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

Saturday, July 29, 2017


From the very first sentence of the Introduction to The Origin of Species, Darwin presents his journey around the world on the Beagle as a kind of fact finding mission, the fruits of which he assembled when he got back home and, after careful study, he came up with the theory of evolution. In later letters, he presented it that way too. It has become part of the myth about Darwin. He knew better. That’s not how science works.

In conversations and in letters, when discussing the nature of science in general, Darwin offered a more accurate version of scientific procedure. He would tell people that you start with theories and study the evidence through the lens of a particular theory. In at least one letter, he said that he did not think one could be a good observer unless one looked at the evidence with a theory in mind. He told Anton Dohr, a German zoologist, that he always begins with a priori solutions and he applies these to the facts until he finds one that explains all the evidence.

That is a more truthful exposition of what happened on his Beagle voyage. He brought the theory of evolution with him, as espoused by his grandfather Erasmus Darwin and French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. He was already given this theory and then compared how much sense this theory made of the facts to how well the theory of special creation accounted for the same evidence. It was no contest, as some previous scientists had also realized.

There is another way to do science. It is reported in The Autobiography of Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, an American geologist. He was observing another scientist studying molluscs and becoming frustrated by the transitional forms he was finding. Molluscs happened to be Lamarck’s area of expertise and were one of the things that led him to evolution. But this scientist threw one of these transitional molluscs on the floor, stomped on it with his heel, and said, “That’s the proper way to serve a damned transitional form.” Just get rid of the evidence you don’t like. If it does not fit the theory you favor, it must go.

Unfortunately, this latter method is the one so many writers and scholars use when studying the question of whether or not Darwin brought racism into his work. Of course he did. I have published two books on this. One is an 800 page tome, Darwin’s Racism: The Definitive Case, and the other is a mere 200 pages, A Short but Full Book on Darwin’s Racism (both available at all online vendors). The evidence is overwhelming. Darwin was committed to seeing life as a hierarchy of groups subordinate to groups, a phrase that occurs throughout Origin, and insisted that in evolution, the dominant groups would become ever more dominant. He also insisted that the more intellectual or civilized races would gradually exterminate the lower races and that when the lower races are all gone, humanity as a whole will rise in rank.

There is much more but even a brief glance at Darwin’s work makes the racism obvious. The next to last paragraph of The Descent of Man reveals his disgust with savages, and Chapter 7, “On the Races of Man”, in the same book, presents his racism in full bloom. His words are imperishable. No amount of stomping or spinning can get rid of them. It is long past time to pay attention and reject scientific racism, even when, or especially when, an icon commits it.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Perhaps the best known document produced by the United Nations is The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Not far behind is the Genocide Convention. Much less well-known is that from 1950 to 1967, the UN through Unesco put out four statements on race and, in 1952, a very short book, The Race Concept: The Results of an Inquiry. These statements were framed by a committee of scientists and signed on to by many more. These were the postwar years. The horror of what the Nazis had done had not worn off yet. The concern was to thoroughly repudiate and invalidate the Nazis’ idea of race. Even scientists who thought there were important differences between races wanted to make it clear that the Nazis were an abomination and no scientist should support what they did.

The first statement (1950) disputed the value of the term ‘race’ and suggested that it would be better to talk about ethnic groups. The history of groups is more important than genetic differences. This first statement considered race more a myth than a biological fact. “For all practical purposes ‘race’ is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth. The myth of ‘race’ has created an enormous amount of human and social damage … and caused untold suffering” (§14).  The social and biological unity of mankind was stressed.

Unesco got a fair amount of pushback from scientists who argued that race may indeed be a valuable concept and that they should be allowed to study racial differences without any ideological constraints. This resulted in a second statement on race in 1951 (discussed below). Then in 1952, in The Race Concept, they explained why they had made certain changes. Unesco acknowledged the criticisms made of the first statement and quoted at length from various remarks made by scientists who agreed and disagreed with various parts of the first statement. The two biggest criticisms that were made were of the opinion that “there are no mental differences between racial groups,” urging the need to keep an open mind about this, and the opinion that biology supports the idea that “man is born with drives towards co-operation.”

In 1951, Unesco published its second statement on race to accommodate the criticisms it had received. There is some controversy as to whether this second statement caved into scientific racism. In The Race Concept, Unesco acknowledged that this charge had been made and that some people regarded the criticisms of the first statement “as representing a victory for racism and the defeat of a naive humanitarianism.”

