Darwinism Does Not Lead to Racism:
Refutation of a Creationist Argument

Steven Schafersman, Ph.D.
Texas Citizens for Science
2008 January 21

Science, considered solely as an explanation of how nature works, is value free, but any person can impose their own values on scientific explanations. This is what Tony Campolo--who believes that "Darwinism" leads to racism--has done in the op-ed column reprinted below, sent to me by a colleague, and he is not the first person to do this. Many anti-evolutionists before him have interpreted natural selection to be racist, exploitive, mercenary, cruel, and morally repugnant when in fact it is none of those. Nature is amoral; only humans have morals and can impose their moral values on nature if they wish, even though this is both illegitimate and unwise. Nature has no morality and is therefore not cruel, with all the pain, killing, death, animals preying upon and eating other animals, and parasites infecting hosts causing diseases and slow, horrible deaths. This is not cruelty because there is no intention within nature to cause unnecessary pain, the definition of cruelty. (If you believe an Intelligent Designer created nature this way, then blame Him, Her, or It for being cruel!) Nature is just the way it is, because living nature evolved by a natural, mechanistic, unplanned, amoral process during eons of time before humans and their moral values even existed. Associating a natural process, such as natural selection, with an ethical or moral value is nonsense.

Darwin's natural selection is not racist except in the eyes of those who wish to believe and claim it is. Darwin himself was an abolitionist and was horrified by slavery. By the standards of the day, Darwin was one of the least racist of all Victorians, because he understood that all humans were bound together by their mutual natural origin. The notorious phrase "survival of the fittest" was Herbert Spencer's, not Darwin's, and the even more notorious phrase "Social Darwinism" is even more of a libel, since it refers to a Lamarckian evolutionary version of biological determinism, not a Darwinian evolutionary version, and should be termed either Social Lamarckism or social biological determinism. Both of these terms--neither of which have anything to do with legitimate biological evolution and natural selection--were applied to late 19th century laissez-faire capitalism for the purpose of describing it as mimicking or following the natural world order, to demonstrate that the prevailing exploitive economic system was natural, good, and just. In fact, Gilded Age laissez-faire capitalism was nothing like the evolution of social organisms, especially humans, in which cooperation and altruism are just as important as competition and territoriality.

The persistent misidentification of evolution with economic exploitation, racism, euthanasia, eugenics, infanticide, and genocide all depend on someone's persistent confusion about the vital difference between social and scientific Darwinism, that is, between social biological determinism--not a science but a discreditable doctrine--and biological evolution--an accurate and highly reliable science. By mendaciously ignoring this vital distinction, anti-evolutionists try to discredit evolution by illogically associating it with historically disreputable ideologies. Anti-evolutionists believe that if people come to believe evolution, under the misnomers of "survival of the fittest" and "social Darwinism," is equivalent to evil ideologies, they will then doubt the veracity and necessity of evolutionary science. Guilt by association is the anti-evolutionist's goal for scientific evolution, and their fondest wish is to promote this distortion. Even the fact that economic exploitation, racism, euthanasia, eugenics (in the sense of favorable breeding), infanticide, and genocide were all common in human history long before either evolution or Darwin does not dissuade the true believers. How can "Darwinism" be responsible for things that historically predate it? The obvious answer is that it can't.

Since Darwin's day, his biological explanations have been misapplied by all forms of ideologies to justify their ethical claims or counter-claims, all mistakenly, since it is illogical to invoke natural processes to prove the correctness of cultural, social, and economic human values. This is the naturalistic or is/ought fallacy: what IS true in nature justifies what OUGHT to be morally true for humans. In reality, as explained above, nothing in nature justifies the truth of any human moral beliefs. Yes, some of our ultimate instincts are derived from evolution, and our scientific understanding of nature often can help us see ethical imperatives and the moral path, but final moral decisions and actions must be made by humans in human terms and for human reasons.

