skinned people were inferior in mind and body to Europeans.

With respect to animals too, they try to make Darwin seem like a great revolutionary. “In regard to apes, Darwin's ideas served to provide a natural, not merely a conventional and nominal, tie between them and humans.” The truth is that for Darwin, the tie was more nominal than real. In Descent, Darwin imagines that if an ape could talk, it would have to admit that it was inferior to human beings in every way. Inferior-superior, or lower-higher, was an important category to Darwin. It was always on his mind, whether he was considering animals or humans.

I must note here one part of this article by O’Flaherty and Shapiro that I found invaluable. They emphasized that many of the older natural scientists, such as Linnaeus, Buffon, and Blumenbach, who studied human groups, did not rank human beings in a hierarchy. They treated all humans as equal in rank, varying with the environment. They recognized that differentiating human groups was a somewhat arbitrary process. These early naturalists were much less judgmental than later scientists would be—which makes the next point so interesting. (These naturalists were not entirely free of judgments. For example, they believed environmental conditions could make one group ugly and another beautiful.)

One interesting trend the authors spot makes their exemption of Darwin especially odd. At the very beginning of their article, the authors point out that, as evidence about races accumulated in the 19th century, the science of races became worse and worse. Knowledge did not help to dispel a wrongheaded racism, it just more deeply entrenched it. What they miss is that this was as true for Darwin as for other scientists of the day. In Descent, he was eager to latch onto any reports of evidence that put darker skinned people closer to animals than white Europeans. We may all be descended from lower animals, according to Darwin, but he also believed that some human groups retained that close connection more than others. From almost every angle, Darwin introduced a racist perspective into evolutionary thinking.

The authors conclude that while some scientists were discovering that distinguishing human races was a futile exercise, racist thinking went on: “There was still faith in the reality of racial distinctions that were innate, biologically based, and, through their relative worth, indicative of evolutionary success.” What they refuse to admit is that Darwin contributed to this. Every word of their conclusion (innate, etc.) applies just as much to Darwin’s science.

Why does any of this matter? Many people would argue that as long as scientists and scholars today reject scientific racism and seek to expose it whenever it appears, the racism of a scientist of long ago does not matter. I can think of several responses to this. First, there is a kind of hypocrisy in this argument. If scholars today were so kind to all racists of the past, then understandably Darwin could be included in this generosity, But current scholars do think the racism of yesterday’s academics matters because they identify and discuss 19th century racist scientists and academics all the time; they simply omit Darwin’s contribution or understate it.

Second, by playing down the severity of Darwin’s racism, they are sending a message that racism is acceptable if it is expressed by a big enough name. Third, one has to wonder how many other exceptions they are willing to make. Would their dismissal of racism stop with Darwin? Is he the only favored racist in history? And will such generosity be extended to anyone in the future? Fourth, and perhaps most important, as the German Jesuit Max Pribilla said in the 1930s, sometimes the truth has to be told for no other reason than simply that it is true—because if we don’t, the world suffers a moral blow that will be very hard to recover from.

It is that last reason that applies especially to Darwin. Darwin’s racism was not slight. It went very deep. If we let him off the hook because of his status, it sends two messages: 1) we value personality and power more than truth; and 2) we allow racism to continue in insidious ways. Academia says that it holds truth to be the most important, even sacred, object of our studies. Yet it often promotes exceptions to this and for no discernible good reason. When students encounter Darwin’s work, especially in The Descent of Man, they can see how obvious his racism is and then they go to their professors who either deny it or dismiss it. What’s up with that? There are no good lessons to be drawn from this dishonest treatment of what Darwin said.

If we grant racism a safe place or a hiding place anywhere, whether in Darwin or in anyone else, we have no hope of defeating it. Racism is hard enough to defeat anyway, maybe impossible, why give it any extra help?

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A.N. WILSON’S "Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker"


Wilson’s book on Darwin came out in England in the first week of September. It won’t appear in America until December, but it is easily obtainable online from bookstores in the UK by going to

My “reviews” of books are usually not complete reviews. What I often do is focus on one issue that is important to me and discuss how good a job the author did on that. In the case of the historical Jesus, I look at how accurate was the author in describing ancient Jewish culture (the answer most often is that the author presents a biased view of Jewish culture to support his or her preconceived ideas about Jesus in conflict with Judaism). In the case of the historical Charles Darwin, my main concern is how honest the author is about Darwin’s racism and his commitment to genocide. I will get to Wilson’s take on this below. But since the book is not available here yet, I thought I would first give a more general account of its contents. I should say that I am writing from the perspective of someone who has published two books on Darwin’s racism and I know how much evidence there is for this, which most authors, including Wilson, will not get into.

