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The nonsense of ‘race’

Here's an extract from my current revision of DOF. Comments appreciated.


During the last 5 000 generations since our sub-species came into being in Africa, we have spread across the planet through countless migrations. We thereafter split into groups each with its own cosmetic differences from others due to local adaptation. Among these are people’s superficial perceptions about differences in ‘race’ as well as real differences in religion, language and culture (I enclose the word ‘race’ in inverted commas throughout this book since, biologically, it is an entirely fictitious concept). These cosmetic and cultural differences often divide us politically. Sometimes, these divisions are sharp, almost cutting us off into different species. We are therefore characterised, at the political level, more by disunity than by unity. Our common great-great- – -grandmother, an African lady, would never have imagined that her progeny would split into so many different groups incessantly battling each other. In the rest of this section, I explore some of our alleged differences, for only then can we comprehend the political constraints under which we work, and suggest an approach to address them.

Evolution is unrelenting. It never stops – even for a generation. Millions of mutations occur in each generation, as the life force engages in active experiment to prepare itself for all contingencies. The overwhelming majority of these mutations don’t survive. Millions of unsuitable human foetuses are aborted by nature every year; and thousands that are born, quickly die. Only ‘good’ mutations, those that could give the species a genuine competitive advantage, survive. This allowed our ancestors to roam the earth in all environments with relative ease. In each generation, only the children best adapted to the new environment survived. Our minor cosmetic differences arose primarily from climatic adaptation.

We have all descended from dark skinned African forbears that were adapted to intense equatorial sunlight. However, as humans moved to the higher latitudes they found less sunlight there, which makes it hard for those with a darker skin to produce vitamin D, so vital for bones and general health. In these higher latitudes, children with a natural mutation that helped them produce less melanin (i.e. those with a lighter skin) had better odds of survival than their darker skinned siblings. Over time, the so called ‘white race’ evolved as a local environmental adaptation. Being a function of random chance, evolution does not lead to exactly the same outcome everywhere.[1]

Similarly, children with a mutation for longer hair probably survived better in higher latitudes than those with short, curly hair because long hair keeps the head warmer (the opposite hair condition should be more successful in hot Africa). Once these mutations had emerged, other factors such as their ‘popularity’ (sexual adaptation), would have also come into play.

A wide range of adaptations that are not cosmetic but crucial, have also emerged. For instance, Europeans with a mutation that protected them from bubonic plague survived the Black Death, while those without it, died. The progeny of the survivors (most Europeans living today) are resistant to the bubonic plague.

Such adaptations have led to many minor differences across human populations. Overall, these differences are extremely insignificant, accounting for less than 0.01 per cent of the variation in the human genome. We are identical to each other in 99.99 per cent of our genes. Detecting differences among humans at the DNA level is therefore hard work. In particular, scientists tell us that ‘[i]t is impossible to look at people’s genetic code and deduce whether they are Black, Caucasian or Asian.’[2] The variation amongst individualswithin a so-called ‘race’ is greater than the variation among individualsacross so-called ‘races’. Thus, ‘modern human genetics … deliver[s] the salutary message that human populations share most of their genetic variation and that there is no scientific support for the concept that human populations are discrete, non-overlapping entities.’[3] But though the myth of ‘race’ had long been exploded, such as by the anthropologist Ashley Montagu in his 1942 book, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, most people continue to believe that in this concept has a real basis. It is time to grow out of this misconception. The use of such a term, like ‘race’, is a bad habit. It creates categories where there are none, and distorts the social and political discourse.

            Indeed, we are one big family and ought to treat each other as such. Indeed, scientists are now beginning to ask the opposite question: Why are we so similar? Thus, William James Burroughs believes that ‘[g]iven the length of time humans have existed, there should be a wide range of genetic variation, yet DNA from people throughout the world is surprisingly similar.’[4] There are competing theories about this. One explanation is that human population declined to around 5 000 to 10 000 people around 70-80 000 years ago before clawing back from near extinction.[5] If this is true, then despite our subspecies being traced back 150 000 years, we would have evolved from a single tribe, or a handful of tribes in North Africa about 75 000 years ago. We are just one big African family.


