Creationist Wisdom #1,018: Darwin the Racist

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in The Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Virginia. The title is Another historical figure to expunge?, and the newspaper has a comments section.

Because the writer isn’t a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name. His first name is Don. Excerpts from his letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary, some bold font for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]. Here we go!

“Slavery” and “racism” have dominated many letters to the editor and conversations throughout Central Virginia for a few years. Both are horrendous. Slavery has been practiced by many nations throughout history and continues to exist today in various forms (e.g., human trafficking). Americans are now vilifying our ancestors who owned slaves, fought for the South or had segregationist leanings. Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Paul Cale, Paul Barringer are some of the recent targets in Charlottesville.

Where is Don going with this? Be patient, dear reader. All will soon be revealed. He says:

But wait: Was not the practice of slavery intellectually and scientifically justified — supposedly — by Charles Darwin after 1859, when he published “The Origin of Species,” with the subtitle “The preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life” and 12 years later with his second book, “The Descent of Man”?

Aaaargh!! That nonsense comes up all the time because creationists never read past the title of Darwin’s book. We’ve rebutted it over and over again. See, e.g.: Racism, Eugenics, and Darwin. The TalkOrigins Index to Creationist Claims also debunks it — see how they handle Evolution promotes racism

Okay, after that gigantic clunker, Don tells us:

John Dewey, father of modern public education in America, was an ardent disciple of Darwin: no God, Bible, prayer in public schools, nothing but evolution allowed — and human evolution promotes racism.

Oh — “human evolution promotes racism.” But what about the bible? See Curse of Ham, in which Wikipedia says:

The explanation that black Africans, as the “sons of Ham”, were cursed, possibly “blackened” by their sins, was advanced only sporadically during the Middle Ages, but it became increasingly common during the slave trade of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The justification of slavery itself through the sins of Ham was well suited to the ideological interests of the elite; with the emergence of the slave trade, its racialized version justified the exploitation of African labour.

Also, in Curse and mark of Cain, Wikipedia says:

At some point after the start of the slave trade in the United States, many Protestant denominations began teaching the belief that the mark of Cain was a dark skin tone … . Protestant preachers wrote exegetical analyses of the curse, with the assumption that it was dark skin.

[….]

The split between the Northern and Southern Baptist organizations arose over doctrinal issues pertaining to slavery and the education of slaves. At the time of the split, the Southern Baptist group used the curse of Cain as a justification for slavery.

Don isn’t doing very well, but his letter continues:

In “Descent of Man,” Darwin describes numerous dark-skinned people groups as “savages.” He makes a disturbing link between his belief in white supremacy and his theory of natural selection: “From the remotest times successful tribes have supplanted other tribes. … At the present-day civilized nations are everywhere supplanting barbarous nations.”

Regarding Don’s “savages” claim, the TalkOrigins Index to Creationist Claims has an entry debunking that clunker — see Charles Darwin was himself a racist, referring to native Africans and Australians, for example, as savages. Don’s letter goes on:

Here is part of our schizophrenia. We embrace Darwin’s work overall, while ignoring the implications of Darwin’s human evolutionary theory of ape-like creatures to dark-skinned “savages” to white Europeans.

Yes, Darwinists are indeed horrible people. Skipping a bit, Don ends his brilliant letter with this:

Think about it. Is not Darwin an “intellectual” and “scientific” father of racism and therefore the most influential white supremacist in history? [Groan!] Should we not expunge him and his racist theories about humans from all textbooks?

Wow — no Darwinism, no racism. Problem solved! That was a brilliant ending to a brilliant letter. You’re a great creationist, Don.

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23 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #1,018: Darwin the Racist

  1. Michael Fugate

    “Don’t know much about history
    Don’t know much biology
    Don’t know much about a science book
    Don’t know much about the French I took…”
    Sam Cooke

  2. Even if true…who gives a crap??? Its his theories that count and the science work that came from them. His science (like christANALs science) is all that count in science! The person’s personal crap (like the christANALs personal BS) only counts to society and behavior.