With the exception of one chapter (on natural selection), Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker is three-quarters biography and one-quarter analysis of certain key issues. If you are interested in Darwin’s life story, this book gives as good an account as any. But if you are interested in those issues, the discussions are somewhat faulty, perhaps due to lack of sufficient space. Either they don’t go deep enough or they fail to present enough evidence (for points that Wilson is absolutely right about) or they misrepresent some of the evidence or, in an effort to be even-handed, they are not quite fair (or too fair) to Darwin or to someone else.

I say this even though I agree with many of Wilson’s points. He has some wonderful insights along the way. He points out that Darwinists are the only scientists in the world who are obsessed with God. Physicists do not use God in their explanations of the universe, but they don’t go on and on about how they have banished God from the universe. Darwinists are constantly dragging God into the subject by bragging about how they have dragged God out of biology. They just cannot let go of theology. It is bizarre. But Wilson is wrong to blame Darwin for this, as I will explain. Wilson also rightly observes that Darwin was more a product of his culture’s Zeitgeist than he realized. His views were more the result of certain values than they were self-generated.

When Wilson departs from straightforward biography and gets into the issues, there are three that are his main concern: 1) religion (how irreligious was Darwin and how much harm did he do to religion?); 2) natural selection (is it true or false? did Darwin prove or fudge his case? this is where Wilson makes some of his best points); and 3) predecessors (was Darwin fair to the evolutionists who came before him or did his ego get in the way?).

On the last question, Wilson is right that Darwin took too much credit for himself, but he often fails to give the evidence to make the point convincing. He notes that Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin must have been a big influence on Charles, but he omits the specific things that Charles took from Erasmus. Wilson correctly points out what a big impact Robert Chambers’s Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844) had on evolutionary thought, twelve years before On the Origin of Species made its appearance, but he is unfair to Chambers when he says, “Broadly … he scooped Darwin.” It was more than broadly. Chambers gave specific evidence for evolution (the development theory) just as Darwin would: the fossil record, embryos, rudimentary organs, the ancient age of the earth, artificial selection, and more. In each case, Chambers argued that the development hypothesis was a better explanation than independent creation (creationism). Wilson claims that Darwin more than Chambers “taught the world to see that nature is not in a fixed or still condition.” That is simply not true. Chambers probably deserves more credit than Darwin. So does Erasmus Darwin who argued that organisms were in a constant state of transition. But Wilson is generally right that Charles Darwin’s ego did not let him give adequate notice to others. Wilson unfortunately seems to follow suit at times.

Religion and natural selection are Wilson’s biggest issues with Darwin. On religion, Wilson is not fair to him. He represents Darwin as a secret atheist who promoted a worldview that undermined belief in God, but could never quite come out and say it that way. Wilson knows that Thomas Huxley is more to blame for this than Darwin, but still he wants to put Darwin in the same boat. He will quote from letters that Darwin did not believe in Christian doctrines (such as Christ is the son of God), but that does not make Darwin a disbeliever in God. Throughout his life, in letters and in publications, Darwin made it clear that ultimately he was too confused (in “thick mud,” as he said) to settle on whether or not there was a God who designed nature. If anything, he was inclined towards design, but in the end, he adopted agnosticism, never atheism (as he explained in one letter). At one point, Wilson admits that Darwin’s Origin is “not essentially atheistic in texture,” but for most of his book he tries to make the opposite case, and not successfully, I should add.

Wilson has a better case when he contends that natural selection is not a proven theory. He contends that 1) Darwin was wrong to link evolution to the struggle for survival, while ignoring how much cooperation there is in nature (though here too Wilson misses the best evidentiary case he could make; there is at least one letter where Darwin condemns any cooperation, especially among humans, because it is opposed to the principle of competition, and then there is the fact of how often he uses ‘competition’ in Origin, demonstrating how heavily he relied on it), and 2) Darwin was equally wrong to insist that change in nature always happens gradually because as modern genetics now shows, nature does sometimes make leaps, which Darwin denied. I do not know enough about the science of genes to comment on this last point. I can only say that I wish Wilson had given evidence that Darwin ignored cases of leaps that were known in his own time.

