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Elk Goes Down; Darwin Breathes a Sigh of Relief

David Klinghoffer

Those Darwin statues can draw a sigh of relief. I worried that “protesters” in the U.S. and U.K. might pick up a copy of The Descent of Man and realize that Charles Darwin supplied a pseudoscientific basis for hair-raising racism and even genocide. I warned against the prospect of their pulling down or mutilating historic statues of Darwin. 

More recently, events have suggested that the vandals are interested more in mindless destruction than in making a statement about racial equality. Now they’ve attacked a statue of an elk in Portland, Oregon. An elk, mind you. A symbol of a city, representing an artist’s effort and creativity, that had seen 120 years of Portland’s history, and that can’t remotely be connected to race or racism, is now gone.

“A Powerful Push” to Racism

Julie Borg at World Magazine summarizes some of the historical background on Darwin and race, citing our colleagues John West, Wesley Smith, and me.

Race-based discrimination has multiple sources, many of which preceded Darwin, but evolutionary theory gave “a powerful push to a scientific version of racism that still impacts us today,” said John West, vice president and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.

In his 1871 book The Descent of Man, Darwin depicted Africans as less evolved than white people. The mainstream scientific community in Europe and the United States accepted that characterization and used it to promote racial discrimination.

“For generations, American public school children learned from their biology textbooks the pseudoscience that Caucasians are more advanced on the evolutionary ladder than Africans,” David Klinghoffer, another senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, wrote for Evolution News and Science Today.

The academic institutions’ racism seeped into popular society, as West traces in his documentary Human Zoos: America’s Forgotten History of Scientific Racism. Former Association for the Advancement of Science President William McGee transported thousands of indigenous people from around the world to display in a “human zoo” at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. The exhibits described them as a kind of missing link between apes and humans to demonstrate the truth of evolution. The journal Science published an article by McGee making a similar argument. Organizers set up such human exhibits in places like New York City and Seattle to educate the public on Darwin’s theory.

Four decades after the United States outlawed slavery, Samuel Phillips Verner purchased a young Mbuti pygmy man named Ota Benga from slave traders in the Congo for the World’s Fair exhibit. In 1906, officials at the Bronx Zoo in New York City put Benga in a cage with an orangutan. When two African American clergymen raised objections to his inhumane treatment, The New York Times responded with an article assuring people that “the pygmies … are very low in the human scale,” Klinghoffer noted.

The fact that, given all this, the vandals are not likely to turn their fury on Darwin statues is another indication that their violence isn’t really about black lives. They desecrate an elk, but hold the prime modern fountain of anti-black scientific racism as blameless. What more do you need to know?

A Question for Your Friends

Speaking of which, here’s a question to pose to your evolutionist friends. In light of any serious consideration of Judeo-Christian tradition, denigrating any human by reference to his race is intolerable. If religious believers are consistent with Scripture, we must hold every man and woman, of whatever skin tone, as equal in reflecting God’s image. Obviously, not every believer has been consistent. But it’s no coincidence that the abolitionist and civil rights movements both arose not among atheists but among passionate Christians. It’s why pastors and priests protested the caging of an African pygmy at the Bronx Zoo in 1906, while a sneering New York Times defended it:

By contrast, from the viewpoint of unguided evolution, why would you expect that human populations (“races”) would be equal? Why would that thought even cross an evolutionist’s mind? 

A Hierarchy of Species

Think about other species that no one regards as being stamped with a divine image. We have no problem agreeing that different breeds of dogs are unequal. Of course they’re unequal! Here’s a list of 79 breeds ranked by intelligence, with Border Collie at the top and Afghan Hound, poor dear, at the bottom.

Nor do we have a problem with ranking dogs by their dollar value. Here’s a list of the 45 most expensive breeds. Are you offended? I didn’t think so.

Given a Darwinian starting point to your reasoning, that humans would exhibit a racial hierarchy is what you’d expect. Ask your Darwinist friends why purposeless nature gives us instead, against all reason, human equality. 

Animals arrange themselves into hierarchies of dominance. Why not humans? What is the evolutionary argument against unapologetic racism and the supremacy of whatever race can climb to the top? If you’re honest with yourself, that question has no answer.

Photo: Portland’s elk statue in better days, by Cacophony (photograph) / Public domain.