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Listen: Bought in a Slave Auction, Displayed as Evolutionary “Science”

David Klinghoffer

Slave Auction

John West was on the Michael Medved Show to talk about the new documentary Human Zoos and he brought out some important points. You can hear the conversation on a new episode of ID the Future. Also be sure to watch the film free now on YouTube.

The historical display of human beings as primitive evolutionary “missing links,” a practice applauded at the time by “mainstream science,” is not limited to the story of Ota Benga, exhibited before some 200,000 gawking visitors in the Bronx Zoo in 1906. Benga was brought from Africa — bought in a slave auction there! — originally to be shown along with other Africans at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. The express purpose was to “shed light on the theory evolved by Darwin as regards the evolution of the human race.”

Similar exhibits were held elsewhere, including here in Seattle in 1909 at the Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition. Seattle’s Exposition and St. Louis’s Fair both featured displays of the supposedly primitive Igorot people from the Philippines. This was understood as being justified not as a “freak show,” as West notes, but to educate the public about anthropology and evolutionary biology.

Not So Easily Impressed

It’s a lesson, West explains, both for scientists and for the public. The association with “mainstream science” is often weaponized against skeptics, on evolution and more, as a way of overawing us and persuading us to stop expecting answers to hard questions. Highlighting this past racism to the wrong evolutionist can, indeed, result in your being accused of “racism” yourself.

But science has been wrong before, terribly wrong. We should not be so easily impressed.