Todd Wood: Is Evolution Racist?

It’s definitely not kosher. :wink:


I think this article might be apposite for the topic:

Was Hitler a Darwinian?
Robert J. Richards
The University of Chicago

Makes for some crazy reading if you want to know about the sorts of ideas that actually inspired Hitler and Nazism.


Yes it does become quite tiresome to see a charge of this link brought up time and again, particularly coming from the largely Trump voting evangelical, republican demographic.


We agree on your original point, but I hope you will peruse Hampton’s book, which is a prime example of a Christian scholar very critically examining the history of his own theological tradition with regard to slavery and “race.” This isn’t exactly what you’re calling for, but it’s a relevant example of something similar, IMO.

To be frank, I think most “creationists” would actually reject some of the conclusions of the people studied in Hampton’s book, since a number of them were OECs, not YECs. Indeed, many American religious leaders abandoned the “recent” creation of the world before the Civil War. I wouldn’t be too surprised if a contemporary creationist were to reply to Hampton by saying, well, they gave up biblical authority on the age of the earth, so we also expect them to give up biblical authority on “race.” Of course, that also speaks to your point–creationists don’t want to own up to their history on this, for the most part. They want everyone to believe the Bible is clearly and unambiguously against slavery and racism. The problem here is hermeneutical–they believe the Bible is usually clear and unambiguous about every important moral matter, when it’s not always so. They simply won’t grant the obvious historical fact that the Bible is often interpreted differently on important matters by individuals and groups who are all strongly committed to the authority of the Bible. That’s the bottom line problem for them.

See my comments here: Creationism, Culture Wars, and the Search for Certainty - Articles - BioLogos


I agree. My point was that there seems to be an asymmetry between science and creationism in an honest account of their past, therefore its not a balanced view to say that both sides must reconcile their past when one side has made far more progress towards that goal than the other.

Issues of sex, gender and homosexuality likely have an even more stark contrast between science and creationism (or secular and Judeo-Christian views more broadly) than race.

Bob Richards is an eminent historian of science–he won the Sarton Medal from the History of Science Society a few years ago–and known particularly for his work on Ernst Haeckel. His article is authoritative, but hardly the only authoritative opinion on these matters. Richards cites a number of other scholars, sometimes dismissively (Richard Weikart the prominent one) and sometimes more respectfully (the late Daniel Gasman a major example), while setting down his own position on this complicated material. Again, I’m not an expert on this myself, but I have read some of the experts, including some of Richards’ work; I’ve talked to Richards and Gasman and corresponded with Weikart and Gasman. As an historian without a dog in this fight, my sense is that Richards disses Weikart mainly b/c Weikart’s work has been lionized by the ID people, even though Weikart probably knows as much as Richards about science in modern Germany; and, that Gasman probably understood Haeckel’s influence on the Nazis as well as any American historian.

Gasman’s work isn’t easily readable by non-historians, but it heavily influenced a frequently cited article by George J. Stein, “Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism," American Scientist 76 (1988): 50-58. Many reading this will have access to it, but it’s no longer available for free in other locations as it once was. Aside: Gasman (who died in 2012) felt that Stein had just plagiarized him. I can’t get into that, but it underscores the fact that Stein’s article summarizes some of Gasman’s ideas. I very much recommend it. Whether or not Gasman/Stein got all of the details right (Richards doesn’t think so), I see abundant evidence in the scholarly literature (to which I don’t contribute) of influences from Haeckel’s version of Darwinism on Hitler and his associates. And, I caution readers: this topic is ideologically loaded, for many readers. It’s best not to take anyone’s reading as definitive–including Richards’ reading.


One does see some major early-20th-century geneticists backing away from eugenics, particularly in the 1920s. In the U.S. I suspect that they were partly motivated by the anti-immigrant legislation of 1924. The anti-immigrant movement had overly racist arguments, making a lot of noise about how inferior people from Southern and Eastern Europe had to be stopped from immigrating, and of course people from Africa and Asia even more so. While eugenics had support from people of many different political views, I think one will find that changing after the 1920s.

With the development of the theory of population genetics, it could be seen how simplistic eugenicists’ arguments were. If you could stop homozygotes for an undesirable recessive allele from reproducing, you could reduce the frequency of that phenotype. But only extremely slowly – if the phenotype occurred in 1 out of 1000 people, you could reduce its prevalence by half, but that would take you 750 years to accomplish.

Geneticists such as Thomas Hunt Morgan did back away from eugenics, but they failed to publicize their disagreement, and just quietly let their adherence to support of eugenics lapse. It can’t be argued that they took any very brave stand. And of course some, like R. A. Fisher, continued to advocate eugenics.


I would maybe argue that the likes of Fisher or Morgan didn’t exactly live in a society that would’ve rewarded a brave stand against eugenics or racism. It would’ve been nice if they did but they didn’t. That said there were people within science eroding the scientific argument that was put forward to support eugenic policies almost since its inception.

I could be wrong, but I seem to recently recall seeing some quotes from Fisher advocating for eugenic policies well into the 1950s. It was one of (several) reasons why SSE is renaming the RA Fisher prize.

