Re: Social problems and evolution

Allan Harvey (
Mon, 02 Mar 1998 17:19:25 -0700

At 03:00 PM 3/2/98 -0600, Russell Maatman wrote:

>Concerning racism and belief in human evolution: First, I've claimed that
>racism seems to be one of the bricks Darwin used to build his theory
>concerning human beings; racism was in his culture. Second, that same
>culture seems to have been at least partially responsible for American
>racism. Third, there are a few evidences that American racists have used
>human evolutionary theory to bolster their position.
>And so, it's a back-and-forth situation. Or if you will, feedback, where
>racism encourages belief in human evolution and belief in human evolution
>encourages racism.

I think we must distinguish two questions here:

1) Did this "feedback" between racism and the theory of evolution exist
in the past?

2) Does it exist today?

With regard to (1), I have yet to see strong evidence that Darwin's
science was any more influenced by the pervasive racism of his time than
was that of Maxwell or Boltzmann or other scientists of the day. But the
question as to whether racism encouraged Darwin or others to believe in
human evolution is at least interesting. The other direction is pretty
meaningless -- as Janet Rice and others have pointed out, "belief in
human evolution encourages racism" has been true only in the sense that
racists will grab onto whatever is handy (the Bible, for example) to
encourage their beliefs. Unless we see evidence of inherent racism
within the theory (as opposed to misinterpretations of the theory), we
can only accept that direction of the "feedback" if we are also willing
to say "belief in the Bible encourages racism."

With regard to (2), certainly evolutionary science is not "encouraged by
racism" today. Is there some racism within the scientists? Sure, but no
more than in the rest of us fallen creatures. I'd even guess that
"evolutionists" on average today are less racist than "creationists", but
I would not attribute that to direct causation but rather to the inverse
correlation between racism and education. There may be a few wackos
around today who use evolution to justify racism, but to most modern
racists evolution would be another part of the liberal conspiracy foisted
on us good white people by those folks in the black helicopters.
Certainly the leading proponents of evolution (somebody mentioned Gould)
seem firmly opposed to racism. As for opponents of evolution, the only
case I can think of is Henry Morris, whose racist statements have been
noted in this forum before.

My point is that there is no such "feedback" worth noting *today*.
Whether there was or not in Darwin's day is an interesting historical
question, but not of much current relevance. I fear that if we are not
careful in discussing these things and separating today's situation from
the sins of the past, we will encourage those who say "belief in
evolution causes racism". Which I hope we can agree is as nonsensical as
blaming racism on "belief in the Bible" (which IMO has been and continues
to be more widely used as an excuse for racism than evolution ever has).

| Dr. Allan H. Harvey | |
| Physical and Chemical Properties Division | "Don't blame the |
| National Institute of Standards & Technology | government for what I |
| 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80303 | say, or vice versa." |