August 18, 2021 | Jerry Bergman

Social Darwinists Are Mentally Unbalanced



New survey shows Darwinism’s supporters are mentally unbalanced
— a conclusion that many of us felt was true before this study was done


by Jerry Bergman, PhD


Two Polish scientists have linked belief in “Social Darwinism with certain dysfunctional psychological characteristics.”[1] One might suspect that the authors are attempting to excuse Social Darwinists by showing their behavior is a psychological disorder, but the obvious problem with this claim is that Social Darwinism was close to a scientific consensus for over a century. It was widely accepted by scientists and intellectuals in the United States, Sweden, Germany, Russia, and much of the Western World.

Clarence Darrow (left), sponsored by the ACLU, vs William Jennings Bryan (right) at the Scopes Trial.

The best example is the Scopes Trial. In this trial William Jennings Bryan opposed Social Darwinism, and Darrow, the ACLU, and a large number of leading scientists, supported Social Darwinism as was taught in the textbook at issue in the case, George William Hunters’ Civic Biology.[2] Furthermore, not one scientist is on record opposing the Social Darwinism and racism in Hunters book.[3] All the leading Darwinians at the time mercilessly ridiculed Bryan and his followers as anti-science (see cartoons below).

Radkiewicz and Skarżyńska examined the “the psychological profile of Social Darwinists” and concluded that they are

clearly dysfunctional in terms of personal life quality. They express characteristics like admiration for power and desire to dominate, pursue one’s goals at all costs, exploitative attitude towards people, and hostility. On the other hand, they reveal a fearful style in close relations with others and have low self-esteem and low self-sufficiency. From the societal perspective, such beliefs make up a vision of Social life that is unfavorable for building a cooperative, helpful, and relatively egalitarian society. The supreme idea that only those who do not sympathize with others and are ready to use them can be successful and survive is far from the principles of liberal democracy.[4]

What is Social Darwinism?

How Darwinism led to racism, eugenics, Nazism, communism and genocide.

Social Darwinism is “the theory that individuals, groups, and peoples are subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection as plants and animals.”[5] Another definition of Social Darwinism is that “Social relations develop according to the principles of natural selection advanced by Charles Darwin.” As articulated by Herbert Spencer and others, Social Darwinists believe that societies evolve through survival of the fittest, the fittest being defined as those with … superiority in the struggle for existence.[6]

As the authors of the study, Radkiewicz and Skarżyńska, write, the core of Darwinism is natural selection. Likewise, the supreme principle of Social Darwinism (as is also true of Darwinism) is that “only the strongest, best adapted to life in the ’competitive Social jungle’ can survive.”[7] One example of Darwinism applied to society is called eugenics.

Consequently, the majority of German scientists who supported the Nazis were Social Darwinists, as were the majority of scientists in the Western world for much of the last century. Social Darwinism was the logical implication of Darwinism. Darwin’s own words make this clear. Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton, who is credited with founding the field of eugenics, got his ideas from his famous relative.

The only difference between Social Darwinism and Darwinism per se is that the Social Darwinists apply Darwin’s ideas about natural selection and survival of the fittest to human society and the natural biological world, whereas Darwinists apply those ideas only to the biological world (both human and non-human life). But since humans are mere animals in Darwin’s view, and nothing in biology escapes the law of natural selection, Social Darwinism follows logically. Indeed, Darwinists today continue to portray human social conventions as evolved traits.

The Results of the Study

This summary of the Radkiewicz and Skarżyńska paper says it all: “A new survey study links belief in the concept of Social Darwinism with certain dysfunctional psychological characteristics, such as exploitative attitudes towards others, hostility, and … Social Darwinists tend to admire strength and power.”[8]

To reach this conclusion, the authors surveyed four random samples of adult Poles. The sample sizes ranged from 624 to 853 respondents, which the authors believe are fully representative of the population in terms of sex, education, age, residence, and region. The control group was similar in the traits evaluated. The measurement scale used was developed by Professor Duckett which is called the Competitive Jungle Belief Scale.[9]

Implications of the Study

Herbert Spencer (at age 73) who gave the term ‘survival of the fittest’
to the world’s evolution terminology. From Wikimedia Commons.

If their results are valid, it means that some of the most eminent scientists and intellectuals of the last century suffered from the severe personality disorder that the authors describe. This would include Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, and sociologist[10] who propagated ‘Social Darwinism.’ After reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Spencer coined the term ‘survival of the fittest’ in his best-selling book Principles of Biology.[11] The Origin of Species was Darwin’s magnum opus on his theory of evolution.[12] Indeed, the term “survival of the fittest” fit Darwin’s theory perfectly, and has been used to describe it ever since. Darwin himself was persuaded to substitute Spencer’s term for natural selection in later editions of Origin.

Thus, if “species and genera and orders have arisen by evolution, then, as Mr. Darwin shows … [d]isappearance of intermediate forms, less fitted for special spheres of existence … [is] an inference which is in harmony with what we know respecting races of men and … animals”[13] This obviously makes even Charles Darwin himself a product of survival of the fittest.

By the 1870s and 1880s Spencer had achieved an unparalleled popularity as a science writer, as the sales of his books document. He was probably the first (and possibly the only) person to sell over a million copies of his works during his lifetime—and his books promoted Darwinian views on science and humanity. Spencer’s biology book contained an entire detailed chapter on evolution. Given Spencer’s popularity, it was probably as influential at the time, if not more so, than Darwin’s own work. It is not out of line to say that many if not most of the early evolutionists were Social Darwinists.

