Todd Wood: Is Evolution Racist?

Except, of course, that @Herman_Mays isn’t actually doing that, unless you’re suggesting that he has himself held racist views which he premised upon evolutionary biology, which I take it you are not.

It’s a huge mistake to assume that if members of some group can be faulted in some way, and members of another group can also be faulted in some similar way, that this means the whole thing is a wash and that everybody has dirty hands. This is the kind of false equivalence in which creationism constantly trades.

And, truth be told, would anyone bother to have this discussion, were it not for the fact that creationists constantly suggest that evolutionary theory is itself inherently racist? One doesn’t see a lot of arguments between physicists and chemists, or even between astronomers and astrologers, over which group’s now-dead predecessors were more racist than the other’s. That’s because it’s not relevant to anything.

That all said, it brings to mind a strange story on the side. I had a rather lengthy exchange once with a fellow on Amazon who was an Orthodox Jew and whose objection to evolutionary theory was that it wasn’t racist enough. He would say things to the effect that “if we descended from apes, then it follows that some of us are more ape-like than others.” All of this seemed quite offensive, especially as it became clear that he had the populations of modern Africa in mind as those who were more “ape-like.” I and others tried very hard to disabuse him of the notion that human “races” sat at different distances from chimpanzees.

All that might have just been par for the course, but the peculiar turn came when I learned a bit more about him. He was himself of African descent. He had become convinced of the inferiority of his OWN race, and he had converted to Judaism because his efforts to study racial issues had led him to the view that of western religions, Orthodox Judaism was the highest and best. He had then concluded that of living human racial stocks, the Han Chinese were the most superior of all races, and so he had moved to somewhere in Asia (can’t recall where, but it wasn’t China) and sought out and married a Chinese woman. He expressed fervent hope that the mixing of his (self-proclaimed – let me be clear that I do NOT share his views in the slightest) “inferior” racial character with hers would produce good offspring. He’d posted his biography on white supremacist websites, but found that while a few there welcomed him and his “realization” of his racial status, others still would not associate themselves with him because of his race. It was truly one of the most bizarre life-stories I’d ever seen.

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I’m not operating based on assumptions, but with knowledge of history. Perhaps a better understanding of that history would be a better direction to take this conversation.

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What exactly did I say that’s in your mind a flawed understanding of history?

I’m not really interested in debating who’s history is less racist. That is going to be biased debate that scientists, frankly, are not remotely qualified to adjudicate.

I’m more interested in seeing who has the moral courage to reckon the history of racism in their own camps. For many of us, that means reckoning the history of racism in mainstream science, including evolutionary science.

Here is one good place to start:

There are other places too.

And let’s not pretend its all in the past either. If #blackintheivory wasn’t clear enough, just look at comments of this Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Watson:

Watson began to recede from public life in 2007, after he told a British reporter that he was “gloomy” about Africa because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really”.

Note, he did apologize: James D. Watson Issues Apology for Comments About Blacks - The New York Times

I know what scientific racism is Josh.

I suggest you read Gould’s Mismeasure of Man.

Unfortunately there’s no comparable work on the other side of this.

I have, but many people haven’t. That would be worth unpacking for people, with as much clarity as did Todd Wood.

And I already mentioned Jim Watson and Murray and Herrnstein’s Bell Curve.

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Now please point us to a comparable treatment of the racism within creationism written by creationists that is on par with Gould’s Mismeasure of Man in depth and scholarship. I wouldn’t consider Todd’s Wood 20 minute PowerPoint presentation however laudable it may be as comparable.

Maybe Todd will write one soon, and if he does it will be more significant in dealing with racism among YECs then any book one of us would write. I hope he does, don’t you?


Well again my point is Gould tackled this problem within science 40 years ago and creationism has yet to do so. Again, I think it’s clear that evolution and science in general has done a far better accounting of its history in reference to race than has creationism so let’s not act as if there are two sides here equally deserving of our criticism.

I’ve been clear here I’m not making claims of relative guilt nor should anyone trust a partisan’s assessment.

Exactly. You aren’t making that claim. That’s my point. You aren’t acknowledging the disparity between the two camps in dealing with their racist pasts. Evolutionary biology was explicitly talking about it’s own past with regards to race over 40 years ago and geneticists and evolutionary biologists started dismantling eugenics not long after it appeared over a century ago. During this entire time in American history Jim Crow laws, segregation and anti-misegenation laws were deeply intertwined with the same fundamentalist Christian theology that underlies creationism and had nothing to do with evolution but in fact these policies were championed predominantly by people who had no interest in evolution at all. I don’t see where creationists have approached anywhere near the sort of reckoning that we have seen in the science (Todd Wood’s PowerPoint presentation and hypothetical future book on this that you proposed notwithstanding).

I’m happy to let actual experts in this explain rather than posturing one way or another.

Perhaps @TedDavis can weigh in with his assessment as a historian, or perhaps @Cootsona can (he just wrote a book on the topic).

I don’t see @Herman_Mays as attempting to adjudicate a history question.

The fact is that creationists repeatedly and frequently accuse evolution a Darwin as being the source of racism. I see @Herman_Mays reacting to that. The creationists need to stop these accusations.

Yes, I’m gratified at what Todd Wood has written on the issue. But that’s not enough. The people at Discovery Institute and the people at AiG need to stop making such charges.


I totally agree with this.


A recent book by Monte Hampton (a Christian pastor with a doctorate in American history) is a partial answer, Herman and @swamidass. Here’s a digest he wrote for me when I was a regular columnist at BioLogos: Slavery, Science, and Southern Christians in 19th Century America - Articles - BioLogos

Also see my briefer comments on racism in creationism in the Darwin column I will link separately below.


Agreed, it would be much more important and authentic to address the historic racism within their own movement. But it is difficult for the house of cards to stand if one is called into question…


This is mostly correct. Nineteenth-century works on natural history, especially before perhaps the 1870s, are chock full of the term “race(s),” where in context or by default the word refers to various non-human organisms, both plants and animals. Some time ago I made an informal count (which I don’t certify as fully accurate) of Darwin’s own use of that term in the first edition of the Origin–where it famously appears in the subtitle, referring to “the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”

I found 3 references to “races of man,” more than 30 references to animal types (such as pigeons), a few limited to vegetable types, around 20 that were both (including a passage mentioning cabbages), and one index entry. He also spoke of a “race for life” and of course “race-horse(s)”.

More broadly, concerning Darwin’s own attitudes toward “races” of humans and how others have tried to transform him into a full-blown genocidal maniac, see this column I wrote for BioLogos:

@swamidass asked me to comment on this.


To give a concrete example of scientific racism in Osborn, see the image below, taken from an article called “Facts of the Evolutionists” in 1926. Remember that Bryan was saying evolution is a mere “theory,” not a “fact,” and Osborn was one of Bryan’s staunchest public opponents.