BOOK: Darwinism, Democracy, and Race: American Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology in the Twentieth Century

This new book of possible interest to readers would be a good one to request your academic library purchase, as it is a hefty price, as one of the co-authors notes in this list of what you could purchase instead for the same price.


John P. Jackson Jr. and David J. Depew, Darwinism, Democracy, and Race: American Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology in the Twentieth Century (New York: Routledge, 2017), 252 pp.

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Publisher’s description Darwinism, Democracy, and Race examines the development and defence of an argument that arose at the boundary between anthropology and evolutionary biology in twentieth-century America. In its fully articulated form, this argument simultaneously discredited scientific racism and defended free human agency in Darwinian terms. The volume is timely because it gives readers a key to assessing contemporary debates about the biology of race. By working across disciplinary lines, the book’s focal figures–the anthropologist Franz Boas, the cultural anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, and the physical anthropologist Sherwood Washburn–found increasingly persuasive ways of cutting between genetic determinist and social constructionist views of race by grounding Boas’s racially egalitarian, culturally relativistic, and democratically pluralistic ethic in a distinctive version of the genetic theory of natural selection. Collaborators in making and defending this argument included Ashley Montagu, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Lewontin. Darwinism, Democracy, and Race will appeal to advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and academics interested in subjects including Philosophy, Critical Race Theory, Sociology of Race, History of Biology and Anthropology, and Rhetoric of Science.

ARTICLE: Beating the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence: Darwin, social Darwinism and the Turks

A new Darwin article in the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences:

Beating the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence: Darwin, social Darwinism and the Turks

Alper Bilgili

Abstract Despite the vast literature on Darwinism and race, the way in which Darwin’s opinions on race were received and used by non-Western circles has been little studied. In the case of the Turks, Darwin’s comments have been related to British-Ottoman relations, and Darwin was blamed for stoking anti-Turkish sentiment within Europe. This allegedly resulted in the British occupation of Egypt in the 19th century, the demise of the Ottoman Empire, as well as contemporary Neo-Nazi arson attacks in Germany which targeted Turkish migrants. Consequently, Turkish anti-Darwinists perceive Darwinism to be not merely a false scientific theory, but also a political-ideological instrument of Western hegemony wielded against Turkey and the Islamic World. Turkish Darwinists who responded to those claims, on the other hand, presented Darwin as an egalitarian who could overcome the prejudices of his social class. Further scrutiny, however, proves both accounts to be over-simplistic. This paper aims to throw some light on the context within which Darwin expressed his opinions on Turks and thus contribute to the broader discussion of the relationship between Darwinism and race. More importantly, it aims to familiarise Western readers with one of the cultures of creationism which is very little known, despite its great impact on Muslim masses.

VIDEO: James Moore on “Darwin’s Sacred Cause”

“In his lecture at Oregon State University on October 29th, James Moore questioned the established view of Darwin as an objective scientist and showed how passionate opposition to slavery motivated his research and gave him courage to challenge the scientific and religious establishment of his day.”

ARTICLE: A Yahgan for the killing: murder, memory and Charles Darwin

A new Darwin article from the British Journal for the History of Science:

A Yahgan for the killing: murder, memory and Charles Darwin

Joseph L. Yannielli

Abstract In March 1742, British naval officer John Byron witnessed a murder on the western coast of South America. Both Charles Darwin and Robert FitzRoy seized upon Byron’s story a century later, and it continues to play an important role in Darwin scholarship today. This essay investigates the veracity of the murder, its appropriation by various authors, and its false association with the Yahgan people encountered during the second voyage of the Beagle (1831–1836). Darwin’s use of the story is examined in multiple contexts, focusing on his relationship with the history of European expansion and cross-cultural interaction and related assumptions about slavery and race. The continuing fascination with Byron’s story highlights the key role of historical memory in the development and interpretation of evolutionary theory.