The naturalistic fallacy is the fallacy in which Tony Campolo indulges throughout his article. He claims that we should fear the "ethical implications" of evolution, its "racism" and "extreme laissez-faire political ideology." These ethical implications only exist in Tony Campolo's mind but not in the real world, because evolution and natural selection are just natural processes, similar to digestion or development or parasitism or predation, and are devoid of moral meaning because they are the result of an amoral natural system. One might as well claim that we should fear the "ethical implications" of parasitism and predation for the "wasteful and painful destruction of living organisms" (in reality, parasites and predators prevent the over-population of host and prey organisms, a highly-beneficial ecological process), or fear the "ethical implications" of metabolism and excretion, for "relentless efficiency" and "disregard for less fortunate molecules."

Most human ethical beliefs are cultural or social, but some are instinctual and derive from evolution, such as territoriality and competition, but so do cooperation and altruism. Far from being racist, evolution is the opposite, for it reveals that all human beings are closely related. Far from supporting exploitive laissez-faire capitalism, the evolutionary history of the social primates reveals the social-affirming, altruistic, and caring nature of our species (as well as, of course, our competition and territoriality under certain circumstances, equally part of our human nature). If one wanted to derive our modern economic system from our evolutionary biology (and I don't recommend this), socialism or the modern, regulated, mixed economy would be more apt analogues than laissez-faire capitalism. Campolo has everything backwards.

Campolo complains that those who argue against Darwin at school board meetings "seldom have taken the time to read him." Actually, this is true of Campolo himself. If he had actually read and understood Darwin's writings, he would know that Darwin uses the nineteenth century terms "races" for what today we term "varieties" and the "struggle for life" in the modern sense of environmental selection pressure. There is nothing racist or exploitive about these terms. If Campolo had read The Origin of Species, he would know that "survival of the fittest" is a misnomer, and that Darwin's theory of natural selection actually involves the differential reproductive success of species populations in response to random and unpredictable environmental stresses and pressures. The biological terms that both Darwin and modern biologists use do not have the same meaning that they do in popular language, so repeating them in an alarmist fashion meant to inflame emotional antagonisms is both ignorant and dishonest.

Campolo writes, "Had they actually read [the] Origin, they likely would be shocked to learn that among Darwin's scientifically based proposals was the elimination of 'the negro and Australian peoples,' which he considered savage races whose continued survival was hindering the progress of civilization," and "Then [Darwin] went on to propose the extermination of races he 'scientifically' defined as inferior. If this were not done, he claimed, those races, with much higher birthrates than 'superior' races, would exhaust the resources needed for the survival of better people, eventually dragging down all civilization." These statements are all vile and damnable libels and lies. Darwin said nothing of the kind that Campolo quotes. Campolo undoubtedly read these claims in some Creationist tract and foolishly believed them. He should be ashamed of being both so ignorant and credulous.

Campolo is not correct that Ernst Haeckel drew on Darwin's writings to justify racism and nationalism. Haeckel accepted evolution immediately but never fully accepted natural selection in Darwin's sense, the theory that makes evolution Darwinian. Haeckel believed that the environment acted directly on organisms; i.e., Haeckel was a Lamarckian, so nothing following from his writings can be blamed on Darwin or even the influence of Darwin. It is true that Haeckel justified racism, nationalism, and social biological determinism (usually but incorrectly termed Social Darwinism) in his evolutionary writings, and he believed that "politics is applied biology." Haeckel was a nationalist, but was not a racist himself. Contrary to Campolo and other anti-evolutionists, Haeckel's views did not later influence Nazi theorists, who rejected any theories or doctrines that invoked evolution. But, again, even if Haeckel had influenced the Nazis, there is no connection to Darwin or modern biological evolution that follows from Darwin. Campolo fails to understand that Haeckel selectively drew on Darwin's work and constructed his own evolutionary theory that supported his own values that included nationalism and social determinism.

Campolo is also wrong about Heinrich von Treitschke, who supported nationalism, militarism, racism, and anti-Semitism, but did not derive any of his ideas from Darwin's writings. Von Treitschke was not a scientist and was suspicious of evolution; he derived his extreme views from non-scientific philosophies. Campolo apparently obtained his misinformation about Haeckel and von Treitschke from Marilynne Robinson's "Darwin" essay in her book The Death of Adam. This superficial essay was written by a novelist and has no scientific or historical value whatsoever. In fact, Robinson obviously does not understand evolution or have any great knowledge of its history, for her very biased conclusion that Darwin's scientific writings were used to justify racism, nationalism, and influence the Nazis is complete nonsense. I grant that significant distortions of Darwin's scientific writings by non-Darwinian writers were used to justify and support racism, nationalism, and laissez faire capitalism, but it is quite unfair to blame Darwin and his evolutionary theory for the errors, misinterpretations, and excesses of later writers and (mis)interpreters. They all invoked Darwin's name to give their own extremist ideologies a false veneer of legitimacy, much as Intelligent Design polemicists call their doctrine "science."