I have not studied the first two statements carefully enough to decide whether the second one represented a major break from what they had sought to accomplish in the first. But it is interesting that the second one stressed two points about how terrible racism is, which it had failed to do in the first statement. In order to strike an even greater blow against Nazism, the 1951 statement flatly declared that there is no such thing as a pure race (§7) and that popular ideas of superior and inferior races are not supported by science (§4).

What has Darwin to do with all this? The 1950 statement dragged Darwin in as support for an idea it wished to promote, namely, that “a co-operative spirit is not only natural to men, but more deeply rooted than any self-seeking tendencies” (§14). That is quite a stretch concerning Darwin. The statement quoted the following from The Descent of Man (this is near the end of Chapter 4): “As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.”

This is one of the worst cases of quoting out of context that I have ever seen. Anyone barely familiar with Darwin’s work would know that he believed the “lower” races of mankind were incapable of achieving this kind of morality. In Descent, he was convinced that savages would never help a stranger. Only civilized human beings do that. He believed in the Spanish maxim, “Never, never trust an Indian.” Even in the paragraph Unesco quoted from, Darwin went on to state that we should extend our sympathies to the lower animals, but offered his opinion that this was an unknown feeling in savages, except towards their pets. Darwin himself extended very little sympathy “to the men of all nations and races.” He insisted that the civilized races would exterminate the lower races and expressed no regrets about it. Nowhere in his system of thought did Darwin make cooperation among all human beings a centerpiece. In one letter, he openly stated his dislike of cooperative schemes and his belief that anything opposed to the principle of competition would be very bad for society.

Interestingly, one scientist implicitly objected to Unesco’s misuse of Darwin by pointing out what Darwin really believed. The Race Concept provides a lengthy quotation from Dr. C.D. Darlington of Britain. In it, Darlington quotes from a more representative part of Descent where Darwin states of human races, “Their mental characteristics are likewise very distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotional, but partly in their intellectual faculties” (near the beginning of Chapter 7 of Descent). Darlington says, “Fortunately genetics has given us every reason to agree with him [Darwin]” and also adds, “By trying to prove that races do not differ in these respects we do no service to mankind.” In another statement in this Unesco book, Dr. A.E. Mirsky from NewYork, addressing an article by Darlington, disparagingly refers to “the guesses and prejudices of Darlington.” I have no doubt that Mirsky was correct about Darlington’s scientific work, but as to quoting Darwin accurately in context, Darlington was right.

The Unesco statements on race were not without controversy. Still, Unesco tried to do the right thing and raised awareness of the dangers of scientific racism. Too bad it took a misstep in misrepresenting what Darwin believed. If we really want to defeat scientific racism, we should be honest about Darwin as one of its proponents.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


[My books are available at all online vendor sites.  The most recent is A Short but Full Book on Darwin's Racism. It's about 200 pages.  It is based on the one I published last year, Darwin's Racism: The Definitive Case, Along with a Close Look at Some of the Forgotten, Genuine Humanitarians of That Time. I also call it the 800 page tome. The 200 page book might be more pleasing to some people.]

A while back, I believe I mentioned that it is quite common for books and articles about 19th century scientific racism to be published which never mention Darwin as an example or mention him briefly in a sentence or two and then pass over him. The latest case of this is Siep Stuurman’s The Invention of Humanity: Equality and Cultural Difference in World History (2017). It is a general review of humanitarian thinking from ancient times to the present, covering many different civilizations, not just western thought. I recommend it, if only for the reason that every reader will encounter here very interesting writers from many different countries, many of whom you never heard of. We can all learn a lot from this book.

But the silence about Darwin is stunning. Stuurman devotes one chapter to 19th century scientific racism in Europe and America. Darwin does not appear, not even once, not even in a brief aside. Yet he mentions others who espoused the very same ideas as Darwin. He quotes Robert Knox (whom Stephen Gould also dealt with in The Mismeasure of Man), “Already in a few years, we have cleared Van Diemen’s Land of every human aboriginal; Australia, of course, will follow, and New Zealand next.” Stuurman calls this “Knox’s genocidal vision.” Darwin said the same in more polished language in his published journal: “All the aborigines have been removed … so that Van Diemen’s Land enjoys the great advantage of being free from a native population.”

Stuurman also says, “According to Knox, the ‘dark races’ would lose the struggle for world supremacy and were destined for extinction.” Darwin embraced the same exact thought many times in his letters and at least once publicly in The Descent of Man: “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.” Yet Darwin gets the silent treatment by Stuurman and so many other scholars.

Stuurman describes a social Darwinist theory of history as “permitting, and at times demanding, the extermination of peoples deemed ‘inferior’ …” But this kind of thinking comes directly from Darwin, which Stuurman neglects to mention. In one of his letters, Darwin said “… the Human race, viewed as a unit, will have risen in rank” when all the lower races have been exterminated. Almost every racist thought discussed by Stuurman can be found in Darwin.

So what does the scholarly world accomplish when they write (or rather, fail to write) about Darwin this way? How can one leave out the major biological scientist of the 19th century from a discussion of scientific racism? Scholars have created a safe haven for racism in Darwin’s writings. Darwin gets away with it because academia is committed to letting him get away with it. And because Darwin was a relatively polite racist, scholars have given permission to racism to forge ahead as long as it expresses itself in subtle ways that at least do not appear offensive at first glance. Be nice about it and academia will allow you to be as racist as you want to be. This is a very dangerous game scholars are playing. As long as the full truth about scientific racism is not investigated, it will always return, and by leaving Darwin out of it, we are covering up that full truth.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Friday, April 28, 2017


My previous book, an 800 page tome, Darwin's Racism: The Definitive Case, Along with a Close Look at Some of the Genuine, Forgotten Humanitarians of That Time, has been available at online vendors since last July.

My new book is a compact version of that and will be available at online sites within the next few days. It is called A Short but Full Book on Darwin's Racism. It's about 200 pages. Here is the table of contents for the main chapters:

1   Brother Ant, Sister Worm
2   Never, Never Trust an Indian
3   Defenses of Darwin
4   Georg Gerland:  Who Rejected Whom?
5   I Weep for You, I Deeply Sympathize
6   J. Langfield Ward:  Strangers in the Land of Their Birth
7    Connect the Whirling World:  More Holistic Evolutionists
8    Small and Broken
9    A Strange Coming and Going

And here is the descriptive paragraph on the back of the book:

Darwin once pondered what it would be like to talk to an ape, “if he could take a dispassionate view of his own case.” The ape, he said, would have to admit he was inferior to humans. Darwin was obsessed with ranking organisms. It was no different with human beings. It is not hard to prove that racism deeply infected the work of Charles Darwin. Turn the pages of his writings—his letters, Journal, Notebooks, and published works—and it’s there. There is hardly a source that does not contain it. It seems like every time he picked up his pen, he had something to say about the inferiority of certain races. For him, evolution produced inequality. But Darwin and evolution are not synonymous terms. It is possible to criticize Darwin without criticizing the theory of evolution. Some previous evolutionists, as well as some of his contemporaries, were more holistic and humanitarian than he was. They looked for connections rather than disconnections and ranking. They defied the ideology of conquest and domination of their day and paid a price. We can continue to eliminate them from our memories, or we can retrieve their voices and let them inspire.

I hope this shorter book will prove to be more accessible than the longer, definitive work.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


[My big book, Darwin's Racism, is available at all online vendor sites.  My newer, shorter A Short But Full Book On Darwin's Racism will hopefully be available in a few months.]

More than ever, I am struck almost weekly by the myths about Darwin that are continued in popular writing. These are not just myths about Darwin. They are myths about the history of science. A recent article by James Ryerson, reviewing three new books about human nature, in The New York Times Book Review (Mar. 12), provides another example.

The first sentence of his article is this: “Ever since Darwin came up with the theory of natural selection, there has been a question—in some quarters, a worry—about whether human beings remain in any meaningful sense unique creatures.” Ryerson goes on to say that “Darwin’s theory suggests” that there are “merely differences of degree” between humans and other animals. There is so much wrong with this way of once again elevating Darwin to unique status.

First of all, it was not originally the theory of natural selection that suggested these things. The general theory of evolution (species gradually descending from previous species, whatever the cause may be), which was never Darwin’s private property, suggests this gradual progression from animals to humans. Secondly, it is not that we have lived with this idea “Ever since Darwin”. This is false history. Many people before Darwin had written about this. Robert Chambers had expressed this 15 years before Darwin’s Origin of Species.

