Culture & Ethics
#10 Story of 2021: On Evolution and Racism, Scientific American Goes to War Against the Truth
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The following was originally published on July 8, 2021.
Given evolution’s racist baggage, you might think the theory’s proponents would be somewhat abashed to accuse the critics of Darwin of “white supremacy.” Apparently not. Writing in Scientific American, Allison Hopper goes there: “Denial of Evolution Is a Form of White Supremacy.” Who is Allison Hopper? She is a white lady, a “filmmaker and designer with a master’s degree in educational design from New York University. Early in her career, she worked on PBS documentaries.” Ms. Hopper “has presented on evolution at the Big History Conference in Amsterdam and Chautauqua, among other places.” Having been handed a platform by America’s foremost popular science publication, she writes:
I want to unmask the lie that evolution denial is about religion and recognize that at its core, it is a form of white supremacy that perpetuates segregation and violence against Black bodies.
White people like this always talk about “Black bodies” instead of Black (or black) people. The idea here is that our human ancestors, who created the first cultures, came out of Africa and were dark-skinned. Supposedly evolution skeptics wish to deny this history, holding that a “continuous line of white descendants segregates white heritage from Black bodies. In the real world, this mythology translates into lethal effects on people who are Black. Fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible are part of the ‘fake news’ epidemic that feeds the racial divide in our country.”
As we move forward to undo systemic racism in every aspect of business, society, academia and life, let’s be sure to do so in science education as well.
The “Biblical Story”
Of course there have been, and still are, religious people who doubted evolution for religious rather than scientific reasons while at the same time holding racist views. The idea, though, that racism can be logically supported from the Bible is ludicrous. “As the biblical story goes,” writes Ms. Hopper, “the curse or mark of Cain for killing his brother was a darkening of his descendants’ skin.” There’s nothing whatsoever in the “biblical story” to that effect. Handed a copy of the Bible, no reasonable person would come away with a conclusion of “white supremacy.”
A person who absorbed the history of evolutionary thinking from Charles Darwin to today, and took it all as inerrant, would be an entirely different story. If you had nothing more to go on than Darwin’s legacy, a conclusion of white supremacy would follow as a matter of course.
Children and Education
Ms. Hopper is concerned about children and their education, but, in concealing Darwinism’s foul past, her version of history is wildly inaccurate. From not long after the theory of evolution by natural selection was first proposed by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, evolution took two different paths. That of Wallace, who split with Darwin over human exceptionalism and came to espouse a proto-intelligent design view, supported equal human dignity regardless of skin color.
That of Darwin followed the pseudo-logic of the purposelessly branching tree. Humanity did not advance all as one, equally, Darwin taught. Instead, as he explained in the Descent of Man, Africans were caught somewhere between ape and human, destined to be liquidated by the more advanced peoples: “The civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races through the world.” Darwin did not celebrate this, but he recognized it as what he saw to be a fact.
His cousin Francis Galton drew from Darwin’s work the pseudo-scientific idea that races could be improved through “eugenics.” That became mainstream science right up until it was embraced and put into practice by the Nazis, who justified a Final Solution with “scientific” evolutionary arguments. Eugenic solutions put into place in the United States against African-Americans, and others, including mass forced sterilizations, provided a warm-up and education for the Nazis.
In the U.S. from the start of the 20th century, respectable scientists at top universities, echoed by the New York Times, supported caging and displaying Africans and others to educate the public about the truths of Darwinism. Before Hitler, Germans committed genocide in Africa, citing Darwinian theory as their justification. Political scientist John West tells these stories in a pair of widely viewed and critically recognized documentaries, Human Zoos and Darwin, Africa, and Genocide. Speaking of racism and eugenics, West has also traced “The Line Running from Charles Darwin through Margaret Sanger to Planned Parenthood.” As to education, the biology textbook at the center of the 1925 Scopes trial taught both Darwinism and white supremacy.
Alt-Right and Neo-Nazis
Today’s actual white supremacists, represented by the Alt-Right and various neo-Nazi groups, are warmly disposed to Darwinism, as a glance at their websites will show. Like Hitler before them, they see in evolutionary theory a justification for racial hatred. Allison Hopper leaves ALL OF THIS OUT, both from her Scientific American article and from a simplistic video on YouTube, aimed at kids, “Human Evolution and YOU!” And she has the nerve to smear skepticism about Darwinian theory as “white supremacist.”
I am only skimming through a few points of the relevant history. There is much more. Ms. Hopper is either deeply ignorant or deeply dishonest. I’ll assume the former. Her concern for “Black bodies” is well and good. What about a concern for the truth, which matters, or should matter, to people of all skin colors?
This is important. In coming days at Evolution News, we will be sharing some of our past coverage of evolution and its racist past and present. The phrase “white supremacy” has already been weaponized in politics. Now it is going to war in science education. The aim is to feed children — their minds, not their bodies — a massive falsehood. This must be resisted.