Konrad Lorenz was a Nazi for a time, but he admitted his mistake and later was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on the biology of animal behavior. Wikipedia says about this episode: "When accepting the Nobel Prize, he apologized for a 1940 publication that included Nazi views of science, saying that 'many highly decent scientists hoped, like I did, for a short time for good from National Socialism, and many quickly turned away from it with the same horror as I.' It seems highly likely that Lorenz's ideas about an inherited basis for behavior patterns were congenial to the Nazi authorities, but there is no evidence to suggest that his experimental work was either inspired or distorted by Nazi ideas."

In conclusion, Tony Campolo has seriously distorted the scientific and historical record to make his bigoted claims against Darwin and evolution. Bigotry is an irrational hatred of something or someone, and Mr. Campolo obviously hates science and scientists. He is free to believe that biological evolution by natural selection is "dangerous," but his belief is as irrational as believing that gravity, quantum mechanics,  and plate tectonics are dangerous. He has imposed his own narrow and sectarian views on a natural process and constructed specious and reprehensible arguments against it. He should immediately apologize for his ignorance and hatred, ask readers to forgive him, and encourage them to become better informed about subjects before criticizing them in such a harsh and bigoted manner.

Tony Campolo may draw his antipathy to Darwin and evolution--and a willingness to distort and discredit them by illogical arguments and shoddy scholarship--from the same source as Marilynne Robinson: an overweening evangelical Christian anti-science zeal. Most Christians--especially those with some reliable knowledge of science and evolutionary biology--do not exhibit such hatred for Darwin and evolution as these two authors, so these two should step back and re-evaluate their personal perspectives. Evolution is not an ideology opposed to other ideologies and religions. Evolution is not a proximate source of morals and values inimically opposed to the morals and values of religions. Evolution is just a natural process. Humans are the source of all morals and values, through either their religions or philosophies. Human knowledge of science in general and evolution in particular can be perfectly consonant with any religion, although many individuals choose not to believe that.


Note added, 2008 February 9: I have just learned of the publication of a new book authored by Answers in Genesis founder, Kentucky Creation Museum builder, and Young Earth Creationist Ken Ham and Bible College President Charles Ware titled Darwin's Plantation: Evolution's Racist Roots. The book is published by Master Books, the publishing arm of the YEC Institute for Creation Research. I have not yet read the book, but from a news article I can easily discern that the book is full of deliberate errors and untruths. Here are some quotes from Ken Ham:

What Darwinian evolution did I would say is provide what people thought was a scientific justification for separation of races.

Although racism did not begin with Darwinism, Darwin did more than any person to popularize it.

Stalin, Hitler and Mao were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions and it can be shown they did this because of the influence of Darwinian naturalism.

Statements such as these are so untrue, and are known by historians to be untrue, that making them today constitutes lying. As I discussed above, Darwin was one of the least racist individuals of his time. His theory of evolution--and modern evolutionary biology--give no justification for racist beliefs. In fact, just the opposite is true: Darwin's explanation of evolution and modern evolutionary biology both reveal the close similarity of all human ethic groups and provide no justification for inferiority based on biological characteristics (biological differences, yes, but not biological inferiority). Also, as I strongly emphasized, significant distortions of Darwinian evolution (i.e., evolution by natural selection) were used to make all sort of unfortunate and disagreeable racial, political, economic, and social claims by individuals with their own agendas to promote. Many people wanted a scientific justification for their own misguided ideological beliefs, and they found it in distorted versions of biological evolution. Ken Ham continues this reprehensible history in similar fashion, misrepresenting scientific history to justify his ideological pseudoscientific beliefs.

