West: Points to Racism in WUSTL's History


(Curtis Henderson) #21

Mr. Klinghoffer must know that juvenile antics only harm the long term desire of his colleagues (@Agauger @Winston_Ewert) to be taken seriously from a scientific perspective. I guess pandering to the base and “scoring points” is more important to him. I would be less than pleased if I were in their shoes.

(Ted Davis) #23

Actually, methinks everyone here needs to be reminded that the heart and soul of eugenics was Mendelian genetics. Until that got rediscovered, Galton’s dream of controlling human heredity was a bounced check. It wasn’t until the first decade of the twentieth century that the first eugenic laws were passed, and that took place here in the USA not in Europe. Eugenics started to make sense, only once people had some basis actually to believe that selective breeding really might eliminate certain human behaviors that were often then associated with “feeble-mindedness,” or “race,” or some other factor presumed to have a genetic basis.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #24

Please teach us more @TedDavis.

(Ted Davis) #25

Now, let me comment on John West’s brief video excerpt. If you listen to the ending (starts about 50 seconds in), he says that we try to shame people “based really on a racist view of human evolution.” Obviously there are many other justifications offered for shaming people, but in the limited context of the topic on this thread, I find that comment 100% accurate. Notice how West puts this at that point in the video: the problem isn’t evolution per se (though West might well believe that, based on other things he has said), but the problem is “a racist view of evolution.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. More to come…

(Retired Professor & Minister.) #26

That, @swamidass, is an excellent point. Peaceful Science is entering another stage in its development—and perhaps more rapidly than some participants (me included) have realized. For those who have been here a long time, we may still tend to think of it as a new discussion venue, modest in terms of the numbers of “regulars”, like a departmental lounge where we can take a casual break from other projects and talk with familiar friends and new colleagues. But growth, inevitably, has changed that to some degree. Peaceful Science is being noticed more and more, and it brings to mind an analogy where live-streaming cameras have been installed in that faculty lounge and are now broadcasting worldwide. Growing numbers are listening to every word.

Thus, it appears that we must all begin to adjust to a forum culture shift, of a sort. That may require some additional effort, including extra “tuning” of our posts towards a greater awareness of the diversity (in every sense of the word) of our listening audience. Just last evening I spoke to a mid-week church audience, choosing my words very carefully as I broached some potentially divisive topics. (I watered nothing down. I merely avoided unnecessary tangents and distractions.) Afterwords, we discussed video-streaming of the remainder of my series. That possibility already has me thinking about how I may need to further tune my style and content. It does require additional effort. But it is important.

(Ted Davis) #27

Historically, sad to say, there was nothing at all remarkable around the turn of the century about scientists (and zillions of other people, including Christian ministers) using evolution to justify de-humanizing large groups of people. It was standard practice. Matt Cartmill has pointed out that virulent racism was the default attitude of anthropologists in that era (and beyond). Stephen Jay Gould’s famous “Mismeasure of Man” did likewise for so many other scientists–while at the same time, Gould was out in front among scientists for stressing the biological unity of humans, and also for stressing (through his often contested “NOMA” model) that science just doesn’t provide a source of moral values (while religion does provide it). And, when Bryan launched his anti-evolution crusade in the early 1920s, the AAAS responded by appointing a 3-man committee to deal with it. All 3 were scientific racists and proponents of eugenics: Charles Davenport, Henry Fairfield Osborn, and Edwin Grant Conklin. On top of that, the biology book used in Tennessee schools, Hunter’s “Civic Biology,” was chock full of the same stuff the AAAS was implicitly endorsing.

So, while I entirely agree with West as far as this utterance goes, I would also point out the literal truth of what he said. Racism was being used to interpret evolution. I could say the identical thing about special creationist defenses of slavery 50 years earlier, in many parts of the USA. Leading theologians of very conservative types (including staunch Calvinists who entirely rejected liberal biblical scholarship and theology emanating from Germany) didn’t hesitate to justify slavery from biblical texts. All of the people I’m thinking of saw evolution as a powerful threat to Christianity, yet somehow slavery and racism got a pass.

So, the moral (at least from this historian) is, racism is to evolution (or special creation) what methyl alcohol is to water: a toxic additive that makes the mix fatal. If no one at the turn of the century had been a racist–imagine that everyone in the world were considered to be ethnically and “racially” the same–evolution would not be associated with racism by creationists and ID proponents today. On the other hand, if we strike that hypothetical and imagine instead, that no one in 1900 believed in evolution, that everyone believed in separate creation or “intelligent design,” then we’d probably associate those positions today with racism, too.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #28

How do you feel about this comment, directed to me, in the middle of the “conversation” about Darwin Devolves?

