Decolonizing evolution (and Darwin) was inevitable

July 9, 2020 • 11:20 am

When I said that “Darwin was next” in the line of statue-removal, renaming, and accusations of racism, I wasn’t kidding. Darwin was an abolitionist, but he did evince some white superiority in his writings and letters, calling blacks “savages” and “barbarians” (I lecture on this). It’s only a matter of time before that bigoted paternalism, ubiquitous in 19th-century England, would bring Darwin down.

It’s starting:

Dr. Schierenbeck is a plant geneticist, taxonomist, and evolutionist at California State University, Chico.

I looked up “decolonization” on Wikipedia and found this:

Decolonization (American English) or decolonisation (British English) is the undoing of colonialism, the latter being the process whereby a nation establishes and maintains its domination on overseas territories. The concept particularly applies to the dismantlement, during the second half of the 20th century, of the colonial empires established prior to World War I throughout the world.[1] Scholars focus especially on the movements in the colonies demanding independence, such as Creole nationalism.

Then I went to the online Oxford English Dictionary, and found only one definition of “decolonize”, which is below:

So clearly the tweeter is not using “decolonize” in the dictionary sense.

So what does it mean to “decolonize” evolution? As the tweet suggests, it’s an effort to demonstrate that the ideas adumbrated by Wallace (evolution by natural selection, biogeography as a result of evolutionary processes) and Darwin (evolution, natural selection, gradualism, common ancestry, and splitting of lineages) were anticipated by people in other cultures. I know of antecedents in the West (Patrick Matthew’s suggestion of natural selection is one, as was Erasmus Darwin’s suggestion of evolution), but you’ll look long and hard outside of England before failing to find anything close to the fullness of Darwin”s and Wallace’s ideas.

Why is this being done, though? I can see only a motivation to do down the uniqueness of their contributions by showing that “other people thought of them before”—and not just other people, but “other cultures.”  It’s not a dispassionate search for antecedents, it seems, but an effort to rope others into the corral with Darwin and Wallace—to empower other cultures by saying they had the idea first.

Good luck with that! You may be able to find someone from a non-Western culture who suggested that animals and plants might have changed over time, but that’s not “decolonizing” Darwin, for Darwin did so much more than just suggest that idea. He fleshed it out extensively, worked out the implications, supported his ideas with copious evidence, answered objections, and suggested further tests. The Origin was sui generis, and rightfully deserves its place as the founding document of evolutionary biology. As T. H. Huxley said when he first read it, “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that.” And indeed, nobody else had—save Wallace with his ideas about natural selection (misguided, in my view) and Patrick Matthew with his sketchy musings.

But none of this suggests that Englishmen were smarter than anybody else. The idea of evolution was “in the air,” so to speak, but found its natural (and best) expositor in Charles Darwin, who had the wealth, the leisure, the personal experience, and, above all, the brains to put it all together.

h/t: Isabelle

144 thoughts on “Decolonizing evolution (and Darwin) was inevitable

  1. Well, the onus is on her to find an alternative to Darwin. Let her waste her time on that task. We just have to watch and make sure she doesn’t invent one.

    1. If, I repeat if, there really is a non-western thinker who came up with a similar theory, I think it would be a good project to bring it out from the shadows of Darwin’s theory. But as far as the rectitude and usefulness of the theory of evolution by natural selection goes, it should not matter nor bother anybody who first outlines it.

      1. “…if, there really is a non-western thinker who came up with a similar theory…”

        For evolution, what’re the chances? It overturns completely some fundamentals of every society’s theoretical foundation, almost always called religious beliefs. Such a thinker would have been instantly 6 feet under, and his writing 60.

        That’s why I mentioned later that my ‘evolution within the koran’ was supposed to be a joke in the usual sense, not just a joke because it sounds ridiculous were some knobhead claim to find it there.

        1. Yes, it’s not impossible that someone else might have come up with the idea, but in most pre-enlightenment cultures they wouldn’t have been able to pursue evidence and publish it as Darwin did. But if evidence of such emerges, then great, we should recognize that person.

        2. It overturned western religious beliefs. I doubt very much that the Chinese, Indians, or native Americans were all that heavily invested in the concept of a young earth or special creation.


          It would seem to me that the more intellectually honest approach to teaching “noncolonial” contributions to the TOE would be to look at the international contributions to the new synthesis and 20th-21st century evolutionary concepts. There’s bounds to be loads. Darwin and Wallace may have been first past the post, but they got some stuff wrong (pangenesis for Darwin, IIRC some Lamarckism for Wallace), and there are likely many “non-colonial” scientists that have since helped us get it more right.

          IOW celebrate the positive contributions of those who have come after, rather than attempting to tear down the contributions of those who went before.

          1. “I doubt very much that the Chinese, Indians, or native Americans were all that heavily invested in the concept of a young earth or special creation.”

            “Indians” presumably means what the British considered to be India say around 1800. That surely included most or all of what are now Pakistan and Bangladesh; likely would have been overwhelmingly Muslim. So those (today’s population is about 400 million) in particular surely would have been “heavily invested”. As for various forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, perhaps not.

            I think you meant ‘indigenous Americans’ though I realize you needed to phrase it that way since USians mostly don’t know what ‘native’ means, even though most of them have mental orgasms about the word ‘nativity’ every Christmas season (coming to your mall very soon).

            Mass Murderer donald is a native USian. He claimed Obama wasn’t of course, but he wouldn’t be the worst US president ever were he not–even erase ‘worst’ there. He’s probably responsible in the last 3 months, and in a balanced sense, for the deaths something like 100,000 people. That may very well be more than the entire US population back in 1800; I’ve not looked it up.

    2. No need for that. She can subvert the efforts of actual scholars regardless of whether she ever contributes something useful herself.

  2. I think what Dr. Schierenbeck is trying to do is to be able to teach the subject without using seemingly controversial figures. Similar to how people may feel about enjoying music produced by people that had bad ideas about how society should be structured. By the way, I don’t agree with her position, but I think her intentions don’t originate from the need to promote other cultures

    1. I do not agree. There is no reasonable explanation for a plant geneticist and evolutionary biologist to “decolonize” Darwin and Wallace except that those two are dead white men. She can’t bear that white people get the credit they deserve. Her intentions are obvious and they are appalling. How in the world did she get her degree without learning of the history of her profession?

      1. I offered an explanation, I never said it was a reasonable position. Conflating the beliefs of the person with the work they made is not a position I subscribe to

        1. Fair enough. Sorry if I sounded aggressive towards you; this kind of bullshit really gets my knickers in a twist.

            1. I have untwisted and calmed down. Aside from the woke stupidity inherent in the term “decolonizing”, I do think a survey of pre-evolution ideas is worth it – the ideas didn’t spring up in a vacuum. Darwin and Wallace, like all thinkers, built their ideas from the raw material others provided, add the significant soupcon of their creative intellect to make something new. It is also an interesting and worthwhile endeavor to see how many other cultures grappled with their ideas about how life came to be. That would be worth the effort and if the Dr goes that route, I have no problems (not that my opinion matters).

              I don’t believe it though; she and others like her want to dismiss the accomplishments of dead white men.

              1. “…all thinkers, built their ideas from the raw material others provided..”

                I’d say ‘almost all’, and use some word less blase than “built”.


                Godel and every bible reader knew of the
                LIAR paradoxer: ‘I am writing a falsehood here’

                But no one for 2,000 years thought to say:
                ‘I am writing an unprovable statement here’.

                And had the entire matter far clearer in his head than anyone, including David Hilbert and Bertrand Russell. That needed Platonism, but not Plato.

                Another example was whoever it was a couple of millenia ago who thought up the idea of how to show that there are infinitely many prime numbers. There’s no measuring of hypoteneuses there and noticing numerical non-coincidences, though the proofs are ingenious.

                And in physics 300 years ago that the moon going around the earth and the apple falling on your head were fundamentally the same phenomena. (Some viruses have some happy effects, Newton might agree.)

                Similarly 120 years ago that space and time fail to exist uniquely–exist but in the eye of the beholder. To make it work, Lorenz, Poincare, etc. were needed by Einstein, but the idea above was wildly original.

                I kinda think Darwin with natural selection was just as radically independent in the mind as these above, even if Malthus helped, and of course the observations of many, especially artificial selection specialists.

              2. Many years ago I tried to research this topic, as I was preparing to teach a whole semester on evolution. I eventually abandoned the search, probably b/c I did not want to imply that people at other places and times were always getting it wrong.
                There was an early Greek (Empedocles) who had a theory (certainly not a theory in the modern sense) that could be charitably described as being like natural selection. But it was nonsense at its core. My favorite Greek philosopher was Anaximander, who kept coming up with various theories that were really quite interesting and clever. Although wrong. For this topic, he proposed that life began in water, and that humans descended from fish. His details were all wrong, but there are various bits in the details that were highly meritorious. Too bad he is disqualified because he counts as a white guy, right?

              3. That’s very interesting, Mark, esp. the Anaximander. Maybe he can replace Democritus as my hero from those days, despite me being pretty uneducated there. I do tend to agree with Steven Weinberg that circa 3-400 years later and Alexandria was far more pregnant in getting some science done. Nothing like evolution though I suppose.

          1. “this kind of bullshit really gets my knickers in a twist.”

            That is why I do not wear kickers anymore!

    2. “Similar to how people may feel about enjoying music produced by people that had bad ideas..”

      Wagner in Israel.

    3. In times like these, I’m often reminded of the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode where Larry gets in a big fight with a guy who calls him a “self hating Jew” because Larry likes Wagner.

      1. Well, Mahler means “purrer” in Norwegian (according to my Norwegian cousins). They had a cat named Gustav Mahler (of course!).

      2. We certainly have that in common. I’ve even preferred Mahler over Wagner for a long time, though most don’t.
        The final movement of ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ is incomparable.
        One of the evils of old age for me is bad hearing unfortunately.

        1. “We certainly have that in common”
          Wonderful 🙂

          B.t.w do you know the music of Arvo Pärt? You might enjoy it.

          1. Heard often of it, but unfortunately not heard it unless a very long time ago. The deafness and lousy balance with or without the hearing aid wouldn’t likely get me listening much.

            1. Sound balance that is. My actual balance is rather good, in my humble opinion. I beat most of the old farts down the ski hill, but then they beat me up the next one.

            2. “The deafness and lousy balance with or without the hearing aid wouldn’t likely get me listening much.”
              I understand, such is life.

              I gather you still read a lot?

              1. Yes, sort of deaf, but not blind–joking; I know you weren’t thinking of that. Most here seem to read a lot. I’ve been utterly out of social media forever and will stay that way, so more time for books.

    4. Wallace shouldn’t even be considered controversial. He opposed eugenics, supported woman’s suffrage, and he wrote a book that, in part, outlined the harms of colonialism, capitalism, and war. He was very progressive, especially for his place and time.

    5. If she were doing that, she could just teach the TOE as a scientific theory without mentioning history at all. That’s clearly not what she wants to do.

      I also find it humorous that you think teaching some heretofore unknown scientist discovered the TOE before Darwin and Wallace would be ‘avoiding using controversial figures’. Claiming person X beat Darwin to the punch would instantly make X a highly controversial figure in biology.

  3. This approach is fundamentally anti-scientific. It ignores the fact that, without dissing Darwin’s extraordinary individual contribution, science is a cumulative effort that necessariyl includes hundreds or thousands of individuals. Dr Schierenbeck unwittingly reinforces the ‘Great Men of Science’ model which focuses on “discoverers” as heroes. She is merely trying to find individual heroes in other cultures.

    (And if she found a great medieval biologist writing in Arabic, for example, would she exclude him too if he worked under the colonialist Persian caliphate?)

    It would be better to note that Darwin’s work wasn’t hindered any any underlying racism (unless there is evidence that he, for example, disregarded important evidence because of the ethnicity), and to note his commitment to gathering information from anywhere he could get it.

    It is too often overlooked by leftists and anti-racists that Darwinian evolution demolished the Scala Natura or Great Chain of Being — or any other abstract hierarchical construction — for races and even species, and tied natural selection of variable forms purely to the specific habitat of any life form.

    1. Equally importantly, Darwin demolished the idea that the different human races are distinct and separate creations (in the same way that, to a creationist, different species are distinct and separate creations).

      Darwin’s work showed that all modern humans are descended from the same ancestors, which is profoundly anti-racist.

      1. It’s true that Darwin’s idea ruled out special creation for different human populations or any others.

        But the idea that human populations or races had separate origins as humans survived well into the late 20th century. It took the form of the “multiregional hypothesis”, which proposed that the modern human species arose separately many times in different parts of the range of Homo erectus across Eurasia and Africa. My understanding is that the multiregional hypothesis did have an element of racist white supremacy, or that at least it was used to support some kinds of racist policies and world views.

        The hypothesis predicted that different human lineages would trace their origins to that older Homo erectus lineage going back several million years. The hypothesis was only put to rest by tons of genetic data that showed all human populations outside of Africa diverged no more than about 60,000 years ago from an African lineage, and that the African populations themselves are only separated by about a hundred thousand years.

        1. David Reich explains how the genetic data destroy the multiregional hypothesis in his book Who We Are and How We Got Here. Great read.

        2. It took the form of the “multiregional hypothesis”, which proposed that the modern human species arose separately many times in different parts of the range of Homo erectus across Eurasia and Africa. My understanding is that the multiregional hypothesis did have an element of racist white supremacy, or that at least it was used to support some kinds of racist policies and world views.

          That’s not the way the multiregional hypothesis was used when I was a graduate student. It was simply that various genetic variations involved in getting us all to be modern humans had arisen in various parts of the world, and then each spread throughout the whole human species. So we all got upgraded to the latest model and all came to share these features. Back then there were old-fashioned “polygenists” who thought that different evolutionary lineages had each eolved to the “human”, separately. People like Carleton Coon. They definitely did have racist ideas, but this was totally different from the multiregional hypothesis.

          1. Thanks Joe. That’s not how I learned the meaning of the multiregional hypothesis, but I stand corrected.

            The difference between the polygenists vs. the multiregional hypothesis seems like a distinction without a difference: multiple origins vs. multiple origins followed by mass migration & gene flow. It’s still multiple origins, isn’t it?

            Apologies if I’m still misunderstanding. I got my refresher from David Reich’s book, and it doesn’t include these details.

            1. I can recall the multiregional hypothesis, but never thought about it much back then, or about anything much biological then.

              Would it not be the case that ‘multiple origins for humanity’:
              1/ would imply the later occurrence of a coalescence of two or more species or subspecies to form a single subspecies or species;
              2/ but that kind of coalescence is unheard of anywhere else, plant, animal, bacteria, etc.

              My knowledge of basics here is pretty weak, so happy to hear if and where I’ve goofed above.

              Joe F.’s version as a student wouldn’t give that, but also wouldn’t really get to the question of more exactly where homo sapiens originated a few hundred thousand years ago, not a million or two: Sechuan province or Ethiopia or Algeria or …. I suppose nobody then disagreed that it was less exactly Afro-EurAsia somewhere, not America in the sense I’ve bored people with recently nor Madagaskar nor Australia.

              I guess it’s just academic (ha ha) now anyway.

              1. Thinking more about that, and that Adam Rutherford book I mentioned elsewhere, my 1/ above is likely nonsense.

            2. The multi regional hypothesis does not describe multiple origins of our species. In it, the origin of Homo sapiens is synchronized over a vast area spanning from Africa, Europe, and Asia, thru continual gene flow between these regions.

              I had never heard of it being used to promote racism. But I don’t know enough about it to say one way or another.

              1. I agree, it was more like lots and lots of micro-origins, with gene flow merging these into one big origin worldwide. No chance to say that different “races” had different origins of the human species. Yes, it does not lend itself to Finding The Place. But it seemed rather obvious at the time — various advantageous mutations would occur all over the place, and gene flow would meld these into one evolving species. The Out Of Africa scenario of Cann, Stoneking, and Wilson (1987) seemed harder to swallow at the time — wouldn’t gene flow keep modern Homo sapiens from maintaining its separateness? And indeed, that does seem to have happened in part.

        3. I remember Chinese scientists in Mao’s time believed that the Chinese descended from a distinct/separate Homo Erectus lineage.

          No idea if they still believe that today.

      2. But Darwin also corroded the idea that humans share an innate essence that separates them from animals. So my reaction to “we’re all human” is typically “yes, but that does not mean what you think it does”.

        The belief in an immortal soul was more amenable to universalism than Darwin’s insight. The ferocity of blank slaters may be at odds with reason, but I suspect they know that Darwin is hard to reconcile with their views.

  4. The wokies march on. If you are a product of Britain or France then colonization must have been your fault. How stupid does it get. Go after the politician of the period and what they were doing but Darwin? The politicians of Britain and France continued to dream of holding their lost colonial power with the rise of Hitler. Churchill even conducted his own strategy of how to fight WWII to match his concerns. Trouble is Roosevelt would have none of it and fortunately he had the power. Colonialism was not part of his plan.

    1. Reinstating French colonialism in Indo China post WWII was certainly American (Truman) policy, albeit that this was secondary after 1951 to the need to hold back the spread of Chinese communism.

  5. Even if there was a person of color who conceived of the theory before or shortly after D. and W., it would hardly matter. The historical revolution in biological thinking on this matter is attributed to D. and W. Especially D. Any other independent discoverer is a footnote. An afterthought. Period.

    Besides, the broader area is an excellent lesson for one who wishes to expose students to rightthink. This instructor is free to use class time, or outside readings, that go into Darwins views on the races (which were not at all remarkable at the time), and how those views do not comport with scientific facts. They can have at it too about how Wallace was pretty sexist, by todays’ standards, in that he could not get his head around the theory that in the animal kingdom females have significantly manipulated the characters of males through sexual selection. Wallace was a strong supporter of the patriarchy.

  6. The only other “natural selection” views I know of are in some of the Presocratics, more or less. So Greek, so “dead white males” again. (Sarcasm, for the impaired.) Evolution (regardless of mechanism) is pretty broad as an idea and does have mythological versions too: the origin of sea mammals from the fingers of Sedna in Inuit lore, for example. But I am not sure how far one wants to go that way. Chinese natural philosophy, such as it is, as far as I can tell, takes the world as given or simply doesn’t care about origins in the same way. (I confess, though, trying to get a view on this out of Daoism is hard! The Confucians don’t seem to have much if any natural philosophy at all, for that matter. Etc.)

    IMO if people are serious about idea-changing and hence behaviour changing, looking at how they actually did change or failed to change is useful. For example, in this case, exploring how Aristotle argued against the preSocratic views, then how he was in turn coopted by the Christians who didn’t really read him right. Aristotle does not say he knows what end, if there is any, the *entire biosphere* (to use our terminology) has. He *thinks* it *might* be production of beauty, which is very different (especially in his certainty) from the “ad majorem gloriam dei” of Christian views.

  7. The book “Darwin’s Ghosts” by Rebecca Stott (mentioned at least once at this website when it was published almost 10 years ago) discusses various possible anticipations of evolution/natural selection. As I recall, the book was a good read, but there was no convincing case made for anyone fully grasping the concept of natural selection, much less fleshing it out, before Darwin and Wallace.

    Coincidentally, referring to #3 Comment above by Yakaru, there was in fact a 9th century Middle Eastern scholar named Al-Jahiz who wrote about the struggle for existence among animals. Al-Jahiz (not to be confused with Al Jarreau) got a chapter in Stott’s book. Al-Jahiz is said “to have been crushed to death under the weight of his own tomes.” (Wikipedia)

    Larry Smith

      1. What I tend to say is that Wallace and Darwin managed to (a) accumulate a world (almost literally) of data and (b) be born in a time where the power of Aristotle and the Christians had waned *in other fields*. Think what might have happened if W&D had been contemporaries of, say, Galileo and Descartes. (Descartes was really the one who explicitly discusses how one has to remove teleology from the science of nature.)

    1. Thanks — I dimly remembered there was some such example, but I’d forgotten who it was, and forgot where I’d read of him. I also read Stott’s book some years ago, so that must be it!

  8. This is a great example of the “anti-science” label I throw at these regressive left planks.

    Someone moaned at me because I branded PZ Myers “anti-science”, yet he supports all this nonsense. Hence, why I say it. I remember when the likes of PZ would mock faith-heads who invoked the term “scientism”, but now he would agree with them.

    These “decolonisers” actually believe “there are other ways of knowing”, i.e. “woo”, as James Randi would call it.

  9. In postcolonial theory (an applied variant of postmodernism, as Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay adumbrate in their upcoming book ‘Cynical Theories’) to ‘decolonise’ is to dismantle the ‘power-knowledge’ of oppressors. In detail, that means all knowledge is an expression of power, dominant ‘discourses’ are oppressive tools by dominant groups, and thus there is a need to dismantle those tools or discourses and to champion the ‘other ways of knowing’ of oppressed peoples- in this case, those oppressed through colonialism in the past or present (this can manifest itself in championing non-‘western’ medicine, for example). So to decolonise Darwin, I think, means to undo the dominance of his ‘way of knowing’, bound up as it is with western colonial discourses/cultural contexts. Or something like that.

    I think I’ve explained the Pomo jargon-laden view pretty well, but because it’s such silly nonsense it’s a difficult task. I do recommend Pluckrose and Lindsay’s new book- it basically delineates the evolution of postmodern thought into modern Social Justice ideology, from the original French theorists to the ‘applied postmodernism’ of queer theory, postcolonial theory, and suchlike, to the full blown SJ intersectional stuff we see today. And, miraculously, the book explains this stuff with both rigour and clarity- while critiquing it mercilessly.

    In any case, it’s a weird, weird, academic, and now public square, phenomenon. As I’ve commented before, the woke brigades are targeting David Hume Tower at Edinburgh Uni now, because of some unsavoury comments he made about black people. It’s much like Darwin- he was a man of his time, with outdated views. But of course nobody celebrates either man for those- rather, we celebrate them because of their extraordinary intellectual achievements. Sigh.

    1. Let me suggest a post-pomo interpretation of the push to “decolonize” science subjects. Let us take the verb as referring to the term “colonic”, and therefore advise students to decolonize by drinking a lot of water.

    2. It’s good to know there are good critical books coming along to resist the intellectual rot. To think, the statues and portraits of important thinker may have to be squirreled away in basements like the Europeans did during the NAZI era.

    3. +1

      Yes, “decolonisation” is a standard french postmodernists idea, now wokeness. It is the trajectory of their ideology which is a visceral hatred of the white, west, patriarchal, science etcetera. Anything else is better. To decolonise means to find replacements, including of the knowledge system itself, as Daniel above points out, “other ways of knowing”.

      1. Maybe if we explain to them that science “found a replacement” for Darwinian evolution in the modern evolutionary synthesis, and that one of it’s key founders was Russian, they’ll leave us alone? Probably not, eh? Dobzhansky isn’t sufficiently “non western” I guess – still white and male.

  10. I found the twitter thread in which the professor makes her request and it is worth reading/skimming some of the responses.

    My suspicion is that Western science, which benefited from prior knowledge from other parts of the world, is so commanding and overwhelming, that it practically has invented and sustained modernity, good and bad. That’s a critical factor of what so many people resent and hate so much: that because of its greatness, it is essentially defining.

    1. “That’s a critical factor of what so many people resent and hate so much: that because of its greatness, it is essentially defining.”

      Exactly. That’s where the hate emanates from.

  11. A significant point, possibly dominating, in both Darwin’s and Wallace’s discoveries of evolution was that their personal experiences extended from their natal environments to a considerable variety of other environments in the course of their travels. Darwin as an adjunct to to the British Navy’s Hydrographical survey (mapping other country’s coasts and harbours – shock, horror!, highly colonial!) and Wallace as a professional collector of wildlife which he packed, stuffed and sent back to commercial customers in England – how colonial! – from Amazonia and Indonesia. Problematic that Brazil, where they both worked, gained independence before either of them went there, but I’m sure that that square peg can be found a round hole somewhere.

  12. 1/ “The idea of evolution was “in the air,” so to speak, but found its natural (and best) expositor in Charles Darwin.”

    ‘Natural’ in a different sense is of course natural selection. Surely that is the exceptionally original idea due to Darwin and Wallace independently, rather than ‘merely’ evolution. Didn’t Dennett call it the best idea anyone has ever had?

    2/ From Janet Browne’s excellent biography volumes on Darwin (whose existence I learned here from Jerry), I seem to recall the impression that Darwin’s ‘sin’ in this direction

    was not: believing any false matter about other ‘race”s individual inferiority;

    but rather: the Europeans’ supposed cultural general superiority.

    3/ IIRC, there have been ludicrous claims about General Relativity being claimed to be in the koran. If so, surely the same has been claimed re Darwin/Wallace discoveries. Maybe that’s how the students at CalStateChico will get a decolonized version.

    1. I’ve heard that claimed of *every* scientific finding, theory or principle. That the claimant likes, that is: no psychoneural monism (Averroes had to be careful with what was almost this for a reason!), evolutionary biology, etc.

      1. Agreed, I have come to think the middle sentence of 3/ is a bit dumb of me–that seems to be what you are overly politely saying!

  13. Good grief – teaching evolution without reference to Darwin and Wallace?

    Btw, note the OED spells “Decolonialization” with a “z” – it’s a common misconception that Britain English exclusively uses “-ise” endings. In fact, “-ize” spellings are perfectly acceptable in British English and the Oxford University Press historically prefers them as they are closer to the Greek origins of such words.

    1. Similarly, I had to change ‘connection’ to ‘connexion’ many years ago in a paper in Oxford Quarterly Journal of Mathematics.

      I had been sure, without looking it up, that the USian versus British lingo on that was the reverse of what it actually was (is?).

      1. Speaking of math and linguistics, I recently had to explain my kid the difference between a trapezoid and a trapezium…and how the terms were used in exactly the opposite manner in the rest of the English-speaking world.

    2. The problem is that the Greeks didn’t use such words, or any like them; and since we’re writing in English, why should we use their grammatical constructions anyway?

      All this nonsense originates in the old classicists’ dogma that, since English is derived from Greek and Latin, it must conform to their grammars, and can’t possibly have one of its own. It was b*llocks when it was invented and it is even more so today.

      1. You’re absolutely right, which is one of the reasons that grammar pedants have an illogical dislike of, say, split infinitives. Nevertheless, a huge number of modern English words have Latin and Greek origins and the educated elite learnt Classics, so you can see where the tendency comes from. I guess we have a way to go before we finally decolonize the English language from the Roman and Hellenic empires…!

        1. As a Classics grad I often see the use of Greek and Latin words as a sneaky way to flaunt elitism and use words you’re sure I don’t know. The biggest offenders are dentists and podiatrists (sometimes also rheumatologists). Those in the medical professions are often so surprised at me breaking their secret code that they think that I have a medical background. Behind their backs I call them “tooth doctors”, “foot doctors”, and “joint doctors”. I think they would really hate that and I’d be persecuted like Luther translating guarded information into the vernacular.

          Some argue that those anatomical words were used at a time when Latin was the Lingua Franca (so to speak) but why then must a rheumatologist refer to my calcaneus when talking to me, instead of referring to my heel? Why must a dentist tell me I need a bruxism device instead of mouth guard or a podiatrist explain that I have pes planus instead of flat feet? All the above are recent examples….I think they hope I’ll say “Oh doctors, whatever do you mean?” and instead I say “ok, I have flat feet” & it freaks them right out! Muahahahahaha! The benefits of a Classical education (thank-you Hans Gruber).

          1. As someone familiar with the German language, I am perpetually annoyed by claims that certain German words like gestalt (figure, shape) or ersatz (replacement) have a special essence that makes it necessary for writers to avoid using their English translations.

            1. Yes, George Orwell would agree with you on foreign words. But Schadenfreude and Weltschmerz are German words that make a lot of sense to me and have a place in my daily life.

              1. Schadenfreude is often given as a good example of where a foreign word has no easy single-word English equivalent, though one can always use a phrase I suppose. Doing so for “gestalt” seems harder though.

            2. What’s wrong with word borrowing between languages? Why should this only happen if there’s the existing equivalent isn’t “good enough”? Who gets to decide if it is “good enough”, anyway?

              Is someone’s cultural appropriation sensor being triggered?

        2. And grammar pedants who dislike split infinitives AND know Latin and Greek need to piss off. Latin and Greek don’t have “to” to make an infinitive like most Indo-European languages.

  14. Schierenbeck assumes she can teach a version of science whose practitioners have complete moral purity. She assumes Darwin/Wallace ideas existed in other cultures because of course North European culture is morally corrupt and its accomplishments are all frauds and all its good ideas must have stolen from oppressed peoples. Imagine how happy she would be if all of Darwin’s thoughts and theories had been taken from some poor indigenous person. But the rub is that someone who could devise the theory of evolution would not be from a poor indigenous culture in the first place.

    1. Which reminds me of an incident that David Reich relates in his (excellent) book Who We Are and How We Got Here about human genetics.

      The Navajo leaders refused to participate in genetic studies because, and I paraphrase: “We don’t need to know where we came from. We already know: We came from Changing Woman.” In fact, they made it illegal for any Navajo member to donate DNA for genetic research.

        1. Indeed! But they seem quite serious about it. They can defenestrate you from the tribe if you violate this, apparently. I think there are significant benefits to being an enrolled member.

          I know there are for my wife’s tribe in NE WI.

      1. For all I know, tribes differ greatly in their membership requirements, but DNA testing results can be very embarrassing for some of them.

        Not only has mixing occurred, but at times people have been fond of inventing some distant Native American ancestry to bolster their prestige and also their income.

        Perhaps these concerns are cloaked in spiritualism?

  15. The closest non-european idea to the evolution I can think of is the Hawai’ian creation chant Kumulipo. It mentions times when earth was hot, suggests some primordial slime, that marine life is older than the land one, roughly follows the geological order etc.

    It turns out that societies where deities were tied to natural phenomena intuitively got some natural processes better than societies with war gods and other social deities. Who would have thought about that?

    The anti-science (anti-reality) trends in modern academia are truly terrifying. Remind me of the darkest hours of inquisition and Lysenkoizm.

  16. What I find shocking is that Schierenbeck got her Phd and a teaching position, and is only now asking this question. How incurious is she?

  17. Decolonizing science = de-Europanizing science. The point is that these people appreciate science, and they hate the fact that modern science is a product of the West, and that decolonizing science would be like desinnifying Chinese food.

    Whenever I hear someone saying that, I ask them if they have already decolonized their medicine cabinet. I’m kidding, of course I don’t say that. I have kids to feed.

    1. That’s a good point. I sometimes feel like suggesting that if people reject some of the benefits of science, they should do without all of them. ‘Don’t believe in vaccination? No mobile phone for you!’

      But that would be a bit over the top. Shame that some of these people can’t recognise their own blind spots.

  18. Wells also promulgated ideas akin to natural selection but passed away as they were published. He was a resident of Charleston, SC at the time. Wallace commented on how everyone had missed the implications of Wells’ work.

    1. No, no, no. See, even though he came up with significant ideas about the mechanisms for selection before Darwin did, Wells, along with James Hutton and Patrick Matthews, are all dead white men whose origins are in Britain. Nary a speck of melanin (or ovaries) among them. They can NOT be cited. Get with the program.

      1. And their leisure to think about these subjects derives only from their white privilege, which was built upon bodies of color.

        White people do not work. They only exploit.

        1. Someone should suggest people like her take a position in the open hearth of a steel mill for contrition for their sins of privilege. All seems very communist revolution-y.

  19. “Surely Darwin/Wallace ideas existed in other cultures?” No, Ms Schierenbeck, they did not, as far as we know. And if you know some culture that did, it behooves you to give the examples (and if you would find them, it would look great on your CV, now wouldn’t it?).
    Yeah, give some examples, wouldn’t that be great?

  20. Even if genuine writings anticipating evolution by natural selection were to surface it would remain the case that Darwin(mostly) and Wallace changed the way that educated people think about the world, and that is what really counts. Obscure writings that sank without a trace in their own time might be interesting but would be irrelevant to the development of the modern world view.

  21. “..not using “decolonize” in the dictionary sense”

    It suddenly came to me why the dictionaries have got it all wrong:

    Was there not a somewhat obscure USian artist, of the art DECO movement, named LON (surname was IZE, maybe Moldovian genealogy)? In his later years sounds like he gave it all up, in order to follow Derrida around Paris, while eagerly wagging his tail.

    Sorry, bad, but irresistible to a failed humorist.

    The koran remark was also supposed to be humorous, but …

  22. I bet this will become a big industry in Woke academia. Find some vague and ambiguous ethnic folklore passage which can be interpreted as a scientific discovery, and then claim the discoveries were found by non-Europeans first. Surely someone saw an apple fall before Newton.

    1. Something similarl has already been done in the middle east, which gave us the “idea” that many modern scientific discoveries and theories had already been divulged by the Koran.

      1. Of course, medieval Islam played an important role in science. I don’t suppose the modern Islamists will be claiming the origins of the word “alcohol” though …

      2. There seems to be some cross-pollination between different religions here. I have heard remarkably similar stories from Christians, Muslims and Hindus how their ancient scriptures supposedly describe such discoveries. The existence of multiple galaxies and the possibility to build fighter jets and nukes were apparently already known to their ancient aliens.

        1. Syncretism and religiously inspired pseudoscience is a fun topic. A Lubavitcher rabbi was invited to the sociology of religion course I did years ago and I asked him about his views on evolutionary biology. He cited, favourably, the works of Duane Gish and Henry Morris, verbally disclaiming that they were Christians, but “right about biology”.

    2. I’ve already seen the woo-loving do similar so it won’t be much of a stretch as there is a good overlap between the woo-loving & the woke.

      1. But that’s mostly the Nobel committee’s fault, despite Watson’s bad social ‘ideas’ over the years.

        1. I was partly joking. Mostly, Franklin was victim of the (then uncodified) presumption against posthumous awards, and also of the rule limiting the number of co-awardees to three. But yes, Watson’s contribution to science could be erased provided his “ideas existed in other cultures”!

          1. … still you would think this would be more of a ’cause’ for Schierenbeck, gender equality in science: total recognition with Crick and Watson for Franklin. All 3 names whenever DNA in this context, is mentioned.
            To me this has more oomph for your bucks than looking for figments in your emotional imagination.

          2. Franklin made important contributions, and did a great job on tobacco mosaic virus too. She was discriminated against when the Nobel Prize was awarded, on the basis of her not being alive at the time.

  23. I have a subversive idea for a parallel project: instead of decolonizing only the good ideas from Western liberal thought, one could also decolonize the bad ideas.

    In the case of evolution, one could use the many reviews of the history of evolutionary thought to find all the *failed* ideas about evolution, like Lamarckism, or hopeful monsters, or the homunculus, that arose in the Western world. Then one could “decolonize” the Western tradition of these failed ideas about evolution by finding all the instances of the same failed ideas that arose in non-Western cultural traditions, legends, origin stories, and religions.

    But possibly that would be seen as punching down?

  24. French enlightenment scientist Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis came very close to proposing a general theory of evolution by natural selection; however, some important points were missing, and he never formulated “one long argument” in its defense. Maupertuis understood in a general way how genetic variation and selection could lead to adaptation. He also recognized how evolved adaptations might generate by “blind destiny” the diversity of species found on earth. Here are two quotes — first published in 1751 — taken from Maupertuis that appear in a recent article by Frederico Focher.
    [Focher F. 2014. Maupertuis: the ‘Old Synthesis’. Journal of Genetics, 93: 607–608]

    “May we not say that,” writes Maupertuis, “in the fortuitous combination of the productions of Nature, since only those creatures could survive in whose organization a certain degree of adaptation was present, there is nothing extraordinary in the fact that such adaptation is actually found in all those species which now exist? Chance, one may say, turned out a vast number of individuals; a small proportion of these were organized in such a manner that the animals’ organs could satisfy their needs. A much greater number showed neither adaptation nor order; these last have all perished […] Thus the species which we see today are but a small part of all those that a blind destiny has produced.” I’d say he’s got Darwin’s natural selection pretty much nailed.

    Elsewhere in the same work, Maupertuis writes, “Could one not explain by that means [the fortuitous appearance of mutant ‘particles’] how from two individuals alone the multiplication of the most dissimilar species could have followed? They could have owed their first origination only to certain fortuitous productions, in which the elementary particles failed to retain the order they possessed in the father and mother animals; each degree of error would have produced a new species; and by reason of repeated deviations would have arrived at the infinite diversity of animals that we see today; which will perhaps still increase with time, but to which perhaps the passage of centuries will bring only imperceptible increases.”

    Maupertuis does not treat important points such as reproductive isolation and the role of ecological opportunity, but the core issues of genetic variation, natural selection, adaptation, and species diversification were all there 100 years before Darwin published his first words on the topic.

    A pdf of Focher’s paper can be downloaded at

    1. Excellent. I’d forgotten this bit about Maupertuis. He was rather pale, though. And worst of all European. Pity, otherwise Schirenbeck might include Focher’s paper in her syllabus.

