Does Darwinism lead to racism and eugenics?

In May of 2001, the Louisiana state legislature passed a motion by a 9-5 vote, declaring Darwin to be a racist. The measure read:

"Be it resolved that the Legislature of Louisiana does hereby deplore all instances and ideologies of racism, and does hereby reject the core concepts of Darwinist ideology that certain races and classes of humans are inherently superior to others."

If ever an example was needed of how creationists employ the fallacious strawman attack en masse, this is it. The measure was sponsored by Sharon Broome of Baton Rouge, who just happens to be strongly religious (isn't it a bizarre coincidence that anti-evolutionism invariably comes from people who have been indoctrinated from childhood in one particular religion?). Broome served on the advisory board of the Christian Coalition, and she received her master's degree from Regent University, which was founded by Pat Robertson and which calls itself a "Christian Graduate School".

It is, of course, nothing new. Ever since the liberal 1960s, when racism finally gained negative connotations, the American religious community has been busily performing an abrupt about-face on the issue of white supremacy (remarkable in light of Martin Luther King's scathing criticism of that same community for its failure to provide unequivocal support for his movement in the 1960s). Today, even though the Bible justifies enslavement of blacks (a point not missed by American southerners during their Civil War) and Hitler's "Mein Kampf" is full of references to the righteous fight of Christians against Jews, it is widely agreed among Christians that racism and slavery are un-Christian, and that Hitler was also un-Christian. It is also an increasingly widespread belief that racism and Nazism, far from being social blights of Christian origin, are actually the result of evolution theory. The motion in Louisiana was merely the latest example of this widespread lie.

Analyzing a Shameful Slander

The Louisiana motion was riddled with logical fallacies. Its wording implied that "Darwinism" (which is listed in the dictionary as a synonym for evolution theory) is somehow inextricably tied to theories of racial supremacy. The motion was criticized as an obvious ploy to slander evolution, make it politically controversial, and provide an excuse for parents to insist that teachers not expose their children to it. Broome herself defended the motion, complained that the liberal press had "demonized" her, and insisted that it had nothing to do with her religious beliefs. However, the motion is so thoroughly inaccurate and deceptive that it is impossible to imagine that it came from any other system of thought. For that matter, given its incredible stupidity and blatant dishonesty, it is difficult to conclude that it came from any system of thought at all.

The first flaw is the use of the phrase "Darwinist idology". A casual glance through a dictionary will reveal that an "ideology" is a set of doctrines, beliefs, or ideals. A scientific theory is therefore not an "ideology". It is not a doctrine, it is not a belief, and it is not a system of values. One might argue that the scientific method is a doctrine (depending on how loosely one defines "doctrine"), but an individual scientific theory is only an attempt to produce a descriptive model which can accurately account for scientific observations. Therefore, there is no such thing as Darwinist ideology. The very phrase "Darwinist ideology" is designed to suggest that the theory of evolution is something other than a scientific theory. No one would use phrases such as "electromagnetism ideology" or "semiconductor ideology", but the phrase "Darwinist ideology" is widely used among creationists. The presence of this phrase merely proves that the Louisiana motion was authored by creationists; something which should hardly come as a surprise.

The second flaw in the motion is the unbelievably audacious strawman attack perpetrated upon Darwinism itself, in which it states that Darwinism claims that "certain races and classes of humans are inherently superior to others." Since Darwinism is generally defined as evolution theory, this statement is grossly wrong. Darwinism is the theory that life on Earth has diversified from a common ancestor through billions of years of genetic variation and natural selection. This has nothing whatsoever to do with this bizarre notion that "certain races and classes of humans are inherently superior to others. Terms such as "social darwinism" represent attempts to argue that the observed process of natural selection should be applied to areas other than biology, but when we are discussing Darwinism with a capital "D", they are a red herring.

