Today, Dr. Fritz began talking about a dark side effect of Origins—and that is the idea of social Darwinism. Coined in the late 19th century, this term describes the idea that humans compete to survive, similar to plants and animals. Misunderstanding Darwin’s idea of “survival of the fittest,” social Darwinists rationalize racism, imperialism, and the negative effects of capitalism as simply effects of living.

You may recall that On the Origin of Species focused on plants and animals, not humans. Darwin’s later book, The Descent of Man (1871), did discuss man’s origins, but still. “Fit” from a biological standpoint simply means that one’s offspring successfully breed. So, if we define “success” as having one’s kids have kids, that hypothetical welfare mom that social conservatives love to attack would actually be at the top of the social ladder.

While social Darwinism was most popular at the turn of the 20th century, it rapidly lost traction after WWI and was further discredited by the rise of Nazism and eugenics.

Where does it all stand now? I still hear the phrase “survival of the fittest” to swipe away real problems such as inequitable distribution of resources. I even hesitate to talk about how much I appreciate what Darwin has contributed to science because I fear others will think I’m a social Darwinist. Darwin, however, never implied that we should not help one another.