Darwin’s view of the ‘races’ of men

In the following video, I said that Darwin had contested his peers by arguing that all humans were the same species and the same race.

One of my critics said that I had “completely misrepresented Darwin’s views on human racial variation”, because Darwin said that “[Man] has diverged into distinct races, or as they may be more fitly called, sub-species. Some of these, such as the Negro and the European, are so distinct that, if specimens had been brought to a naturalist without any further information, they would undoubtedly have been considered as good and true species.”  My critic says that because Darwin described human races as sub-species, that my “assertion that Darwin conceived of a human species containing a single race is therefore false”.

I referred my critics to a talk I gave on the Erroneous Association of Evolution and Racism, but they persisted.  I had to make sure, so I looked it up.

In the 1st chapter of Decent of Man, Darwin talks about multiple races of dark people and multiple races of white people. He says that traits like body hair and sense of smell vary more within these races than between them. But he did mention a reported distinction in the types of wisdom teeth between ‘civilized’ and ‘melanian’ races, but he mentioned that these distinctions were also contested by immanent dentists. And he begins this commentary by noting that whether humans actually qualify as different races and sub-races is questionable.

In Chapter 2, Darwin cites questionable claims of other researchers commenting on the ‘lower’ or ‘savage’ races as compared to the ‘civilized’ races, but he repeats that there is more diversity within each race than between them, and he talks about all of humanity constituting a single species.

In Chapter 3, Darwin mentions ‘immigrant’ races along with ‘ancient’ races. But he also notes that the differences in intellect between barbarians and the most brilliant men of history are so slight that “it is possible they might pass and develop into each other.”

In Chapter 4, he quotes Herbert Spencer describing all of humanity not as multiple races, but as one race. Darwin adds his own comment about understanding differences “believed to exist” between various races.

In Chapter 5, Darwin himself refers to man as a single race, but quotes contemporary bigots who describe Celts and Scots and Greeks as though they were all different races.

Chapter 6 has the one line that everyone quotes when they’re trying to cast Darwin as a racist:

“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. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked,* will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.”

Here Darwin notes that living human lineages had diverged into different races so distinct that *other* naturalists had categorized people as distinctly different species of Man. Darwin did not indicate any agreement with this, but immediately again links all of humanity as indistinct from other mammals.

The idea that certain races (or species) are ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ was not Darwin’s idea but the universal language of all prior naturalists since forever. Darwin acknowledges this, but does not contribute to it, other than to suggest that Caucasians are not the ultimate form of mankind.

However in Chapter 7, Darwin really begins to challenge the ubiquitous racism of anthropology til that time.

“It is not my intention here to describe the several so-called races of men; but I am about to enquire what is the value of the differences between them under a classificatory point of view,”

Notice how he says “so-called” races, indicating there is a already some doubt.

He continues, talking about the numerous differences in all people –as recorded by other scientists before him. Darwin’s references also necessarily included anecdotal accounts relayed by non-scientists, and other scientists which he had to evaluate for their trustworthiness. All of his predecessors all through history were convinced of the distinctions between the races of men, and some of them even argued for separate origins for these different races. No one had ever challenged that.

As we read Darwin’s observations, we see that he is hasn’t yet established a counter argument, (nor could he if he only relied on prior studies) but that he is thinking independently and starting to lean the other way. It is here that Darwin first challenges the idea of separate human species and gives weight to “arguments on the other side”.  He acknowledges how certain individuals from distant areas might seem initially quite distinct, but he also says that our judgments are influenced by superficial surface features. He further notes that many members of other races might pass as Europeans. So that other races are not always as distinct as they’re initially perceived to be. He says, “Even some of the most strongly-marked races cannot be identified with that degree of unanimity which might have been expected from what has been written on the subject.” So he is beginning to doubt the established status quo.

He implies that, by all accounts, that humans are chemically interfertile, and that the only difficulty in cross-breading is entirely cultural –despite what other scientists may have previously implied. “Independently of fertility, the characters presented by the offspring from a cross have been thought to indicate whether or not the parent-forms ought to be ranked as species or varieties; but after carefully studying the evidence, I have come to the conclusion that no general rules of this kind can be trusted.”

Darwin’s own realization dawns with the observation of how previous scientists might have felt justified in ranking different humans according to their own experience and influences. Darwin didn’t use the word, ‘prejudice’, but it could be implied by the context. And Darwin notes that such naturalists would be “much disturbed as soon as he perceived that the distinctive characters of all the races were highly variable.”  Ultimately Darwin dismisses their position on the fact that “the races of man are not sufficiently distinct to inhabit the same country without fusion; and the absence of fusion affords the usual and best test of specific distinctness”.