The Historical Roots of Racism

Henry Morris, founder of the Institute for Creation Research, or ICR (an oddly named group, since it conducts no field studies, has no laboratory facilities, restricts its membership to fundamentalist Christians, and has never submitted a single research paper to peer-reviewed scientific journals), once said that racism, "in the form of racial hatreds, racial warfare, the assumption of racial superiority or inferiority, and other such virulent offshoots, is strictly a product of evolutionary thinking." (in The Troubled Waters of Evolution).

It is an enormous understatement to say that this is wrong. In the deranged mind of Henry Morris, European assumptions of white racial superiority dating back to as early as the 15th century are "strictly a product" of a scientific theory that was written in the 19th century! <sarcasm> I had no idea that Charles Darwin actually had the power to effect sweeping social change hundreds of years before he was born! Perhaps those Star Trek writers weren't just being fanciful when they wrote about the feasibility of time travel. </sarcasm>

Although it's tempting to believe that racism has always been a fixture of human society, that is actually not the case. The Jews were a slave class in ancient Egypt, but many centuries later in Rome, slaves came from all races and nationalities. While Roman society was hardly egalitarian, race was simply not considered a particularly important trait and was not necessarily tied to class. The ancient Chinese kept slaves, but they came from their own countrymen and there was no systemic attempt to conquer and subjugate those of different skin colours in order to create a "slave race". This is much different than racism in the modern era, which originated in the 15th century when Christian explorers and missionaries from Europe travelled to foreign lands inhabited by non-white, non-Christian peoples such as India, Asia, and Africa. Such visits were not unprecedented, but that era represented the dawn of organized, large-scale colonization, subjugation, and exploitation of such regions. As such, European leaders needed an excuse to justify their horrific treatment of these people, and they didn't have to look very far to find one.

Since none of the people in these foreign lands were white or Christian, they had an instant correlation upon which to hang their claims of superiority: religion and race. Whites were Christian, non-whites were not Christian. For the average white Christian at the time, it was therefore quite easy to conclude that there was something wrong with non-whites. Whites were therefore "closer to God", thus providing an easy justification to regard non-whites as inferior and therefore deserving of their subjugation. Historical trivia: the founder of the Mormon church held this belief openly, and the Mormons banned blacks from joining their church until the US government finally threatened to take away their tax-exempt status.

Biblical Racism

Christian white supremacists found Biblical justification for their belief that whites are closer to God, in the Book of Genesis. After the Flood, Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Since all other humans supposedly died in the Great Flood, a literal interpretation of Genesis will lead to the conclusion that all of humanity is descended from these three men.

Shem was the middle son, and he was the father of the Shemites (or Semites, as they are known today). He is always mentioned first, he is described as having special prominence, and God selected his descendants to be his "chosen people", from whom the Messiah would come. Shem means "name", and his descendants included the Jews, Assyrians, and Arabians. Ham was the youngest son, and because of a curious impropriety which is never very well described, his descendants were cursed by Noah to be "servants" to those of Shem and Japheth. Ham means "dark, hot", and his descendants include most "coloured people", ie- Palestinians, Africans, and Asians. And finally, Japheth was the eldest son, who did not have the special status of Shem but escaped the curse visited upon Ham's children. Japheth means "light, fair", and his descendants are the Caucasians.

It doesn't take a genius to see what this means: the dark-skinned "sons of Ham" are supposed to be "servants" to the Semites and Caucasians! Any historian can see that the ancient Israelites needed an excuse to subjugate and enslave Canaanites (ie- Palestinians) without losing their claim to righteousness (a bizarre claim in light of their history of aggression), hence the fact that they wrote this particular story into the Bible. However, Christian fundamentalists are generally incapable of recognizing such things, so they simply take it as God's word. Do you remember Henry Morris, the man who decried Darwinism as the root cause of all racism even though widespread systemic racism existed for hundreds of years before Darwin was born? He revealed his own racism in his book, The Beginning of the World (1991):

"The descendants of Ham were marked especially for secular service to mankind. Indeed they were to be 'servants of servants,' that is 'servants extraordinary!' Although only Canaan is mentioned specifically (possibly because the branch of Ham's family through Canaan would later come into most direct contact with Israel), the whole family of Ham is in view. The prophecy is worldwide in scope and, since Shem and Japheth are covered, all Ham's descendants must be also. These include all nations which are neither Semitic nor Japhetic. Thus, all of the earth's 'colored' races,--yellow, red, brown, and black-- essentially the Afro-Asian group of peoples, including the American Indians--are possibly Hamitic in origin and included within the scope of the Canaanitic prophecy, as well as the Egyptians, Sumerians, Hittites, and Phoenicians of antiquity.

