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Darwin: The Father of Modern Racism?

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August 25, 2010 Tags: Science & Worldviews

Today's video features Denis Alexander. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Editor's Note: The popular commentator Glenn Beck referred to Charles Darwin as "the father of modern-day racism." Certainly, Beck's sentiments are nothing new; links between Darwin and racism, as well as to eugenics and other destructive ideologies, are mentioned constantly by opponents to the modern theory of evolution. But are these links valid? In the video above, Denis Alexander shares his thoughts on the relationship between evolution and ideologies.

Alexander notes that while the biological theory of evolution is not itself an ideology, it has been used for ideological purposes since 1859 to defend everything from eugenics to capitalism to racism to atheism. The reason, he asserts, is not because of any true support, but rather because people often try to use the popular scientific theories of the day to support all sorts of ideologies.

He also notes that the phrase "survival of the fittest", often tied to Darwin and stated as a core part of evolution, was in fact coined by science popularizer Herbert Spencer, and that the phrase is in fact a poor description of the complicated processes involved in evolution. Unfortunately, the phrase was picked up during the World War I-era as a way to support the "might makes right" mentality, and the misunderstanding was used to justify all sorts of failed ideologies.

Similarly, Alexander notes that the fact that evolution admits there are variations between people in regards to genetics has been used to justify racist ideology. However, once again, this is a case of ideology using something for its own agenda; the biological process of evolution itself does not in any way justify such racist thinking, and in fact diversity is beneficial to populations.

For more on the supposed links between racism and eugenics, see Michael Zimmerman's post "Social Darwinism: A Bad Idea with a Worse Name" and Karl Giberson's post "Who Cares About Darwin?"

UPDATE: Michael Zimmerman has just posted another article on the topic. You can find it here.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.


Denis Alexander is the Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge, to which he was elected a Fellow in 1998. Alexander writes, lectures, and broadcasts widely in the field of science and religion. He is a member of the International Society for Science and Religion.

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Rich - #27303

August 28th 2010

UC:

Re Weikart and West.  They have Ph.Ds in history and in political science from respectable secular universities, and teach or have taught in such universities.  They are good scholars, trained to think specifically about historical matters.  Neither one bears even a remote resemblance to Holocaust deniers or Nazis.  Your remarks are unjust and should be withdrawn.

Incidentally, I have spent a good deal of time now (years) in deep and sustained conversation with many ID people, including some well-known ones.  Based on my conversations, and based on what ID folks have written, there is no doubt in my mind that there is great sympathy for Judaism *as such* (not merely certain “Hebraic” ideas from the Old Testament, but Judaism itself) among ID folk.  This is shown, among other things, in the fact that two Jews, one unbelieving and one orthodox (Berlinski and Klinghoffer) are Discovery Fellows.


Rich - #27305

August 28th 2010

beaglelady (27299):

Elsewhere you commented on the politeness of Mr. Rizley.  I agree.  You praised him for it.  I agree.  You then lamented that politeness was rare on the internet.  I agree.

In light of our agreement, I find it unfortunate that you chose to write this:

“While we’re at it, let’s point out the connection between Bill Dembski’s Southern Baptist church and slavery/racism.”

The fact that this was intended as a biting one-liner, to dismiss my reference to the genuinely scholarly works of West and Weikart, could be thought of as impolite in itself, but I’ll let that go, as I’m thick-skinned.  However, by writing “Bill Dembski’s” Southern Baptist church”, rather than just “the Southern Baptist church”, you imputed the sins of a church (or rather, of a minority within that church) to Bill Dembski.  That’s like imputing the sins of molesting Catholic priests to all Catholics.  If you are charging Dembski with racism, you should do it directly, and provide evidence.  To slyly slip in an imputation that he may be racist or condone racism, due to his church association, is the height of the very internet impoliteness that you find so offensive.


beaglelady - #27307

August 28th 2010

Aren’t you one to talk about being polite!  I think you know the point I was trying to make.  And I can imagine how scholarly this work you mention is.


