The Science of Equality: On Darwin and Dr. King
by Brian Fabry Dorsam
When an arbitrary group of persons is deemed fundamentally undeserving under the law, this statement reduces, necessarily, to a statement about genetics and evolution by natural selection. Statements such as, ‘The greatest achievements in intellectual life can never be produced by those of alien race but only by those who are inspired by the Aryan or German spirit,’ are statements with thorough evidential falsity. Inferiority is no longer subject to baseless (and often mindless) speculation as it was in the days prior to modern genetics. Since the advancement of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, equality between Homo sapiens has been and continues to be demonstrated by all available science. So, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared black men and women equal to men and women of lighter pigment, he was not simply making a moral claim, he was stating a scientific fact.
Rarely can two eras of human history be so cleanly divided as they were upon the publication of Darwin’s epoch-changing study of biological adaptation, On the Origin of Species. This book – paired with his examination of human evolution, The Descent of Man, published two years later – provided humankind with an unprecedented understanding of its kinship to all life on earth and the very origins thereof, painting, for the first time, an image of filial succession that, we now know, goes back 3.5 billion years. By providing humanity with an understanding of its humble beginnings and uniting all life on earth in a web of descent, Darwin’s theory of evolution thoroughly exploded the supposed scientific foundations for racism.
The development of Darwin’s theories has only further eradicated any legitimacy for racist claims and legislation. In 2003, the Human Genome Project successfully mapped the first complete human genome, thereby providing an unparalleled look at the intricacies of human DNA and the complex causal relationship between genes and their phenotypic effects on the human body. In recent years, science has given us a clear picture of the minute processes that occur within each second of the life of the ten trillion cells in our bodies. Not only have these advancements allowed us to look forward, predicting the behavior of cells and proteins and allowing the manipulation of genetic structures, they have also allowed us to look backward, providing detail to the historical outline of human development that Darwin described.
For a long time, it was thought by European conquerors that men and women with darker skin in fact belonged to a different, lesser-evolved species. In this way, it was often attempted to study the civilizations of foreign settlements as way of studying our human ancestry. However, with such a thorough account of human evolution, arguments that one tribe of Homo sapiens is more biologically advanced than another simply disintegrate. Even Darwin noted that differences in appearance (skin tone and facial structure) that were so frequently cited as evidence of taxonomical disparity were, in fact, merely cosmetic. Darwin elaborates on this point in The Descent of Man (lest the reader criticize his vocabulary, let us remember that this was, in 1871, the only vocabulary available):
Our naturalist would likewise be much disturbed as soon as he perceived that the distinctive characters of all the races were highly variable. This fact strikes every one on first beholding the negro slaves in Brazil, who have been imported from all parts of Africa. The same remark holds good with the Polynesians, and with many other races. It may be doubted whether any character can be named which is distinctive of a race and is constant. Savages, even within the limits of the same tribe, are not nearly so uniform in character, as has been often asserted. Hottentot women offer certain peculiarities, more strongly marked than those occurring in any other race, but these are known not to be of constant occurrence. In the several American tribes, colour and hairiness differ considerably; as does colour to a certain degree, and the shape of the features greatly, in the Negroes of Africa. The shape of the skull varies much in some races; and so it is with every other character. Now all naturalists have learnt by dearly bought experience, how rash it is to attempt to define species by the aid of inconstant characters.
Although the existing races of man differ in many respects, as in colour, hair, shape of skull, proportions of the body, &c., yet if their whole structure be taken into consideration they are found to resemble each other closely in a multitude of points. Many of these are of so unimportant or of so singular a nature, that it is extremely improbable that they should have been independently acquired by aboriginally distinct species or races.
Indeed, the points that Darwin makes here have been so far advanced by modern science that the notion of ‘race’ has long been expelled as a relic of antiquity. The only true ‘race’ is the human race, which is to be taken as a whole. Describing a ‘race’ of people no longer has any scientific value.
