Re: Social problems and evolution

Janet Rice (
Mon, 2 Mar 1998 17:07:10 -0600

Russell, you wrote:

>Second, that same culture seems to have been at least partially
>responsible for >American racism.

My hobby, frivolous though it may be, is Civil War reenacting. As part of
that I've tried to read about and understand 19th century attitudes on
race. What comes across is an almost universal racism (as we would define
it today). But the justifications used are primarily Biblically based.
Slavery was seen as a positive good because it brought heathens from Africa
to America where they could be taught Christianity (never mind the laws
against teaching Blacks to read - sorry, I'm an educated, middle class,
northern lady with a somewhat abolitionist bent in my 19th century alter
ego). The passages about Noah's son are used as a justification.
Admittedly my reading is not yet as extensive as it should be - and I'm
primarily reading northern replies to southern comments - but one does not
see evolution used as a justification. And the people writing are not
evolutionists or particularly scientific in their interests.

The point is think is that yes, Darwin came from that culture. So did
Justice Tandy and Dred Scott's owners or most southern slave owners. But
so did Abraham Lincoln, Rev. Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and all of the
abolitionists. And so did the great mass of people who didn't care one way
or another as long as the problem didn't impinge on their lives. That is
the common culture for all of us - even if only through grafting into the
tree at some later point. That Darwin made racist comments would not
surprise me - you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the 19th century
that didn't - on both northern and southern sides in this country. Again,
my reading isn't as complete as it should be, but it appears it would be
difficult to find any prominent (or obscure) figure in the 19th century -
including the ones whose writings influence our religious thought today,
who wasn't a racist by today's standards. But we do not say that
creationism has to be racist because it espoused by the Southern Baptist
Convetion whose origins were on the side of the slave holding south during
the Civil War. Why then say that Darwinism is racist because Darwin held
ideas common to his time?

That evolution is used to justify racism is unfortunately not surprising.
Hateful or frightened or unthinking people will jump on anything that
allows them to rationalize their beliefs. In the 19th century they used a
Biblical base - because biblical teachings were almost universally known
and accepted. In the 20th century they may use a "scientific" basis
because there is a general acceptance of such ideas. I do not think you can
label an idea based on the people who use it for their own ends.

Having said all that, I would thank you for are most interesting and
thoguht provoking posts.

Janet Rice