Regardless of what happens in the future to the human species, racism has simply no legs to stand on. However, this mis-conception won’t go away easily given widespread ignorance among most humans whose knowledge of biology is weak, at best. Today this idea of ‘race’ has transmutated to the concept of ethnicity, being a combination of ‘race’ and culture.

[1]E.g. Johan Moan, of the Institute of Physics at the University of Oslo, said in a research paper: "In England, from 5500-5200 years ago the food changed rapidly away from fish as an important food source. This led to a rapid development of … light skin." The Australian, 31 August 2009. [,,26004285-26040,00.html]
[2] Henderson, Mark, ‘Gene tests prove that we are all the same under the skin’,Times Online, October 27, 2004,
[3] Lynn Jorde and Stephen Wooding of the University of Utah, cited in Henderson, Mark, ‘Gene tests prove that we are all the same under the skin’, Times Online, October 27, 2004. []
[4] Burroughs, William James, Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.138. Google books.
[5] Transcript of Cusack, Sinead, ‘Supervolcanoes’, BBC2 9:30pm Thursday 3rd February 2000.


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18 thoughts on “The nonsense of ‘race’
  1. Harsh Vora

    Sanjeev — What do you have to say about the Aryan Invasion Theory? I am asking this question because it is related to the ongoing debate on recognizing the birthplace of world's civilizations. It is commonly believed, as is evident in your writing, that first peoples migrated around the world from African continent. However, the 'Death of the Aryan Invasion Theory' points to the the fact that the world began from what is now called India (of course, India was a very vast land back then!).  I am asking this to know whether you have done enough research on this subject matter. There are tons of books and articles that provide evidences on it.

  2. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Harsh

    Re: “the world began from what is now called India (of course, India was a very vast land back then!)”

    Please provide me with evidence that is widely accepted to prove that mankind arose in India. Currently all studies that I’ve come across talk of North Africa as the source of Homo sapiens sapiens. We are all Africans.

    Re: Aryan Invasion theory:
    The “invasion” is hyped up; I agree with that – based on recent historical discoveries. But there is NO doubt that constant flow and migrations have occurred across the world for tens of thousands of years. Australian aborigines are almost exactly the same, DNA-wise, to some (relatively rare) Indian tribes – and they are the OLDEST habitants of India, around 40-50,000 years ago. Most Indians came to India much later, around 10-15,000 years ago. There were successive streams of migration hither and thither. See:


  3. Harsh Vora

    Sorry, my mistake — If you are asking about scientific evidences, then my question doesn't apply. Whether "original" people migrated from Africa is still a matter of an ongoing debate on the part of the Vedic scholars. In fact, they strongly believe that humans originated from India. They base their arguments on the grounds of Vedic 'evidences' — a rationale which, perhaps, wouldn't satisfy you. This basis is obviously not widely accepted by scientists, as yet.

  4. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    No prob! I was hoping that I’d discover something new.

    It is best that if Indians make CLAIMS to Hindu scriptures advocating scientific thinking and critical analysis, that they ALWAYS provide detailed scientific evidence. Else it amounts to lazy science. Indeed, I’m drafting a blog post on the lazy science often advocated by some Hindus (including my father!) – and other religions – and will publish a post on it when I get time to finish it.


  5. Harsh Vora

    Whether the Vedic claims about the "origins" of the first race being in India are true or not, I wouldn't doubt the these proposals because MOST of what the Vedas claim in terms of science has been true until now. It has only been a matter of discovery for us. Our present condition is such that unless scientists discover these facts, they will remain unaccepted by us. This is totally fine. I am not against it. But to me, the Vedas provide us a precedence — a reference point for the questions that still elude modern scientists. I'm not saying that we must blindly accept them. But at the same time, we must give them the consideration which they deserve.
    You seem to completely disregard what the Vedas claim. In doing this, you are only overlooking and side-tracking a source of knowledge which has tremendous potential for research. This is not lazy science. It is only a science undiscovered. I believe we must choose the middle-way: the one between belief and disbelief.

  6. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    ” MOST of what the Vedas claim in terms of science has been true until now.”

    Happy to have evidence for such claims, please. Will help me in my research. Currently I know of nothing that the Vedas have said that has been scientifically established PRECISELY as the Vedas talk about.