This is due, in part, to the careful study of habitats and progress of early civilizations. “Why,” it is often asked, “did the Eurasian settlements advance more quickly than those in Africa and the Americas if not for biological disparities between peoples?” Well, it seems there are a wealth of reasons, which have all been elucidated in elaborate detail over the last century.
It seems that of the 200,000 wild plant species in the world, only a few thousand are actually eaten by humans, and only a few hundred have been successfully domesticated. Even so, it is rather astonishing to learn that, today, it is only twelve species of plant that account for 80 per cent of the world’s crops. These plants, it is important to know, are wheat, corn, rice, barley, sorghum, soybean, potato, manioc, sweet potato, sugarcane, sugar beet and the banana. None of these plants, nor indeed any other, have been domesticated in the modern era, which suggests that ancient peoples managed to domesticate all available species.
However, there are curious examples of undomesticated plants whose Eurasian relatives were successfully cultivated, such as the North American wild apple. If a similar plant could be domesticated by the peoples of Eurasia, why couldn’t the Native Americans domesticate apples themselves? When one looks at the rest of the plants available to the Native Americans, the answer becomes quite clear. Ancient North America was distinctly lacking in its number of domesticable plants. For a society of hunter-gatherers to give up a nomadic lifestyle and create an agricultural settlement, it would certainly take more than one crop. It was not until the arrival of Mexican crops in 1 CE that this shift began.
When one compares the regions in question, one is provided a clear picture of agricultural progress. The Fertile Crescent, located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and extending through present-day Iraq, was home to the first agricultural societies. In his indispensible book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, bio-anthropologist Jared Diamond describes the Fertile Crescent this way:
[…] It lies within a zone of so-called Mediterranean climate, a climate characterized by mild, wet winters and long, hot, dry summers. That climate selects for plant species able to survive the long dry season and to resume growth rapidly upon the return of the rains. Many Fertile Crescent plants, especially species of cereals and pulses, have adapted in a way that renders them useful to humans: they are annuals, meaning that the plant dries up and dies in the dry season.
Within their year of life, annual plants inevitably remain small herbs. Many of them instead put much of their energy into producing big seeds, which remain dormant during the dry season and are then ready to sprout when the rains come. Annual plants therefore waste little energy on making inedible wood or fibrous stems, like the body of trees and bushes. But many of the big seeds, notably those of annual cereals and pulses, are edible by humans. They constitute 6 of the modern world’s 12 major crops.
However, Mediterranean climates can be found in Chile, California, South Africa and Southwest Australia, so why didn’t those regions prosper, as well? The Fertile Crescent is by far the world’s largest Mediterranean zone and it incorporates the largest variety of topographies, thus accommodating the largest variety of wild plant and animal species. It is also subject to the most diverse seasonal changes, which consequently produces the largest variety of annuals.
Agriculture in the Fertile Crescent followed from the domestication of eight crops: emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, barley, lentil, pea, chickpea, bitter vetch and flax. Of these eight, only flax and barley are distributed widely outside of the Fertile Crescent. This allowed the societies within the Fertile Crescent to begin cultivating their own local crops without having to wait for the arrival of foreign ones, as was necessary in nearly every other society on the planet.
Native Americans, with the aid of Mexican crops, did develop an agricultural society in northeastern America, but in 200 CE, nearly 9,000 years after the societies in the Fertile Crescent, putting them at a supreme disadvantage by the 15th century when they were colonized by Europe. In any event, even in the wake of modern science, little has been done to cultivate the native plants of North America, and so it seems that the native societies weren’t simply neglecting their local bounty. In fact, there was no local bounty.
