Saturday, June 29, 2013

Did Darwin Lie About What Schaaffhausen Said?

It is one of the famous, or rather infamous passages of The Descent of Man;

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked (18. 'Anthropological Review,' April 1867, p. 236.), will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

I've been looking for the citation of Schaaffhausen in this passage for several years.  Yesterday I found what I believe are all of the collected series of the Anthropological Reviews for that period, looking through what I believe were all of the volumes of that and found the following paper beginning on page 916 of this pdf file.

The following paper on Darwinism and Anthropology, by Prof. Her- 
mann Schaaffhausen, was then read : — 

Darwinism and Anthropology. By Prof. Hermann Schaaffhausen. 

The question has recently been much discussed in England, whether the theory of Darwin is adequate to explain the variety of human races, and the physical and mental development of the human species. We should not do violence to the phenomena in favour of any theory, but rather look upon the anthropological facts as the touchstone for the question whether the so-called struggle for existence and natural selection represent a universal law of nature. The study of human races, offers greater difficulties than that of plants and animals, because a new force, as it were, presents itself, namely, the intellectual activity of man, whose influence upon the physical conformation is as potent as any other determining human nature. 

Many of the characters which distinguish human races, must be ascribed to climate, such as the colour of the skin, hair, iris, height and constitution of the body. It is the task of physiology to furnish the proofs for the correctness of this view, by studying the intimate relations between the activity of the organs and vital conditions. Many naturalists have, however, considered these physical qualities of human races, as independent of the influence of external natur; because, in the distribution of races over the globe, this dependence cannot always be traced, and because phenomena present themselves in opposition to the above view. Thus, it is said, tall men are found both in the torrid and frigid zones; the colour of the skin is frequently found darker in high latitudes than under the equator. But it is easy to explain these apparent contradictions. Nature preserves certain characteristics with wonderful tenacity, which a certain climate has produced during a long series of generations, under other zones, and the preservation of such well marked characters by transmission, proves itself more powerful than the transforming action of another climate, which could only become dominant after the lapse of a period as long, and under the same circumstances, as was required for the original formation. That climate does produce peculiarities of organisation which persist long after the cessation of climatic influences, man furnishes more striking examples than any animal or plant, because his more perfect organisation renders him more independent. 

It has at all times been recognised that man has to struggle for his existence with the climate, with the animal world, and with his fellow men. But this struggle is not necessarily the cause of an improvement of human nature ; it frequently is merely subservient to a scanty sustenance of life. Even at this day we see savages preserving a miserable existence, as they have done for thousands of years past. The nomads of central Asia are, as regards their mode of life, described by Herodotus as we see them now. But in other cases the struggle for existence produces in the same region the greatest change of phenomena. Between the Euphrates and Tigris there certainly lived in the remotest time, as everywhere else, only savage people ; then arose flourishing empires; but now predacious hordes rove again around the ruins of the Assyrian cities. The struggles of races and peoples with each other present a variegated spectacle, in which physical and mental power measure their strength with alternate results. Flourishing empires are over-thrown by barbarians, and rude force vanquishes refined culture. But those who succumbed to the force of arms finally conquered by their language, their manners, and their culture. Elsewhere, again, we find the powerful sons of the primitive forests succumb before the weak descendants of civilisation. The progress of humanity does not, however, depend upon the display of rude force, however great may be the events it has produced in history ; but upon the development of thought, and especially upon the progressive knowledge of nature, which no doubt can only be acquired by intellectual emulation. 

The theory of natural selection has but a limited validity as regards the development of the human species. Aristotle has indeed, in his ideal state, provided that only the best should intermarry • but in human society the strong pair with the weak, the good with the bad. Altogether we cannot in nature trace such an intention as is kept in view in artificial breeding. As natural selection we can only designate the advantage of a better organisation, which manifests itself in many cases of propagation. But the advantageous or injurious changes of the organisation, will always in the first instance depend on the natural influences of the external world. The miserable emaciated forms of many Australian tribes, correspond with their scanty means of subsistence. When they are better fed they much improve in appearance without the intervention of natural selection. Some English naturalists recently thought that Darwin's theory contained the proof of the unity of the human species, inasmuch as, according to Darwin, all varieties, species and genera proceeded from one species. But the weakest side of Darwin's theory is the assumption of a single origin of species and the denial of a generatio cequivoca, which leads to the assumption of a multiple origin, of equal or similar series of developments, in different regions and at different periods. With a multiple origin, two species standing in the same grade of organic development may very much resemble each other, and yet be of different descent. However much the South Sea negro resembles the Ethiopian of Africa, that is no reason why they should not be of different origin, when we see that in Asia as well as in Africa animal life has independently developed itself from independent forms up to the ape and man. Orang and gorilla are both anthropoid apes;  but what proves their common origin.  The assumption of a progressive development does not exclude the pluralities of human origin. No doubt, if the transformation of species be admitted, then the possibility of the origin of all human races from one pair must also be admitted ; for if an amphibium can become a bird or a mammal, surely a negro can become a Mongol or a Caucasian. But although the unity of human origin is quite possible, it is not probable, because the oldest traces of our species present already profound differences of type. The unity of the human species cannot be proved by the theory of Darwin ; for he cannot produce any valid argument for the assumption that all primitive forces have only been created once. The progressive development of man from lower forms is not a fact because it may be deduced from Darwin's theory, but because the discovery of old crania proves it, by showing us the human brain in a lower grade of organisation than is found in the present inhabitants of the same regions. 

