Why Evolutionary Principles Cannot be Used to Support Racial Prejudices DRAFT

Evolutionary principles are sometimes used to justify racial prejudices. While no rigorous scientific study has yet proven one race to be inferior to any others it should be recognized that it is in principle impossible to prove racial superiority/inferiority and hence no study ever will.

Firstly a note on the meaning of ‘more evolved’ and ‘less evolved’. Every species on the face of the earth today has been evolving for the exact same amount of time. We all started at the same time. However you believe that life started, either as a single celled organism in the ancient seas of earth or by some intervention, if you believe in evolution then everything started roughly at that one point and proceeded from there. Hence we are all equally evolved, from humans to gnats. The only things that may be considered less evolved are things that are no longer around to complain about it.

Secondly, if the claim of racial superiority/inferiority is not one of being ‘more evolved’, then it is a claim about being differently evolved to have some properties that other races do not have. This roughly means that one race has some qualities that make them more fit, or, conversely, one race lacks some features that the rest of us have (even if they have made it this far) that makes them less fit. Either way the claim boils down to either having or lacking a certain characteristic or characteristics. These characteristics, by definition, were passed down through the successive generations eventually proliferating throughout a family, later a population and thence to the entire race some time later.

In order to objectively measure the fitness of an organism or species we need to be able to replicate a controlled environment and a control group. Regardless of the implications of cloning people for a control group, the concept of a controlled human environment will present us with insurmountable theoretical problems.

The environment that we place organisms in is the ‘test’ that we are judging them on. Specifically, if we want to see which of two species flourishes in a particular environment we would place both in the same environment and see what happens. However, not only is it impossible for us to replicate an environment to test people in, none of us know what the future will hold for our species. Hence, without foresight into the future, it is impossible for us to have an environment that could be used as an objective test environment.

In lieu of this impossible situation, approximations are the only possibility. To approximate requires making decisions about what will be included and what will be excluded. The decisions made will influence the results making them a function of the decisions made. Hence it is impossible to approximate without biasing the results, rendering the study useless for the purpose of establishing superiority.

Since we are all here now and none of us knows the future, there will be no study that can prove the superiority or inferiority of any race. Anyone who claims otherwise is claiming they can predict the future perfectly, is racist or both.


If there are any argument structure fans (such as myself woohoo!) this argument’s in a mathematical induction style. The first paragraph argues against a base case (of a race being no more fit than any other) and then the subsequent paragraphs argue against any possible way to argue that the property (of being no more fit) could be used as an inductive hypothesis: Base case is day zero for our species, in which we are all obviously equally fit, and then the induction is on day n (today) and n+1 (tomorrow). Since we are all here now and none of us know what tomorrow holds (by way of Relativity in Evolutionary Biology we have no way objectively view the trajectory of our species), we can move from n to n+1 and the inductive step is made. Hence it is impossible to prove future fitness in our species.

If anyone cares to give me some feedback, I’d like to know if you think it is worthwhile to include some of this argument structure stuff into the body of the paper. I’ve had experiences where I’ve written arguments but people have completely missed them because they were not as familiar with argument forms.

Also would it be worth it to have some commentary on recent developments such as Watson’s gaff or the recent NYTimes article about genetics and race?

6 thoughts on “Why Evolutionary Principles Cannot be Used to Support Racial Prejudices DRAFT

  1. There is no study that will prove a race’s fitness for future environments but why can’t a study suggest some races to be more fit than others (at least in theory)?

    Also isn’t this like saying that to run a proper drug trial between drugs A and B we’ll need to give A to person 1 and B to their exact clone? And that since we can’t do that anyone claiming a drug’s efficacy is a “drug bigot”?

