Natural History Image Slideshow

Islam between Darwinism (Evolution Theory) and Social Darwinism (Scientific Racism)

From Malthus to Darwin and Evolution of Social Darwinism (or Scientific Racism!) 

The nation’s history and its values are reflected in its linguistic vocabulary.  The English language (like the Arabic language) is greatly influenced by its surrounding environment; its history is intimately linked to the history of western culture and its progress throughout various era of history.

Thomas Robert Malthus (1766 –1834), a British economist wrote in 1798 ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’; he saw such ideas of endless progress towards a utopian society as vitiated because of the dangers of population growth: "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man: Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison with the second".  As an Anglican clergyman and Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge (elected in 1793), Malthus saw that egalitarian societies were prone to over-population, Malthus wrote in dramatic terms: "epidemics, pestilence and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and ten thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow, levels the population with the food of the world".  Malthus criticised the Poor Laws and argued that population was held within resource limits by two types of checks: positive ones, which raised the death rate (hunger, disease and war), and preventative ones, which lowered the birth rate, such as abortion, birth control, prostitution, postponement of marriage, and celibacy (sexual abstinence).

Malthus argued that as an increasing population would normally outgrow its food supply, this would result in the starvation of the weakest – called Malthusian Catastrophe (or Malthusian crisis).  European historians still describe that the Spanish and European colonisation of Americas and the killing of its native people came as a result of Malthusian crisis!!!

While others regarded fertility as an economic advantage, because it increased the number of workers available for work, however, Malthus stood against it because he thought that even though fertility might increase the gross output, it tended to reduce output per capita.

He further argued that as the supply of labour increases with the increased population-growth at a constant labour demand, the wages earned would decrease eventually to subsistence, where birth-rate equals death-rate, resulting in no growth in population

Malthus however, assumed a constant labour-demand in his assessment of England, and in doing so he ignored the effects of industrialization, which increased the level of technology and production, causing an increase in labour-demand.

He proposed the gradual abolition of  Poor Laws by gradually reducing the number of persons qualifying for relief (Relief in dire distress would come from private charity). He reasoned that poor relief acted against the longer-term interests of the poor by reducing the number of workers and thus raising the price of commodities and undermining the independence and resilience of the peasant.  In other words, ‘the Poor Laws’ tended to "create the poor which they maintain".

He also supported the Corn Laws, which introduced a system of taxes on British imports of wheat. He thought these measures would encourage domestic production, and so promote long-term benefit. By encouraging domestic production, Malthus argued, the Corn Laws would guarantee British self-sufficiency in food


Defects of Malthus Theory:

Malthus predicted a population crisis in mid-19 century, but nothing came!  The neo-Malthusians in The Limits to Growth in 1972 predict another crisis, also erroneously.

Furthermore, attempts to limit the human growth by family planning are interventional and can be draconian (e.g. mass sterilization, or China’s one-child policy) are often rejected by people naturally.  Recently, the phenomenon of “feminization of nature” (because of the widespread chemical contamination of universe), is becoming an epidemic, resulting in infertility spreading like the plague (see Deborah Cadbury’s: The Feminization of Nature, Hamish Hamilton (Penguin), London 1997). Furthermore, the Economist (Oct/Nov 2009 issue, pages 35-38) published an article on falling fertility and how the population problem is solving itself, reducing the world’s numbers from 9.2 billion in 2050 to 8.5 billion. The article made a link between wealthy rich families and lowered fertility, and vice versa; it states that wealth lowers fertility and lower fertility causes wealth.  Colonisation of the New World by Europeans driven by Malthusian vision resulted in an insatiable greed for food, for money, for power, and for domination of the others (as if it is the birth right of the white superior race – see below).  New World Colonization has indeed, resulted in initial annihilation of the Native American population with an acute shortage of working men population, and consequently increased demand for imported African slaves (i.e. many displaced by force from their countries) in order to solve the plantations problems to grow, on a massive scale, various crops of cotton, coffee, tobacco, sugar cane, sisal, various oil seeds, and rubber trees.  Millions of slaves were also needed to accomplish colonial industrialization dreams, e.g. construction of Panama Canal alone ended in massive death of 28000 workers (because of yellow fever, malaria, and mudslides). 

In fact, the Problem is not the rapid population growth (as Malthusians consider), but in the inequitable distribution among the population.  More importantly, good planning results usually in food over-production; in other word, the principal problem lies in the overproduction and mal-distribution.  The individual portion of food, and indeed the human meals had become much bigger than before; the morbid obesity is now becoming ‘epidemic’ in proportion.  Indeed, the media are more concerned about the mountains of stored butter and cheese, melting away and/or disposed off (e.g. thrown in the sea) in order to fix the commodity prices at a high level, because of market forces: supply and demand.   Similarly, there are mountains of grains (wheat, barley, oat), and lakes of milk and honey (not to mention lakes of wine); none of this surplus in food overproduction is being distributed equally at home and/or dispatched to poor countries.

Despite all these defects of Malthus theory, however Malthus had influenced politicians and decision-makers of colonisation of the New World to wage wars as a means of depopulation of the poor race for the advantage of the superior European white race settlers (enhancing the Euro-centric view of the world).  In 1805 Malthus became Professor of History and Political Economy at the East India Company College (now known as Haileybury) in Hertfordshire (His students affectionately referred to him as "Pop" or "Population" Malthus).

