September 1, 2017


Was Charles Darwin the true father of eugenics? : His mad, bad, dangerous theory of evolution would profoundly influence Hitler, according to A.N. Wilson (Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, 2 September 2017, The Spectator)

[T]he theory quickly outstripped his scientific data, and instead became a grand narrative seemingly capable of explaining the entire history of life on earth.

Seen through Darwin's eyes, suddenly the world looked very different. Birdsong was no longer an innocent celebration, but a set of warnings and sexual invitations; flowers were no longer cheerful splashes of colour in the landscape, but hostile organisms engaged in a turf war. Wherever you looked, different life forms were part of an endless struggle for survival. The only problem, Wilson points out, is that this was a myth.

The fossil record and recent DNA discoveries indicate that evolution does not proceed through infinitely small gradations; rather nature makes sudden leaps. Nor does progress depend only upon selfishness and struggle. Collaboration is just as important as competition: 'Ants don't build anthills by fighting one another; nor bees hives.' And it turns out that the same is true of evolutionary theory itself, for although Darwin's was the name that became attached to the idea of species evolving through their adaptation to environment, this was the result of co-operative scientific efforts that could be traced back to his grandfather Erasmus Darwin and beyond. [...]

The picture of Darwin that emerges from this biography is a mixed one. On the one hand, he spent most of his adult life as a martyr to symptoms that ranged from eczema to flatulence, and he was patiently looked after by his wife Emma, or 'Mammy' as he liked to call her, as if she hadn't so much married him as adopted him. On the other hand, he assumed that men like him were naturally superior, not only because of their wealth (an immensely rich father and marriage into the Wedgwood family meant that Darwin never had to earn a living) but also because of their race, expressing his relief that 'civilised nations are everywhere supplanting barbarous nations'. He was an unsentimental believer in Malthus's theory of populations regulating themselves through famine and disease, but was devastated when his ten-year old daughter Annie died of tuberculosis. And as his religious faith slowly slipped away, so he developed a theory that would later become a substitute religion for many. 

Posted by at September 1, 2017 6:43 PM