Is evolutionary biology racist?

Pretty remarkable comment,

In both papers religion is mentioned: African Americans are more religious than whites, and that makes them resistant to studying evolution. This may well be true, but I don’t know what to do about it. Here’s one anecdote I’ve told before. I was invited to lecture on evolution to a black “magnet school” (a high school) on Chicago’s South Side. At the end of my talk, a girl stood up and asked me if I was saying that Noah’s Flood and (as I recall) the Garden of Eden didn’t really exist. I had to tell the truth and say, “Yes, that’s what I think.” It caused a ruckus, and I could clearly see that the students became resistant to my message. (After the talk, the principal took me aside and said I really should have mentioned all the innovations that Africans had made, like inventing the airplane.)

See some my thoughts on race and pedagogy of evolution here:

What do you think @Jerry_Coyne could do about it?

I don’t know. If religion is encouraging an unreasonable belief in people and doing so in a way which results in a racial disparity in interest in study in evolutionary biology, isn’t it religion which is responsible for any “racism” in this transaction? Instead of asking what a biologist can do about it, shouldn’t we ask why religious groups haven’t fixed this problem already?


I became interested in science and mathematics while I was in elementary school. I’m suspecting that some of the problems are already present there.

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The only weird thing about Jerry’s anecdote is the bit about Africans inventing the airplane. The only thing I can find about that is this, whose accuracy I can’t confirm:

The weird thing about Jerry is that he thinks religion is incompatible with science, period, and he sometimes seems to interpret that as meaning that you can’t be religious and be a scientist.


By the way, I note that the author of the piece Coyne is commenting on is Jerry Bergman. Bergman is quite a piece of work, and has written some of the most howlingly funny garbage in the rotting corpus of creationist literature. My friend Aaron Baldwin wrote this review of his Fossil Forensics; my favorite is the marvelous reference to the hitherto unknown Cambrian creature “Waxia halueigenia,” but the book was rife with errors of a similar magnitude.


I do wonder if the genus is a conflation of Wiwaxia and Waptia, which would make it even more fun.


Maybe with a little Hallucigenia thrown in the mix?

It would.

I do wonder, though, why we allow people like Jerry Bergman to function as social critics. It’s astonishing. Dishonesty and incompetence, both in copious supply – and yet people will actually listen to him when he makes the silliest possible accusations of racism. It’s a shame that people like him, and like Richard Weikart, are not simply laughed out of the room whenever they open their gobs.

That’s what’s called the specific epithet, and the review comments on that one. And there’s even a typo in that, e for c.

Oh, and only one l; didn’t notice that. Hallucigenia.

I don’t know about that particular quote you showed, specifically. Perhaps he could have expressed his disagreement more cordially in order to avoid provoking this audience? But I don’t know in what manner he responded. Perhaps there was no way for him to give an honest answer to the question without setting off the audience. Who knows? Furthermore, this particular example seems to me the hurdle is more about religious fundamentalism (or creationism specifically), rather than racism.

Having said that, he could’ve address the issue of racism in history and how scientific racism has oppressed people. He should explain how the science of evolution is not racist (there is no such thing as a “more evolved” or “superior” in evolution and ‘fitness’ is relative); but he shouldn’t shy away from acknowledging the scientific racism of the past and how even many evolutionary biologists were very racists.

He could also explain the evolutionary relationship of humans; mentioning the old debate between monogenists and polygenests and how that was resolved; and how the “races” are social constructs, not objective biological entities. Adam Rutherford’s talks are good examples. Perhaps such messages could’ve resonated more? However, it’s unfortunate that Coyne has expressed common arguments in defense of race-realism. If anything, that’s something he should change, if he hasn’t in the past few years.

Unfortunately, Jerry disagrees with that. He thinks that races are real.

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