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The point was we didn’t have to wait until after WWII for there to be scientific criticism of eugenics.

Fisher was probably on board with the goals but clearly criticized the naive approach most eugenicists championed.

Fisher was not just on board with the goals, he was from the beginning motivated by the prospect of eugenics. In his mind, it was why he was interested in population genetics.


Interesting. I’m surprised there was no mention of Koch though.

I am not sure this is true… Eugenics is still alive and well… Now its main emphasis has shifted from Race to issues such as Down Syndrome.


You are pointing to the widespread practice of Racism by Christians and looking for books by people from AIG exposing that.
Your counterexample is that of a Scientist who exposes Racism in Science.

What you should be looking for is books by Christians exposing and denouncing Racism in their community.

I keep seein this tendency in you comments equating people in AIG with all American Christians. It seems to be a persistent blind spot in your thinking.

I agree with you, Ashwin. Christine Rosen of New Atlantis magazine stressed this kind of notion (that eugenics is still with us, in different forms) when she spoke on my campus about ten years ago, and so did Ed Larson of Pepperdine Law School. I mention those two people in this context, because few people today know more about eugenics than they do. Rosen wrote the splendid book, “Preaching Eugenics,” and Larson wrote (among many other excellent books) one on “Sex, Race, and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South.” In other words, they are more entitled to an opinion on this than most other people. That doesn’t make them right, of course, but their opinions ought to count more than most.


The discussion is about science on the one hand and creationists specifically on the other. I have NO doubt that many Christians have written eloquently and forcefully on matters of race. The primary movers of the civil rights movement in the 1960s were predominantly conservative Christians. So no. I’m not saying Christians don’t denounce racism.

I’m saying creationists have not expended the same amount of effort dealing the with racism within creationism as scientists have spent dealing with dealing with the racism in science. That’s all.

Also I would note there is a lot of discussion about eugenics and racism. There is an intersection of those issues but they are not necessarily the same thing.

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This is also correct. Edwin Grant Conklin, one of the eugenics supporters on that AAAS committee to oppose Bryan, had a more nuanced view of eugenics than most of his contemporaries, and criticized some of the standard scientific understanding no later than the 1920s. I have forgotten the details, but remember the broad fact of it. Nevertheless, eugenics remained scientifically viable in the professional sense well past the 1920s–you could have a career doing it. Davenport’s title at the Carnegie Institution made explicit reference to eugenics, and the term was used in the titles of scientific papers and the names of organizations. The Cold Spring Harbor lab closed only in 1939, a few years before Davenport died, and in the year of his death (1944) its records were sent to the Dight Institute Institute for the Promotion of Human Genetics at the U of Minnesota–I doubt that was simply for archival purposes, though I do not know the details of that story.

A common distinction at the time, incidentally, was eugenics vs euthenics. The former emphasized mate selection and breeding, whereas the latter emphasized child rearing and general health practices (including mental health). One could strongly buy into the latter, without necessarily supporting the former, though many folks advanced both. The negative and the positive, as it were–just as Darwin’s natural selection principle had a negative (extinction) and a positive (adaptation).

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This might be a result of how I have spoken of it. I do so, because eugenics in its heyday was hard to separate from scientific racism. There were goals behind the “good breeding” practices that reflected racist assumptions–and not just in the USA, even if we were world leaders in some aspects of eugenics. In my research on liberal Protestants and science in that period–and many promoters of eugenics were liberal Protestants–I’ve run across numerous examples of racist language in the context of advancing eugenics, far too many examples to make them trivial or merely add-ons.

It was Mendelian genetics, of course, rather than Darwinian evolution, that made eugenics more “scientific” than otherwise it would have been. But, it was evolution (in the sense of descent with modification) that gave eugenics its grand vision–the creation of a new human race that would be more advanced that we are at present, better suited to the natural environment, with higher mental capabilities and morally superior. The moral thrust is a big reason why so many liberal Protestants (and liberal Jews too) found it so attractive. Perhaps the leading popularizer of evolution and eugenics in the 1920s, West Chester Normal School naturalist Samuel Christian Schmucker, a huge name at the national and regional Chautauquas and at the American Museum in NYC, once put it like this: "Driven by a Spirit that groans and travails through all creation,” the animal and vegetable kingdoms “have steadily risen to higher and higher levels, without leaving unoccupied the lower ranks.” Out of all “has risen a creature capable of recognizing the Power which has made and is making him what he is, and filled with a striving to work towards His likeness.” “Truly,” Schmucker concluded with a nod to the apostle Paul, “it doth not yet appear what we shall be.”


As soon as it is humans choosing which traits are desirable it is no longer the theory described by Darwin. That is the bright line that separates the theory of evolution from eugenics. Humans can apply any of the knowledge we have learned about the natural world to get outcomes we want, but there is nothing inherent in any scientific theory that prescribes what outcomes humans should be choosing. More specifically, there is nothing in the theory of evolution that says which human traits should be artificially selected for, nor which traits define human worth and value.

The eugenics argument is similar to debating the use of nuclear weapons. Physics tells us we can build and use nuclear weapons, but that doesn’t tell us if we should.