Charles Darwin revolutionized the way the world thinks about creation, evolution, and the entire world around us.  Whereas previously creationism was practically the only conceiveable method by which the plants and animals existing today came into being, Darwin introduced the world to evolution--the idea that species could change over time, thereby bettering themselves over the course of millenia.  Darwin was not the man to coin the term, "survival of the fittest," but it has come to be the one term most associated with evolution--the strong outlive the weak. Those who can adapt easily are the ones who survive when forced into harsh new environments.
The slandering of Darwin's actual theory of evolution occurs when it is confused with Social Darwinism.  Social Darwinism takes the same theories that Darwin set forth and, instead of confining them primarily to nature, applies them to mankind.  This has been repeatedly used during the past hundred years to justify oppression, slavery, and outright genocide.  "After all," as Social Darwinists would say, "if I am stronger than my opponents, I have an absolute right to vanquish them."

Since Darwin's name itself appears in "Social Darwinism," many assume that Darwin himself was a Social Darwinist.  Looking at Darwin's writings, along with some other sources, we find that evidence can be found to both support and refute that claim.

First, we must discuss whether Darwin can be a Social Darwinist at all--Darwin didn't coin the term, nor did it come into existence until some time after The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man were published.  This being the case, some would argue that it is impossible for Darwin to have been a Social Darwinist since there was no such thing as one at the time Darwin made his theories known (since they are the sources by which we are evaluating Darwin's beliefs).  This argument can, however, easily be refuted.  Martin Luther, the cause of the splintering of the Catholic Church, stated often that he never intended to split the church at all.    Without him, however, the splintering would never have happened.  Whether he intended to be the founder of the Protestant Reformation or not, this is how history remembers him.  Galileo Galilei, as is evidenced in his writings, believed strongly that science and religion should have nothing to do with one another.  While the term "separation of church and state" did not exist during that era, Galileo certainly would have believed in it had it existed. By the same token, it is possible for Charles Darwin to have been a Social Darwinist even though the term had not yet come into being.

So, confident that it is possible that Darwin was a Social Darwinist, we can begin to examine the actual validity of the claim.  Before we analyze Darwin's own writings, it may be beneficial to look at some of his influences.  Darwin had stated that in his college years, he liked very much the theories expounded by William Paley in his Natural Theology.  In this work, Paley speaks of the belief system (Natural Theology) appearing in the title.  He makes the argument that even if objects (watches, in his example) are self-replicating and are complex enough so that we cannot discern how the different pieces interact together, there must have been some creator (watchmaker) that manufactured the very first object.  The very fact that the objects can create themselves, he claims, neccessitates a creator that instilled this ability into the first object.  Applying this belief system to the entire world, Paley paints a picture of creator that was present at the instant of creation but not neccessarily thereafter.  This theory, obviously, is not Social Darwinism in the least respect.  Darwin stated that he no longer believed in Paley's arguments after his trip on the Beagle, so it really lends no support for or against the claim that Darwin was a Social Darwinist.  It simply indicates that early in his life, Darwin was not a Social Darwinist.

As we are much more concerned with Darwin's theory of Evolution than his previous beliefs, we will now move on to an analysis of his thoughts and writings, from the time he left aboard the Beagle through his writings on evolution.  Most of the evidence Darwin uses to prove his theory came from his trip aboard the Beagle (1831-1836), so it is the most logical place to start our analysis.  While he makes no theories or postulations during this period, we do gain insight into his thoughts and beliefs by his recount of the voyage.  In general, his entire manner of describing the Fuegians is condescending and superior.  While he says nothing of wanting to exterminate or enslave the Fuegians, he says at one point that he can hardly believe that both Englishman and these "savages" belong to the same species.  Refuting this seemingly Social Darwinistic attitude, however, is an argument Darwin had with the leader of the Beagle expedition, Captain Fitz Roy.  Fitz Roy, while the Beagle was in Brazil, once told Darwin that he was a staunch supporter of slavery.  Darwin made it very clear that he did not support slavery in any form--this is contrary to Social Darwinism.  A Social Darwinist would more than likely support slavery, since the enslaved race is "obviously" inferior to the masters and therefore don't deserve their freedom.  Thus, we have contradictory evidence from the Beagle voyage and can not form a conclusion.

Analyzing Darwin's primary published work on evolution, The Origin of Species, gives us a like result.  He has hardly any specific examples at all (in the "Recapitulation and Conclusion," at least), and those he does use focus on lower animals and plants, never venturing into the kingdom of man.  There are two possible explanations for his avoidance of civilization in his arguments--first, that he doesn't want to be associated with Social Darwinism (or, more closely, since there were no Social Darwinists yet, he doesn't want to be seen as one who would use the "survival of the fittest" argument to promote genocide or slavery).  The second possibility is that he is what would come to be known as a Social Darwinist, but he doesn't want to be publicly known as one.  His rationale for this?  He might have felt, and rightly so, that giving his findings a political spin would have taken some of the credibility away from the research itself, as well as making him look as if he was just using science to influence society.  Since we have no way of knowing why Darwin omits human references, we are still left without a conclusion.

In his other main published work on evolution, The Descent of Man, Darwin finally gets around to directly talking about evolution's impact upon mankind.  He notes that artifically imposed restrictions upon the gain of wealth and reproduction, such as primogeniture, can uneven the level playing field of natural selection.  He also notes later on that "survival of the fittest" is exactly that--a race for survival; a race of reproduction.  Quoting from a Mr. Greg on the eventual outcome of a race for survival between the "careless, squallid, unaspiring Irishman" and the "frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting, ambitious" Scotsman, he argues that "it would be the inferior and less favoured race that had prevailed--and prevailed not by virtue not of its good qualities but of its faults."  The Irish, while (he claims) less intellectually endowed, would reproduce more rapidly as a result of their disgusting living habits and thereby arise victorious over the Scots.  While these statements are openly prejudicial, they say nothing as to Darwin's actual opinion of Social Darwinism...while he may concede that it exists, his support of it is neither confirmed nor denied.

It is interesting to note that in The Descent of Man, Darwin maintains a belief in religion ("To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator", etc.), while in his bibliography he has a much more negative view of it ("I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true").  While this may simply be because the two pieces were written at different times in his life, it also may be another refusal to deviate too far from the social norm in his scientific papers.

Through an analysis of Darwin's published works, it is impossible to conclusively determine whether Darwin was in fact a Social Darwinist.  When he can avoid going into detail about the human side of evolution, he does so.  When he cannot avoid it, (even though his analysis may be prejudicial towards certain races) he speaks of it in the most factual terms possible.  As far as the public world is concerned, Darwin is simply a scientist out to report his findings in a scholarly manner.  Charles Darwin's views on Social Darwinism are not truly relevant to his work, and so he simply omits them.

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