Essay: Evolutionary theory

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  • Evolutionary theory
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It is common knowledge that Darwin s Theory of Evolution is one of the most influential scientific theories of modern day. This scientific theory takes the form of an ideology in which it is rarely contested and largely taken for granted. Placing unquestioning faith in the Theory of Evolution is counter-intuitive of science itself, as it is an undeniable trend [that theories are debunked over time] and for contemporary human beings to think that they are filled with such profundity that they are the exception to this trend runs the risk of appearing [ ] arrogant (Jeynes, 2011, p. 552). Jeynes article (2011) takes a closer look at the social ramifications that Darwin directly propagated and the cult following that ensued to grip the Western world s institutions. Jeynes (2011) analyzes the use of science and evolutionary theory as the means to justify systemic racism and discrimination (p. 535).
About Jeyne s Article

Social Darwinism could be viewed as an abuse or misinterpretation of Darwin s evolutionary theory to justify racial superiority. The origin of evolution s supposed justification of racism is addressed in Jeynes article Race, Racism, and Darwinism (2011). Did a racist approach to evolutionary theory originate after Darwin s proposed theories with the application of eugenics? Or did Darwin himself propose evolutionary theory as a scientific means to justify racism?

Academic institutions are directly involved in the production of knowledge and often set the standard of what is truthful and untruthful. Most western academic institutions teach evolutionary theory to students at both the secondary and post-secondary levels without a second-thought. Those who contest evolutionary theory are often not taken seriously in the scientific realm. Jeynes is not arguing as to whether or not evolutionary theory is correct, rather, he advocates for the dark side of evolutionary theory the inherently racist aspect- to also be underscored to students so that they can see the broader implications of this scientific theory (2011, p. 554).

Jeynes takes the disciplinary approach of an educator as he has a doctorate degree in education. He has written this research article based on other philosopher s essays and analyses and the written work of Charles Darwin. He uses the information that he has collected from a wide range of sources to clearly articulate how Darwin s Theory of Evolution has heavily influenced major institutions in their acceptance of racist ideology. This makes Jeynes article (2011) important to analyze for modern day, as institutional racism is currently of important debate in the media and academia.

Main Concepts

Main concepts in Jeyne s article include Darwin s original written work, evolutionary theorists to follow Darwin, institutionalized racism/discrimination in education, and eugenics.

Origin of Species, or originally known as On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of the Flavoured Races in the Struggle for Life (Jeynes, 2011, p. 536) contains much of Darwin s inherently racist thought. Jeynes (2011) quotes directly from Darwin s Origin of Species, saying I could not have believed how wide was the difference between the savage and the civilised man. It is wider than between a wild and domesticated animal (p. 537). The superiority of different human races was integral to Darwin s evolutionary theory and is openly stated in his written work (Jeyne, 2011, p. 537). Having a scientific theory as the foundation for racist ideology helped feign objective logic (Jeynes, 2011, p. 538). Darwin also went on to predict that Blacks would be the first human race to go extinct since they were the least evolved; Whites, on the other hand, would go extinct but would carry the human race to the next stage of evolution (Jeynes, 2011, p. 536). It was through Darwin s experiences with people of colour whose mouths frothed with excitement that Darwin came to the conclusion that we must have evolved from apes (Jeynes, 2011, p. 537). Darwin s The Descent of Man is quoted by Jeyne (2011), saying the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races (p. 544). Darwin s theories directly brought forth the notion that different human races were inferior based on a supposed biological or evolutionary- standpoint. Imperialism and colonization were directly justified by Darwin s theories because Darwin stated that not all races were capable of civilization; this led to the White race s acceptance of its fatherly responsibility (Jeynes, 2011, p. 545). Racial superiority was fueled by Darwinian theory and provided justification for colonization of childlike, inferior races (Jeynes, 2011, p. 545). According to Jeynes (2011) and his research on evolutionary theory, Darwin s theory actively produced scientific knowledge that provided a foundation for racist ideology to further take root.

Other leading evolutionists to follow Darwin, Sir Francis Galton, asserted that the smarted dog was smarter than the dumbest human (Jeynes, 2011, p. 543). Galton is deriving these conclusions from his own personal observations in the name of scientific theory (Jeynes, 2011, p. 543). Jeynes (2011) uses the term evolutionist and Darwinist somewhat interchangeably since Jeynes is arguing that both are racist ideologies based on the notion of natural selection. Jeynes (2011) goes on to explain the uprising of Darwinists and how Darwinists concluded that since Blacks are the least evolved human race, Blacks are also the most archaic and therefore have the most criminal tendencies (p. 543). Jeynes (2011) goes on to quote former US Secretary of State William Jennings Bryant: Darwinism had a brutalizing and degrading effect on people (p. 545). Herbert Spencer, the man to coin the term survival of the fittest , believed that evolution provided the needed scientific justification of racism (Jeynes, 2011, p. 538). Darwin was not the only one to use the scientific theory of evolution to propagate racial hierarchy.