ARTICLE: Darwin’s progress and the problem of slavery

From the October 2010 issue of Progress in Human Geography:

Darwin’s progress and the problem of slavery

James Moore

Abstract Legendary as a ‘genius’ out of time, Charles Darwin is said to have revolutionized our understanding of life on earth by explaining nature-history as the purposeless product of directionless variation naturally selected through a chancy struggle for existence. Yet, whatever may be deduced from his theory of natural selection as understood today, Darwin himself was not bound by any such conclusions. His vision of nature-history, for all its haphazardness, was directional, meliorative and hopeful. In the 1830s he went out of his way to develop privately a subversive theory of human evolution, and he pursued the subject with tenacity for three decades before publishing The descent of man in 1871. Underpinning his research was a belief in racial brotherhood rooted in the greatest moral movement of the age, for the abolition of slavery. Darwin extended the abolitionists’ common-descent image to the rest of life, making not just the races, but all races, kin. Human slavery, however, did not evolve into or out of existence. To Darwin it was a ‘sin’ to ‘expiate’ by moral action, and the Origin of species was written with a view towards undermining slavery’s creationist ideologues, most notably the Harvard professor Louis Agassiz. Intractable slavery collided with Darwin’s post-Christian progressivism in the US Civil War, clouding his hopes for humanity, but the Northern victory in 1865 enabled him to carry ‘the grand idea of God hating sin and loving righteousness’ into The descent of man, where the driving of formerly enslaved races out of existence is naturalized as a byproduct of historical progress in which ‘virtue will be triumphant’ at last.

New and Forthcoming Darwin & Evolution Books

First up (chuckle chuckle):

Secrets of the Sixth Edition by Randall Hedtke:

Darwins On the Origin of the Species was originally released in 1859, and by 1872, the sixth and last edition was published, becoming the defining text for evolutionists. This controversial work has become the foundation of modern textbooks for scientific studies in origins, though Darwin himself expressed deep doubts about his own speculations and suppositions. Secrets of the Sixth Editionby Randall Hedtke exposes the critical flaws of this landmark book by using Darwin’s own words against him. Provides an examination of Darwins research and the faulty basis of his scientific writings. Filled with extensive documentation looking at the fatal flaws in Darwins assumptions. Addresses strategies for possible changes to curriculum to address weaknesses in the evolutionary hypothesis. Take an insightful look at Darwins work and its inaccuracies from a fresh and logical perspective. You will discover the often ignored reasoning behind his own abandonment of some of the core mechanisms of evolution later in his life, though they remain unchallenged pillars of unquestioning science today. This informative and east-to-read study boldly declares the powerful truth that only biblical creation can explain. [Randall Hedtke has read, written, and taught about the controversy of creation-evolution for decades. The basis for much of the Secrets of the Sixth Edition were originally formed in a series of essays originally published in the Creation Research Society Quarterly.]

Now to more serious books:

Emma Darwin: A Victorian Life by James D. Loy and Kent M. Loy:

After Charles Darwin’s world-changing HMS Beagle voyage, he found a loyal protector and editor when in 1839 he married Emma Wedgwood (1808–1896) as he sought to document his naturalist and revolutionary scientific ideas. The authors (James is an anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island; Kent is a freelance writer) give us the family’s life from the viewpoint of the “lively and outspoken” Emma, as derived from two volumes of her letters and daily notations. The events they describe include the family’s campaigns against slavery and vivisection. Darwin became increasingly agnostic while Emma was religious (their passel of children were spiritually indifferent), but they lived in mutual respect and upper-class comfort through much of the Victorian era. In spite of Emma’s concentration on her children and extended family, she passionately followed politics and global concerns such as the American Civil War and Irish unrest. The authors’ casual diagnosis of physical and mental ailments mildly mars an otherwise excellent portrait of the English elite during the age of British scientific discovery.

Literature After Darwin: Human Beasts in Western Fiction 1859-1939 (Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-century Writing and Culture) by Virginia Richter:

What makes us human? Where is the limit between human and animal? Is the human species the contingent result of blind evolutionary processes? These pressing questions haunt literature in the wake of Darwin’s shocking claim that humans and apes are descended from a common ancestor. Anxiety concerning the status of humankind is a central theme in Victorian and modernist fiction, ranging from ‘ape narratives’ (e.g. the Tarzan series) to fantastic encounters with missing links, primeval men and ‘races of the future’. All are pervaded by the spectres of degeneration and dehumanisation as well as by apocalyptic visions of the end of humankind. The exploration of these existential anxieties and their various literary expressions stands at the centre of this study which offers detailed and original analyses of a broad range of literary texts, covering the period between the publication of the Origin of Species and the beginning of the Second World War.