  2. Hi Michael, thanks for the comment.

    If a study suggests a race is more fit than another, what exactly are they basing this suggestion on? The future climate? For example we may (pretty) safely assume that there will be higher levels of CO2 in the future atmosphere and so any organism that survives better in such an environment may be considered more fit. This is fine when discussing weeds and agriculture, since weeds tend to do better in warmer, CO2 rich environments, but humans aren’t weeds. We adapt to so many environments it doesn’t seem right to claim people with certain genes will be far out ahead of any other race because of some small ability. More likely that it will be the subject of study and some new drugs, but no one race will be far out ahead. The future is too variable and we are all too similar and adaptable to make strong suggestions about who will be out in front.

    As for drug trials, the issue is the control group. We give a drug to a variety of people and a placebo to a very similar group of people. So there is nothing significantly different between the two groups (including environment) except the drug being given to some and not to others. In this way we can be sure that it is the drug that is causing the beneficial/ detrimental results.

    If we were going to create some trial to see which race handled some environment better, then the environment must be the only thing that is being changed, otherwise we won’t be able to tell if it is the environment that is causing the results or something else. This is the problem, the environment, not the cloning: we can get very similar people within 2 races (as we do for drug trials), but we can’t guarantee that the environment will be the same. Since we can’t control the environment we will always have 2 variables, the people and the environment, and hence we won’t be able to tell if our results are due to one race being more fit or if the environment was different in some way. As far as I can tell this is an irreducible problem and so it is not even theoretically possible to determine human race fitness.

  3. Yes but we could always measure things like IQ by getting people raised in similar environments to perform tests (eg. find families that adopted babies of two different races at birth and test the adopted children).

    A counterexample: say we learn to genetically engineer intelligent beings. We create 2 races in a jar and make one of them much better at something. Both races have brains similar enough to ours to let them pursue the scientific method. By your theory, if there is mixing of the races in different environmental circumstances the races will never be able to figure out that one is better than the other at this trait (even if we designed them with a huge difference)

  4. Funny enough, whenever they do testing as you suggest, it is always the economic status of the family that is the greatest factor that determines ability, never race.

    And although the IQ test can be pretty tough, you always have to wonder what exactly it is testing. Just because something is called an Intelligence Quotient test doesn’t make it the final arbiter of brains or skills in this world. If anything, it reflects the people who made the test, not some absolute scale of intelligence. I’ll grant that smart people make IQ tests, but no one has ever come up with a universal scale of intelligence (if you know of one, do tell), so there is no test that will show a greater evolutionary ability. Anyway, the whole point of evolution is that there are random mutations that make changes and hence it’s not possible to test for such a thing because the random changes could not have been foreseen as beneficial beforehand.

    As for your second comment, you can create a little world in a jar, but this is an artificial construct that has little to do with the real world. If you create one race to be much better at surviving, then the other race will die out and become extinct (you have to define what sort of ‘something’ the one race is better at if you don’t mean surviving). Then you can say that the race that lived was fitter, and, if the crappy race is as smart as you say, I’m sure they will agree that the other race is just fitter as they are all dieing out. But you already knew this because you set up the situation (environment) that way, so you have learned nothing.

    Moreover, this has nothing to do with reality because we haven’t a clue about what traits will be important in the future, and no human race is doing all that badly. So there is nothing that currently exists that would give any evidence that one race is either better or worse off than any other.

  5. The world in a jar was definitely artificial, it was arguing against the idea that we can’t measure these things in principle.

    Of course if in the real world there’s ever been a study on race that hasn’t had a fatal flaw in it, I’ll eat my hat. The question is whether this is possible in principle.

    So I think racism is false because there is no evidence for it, not because it’s impossible in principle (as many others seem to assume).

  6. I’d normally agree with you, and leave it at that.

    However, I think this is a special case because when dealing with people we cannot replicate environments. We can’t go back in time and we can’t recreate past environments today.

    If we work with certain organisms, say things we can study in a lab, then we can do these sorts of tests, but this is limited to just those organisms.

    So it still seems to me that any sort of experiment will inherently be flawed, not just because of shoddy experimentation, but because the structure of the experiment is confused.

Comments are closed.