The Hamites have been the great 'servants' of mankind in the following ways, among many others: (1) they were the original explorers and settlers of practically all parts of the world, following the dispersion at Babel; (2) they were the first cultivators of most of the basic food staples of the world, such as potatoes, corn, beans, cereals, and others, as well as the first ones to domesticate most animals; (3) they developed most of the basic types of structural forms and building tools and materials; (4) they were the first to develop fabrics for clothing and various sewing and weaving devices; (5) they were the discoverers and inventors of an amazingly wide variety of medicines and surgical practices and instruments; (6) most of the concepts of basic mathematics, including algebra, geometry, and trigonometry were developed by Hamites; (7) the machinery of commerce and trade--money, banks, postal systems, etc.--were invented by them; (8) they developed paper, ink, block printing, movable type, and other accoutrements of writing and communication. It seems that almost no matter what the particular device or principle or system may be, if one traces back far enough, he will find that it originated with the Sumerians or Egyptians or early Chinese or some other Hamitic people. Truly they have been the 'servants' of mankind in a most amazing way.

Yet the prophecy again has its obverse side. Somehow they have only gone so far and no farther. The Japhethites and Semites have, sooner or later, taken over their territories, and their inventions, and then developed them and utilized them for their own enlargement. Often the Hamites, especially the Negroes, have become actual personal servants or even slaves to the others. Possessed of a genetic character concerned mainly with mundane matters, they have eventually been displaced by the intellectual and philosophical acumen of the Japhethites and the religious zeal of the Semites."

Notice how he describes the Hamites as the "servants of mankind" (does this mean that they are separate from "mankind"?), the Semites as religious zealots, and the Japhethites (Caucasians) as possessed of superior "intellectual and philosophical acumen". There is something almost surreal about a man writing that Caucasians have superior intellectual acumen and then turning around to accuse others of being racist! His own comments are blatantly racist, but Morris doesn't see them that way. He classifies racist acts as "racist" only if they come from deliberate acts of man (as opposed to the edicts of God), so it's supposedly acceptable to generalize about the characteristics of entire races if he thinks God made them that way. He takes great pains to say that the Bible uses the words "nation" to describe these groupings of people, instead of "races", but such semantic nitpicks do not make for strong arguments; in the Biblical era, "nation" and "race" were synonymous (in fact, that is still the case in many European nations today). Moreover, his groupings are not by nation, but by genetic lineage (the Hamites, for example, spanned numerous far-flung and very diverse nations but he classifies them as a single group). Despite his incredibly transparent use of semantic hair-splitting in order to evade criticism, Henry Morris provides an excellent example of the true origins of white supremacism.

Attacking Darwin

The ICR and many other cretinist, er ... creationist organizations have argued that Hitler's Holocaust was a direct result of "evolutionary thinking," specifically Darwin's idea that one of the mechanisms of evolutionary adaptation is natural selection. But there is a difference between describing a phenomenon and recommending it. In its article on racism, the ICR openly acknowledges that Darwin himself was morally opposed to slavery, yet it accuses him of believing in white superiority. It cannot produce a quote from his "Origin of Species" to support this notion, nor can they explain how evolution theory leads to white supremacism without revealing their own racism (more on that later). Therefore, even if Darwin was a racist, it had nothing to do with his evolution theory. However, they recognize that the average person is amenable to ad hominem attacks (attacking the man rather than the argument), so they often attack evolution by attacking Darwin. To that end, they managed to dredge up a quote that was apparently taken from a personal letter:

"I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit.... The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world."