“But the most weighty of all the arguments against treating the races of man as distinct species, is that they graduate into each other, independently in many cases, as far as we can judge, of their having intercrossed. Man has been studied more carefully than any other animal, and yet there is the greatest possible diversity amongst capable judges whether he should be classed as a single species or race, or as two (Virey), as three (Jacquinot), as four (Kant), five (Blumenbach), six (Buffon), seven (Hunter), eight (Agassiz), eleven (Pickering), fifteen (Bory de St-Vincent), sixteen (Desmoulins), twenty-two (Morton), sixty (Crawfurd), or as sixty-three, according to Burke.* This diversity of judgment does not prove that the races ought not to be ranked as species, but it shews that they graduate into each other, and that it is hardly possible to discover clear distinctive characters between them.”

Here Darwin dismisses the idea that the different races could be different species. He allows that the word ‘sub-species’ might be applicable to what he calls a ‘race’. But for the reasons explained in the above citation, the way that word is now defined does not work in the context in which Darwin used it. In modern parlance, a sub-species is a distinction within a single interfertile population wherein every member of one group shares unique traits particular only to that group, but which are not shared by any member of another group. So the impression I get from Darwin’s use of the word ‘race’ is that is only synonymous with the word, ‘lineage’.

Importantly, those in Darwin’s day were not arguing that humans had become distinctly different races. Instead, some influential authors of that time believed that the “so-called races” originated unrelated to each other. So that all humans were not even of the same lineage, because they didn’t have a common ancestor. And many of the people who held that view were creationists.

“The question whether mankind consists of one or several species has of late years been much discussed by anthropologists, who are divided into the two schools of monogenists and polygenists. Those who do not admit the principle of evolution, must look at species as separate creations, or in some manner as distinct entities; and they must decide what forms of man they will consider as species by the analogy of the method commonly pursued in ranking other organic beings as species. But it is a hopeless endeavour to decide this point, until some definition of the term “species” is generally accepted; and the definition must not include an indeterminate element such as an act of creation. We might as well attempt without any definition to decide whether a certain number of houses should be called a village, town, or city. We have a practical illustration of the difficulty in the never-ending doubts whether many closely-allied mammals, birds, insects, and plants, which represent each other respectively in North America and Europe, should be ranked as species or geographical races; and the like holds true of the productions of many islands situated at some little distance from the nearest continent.

Those naturalists, on the other hand, who admit the principle of evolution, and this is now admitted by the majority of rising men, will feel no doubt that all the races of man are descended from a single primitive stock; whether or not they may think fit to designate the races as distinct species, for the sake of expressing their amount of difference.”

Thus Darwin argued that all men are the same species –and the same sub-species (by the current definition) and the same ‘race’ in as much as every new lineage is derived from a common ancestor.

Keeping some perspective

I think it ironic that my critics so often accuse me of demanding that everyone in this movement must agree on every point. Because I’ve never said anything like that.  Quite the reverse in fact. For example, I’m constantly accused of having said that “you’re either feminist or you’re sexist”, even though that’s not what I actually said; I said we’re all sexist to some degree.  I’m still accused of promoting divisive dichotomies even by those who know and admit that I said it’s not a dichotomy.

I’ve said many times that I rarely agree with anyone completely, that we should be able to express disagreements respectfully, and that we should be able to strategically overlook some differences in opinion in those who would otherwise be useful allies. We don’t have the resources to do otherwise, not when we’re outnumbered, out-gunned and out-financed as much as we are.  I have also come to the defense of some prominent person who said something dumb once, or who wasn’t very knowledgeable of some issue well outside their expertise.

So Dawkins didn’t know about the Men’s Rights Movement, and he occasionally alternates between supporting feminism and sounding sexist. Thus he is criticized from both sides, even though gender equality is obviously not his primary focus or area of interest.  So I hardly think it fair to say that “Dawkins has lost it“, just because he’s not up to speed on that topic.  Yeah, I know.  “Dear Muslima’ wasn’t his best moment.  He’s said a few other things I don’t agree with, and not just about that.  I wish he’d stop using the word, ‘Darwinism’ -for example.

I don’t expect anyone in this movement to agree on all philosophies, policies, or politics, just like I don’t expect science nerds to understand fashion statements.  Being critical thinkers doesn’t mean that we should criticize our associates more than our adversaries.  Because I also don’t like when our opponents publish comments that “the atheist movement has petered out“, based on the impression that “even atheists think Dawkins is a joke”.  Not only is that overwhelmingly not the case, but believers don’t know that it doesn’t really matter what any of us thinks of Dawkins or anyone else.  However we don’t seem to understand how infighting diminishes our own capacity.  For that and many other reasons, I would rather give credit where it is due. respect where it was earned, and reasonable criticism when and wherever necessary. But then, I’m not trying to sell my blog with sensational headlines.

 

Black Voices Matter

White allies may feel uneasy speaking with authority on the the spate of unjust decisions involving a mix of racist cops and unarmed black people. It is a difficult thing to do and hard to do well. One thing is for sure is that a black person can do a better job of speaking to the issue. It may be difficult to take everything on board, but this piece by Briana Urena-Ravelo outlines many good reasons even people who mean well get it wrong. Worse than that, some white writers may make things worse no matter if they label progressive or not

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Whether black lives matter against Police force

Tonight the Ra-Men talk to Bria Crutchfield, president of Black Nonbelievers of Detroit – on how racism is disproportionately imposed by police, prosecution, and imprisonment.  We’ll also talk to her associate, Evette Stanton who lives in Ferguson Missouri.  And we’ll talk to James Croft, who was actually involved in the most recent riots there.   You can watch out discussion here, live at 9:00pm central time, Thursday 12/04/2014, or on YouTube thereafter.

