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Glenn Beck Wrong on Darwin: How Evolution Affirms the Oneness of Humankind

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The fact that Glenn Beck often doesn't know what he's talking about is certainly not news. But the fact that he has a large audience who believes much of the garbage he spews means that the first point can't simply be ignored.

Beck just accused Charles Darwin of being "the father of modern-day racism." And, in so doing, he mangled every fact imaginable. Not to worry, though; since the facts don't matter to Beck, he was able to support his ongoing dislike of Darwin, a dislike well evidenced by his 2007 statement that "Darwin is the uber-liberals' god. Darwin, I believe actually, to the uber-liberal, is just the way -- he's just the device to erase God."

To many of the rest of us, however, the facts do matter -- and they tell a very different story from what Beck wants us to believe.

Let's look at what Darwin himself had to say. In 1871 in The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote the following, hardly the words of a racist:

As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. If, indeed, such men are separated from him by great differences in appearance or habits, experience unfortunately shews (sic) us how long it is, before we look at them as our fellow creatures.

Long before that, while on the Beagle, Darwin wrote the following (the odd grammar is his!) to his sister Catherine:

I have watched how steadily the general feeling, as shown at elections, has been rising against Slavery. What a proud thing for England, if she is the first European nation which utterly abolish is it. I was told before leaving England, that after living in slave countries: all my options would be altered; the only alteration I am aware of is forming a much higher estimate of the Negros character.

And in his autobiography, Darwin noted this heated exchange with Robert FitzRoy, Captain of the Beagle -- again, hardly the words of a racist:

Fitz-Roy's temper was a most unfortunate one. ... We had several quarrels; for when out of temper he was utterly unreasonable. For instance, early in the voyage at Bahia in Brazil he defended and praised slavery, which I abominated, and told me that he had just visited a great slave-owner, who had called up many of his slaves and asked them whether they were happy, and whether they wished to be free, and all answered "No." I then asked him, perhaps with a sneer, whether he thought that the answers of slaves in the presence of their master was worth anything. This made him excessively angry, and he said that as I doubted his word, we could not live any longer together.

The quotations to support Darwin's hatred of slavery and his liberal views on race relations could go on almost endlessly. Beyond that, however, it's worth noting that, regardless of Darwin's personal views, evolution, if anything, would tend to move people away from racism rather than towards it.

Prior to Darwin's publication of On the Origin of Species, most people believed that human races, like species, were created as they were at that time. Human races were considered to be distinct entities and many thought could be hierarchically arranged with Caucasians at the top. Consider what Louis Agassiz, Harvard professor and creationist, had to say in a letter to his mother in 1846:

It was in Philadelphia that I first found myself in prolonged contact with Negroes; all the domestics in my hotel were men of color. I can scarcely express to you the painful impression that I received, especially since the feeling that they inspired in me is contrary to all our ideas about the confraternity of the human type (genre) and the unique origin of our species. But truth before all. Nevertheless, I experienced pity at the sight of this degraded and degenerate race, and their lot inspired compassion in me in thinking that they were really men. Nonetheless, it is impossible for me to repress the feeling that they are not of the same blood as us. In seeing their black faces with their thick lips and grimacing teeth, the wool on their head, their bent knees, their elongated hands, I could not take my eyes off their face in order to tell them to stay far away. And when they advanced that hideous hand towards my plate in order to serve me, I wished I were able to depart in order to eat a piece of bread elsewhere, rather than dine with such service. What unhappiness for the white race -- to have tied their existence so closely with that of Negroes in certain countries! God preserve us from such a contact.

An acceptance of evolutionary theory put an end to the idea that human races represented different species -- and made it clear that all humans were closely related. Additionally, as our knowledge of genetics increased, we learned that the differences between individuals are, in fact, greater than the differences across races.

Evolution, therefore, when fully understood, should help us move beyond racism -- and if credit is being given to Charles Darwin in the area of race relations, perhaps this should be his legacy.

It is true, of course, that many have misunderstood and misused evolutionary theory in ways that have promoted their bigoted ideas. But such abuses should not reflect negatively on either the originator of the concept of evolution via natural selection or on the validity of evolution itself.

Glenn Beck's ignorance of the facts is a shame, but, as Alain René Le Sage said in 1735 in book X of his novel Gil Blas (L'Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane), "Facts are stubborn things." Perhaps, at some point, Beck will come face-to-face with a fact that he will neither ignore nor twist.

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