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Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1859, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.
He crouched in the corner of the cage. With his head between his knees and his arms pulling his legs tightly to his chest, he shielded himself as best he could from the crowd. The iron bars around him offered a certain level of physical protection from the mob that swirled around him—but they did nothing to protect him from the stares, from the laughter, from the jeers that rained down upon him day after day after day. Coins and stones pelted his flesh, the crowd hoping to instigate some sort of reaction. His infrequent backlashes of anger only incited them further.
Thousands of miles from his home and the graves of his slaughtered ancestors, he dreamed of the days when he moved freely and intently through his homeland. He longed to hunt again with his kinsman. He starved for the warm immersion of fellowship with his wife and children.
But that was all behind him now. His family and his tribe had been murdered in the name of evolution. And now he cowered in the cage, a prisoner in Darwin’s garden.
Ota Benga was born in 1881 in Central Africa, where he grew strong and keen in the ways of the wilderness. The husband of one and the father of two, he returned one day from a successful elephant hunt to find that the camp he called “home” had ceased to exist. His wife, children, and friends lay slaughtered, their bodies mutilated in a campaign of terror by the Belgian government’s thugs against “the evolutionary inferior natives.” Ota was later captured, taken to a village, and sold into slavery.
He was first brought to the United States from the Belgian Congo in 1904 by the noted African explorer Samuel Verner, who had bought him at a slave auction. At 4’11” tall, weighing a mere 103 pounds, he was often referred to as “the boy.” In reality, he was a son, a husband, and a father. Ota was first displayed as an “emblematic savage” in the anthropology wing of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Along with other pygmies, he was studied by scientists to learn how the “barbaric races” compared with intellectually defective Caucasians on intelligence tests and how they responded to things such as pain.1
The July 23, 1904, Scientific American reported:
They are small, ape-like, elfish creatures . . . they live in absolute savagery, and while they exhibit many ape-like features in their bodies, they possess a certain alertness which appears to make them more intelligent than other Negroes . . . the existence of the pygmies is of the rudest; they do not practice agriculture, and keep no domestic animals. They live by means of hunting and snaring, eking this out by means of thieving from the big Negroes, on the outskirts of whose tribes they usually establish their little colonies, though they are as unstable as water, and range far and wide through the forests. They have seemingly become acquainted with metal only through contact with superior beings.
They failed to mention 1902 research by H.H. Johnston in the Smithsonian Report that found the pygmies to be a very talented group. When studied in their natural environment, Johnston found that they were experts at mimicry, and they were physically agile, quick, and nimble. They were exceptional hunters, with highly developed social skills and structure. While outsiders considered them primitive, the pygmies actually held strong monotheistic beliefs about God. More recent research has confirmed, “The religion of the Ituri Forest Pygmies is founded on the belief that God possesses the totality of vital force, of which he distributes part to his creatures, an act by which he brings them into existence or perfects them. . . . According to a favorite pygmies saying, ‘He who made the light also makes the darkness.’ ”2 When Verner had visited their African king, “He was met with songs and presents, food and palm wine, drums. He was carried in a hammock.”
But the Darwinists failed to take note of any of these things. Such observations didn’t fit their preconceived notions of evolution or their view that the pygmies were inferior, sub-human beings. When the pygmies were in St. Louis, they were greeted with laughter, staring, poking, and prodding. “People came to take their picture and run away . . . some came to fight with them. . . . Verner had contracted to bring pygmies safely back to Africa. It was often a struggle just to keep them from being torn to pieces at the fair. Repeatedly . . . the crowds became agitated and ugly; pushing and grabbing in a frenzied quality. Each time Ota and the Batwa were extracted only with difficulty.”3
The exhibit was said to be “exhaustively scientific” in its demonstration of the stages of human evolution. Therefore, they required the darkest blacks to be clearly distinguished from the dominant whites. Ota’s presence as a member of “the lowest known culture” was meant to be a graphic contrast with the Caucasians, who represented humanity’s “highest culmination.”