Evolutionary Restraints: The Contentious History of Group Selection by Mark E. Borrello:

Much of the history of the evolutionary debate since Darwin has focused on the level at which natural selection occurs. Most biologists acknowledge multiple levels of selection—from the gene, the trait, and the organism, to the family, the group, and  the species. However, it is the debate about group selection that Mark E. Borrello focuses on in Evolutionary Restraints. Tracing the history of biological attempts to determine whether selection could lead to the evolution of fitter groups, Borrello takes as his focus the British naturalist V. C. Wynne-Edwards, who proposed that animals could regulate their own population levels and thereby avoid overexploitation of their food and other resources. By the mid-twentieth century, Wynne-Edwards became the primary advocate for group selection theory, and precipitated a debate that engaged the most significant evolutionary biologists including Ernst Mayr, John Maynard Smith, G.C. Williams and Richard Dawkins. The resultant interpretations and arguments bled out into broader conversations about population regulation, environmental crises, and the evolution of human and animal social behavior. Evolutionary Restraints illuminates both the process of science and the role of controversy in the process. From its origins in Darwin’s own thinking, this debate, Borrello reminds us, remains relevant and alive to this day.

Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology by Alister McGrath:

There remains a widespread perception that Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection marked the demise of any viable Christian natural theology – most notably, that of William Paley. But did Darwinism really shake such fundamental beliefs to the core? Or did Darwin’s “dangerous idea” instead serve to transform and illuminate our views on the relation between the natural world and the divine? Darwinism and the Divine presents a detailed examination of the implications of evolutionary thought for natural theology, from the publication of On the Origin of Species more than a century-and-a-half ago through to the present day. Integrating and extending the latest scholarly research from across a wide variety of disciplines, world-renowned theologian Alister E. McGrath first explores the forms of natural theology that emerged in England from the late 17th century until 1850, showing us how these views were affected by the advent of Darwin’s theories. McGrath offers the most detailed account of the intellectual background to William Paley’s natural theology currently available, and offers an informed assessment of the impact of Darwin on such approaches. He then considers how Christian belief has adapted to Darwinism, and whether there is a place for design both in the world of science and the world of theology. Journeying well beyond On the Origin of the SpeciesDarwinism and the Divine offers a scholarly and thought-provoking consideration of the co-existence of natural theology with Darwinism in today’s world.

Evolution Before Darwin by Pietro Corsi:

In many people’s minds, biology was mired in confusion and superstition until Darwin came, and then there was light. But evolutionary ideas have a long history, and moreover to this day, in France, Lamarck is revered as Darwin’s great predecessor, not as ‘the man who got it wrong’. Evolution was a topic of much debate in France, and also to a lesser extent in Germany and in Italy. Early in the 19th century, geology was all the rage, while arguments about time and the nature of species – were they created, did they change with time – was much discussed. So why did a Darwin appear in England? And moreover why at the end of the 1850s? And why was the response and public take-up of evolutionary ideas so rapid and positive? These are the questions Pietro Corsi considers in this book. He describes the debates in France, Germany, and Italy surrounding Lamarck’s ideas about changing species, against the backdrop of changing political climates (the defeat of Napoleon and its aftermath). And while Continental Europe was convulsed by the 1848 revolutions, and Italy was in the throes of unification, in England perceptions of evolutionary ideas shifted from being associated with dangerous Continental radicalism and atheism, to part of reform and progress. Corsi shows how intellectual opinion shifted in England, driven by such figures as Baden Powell (grandfather of the founder of the boy scouts), and fierce debates on science and religion. The intention of this book is not to undermine Darwin, whose accomplishments as an individual require no justification, but to put him and his work in historical context, and more pertinently in the context of social, political, and intellectual developments in Britain and the Continent. This is an extraordinarily rich and novel discussion involving the history of the development of perhaps the single greatest idea in the life sciences, written by one of the foremost scholars in the field.

Charles Darwin and the Question of Evolution: A Brief History with Documents (The Bedford Series in History and Culture) by Sandra Herbert:

The publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859 is widely regarded as a turning point in knowledge of the natural world. But Darwin’s theory of natural selection was not developed in a vacuum; rather, it represents the culmination of an enormous shift in scientific and popular opinion on the subject of species mutability from the late eighteenth century onward. Through her insightful introduction and engaging collection of documents, Sandra Herbert examines this era of scientific thought and the startling discoveries that led Darwin and others to the conclusion that life has evolved. A wide range of documents from over a dozen authors — including letters, illustrations, scientific tracts, and excerpts from Darwin’s own notebooks and On the Origin of Species — offer a fascinating glimpse into this crucial era of scientific thought. Thoughtful document headnotes, questions for consideration, a chronology, and a selected bibliography provide students with additional context and pedagogical support.

Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards: Philosophical Essays on Darwin’s Theory (Prometheus Prize) by Elliot Sober:

Sensitive to the ways in which Darwin’s outlook differed from that of many biologists today, the main topics that are the focus of this book-common ancestry, group selection, sex ratio, and naturalism-have rarely been discussed in such penetrating detail.

From Man to Ape: Darwinism in Argentina, 1870-1920 by Adriana Novoa and Alex Levine:

Upon its publication, The Origin of Species was critically embraced in Europe and North America. But how did Darwin’s theories fare in other regions of the world? Adriana Novoa and Alex Levine offer here a history and interpretation of the reception of Darwinism in Argentina, illuminating the ways culture shapes scientific enterprise. In order to explore how Argentina’s particular interests, ambitions, political anxieties, and prejudices shaped scientific research, From Man to Ape focuses on Darwin’s use of analogies. Both analogy and metaphor are culturally situated, and by studying scientific activity at Europe’s geographical and cultural periphery, Novoa and Levine show that familiar analogies assume unfamiliar and sometimes startling guises in Argentina. The transformation of these analogies in the Argentine context led science—as well as the interaction between science, popular culture, and public policy—in surprising directions. In diverging from European models, Argentine Darwinism reveals a great deal about both Darwinism and science in general. Novel in its approach and its subject, From Man to Ape reveals a new way of understanding Latin American science and its impact on the scientific communities of Europe and North America.

The Victorian Reinvention of Race: New Racisms and the Problem of Grouping in the Human Sciences (Routledge Studies in Modern British History) by Edward Beasley:

In mid-Victorian England there were new racial categories based upon skin colour. The ‘races’ familiar to those in the modern west were invented and elaborated after the decline of faith in Biblical monogenesis in the early nineteenth century, and before the maturity of modern genetics in the middle of the twentieth. Not until the early nineteenth century would polygenetic and racialist theories win many adherents. But by the middle of the nineteenth century in England, racial categories were imposed upon humanity. How the idea of ‘race’ gained popularity in England at that time is the central focus of The Victorian Reinvention of Race: New Racisms and the Problem of Grouping in the Human Sciences. Scholars have linked this new racism to some very dodgy thinkers. The Victorian Reinvention of Race examines a more influential set of the era’s writers and colonial officials, some French but most of them British. Attempting to do serious social analysis, these men oversimplified humanity into biologically-heritable, mentally and morally unequal, colour-based ‘races’. Thinkers giving in to this racist temptation included Alexis de Tocqueville when he was writing on Algeria; Arthur de Gobineau (who influenced the Nazis); Walter Bagehot of The Economist; and Charles Darwin (whose Descent of Man was influenced by Bagehot). Victorians on Race also examines officials and thinkers (such as Tocqueville in Democracy in America, the Duke of Argyll, and Governor Gordon of Fiji) who exercised methodological care, doing the hard work of testing their categories against the evidence. They analyzed human groups without slipping into racial categorization. Author Edward Beasley examines the extent to which the Gobineau-Bagehot-Darwin way of thinking about race penetrated the minds of certain key colonial governors. He further explores the hardening of the rhetoric of race-prejudice in some quarters in England in the nineteenth century – the processes by which racism was first formed.

The Species Problem: A Philosophical Analysis (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology) by Richard A. Richards:

There is long-standing disagreement among systematists about how to divide biodiversity into species. Over twenty different species concepts are used to group organisms, according to criteria as diverse as morphological or molecular similarity, interbreeding and genealogical relationships. This, combined with the implications of evolutionary biology, raises the worry that either there is no single kind of species, or that species are not real. This book surveys the history of thinking about species from Aristotle to modern systematics in order to understand the origin of the problem, and advocates a solution based on the idea of the division of conceptual labor, whereby species concepts function in different ways – theoretically and operationally. It also considers related topics such as individuality and the metaphysics of evolution, and how scientific terms get their meaning. This important addition to the current debate will be essential for philosophers and historians of science, and for biologists.