A much more interesting statement in this news article was made by David L. Schultz, associate professor of biology at Nicholls State University in Louisiana. He says that the "Darwinism is Racism" argument is only "a ploy to get evolution out of the curriculum." He elaborates: "Of course everybody's against teaching children racism, so if you call [evolution] racist, you can have it removed." As the article relates, several states have considered bills that would tie evolution to racism, genocide, and economic exploitation. The purpose of all of these bills is not to end racism, genocide, and economic exploitation, but to link biological evolution with these immoral ideologies so ordinary, scientifically-ignorant legislators will be opposed to evolution and throw it out of the state's science standards. Guilt by association is one of the oldest tactics unscrupulous ideologues use to demean their opponents, even when the association doesn't exist and they have to create it ex nihilo themselves.


Note added, 2008 April 15: This essay will be updated soon to respond to the vicious lies and distortions in the new pseudo-documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, in which Ben Stein repeats the common Creationist claim that Darwinian evolution inspired the Holocaust (as well as fascism, euthanasia, coercive eugenics, and abortion). I will document the historically well-known fact that common European Christian Anti-Semitism was mainly responsible for the Holocaust (along with other economic, social, and political causes)  and that Hitler--a believing Christian--was personally opposed to the concept of human evolution. It is true that the Nazis believed in both negative and positive eugenics, but these ideas came out of common biological knowledge of genetics, breeding, and animal husbandry, not from evolution. And needless to say, no responsible scientist ever advocated the authoritarian extremes to which the Nazis took eugenics. Today, positive eugenics is associated with social utopians and infertile parents who want sperm with the best genes from an artificial insemination sperm bank, and negative eugenics is still practiced but in a more scientific, less lethal manner than the Nazis used: today it's called genetic counseling, prenatal screening, and family planning.

Note added, 2008 May 11: The updated material promised here about the Creationist pseudo-documentary Expelled can now be found at http://www.texscience.org/reviews/expelled.htm.

The real danger in Darwin is not evolution, but racism

Tony Campolo
Op-Ed, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Sunday, Jan. 20, 2008

Many who support the separation of church and state say that the intelligent design theory of creation ought not to be taught in public schools because it contains a religious bias. They dislike its suggestion that the evolutionary development of life was not the result of natural selection, as Charles Darwin suggested, but was somehow given purposeful direction and, by implication, was guided by God.

Arguing for what they believe is a non-prejudicial science, they contend that children in public schools should be taught Darwin's explanation of how the human race evolved, which they claim is value-free and depends solely on scientific evidence.

In terms of science, Darwin's account may be solid indeed. But value free? Nothing could be further from the truth - and that's where the problem lies.

Some creationists fear Darwin because his theories contradict their literal biblical belief that creation occurred in six 24-hour days. But they do not get at the real dangers of Darwinism. They do not realize that an explanation of the development of biological organisms over eons of time really does not pose the great threat to the dignity of our humanity that they suppose. Instead, they, along with the rest of us, should really fear the ethical implications of Darwin's original writings.

In reality, those writings express the prevalent racism of the 19th century and endorse an extreme laissez-faire political ideology that legitimizes the neglect of the suffering poor by the ruling elite.

Those who argue at school board meetings that Darwin should be taught in public schools seldom have taken the time to read him. If they knew the full title of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, they might have gained some inkling of the racism propagated by this controversial theorist. Had they actually read Origin, they likely would be shocked to learn that among Darwin's scientifically based proposals was the elimination of "the negro and Australian peoples," which he considered savage races whose continued survival was hindering the progress of civilization.

In his next book, The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin ranked races in terms of what he believed was their nearness and likeness to gorillas. Then he went on to propose the extermination of races he "scientifically" defined as inferior. If this were not done, he claimed, those races, with much higher birthrates than "superior" races, would exhaust the resources needed for the survival of better people, eventually dragging down all civilization.

Darwin even argued that advanced societies should not waste time and money on caring for the mentally ill, or those with birth defects. To him, these unfit members of our species ought not to survive.

