On The Panda's Thumb: The Questions of Race and Evolution

It is difficult to talk about race. Still, we should find the courage to engage. The questions matter here. There are important things that can and should be said by us.

I want to follow Todd Wood’s example. This summer, this young earth creationist asked, “Is Evolution Racist?” Knowing this genre well, we should expect a diatribe of race-baiting, but that is not what Wood did. Instead, he took an honest look at his camp’s own history of racism, explaining how creationism has been used to justify racism.

Wood’s approach displays obvious integrity. His direct explanation of the history of racism in his own camp, to his own community, was not easy. It was not costless. He demonstrated courage, and in doing so sets an important example for us.

There is much more I could say here, but these points of agreement seem like a good place to start.

Our points of disagreement, also, are important. I want to work through them. A full telling of evolutionary science includes the questions of race. These questions are difficult, in part because they extend beyond evolutionary science. The payoff is worth the trouble. The science here is interesting, and it can serve the common good.

Perhaps, in a conversation among scientists, we can find a better way. The conversation is difficult for obvious reasons. We are faced with questions about our moral worth, dignity, and place in society. How we think about race matters. Scientists can and should be a model community for navigating the complexity here.


The most basic question we would have to ask is a moral one, not a scientific one. Is a human’s worth determined by the DNA sequence of their genome? Science can tell us the differences between genomes and the impact it might have on phenotype, but it can’t tell us how people should be treated, at least from what I can see.


I’m surprised no one has objected to my appeal to Todd Wood. I wonder if that is a good thing.

I’d take that to be a good thing. I have to assume people who disagree with you are highly motivated to speak out if they do. Though it’s only been out for a day by now so I guess there’s still time. :slight_smile:

@Rumraket , you saw some of the private dialogue about this article the last couple days, right? Without breaking anyone’s confidentiality, fascinating people watching I must say. Race really is hard for people to talk about, and I do not always understand why that is the case.

When talking about race, if you say something that is just slightly out of place people will respond “that’s racist”. So many people find it easier to avoid the subject entirely. That’s somewhat unfortunate, because America needs an honest discussion about race.


Sure. I think one reason it’s hard to talk about is nobody wants to appear to give ammunition to actual racists. I assume this sentiment is most prevalent among people who are genuinely concerned about racism. From that perspective, even rebutting a well-intended anti-racist argument can inadvertently seem like it’s trying to give cover to racists.

Another problem is some of what I saw came down to conflicting definitions of race. It is possible to give numerous different biological and genetic definitions(not to mention more historical or just superficial or “intuitive” definitions). But then it also gets very problematic to discuss because it inadvertently opens a linguistic issue up.

What is the definition of race?

There is no such thing, and no one is any more of an authority of what should be the definition of race than someone else, so there will always be a space for someone to invoke a legitimate disagreement simply by considering the problem from a different definitional perspective.

1 Like

Todd Wood is one of the most honest creationists I have come across. He isn’t perfect, and neither are any of us, but I do see Todd as someone striving to have an honest discussion. I think that’s a good thing.


I share your confusion as to why Americans are afraid to discuss issues bordering on race.

Do you have any instance where this has happened?

Agreed. Talking about racism is an emotional minefield. The best way to avoid getting blown up is not walking into the minefield to begin with.

I don’t think there needs to be a set definition of race. What we are really talking about is “who is the other”. Different cultures will have different definitions for who the “others” are and who the inferiors are. Skin color is the basis for discrimination in some cultures (e.g. USA, India), but it isn’t ubiquitous. There was certainly discrimination against different Caucasian immigrant groups in US history as well. Even within a “race” there could be discrimination against certain physical attributes (e.g. lowbrow vs. highbrow) which butts up against the overall discussion in this thread.


Consider the example of someone who says there are no differences between people. Is that true? No. And there you have it, now a racist has ammunition.

1 Like

Good point, but it seems unreasonable for that sort of question to be asked when it is pretty obvious people differ from each other. However, if the intention is to trap the anti-racist in a false dilemma, a pro-racist can throw it.

I believe this sort of dishonest tactic can be drastically curtailed in a carefully moderated discussion though.

You would think that but, but it is difficult. Emotions are so high around race, that race-baiting is usually quite effective. Persistent race-baiting from critics was one of the most difficult hurdles I’ve had to overcome…


I would have to agree, but even so I think the question can be asked both in good faith, but also as a sort of bait as you suggest.
Someone can be genuinely ignorant and ask what differences there are between groups of people (however defined), and you can find responses ranging from there are no differences, or that they’re only skin deep, or that they’re too tiny to be of any consequence, and many variations thereof. And it can be genuinely difficult to sort misguided and well-meaning people out from baiters and pretenders.

There are also people (though I think they’re a minority) who will insist, usually for well-intended reasons, that there truly are no differences at all. And sadly such people and their statements are frequently used as bait-for-rebuttals by racists. It seems the internet has given every crackpot a platform to try to eradicate the prospects of meaningful discussion on such topics, at least in places without very strict moderation.

1 Like

Tbh, in Nigeria we barely discuss the type of racial issues peculiar to the US, so I am not adequately familiar with the US situation.

Could you provide some examples. Its difficult to imagine any on my part.

Were this criticisms expressed in a formal or casual setting?

We could also ask if people should be discriminated against based on their blood type or whether they have attached ear lobes. Should those inferior A and B blood types be put in separate schools from the pure and superior O’s? Strangely enough, there has been some discrimination against the B blood type in Japan, so it’s not as crazy a question as you might think.

It could be framed as a question of why genetic differences should be used as a basis for discrimination, or why specific alleles are the basis of discrimination.

I agree. Most racist thinking definitely becomes totally ridiculous when we realize the total arbitrariness that the sorting of people into us vs them is ultimately based on, and I think pointing out and showing this can be effective.

There have been numerous stories in the media detailing how members of various racist organizations have been posting on their closed internet forums about how they’ve had their DNA tested only to discover that by their own arbitrary standards they fail to qualify as of a sufficient correct genetic heritage.

I agree.

I think it would be safer to publicly discuss it with someone with known “history”. That way, you know whether to avoid or risk communicating with a specific pro-racist.

I agree. No matter how well-intentioned we may be, anti-racists should be willing to state the facts the way they are, always adding clarity wherever possible to mitigate the risk of racist contortions.

If I was asked whether there are any differences between people, I would reply in the affirmative and give examples to clarify what I really mean. Of course, as Dr Swamidass notes, this may not be easy in all situations.

A post was split to a new topic: How We Faced Down Race Baiting