The same can be demonstrated for the domestication of animals. When considering the advancement of human societies, one must examine the local populations of large herbivorous mammals. While small mammals (those under 100 pounds, say) may provide food and clothing, they cannot transport people or goods and consequently cannot support trade or warfare. Only 14 species of large mammal were domesticated before the twentieth century. These include the ‘Minor Nine’ (so-called because they were of importance only to particular societies) and the ‘Major Five’ (so-called because, once domesticated, they were spread widely and became of great importance across the globe). The Minor Nine include the Arabian (one-humped) camel, the Bactrian (two-humped) camel, the llama, the donkey, the reindeer, the water buffalo, the yak, the Bali cattle and the mithan. The Major Five are the sheep, the goat, the cow, the pig and the horse. Of these ‘Ancient Fourteen’, only one, the ancestral llama, came from South America. None came from North America, Australia and sub-Saharan Africa. The remaining 13 species came from Eurasia.
Large herbivorous mammals certainly existed elsewhere. Diamond identifies six groups of reasons why the large mammal species of other regions were not domesticated by the local human populations. The first is diet. In order to grow a 1,000-pound cow, it requires about 10,000 pounds of corn. However, in order to grow a 1,000-pound carnivore, one must feed it 10,000 pounds of herbivore grown on 100,000 pounds of corn. The expense is far too costly to make the domestication of mammalian carnivores viable. Consequently, no such animal has ever been domesticated for food.
The second is growth rate. In order to be a candidate for domestication, worthy of immense effort, an animal must mature quickly. Diamond points to gorillas and elephants, both herbivorous, which take nearly 15 years to mature. It is simply not sensible to produce such animals in an agricultural setting.
The third is the problems of captive breeding. Many species do not reproduce reliably in captivity. Akbar the Great, the emperor of India from 1556 to 1561, kept over 1,000 cheetahs in captivity, but all of these were captured in the wild. In fact, it was not until 1960 that a cheetah was born in a zoo.
The fourth is the trouble of disposition. Any animal large enough is equipped to kill a human. Each of the animals on our list has managed it. Additionally, wild animals vary greatly in temperament and most are unequivocally dangerous. Obvious examples are grizzly bears or buffalo, each of which might seem otherwise worthy of candidacy. Perhaps less obvious are the four species of African zebra. In fact, many attempts have been made to domesticate the zebra. Some have gone so far as to hitch the beasts to carts. Each attempt at domestication has ended in the discouraging realization that zebras grow untenably dangerous with age. As Diamond puts it, ‘Zebras have the unpleasant habit of biting a person and not letting go.’ While individual horses can be similarly disagreeable, they are, as a group, nowhere near the seemingly uniform viciousness of the zebra. In this light, it should surprise no one that the interest of the sub-Saharan African peoples in saddling the nasty creatures quickly dissipated.
The fifth is a tendency to panic. Some species are far more excitable than others. When fenced, many species will either die of shock or destroy themselves against the wall of the enclosure. This, of course, is if the flighty animal can be captured at all, which is often impossible.
The sixth is social structure. Species who have developed a hierarchical structure are easier to domesticate, because the human effectively dominates the hierarchy. These creatures are naturally subservient and respond to herding. Their tendency to gather in the wild makes them more likely to tolerate enclosure. However, species that lack such a social structure and lead more solitary or territorial lifestyles are naturally more difficult to cultivate.
Upon examination, the dominance of Eurasian societies is due not to their supremacy, but to geography. The accident of Eurasian ascendancy led to the ‘normalization’ of Western culture and, consequently, to the colonization and marginalization of the world’s remaining societies. The reversal of such destructive prejudice and scientific ignorance has taken centuries to abolish. It was not until Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection in the mid-19th century that the argument for biological equality had a significant scientific basis. Even after the successes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, racism still persists, though now without substance.
Despite all of this, Darwin has (quite recently, in fact) been called the father of modern racism. The devastating application of scientific understanding that is often referenced in this case is the Holocaust, when Adolf Hitler discovered that the principles of genetic inheritance would allow someone so inclined to alter the trajectory of human evolution to one’s private tastes. While Hitler’s intentions were unthinkably evil, seizing a capacity for human callousness theretofore unseen, they speak nothing to the truth or viability of the theory on which they were founded. Eugenics of the sort that Hitler so fiendishly set to work is a terrible and irredeemably wicked application of amoral scientific fact. Darwin’s theory of evolution can no more be credited for the monstrous actions of Adolf Hitler than Newton’s law of gravity can be credited for the dropping of the atomic bomb.