Whodathunkit? Moses the actual inspiration for American government

Although climate change denial was removed from textbooks, our school board has stubbornly stuck to it’s guns on including Christianity and Judeo-Christian values (Moses specifically) as the inspiration for America’s form of government.

All right all right don’t rush me, I’m-a-thinkin’ … and my head hurts”

All right all right don’t rush me, I’m-a-thinkin’ … and my head hurts”

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Tune in live: Texas Textbook Wars with Zack Kopplin

Zack Kopplin, wonderkind  of the creationism textbook wars, is livetweeting the the Social Studies textbook hearings. He is enduring the inanity like a champ, so you don’t have to.

Is this a McCarthy witch hunt?

Is this a McCarthy witch hunt?

Aron couldn’t make it as he is on the last leg of his journey on his motorcycle across the deserts of West Texas.  This part in particular would get his goat if he was there…

I don't understand the founding of our government, and I don't want kids to either.

I don’t understand the founding of our government, and I don’t want kids to either.

It would be funny if they weren’t serious about teaching this to millions of students as fact. If you would like to watch the shenanigans yourself  there is a livestream.

Interstellar and the dangers of anti-intellectualism.(Minor Spoilers)

Although Interstellar is set in a dystopian future, one of the scenes is an all too familiar page borrowed from the present. The setting takes place in the future where crops are dying from a plant pandemic of some sort of blight. With plants gone, all life will become extinct as the atmosphere becomes unbreathable. And of course, the extinction of plants or the producers at the base of the energy pyramid will cause irreparable harm to the biosphere.

Terrifying as it is beautiful.

Gargantua: Terrifying as it is beautiful.

[Read more…]

Texas: Not ready for a progressive woman Governor

During the election coverage and Republican acceptance speeches there was a real element of attributing the takeover of Congress to President Obama even though he wasn’t on the ballot. There are already congressmen who pledge to prosecute him for abusing executive orders even though he issued less of these than George W. Bush. As a black president, he is a very easy scapegoat for Republicans to bash. In fact, a third of Louisiana Republicans, blame him for the government response to Katrina, even though G.W. Bush was president at the time. Why don’t they blame Bush? He is given no credit for gains in employment and the economy, scapegoated for things he didn’t do. America doesn’t appear to be ready for a black president.

For the same reasons, I don’t believe that Texas is ready for a progressive woman to be Governor. Her opponent Greg Abbott ran a campaign of publicly shaming her for attending Harvard and allowing her then husband to be the primary caregiver of her children after he filed for divorce.

No one would ever have thought to criticize a man’s private career and family decisions on their way to success  in this way. There is a well established history of men’s political careers surviving adultery allegations and worse.  Newt Gingrich’s wife put him through college, and he left her for his mistress when she had cancer.  He had no significant political fallout from this. The shaming of Davis for her private career decisions that men commonly make worked well here in Texas. Despite Davis being well known for heroically filibustering draconian abortion over-regulation, Abbott got the majority of the women’s vote.

Had Davis gotten more progressive turnout and won; she would have then been faced with an obstructionist legislature. Much like Obama’s problems with Republicans in Congress refusing to work with him. It is remarkably easier to punch down on minorities from established positions in the dominant white male hierarchy. Unfortunately, it wins points and plays on deeply rooted biases like with Republicans wanting to believe that Obama was responsible for Katrina.

She quoted Teddy Roosevelt, ""It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error or shortcoming"

She quoted Teddy Roosevelt, “”It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error or shortcoming”

Aron and I were there for Davis’s concession speech, and I couldn’t stop the tears streaming down my cheeks as she urged us to support Abbott. After everything he did to her in the campaign, and everything he has already done and will do to hurt Texas. Even though I knew going in that most likely she would lose, there is a knot in my stomach that I don’t want to digest. Four more years of regressive policies punching down on women and minorities with heavy handed immigration and abortion laws. And a majority of the people here in Texas will say Amen! to that.

This!

This so much this is why your vote matters!

Thanks to Media Matters for America

Thanks to Media Matters for America

Fortunately, you don’t have to give blood anymore. At least not in the U.S., just some of your time. Vote for those whose votes have been suppressed. The polls are open here until 7:00 PM. We completely understand what it feels like here in Texas not to be heard. Aron and me testify to the smug school board here in hopes that more than just them will hear us. They want to censor the struggle for civil rights, and instead glorify America’s war history, and have students believe Moses founded our government.  Seven of them are up for re-election.  Your vote will send a message if we don’t get them this time let them know we are coming for them next time.