Hosts of Living Forms (Penguin Great Ideas) by Charles Darwin:

Charles Darwin transformed our understanding of the world with the idea of natural selection, challenging the notion that species are fixed and unchanging. These writings from “On the Origin of Species” explain how different life forms appear all over the globe, evolve over millions of years, become extinct and are supplanted. “Great Ideas” – Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves – and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives – and destroyed them. Now Penguin brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilization and helped make us who we are.

The Darwinian Tourist: Viewing the World Through Evolutionary Eyes by Christopher Wills:

In The Darwinian Tourist, biologist Christopher Wills takes us on a series of adventures–exciting in their own right–that demonstrate how ecology and evolution have interacted to create the world we live in. Some of these adventures, like his SCUBA dives in the incredibly diverse Lembeh Strait in Indonesia or his encounter with a wild wolf cub in western Mongolia, might have been experienced by any reasonably intrepid traveller. Others, like his experience of being hammered by a severe earthquake off the island of Yap while sixty feet down in the ocean, filming manta rays, stand far outside the ordinary. With his own stunning color photographs of the wildlife he discovered on his travels, Wills not only takes us to these far-off places but, more important, draws out the evolutionary stories behind the wildlife and shows how our understanding of the living world can be deepened by a Darwinian perspective. In addition, the book offers an extensive and unusual view of human evolution, examining the entire sweep of our evolutionary story as it has taken place throughout the Old World. The reader comes away with a renewed sense of wonder about the world’s astounding diversity, along with a new appreciation of the long evolutionary history that has led to the wonders of the present-day. When we lose a species or an ecosystem, Wills shows us, we also lose many millions of years of history. Published to coincide with the International Year for Biodiversity, The Darwinian Tourist is packed with globe-trotting exploits, brilliant color photography, and eye-opening insights into the evolution of humanity and the natural world.

Evolutionary Mythology in the Writings of Kurt Vonnegut: Darwin,Vonnegut and the Construction of an American Culture by Gilbert McGinnis:

This research monograph is an important contribution to the study of the author, Kurt Vonnegut and the great evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin. The book examines Darwin s influence on the American culture that were Vonnegut’s major focus and interest and the source of his importance as a major American writer of the later half of the 20th century. This book is relevant in its attempt to understand, in Vonnegut s novels, how Darwin s theory of evolution functions as a cosmogonic myth that is widely accepted in order to explain why the world is as it is and why things happen as they do, to provide a rationale for social customs and observances, and to establish the sanctions for the rules by which Vonnegut s characters conduct their lives. Moreover, this book deals with how and why Kurt Vonnegut s fiction represents the changing human image resulting from Darwinism. The author discovered and developed his literary theory of Evolution as a Mythology from the novel Galapagos (Kurt Vonnegut,1985). McInnis persuasively developed theory suggests changes to the American (and English) literary landscape with a new and dynamic way to interpret literature, something the literary field has not seen since since Jean-Francois Lyotard described his ideas on narrative in his essay, the Postmodern Condition, published in Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction in the early 1980s.

Lincoln and Darwin: Shared Visions of Race, Science, and Religion by James Lander:

Born on the same day in 1809, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were true contemporaries.  Though shaped by vastly different environments, they had remarkably similar values, purposes, and approaches. In this exciting new study, James Lander places these two iconic men side by side and reveals the parallel views they shared of man and God. While Lincoln is renowned for his oratorical prowess and for the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as many other accomplishments, his scientific and technological interests are not widely recognized; for example, many Americans do not know that Lincoln is the only U.S. president to obtain a patent. Darwin, on the other hand, is celebrated for his scientific achievements but not for his passionate commitment to the abolition of slavery, which in part drove his research in evolution. Both men took great pains to avoid causing unnecessary offense despite having abandoned traditional Christianity. Each had one main adversary who endorsed scientific racism: Lincoln had Stephen A. Douglas, and Darwin had Louis Agassiz. With graceful and sophisticated writing, Lander expands on these commonalities and uncovers more shared connections to people, politics, and events. He traces how these two intellectual giants came to hold remarkably similar perspectives on the evils of racism, the value of science, and the uncertainties of conventional religion. Separated by an ocean but joined in their ideas, Lincoln and Darwin acted as trailblazers, leading their societies toward greater freedom of thought and a greater acceptance of human equality. This fascinating biographical examination brings the mid-nineteenth-century discourse about race, science, and humanitarian sensibility to the forefront using the mutual interests and pursuits of these two historic figures.

