Comment on Tony Campolo’s Critique of Darwinism

Tikkun Magazine, November/December 2010

Comment on Tony Campolo’s Critique of Darwinism

by David Loye

Tony Campolo's essay is, in one regard, extremely well-informed and timely, but in another regard dangerously ill-informed about Darwin himself.

The basic problem is that Darwin's theory came in two halves. His Origin of Species is only the first half. Popularly tabbed "survival of the fittest," this half was snapped up both by American Robber Barons to justify the kind of capitalism that is again running amok in our time, and -- as Campolo accurately notes -- by the hard-core eugenicists, and most horribly Hitler and company, to justify hell on earth for the twentieth century. In the second half, however, in the disastrously superficially misread Descent of Man, Darwin set out to explore what he called "the higher agencies of man." There, in long-ignored page after page, he wrote extensively of the evolution-shaping power of mutual aid, love, education, even religion, and above all, of the power of the moral sense: the formation of norms, values, and in the Kantian sense, an evolutionary inbuilt moral imperative for doing right rather than wrong to others. All of this I uncover at length for the first time in my book Darwin's Lost Theory and the forthcoming trilogy Darwin and the Battle for Human Survival.

Rather than finding Darwin to be a racist of the modern stereotype, if one goes to The Descent of Man to track Campolo's quotes, one actually finds within the surrounding text an enlightened probing of the idea of races for the time (see pages 146-149 of the second edition). By no means does he "propose the extermination of races he defined as inferior," to quote Campolo. Actually one finds Darwin's very real sympathy for the indigenous people who were then, as well as now, being wiped out by colonial violence. About differences between races, he notes this depends more on "changed conditions of life" than what we think of as genetics today. He notes how the "distinctive character of all races" is "highly variable"; how "all the races of man are descended from a single primitive stock"; and notes the "numerous points of mental similarity between the most distinct races of man."

In short, the problem was (and is) not Darwin. It was (and is) the rest of the problem that Campolo forcefully and accurately focuses on, which once again is on the rise: the predatory and often purposeful misreading of Darwin designed to serve the purposes of the "powers that be," in religious terms; the "power elite" in the sociological terms of C. Wright Mills; or the "domination system" in Riane Eisler's cultural transformation theory. It is the problem not just of what has been academically tucked away as just the temporary lapse of Social Darwinism, but of what became the social scientific creed for the ideology of Darwinism. It is the endemic hold on politics, economics, and science of the evolutionary pathology of what has morphed from the doctrine of survival of the fittest into the doctrine of the selfish gene and selfishness uber alles of Dawkins, Dennett, and company in our time.

All this from the Darwin who in The Descent of Man actually wrote only twice of survival of the fittest, once apologizing for ever using the term, ninety-five times of love, ninety-two times of moral sensitivity, and two hundred times of mind and brain.

David Loye is a psychologist, evolutionary systems scientist, cofounder with Riane Eisler of The Center for Partnership Studies, and the author of many books, most recently Darwin's Lost Theory and Darwin's Second Revolution. 

Source Citation: Loye, David. 2010. Comment on Tony Campolo’s Critique of Darwinism. Tikkun 25(6) Online Exclusive

tags: Charles Darwin, Evolution, Race   
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