Friday, 23 March 2012 05:28

Charles Darwin: Men of Ideas

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Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) was an English biologist.  Darwin is known for his contribution of the notion of natural selection.

Early in his career as a naturalist, Darwin sailed to the Galapagos Island in South America, an Island little disturbed by man, and cut off from mainland South America; animals there were left to evolve differently from their kinds on the South American mainland.

Darwin observed the behavior of animals on the island and noted that they had made some changes to their kind on the mainland of South America, a place from which they were cut off.

In 1859 Darwin wrote his now famous book, On the Origin of Species. The book contended that animals adapted to changes in their environment. It contended that changes in animals’ physiology are due to animals’ adaptation to changes in their natural world.

The environment changes and new adaptive skills are required and animals adapt to them by making necessary changes in their bodies, and survive. Those animals that are unable to change their bodies so as to cope with their new environmental exigencies die off.

In effect, Darwin contended that animals that survive are those that have adapted to the world they find themselves. The environment selects for survival those animals that make the necessary changes that it requires. Evolution is, therefore, based on natural selection of those animals and trees that change to adapt to the changes in their natural world.

Darwin wrote other books, such as The Descent of Man, Selection in Relation to Sex, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals etc; however, it is safe to say that his later books were merely adding details to his original and seminal book, On the Origin of Species.

Apparently, the book on the origin of species was rushed to publication when Darwin heard that a rival, Alfred Russell Wallace,  was about to publish material to the same end, that animals evolve through making changes in their bodies to adapt to changes in their environment.

Alfred Russell Wallace had gone to Borneo and pretty much studied what Darwin did in the Galapagos Island, and in 1858 sent Darwin a draft of his paper on natural Selection.  Alarmed that he had been beaten to the punch, Darwin got down to compiling his enormous data into a book.

To the present there is debate as to who actually discovered the so-called evolution theory.

Darwin’s book has a very simple hypothesis, a hypothesis backed by numerous case studies. The hypothesis is that animals began from a simple form (single celled organism) and evolved to what they currently are. They evolved as they make physiological changes to adapt to the demands of their changed environment.  Somehow, one celled organisms, such as amoeba, evolved to multi-cellular organisms and those gradually evolved to human beings.

There is no doubt that the environment does affect animals and indeed compel them to make changes in their physiology. In our age studies have shown that those working at electrical installations (and those living around them) may experience changes in certain genes in their bodies, changes that lead to medical disorders not only in them but in their future children.

However, whether human beings evolved from the ape is a hypothesis that Darwin did not quite prove.

Proved or not, the enlightenment age that was seeking an alternative to the Biblical story of how God created the world in six days latched unto Darwin’s idea to show that man has been evolving for millions of years, adapting to changes that take place in his world.

Geologists have shown that the world has been around for over four and half billion years. The study of sedimentary rocks shows how rocks are formed and that they were not formed by God’s magic wand; geology has demonstrated that the earth did not come into being six thousand years ago, as would be the case if the Christian God created the world.

The enlightenment age, the age of reason, as opposed to the age of religion and its superstitions, embraced Darwinism and in a short time used it to replace the theory of creation as presented in the Christian Bible.

As would be expected this dethroning of the Bible story of creation did not sit well with religionists. The Christian community fought Darwin (the Stokes monkey trial is an example). However, the Christian community eventually reached accommodation with Darwinism’s evolution hypothesis.

Religion was thrown out of public schools and evolution and its biology is taught at public non- parochial schools.

To the present this arrangement does not sit well with many religionists; some of them would like schools to teach what they call Intelligent Design.

Darwin’s hypothesis of natural selection seemed to have given a shot in the arm to all sorts of racists. White racists used it to teach that certain races were more evolved than others and that the white race selected for survival. These racists believed that white folk were entitled to being slave masters of those races they believed were less evolved, such as Africans.  To such racists, Africans are backward, are closer to animals and, as such, ought to serve white folk.

Please not the “ought” to serve white folk. Ought is a moral statement, a social construct, not a natural statement.

If we are speaking about "ought", Africans could also argue that white folk ought to serve them, and if they have the military ability to carry it out do so. There is nothing in nature that says that one race ought to be this or that; ought is a social statement, not a natural phenomenon.

In the meantime, all sorts of Eugenic organizations sprang up teaching the need to eliminate the poorer and backward races.

Family planning sought to limit the poor from producing too many children.  Herbert Spencer came up with a social ethics that justified what he called social Darwinism, the more able sticking it to the less able. Spencer perverted Darwin to mean social Darwinism; it is no longer adaptation to nature but now man consciously exploiting the poor and weak.

As Spencer saw it, the weak ought to die out and before they died the strong ought to use them for the good of the strong, to produce goods. The Robber barons of America’s industrialization era said amen to Spencer and worked their wage slaves to death (sixteen or more hours a day was the norm).

The European colonialist went to Africa and elsewhere and felt justified in colonizing what he called primitive races. The nineteenth century implemented Spencer’s adaptation of Darwin’s hypothesis.

I am not here to do a critical evaluation of any of the scientists and their works; I am merely summarizing their work. But if I were to evaluate Darwin’s hypothesis I would ask why he is so sure that single celled organisms evolved to multi-celled organisms; what is the natural advantage in doing so? At any rate, why survive, what are animals surviving for? What is the point in surviving, adapting to a meaningless and purposeless world? Darwin raised a whole lot of philosophical questions none of which he solved. Let us say that while we should not teach religion at schools and should teach biology that the origin of man has not been resolved.

Regarding Herbert Spencer’s views one has one response to it: it is infantile. Consider. Why should the weak serve the strong and allow them to use them for their own good, be exploited and then die, what is the reason for doing so? Pure reason would suggest that the weak ought to kill the powerful and expropriate their wealth and live well with it. Let us just say that Herbert Spencer was not a serious thinker; he did not think about the alternative to his spurious ideas. At any point in time there are more poor folk than rich folk; why do the poor tolerate the rich oppressing them when all they have to do is look death in the eye and accept it and then take up arms against their oppressors and kill them and if need be die in the process.

Why should an amoral, unjust world exist? These are questions our evolutional biologists seem incapable of answering.


Charles Darwin. On The Origin of Species. (1859)

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176