In case you think Darwin sounds like a Nazi, there is a connection. Darwin's ideas were complicit in the rise of Nazi ideas. Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson, in her insightful essay on Darwin, points out that the German nationalist and anti-Semitic writer Heinrich von Treitschke and the biologist Ernst Haeckel also drew on Darwin's writings to justify racism, nationalism and harsh policies toward the poor and less privileged. Although these men's lives much predated Hitler's rise to power, their ideas were very influential as he developed the racist ideas that led to the Holocaust. Konrad Lorenz, a biologist who belonged to the Nazi Office for Race Policy and whose work supported Nazi theories of "racial hygiene," made Darwin's theories the basis for his reasoning.

I hope our schoolchildren will be taught that it is up to science to study the processes that gave birth to the human race. But, as postmodern as it may be, I also want them to learn that whatever science discovers about our biological origins, there is, nevertheless, a mystical quality in human beings that makes each of us sacred and of infinite worth.

Regardless of how we got here, we should recognize that there is an infinite qualitative difference between the most highly developed ape and each and every human being. Darwin never recognized this disjuncture. And that is why his theories are dangerous.

Tony Campolo is author of "Letters to a Young Evangelical," is professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University, and served as pastoral counselor to former President Bill Clinton.


[Book Says Evolution Fosters Racism]

February 8, 2008
AP Google News

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) The founder of a popular Kentucky Christian museum that rejects evolution says in a new book that Darwin's theory fuels racism and genocide.

Ken Ham, who opened the Creation Museum last year, and co-author Charles Ware, president of Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis, have written "Darwin's Plantation: Evolution's Racist Roots," arguing that the theory inspired the Nazi belief in racial superiority and the murderous policies of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

"What Darwinian evolution did I would say is provide what people thought was a scientific justification for separation of races," Ham said in an interview.

Ham is not the first to try to tie Darwin with racism. The charge has been made for years.

It came up last month in arguments over science curriculum at a South Carolina state school board meeting. In 2001, Louisiana's state legislature considered a bill that said Darwin supported racist ideologies.

David L. Schultz, associate professor of biology at Nicholls State University in Louisiana, said Darwin was egalitarian and had a history of speaking out against slavery.

"Darwin was not a racist," he said.

Ham runs the Christian group Answers in Genesis and has already made an impact with his $27 million high-tech museum in Petersburg, south of Cincinnati.

The complex has attracted more than 300,000 visitors with exhibits that treat the Bible's creation story as natural history and contend that evolution theory is wrong because it contradicts the Old Testament. The Creation Museum asserts that the earth is just a few thousand years old, dinosaurs coexisted with man and Adam and Eve were the first humans.

In the new book, Ham says that Darwin's theory that natural selection caused gradual biological changes over time, puts some races "higher on the evolutionary scale" and others "closer to the apes."

"Although racism did not begin with Darwinism, Darwin did more than any person to popularize it," Ham writes.

Ham further contends that the theory fanned the flames of "ethnic superiority."

"Stalin, Hitler and Mao were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions and it can be shown they did this because of the influence of Darwinian naturalism...," Ham writes.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, a California group that defends teaching evolution in public schools, said Hitler rarely mentioned evolution.

"Darwinian evolution is based on natural selection, which means that any population can adapt to its environment," Scott said. "The ironic thing for the creationists is that Hitler grounded Aryan superiority as a God-given quality."

Ham said he came to the topic because he was upset by the unfair treatment of aboriginal tribes in his native Australia and the racism he saw in the United States when he arrived here in the 1970s. He said he experienced a backlash from some church groups after he wrote an article critical of biblical-based arguments against interracial marriage, which made him even more determined to tackle the issue.

"I got more what I would call hate mail from people, supposedly Christians in the church, than for any other article I've ever written," Ham said. "So to me I just had a real burden that I wanted to educate the church on this matter."

But Schultz called the argument "a ploy to get evolution out of the curriculum."

"Of course everybody's against teaching children racism, so if you call it racist, you can have it removed," said Schultz. He testified before a Louisiana legislative panel that took up the bill that would have tied evolution with racism. The measure was eventually stripped of any reference to Darwin.

Ham said Answers in Genesis does not advocate teaching creationism in public schools.

In South Carolina, that state's board of education approved a biology textbook that references evolution. One board member had argued that the scientific theory was used by Nazi Germany as an excuse to kill millions of people.

Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2008 May 11