Since this quote is taken out of context, it is hard to be absolutely sure what Darwin was trying to say. However, given a basic familiarity with Creationist tactics, one can be assured that if there were any other damning material in that letter, they would most certainly have included it. So, let us look carefully at the above passage. On the surface, taken out of context, it seems to suggest that Darwin was a racist. But there are two crucial flaws in this conclusion:

  1. Darwin is describing the fact that in the late 19th century, European Caucasians dominated the world. They had conquered their competitors, often ruthlessly reducing their populations in the process (eg. the American natives and the Africans). However, you may notice that he does not pass moral judgement on this fact. In fact, he seems to think it's something to be ashamed of (hence his assumption that someone would be loathe to admit that it is true).

  2. He wrote of "civilized races". At the time, this was a correlation that largely held true; some races, due to their history, simply had more technological advancement and military prowess than others (I leave it to you to decide whether military prowess is "civilized". However, he never suggested that this was due to any sort of genetic limitation of the other races, as opposed to a mere coincidence of history. In other words, his wording implies a correlation, but not a cause. If anything, European military superiority was due to its incredibly violent, fratricidal society, and there was no evidence that Darwin was proud of this.

It's possible to say the exact same thing that Darwin said, in language which is more politically correct. However, given the era in which he wrote, this excerpt was actually not particularly objectionable. Moreover, even if he really was a racist (a questionable claim, given the fact that they had to search far and wide for evidence, eventually settling on this short snippet taken out of context), one cannot attach his real or perceived personal flaws to his scientific theory. Sir Isaac Newton was a ruthless egomaniac, but no one accuses Newtonian physics of being ruthless and egomaniacal!

[As an historical aside, Darwin was subscribing to a foolish but very widespread misconception which survives to this day: namely, that the 19th century success of Western Europe was somehow more permanent than the successes of previous empires throughout history. The Roman Empire endured for over a millenium, but it eventually collapsed as the Byzantine Empire in the 13th century. There was also the Mongol Empire (13th to 16th century), the Ottoman Empire (aka the "Turks", 15th to 18th century), Mughal India (16th to 18th century), the Ming Dynasty (14th to 16th century), the Qing dynasty (17th to 19th century), the Dutch empire (16th to 18th century), and the Spanish-American empire (15th to 18th century).

Why would the empires of 19th century western Europe be any different? As it turned out, they would not. They owned the 19th century, but Japan and the USA were on the rise. By the start of WW2, Japan would have the world's most powerful navy, and the USA would have the world's greatest industrial base. By the end of WW2, Europe would lay in ruins, and the world would soon be dominated by the USA, the USSR, and Communist China. 50 years later, the USSR had already fallen. Who will fall next? Time will tell, but one would do well to avoid overconfidence. The USA has dominated world trade and culture for a mere half-century so far: an historical blink of an eye. Those who fail to learn from the past ...]

Survival of the Fittest

Last but not least, we have the creationist belief that Darwin's idea of "survival of the fittest" leads directly to racism. On this, I would first point out that Darwin did not invent natural selection! It is a natural phenomenon which is obvious to anyone who observes wild animals in action for any length of time, and Darwin's only intellectual contribution was to conclude that it was responsible for evolution.

As for the notion that "survival of the fittest" leads to white supremacism (regardless of whether Darwin invented the idea), I defer to the fictional character Yoda from Star Wars, who once cryptically admonished Luke Skywalker that when he faced his fears, he would find "only what you take with you". So it is with evolution theory, which people tend to interpret according to their own preconceptions.

Not sure what that means? Perhaps a more blunt explanation will help: if you think that "survival of the fittest" leads to white supremacy, then you must believe that whites are the fittest.

