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Friday, December 17, 2010

Darwin and racism: Did Darwin change his mind?

British physicist David Tyler notes this article:
Did Darwin change his mind about the Fuegians?

Gregory Radick

Endeavour, Volume 34, Issue 2, June 2010, Pages 50-54 | doi:10.1016/j.endeavour.2010.04.002

Abstract: Shocked by what he considered to be the savagery he encountered in Tierra del Fuego, Charles Darwin ranked the Fuegians lowest among the human races. An enduring story has it, however, that Darwin was later so impressed by the successes of missionaries there, and by the grandeur they discovered in the native tongue, that he changed his mind. This story has served diverse interests, religious and scientific. But Darwin in fact continued to view the Fuegians as he had from the start, as lowly but improvable. And while his case for their unity with the other human races drew on missionary evidence, that evidence concerned emotional expression, not language.
From the Intro: Like the notorious tale of Darwin's deathbed conversion to Christianity, this story of a near-deathbed conversion to a more enlightened view of what his generation called the ‘lower races’ has proved tenacious. And as with the former, the evidence for the latter is, we shall see, uncompelling. But in considering it we have the chance to take up a number of worthwhile questions. There is, most obviously, the question of Darwin's attitude to race, the subject of a major new study from Adrian Desmond and James Moore."

[ ... ]

Does it matter that, in all probability, Darwin never changed his mind about the (improvable) lowness of the Fuegians? One might think that the enterprises of missionaries and scientists stand or fall on their merits, whatever Darwin would have thought. And even the most worshipful of his admirers will admit that, by the light of present-day science, Darwin got lots of things wrong, so the possibility of another mistake should hardly be surprising. The stakes are considerably higher, however, for anyone concerned to understand what Darwin wrought and how science and society have changed since his time. Darwinian biology no longer orders the human races hierarchically, of course. But it once did. Learning to live without the myth of a race-egalitarian Darwin is a long way from learning what brought about the change. But it is a step in the right direction.
News around here, actually, that Darwinists would admit that Darwin got anything wrong. If they did, the posterior would be far too big to cover.

Incidentally, Darwin's co-theorist, the much-neglected and subtly maligned Wallace, was not a racist.

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