The new book from Discovery Institute Press, out on Tuesday and available for pre-order now, is Darwin Comes to Africa: Social Darwinism and British Imperialism in Northern Nigeria, by Nigerian author and pastor Olufemi Oluniyi (pictured above), with a foreword by John West. Dr. West spoke with the World Magazine podcast “The World and Everything in It,” which interestingly contrasts Olunyi’s book with a classic by another Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Missing from Achebe’s account is the role played by scientific racism in driving British imperialist policy in the country. Emily Whitten spoke with John West:
WHITTEN: Achebe gives us an insider’s look at pagan Africans cut off from God, plagued by real demons, but still reflecting the image of their Creator in many ways. Still, he gets some things wrong about British colonialism — especially missionaries.
An upcoming book called Darwin Comes to Africa offers a clearer view. Sadly, its author, Olufemi Oluniyi, died last year. But John West of Discovery Institute is helping to publish Oluniyi’s book later this month.
WEST: So the key thrust of Olufemi’s book is that the colonial policies in Nigeria, but also more widely in Africa, were driven by this scientific racism that viewed black Africans as lower on the evolutionary scale than whites.
WHITTEN: Achebe wrestles with the role of missionaries, portraying some of them as harmful and others as harmless. But he completely ignores the role of Darwinian evolution. In contrast, Olufemi Oluniyi documents the critical ways missionaries and African Christians fought against the Darwinian racism of British leaders.
WEST: Many of the most active Christian missionaries were the only white Westerners who were standing against this sort of vile Social Darwinism and advocating for human equality and advocating for well, things like school and education for, for all Nigerians, let alone hospitals and other things.
WHITTEN: Like Achebe, Oluniyi lived under colonialism and encountered racism in his life. But he also knew that an evolutionary worldview can’t provide the solution for racism. Here’s West reading from Darwin Comes to Africa.
WEST: Darwin’s theory of evolution posited the natural world as a place where the fittest survive and the less fit, decline and die. If this is indeed the case, thought Darwin’s contemporaries and indeed many of our own, then who are we to battle nature herself? Why should the Britain not manipulate, oppress, and exploit the Nigerian? After all, the fact that he can do so surely proved that he is right to do so. He is fulfilling his very destiny as decreed by nature herself.
WHITTEN: Our Classic Book of the Month, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, isn’t perfect. Besides a non-Christian worldview, it contains violence and pagan religious practices. But the question implied in Achebe’s story is well worth savoring: Why do things “fall apart” in our lives — and our culture? And when they do, how can we put them back together again?
These are complex questions that God’s people wrestle with throughout Scripture. But I’m reminded of Jeremiah’s words to Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian: “…you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the Lord.”