It has long been thought that we take our morals from our holy books, rather than the inverse. This seems unlikely, as any glance at our holy books should indicate. Yet, it is often said that without these ancient tomes, we would be morally incompetent, slaughtering each other at will, raping children for sport, and other wretched accusations. This reasoning seems not only flawed, but horribly offensive. It takes a rather low view of humanity, does it not? This is to say nothing of the oft-overlooked detail that the greatest impetus for war has undoubtedly been the content of some old scroll or other. In any event, it is repeated tediously that without divine guidance, Dr. King might have gone about whoring and drinking to excess, just like every other godless wretch. Well, of course, that was precisely the case anyhow, and while Dr. King certainly invoked scripture in his speeches and writings, his purpose was distinctly secular.
The inclination for moral behavior is biologically derived. That the tribes of Egypt could have survived so long before being told that thieving and killing were unadvisable seems to indicate that perhaps they had an inkling prior to the revelation of the Decalogue. The concept of equality can certainly not be taken from religion, as history assures us. If the Testaments are to be trusted, Jesus said, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ but surely couldn’t have meant it, because it was he who created the modern image of hell, a vast eternity of torture reserved for anyone who distrusted his claims to divinity. It is much more likely that our morality has been cultivated by natural selection. Dr. King, for one, did not learn nonviolence from Jesus, he learned it from Mahatma Gandhi and Bayard Rustin. As for equality, in ‘The Power of Nonviolence,’ he cites Jesus once, but only after citing Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.
Though the struggle for equality has gained substantial ground in the last century, the final battles are still being fought. The United States has still not granted LGBT citizens equal rights under the law. Horrible, heterosupremacist rhetoric is spewed daily by our country’s leaders without shame or hesitation. This is permitted because of the pervasive misunderstanding that homosexuality is a choice rather than a natural predisposition. It should be suspect that this view is propounded only by heterosexuals and has no sound biological foundation. Religion is also a difficult factor to ignore, as the holy books of the Abrahamic religions forbid outright the recreation of two persons of the same sex. This is demonstrated clearly in the abrupt annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities which were apparently so overrun with anal sex that they warranted a holocaust. It is no coincidence that these books also fundamentally contradict most of the discoveries of modern science.
Rustin, mentor to Dr. King and the organizer of the March on Washington, dedicated his life to unmaking such senseless evil. Rustin had the great misfortune of being born black and gay in 1912. Thankfully, he spent his life making sure that being born black and gay would no longer be a misfortune. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in the following year, Rustin devoted the remainder of his days to the advancement of LGBT rights. In 1986, Rustin delivered a speech entitled ‘The New Niggers Are Gays,’ in which he stated:
Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new ‘niggers’ are gays. . . . It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. . . . The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.
While the trials of black Americans and LGBT Americans cannot be conflated, they are extensions of the same great struggle for equality, which has taken far too long to attain. Rustin realized, as Dr. King did, that equality has no middle ground. There is either equality or inequality. Until there is equality for all, there is inequality for all.
The tenets of injustice and inequality are not only morally defective, but scientifically invalid. Modern science has rendered these tired, infantile habits impotent. To defend inequality is to reject scientific fact. We are left with a question, however: How, then, do we defend equality? If we take a religious view, we are left to apologize for the rather troublesome passages in holy scripture and appeal instead to our morality. This morality is derived not from our holy books, but from our very nature. If we take a scientific view, we see first that all of life on earth is united in kinship, that each tree and insect and flower and woman are true cousins in a great family of organisms evolved over 3.5 billion years. We then see that the apparent ‘races’ of humanity are, in fact, not races at all, but are of one species descended from a common parentage. We see that the domination of Western culture is an accident of geography, not a consequence of evolution. We see that there is no biological disparity between the peoples of the world. We see equality. We see freedom. We see what Dr. King saw.