In 1844, in Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, Chambers wrote, “The difference between mind in the lower animals and in man is a difference in degree only.” He also stressed, “Bound up as we thus are by an identity in the character of our mental organization with the lower animals ...” and drew more radical conclusions from this than Darwin would. Chambers believed we had to respect the rights and feelings of animals. Darwin never went that far.

The idea is even older than Chambers. The whole idea of the great chain of being is that all life on this planet, including human beings, is linked together by the most minute differences from creature to creature. In the late 18th century, Soame Jenyns, in a brief essay on the chain of being, explained, “this animal life rises from this low beginning in the shell-fish.” He tells his readers that God has so arranged creation that all the parts “are so blended together, and shaded off into each other, that no line of difference is anywhere to be seen”; and “… the links … are so minute, and so finely wrought, that they are quite imperceptible to our eyes … invisible to the most inquisitive eye.” Even intelligence exists in slight degrees of variation: “this animal life rises from this low beginning in the shell-fish, thro’ innumerable species of insects, fishes, birds, and beasts to the confines of reason, where, in the dog, the monkey, and chimpanzè, it unites so closely with the lowest degree of that quality in man, that they cannot easily be distinguished from each other.”

Many other examples could be given, but I think Jenyns and Chambers are enough for the moment.

Charles Darwin may be more famous than other authors, but that is not because he gave us new, unheard of ideas. The idea of a gradation of intelligence throughout the forms of life was definitely not new. The reasons for Darwin’s fame have more to do with a quest for power by academics. This quest results in erasing anyone from history who gets in the way of academic mythmaking.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Sunday, February 26, 2017


Last summer, I published my big book, Darwin's Racism: The Definitive Case, Along with a Close Look at Some of the Forgotten, Genuine Humanitarians of That Time, an 800 page tome.  It is available at all online vendors, but I realize its size may be a bit much for many people. So I recently decided that what is needed is a very short book on the subject. I just finished writing it. It will be called A Short But Full Book on Darwin's Racism and it will be well under 200 pages (probably about 175).  I hope it will be available in a few months.

Here is the description I've written for the back cover of this new book:

Darwin once pondered what it would be like to talk to an ape, if it could be “dispassionate” about its own case. The ape, he said, would have to admit it was inferior to humans. Darwin was obsessed with ranking organisms. It was no different with human beings. It is not hard to prove that racism deeply infected the work of Charles Darwin. Turn the pages of his writings—his letters, his journal, Notebooks, and published works—and it’s there. There is hardly a source that does not contain it. It seems like every time he picked up his pen, he had something to say about the inferiority of certain races. For him, evolution produced inequality. But Darwin and evolution are not synonymous terms. It is possible to criticize Darwin without criticizing the theory of evolution. Some of his contemporary evolutionists were more holistic and humanitarian than he was. They were far more interested in connections than disconnections and ranking. We don’t remember them because they defied the ideology of conquest and domination of their day. The consequence of that is to be erased from history.

I have completely reorganized how I present the evidence.  It's interesting to rewrite a book in this way.  Some points gain in power because the evidence for them is presented more compactly.  Not only the points about Darwin's racism, but the presentation of the humanitarians who had a more holistic vision of evolution than he did gains by being concentrated in a higher strength solution, instead of being diluted by a lot of other facts. Just wait till you hear about Georg Gerland, J. Langfield Ward, Robert Chambers, Emma Martin, and more, all of whom were far more humane in their pursuit of science than Darwin was. We need people like that.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

Sunday, January 29, 2017


[By the way, my book Darwin’s Racism: The Definitive Case is available at all online vendors.]

Here is the review of Peter Cozzens’s The Earth is Weeping, about the violent taking of the territory in western America from the Indians, which I posted (2 stars) on Amazon in December (same title as title of this post):

There are two main things to say about this book. One is that most of the evidence Cozzens provides contradicts his thesis. The second is a question: How could Cozzens not see what he has done?

When Cozzens says he wants to “bring historical balance” and a “nuanced understanding” to this history, it is clear that he means he wants to exonerate white people of the most terrible accusations about them. For him, the right conclusion is that this is a story of “a displacement of one immigrant people by another …” as if the white invasion were at bottom an innocent affair. He keeps company with all the 19th century writers who described white invasion of the lands of Indigenous peoples as a natural force, a current that could not be stopped and therefore could not be morally judged. Cozzens refers to “the social and economic forces that impelled the whites to take their [Indians’] country.” It is like describing racism as the natural forces of domination by one group over other groups.