Until Darwin, Science, Human Variety and the Origins of Race by B. Ricardo Brown:

Until the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”, the prevailing theory on ‘the species question’ was that humans were made up of five separate species, created at different times and in different places. This view – known as the ‘polygenic theory’ – was particularly favoured by naturalists of the early nineteenth century ‘American School’ as it provided a scientific justification for slavery. Darwin’s Origin demolished this view. This work fills a gap in recent studies on the history of race and science. Focusing on both the classification systems of human variety and the development of science as the arbiter of truth, Brown looks at the rise of the emerging sciences of life and society – biology and sociology – as well as the debate surrounding slavery and abolition.

Evolutionary Theory and the Creation Controversy by Oliver Rieppel:

Evolutionary theory addresses the phenomenon of the origin and diversity of plant and animal species that we observe. In recent times, however, it has become a predominant ideology which has gained currency far beyond its original confines. Attempts to understand the origin and historical development of human culture, civilization and language, of the powers of human cognition, and even the origin of the moral and ethical values guiding and constraining everyday life in human societies are now cast in an evolutionary context. In “Evolutionary Theory and the Creation Controversy” the author examines evolutionary theory from a historical perspective, explaining underlying metaphysical backgrounds and fundamental philosophical questions such as the paradoxical problem of change, existence and creation. He introduces the scientists involved, their research results and theories, and discusses the evolution of evolutionary theory against the background of Creationism and Intelligent Design.

Glenn Beck on Darwin

Beck: “I am not a history teacher.” No shit, Sherlock.

On his program today, Beck espoused the anti-evolutionist claim that Darwin is somehow responsible for racism; he seems to imply that Darwin can be traced to the practice of slavery in America. Slavery, however, was an institution that predated Darwin’s birth and one which he was revolted by (during the Beagle voyage and, as some historians have argued, led to his developing a theory of evolution with common descent). He surprises his viewers with the historical connection between abolitionist Wedgwood with his famous image “Am I Not a Man and a Brother? and his grandson Charles Darwin. Darwin was…. wait for it… “the father of modern-day racism.” Yes, a famous abolitionist had a famous racist for a grandson. But, Darwin was himself a passionate abolitionist, and any claims of racism must be taken in context of the time he lived.

In the beginning of this segment (at this link), Beck urged his viewers to go out and read and get the information for themselves. Why, then, Beck, do you depend on misleading anti-evolutionist propaganda about Darwin and don’t go out and read about it for yourself? Here’s two suggestions: Voyage of the Beagle and Darwin’s Sacred Cause.

ARTICLE: Darwin and Lincoln: Their Legacy of Human Dignity

In Perspectives in Biology and Medicine (Vol. 53, No. 1, Winter 2010, pp. 3-13):

Darwin and Lincoln: Their Legacy of Human Dignity

Felton Earls

Abstract The legacy of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln is to champion the dignity inherent in every human being. The moment of the bicentennial of their births provides an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on ways they have shaped our understanding and commitment to human rights. The naturalist and the constitutional lawyer, so different in circumstance and discipline, were morally allied in the mission to eradicate slavery. The profound lessons to be extracted from the lives of these two icons bind us to the agonizing reality that nearly 150 years after Gettysburg and the publication of the Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, there remains much work to do toward advancing the security, respect, and equality of our species. This article describes how Darwin and Lincoln’s inspiring legacies guided the author’s personal choices as a scientist and activist. The essay concludes with a set of questions and challenges that confront us, foremost among which is the need to balance actions in response to the violation of negative rights by actions in the pursuit of positive rights.

Also in the same issue, a review of Darwin’s Sacred Cause by Jane Maienschein.

Darwin/evolution video miscellany

So what if Darwin was a racist? (The Atheist Experience):

Lincoln and Darwin (with Sandra Herbert):

Darwin FormfromForm (Univ. of Cincinnati’s Darwin-inspired art exhibit):

Darwinian Grandeur: A Biologist’s Journey Through Evolution’s Tangled Bank (lecture with Kenneth Miller):

Darwinian Grandeur: A Biologist’s Journey Through Evolution’s Tangled Bank (Q&A with Kenneth Miller):

“beagle” (Composed and performed in the Spring of 2009 for the bicentennial of Charles Darwin):

Darwin’s Edinburgh and An Entangled Bank (exhibits):