According to Darwin, new races should be continually forming, whilst experience rather teaches that the diversities of races partly diminish by the equalising influence of intellectual culture upon the 
brain and skull. It would, however, be going too far to assert that all peoples will finally form one homogeneous race, for civilisation cannot annihilate the climatic diversities of the different zones, although it may partly moderate their influences. It is a double error of Wallace to maintain that Darwun's theory leads to the apparent contradiction, that man has a single origin and that he at the same time developes himself in the direction of unity. Darwin's theory only leads to the possibility of a single origin, which must not be confounded with a proof of it. A development of the human species in the direction of its unity does not in the least follow from Darwin's theory, but just the contrary. The equalising action of a progressive civilisation in all zones, and under different climatic conditions, has been altogether ignored by Darwin, because it does not in point of fact exist in plants and animals, but is a privilege of man, whose development by intellectual and moral forces, and corresponding organisation, obeys another and a higher law. So long as the animal nature predominates in man, climate and locality have an absolute influence over him; but with the awakening of intelligence arises a force which in the most distant regions strives to liberate man from the constraint of nature, until finally on the highest scale of civilisation, as we may now observe it, the higher classes of human society among all peoples not merely adopt similar customs in dress, habitation, and alimentation, but prove by similarity of thoughts, feelings, and strivings, that higher unity of human nature, which though not expressed in the first origin of our species, yet, what is more important, gleams before as the glorious object of human development. 

I did a search for Schaaffhausen in all of the volumes I could find online and this is the only thing I found remotely matching Darwin's description.  In the edition of The Descent of Man I relied on, I could find nothing matching the date Darwin gave for it, April 1867,  though the numbering and dating of the volumes is extremely difficult and confusing.  This paper was said to have been given on Feburary 18, 1868.

Even more astonishing, though is that the character of what Schaaffhausen said is entirely different from Darwin's characterization of it.  Throughout this paper, the most basic aspects of Darwin's theories are given the most skeptical treatment.  If Schaaffhausen was skeptical of the common origin of, not only different groups of human beings but, different species of apes, I fail to see anything for Darwin to use.

Orang and gorilla are both anthropoid apes;  but what proves their common origin.  The assumption of a progressive development does not exclude the pluralities of human origin.

If that is what Schaaffhausen believed, within the year that Darwin claims to have found his citation,  then Darwin's passage is incoherent.  Where is the link that Darwin proposes will be broken if there is no common origin?

While going through those long, long, files looking for this paper, skimming through hundreds of pages of dense, quite often ridiculous pseudo-scientific, gossip based 19th century anthropology may have addled my mind - I hope temporarily - unless Schaaffhausen was entirely misrepresented or he had some kind of conversion experience in the 10 months between the date Darwin gave and the date given for the reading of this paper, I find no correspondence whatever between Darwin's characterization of Schaaffhausen's ideas and this paper.

Does anyone know if anyone else has looked up this citation in the past hundred forty years?  Or where what Schaaffhausen said that supports Darwin's characterization of his opinion can be found?   Because this is a pretty amazing inconsistency in one of the most often cited passages of The Descent of Man, most often cited because of its depravity.


  1. Awesome write up. Thank you for this!

  2. "Depravity"? Have you confused an observation or prediction with advocacy on purpose, or due to ignorance? If on purpose, THAT would seem to be depravity to me.

  3. No, I haven't confused an observation or prediction with adovcacy on purpose, or due to ignorance. Considering Darwin's enthusiasm for the idea of "savages" becoming extinct, especially at the hands of Brits, See Darwin's letter to Gaskell which I also wrote about, quoting his entire letter as well as Gaskell's.

    That it would appear Darwin misrepresented what Schaaffhausen actually said, which wouldn't support his theory, in order to make that statement is depravity in line with what he said to Gaskell and in support of similar statements by Haeckel.

    I've read the literature, trying to find every citation that Darwin made in The Descent of Man. I think I could probably defend everything I said, citing either Darwin direction or those things he cited.

  4. I think that this is the wrong Schaafhausen. There's a write up in the Anthropological Review on the page that Darwin cites that refers to an "M. Schaafhausen of Bonn" that says this:

    "In the present state of things, the distance between man and the animal increases under our own eye. Not merely the human races standing lowest in the scale, and presenting in their organisation many resemblances to animal forms, are gradually becoming extinct, but the superior apes approaching nearest to man become more rare from century to century; and will, perhaps, in a few centuries have entirely disappeared. What is there illogical in the idea that thousands of years back the distance between the lowest man and the highest ape was less than at present, and that it would still lessen the more we ascend the past?"

    It's available on JSTOR here:

    1. Thank you for the citation, I have taken a quick look at it and will review it.

      Herman Schaafhausen taught at the University of Bonn, I will have to review this because I did this post four years ago. But I would say that the last two paragraphs from the paper read to the same association would be in radical contradiction to what Darwin claimed were H S's beliefs.

    2. I have had the chance to read more of your citation and it makes me more certain than ever that Darwin misrepresented what H.S. believed. I might write about it but it will have to wait for the weekend.