Yet everything in Cozzens’s book speaks against his conclusion. Almost every page testifies to injustices, atrocities, massacres, and deceitfulness committed against the Indians. By contrast, there is very little wrongdoing by Indians here. More typical of what he has to say about Indians is that they tried to keep the peace (most of the time). He describes events where “none of the Indians … had caused any trouble,” and “there had been precious few [Indian offenses],” and even “None of the Indians could foresee the horrible consequences their passive resistance would soon engender.” I appreciate his honesty about the details, but his conclusion is dishonest.

So how can Cozzens so badly fail to see what he has presented? I can only guess, and even if I am wrong about the reason, what I am about to describe constitutes a major failure of his approach. There is an issue that haunts this book but is never directly confronted: The question of genocide. The term itself appears only 4 times. But variations of ‘exterminate’ come up 12 times. More significant is that I counted 38 places where genocide is hinted at—I mean the use of such phrases as ‘wriggles against his doom’, ‘adapt … or perish’, ‘the circle of their world grew smaller’, ‘hunger and hopelessness’, ‘choke the life out of’, and more.

Cozzens tries to dismiss the whole issue by stating “… the federal government never contemplated genocide.” That might be technically true but there is so much more to it. Raphaël Lemkin, who coined the term, insisted that genocide varied in methods and intensity. Outright killing was only one way. You can also harass and demoralize a people to death. You can organize a legal system rigged against the Natives. You can take actions to lower the birth rate. Government bears responsibility for some of these things, even if it never makes genocide official policy. The government let settlers know that they could do what they wanted to Indians and they would never be punished for it.

This was uneven combat. Entire Indian families, women, children, aged, and all, were kept on the run by soldiers who were not dragging their families with them. The government was conducting war against a people, not just enemy warriors—which Cozzens fails to emphasize. Cozzens tries to be even-handed about atrocities, but there is a difference between atrocities committed to survive or out of frustration, and atrocities committed out of greed to obtain complete power and all the land. Occasional Indian atrocities do not demonstrate equal culpability.

One demoralizing activity was the constant removal of Indians. Many Indian tribes were not just removed once to a reservation. They were removed again and again and again. Each time whites coveted Indian land, the government stood behind yet another removal. One tribe was removed 8 times in 16 years. They hardly had time to settle down before they were uprooted again.

Constant stress lowers the birth rate, another genocidal factor. They knew this in the 19th century, though they used other terms. Darwin called stress ‘changed conditions of life.’ He was quite aware that it negatively affected the fertility of Native peoples and expressed no regrets about it. Europeans and Americans understood what they were doing and kept doing it.

Another demoralizing factor was the constant talk of extermination. In 1881, in America, Helen Hunt wrote, “The word ‘extermination’ is as ready on the frontiersman’s tongue to-day as it was a hundred years ago.” She also pointed out, “early in our history was the ingenious plan evolved of first maddening the Indians into war, and then falling upon them with exterminating punishment.” Cozzens actually gives a few examples of this, without using this expression. Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple, an Indian sympathizer, said in 1864, “We have heard a high Indian official [a white official over the Indians] declare, as if he approved of the atrocious sentiment, that ‘there were many wise men who thought the best policy was to exterminate the Indians,’ and we ventured to tell him plainly, that ‘no one but Almighty God could exterminate …’” A British pamphlet published in 1816 stated that it was certain that “American policy is directed towards the total extermination of the Indians.” Washington Irving made more or less the same point in 1813. There was so much more of this.

I value this book for much of the information it contains. But I cannot value it as a whole because of the dishonest conclusion Cozzens is in pursuit of. Rather than face the issue of how much genocide played a role influencing policies, Cozzens pretends that it was just natural forces at work.

That was the end of the review. If I could have added one thing, it would have been this: Avoiding the issue of genocide as Cozzens does in this book (except for a few glancing mentions) would be like writing a history of German-Jewish relations in the first half of the 20th century and never mentioning the Holocaust. It would be unthinkable to write about Jewish history like this. But this is exactly what Cozzens does. And it is not only Cozzens. Many historians write about Native American history as if it were a series of battles between Indians and whites, or a progression of social forces against an inferior culture that could not withstand the innocent pressure of another culture. The larger picture of genocide is simply shoved aside. How is that honest history?

© 2107 Leon Zitzer