Thursday, April 15, 2010

Darwinism vs. Social Darwinism

Darwinism is what is known as the commonly accepted modern theory of evolution. The term was not coined by Darwin himself, but it represents the idea that evolution is the summation of adaptations proven to be advantageous to survival through natural selection. Synonymous with the term Darwinism is the concept of "survival of the fittest". Starting in the late 1800's the idea of Social Darwinism surfaced which promoted this same "survival of the fittest" among people. To what degree are the two terms alike? To what degree are they different? Is Social Darwinism an accurate example of how the strongest people in society survive, specifically in the late 1800's? If it is not, explain how possible arguments that could be made by creationists in reference to Social Darwinism are invalid in the argument of evolution.


  1. Social Darwinism is the theory that, in a capitalist economy, the strong (intelligent and hardworking) ones will survive while the less willing to work will die out improving society as a whole. This philosophies has a few internal problems, but also- despite its name- differs from Darwin's theory in a few key ways.

    Firstly is the notion of change. Social Darwinism foretells change but in the real often the poor do not simply die out because they are "less fit to survive," but instead they often marry within their class then leading both to the continuation of their genes and sometimes an increase in their genes (because very often people of lower classes will have many children in hopes of an income from each as they grow). This defies Darwinism because Darwinism states that those who are not fit to survive do not pass along genes. In Social Darwinism people simply continue in the state in which they are in bringing no aid to society. Because of this Social Darwinism fails to work Because simply because someone is not living lavishly does not mean they will die out leaving the fit to survive instead.

    Also this theory differs in the theory of inherent change. Organism in evolution are said to develop adaptations over time. In Social Darwinisms organisms are not meant to adapt to the new situation they are meant to remain in the condition which they are in for the rest of their family lineage.

  2. Darwinism and Social Darwinism are similar in that they both depend on the concepts of natural selection and “survival of the fittest” (which Herbert Spencer introduced, not Darwin, when he was explaining his Social Darwinism idea). For example, in Darwin stated that organisms with advantageous mutations will continue to survive and reproduce to pass down their genes as the are better adapted to their environments. Similarly, Social Darwinism states that when small businesses are crowded out by monopolies and trusts, it is just a part of the evolutionary process.

    Although Darwinism and Social Darwinism share some similar aspects, I think that for the most part they are very different. First of all, Darwinism is a scientific theory whereas Social Darwinism is more of a social, political and economic concept. Darwinism states that organisms evolved over time where mutations allowed them to better fit the pressures exerted by their environment which led to speciation. In comparison, Social Darwinism is the application of Darwinism to human society and institutions where businesses that are stronger and larger will over power smaller ones due to natural selection. Also, Social Darwinism doesn’t mention change over time, just stronger versus weaker businesses. Comparatively, change over time and adaptations are both vital parts of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

    I think that Spencer’s Social Darwinism is accurate in the context of the 1800s. During that time period, wealth meant power to an even greater extent than today because there was such a large gap between the rich and the poor. When large companies joined to form monopollies and trusts, they could seriously endanger the survival of smaller businesses. Lets take this into a more biological context. Pretend that large monopolies are bison, small businesses are grasshoppers, and the limited consumer market is represented by grass. Both the Bison and the grasshoppers are going t compete for the grass as a source of food. This is an example of interspecific competition – competition between two individuals of different species compete for limited resources that limits their growth and survival. Now lets pretend that the bison have a competitive advantage. This leads to competitive exclusion. So, theoretically speaking, the bison squash the grasshoppers.

    Tindall Volume 2– APUSH book
    Why Evolution is True

  3. To begin, any change that would have occurred due to social Darwinism is miniscule, seeing as the time in which social Darwinism would have occurred is very small compared to how long it took for most adaptations and traits evolved. Also, the traits that make a socially (economically) successful person are greatly to environment as opposed to heredity. Many skills to do well economically are acquired rather than innate. That is why we take economics classes. And if a person happens to be raised with events that lead to interest in economics, then that person will have a tendency to pay attention in that class or simply learn about economics on his or her own, making the person more successful than others.

    There are still hereditary factors such as intelligence or elements of personality that are unchangeable and lead to different applications of this intelligence. However, a fallacy of the idea of social Darwinism is that it was assumed that those with greater amounts of money would survive & reproduce more, which is true at small levels of money, seeing as a certain amount of money is required to raise a family. But for very rich people, who were a frequent occurrence at the time and were the reason people needed to come up with the idea of social Darwinism so as to defend the rich, there is not much difference between a rich person and very rich person and an extremely rich person: they will all probably raise about the same number of children in the same amount of time, if not in longer generations and larger numbers of offspring than for poorer people. Therefore, the purpose of social Darwinism, to defend the morality of very rich people in the 19th century, is invalid

    Is it still true, though? To some extent, yes, but not very much, especially considering that society is constantly shifting, and with this shift comes a shift in what people might be selected for.