Rich - #27314

August 28th 2010

beaglelady:

Instead of “imagining” how scholarly Weikart and West are, why don’t you read their books and find out?

On what do you base your prior judgment of Weikart and West?  Are you yourself an academic?  Do you know anything about their academic fields, or their academic training?  I know something about West, whose field of study overlaps with mine at some points, and he was trained by some of the top political scientists in the USA.  He is extremely bright and extremely well-informed.  It is unlikely that anything that he wrote would be less than very good. 

And no, I *don’t* know the point you were trying to make.  It *sounded* as if the point you were trying to make was that Dembski probably supported or condoned racism because he was a member of the Southern Baptist Church which you accused of racism.  If you didn’t mean that, then why didn’t you leave Dembski’s name out of it, and speak only of the Church?  Was it just an accidental slip on your part, to throw in the name of a Discovery Fellow (whose ID views you have previously ridiculed) in connection with allegations of Southern Baptist racism?


Jon Garvey - #27331

August 28th 2010

Calm down, brethren, calm down…

I’ve just become aware of Isaac la Peyrère, who in the 17th century argued from Romans 5 (weakly, unfortunately) for pre-Adamic man, so is quite relevant to Biologos.

I find one of his associates actually introduced the concept of separate races for the very first time. Not long after, the idea arose that the non-white races were pre-Adamic and therefore not covered by the Bible message. In extremes cases they were said to be mere animals carried on Noah’s ark. These ideas can be traced in many of the justifications for racism both by Enlightenment types seeking to undermine the Bible, and by the religious seeking justification for white supremacy. This shows how humans can use any idea for evil, but also that racism had a theological origin, which was fostered by both religious and scientific people mainly to justify social aims that were neither. How corrupt the human heart.

The paradox is that science, which has provided strong evidence for pre-adamic people and so made itself unpopular with many Christians, has also shown the unity of the whole human race (against a popular belief), which ought to have been welcomed by Christians more than it has.


beaglelady - #27375

August 28th 2010

Instead of “imagining” how scholarly Weikart and West are, why don’t you read their books and find out?

What is this scholarly work?


beaglelady - #27378

August 28th 2010

This shows how humans can use any idea for evil, but also that racism had a theological origin, which was fostered by both religious and scientific people mainly to justify social aims that were neither. How corrupt the human heart.

How true!  One could make a case for “From Christianity to Hitler” and it would have as much behind it as “From Darwin to Hitler.”  Like all evil people,  Hitler exploited the vile prejudices already in the hearts of the people.


Rich - #27405

August 28th 2010

beaglelady (27375):

Since you’ve already made up your mind in advance that there can’t be any value in an argument “From Darwin to Hitler” (27378), there’s little point in my providing that title by Richard Weikart, is there?  But perhaps John West’s *Darwin Day in America* would be more persuasive to you.  But then again, probably not, since you’ve already “imagined” (27307) that any book by West would be unimpressive from a scholarly point of view.  Yet it’s generally unwise to dismiss arguments and authors that one hasn’t yet read.  Anyhow, you have the references; use them as you will.

For other books by West, who is one of America’s most impressive Christian political thinkers, people may want to have a look at the list provided here:

http://www.discovery.org/p/18


Roger A. Sawtelle - #27425

August 28th 2010

If one is looking for a Biblical basis for racism in the Bible, one should look no farther than the curse of Canaan by Noah his grandfather.  The strange aspect of this story is that Noah really cursed Ham for stumbling upon him while he was lying naked in a tent lost in a drunken stupor.  Talk about Biblical literalism.  This curse apparently justified the conquest of the Promised Land, home of the Canaanites, descendants of Canaan, as if God’s promise was not enough.

The curse of Canaan was also used against Blacks who are Hamites.  Incidently evidence seems to show that the Canaanites were actually Semites like the Hebrews.  They shared the same language and culture and the constant temptation of Baalism indicates many religious practices.  If Africans are Hamitic, and Europeans were descended from Japheth, and middle east folks from Shem, from where come orientals, Chinese, Japanese, et al?

