There have been many erroneous scientific theories in the human history, such as the phlogiston theory, the geocentricism, the aether theory. Before discovery of truth, there had always been some incorrect theories, truth has never been discovered overnight. The road of discovery of truth is one to correct mistaken theories.
However, the erroneous theory rarely had any moral implication, and did not make people perform anti-human act without feeling guilty, except the Darwin theory, which can be said to be the only “scientific theory” with the function, as the theory is a very special one which influences not only in biology, but also many aspects of the society, such as history, politics, philosophy, medicine, economics, religion, etc. it also tells people what right and wrong are, what people should do and should not do.
Ninety years after Darwin published his book “Origin of Species,” there were two World Wars, during the period Darwinism and social Darwinism were very popular. The extent of the brutality during the wars was unprecedented. Darwin himself proposed the theory as the mechanism of biological evolution, Herbert Spencer, a British philosopher, strongly advocated application of the theory in human society. He did not use the term social Darwinism, in stead; he used “evolutionary progressivism”. Spencer believes that evolution by “struggle for existence” should be applied in the human society, which is nothing new if ones accept Darwinism, as human is a biological organism. I discuss only a few aspects of the practice.
1. Un-human Capitalism
Social Darwinism has a view that persons, especially males, must compete to survive for future life and should not be given any assistance. The poor should feed themselves, if they can not, they are losers in “struggle for existence”, that should not be helped; but be eliminated in the competition.
In 1798, Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he wrote:
The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.
Both Spencer and Darwin accepted the Malthus’ idea that was very popular in Europe at the time. Malthus believed that growing population would sooner or later lead to food shortage; the weakest would die of starvation. Social Darwinism held that the charity would only make social problems worse. The enormous suffering in working classes under the laissez-faire capitalism in the 19th and early 20th centuries is an important factor for many people accepting Marxism and strong criticism of capitalism.
Eugenics is the applied science of the bio-social movement which advocates practices to improve the genetic composition of a human population. Eugenics was originally developed by Francis Galton. Galton had read his cousin Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which sought to explain the development of plant and animal species, and desired to apply it to humans. Galton and many others claimed that the less intelligent were more fertile than the more intelligent of his time.
Galton believed that the physiological characteristics pass from generation to generation; the same is true of the mental quality (gifted and talented); then the community should have a decision on genetic level, that is: to avoid overproduction of “not-fit’ population, and “lack of the fittest. Social welfare institutions and madhouse allow the survival of the “inferior” and let them grow faster than the “excellent” people in society. If the situation would not be corrected, the society would be flooded by “inferior” ones. In 20th centuries, Western countries had a large-scale forced sterilization under the influence (Rose, 1998).
Eugenics is infamously linked to the racial policies that led to Nazi Germany’s Holocaust. Hitler’s Third Reich singled out individuals they thought superb and let them mate together to produce so-called master race.
Eugenicists advocate specific policies that (if successful) they believe will lead to a perceived improvement of the human gene pool. Since defining what improvements are desired or beneficial is perceived by many as a cultural choice rather than a matter that can be determined objectively (e.g., by empirical, scientific inquiry).
The idea of racial superiority is the direct product of social Darwinism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the popular view was that the Nordic Germanic people are the superior race, as they live in a cold climate, which makes them evolve with a higher survival skills and the people there more interested in expansion and adventure. The ideas obtained full support of anthropologists and psychologists at that time, including famous biologist Thomas Huxley, who was the early strong defender of the theory and called “Darwin’s watchdog” as the nickname.
Social Darwinism held that a race must be aggressive in order to survive. The white race was seen as the greatest race because they had a sense of superiority and conquest. The white conquered the Indians in America that was considered as the proofs of superiority.
A sociological theory, as a philosophical or an economics theory, is difficult to achieve a general recognition in the society; it is merely one of many views. The Darwin’s theory was considered as scientific one; to many the theory means truth. Implication of the truth is irresistible and urgent. Just like if no Hitler, there would be no the Third Reich, if there were no biological Darwinism, there would be no “social Darwinism”, which is a natural extension of the biological Darwinism in the human society. Even without Spencer, many others would put forward a similar view.
Darwinism has a huge negative impact on the human mentality, and it flips right to wrong, devoid of humanity. Sympathetic to the weak or disadvantage is human nature built in genes. It not only occurs in human beings, but also in all over animals.
It is often observed that group of birds flying in the sky, when encountered natural enemies, one or a few birds would scream very loud to alert the companions fled; however, the heroic acts would make them more riskier and even sacrificed. In biology the behavior is called altruism. Altruistic behavior is an important feature to keep species survived. Without it many species, including humans, might had been extinct. According to the Darwin’s theory, individuals with the heroic behavior does not survive and should be considered as not the fittest or loser in “struggle for existence”.
Humanity or human nature is bottom line of morality, which is built in our genes. We are angry with the Holocaust, or the Rape of Nanking, or the 911, not because we have relatives there, or we have any interest loss there as the result; we feel pain for the victims and mad with the murders, as the victims are a part of us. The feeling is our instinct that does not need to be trained.
By the Darwin’s theory, murders survive and they are the fittest, whereas victims died and are not the fittest. Murders should not feel guilty, but proud of their activity as the winners in “struggle for existence”.
The Phlogiston theory , the aether theory, the geocentricism do not make people to find excuses or even have euphoria for killing somebody, or bullying the weaks, but the Darwin’s theory does, which is only the theory that can do that. I consider the Darwin’s theory the worst one ever. If ones do not agree with me, let me which “theory” have the function.
Rose, M. R. (1998). Darwin’s spectre : evolutionary biology in the modern world. p. 134-146. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press