Wilson is also right to point out that Darwin frequently relied on speculation to make his case for natural selection. In my work, I have noted how often Darwin used such phrases as ‘we may imagine’, ‘we can understand’, ‘I can see no great difficulty’, ‘we may believe’ and the like, in Origin. At most, he could prove in this way that something is conceivable or possible, but this certainly does not prove probability. He used ‘I can see no difficulty’ when he speculated that whales might have developed from a race of aquatic bears. Scientists mocking this claim forced him to remove it from later editions, but he was not happy about doing it. What was so unscientific about this claim is that Darwin made no attempt to compare the anatomy of a whale and a bear. He just simply imagined their relationship.

Even if Wilson is right that Darwin failed to prove or even make a credible case for natural selection, that does not mean that all the arguments Wilson brings to bear are correct. Sometimes Wilson can go overboard and hurt his own case. He argues that artificial selection does not help to prove natural selection because natural selection will have to produce changes that are long-lasting, if not permanent, in order to account for the fairly steady species we see today, whereas artificial selection does not produce lasting traits, making it “a poor model for natural selection.” Adaptations have to last in order to create a new species. What Wilson fails to see is that of course artificial selection produces impermanent results. It relies on the whim of the breeder. If another breeder takes over, or if nature takes over when a domesticated animal or plant is returned to the wild, the first human breeder’s choice of traits is not going to continue. Human breeders generally do not select for survival, which presumably is what nature does. Humans select for some aesthetic choice or for what is useful on their farms (such as short-legged sheep which will not be able to jump over a fence). For nature, this is just pure whimsy and will not last when that breeder is taken out of the picture. But if nature has steady goals for an organism, then nature’s selections will be around for a while.

Wilson is so eager to prove that natural selection failed early on to convince scientists that he misquotes from a letter of Joseph Hooker, Darwin’s friend and supporter, to Darwin. He has Hooker say that he was going to devote part of a speech to “the fact that Darwin’s theory had failed.” That is not what Hooker said (and Wilson gives the wrong reference for the letter, making it hard to find, but find it I did). What Hooker actually said was that he wanted Darwin’s help to gather information on how Origin was doing abroad, so that he could “disprove the statement, that the Theory is ‘fast passing away’ [as was claimed in one review of another book of Darwin’s].”

PART 2 (the shorter part)

The main thing that disappointed me in Wilson’s book is how little attention he gives to Darwin’s attachment to racism, colonialism, and the genocides carried out by western imperialism (including that conducted in America). He gives a little attention to the first and virtually none to the last two. An author can choose to focus on whatever he wishes, but in this case, if you are out to bring down the false hero worship of Darwin, as Wilson evidently is, why would you leave out Darwin’s biggest scientific sins? It is puzzling that Wilson would completely miss that Darwin presents genocide as if it were a matter of natural selection, when the truth is that genocide is a case of humans artificially rearranging the world. Wilson has nothing to say about this. That is astounding.

As for racism, though Wilson comments a little on Darwin’s belief in the inferiority of darker-skinned races and savages, his general remarks on this are a little all over the place. Very early in the book, he notes Darwin’s racism (it is “beyond question”) and immediately excuses it by saying that “I would be cautious about judging men and women of the nineteenth century by the standards of the twenty-first.” Over 300 pages later, he throws such caution to the wind and proclaims, “It seems fair, however, to say that Darwin was a direct and disastrous influence, not only on Hitler, but on the whole mid-twentieth-century political mindset.” (Thirty pages earlier he also blames eugenics on Darwin.)  Then he flips back the other way just twenty pages after this: “It would be unfair to saddle Darwin with all the blame for the sorry history of eugenics, and for the habit of mind which produced not only the eugenic movement but the tyrannies of the twentieth century.” So not all the blame, but a considerable portion of it, which is going back on Wilson’s earlier statement of not judging someone by later standards.

I would not deny that Darwin’s outlook has a lot common with later horrors, but if this is so, it is because he was influenced by colonialism and this same colonialism also had an impact on twentieth century tyrannies. European colonialism, with all its horrors, is the connecting link. The science of Darwin’s time was in the middle. It was not leading the way. European imperial politics was creating a terrible inhumanity and Darwin’s science was carried out in service of that politics. He was giving imperialism support, but he was a follower more than a leader. The blame should rightly belong to colonialism for influencing both Darwin and later dictatorships.

