Prominent Biologist Espouses Darwinian Racist Views
The history of evolutionary thought includes many aspects modern evolutionists would rather forget, such as racism and eugenics. Old ideas that blacks are evolutionarily inferior have cropped up again, though, not from some redneck schoolhouse but from the co-discoverer of the DNA structure. James Watson, outspoken secular humanist, let loose with some comments about racial inferiority that set off a firestorm, reported The Independent (UK). Watson was promoting his new book Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science, which includes this statement:
There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.
His comments to a London newspaper made it clear who he had in mind:
Dr Watson told The Sunday Times that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”. He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.
Watson tried to clarify that he did not mean blacks should be discriminated against, but did not back away from his “scientific” claims. Civil rights groups are studying his remarks and expressing extreme displeasure. Fox News also reported on some of the aftermath.
Science wrote in 1990, according to The Independent article, “To many in the scientific community, Watson has long been something of a wild man, and his colleagues tend to hold their collective breath whenever he veers from the script” (cf. 08/24/2003). But Watson himself made it clear in the quotes above that his opinions were inextricably tied to views on human evolution that he must feel are fairly typical among scientists.
Update 10/19/2007: The Guardian reported that Watson apologized for his remarks. “To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologise unreservedly,” he said. “That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief.” Yet parts of his statement seem to put the blame on his listeners: “I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said.” The article also notes that “Prof Watson’s statement did not clarify what his views on the issue of race and intelligence are, but he hinted that he had been misquoted.” He said, “I am mortified about what has happened,” but none of his apology explicitly took responsibility for earlier statements or explained what he really meant by them. The article quotes some of the heated response his remarks instigated. See also: Live Science.
Update 10/24/2007: Watson has been “suspended from administrative duties” at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (Long Island, NY) because of his remarks about race. News@Nature reported that this may indicate the end for Watson: senior US colleagues said things like “It is a sad and revolting way to end a remarkable career,” and “He has failed us in the worst possible way.” See also the BBC News and a commentary on MSNBC that said Watson appears to have a foot-in-mouth gene.
An Editorial in Nature 10/25 entitled “Watson’s Folly” was similarly unsparing, but regretted that this episode might hinder the “openness and critical debate” scientists need when dealing with controversial subjects – including the “sensitive task of unravelling differences between the world’s population groups, all the while acknowledging that ‘race’ is an emotive and unscientific word.” The editorial blamed Watson for “sheer unacceptable offensiveness” that can lend “succour and comfort to racists around the globe,” yet was just as concerned about the chilling effect his remarks will have on scientific inquiry, such as “investigating the equally sensitive genetics of ‘desirable” traits, such as cognitive ability.”
The editorial acknowledged such investigations can lead to abuses: “Asking such questions has always been controversial, given the potential for abuse of the outcomes demonstrated by the history of eugenics.” But it agreed with a point Watson himself was trying to make: “Scientists explore the world as it is, rather than as they would like it to be.” This presupposes that scientists are not subject to biases like other investigators – an assumption some would point out was used just as readily by abusers of the past.
Update 10/25/2007: Watson, age 79, has retired under a cloud of disgrace from his position at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, reported the BBC News. He said his resignation was more than overdue. “The circumstances in which this transfer is occurring, however, are not those which I could ever have anticipated or desired.”
Watson’s apology does not go far enough. The same reporters who hound politicians to apologize for a controversial statement should press Watson to give a full accounting of what he meant to say, and should demand he take complete responsibility for his remarks, not blame his listeners. His apology sounds like the joke about a brat whose mom tells him, “Did I hear you call your sister stupid? Tell her you’re sorry!” He dutifully walks over to Susie and says, “Sis, I’m sorry you’re stupid.”
Read Watson’s apology carefully, and you see him shifting the blame to others for misquoting or misinterpreting him. Fine; we all get misunderstood. Tell us, then, Jim, what you really think about black people and their intelligence, and explain whether you still believe tens of thousands of years of evolution has made some races more intelligent than others. Tell us whether society should treat all people as equal or not. Tell us on what evolutionary basis a government should say that people have inalienable human rights.
Two books should be read by anyone who doubts the influence of Darwinian thinking on racism: The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, and From Darwin to Hitler by Richard Weikart (info). Darwinists in past days put a black man in a zoo (article), categorized black people as closer to apes than to Europeans (article), did experiments rigged to show racial superiority of Europeans and males (article), and committed actual genocide in Namibia (article) and Tasmania (article) because of evolution-based racism. While evolutionists could argue that Darwinism does not imply racism, many evolutionists used alleged primitive peoples as evidence that human evolution was true.
The “script” that Watson veered from has been modified to expunge those incriminating episodes, but every once in awhile they emerge again, because they are a natural outgrowth of evolutionary beliefs that have different people groups evolving separately for tens of thousands of years or more.
Biblical creationists, by contrast, believe that all people are of one race – the human race. We are all one family, descended from one original pair, and related once again through Noah and his offspring just a few thousand years ago. While abilities (both cognitive, artistic, physical and intellectual) can vary substantially even within one biological family, we are all one race, one family, one blood, and one creation. We are each individually equally precious in God’s sight and worthy of equal dignity as creatures made in His image. Choose what kind of worldview you want governing our world.