A Bunch of Reviews of ‘Darwin’s Sacred Cause’

In the weekly newsletter Scientists’ Bookshelf Monthly is a round-up of a bunch of reviews of Desmond and Moore’s Darwin’s Sacred Cause. Robert J. Richards reviews the book for American Scientist, while

W. F. Bynum reviews Darwin’s Sacred Cause for Nature. Christopher Benfey discusses the book in the New York Times, and Thomas Hayden assesses it in the Washington Post. Matt Ridley evaluates it for the Spectator; Gregory M. Lamb critiques it in the Christian Science Monitor. Richard Carter reviews the book for the Beagle Project Blog, and it is reviewed by Charles Petztold on Petzold Book Blog. Darwin’s Sacred Cause and Darwin’s Island (by Steve Jones) are reviewed in the Guardian by Gillian Beer.

Darwin/Lincoln Display at MSU

For the Darwin & Lincoln Bicentennials, George Keremedjiev of the American Computer Museum in Bozeman created an exhibit in Wilson Hall at Montana State University (in the same display case as the “From Bacon to Bits” exhibit). Titled “Evolution of the Future,” the exhibit offers objects relating to both Darwin and Lincoln, the Great Emancipators: “this exhibit seeks to honor the two men who most succeeded in liberating humanity from the shackles of scientific ignorance and human bondage, Charles Darwin & Abraham Lincoln.” Some photos:

Evolution of the Future

Evolution of the Future

Evolution of the Future

Evolution of the Future

See more photos here.

Imperial College Lecture with authors of ‘Darwin’s Sacred Cause’

Tim Jones)

Discussing Darwin's Abolitionism (photo: Tim Jones)

Over at Zoonomian, a science communication blog, Tim Jones discusses a program with Adrian Desmond and James Moore discussing their book Darwin’s Sacred Cause with Olivia Judson of The New York Times. He links to the audio/video of the program as well. Thanks Tim!

Darwin issue of Free Inquiry

Free Inquiry, Feb/Mar 2009

Free Inquiry, Feb/Mar 2009

The February/March 2009 issue of Free Inquiry has a special section on Darwin’s 200th:

Features: Darwins 200th

The Power of Darwin by Richard Dawkins (online, response from Larry Moran)

Creationism du Jour: The ‘Evidence against Evolution’ by Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch

Nothing New Under the Sun: The Louisiana Science Education Act by Barbara Forrest

Rebel Giants: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, 1809—2009 by David R. Contosta

Darwin’s Views on Race Matter by R.G. Price

How to Discredit the Theory of Evolution: Advice for Believers by Christian Wright (online)

Taking Responsibility for Ourselves by Ronald Aronson

Radio show on “Darwin’s Sacred Cause”

As part of BBC’s Darwin season, you can listen to Adrian Desmond and James Moore discussing their new book, Darwin’s Sacred Cause, on Radio 4’s Leading Edge. Go here, then click on “Listen to the latest edition” above the photo of the show’s host. This aired on January 22nd…

February 2009 Magazines cover Darwin

Be looking forward to the February issues of Natural History, National Geographic, and Smithsonian.

Natural History contains an article (“Seeing Corals with the Eye of Reason,” not online) by Richard Milner about a rediscovered painting that celebrates Darwin’s view of life. Also, Natural History has their own blog that I didn’t know about, but there’s no RSS for it, factotem: findings and musings from Natural History’s fact checker.

Nat Geo, February 2009

Nat Geo, February 2009

National Geographic will have articles by David Quammen, “Darwin’s First Clues,” and Matt Ridley, “Modern Darwins.”  Also, a video with Quammen and a Darwin quiz.

Smithsonian, Febuary 2009

Smithsonian, Febuary 2009

Smithsonian‘s cover story is on Darwin and Lincoln, with three articles: “Lincoln’s Contested Legacy,” “What Darwin Didn’t Know,” and “Twin Peaks” (on their connection).