  3. Unfortunately I cannot access the original article in the UK because of cookies legislation, but when I saw the title I thought that it was an ironic reductio ad absurdum of sanctimonious and historically blinkered movements such as the one to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College Oxford (Cape Town, of course, was quite another matter). No such luck.

    As for the claim that evolution science (and Darwin of all people!) promoted slavery and fathered racism on British and American societies otherwise free from it, your own repeated postings,and the material you cite from Wikipedia, shows how misguided such a claim is. Let me add, further to this, my own “Biblical creationism was used to justify racism from the 18th to the late 20th Century, and from the slave-owning South to Henry Morris of Genesis Flood fame”, https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2019/04/01/creationism-noahs-flood-and-race/ , which shows strongly racist literature built into the modern creationist movement, and embedded in material still on sale in creationist bookshops today

  4. chris schilling

    When in doubt, play the race card. But it’s ‘boy-who-cried-wolf’ stuff for evangelicals of all stripes: they’ve tried this one too many times now, to the point where the word ‘racism’ is in danger of losing meaning altogether.

    It’s probably better not to be drawn into discussions about who’s more/less racist, and who’s more holy-than-thou — it leads nowhere interesting — or to maintain a need to defend Darwin from the charge. If Don had been living in Victorian England, he would have used the term ‘savages’, too, just like Darwin. So would I, probably. So what? It’s the most facile revisionism to judge a former age by the standards of our own. Everyone can play that game, and be a winner.

    Are evangelicals ‘racist’ themselves? Who cares? It’s more pertinent that they’re simply semi-illiterate and possess poor comprehensive skills. I don’t care how much they claim to have read The Origin, or Darwin in general. The fact is, they haven’t understood him; or they choose to distort his words and meanings.

    Creationism makes people illiterate. It’s not compatible with mucky, materialistic reality, which they forever rail against. Of course, they’re desperate people, and such people resort to extreme measures. They believe — along with just about everyone else — ‘racist’ is the ultimate slur; and our age and culture accommodates these sort of low-level oppositions. It’s a poor man’s pissing contest.

    There ought to be a blanket moratorium on invoking the charge ‘racist’, whether on the left or right (both overuse the term), while we try to sort out more interesting problems, such as how populations of ancestral humans have evolved biologically and geographically. And what Darwin did and didn’t get right when it comes to evolution.

    Is this gonna happen? No, but a boy can dream, can’t he?

  5. Darwin did undeniably believe that some “races” as defined above were more advanced than others, and though he never said so explicitly, probably believed that nature as well as nurture produced this outcome. There can be no doubt that he regarded African and Australian natives as closer than Europeans to the apes. Such attitudes were of course the common currency of the age. Damning as they are today, in Darwin’s case they were balanced and much mitigated by his compassion and kindness.

    The writer of this letter points out that “Americans are now vilifying our ancestors who owned slaves, fought for the South or had segregationist leanings.” On that score, let him set his mind at rest: Darwin did none of those things. Slavery repelled and disgusted him. The idea of fighting a war to retain it would have appalled him, and even if he thought the “races” were not equally “advanced”, he was in no doubt that they could become so, over time, and that the way to do it was to engage with others.

    A sounder and more historically factual account of Darwin’s attitudes to race can be found reviewed here: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/did-charles-darwin-believe-in-racial-inequality-1519874.html.

  6. Michael Fugate

    I would need to reread the Descent of Man before making a judgement – are the differences cultural? technological? Don’t for instance many Christians believe Christianity is more advanced than other religions? That unbelievers are going to hell? Does this mean others are closer to other primates?

  7. Michael Fugate: Not exactly “more advanced”. Definitions of what Christians believe vary somewhat from Christian to Christian and from sect to sect, but the question of “advancement” doesn’t really occur. Christianity is not some “more advanced” form of religion. It is the only true religion.

    If you define “unbeliever” as one who doesn’t accept the Christian doctrines of salvation and redemption by the Grace of Jesus Christ, then yes, unbelievers are officially damned. A minor exception might be made for virtuous souls who never knew the Gospels. They might be spared eternal torment in hellfire. But for thee and me, it’s Hell forever.