It should serve as a call to humility on the part of evolution proponents, whose science is marred by such a cruel past.

(Nathan H. Lents) #29

Just to be clear: I admit to baiting Klinghoffer, but not to race baiting him. I was and am earnest when I call that tweet racist, (and the trotting out of racism for reasons other than genuine concern about racism). I have a record of anti-racist work and activism to demonstrate that my attention race is not limited to calling out Klinghoffer on Twitter.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #30

I understand @NLENTS. Not calling you out (okay I did quote you) :smile:. I just want to us to bring a close to this nasty turn in the conversation immediately.

(Ted Davis) #31

Finally, concerning racism, science, and Wash U… I shouldn’t have to point out that the stuff West is calling out was hardly even remotely close to unique to Wash U, and it’s just silly for Klinghoffer to expect Josh to issue a blanket condemnation of actions that neither he, nor even anyone in his family tree, was in any way responsible for carrying out. Not to mention insulting, given that Josh isn’t “white.” Klinghoffer is perhaps ID’s worst enemy, with the possible exception of a couple of other culture warriors (who will remain unnamed) who seem to know even less about science & religion than he does. Now you all know who will be tarred and feathered on EN tomorrow. I’m just eager to have more name recognition. :blush:

Seriously, the post-war Chancellor of Wash U, Nobel laureate Arthur Compton, not only believed in both evolution and “intelligent design,” but he actually used that very term in a lecture from 1940. He also did nothing of significance to integrate Wash U. I mentioned this briefly on 250-1, near the end of a 3-part article about his religious life and views; the relevant article is here: https://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2009/PSCF12-09Davis.pdf. Readers who want more should consult the article I cited in note 61. To be fair, his son John Compton, the late Vanderbilt philosopher who had been my first academic supervisor, politely dissented from my summary account of that episode. It was in fact the only thing I said, anywhere in the whole piece, that John thought I’d gotten wrong. John felt that his father did all he could, under the circumstances of being located in segregated St Louis in the 1950s. He may have been right, but I needed more source material to say something different. So, at least take my analysis somewhat skeptically, for the sake of his father.

(Nathan H. Lents) #33


I understand, especially because it’s personal. I just didn’t (and don’t) want to let them off the hook for their newfound interest in race simply as a way to try to tarnish evolutionary science. It is not at all helpful for their cause nor for the pursuit of real racial justice. I consulted race scholars before I called him out because I’m well aware of my lack of expertise on race and they both saw it the same way I did.


I don’t see what the fuss is. Racial differences are just microevolution. It’s macroevolution that Creationists take issue with. So they can fly their eugenics freak flag just as high.

Interesting that back in the day, a (later to be) ex-friend of my mother warned her that she was probably going to hell for marrying “out of her race”.

(Kenneth Turner) #36

It should serve as a call to humility on the part of proponents of Christianity, whose religion is marred by such a cruel past.

(Nathan H. Lents) #37

Another money shot.



@NLENTS Take a look at the crowd at Michael Behe’s interview last evening in the heart of Trump country Bethelem PA.

(John Dalton) #39

Oh, I’m not dismissing it. I just thought the analogy was likely wildly exaggerated, and such things bother me. I’m interested in learning this history at any time though.

(Curtis Henderson) #40

Good news - you might increase your Google hits, @TedDavis!

(Edward Robinson) #41

This innuendo is cheap, and low.

It’s also not even logical. The fact that someone wanting to do eugenics would need to employ intelligent design does not imply that everyone capable of employing intelligent design would want to engage in eugenics.

ID leaders have written and spoken passionately and at length against the evils historically associated with the eugenics movement. To hint that ID people are even indirectly complicit regarding eugenics attitudes or activities is really crass.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) closed #42

(Nathan H. Lents) #43

No more crass than how “ID leaders” use the horrors of eugenics for the sole and explicit reason of trying to tie it to evolutionary theory. As I’ve said before, I’d take their engagement with this issue more seriously (because it is an awful history that scientists should be willing to speak about) if it was part of a larger platform on racial justice. But I can’t see even one other thing that the ID community does to promote racial justice and fight or at least shed light on systematic oppression. Do they register voters in inner city communities? Speak out on behalf of bail reform, draconian minimum sentencing laws, and other CJ issues that disproportionately harm communities of color? Do they engage with the cruel history of racism, segregation, or slavery for any other reason than to try to score points in their “debate” with evolution? If the answer is yes to any of these, I’d love to see it. Until then, their sudden care about racism rings hollow.