    2. Thanks for the reference: an interesting little article. I had never heard of Maupertuis before, and I wonder how widely his insights were disseminated. Erasmus Darwin, for instance, could well have come across his writings (the dates are about right), but I don’t know of any evidence that he did.

    3. Very interesting for sure.

      Is there evidence at all that either Darwin or Wallace was at any time aware of this? ‘Maupertuis’ does not occur in the index of either of Janet Browne’s volumes, said to be the definitive biography of Darwin, from the early 2000s.

      I suppose missing this is less embarrassing if she also did. Has she written later on that? Do any of the French think Maupertuis deserves the main credit?

      1. Doh – meant to say that presumably Ham is happy to undermine Darwin by any means available and since he can’t do it via the science then he’s happy to “play the man and not the ball”.

  25. Whether evolution was observed is certainly possible, at least to a limited degree. Animals and plants were hybridized and bred for desirable traits in multiple times and places.
    A person having an epiphany about artificial and natural selection might well have been from a culture that never developed written language, so the knowledge was unlikely to be passed on.
    Or perhaps the person belonged to one of the many cultures that just do not exist anymore, and their written observations were turned to dust or ash long ago.

    I suspect Dr. Schierenbeck does not want to know whether the Visigoths or Carthaginians developed precursor knowledge of evolution. She probably wants to discover such knowledge among the Massai or the Powhatan, which is pretty unlikely.

  26. You can find everything in the English translations of Nostradamus’ Les Prophéties. Well, so someone claimed.


  27. … still you would think this would be more of a ’cause’ for Schierenbeck, gender equality in science: total recognition with Crick and Watson for Franklin. All 3 names whenever DNA in this context, is mentioned.
    To me this has more oomph for your bucks than looking for figments in your emotional imagination.

  28. I used to listen to a podcast called Things You Missed in History, but as the years went by it got woker and woker. The last straw for me is when the subject was about the advent of germ theory and medical hand washing, the hosts felt it necessary to preface it with them being sure that other cultures probably had this knowledge and were doing it first but this was about its discovery in Europe.

  29. A very easy solution for her would be to find a non-white ancestor for Darwin within say 10 generations or so. By the one drop rule(developed by 19th century racists but used today by the woke), this would make Darwin a POC. Problem solved.
    Or… Argue that Darwin was assigned male at birth but was actually a trans woman.

    1. “..easy solution for her would be to find a non-white ancestor for Darwin within say 10 generations..”

      If you multiply by about 10, Adam Rutherford’s second last book (I forget the title, but remember Ch.1 was entitled “Mobile and Horny”) explains how some human (plenty of them) that far back was ancestor to every human alive today.(Sounds very surprising, but there’s no such thing as absolutely total isolation–Aussie aboriginals, Greenland people before Inuit, Amazonians, etc.) This is due to a statistician Chang at Yale around 1990. So she shouldn’t have a problem doing that.

      Sometime around then nobody in Britain was ‘white’, perhaps nobody, full stop. So many ways to get there.

      Not sure why you said 10 generations.

  30. I read the twitter thread there. Certainly, there’s some evidence that people from other cultures had ideas about species changing, or perhaps about natural selection. I imagine a lot of people throughout the world have noticed the phenomenon of adaptation (species being well-suited to their environment).

    But none of the examples in that thread point to anyone else having proposed that species arise from other species along with proposing a mechanism by which that occurs. Darwin did that and also presented ample evidence for his mechanism.

    I generally point this out in my courses on evolution: Darwin was not the first person to have ideas on natural selection or evolution but he gathered evidence of it and convinced many other scientific of the validity of the idea. I’m not going to take discussing Darwin and Wallace and replace them with writers who hinted at evolution but presented no mechanism for it or real evidence that it occurs.

  31. I’ve read about half-way through her twitter thread, and I think that she has never read “On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection”.

    And also I think that she is not at all well-read in evolution in general.

    The evidence for these thoughts?
    Further down in her thread, she writes, “I just want to include more in the intro history section about how people viewed the natural world before Darwin, and what influenced the development of his ideas. I don’t know why people think I want to dismiss Darwin, far from it.”

    and then, further down, she writes, “I am looking for mostly historical perspectives in different cultures that led to the concept of natural selection.”

    It is as if she has a mere cursory knowledge of evolution, and does not wish to have more than that by doing the work of reading books.

    If she doesn’t know the history of evolutionary thought, then she should leave it out of her lecture, instead of trying to get her material from twitter instead of scholarship.

  32. I have read half-way through the responses to her tweet, and I do not think that she has even read “On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection”. I think she is not well-read in evolutionary history at all.

    The reason for these thoughts?

    Further down in the replies, she writes “I just want to include more in the intro history section about how people viewed the natural world before Darwin, and what influenced the development of his ideas. I don’t know why people think I want to dismiss Darwin, far from it”.

    And later, she writes, “I am looking for mostly historical perspectives in different cultures that led to the concept of natural selection.”

    She should not have this subject as part of her lecture: she has only a cursory knowledge of evolutionary science history, and wants to get material for a lecture from twitter suggestions instead of doing the scholarship of reading and digesting the historical texts. That part of her course is going to be a time-waster for her students and an insult to them.

  33. I wonder if “decolonizing evolution” would also involve teaching about the alleged Hindu/Vedic foreknowledge of evolution.

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