We can see, therefore, that when someone equates "survival of the fittest" to white supremacy, he is only revealing his own racism. If one claims, as Darwin did, that one civilization can overwhelm another through military superiority, that is merely an observation of unnatural selection in action. After all, it is completely possible that one civilization really does have a military advantage over another. Were the ancient Greeks militarily superior to the Persians? Were the 19th century Europeans militarily superior to the Africans, Indians, and Chinese? Obviously, since they conquered them. But was this superiority genetic in nature? Hardly.

It is that last leap of faith: that the military superiority of Caucasian-dominated civilization was genetic rather than cultural, which drives white supremacism. There is no record that Darwin made this leap of faith, yet one must wholly subscribe to it in order to connect "survival of the fittest" to white supremacism. Therefore, any creationist who makes this connection is merely giving you proof that you are dealing with a closet racist.

Evolution Disproves White Supremacy

After the widely disseminated slanderous attacks against evolution by people wrapping themselves in the flag of civil rights, it may surprise some to hear that evolution theory actually provides the strongest available evidence against white supremacism. It does so in at least six ways:

  1. Genetic mutation. Darwin's evolution theory led to research on the mechanism through which structural change is inherited, which turned out to be genetic mutation. If the only mechanism of change and therefore differentiation between humans is genetic mutation, then we can determine the magnitude of differences between humans by simply analyzing their DNA. Such analyses have proven conclusively that there is more differentiation within so-called "races" than there is between them. In other words, evolution theory led directly to gene theory, which in turn led to scientific evidence that differences between races are vastly exaggerated.

  2. Population demographics. If we were to divide the human race up into the superficial groupings of "white", "black", "indian", and "asian" used by those who would pretend that such groups are intrinsically distinct (despite point #1 above), we would find that whites are actually the least populous. Since evolution theory defines success by sheer population rather than arbitrarily chosen factors such as intelligence, architectural achievements, religious heritage, creativity, strength, subjective perception of physical attractiveness, etc., a strict application of evolution theory to the foolish notion of separate, distinct races would lead to the inescapable conclusion that biologically, whites are actually the least successful race.

  3. Environmental adaptation. Evolutionary changes are not arbitrary. They are driven by environmental changes. Therefore, evolutionary changes between human "races" would have only occurred to the extent that they were necessary to adapt to local environments (eg- darker skin in equatorial climates). This limits the potential range of variation. Moreover, since humanity has colonized environmental extremes well beyond those of Europe (places hotter than Europe, colder than Europe, milder than Europe, and harsher than Europe), evolution theory predicts that European Caucasians should not represent any special extreme variation upon humanity, but rather, they are probably quite ordinary. This is borne out by the genetic evidence, which shows that Caucasians share the basic genetic code of all the other races.

  4. Genetic diversity. Evolution theory predicts that genetic diversity will produce a robust species, because the amount of variation within a species will control its ability to adapt to changing environments. Therefore, anyone familiar with the concepts of biological evolution will recognize that "genetic purity" is the absolute worst thing that anyone could possibly do to the human race. The more "pure" we are, the less diversity we will have, and the more susceptible we will be to inbreeding-related problems as well as the threat of extinction (for example, at the hands of a lethal virus).

  5. Interbreeding. Evolution theory and the gene theory which sprang from it predict that racial interbreeding is a good thing. It ensures high genetic diversity, high variation, and therefore a strong, robust species. However, interbreeding is the single most terrifying concept to a white supremacist. A casual inspection of white supremacist literature will reveal that they fear interbreeding more than any other single concept, because it "dilutes the purity of the white race".

  6. Lack of hierarchy. Contrary to popular belief, evolution theory does not describe a linear hierarchy. There is no such thing as a "good" mutation or a "bad" mutation; a mutation can be good or bad, depending on the environmental context. Therefore, there is no way to prove that one species is intrinsically "superior" to another; an inherited trait which ensures success in one environment may guarantee extinction in another. This obviously contradicts white supremacist claims of intrinsic superiority, thus leaving them with the uncomfortable fact that their only form of "superiority" is the European history of savage military aggression against other races.