  7. Harsh Vora

    Here are a couple examples to refer to:

    What is Vedic mathematics? How was the gravitational force discovered? And how about the benefits of cow urine to the human body? Almost all the scientific advancements in ancient India owed its gratitude to the Vedas. Proofs abound. I cannot mention all here, due to lack of time. But you can search online. Without much efforts, you will come across tons of sites discussing these.

  8. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Thanks, Harsh

    That’s exactly what I propose to do – to search and find instances of alleged “science” in the Vedas. So far I have not found anything to make me believe that ancient India was a harbinger of scientific method or discovery. Yes, there are some speculations that are interesting, but as I’ve shown briefly in DOF in relation to Vedic cosmology, the facts don’t add up.

    Let me finish my blog post on this issue.

  9. Harsh Vora

    Sanjeev — While doing your research, it is VERY important to take utmost care not to refer to Max Muller's or Griffith's translation. As I has said earlier, the British has paid these men to corrupt and pollute the Vedas in such a way that we (Indians!) would lose our reverence for them. You don't seem to have read my previous links. At the least, PLEASE consider this article:

    The core foundation of Hindu belief is that Vedas contain source of all knowledge – physical or metaphysical. However in last 100 odd years, this belief has come under scrutiny due to the advances that modern science claims to make.
    An entire group of Vedic ‘experts’ have stood up to prove that Vedas contain early man theories and are not compatible with modern discoveries. These include communist historians propelled by commentaries on Vedas by western indologists like Max Muller, Griffith et al and a new breed of intellectuals who initiate all research with assumption that ‘old means defective’. However in modern era of religious marketing, another group has come up which would go to any length to discover scientific errors in Vedas. This is the group which would want 800 million Hindus to lose faith in Vedas and their religion and embrace what they believe is the final message of God. Yes I am referring to Islamic and Christian evangelists.
    While both these groups of evangelists are propelled by vision of making everyone in world a follower of their respective Holy Books, the situation is even more desperate for Quran zealots. This is because a bulk of Islamic evangelists believe that Jesus will come again towards end of the world after which they would reach Paradise forever. And an important sign of Jesus’ coming is conquest of India. I do not know the original source of this superstition, but this remains a primary motivator for most Islamic evangelists today.
    Thus every now and then, we would see references to ‘Scientific Errors in Vedas’. The typical pattern would be english translation of some mantra followed by a Veda Mantra reference. For example:

    “Earth is flat” – Yajur Ved 32.8
    Often the reference and English translation are both pointing to sources best known to authors of these works. But for layman, these create a lot of confusion and doubt over relevance of Vedas. While I would shy away from thrusting my personal faith on Vedas, I would like to provide some excerpts from Vedas that provide clues to deep scientific concepts hidden within them.
    Unfortunately, due to thousand years of slavery, burning of our universities and libraries by barbarians and then demands for tackling issues of survival first, there remains a lot of work to be done to rediscover the Vedic sciences. However, sufficient clues exist to justify why this rediscovery would be worthwhile. In this article, I shall provide some brief snippets of such clues.
    A point of note: Vedas not being dogmatic in nature and containing eternal truths, do not try to spoon-feed us. Thus Vedas would contain seeds for all forms of knowledge and would urge humans to explore further. Because in the Vedic framework, its our efforts that can provide us bliss.
    You can refer to original mantras at


    Rig Veda 10.22.14
    “This earth is devoid of hands and legs, yet it moves ahead. All the objects over the earth also move with it. It moves around the sun.

    In this mantra,
    Kshaa = Earth (refer Nigantu 1.1)
    Ahastaa = without hands
    Apadee = without legs
    Vardhat = moves ahead
    Shushnam Pari = Around the sun
    Pradakshinit = revolves
    Rig Veda 10.149.1
    The sun has tied Earth and other planets through attraction and moves them around itself as if a trainer moves newly trained horses around itself holding their reins.”

    In this mantra,
    Savita = Sun
    Yantraih = through reins
    Prithiveem = Earth
    Aramnaat = Ties
    Dyaam Andahat = Other planets in sky as well
    Atoorte = Unbreakable
    Baddham = Holds
    Ashwam Iv Adhukshat = Like horses

    Rig Veda 8.12.28
    “O Indra! by putting forth your mighty rays, which possess the qualities of gravitation and attraction-illumination and motion – keep up the netire universe in order through the Power of your attraction.”

