Did Darwin Have an Agenda?

“Men go by their sympathies, not by argument,” says Cardinal Newman. This is true in the realm of scientific ideology. I am not talking about genuine empirical investigation, but the nebulous region where research is compromised by subjective ambitions.

We are told that “extreme” evolutionary beliefs are merely a heterodox deviation of a legitimate worldview. This is what most people thought after our nasty experience with Nazi racial policies in the Second World War. But memories fade and the cranky eugenic programs of the early twentieth century are once again quite fashionable. Blame the cultural opportunists, but not poor Darwin. Or should we?

According to Dennis Sewell’s book The Political Gene: How Darwin’s Ideas Changed Politics , the founding father of secular evolutionary theory had his own questionable agenda. As recently discussed in the New Oxford Review

Can Darwin be blamed for the use to which his writings were put? Sewell, a Catholic who worked for twenty-four years at the BBC, started off impartial on this point, but kept finding strong links between what Darwin wrote and what Darwinists “carried into the social and political domain.” He concludes that it is false to say that scientific racialism and eugenics are “wholly unwarranted extrapolations from Darwin’s thought.” For example, in The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin said that the Negro and the European were of such “distinct” races that a naturalist might consider them two different “species,” and that the evolutionary break between animals and man was between the “Negro” and the “gorilla.”

In one of his more lucid moments Hegel observed: “All the evil deeds in this world since Adam and Eve have been justified with good reasons.” Darwin’s career is a case in point. He wasn’t just advancing facts, which may have been valid in their own right. He was also advancing his own preferences and prejudices, which colored his interpretation of those facts.

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