Spencer goes on to apply this justification to public institutions, namely the education system, in that not all races are capable of understanding education (Jeynes, 2011, p. 538). This affected how institutions viewed the education of people of colour as it implies that their education is unnecessary. Jeynes (2011) goes on to say as a result of several works of Spencer and Darwin, [ ] the nation s philosophy regarding helping those with special needs transformed (p.539). Darwin himself stated that we may trace a perfect graduation from the mind of an upper idiot, lower than that of an animal low in the scale, to the mind of Newton (Jeynes, 2011, p. 539). Jeynes (2011) goes on to explain how with the popularization of evolutionary theory in schools that helped justify the perceived inferiority of Blacks, racism was effectively institutionalized in America s schools in the post-Civil War period. (pp. 541-542). The assumption that the problem with non-White races and those with special needs is that they simply had not evolved sufficiently was a common point of reference between Darwin and his supporters (Jeynes, 2011, p. 544). This ideology went forth to shape how educators and the public viewed people of colour and people with disabilities in academic settings, portraying them is uneducable.

Sir Francis Galton, as mentioned earlier, was a firm evolutionist to follow Darwin. Galton is the man to have originated the term eugenics (Jeynes, 2011, p. 546). Eugenics is natural outgrowth from the theory of evolution (Jeynes, 2011, p. 546). Eugenics is an effort to ensure that only advantageous humans reproduce and are born. Other eugenicists encouraged the notion of aborting or killing both people of colour and people with disabilities (Jeynes, 2011, p. 547). Eugenics and Darwinism was a way for racism and discrimination to be exacerbated on the foundation of evolutionary theory (Jeynes, 2011, p. 548).

Jeynes Thesis

Jeynes is not making a theological nor scientific argument about whether or not the Theory of Evolution is scientifically accurate. Rather, Jeynes is articulating the social ramifications of the large-scale acceptance of an inherently racist scientific theory. Jeynes is arguing that the Theory of Evolution itself is racist and was intended to be racist by Darwin himself, and that those who apply evolutionary theory to justify racism are in-fact imitating Darwin (Jeynes, 2011, p. 535). Jeynes outlines a direct correlation with the institutionalization of racism and the acceptance of the Theory of Evolution. Darwin, in effect, provided the needed scientific means to institutionalize and propagate racism on a grand scale.


Evolutionary theory as a whole is rarely of debate within academic institutions. The Theory of Evolution is rarely questioned or contested in a po
st-secondary setting. It is important to criticise and analyze widely accepted theories as nothing can be completely quantitatively proven. Even more importantly we need to understand the social implications of widely accepted theories. Racism is also a very prominent topic in modern media; more and more cases of institutional racism and discrimination are coming to light. Racial superiority is an ideology that is currently being questioned whilst evolutionary theory is largely not. I think this article brought incredible insight into the origin of the Theory of Evolution that should not be disregarded simply because it will likely cause academics to feel uncomfortable. Science is a constant revision process and therefore should welcome scrutiny, yet this is rarely the case for evolutionary theory as a whole. Jeyne s article was quite daring in this regard. I would want to read Darwin s Origin of Species in order to gain further insight into exactly how racially charged his original thesis was. If Jeyne s thesis is correct, that evolution helped manifest racism on an institutional level, then this would have major implications for society as a whole. Could we continue to accept Darwin s theory if we knew the definite negative social implications? If we move towards a society with less and less institutional racism, would we be forced to abandon the Theory of Evolution? Should scientific theory be abandoned if the negative societal consequences are large? These are all incredibly applicable questions that Jeyne s article raises which make it an important read. Jeynes article does incite a certain degree of criticism. The Theory of Evolution itself has evolved and changed over time. Does it still condone racism, or is racism so intrinsic to evolution that they are inseparable? How much do the Theory of Evolution s origins matter? It would have been more ideal for Jeynes to address how the presentation of and logic behind the Theory of Evolution has changed overtime.

Relation to Course

Jeynes article touches many of the topics covered in this course. We briefly discussed in-class that the phrase survival of the fittest is strictly an ideological term that did not originate with Darwin but rather originates with Spencer. In this same lecture we discusses Social Darwinism and how this was a movement that tried to apply evolutionary theory to justify the superiority of races. This integrates nicely with Jeynes article, although Jeynes does not use the term Social Darwinist (only evolutionist or Darwinist) he discusses how evolution itself was founded on the hierarchical classification of human races (Jeynes, 2011, p. 534-535). We later discussed in class applied genetics- more specifically eugenics. Jeynes discusses eugenics in his article and how it is a direct product of the Theory of Evolution (Jeynes, 2011, p. 546). Jeynes also ties into our recurring course theme of the active production of knowledge. Jeynes addresses how the school systems taught evolutionary theory and coupled it with racist ideology against Blacks. This academic institutionalization of both evolutionary theory and racism helped produce a common reservoir of knowledge of both topics. Lastly, we also addressed the notion of ideology (the hegemonic acceptance of ideas) in our lectures. Jeynes questions the mass acceptance of the Theory of Evolution given its major social implications. Jeynes might argue that the Theory of Evolution is an ideology because it is rarely questioned in academia despite its negative consequences. In lectures we discussed that one aspect of ideology is that it is used to justify certain actions; this is exactly what Jeynes is arguing, that evolution justifies racist thought and action. This ties in with the amount of power and authority given to the Theory of Evolution. Given that it is widely accepted and been largely institutionalized, this scientific theory has great political power. In our course we have addressed the issues of how much power science really has. We discussed how biology (more specifically, biological variation and how these differences define us) was used as a means to justify racism and how modern science has debunked that notion. Jeynes elaborates on the relationship between scientific theory and societal power especially regarding race; evolutionary theory actively justified the pre-conceived notion of racial superiority (Jeynes, 2011, p. 548). Jeynes article relates to our course by discussing the active production of knowledge, the power that science has over society, ideology and its justification of actions, and science s role in the social construction of races.

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