According to Charles Darwin, the central mechanism of evolution is survival of the fittest. In this concept, inferior animals are more likely to become extinct while the superior ones are more likely to thrive.1 The racism that this idea has produced has now been both well-documented and widely publicized.2 Less widely known is the fact that many evolutionists, including Darwin, taught that women were both biologically and intellectually inferior to men.
Reasons for Inferiority
According to Darwinian theory, women were less evolved than men, and because of their smaller brains, they were “eternally primitive,” childlike, less spiritual, more materialistic, and “a real danger to contemporary civilization.”3 The supposed intelligence gap that many leading Darwinists believed existed between human males and females was so large that some leading Darwinists classified them as two distinct species—males as Homo frontalis and females as Homo parietalis.4 The differences were so great that Darwin was amazed “such different beings belong to the same species.”5
Reasons for male superiority included the conclusion that war and hunting pruned the weaker men, allowing only the most fit to return home and reproduce. Women, in contrast, were not subject to these selection pressures but were protected by men, allowing the weak to survive.6
Darwin’s Writings and Opinions Regarding Women
Many Darwin biographers, including Peter Brent and Evelleen Richards, conclude that Darwin had a low opinion of women. Brent concluded, “It would be hard to conceive of a more self-indulgent, almost contemptuous, view of the subservience of women to men” than Darwin’s attitude.7 Richards writes that Darwin had “clearly defined opinions on women’s intellectual inferiority and her subservient status.”8
Darwin taught that women were both biologically and intellectually inferior to men.
Darwin’s writings and those of his disciples reveal that the belief of women inferiority was central to early evolutionary theory. In The Descent of Man Darwin argued that adult females of most species resembled the young of both sexes and that “males are more evolutionarily advanced than females.”9
This degrading view of women rapidly spread to Darwin’s scientific and academic contemporaries during the late Victorian period10 and heavily influenced many theorists who had a major role in shaping the following generation—from Sigmund Freud to Havelock Ellis.11 Evelleen Richards concludes that Darwin’s views about women logically followed from his theory, “thereby nourishing several generations of scientific sexism.”12 Importantly, as a result of Darwin’s ideas, scientists were inspired to use biology to build support for the position that women were “manifestly inferior and irreversibly subordinate” to men, thus impacting all of society.13 Darwinian thinking supported the idea that men were superior to women, which was already within many cultures. Darwin simply gave credence to this unbiblical teaching.
In contrast to this evolutionary teaching, the Scriptures teach that all humans descended from Adam and Eve, and all are brothers and sisters. Furthermore, in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28, NIV. Men and women, like Jews, Greeks, slaves, and free people, have equality of personhood before God. One is not superior to another, though their roles in life may differ.
See “Does the Bible Teach Female Inferiority?” for an in-depth look at what Darwin believed about women.