Malthusian theory influenced the policy of British East India Company (James Mill, the Governor-General of India - in office 1828-1835, himself was a friend and a great admirer of Malthus).  Another distinguished Malthusian was the British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (in office: 1783–1801 and 1804–1806), after reading the work of Malthus promptly withdrew a Bill he had introduced calling for the extension of Poor Relief.   But more importantly, Malthusian social theory became the canon of socioeconomic theory that influenced the idea of the survival of the fittest, a term coined by anthropologist Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), or "The Gospel of Wealth" theory written by Andrew Carnegie.

Spencer’s term ‘survival for the fittest’ inspired Charles Darwin, who with his co-discoverer Alfred Russel Wallace propounded their Theory of ‘Natural Selection’.  However, when Wallace met Darwin, he gave him the draft of his scientific paper.  Although Wallace's first letters to Darwin have been lost, Wallace carefully kept the letters he received. In the first letter, dated 1 May 1857, Darwin commented that Wallace's letter of 10 October which he had recently received, as well as Wallace's paper "On the Law which has regulated the Introduction of New Species" of 1855, showed that the ‘natural selection’ was Wallace’s idea adopted or plagiarized by Darwin, who attributed it to himself, despite that he initially praised Wallace, claiming that both were thinking alike and to some extent reaching similar conclusions, and said that he was preparing his own work for publication in two years time.   Wallace’s family, like many Scottish Wallaces, claimed a connection to William Wallace, a Scottish leader during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 13th century.  His advocacy of Spiritualism and his belief in a non-material origin for the higher mental faculties of humans strained his relationship with Darwin and with the scientific establishment, especially with other proponents of evolution.

Spencer's major work, Progress: Its Law and Cause (1857) was released 2 years before the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and First Principles was printed in 1860.  Conversely, Spencer (a contemporary of Darwin) had later used Darwin’s evolution theory in the 1870s, introducing the idea of ‘social evolution’ in attempt to scientifically formalize social thinking.  Spencer applied social evolution to all areas of human endeavour, promoting an optimistic view of the future as inevitably becoming better.  Spencer’s ‘Social Evolutionism’ was later influenced by the ‘biological theory of evolution’ to propound the erroneous concept of Social Darwinism.  Indeed, the 1798 Malthus's work An Essay on the Principle of Population was incredibly popular and widely read by social Darwinists. 

Darwin and Wallace both read and acknowledged the role played by Malthus in the development of their own ideas.  Darwin read Malthus' famous Essay on a Principle of Population in 1838, four years after Malthus' death. Darwin referred to Malthus as "that great philosopher", and said: "This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied with manifold force to the animal and vegetable kingdoms, for in this case there can be no artificial increase of food, and no prudential restraint from marriage". Wallace stated: "But perhaps the most important book I read was Malthus's Principles of Population”.


Eugenics, was proposed by Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, in 1865 and 1869. The word eugenics derives from the Greek word eu (good or well) and the suffix -genēs (born), and was coined by Sir Francis Galton in 1883, who defined it as "the study of all agencies under human control which can improve or impair the racial quality of future generations". Galton argued that just as physical traits were clearly inherited among generations of people, so could be said for mental qualities (genius and talent). Galton argued that social morals needed to change so that heredity was a conscious decision, in order to avoid over-breeding by "less fit" members of society and the under-breeding of the "more fit" ones.

In Galton's view, social institutions such as welfare and insane asylums were allowing "inferior" humans to survive and reproduce at levels faster than the more "superior" humans in respectable society, and if corrections were not soon taken, society would be awash with "inferiors." 

The following passage from Malthus showed his influence on Galton, where Malthus suggests (in ‘An essay on the principle of population’. 1798, Chapter IX, p72) that the techniques of animal husbandry could apply to humans, anticipating the idea which, in 1883, Francis Galton called eugenics:

It does not... by any means seem impossible that by an attention to breed, a certain degree of improvement, similar to that among animals, might take place among men. Whether intellect could be communicated may be a matter of doubt; but size, strength, beauty, complexion, and perhaps longevity are in a degree transmissible... As the human race, however, could not be improved in this way without condemning all the bad specimens to celibacy, it is not probable that an attention to breed should ever become general.

Such theories, which often postulated a "master race", usually "Nordic" and "Aryan", were along with eugenics, pioneered by Sir Francis Galton (among others) and popularized at the turn of the 20th century, a main influence of the Nazi racial policies and their program of eugenicsGalton developed the science of eugenics whose primary concept was "control" and promotion of quantification and analytical measurements of "desirable traits" so as to set a guide on how to obtain the "truly proper breeding".   Apart from Arthur de Gobineau (one of the founder of "biological racism") who wrote in 1853  An Essay on The Inequality of Human Races”, other scientific racist works that largely influenced Nazism include Madison Grant’s 1916/1924 “The Passing of the Great Race” and Lothrop T. Stoddard’s 1920 “The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy”.  For the most part, however, scientific racism is a pejorative label sometimes given to modern theories or arguments that allege that scientific evidence shows significant evolutionary differences between races or ethnic groups.

Darwin read his cousin's work with interest, and devoted sections of Descent of Man to discussion of Galton's theories.

(Retrieved from the 'Introduction to Paradise Dictionary' by Prof Dr M Al-Fallouji, Chapter 3: Racism between two Languages - A Critical Review)