    Rig Veda 1.6.5, Rig Veda 8.12.30
    “O God, You have created this Sun. You possess infinite power. You are upholding the sun and other spheres and render them steadfast by your power of attraction.

    Yajur Veda 33.43
    “The sun moves in its own orbit in space taking along with itself the mortal bodies like earth through force of attraction.”

    Rig Veda 1.35.9
    “The sun moves in its own orbit but holding earth and other heavenly bodies in a manner that they do not collide with each other through force of attraction.

    Rig Veda 1.164.13
    “Sun moves in its orbit which itself is moving. Earth and other bodies move around sun due to force of attraction, because sun is heavier than them.

    Atharva Veda 4.11.1
    “The sun has held the earth and other planets”


    Rig Veda 1.84.15
    “The moving moon always receives a ray of light from sun”

    Rig Veda 10.85.9
    “Moon decided to marry. Day and Night attended its wedding. And sun gifted his daughter “Sun ray” to Moon.”

    Rig Veda 5.40.5
    “O Sun! When you are blocked by the one whom you gifted your own light (moon), then earth gets scared by sudden darkness.”

    Swami Dayanand has detailed Mantras regarding these in his Vedic commentary and Introduction to Vedas” (1876). The scientists of IISc concluded that the mechanism of airplane as suggested by Dayanand is feasible. The first manned plane was built 20 years after death of Swami Dayanand.
    The verses are difficult to translate in English here, but readers are advised to review “Introduction to Vedas” by Swami Dayanand or interpretations of following mantras: Rig Veda 1.116.3, 1.116.4, 10.62.1, 1.116.5, 1.116.6, 1.34.2, 1.34.7, 1.48.8 etc.
    Rig Veda 1.119.10
    “With the help of bipolar forces (Asvins), you should employ telegraphic apparatus made of good conductor of electricity. It is necessary for efficient military operations but should be used with caution.”
    I am also attaching a few pdfs of the scientific advancements of ancient India. These are developed by Indian Institute of Scientific Heritage
    I hope this would be sufficient to at least drive the need for further exploration of our scientific heritage originating from Vedas.
    NOTE: This article is borrowed from
    PLEASE consider these points and refer to the right sources, not the ones corrupted by some Western goons!

  10. Harsh Vora

    Great, I see there is a notification check box now. This will be a great tool for the readers of your blog to follow follow-up comments.

  11. Steve

    “scientists tell us that ‘[i]t is impossible to look at people’s genetic code and deduce whether they are Black, Caucasian or Asian.’”

    Actually, scientists can look at somebody’s DNA and say whether they are of African, European, East Asian, or Native American origin. They can tests a black American’s DNA and say what percentage European they are ie how much European ancestry.

    “The variation amongst individualswithin a so-called ‘race’ is greater than the variation among individualsacross so-called ‘races’. ”

    Look up ‘Lewontin’s fallacy’. Just because there is more variation within groups than between groups doesn’t mean there is no variation between groups or that the variation between groups is meaningless. There can still be average differences between groups.

    Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on Lewontin’s fallacy, which relates to the previous point:

    “Edwards argued that while Lewontin’s statements on variability are correct when examining the frequency of different alleles (variants of a particular gene) at an individual locus (the location of a particular gene) between individuals, it is nonetheless possible to classify individuals into different racial groups with an accuracy that approaches 100% when one takes into account the frequency of the alleles at several loci at the same time. This happens because differences in the frequency of alleles at different loci are correlated across populations — the alleles that are more frequent in a population at two or more loci are correlated when we consider the two populations simultaneously. Or in other words, the frequency of the alleles tends to cluster differently for different populations

    In Edwards’ words, “most of the information that distinguishes populations is hidden in the correlation structure of the data.” These relationships can be extracted using commonly-used ordination and cluster analysis techniques. Edwards argued that, even if the probability of misclassifying an individual based on the frequency of alleles at a single locus is as high as 30% (as Lewontin reported in 1972), the misclassification probability becomes close to zero if enough loci are studied”


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