Social Darwinists Are Still Among Us

Ironically, the sample for the Radkiewicz and Skarżyńska study was not past generations but our modem generation! They add that Social Darwinists—those that believe in the core ideas of Darwinism—hold beliefs that conflict with the principles of liberal democracy, and their vision of Social life is not conducive to fostering a cooperative, egalitarian society. Furthermore, those

who subscribe to Social Darwinism view the Social world as a sort of competitive jungle requiring ruthless competition for limited resources, in which only the ‘strongest’ survive. … Social Darwinism includes a negative view of human nature, holding that people are inherently selfish…. Social Darwinists were more likely to display admiration for power, a desire to dominate, a desire to pursue their goals at all costs, and hostility. They were also more likely to have low self-esteem, low self-sufficiency, and a fearful attachment style in their close relationships.”[14]

The only difference between Social Darwinism and Darwinism is the application of the ideas. Darwinists already believe that the entire living world is a “competitive jungle requiring ruthless competition for limited resources, in which only the ‘strongest’ survive,” Social Darwinists simply extend that principle to the social world. It, too, is a competitive jungle requiring ruthless competition for limited resources in which only the ‘strongest’ survive.

Logically, then, one would expect that most evolutionists also exhibit to some extent the same anti-social psychological traits as Social Darwinists. Ideally, a large sample of evolutionists could be evaluated to determine to what degree, if any, that this is true. Such an evaluation would require self-avowed Darwinists to be compared to creationists using the same methodology and measurement tool, the Competitive Jungle Belief Scale, as used by Radkiewicz and Skarżyńska. Such a survey will likely never be done, though, due to real concerns that the comparisons will support the conclusion that Darwinists—who believe that natural selection created all life—share many of the psychological dysfunctions of the Social Darwinists, and that both groups contrast with Darwin skeptics and creationists.


This Radkiewicz and Skarżyńska study concluded that belief in Social Darwinism is linked to certain dysfunctional psychological traits. If true, it indicates that both Social Darwinists, and a large number of Darwinists of the last century, suffered from the dysfunctional character disorder that includes exploitative attitudes towards others and generalized hostility toward non-Darwinians. In addition, the study concluded that Social Darwinists tend to admire strength and power despite their own fragile self-image. Furthermore, both Social Darwinists and all evolutionists believe that “only the strongest, best adapted to life in the ’competitive Social jungle’ can survive” in the long run.[15] The only difference is that the Social Darwinists extend Darwinism to society as a whole (as did Darwin himself), while those Darwinists abjuring Social Darwinism focus on plants and animals. Otherwise there is no difference. We would expect, therefore, that the two groups have the same, or similar, personality flaws if both were to be measured with the Competitive Jungle Belief Scale used in the Radkiewicz and Skarżyńska study.

Update 08/20/2021 (Ed.) – Searchers just found a mass burial site where Poles were murdered with handguns and burned by the Nazis at the end of the war in 1945. Science Magazine says, “Nazi massacre unearthed in Poland ‘was really a horror’.” The article by Andrew Curry gives names and stories about some of the victims, describing wedding rings and other artifacts found in the ashes. This is just one corner of global horrors unleashed by Social Darwinists. Read it and weep.


Newspaper cartoons at the time of the Scopes Trial in 1925 mocked and ridiculed creationists and Christians as anti-science ‘fundamentalists’ who oppose science, education and progress. The fear-mongering propaganda illustrates the psychological “admiration for power and desire to dominate, pursue one’s goals at all costs, exploitative attitude towards people, and hostility” which the study says produces “a vision of Social life that is unfavorable for building a cooperative, helpful, and relatively egalitarian society.” This attitude continues among leading Darwinians today.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.



[1] Radkiewicz , Piotr  and Krystyna Skarżyńska. 2021. Who are the ‘Social Darwinists’? On dispositional determinants of perceiving the Social world as competitive jungle. PLOS One. August 11.

[2] Tontonoz, Matthew. 2008. “The Scopes Trial Revisited: Social Darwinism versus Social Gospel.” Science as Culture. 17(2): 121-143. June.

[3] Bergman, Jerry. 2021. The Other Side of the Scopes Trial. Book manuscript now in Review.

[4] Radkiewicz  and Skarżyńska. 2021. p. 1.

[5] Encyclopedia Britannica

[6] American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology.

[7] Radkiewicz and Skarżyńska. 2021. p. 2.

[8] Science Daily. 2021. Belief in Social Darwinism linked to dysfunctional psychological characteristics, study finds.

[9] Duckitt J, Birum I, Wagner C, du Plessis I. 2002. The psychological bases of ideology and prejudice: Testing a dual process model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2002; 83: 75–93. PMID: 12088134.

[10] Spence, Herbert 1864.  Principles of Biology. New York : D. Appleton and Company.

[11] Elliot, Hugh. 1917. Herbert Spencer. London: Constable and Company, Ltd.

[12] Herbert Spencer on the Survival of the Fittest

[13] Herbert Spencer on the Survival of the Fittest

[14] Science Daily, 2021.

[15] adkiewicz and Skarżyńska. 2021.

Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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