Now, let us look at what the Bible has to say about these six aspects of evolution theory:

  1. Genetic mutation. While the human genome can be used to prove that differences within races are greater than differences between races, the Bible draws sharp lines of distinction between the "sons of Shem", the "sons of Ham", and the "sons of Japheth". Moreover, Noah's curse upon the sons of Ham creates another form of distinction (one which specifically places dark-skinned people in a subservient role), which even the most thorough analysis of the human genome cannot overcome. While evolution theory contradicts white supremacist claims of distinct heritage, the Bible confirms them.

  2. Population demographics. While evolution theory defines success (ie- superiority, if you wish to see it that way) only in terms of population counts, the Bible describes it in terms of race and religion. The Israelites were "God's chosen people", and the merit of a "race" was decided by its observance of Judeo-Christian beliefs rather than its ability to procreate. Since whites are more likely to be Christian than any other race, this provides ample justification for religion-based notions of white supremacy. Again, while evolution theory contradicts white supremacist claims of unequalled success, the Bible confirms them.

  3. Environmental adaptation. While evolution theory links the range of species variation to the range of environments, creationists (even the "moderate" old-Earth creationists) subscribe to the bizarre notion that the range of variation within a species is "fixed" by God (hence the distinction between "microevolution", which stays within these imaginary preset boundaries, and "macroevolution", which crosses them), because God made each animal "according to its kind". Therefore, since they do not subscribe to the idea of environmental adaptation driving genetically inherited change, we cannot use Europe's mediocre environment in order to convince religious white supremacists (eg- the Ku Klux Klan) that the white race is a "middle ground" rather than an uppermost extreme.

  4. Genetic diversity. While evolution theory predicts that purity is a horrible idea, the Bible speaks often of the importance of keeping God's people pure, and Christian fundamentalists preach the mantra of purity to this day (although most of them have learned to describe it as "cultural purity" instead of "racial purity", in an attempt to avoid being overtly offensive). Yet again, while evolution theory contradicts the notion that purity is good, the Bible supports it.

  5. Interbreeding. White supremacists who wish to pretend that they have scientific support have no choice but to misrepresent scientific theories toward that end, since the theories themselves actually contradict them (their tactics are similar to creationists in that way). Evolution theory predicts that interbreeding will produce genetic diversity, which in turn will produce a strong species. However, as the Ku Klux Klan brags on its official website, the Bible says the opposite, with numerous diatribes against racial mixing and the evils of "marrying foreign women" (particularly Canaanites, ie- "Sons of Ham").

  6. Lack of hierarchy. While evolution theory refuses to describe a linear hierarchy or place one species above another in any absolute sense, the Bible quite clearly creates hierarchies. All of nature is clearly described as the property of mankind, and I reiterate that the "sons of Ham" are explicitly cursed to be servants to the other races in perpetuity. Yet again, evolution theory fails to support the white supremacists but the Bible comes through for them.


Just as creationists misrepresent numerous scientific theories in order to pretend that they support their position, white supremacists misrepresent evolution theory in order to pretend that it supports their position. It is ironic that one would use the other as evidence against evolution theory (especially when the two groups can be coincident, as is the case with the founder of the ICR), when they both commit the same fallacy.

Evolution theory, far from claiming that "certain races and classes of humans are inherently superior to others", actually shows that racial distinctions based on skin colour are essentially arbitrary and superficial in nature. Moreover, it encourages racial mixing and interbreeding, and contradicts numerous white supremacist claims of the distinct and superior nature of the white race. The Bible, on the other hand, quite explicitly describes the various races as distinct from one another, and even goes so far as to create an extra distinction, with Noah's curse upon the sons of Ham. It preaches the importance of purity, and criticizes intermarrying.

Yet again, as is the case on so many issues, creationists throw stones from a glass house. They accuse evolution theory of being bad science, when their own arguments are the epitome of bad science. And they accuse evolution theory of supporting theories of racial superiority, when it is actually their own Bible that supports it, and which was used to justify it in centuries past.

Last updated: July 29, 2001

Continue to "If you do not accept Genesis as fact, you are not a Christian!"

Jump to: