Social Darwinism main content.

Social Darwinism

Part of the Darwin exhibition.

Misusing Darwin's Theory

Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is entirely focused on an explanation of life's biological diversity. It is a scientific theory meant to explain observations about species. Yet some have used the theory to justify a particular view of human social, political, or economic conditions. All such ideas have one fundamental flaw: They use a purely scientific theory for a completely unscientific purpose. In doing so they misrepresent and misappropriate Darwin's original ideas.

One such distortion and misuse is the loose collection of ideologies grouped under the label of "Social Darwinism." Based largely on notions of competition and natural selection, Social Darwinist theories generally hold that the powerful in society are innately better than the weak and that success is proof of their superiority.

Darwin passionately opposed social injustice and oppression. He would have been dismayed to see the events of generations to come: his name attached to opposing ideologies from Marxism to unbridled capitalism, and to policies from ethnic cleansing to forced sterilization. Whether used to rationalize social inequality, racism, or eugenics, so-called Social Darwinist theories are a gross misreading of the ideas first described in the Origin of Species and applied in modern biology.