Jules Howard writes that teaching evolution from an early age would help combat racism and promote humanist values (Utopian thinking: Forget British Values – teach children they are apes, theguardian.com, 27 March), but this is not borne out by experience. Most early evolutionists were racist, Darwin included. Some of the most brilliant evolutionary theorists, such as Francis Galton and Ronald Fisher, were strong proponents of eugenics. That this strand of thinking is mostly abandoned in today’s mainstream evolutionary biology is reassuring, but does not stem from any particular scientific finding. Rather, it was the horrors of Nazism (itself strongly influenced by evolutionary ideas) that made further promotion of racism and eugenics untenable.
Another optimistic expectation is that the realisation that we are apes would free us of our bodily embarrassment. Again, this is not supported by evidence. The contrary seems to be the case, where anxiety about their position in the mating market stemming from their understanding of evolutionary theory leads many men to extremely misogynistic thinking. This can be seen in the flourishing of the online “red pill” trolling culture.
None of this is to say that evolution, which is an elegant and intellectually stimulating scientific theory, should not be taught. It should, however, disabuse us of the notion that how this teaching will be used can be separated from the wider moral values a society holds.
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