evolution and race

From: Ted Davis (tdavis@messiah.edu)
Date: Wed Feb 20 2002 - 10:16:19 EST

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    The issue of evolution and race is complex and cannot be dealt with
    adequately in a short post. IMO Darwin was like many of his contemporaries
    a "racist" by modern standards, though that would be an unhistorical
    judgement: he personally opposed slavery and was quite mild in his views
    compared to many others in his day. Many later evoutionists were much more
    pronounced in this regard, esp anthropologists.

    I strongly recommend Matt Cartmill's book, "A View to a Death in the
    Morning: Hunting and Nature Through History" (Harvard, 1993), for a very
    broad historical discussion of varioius anthropological theories, incl a
    fine treatment of racism in modern anthropology. At one point (198) he even
    says, "From Darwin's time down to the beginning of World War II, most
    scientists who studied human evolution were shocking racists by today's
    standards. Most of them firmly believed that some living human races are
    closer to the apes than others." He then offers several examples.

    Cartmill is also provocative with his comments on the tension between
    democracy and evolution--ironically, one of Bryan's main attacks on the
    teaching of evolution 80 years ago.

    Insofar as contemporary creationists link evolution with racism, they are
    in my view overstating the case, but they are not making it up out of whole
    cloth. Evolution has a pretty sordid history in this regard, let alone the
    link with eugenics that many liberal Protestant theologians and scientists
    promoted (as well as secular scientists) at the turn of the century.
    Obviously that doesn't falsify the theory, but it does raise some
    appropriate questions about the "boundaries" of scientific knowledge, and
    the need to be open about the ways in which values shape theories.

    Ted Davis

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