    That is mainstream, and official. Some outliers, such as the Quakers and the Universalists, don’t subscribe to that as groups, because they have no required beliefs, as such; and I strongly suspect that most committed Christians don’t, as individuals, either. I have found, myself, that most Christians who really do practice their faith are more inclined to mercy than that, whatever their leaders, clergy, and official theology might say.

  8. chris schilling

    It’s been awhile since I’ve read ‘Descent of Man’, too. My recollection is that in the so-called contentious passages, Darwin plumps for European cultural values over non-European ones.

    Par the course for someone of his background, at the time (though Wallace might have been more “progressive” on that score).

    In any event, how is Darwin’s “sin” substantially different from present-day evangelical attitudes towards the supposed superiority of their faith over everyone else’s?

  9. On the one hand, whatever the beliefs and practices of the persons responsible for the scientific discoveries, it makes no difference for the truth of those discoveries. The Pythagorean Theorem and the Mendeleev Periodic Table do not depend on the personalities of Pythagoras or Mendeleev.
    Secondly, science has moved beyond the primitivel understanding of the originators. The understanding of Pythagoras, Mendeleev and Darwin are of historical, not scientific, interest only.
    Thirdly, an important festure of Darwinian evolution, beyond most earlier ideas of evolution, is that therev is no direction to the changes in life. Dinosaurs are not extinct because of their being inferior to modern extant life. The survival of a variety of life does depend on some property, in the long run, it depends on how many dependents survive. For example, among humans, it is not a matter of how smart, or strong, or wealthy, or beautiful, or admirable, or noble, or artistic, etc. (However little that was understood in the 19th century.)

  10. TomS, “an important feature of Darwinian evolution, beyond most earlier ideas of evolution, is that there is no direction to the changes in life”

    To many Christians, that is a major objection to the theory. It’s a bug, and a fatal one, not a feature.

    The answer is a workaround: there may be no apparent direction to evolution, but each and every event from the largest to the smallest is under the control of Almighty God, and the Universe on both the largest and the smallest scales is as He wills it. It appears that it was His will to bring forth a being that could know and worship him. It seems to require no miracle to do this; but there is no reason to conclude that it therefore happened without Divine will. All it demonstrates is that God may work through the order of nature that He ordained in the first place. In fact, He almost invariably does so, allowing us thereby both to understand and to predict the Universe we live in, and to act in it with free will.

  11. The Brits won the Second Boer war – but the Boers got the political system they desired within ten years They later formalized apartheid.
    My point is that these racist Boers mostly were orthodox protestants from Dutch and/or German descent and hence creationists.

  12. @DaveL: “The answer is a workaround:”
    Not really. No matter how unlikely it sounds, YECers have a theological point here. Theistic evolution as described by you inflates the Problem of Evil enormously.
    As an unbeliever I remain neutral on this issue; the Problem of Evil is not the main reason for my unbelief anyway. But I have noticed that christians who accept evolution theory thus far haven’t produced a good answer to this problem.

  13. FrankB: No.

    The problem of evil arises every time a toddler drowns or a decent, kindly person is stricken with a fell disease. Theists must provide some kind of justification – a theodicy – for the existence of such perceived evils in the face of their belief in Divine providence. A theodicy is not made more necessary by evolution. It is necessary anyway, and there are no degrees of necessity – it’s like pregnancy.

    Possibly evolution might even provide a partial theodicy in itself. That is, although the pitiless weeding out of the unfit is horrible to contemplate, it is clear that natural selection also spreads immunity and other survival traits. Natural selection also accounts for our own sociability, and hence for our empathy, pity, charity, love and altruism. For us, those are survival traits.

    Nevertheless, all the theodicy I have seen is at most a limited explanation for the problem of evil. Even so, I’m like you – it isn’t the main reason for my unbelief, either. That would be the doctrine of damnation, as commonly understood in the Christian churches.

  14. @FrankB
    I suggest that it is not evolution itself which raises the level of difficulty. Genetics also does. Perhaps when the level of complexity of the understanfing of nature rises to include relations: ecology (in the living world) and relativity (even Galilean?).