Darwin related historical seminars at

At the Institute for Historical Research in London. From their website:

Reconfiguring the British: Nation, Empire, World 1600-1900
Convenors: Catherine Hall (UCL), Keith McClelland (UCL), Clare Midgley (Sheffield Hallam University), Zoe Laidlaw (RHUL)

Venue: Wolfson Room, IHR

Time: Thursday, 5.30pm

Spring Term 2009

22 January James A. Secord (Cambridge)
Global Darwin

5 February Sally Shuttleworth (Oxford)
Children and monkeys in Victorian evolutionary philosophy

19 February Leonore Davidoff (Essex)
Darwin and his family

5 March Pamela Scully (US)
Sara Baartman

19 March David Feldman (Birkbeck), Cora Kaplan (QMUL) and Ali Rattansi
Round Table on Race Matters

“Darwin: shaped by slavery” by Adrian Desmond

In the Times Online (Jan. 22, 2009):

Darwin: shaped by slavery

The evolutionary ideas explored in On the Origin of Species may have been fostered by its author’s abolitionist beliefs

Adrian Desmond

Enormous strides have been made recently in understanding Charles Darwin. The latest evidence suggests that Darwin’s anti-slavery beliefs helped to shape his theory of evolution. He became an evolutionist in 1837, after the Beagle voyage, but did not publish On the Origin of Species until 1859. The unique theory that he devised after stepping ashore rested on the “common descent” of all animals and plants – an approach that spawned the “tree of life” image that was Darwin’s distinctive way of looking at nature.

Historians have wondered why he adopted such a genealogical perspective with its joined bloodlines. The answer, it now seems, is to be sought in his anti-slavery heritage. Darwin’s grandfather was Josiah Wedgwood, founder of the 250-year-old chinaware company that collapsed only weeks ago. Wedgwood’s cameo, depicting a kneeling slave begging “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” is a highly recognisable icon. It suggests the very “brotherhood” image of race relations that may have influenced Darwin’s thinking on “common descent”. If black and white people can look so different yet share the same umpteenth grandparent, perhaps all animals could be similarly related.

To assess the Darwin family’s commitment to anti-slavery, Professor James Moore, from the Open University, has burrowed into the Wedgwood archives. He discovered an abolitionist obsession. Darwin’s aunt, Sarah Wedgwood, gave more to the anti-slavery movement than any other woman in Britain. Darwin’s mother and wife were Wedgwoods and anti-slavery was what Darwin called a “sacred cause”. He was taught to see the oppressed black as a “brother”. This explains why, when he went to Edinburgh University at 16, he could apprentice himself to a freed Guyanese slave to learn the art of bird preservation without thinking it infra dig. That former slave became an “intimate” friend.

Nowhere was Darwin more outraged by slavery than in South America. During the Beagle voyage he saw the aftermath of slave revolts and the instruments of torture, and heard of a planter who threatened to sell the children of recalcitrant slaves. “It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble,” he wrote. Slave trading was ubiquitous here. State documents show that, on her previous journey, even Beagle’s supply ship was a former slaver – and after being sold it returned to slave-smuggling while Darwin was in South America.

White masters considered slaves subhuman. They were assumed to be another species. It is no coincidence that Darwin, fresh off the Beagle, took an opposite tack. In his first evolution notes he railed against this view and extended the Darwin-Wedgwood motto, making the black person a “Man and a Brother”. He joined the races by giving them a common ancestor, uniting all “animals, our fellow brethren in pain, disease death & suffering … our slaves in the most laborious work” by means of trillions of “common descents”. Each animal and plant had a pedigree that ultimately united it with every other one.

The “common descent” image is so common now that we have lost sight of its racial roots. Those who execrate Darwin may be staggered to learn that humanitarianism lay behind his profoundest achievement.

Darwin’s Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins, by Adrian Desmond and James Moore, is published by Allen Lane on January 29, £25

See also a review of this book at The Friends of Charles Darwin.

Before Darwin There Was No Slavery

If Darwin caused slavery, then we should know…. Well, this book apparently will tell us just that… if I take the title as intended. I haven’t read this book, nor seen a review, but I don’t think I need anyone telling me that it’s just more creationist baloney… I already know.

Darwin’s Plantation: Evolution’s Racist Roots by [no surprise] Ken Ham and Charles Ware.
Product Description from Join Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham and president of Crossroads Bible College Dr. Charles Ware as they examine the racist historical roots of evolutionary thought and what the Bible has to say about this disturbing issue. This fascinating book gives a thorough history of the effect of evolution on the history of the United States, including slavery and the civil rights movement, and goes beyond to show the global harvest of death and tragedy which stems from Darwin’s controversial theories. You will also learn what the Christian’s view of racism should be and what the Bible has to say about it in a compassionate and uniquely compelling perspective.