Wilson overlooks another point, which is the substance of my two books on Darwin. We do not have to judge Darwin by later standards. There were plenty of people in his time, albeit a minority, who objected to racism and its inhumane consequences. Some of them were evolutionists but quite unlike Darwin’s brand. We forget in fact that evolutionary theory was headed in a kinder and antiracist direction before Charles Darwin came along. This is not a matter of judging Darwin in hindsight. Contemporary standards were enunciated that differed sharply from the predominant, but not exclusive, racism of the era. That no one listened to them, and least of all Darwin who was very aware of a more humane approach to science but shoved it aside, was not their fault, and it is no reason why we should not listen now.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Last month, I posted one paragraph that I will probably add at some future point to my recent book A Short but Full Book on Darwin's Racism.  This time, I am posting another section that I will add one day to the Short book.  I think most of this is understandable as a stand-alone piece:

Most of us have a misconception of what natural selection is. I know I certainly did for a long time. We think it is primarily just one thing, the strong versus the weak, the fit versus the unfit (which is what Darwin often reduced it to). That is a simplification. In reality, it is a whole combination of things, which are subject to change, including climate, food sources, and possible invasion by other species giving the strong or the fit unexpected competition and unexpected help to the weak. So if any of these circumstances change, then when the weak resist the strong, their resistance might suddenly become successful, even though they are still weak (they are weak but in a new environment now). Under natural selection, with all the circumstances which make it up, nothing is guaranteed to the strong—or to the weak. There is no final determination of fitness. The weak defeating the strong is a possibility in natural selection. Antiracism is natural selection asserting itself against the artificial selection of racism, colonialism, and genocide (artificial in part because they seek rapid change and in part because they are the product of human irrationality and a lust for a kind of power that has nothing to do with survival). 

We should always keep in mind that ideas of hierarchy and racism developed in Europe long before anyone thought of evolution. Evolutionary theory and even natural selection are not inherently racist. They can be interpreted another way. Darwin did not find racism in evolution and that is because it isn’t there. He rather brought racist ideas to evolution and incorporated them into a biological process where they do not belong. 

There are only three things inherent in evolutionary theory in its ideal form: 1) a belief that there is a common ancestor for all life on this planet; 2) we are all, all creatures, genetically related (‘genetic’ was used over and over by Chambers in one edition of Vestiges); and 3) the creative force of God or nature is ongoing; it did not spend itself in one burst a long time ago; life is not fixed but still in creative ferment, resulting in a diversity that is not fixed but always changing. The original evolutionists believed this was a more sublime conception of God or nature, and I think they were right. Creation does not end. For people like Chambers, Rafinesque, Erasmus Darwin, Emma Martin, and probably more, it meant that the classes of society were not final either, but open to change and improvement. 

The holistic evolutionists looked at the world and saw this: Life and nature do not just produce the strong and the dominant. Nature also produces the small, the weak, the hungry, the low, the ill-fitted, the bottom. Why? Because from the viewpoint of the whole, every piece is necessary and valuable. Human beings make judgments about ranking things, but the whole (or nature) does not rank anything; everything has a legitimate place. The whole confirms the existence of the small and weak just as much as that of the strong and dominant. Neither has more importance than the other. There is no hierarchy. The struggle for life by the weak is just as valid as the struggle by the strong. An antiracist view is more true to nature and natural selection than a racist view. Evolution gives us lessons of antiracism. Making evolution racist (which is what Darwin did) is an unnatural twist of logic and the facts of nature, which is never racist.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Monday, August 28, 2017


The following is not so much a complete post for this month, but more of a note to myself, something I might want to add at some point to the last chapter of my recent book, A Short but Full Book on Darwin’s Racism:

The problem with western culture is that it accomplished some great things and rather than remain content with that, it turned all this greatness into arrogance, thus destroying its own great gifts. This also describes Darwin, a gifted man who blew up his gifts into arrogant assertions. The previous evolutionists (and his contemporaries Wallace and Gerland) were just as gifted as he, but their effort was to keep the gifts small and far from arrogant assertions of power. They were seeking smallness, not greatness, because they believed in the whole which kept everything in perspective for them. From the point of view of the whole, everything is small. That’s why the first evolutionists have been neglected and unfavorably compared to Darwin. They did not promote power. The western ability to manipulate nature went to our heads. We forgot how to live with anybody who would not conform to our domination. Our domination is a gift from heaven, we said, and we still expect everybody to buy that. We still cannot make up our minds whether evolution is designed and progressive, or an endless meandering, but it does not matter, we say, because anyway you look at it, we come out on top and that’s what is important. We believe in a top and a bottom, and make out one to be more important than the other, while the first thinkers who saw the possibility and probability of evolution believed in the bottom just as much as in the top. We still cannot forgive them for that.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer