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Social Darwinism is the application of the theory of natural selection to human society. Alfred Wallace, the theory's codiscoverer, once asked Charles Darwin whether he would follow up his Origin of Species with a book on human beings. Darwin replied:

You ask whether I shall discuss “man.” I think I shall avoid the whole subject, as so surrounded with prejudices, though I fully admit it is the highest and most interesting problem for the naturalist. (Cited in Hawkins 1997:20)

Darwin was understandably cautious. But others have felt less constrained, with the result that massive theoretical and political issues have arisen.

Most living creatures, Darwin and Wallace argued, produce many more offspring than are needed to reproduce their numbers. Such multiplication, if left unhindered, meant that “the earth would ...

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