Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882)
(Third in a series on Human Intelligence.)

Darwin was an Englishman of remarkable intelligence who spent his life in research, writing, and lecturing. It can be said that his writings turned the old world of science upside down. Even today his books are being debated by those who wish to disprove “The Theory of Natural Selection.”
Charles Darwin was 33 years old when he formed a rough outline of his theory of evolution and spent the next 16 years engaged in testing it. Finally in November 1859 he published “The Origin of Species.” This work was followed in 1868 by his “Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,” the in turn by the “Descent of Man” and that again by “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.” Each of these books was the elaboration or complement of a section of its predecessor. The later years of Darwin was devoted to botanical research and resulted in a series of treatises of highest scientific value. He died on April 19, 1882 at the age of 73 years, two months, and 7 days and was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.
It is not surprising that he attributed his own intellectual success to nature, not nurture. He expressed his beliefs briefly when speaking about his brother, Erasmas Darwin: “…I do not think that I owe much to him intellectually nor to my sisters… I am inclined to believe that education and environment produce only a small effect on the mind of any one, and that most of our qualities are innate.” Darwin believed that intelligent behaviors developed from the primitive instincts of our nonhuman ancestors, and that the difference between human intelligence and animal intelligence is a matter of degree, not of kind.
In T
he Descent of Man, Darwin presented numerous examples supporting his contention that humans and nonhuman animals share cognitive attributes like wonder, curiosity, long-term memory, the ability to pay attention, imitate the behavior or others, and to reason. Darwin suggested that animals and fish have the ability to learn from experience. Those fishes or animals that could not learn would be “selected against” by nature, and would not pass on their genes. Only the intelligent genes remain in the pool, thus gradually increasing the overall intelligence of each species.
Those scholars who are interested in the history of eugenics movement will find some arresting quotes in the fifth chapter of
The Descent of Man. For example:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment...Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.

However, it would be unfair to suggest that Darwin condemned these merciful acts; that was not the intention of the quote presented above. He was simply providing evidence for the theory that humans have evolved a more sophisticated moral sensibility than other animals. In the passage following the quote above he states that eliminating acts of human sympathy would result in the “deterioration in the noblest part of our nature.” It is very likely that Darwin himself would have objected to the practice of eugenics.
(Published in the April 2005 Issue of the Riverside Review)