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When Darwin Came to Africa

Photo: Discovery Institute

Except for a short visit to Cape Town on his way home back to England on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin did not spend time in Africa. But his poisonous ideas certainly did, spread by aggressive Social Darwinists who left a bitter legacy that impacts Africans even today.

My dear friend Olufemi Oluniyi spent the last years of his life documenting what happened so the world could finally know the truth. 

Olufemi was a Nigerian pastor, theologian, journalist, scholar, and human rights activist. I met him in 2017 when he participated in the Center for Science & Culture’s Summer Seminar program here in Seattle. 

A Resolution to Write

By the end of the program, Olufemi had resolved to write a book about the impact of Social Darwinism on his home country, and at the final banquet, he announced his intention to all the other students. He later recalled: “That announcement was a way of self-bolstering my resolve to write and not to renege on the resolve.”

In the years that followed, Olufemi and I exchanged hundreds of emails as he shared his progress in his research. He finally completed a draft of his book in the summer of 2021. 

Unfortunately, a short time later Olufemi caught COVID-19 and died from its complications. But thanks to the encouragement of his family, Discovery Institute Press this week will be publishing his book under the title, Darwin Comes to Africa.

When he submitted his manuscript, Olufemi wrote me about one of his “day dreams”: “I ask myself, why can’t this book make it to the New York Times book of the year?” 

I can’t guarantee that the New York Times will pay attention to Olufemi’s book. What I do know is that too many people continue to think the debate over Darwinian evolution is just an ivory tower discussion. They need to have their eyes opened to its real cost for other humans — and Olufemi’s book can open their eyes.

“Ideas Rule the World”

As Nigerian scholar Mary-Noelle Ethel Ezeh explains, 

Ideas rule the world, and corrosive ideologies damage human relations and destroy societies. In this book, Olufemi Oluniyi lucidly exposes how the pseudo-science of Social Darwinism fueled manipulative and exploitative British imperialist policies in Northern Nigeria to damage human relations and destroy societies… The author… vividly shows how British Social Darwinist policies were a root cause of the damaged relations among the peoples of Nigeria. This root cause continues to exert its influence in Nigeria’s effort to build a sustainable democracy in the 21st century.

Dr. Ezeh is Professor of Ethics and Christian History at Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University in Nigeria.

Historian Richard Weikart adds that Darwin Comes to Africa provides “a powerful reminder that Social Darwinism and the scientific racism flowing from it had profoundly damaging influences on real people, especially those — such as black Africans — denigrated by scientific elites as ‘inferior’ on the evolutionary ladder.” Weikart is Professor Emeritus of History at California State University, Stanislaus, and author most recently of Darwinian Racism: How Darwinism Influenced Hitler, Nazism, and White Nationalism.

More Than an Indictment

Olufemi’s book isn’t just an indictment of Social Darwinism. It also tells the story of how Christian missionaries in Africa pushed back against Social Darwinism. And it presents evidence showing how all humans reflect the intelligent design of their creator.

“The author powerfully challenges evolutionary arguments for racism,” notes African scholar Dr. Richard Ochieng’. “He also refutes Western myths about the history of Africa as the ‘dark continent,’ recounting Africa’s many contributions to ancient manufacturing, medicine, architecture, mathematics, and more. Overall, the book presents an inspiring vision of the transcendent value of all people as equal members of the same human race.” Dr. Ochieng’ is a Lecturer at the University of Eldoret in Kenya and Chair of the BioCosmos Kenya Trust Foundation.

If you want to learn more about Darwinism’s real-world consequences in history, you couldn’t do better than add Darwin Comes to Africa to your reading list.