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Darwin and primitive peoples: A more nuanced view

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Fuegia Basket In “Darwin and the Fuegians” (Creation Ministries International an oldie from 19 May 2009) Russell Grigg offers a detailed picture of Darwin, Captain Fitzroy, and the Fuegians. This is the pre-publication version which was subsequently abbreviated in Creation 32(2):42–45. It is a more nuanced version than we sometimes hear:

“Fuegia Basket was a nice, modest reserved young girl, with a rather pleasing but sometimes sullen expression, and very quick at learning anything, especially languages. This she showed in picking up some Portuguese and Spanish, when left on shore for only a short time at Rio de Janeiro and Monte Video, and in her knowledge of English.” Darwin also noted, “Their sight was remarkably acute: it is well known that sailors, from long practice, can make out a distant object much better than a landsman; but both York and Jemmy were much superior to any sailor on board.”

These descriptions compare strangely with Darwin’s ignorant, derogatory, and racist comments in the same Journal concerning the Fuegians he encountered when the Beagle reached Tierra del Fuego a year later in December 1832. He constantly described them as “savages” or “barbarians”, and often compared them unfavourably with animals.

He wrote: “I could not have believed how wide was the difference between savage and civilised man: it is greater than between a wild and domesticated animal, inasmuch as in man there is a greater power of improvement. … Their skin is of a dirty coppery red colour. … The party altogether closely resembled the devils which come on the stage in plays like Der Freischutz.”9

Darwin may have been conflicted because his slowly developing evolution theory would be much more strongly supported if he could show that there was a sort of scale of humanity (a view readily embraced). At the same time, he was not prepared to deny what he actually observed.

It’s curious that today, even Neanderthal man is no longer seriously regarded as widely separate from homo sapiens so the action has moved to pretending stuff like apes have police. And accounting systems? And literature? And religions? Aw, just wait for the next download from ScienceDaily, and we’ll hear all about it. Yawn.

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