Todd Wood: Is Evolution Racist?

This is an excellent article by Todd Wood, a leading Young Earth Creationist. Brave even. It deserves a great deal of respect.

Last week, I recorded a new episode of “Ask a Creationist,” and I dealt with the question, “Is evolution racist?” I reviewed the history of racism both in evolutionary thinking but also in creationist thinking. On the creationist side, I looked at some nineteenth century American slavery apologetics that were written from a creationist perspective. I intended to remind viewers that evolutionists do not have a monopoly on racism, and I also wanted to affirm that most of today’s creationists and evolutionists are not guilty of the overt, outrageous racism of the past. At least that’s what I was going for, but as you know, modern racism is a touchy subject that invites strong reactions."

We got some strong and angry reactions to this video, but I’ll just leave that aside. I’m sad that people would be angry about the truth, but I think a lot of that anger comes from things they think I say or advocate that I actually do not.

I listened to the monologue on Racism, and you seemed to at least imply that racism is a activity and mindset exclusively carried out by white people. Is that your belief and can you justify it?

No, that’s not remotely correct. As I said in the video, I wanted to focus on my own culture to address racism as it affects us here and now. Of course racism exists in other contexts and other cultures. Yes, there are modern slavers, and yes, there is much racial and ethnic tension all over the world. But focusing on the problem outside my front door never means there are no other problems.

Today, I see a black community that clearly and repeatedly communicates their ongoing pain at their treatment in society, and they ask us to listen. Here are some voices I’ve tried to listen to (and these are not endorsements of their political/religious/social views, so don’t even start with me):

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This book is ostensibly about the revolution in molecular biology made possible by HeLa cells, but it surprised me at how much it also communicated what life was like for this family.

Here’s an interview with attorney Bryan Stevenson from Fresh Air on NPR. I happened to be driving through Alabama the first time I heard this. It was deeply troubling.

Here’s Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s essay “Reflections on the Color of my Skin.”

Here’s an essay from Master’s University graduate Barry Moore “What can my white friends do?

So no, I don’t bear any guilt for creating the world I inhabit, but I do bear responsibility for perpetuating it.

I deeply respect Todd’s willingness to deal directly with this difficult topic, with honestly about difficult facts about the past. This is something of character he has done here.

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Very well presented video by Dr. Wood. My only small nit is his highlighting of the word “races” in the subtitle to Origin Of Species, “the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”. Dr. Wood should have pointed out the word “race” in Darwin’s time and usage merely meant “subspecies” and had no connotations toward human variations. This can be readily seen in this passage from OOS

“that if we could succeed in naturalising, or were to cultivate, during many generations, the several races, for instance, of the cabbage, in very poor soil…”

Races of cabbage. Not racist at all by the 19th century scientific meaning.

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Well presented and it also took moral courage. I respect him immensely for this and the societal good it can do. Let no one disrespect him on this forum.

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Excellent presentation. And yes, within the context of creationism, it took courage. He has previously displayed the same courage when acknowledging that evolutionary biology is a live and active field with evidence behind it.

One addendum to his (very good) explanation of where Darwin fits in to the racism of his time. His views on abolition and on race were very similar to those of his exact contemporary Abraham Lincoln. And yes, you can find Lincoln making racist statements, just as Darwin did. But if one is going to consider Darwin to be the main leader of 19th century racism, what about Lincoln? Relative to the people in his time, was Lincoln a leader in promoting racism?

Basically the chorus of voices charging that Darwin was the cause of racism are simply trying to scare people away considering the evidence for evolution.

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Yeah Todd Wood should be commended for being the honest one among creationists.

See also Darwin’s contemporary creationist critic Louis Agassiz and measure his words against those of Darwin and see who among them is the more contemptible overt racist.

I think creationism has a very long, and under recognized, history of viewing two distinct kinds of humans; the descendants of Adam and Eve on the one hand and the “pre-Adamites” on the other, the latter while viewed as reproductively compatible with the Adam and Eve and their descendants also seen as lacking fundamental human qualities.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/3134139?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Of course the same is true in evolutionary science…

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Except early in the history of evolutionary biology there were in fact many evolutionary biologists, population geneticists and other biologists who were responsible for pointing out the folly of the eugenics that is so often linked with racism and evolution. It was other evolutionists who pushed to squash scientific racism within evolutionary biology not creationists and nothing like that debate was really seen in creationist circles. People like Henry Morris were parroting racist tropes in creationist literature well after the eugenics of Galton and other evolutionists had been largely abandoned and the persistence of anti-misegenation laws into the 1960’s and had nothing to do with pro-evolution supporters and everything to do with Bible-belt fundamentalism.

I know the knee jerk reaction to say that both sides are equally guilty but I think the history shows that evolution and it’s reliance on empirical evidence was far better primed to escape this racist trap than was creationism and its reliance on theological dogma. Just think of the situation today if you look among the most overt racists in the United States many are evangelical Christian critics of evolution while those who know the most about evolution today (professional evolutionary biologists themselves) are in my experience comparatively far more progressive on matters of race. So I would argue that it’s creationism and fundamentalist Christianity’s unhealthy relationship with race that has proven far more difficult to shake than that of science.

I was a bit surprised when, early in Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen Meyer took the side of Agassiz. Knowing what’s behind that door, and knowing the creationist affection for such things as Weikart’s book “From Darwin to Hitler,” it was sort of funny. But, of course, his audience generally doesn’t read and wouldn’t know.

And the same can be said if creationists.

Not quite to the same extent in my opinion. And remember the lay public in places like the United States, and especially the segregated South, were enforcing blatantly racist policies in the form of everything Jim Crow laws. The American South (and much of the rest of the United States) was essentially an apartheid state. This was done by ostensibly Bible-believing Christians with no love whatsoever for evolution. In the United States fundamentalist Christianity was far more effective as a propaganda tool in racial discrimination than evolution ever was.

You may not be fully informed on this. Todd is to be commended for reckoning the history of racism in his own camp. It is a good example for the rest of us. We need to reckon the history of racism in our camp too.

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Yeah, Agassiz isn’t the guy you want to align yourself with if you want to take the moral high ground on race.

Did you miss the part where I literally said, “he should be commended”?

No one is saying that there isn’t a history of misusing the science and evolution in particular to justify racism. I’m simply saying that science’s reliance on evidence meant that period was far more fragile and short lived than we can say for fundamentalist Christianity and the creationism that goes with it. Morris for example was aligning creationism with racist prejudices long after scientists realized that eugenics simply was wrong and the overtly racist policies in the United States persisted not because of being propped up by supporters of evolution but by Bible-belt fundamentalists and their sympathizers. I grew up in the American south Josh and I can assure you that the racism there that permeates society to this day has absolutely nothing to do with evolution. Two sides to every argument are not invariably equal Josh.

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I’m sure nobody is fully informed on anything. But @Herman_Mays is surely correct.

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There was much racism in evolutionary science, and for people that are anti-creationist, that should be the focus.

No. But you seem to have missed what I literally said:

When evolutionists focus on creationist racism, it comes off often as race-baiting. When creationists focus on evolutionary racism, it comes off as race baiting too.

Todd’s message is not aided by evolutionists piling on. We would do more good by reckoning our own history instead.

I’m simply trying to have an honest discussion about this Josh. Todd’s video was great and I agree with it. Again he is to be commended for his honest approach to this topic. I already said this.

Was there racism that people attempted to justify using genetics and evolution? Yes. Absolutely. In fact if you look at books like Murray and Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve and recent comments by the most prominent of 20th century geneticists (Jim Watson) that continues to some degree today. No one is denying that but these views are well outside of any mainstream opinions in genetics and evolutionary biology.

But the question is is evolution and genetics to blame for the overwhelming majority of racist policies in the United States? Clearly the answer is no. Those policies were being propped up across the United States largely by fundamentalist Christians who had no love for evolution.

Now also of course Christianity writ large had a central role in the civil rights movement in America, Martin Luther King was after all a pretty conservative Christian pastor, so please don’t confuse what I’m saying as some naive, all encompassing “Christianity-bad” argument.

The point is that racist policies and racial prejudice continued on well after the attempted scientific arguments for those policies were discredited by the majority of the scientific community. Instead they were continued by people with decidedly anti-evolution fundamentalist, theocratic Christian tendancies so it’s simply not an honest discussion to act as if people of either viewpoint, evolution versus fundamentalist Christian creationists, are equally culpable in allowing racist policies to persist in the United States.

The truth is Josh I’ve come to know a lot of people with overtly racist prejudices and absolutely none of them I would characterize as evolutionists.

It certainly is easier to emphasize the failings of those we disagree with than own our own failings. Isn’t it?

Stephen Jay Gould’s Mismeasure of Man deals head on with scientific racism. I know of no comparable modern work where creationists have similarly called their own (Agassiz, Whitcomb, Morris) to task in the way that Gould has evolutionary biology.

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I think I just did emphasize the failings of both sides Josh. That doesn’t mean there are equal failings on both sides.