Darwinian scholar lectures about research, anti-slavery

Jiarong Xue | Contributing Reporter

A Darwinian scholar from the University of Leeds examined Darwin’s research, focusing on the origins of his anti-slavery attitude, at the annual Thomas Hall Lecture in History of Science Monday.

Gregory Radick, the outgoing president of the British Society of History of Science, has studied Darwin in detail and written multiple books on the 19th century biologist’s personal life and research.

His lecture, part of Washington University’s Assembly Series, explored Darwin’s complicated stance on race as well as how Darwin’s study of human emotions contributed to the formation of a theory that all races came from a common ancestral stock.

Radick noted that Darwin, despite being vehemently anti-slavery, held complex views on race.

“Being a Victorian, is wasn’t strange to Darwin to hold a contradicting view of hating to see people in chains and believing in the hierarchies of races,” Radick said. “Naturally, from all his research about the evolution theories about ‘survival of the fittest,’ Darwin almost held racial hierarchies a virtue.”

Despite these views, Darwin agonized over whether or not to publish his findings that dogs don’t share a common ancestry, a fact which could have seriously weakened his overarching thesis of common ancestry by failing to show its universality across species.

Radick noted that part of what made this choice so difficult for Darwin was that the information could have been misinterpreted and taken advantage of by pro-slavery forces of the day due to it potentially implying a racial hierarchy among human beings.

Radick added that Darwin’s family contributed to his anti-slavery attitude as both of his grandfathers worked to try to end slavery in British society.

The event attracted around 60 listeners, approximately 20 of which were students.

Edmund Acosta, a retired economist and attendee, said he enjoyed the lecture.

“That was a huge surprise to me, that a lot of the idea of natural selection that we carry around in our back pockets, was very much based on some vision of emotion,” Acosta said

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