Social Darwinism - a misinterpretation of a scientific theory (A reaction to Ferreira and Novion)

- K. K. Verma, Ph.D.
Retd. Professor of Zoology
HIG 1/327 Housing Board Colony
Borsi, DURG – 491001, India.


Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 14 (2004), 12.

Ferreira and Novion (2003) have effectively demonstrated the use of social Darwinism against certain races and nations. This concept has been used as a tool to justify racial prejudices, and it probably underlies the exploitation of developing nations in researches on newly developed drugs and in deposition of harmful wastes.

Social Darwinism is application of the Darwinian theory of evolution to human affairs. The purpose of this communication is to bring out misinterpretation of such Darwinian phrases as "struggle for existence" and "survival of the fittest" in the area of social Darwinism. The misinterpretation becomes obvious, when we take into account the following situations.

(a) It has long been debated whether the human races are polyphyletic in origin (i.e. the different races arose independently in different geographical areas from the subhuman ancestors) or monophyletic (i.e. the modern man, Homo sapiens arose in one part of the earth, and then got dispersed to different parts through migrations). Now there are substantial and convincing evidences in support of the concept of man’s monophyletyic origin (Verma and Saxena, 2000). It is a well supported view that the present human species arose from the Homo erectus level in south-east Africa, and from there he migrated to the Middle East, and thence to the rest of the world. Wilson (2002) says, . Vandeman (2003) points out, . Thus the different geographical races of man have had a common genetic origin.

(b) Because of man’s restless migratory habit the different geographical populations have been frequently interbreeding throughout our history. Bates (1963) says, . Because of frequent genetic intermixing among races man has shown a "reticulate evolution", to use a term from Huxley (1959). By reticulate evolution is meant different geographic populations frequently interbreeding, after acquiring some genetic divergence, so that the resulting lineages are reticulum like, and not divergent. The different human races, inhabiting different geographical areas, are connected through intergrading populations. Human migrations, which have always been taking place, have been greatly promoted and facilitated by modern means of transport.

(c) Intraspecific/intrapopulation ranges of variations are much larger for humans than for other animal species. According to Bates (1963), . Hence to form an opinion about superiority or inferiority of a race on coming in contact with only a small sample of the race is highly likely to be prejudicial.

(d) In the modern human species biological evolution (in the meaning of speciation) has stopped taking place more than 150 thousand years ago, and changes taking place have been mostly cultural (including technological). In producing variations cultural inheritance (including cumulative traditions or social memory) has been almost as important as genetic inheritance, if not more. The Darwinian selection operates on genetic variations and not on environmental variations.

Thus social Darwinism, as it is commonly understood, is a fallacy, and to seek justification for racism in this concept is to stand on false grounds.


Bates, M., 1963. Man in Nature (Indian Reprint). Prentice-Hall of India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi.

Ferreira, L. B. and Novion, H. P,, 2003. New forms to old ideas: social Darwinism and Human research. EJAIB, 13(6): 206-207.

Huxley, J., 1959. Man in the Modern World. The New American Library of World Literature Inc., New York,

Vandeman, Michael J., 2003. What is Homo sapiens’ place in nature, some objective (biocentric) point of view? Paper presented in the Eco Conference 2003 at Muttukadu, Chennai.

Verma, K. K. and Saxena, R., 2000. Man in Biological Perspective. Himanshu Publications, Udaipur/New Delhi.

Wilson, E. O., 2002. The Future of Life. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

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