Darwin’s Problematic Legacy

Charles Darwin is undoubtedly one of the most impactful scientists of the modern era. His ideas were revolutionary and catalyzed positive change for many. Nevertheless, while Darwin was an abolitionist (1), and while he made powerful and compelling arguments that all humans share a recent common ancestor, he also made statements in print that were racist (2) and sexist (3, 4).

The members of Iowa City Darwin Day believe that as part of our mission to elevate and appreciate science and scientists, and to celebrate the good that science has done for humanity, it is important to also acknowledge and challenge these parts of Darwin’s legacy. For these reasons, we make a concerted effort to challenge racism, sexism, and intolerance and to amplify the voices of scholars from historically underrepresented groups.

(1) Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution (Boston, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)

(2) Angela Saini, Superior: The Return of Race Science (Boston, Beacon Press, 2019)

(3) Angela Saini, Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the New Research that’s Rewriting the Story (Boston, Beacon Press, 2017)

(4) Antoinette Brown Blackwell, The Sexes Throughout Nature (New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1875).