Jesus reversed the curse of Canaan when He healed the daughter of the Canaanite/Phoenician woman, so even that fig leaf for racial prejudice is invalid.


John - #27482

August 29th 2010

Rich wrote:
“On what do you base your prior judgment of Weikart and West?”

For myself, on the evidence.

“Are you yourself an academic?”

Yes.

“Do you know anything about their academic fields, or their academic training?”

Yes.

“I know something about West, whose field of study overlaps with mine at some points, and he was trained by some of the top political scientists in the USA.”

Since you’ve implicitly admitted that their authority is based on their mentors, what do their mentors think?

But you won’t ask, Rich, because when it comes to appeals to authority, you practice the most foul sort of hypocrisy. There are far more people with far better cvs than these two, yet you ignore their training.

What did Jesus Christ say about hypocrisy?

“He is extremely bright and extremely well-informed.”

I don’t know about Beaglelady, but I’m accusing them of being dishonest, not stupid.


John - #27483

August 29th 2010

Rich wrote:
“It is unlikely that anything that he wrote would be less than very good.”

Both write very good sophistry. The question you keep dodging is whether their writings are supported by the evidence. You know they aren’t.

“Was it just an accidental slip on your part, to throw in the name of a Discovery Fellow (whose ID views you have previously ridiculed) in connection with allegations of Southern Baptist racism?”

Um, Rich, if you divide up the US population between those who accept evolutionary science and those who don’t, the unrepentant racists almost entirely go with the latter (i.e., your) group.

“...But then again, probably not, since you’ve already “imagined” (27307) that any book by West would be unimpressive from a scholarly point of view.”

I don’t think any imagination is necessary to start with that as a null hypothesis, given the extant evidence

“Yet it’s generally unwise to dismiss arguments and authors that one hasn’t yet read.”

Not in this case. Besides, I read them before judging.

“...For other books by West,... people may want to have a look at the list provided here:”

He’s clearly a failed academic turned right-wing political hack.


John - #27485

August 29th 2010

Rich wrote:
“This is shown, among other things, in the fact that two Jews, one unbelieving and one orthodox (Berlinski and Klinghoffer) are Discovery Fellows.”

Only two, and neither is a biologist. Out of how many fellows?

What proportion of working biologists are Jews, Rich?


beaglelady - #27488

August 29th 2010

If one is looking for a Biblical basis for racism in the Bible, one should look no farther than the curse of Canaan by Noah his grandfather.

Right you are; verses in Genesis were used to justify race-based slavery. Heck, you can even find what sure looks like antisemitism in the NT. Ideas have consequences!  isn’t that right, Rich?


Rich - #27489

August 29th 2010

John (27482 ff.):

Are you the same “John” who wrote abusively to me before, confusing me with another “Rich” from a never-identified website, imputing to me all kinds of views of that other Rich, and misreading my comments in light of those views, and refusing to apologize for doing so even when I corrected him and said that I had nothing to do with the other Rich?

I suspect that you are, because your remarks in the posts above are in the same style (biting, belittling, ad hominem, containing accusations of hypocrisy and dishonesty and speculations about motives, and generally un-Christian in tone and attitude).

If you are the same John, you must know that I am not going to reply to anything you say before I get a profuse and utterly unambiguous apology (and explanation) for your verbal treatment of me in the past, *including* an identification of the other “Rich” and the other web site which provided the basis for your mischaracterization and condemnation of my views.


John - #27502

August 29th 2010

Rich wrote:
“I suspect that you are, because your remarks in the posts above are in the same style (biting, belittling, ad hominem, containing accusations of hypocrisy…”

So are you claiming that you DO accept authorities who don’t agree with you?

“... and dishonesty and speculations about motives, and generally un-Christian in tone and attitude).”

Check out that log in your eye, Rich.

