Quote of the Day: Richard Dawkins


“The popular canard about Hitler being inspired by Darwin comes partly from the fact that both Hitler and Darwin were impressed by something that everybody has known for centuries: you can breed animals for desired qualities. Hitler aspired to turn this common knowledge to the human species. Darwin didn’t. His inspiration took him in a much more interesting and original direction. Darwin’s great insight was that you don’t need a breeding agent at all: nature–raw survival or differential reproductive success–can play the role of the breeder. As for Hitler’s ‘Social Darwinism’–his belief in a struggle between races–that is actually very un-Darwinian. For Darwin, the struggle for existence was a struggle between individuals within a species, not between species, races or other groups. Don’t be misled by the ill-chosen and unfortunate subtitle of Darwin’s great book: The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. It is abundantly clear from the text itself that Darwin didn’t mean races in the sense of ‘A group of people, animals, or plants, connected by common descent or origin’ (Oxford English Dictionary, definition 6.1). Rather, he intended something more like the OED‘s definition 6.II: ‘A group or class of people, animals, or things, having some common feature or features’. An example of sense 6.II would be ‘All those individuals (regardless of their geographical race) who have blue eyes’. In the technical jargon of modern genetics, which was not available to Darwin, we would express the sense of ‘race’ in his subtitle as ‘All those individuals who possess a certain allele.’ The misunderstanding of the Darwinian struggle for existence as a struggle between groups of individuals–the so-called ‘group selection’ fallacy–is unfortunately not confined to Hilerian racism. It constantly resurfaces in amateur misinterpretations of Darwinism, and even among some professional biologists who should know better.” –Richard Dawkins (from The Greatest Show on Earth)

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