  15. And taxonomy.

  16. Christine Marie Janis

    Conversation started up with me on a bus a couple of weeks ago:

    “I was born in Jamaica, and I thought it was a terrible thing that people said that black people came from monkeys. Then I moved to England and found that they said that white people came from monkeys too. So, that’s alright then.”

  17. @DaveL: “The problem of evil arises every time ….”
    an innocent creature – like animals without souls, who thus by definition are not infected with Original Sin – has pain etc, like during the five mass extinctions or when antilopes get eaten alive by lions. You – like every christian – can save me the explaining away; I don’t care. Take it up with creationists, not with me.

    @TomS: “Genetics also does.”
    Sure.

  18. ISTR that 19th-century primitive anthropology distinguish between savage (pre-agricultural), barbarian (agricultural), and civilised (socially organised, with cities) stages of development, without the necessary presumption that these reflected individual differences in ability. Consider also the 18th-century concept of the “noble savage”.

    However, in chapter 5 of The Descent of Man, Darwin refers with approval to the theories of Greg and Galton, according to which, within a civilised society, the inferior tend to out breed the superior, and quotes without demur a passage from Greg that says “Given a land originally peopled by a thousand Saxons and a thousand Celts, and in a dozen generations five-sixth of the population would be Celts, but five-sixth of the property, of the power, of the intellect, would belong to the one sixth of Saxons that remained.” Darwin was opposed to eugenics, not an scientific grounds, but ethical. He was writing here barely 20 years after the Irish potato famine.

    Of course, none of this is relevant to Darwin’s science, and belief in the inheritance of characteristics such as foresight and industriousness, which provides the rationale for eugenics, does not depend on the acceptance of Darwinian evolution, but I find it impossible to deny that someone promoting Darwin’s views now would be considered a racist. It is absurd, however, to hold Darwin or his ideas in less respect for that reason. He was a person of his time.

    Nor should we reject racists’ scientific claims on the result that they are morally uncomfortable. Like all factual claims, they should be examined on their merits. In this context I look forward to the publication later this year of Adam Rutherford’s How to Argue with a Racist. For Rutherford, of part South Asian descent and living in 21st-century England, the matter is personal

  19. I recall a conversation that I had long ago. (And I am quite aware of the fallibility of memory.) My friend said that poor people multiply more than the more fit people, so, according to evolution, we should intervene to see that the less fit reproduce less. I said that according to evolution, those who reproduce more are, by definition, more fit. (My memory tells me that my friend said that he hadn’t considered that, and had to agree that he was mistaken.)

  20. chris schilling

    @Dave L:
    “Natural selection also accounts…for our empathy, pity, charity, love, and altruism. For us, those are survival traits.”

    That’s a fine, commonsense rebuttal to Berlinski’s contention that qualities like love, for example, are what makes humans exceptional, and must perforce be supernatural in origin.

  21. @chris schilling
    If someone argues that love cannot be accounted for by material, physical or natural causes; and that therefore there must be some spiritual or supernatural cause …
    This does not tell us anything about how love is caused, when or where. As far as we are told, spirits or the supernatural can be malevolent or uncaring. We can’t account for what they do. The ways of the Lord are not our ways.
    Even if we show that the natural cannot account for love, truth, beauty or existence … this does not provide a super-natural account. I am not asking for evidence for such an account, just
    a description: what happens, when and where, why or how.

  22. @Dave L, in The Descent of Man, Darwin uses much the same argument as you do regarding the origins of morality, and cooperation as an evolutionary principle was prominent in Kropotkin’s theories. Darwin also mentions the expectation of reciprocity, prominent in more recent discussions of evolutionarily stable strategies and game theory.

    @TomS, here, as everywhere, those who invoke the supernatural think that they are thereby exempted from the need to provide any coherent description of process. So they really think that they have solved the problem, whereas from your perspective, which I and I expect most people here share, they have done the very opposite and declared themselves incapable of doing any such thing

  23. Michael Fugate

    In a science book, it is difficult to ascertain the author’s personal beliefs. Darwin seemed to have had a habit of taking others’ statements at face value – which was one reason inheritance appeared muddled. I can’t imagine he would have been anything but appalled by the misuse of his words for genocide.