“...you must know that I am not going to reply to anything you say…”

Why, Rich, you made this vow several times and broke it several times already. And surely you must realize that you are breaking it again by making your comment?

“... before I get a profuse and utterly unambiguous apology (and explanation) for your verbal treatment…”

How could my treatment of you be anything but verbal?

“... of me in the past, *including* an identification of the other “Rich” and the other web site which provided the basis for your mischaracterization and condemnation of my views.”

You haven’t offered a speck of evidence as to which Rich you are.

My claim here is that you are being hypocritical in offering an appeal to authority when you know you reject authorities who don’t agree with you.


Rich - #27504

August 29th 2010

John:

Yep, I was right.  You’re the same John.  The same captiousness, the same atrocious manners, the same refusal to apologize red-facedly for a gross misidentification and the calumnies based thereon. 

And now that I *know* you’re the same John, I’m not going to reply again.


beaglelady - #27559

August 30th 2010

My library doesn’t have the books you mentioned.  I do have a suspicion about what I would find in them.  It’s a standard creationist strategy to indirectly promote creationism/id by attacking Darwin. I’m thinking of “Expelled” and “Darwin’s Deadly Legacy” by Coral Ridge Ministries. 

I did find the site What Hath Darwin Wrought? that features some of the authors you mentioned.  Are you familiar with this? It has something to do with Wretched TV and Wretched Radio, which I have never even heard of, but then again I don’t get cable.


Rich - #27592

August 30th 2010

beaglelady:

1.  ID is not creationism.

2.  Weikart and West are scholars, not apologists. 

3.  Most public libraries have access to the holdings of other libraries through an interlibrary loan system, so you should be able to request either of these books through your local library.

4.  There is no need for “suspicion” about what you would find in the books.  I can tell you what you would find in the books.  What you would find in them is historical argumentation, based on the actual writings of Darwin and other Darwinian biologists, and the actual writings of Nazis, eugenicists, etc.  If you are interested in how ideas engender historical movements, I am sure you would find them illuminating.

5.  I’ve never heard of the web site you mentioned.  I don’t get most of my information off the web, but from reading books.  In any case, one can’t disprove Darwin’s scientific theories by showing that they had bad social effects.  But from a historical point of view it is still important to know whether or not they had bad social effects.


Headless Unicorn Guy - #27643

August 31st 2010

Secondly, that part of the USA is not renowned for its support for evolution, and the slave trade that fostered those attitudes predates evolution by several centuries.—Jon Garvey #27177

Several years ago, I remember a TV documentary tracing blacks in European (white) art over the centuries.  Before the slave trade really got rolling, blacks were depicted more as “funny-looking foreigners” with the emphasis on FOREIGN—white foreigners got pretty much the same treatment.  It wasn’t until after the slave trade got established (when “normal” became “slaves are Black and masters are White”)  that you saw blacks depicted as subhuman hairless monkeys and/or two-legged animals that resembled people.  Thus easing any pangs of conscience among the (white) slaveowners.


Robert Byers - #27689

September 1st 2010

Jon Garvey 27177

First there is nothing wrong with saying people, as groups, are less intelligent then others if its true or its believed to be true. whether innate or otherwise. Theres no moral or legal law.
As a person or people one can be more intelligent then another. The only problems are when these realities lead to injustice on common human rights.

There is no such thing as racism. This is just a invented word like anti-semtism or homophobia or sexism to discredit opinion or accusations against said groups by others.
May be wrong or right yet it requires a fair trial.

Evolutionism invented the idea of genetic origins for inferiority.
before this there was very little or none. Yes people were inferior to others and seen as such but it was not innate. Evolution made it innate.

Darwin didn’t have important ideas on race but did on sex regarding intelligence.
However the following evolution regime of the western world did see race , and still does, as a factor in human intelligence and so conclusions from that became dominant in some areas.
Evolution is a culprit in race etc ideas of inferiority.
Creationism,based on scripture, stood against this and still does.


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