SOCIAL DARWINISM – AN OXYMORON?
A criticism sometimes levelled against Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution is the way its central tenet (evolution by natural selection) was carried into the social and political sphere and used as an excuse for exploitation, war, and the enslavement or worse of “inferior” peoples (so-called Social Darwinism).
Of course such an objection would not invalidate Darwin’s theory concerning the evolution of species by means of natural selection even if it were valid. Nor does the “raw Darwinism” picture take account of our understanding of human evolution in the social sphere, and how the “selfish gene” can benefit its own survival through altruistic behaviour by individuals in higher species. But it still continues to be deployed, a blunt weapon for those who do not understand or seek to ensure that others do not understand.
Darwin felt that the concept we call “social Darwinism” was a misapplication of his ideas, so did his champion T.H. Huxley. Another figure who rejects the idea of taking the mechanism that developed our bodies and saying it should also apply in the world where we function as human being is, interestingly, the arch-supporter of Darwinism, Richard Dawkins.
In an article published in “Skeptic” magazine in 2003 Dawkins quotes approvingly Huxley’s words:
“Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it.”
Dawkins himself says:
“As an academic scientist I am a passionate Darwinian … But at the same time as I support Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs.”
He makes it clear that one can believe in natural selection, the struggle for survival, survival of the fittest, call it what you will, as the means whereby our bodies reached this form at this time, but that is not the infallible law that governs how we should behave. As human beings we are capable of better, and should act accordingly.
Interestingly this is not far from the Roman Catholic position whereby one can believe that human beings were, in their bodily aspect, formed by evolution – provided one also believes that there is more to us than merely that body, there is the God-given soul and spiritual side as well.
I, as a Bahá'í, see no reason why we cannot believe that too.
It saves us from going down the path of those evolution-rejecting religionists who say “evolution must be wrong because if it’s true we are just superior apes”. Apart from that being a logical fallacy (Wishful Thinking – saying something simply because we don’t like where it leads if it is true ) it misses the point – we are not _just_ apes, we are human beings, with the ability to rise above our biological heritage, not be trapped by it.
Dawkins makes some good points in his extensive writings. His critique of the NOMA model of the relationship between science and religion, which I used to find very appealing has a lot to be said for it (I have discussed this in another paper on this forum.) I just wish he could rid himself of the idea that we don’t need religion and that it is a Bad Thing, and his attitude of what I call “evangelical atheism”.