Meanwhile, the anthropologists in charge of the display continued their research by testing and measuring. In one case “the primitive’s head was severed from the body and boiled down to the skull.” Believing that skull size was an index of intelligence, the scientists were amazed to discover that the “primitive” skull was larger than that which belonged to the statesman Daniel Webster.4
After the fair, Verner took Ota and the other pygmies back to Africa. Ota soon remarried, but his second spouse died from a poisonous snakebite. He was also ostracized from his own people because of his association with the white people. Back in his homeland, Ota had found himself entirely alone. He returned to America with Verner, who said he would return him to Africa on his next trip. It was not to be. Once back in America, Verner tried to sell his animals to zoos and sell the crates of artifacts that he brought back from Africa. Verner was also having serious money problems and could not afford to take care of Ota.
When Verner presented Ota to Dr. Hornady, the director of the Bronx Zoological Gardens, it was clear that he would again go on display—but this time, the display took on an even more sinister twist. On September 9, 1906, The New York Times headline screamed, “Bushman shares a cage with Bronx Park apes.” Although Dr. Hornady insisted that he was merely offering an “intriguing exhibit” for the public, the Times reported that Dr. Hornady “apparently saw no difference between a wild beast and the little black man; and for the first time in any American zoo, a human being was being displayed in a cage.”
On September 10, the Times reported:
There was always a crowd before the cage, most of the time roaring with laughter, and from almost every corner of the garden could be heard the question “Where is the pygmy?” The answer was, “In the monkey house.”
Bradford and Blume, who extensively researched Ota’s life for the book Ota Benga: The Pygmy in the Zoo, noted:
The implications of the exhibit were also clear from the visitor’s questions. Was he a man or a monkey? Was he something in between? “Ist das ein Mensch?” asked a German spectator. “Is it a man?” . . . No one really mis- took apes or parrots for human beings. This “it” came so much closer. Was it a man? Was it a monkey? Was it a forgotten stage of evolution?
Dr. Hornady was a staunch believer in Darwin’s theory. The New York Times on September 11, 1906, reported that he had concluded that there was “a close analogy of the African savage to the apes” and that he “maintained a hierarchical view of the races. . . .”
The display was extremely successful. On September 16, 40,000 visitors came to the zoo. The crowds were so enormous that a police officer was assigned to guard Ota full time because he was “always in danger of being grabbed, yanked, poked, and pulled to pieces by the mob.”5
Not all condoned the frenzy. A group of concerned black ministers went to Ota’s defense. The September 10 Times reported Reverend Gordon saying, “Our race . . . is depressed enough without exhibiting one of us with the apes.” On September 12, however, the Times retorted by saying, “The reverend colored brother should be told that evolution . . . is now taught in the textbooks of all the schools, and that it is no more debatable than the multiplication table.”
The media frenzy eventually led to Ota being released from the cage, but the spectacle continued. The Times reported on September 18, “There were 40,000 visitors to the park on Sunday. Nearly every man, woman, and child of this crowd made for the monkey house to see the star attraction in the park—a wild man from Africa. They chased him about the grounds all day, howling, cheering, and yelling. Some of them poked him in the ribs, others tripped him up, all laughed at him.”
Eventually, Hornady himself was worn down (either by the media pressure or by the exhaustion that the spectacle had created). Ota was released from the zoo. In the following months, he found care at a succession of institutions and with several sympathetic individuals. In 1910, he arrived at a black community in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he found companionship and care. He became a baptized Christian, and his English vocabulary rapidly improved. He regularly cared for the children, protecting them and teaching them to hunt. He also learned how to read and occasionally attended classes at a Lynchburg seminary. Later he was employed as a tobacco factory worker.
But Ota grew increasingly depressed, hostile, irrational, and forlorn. When people spoke to him, they noticed that he had tears in his eyes when he told them he wanted to go home. Concluding that he would never be able to return to his native land, on March 20, 1916, Ota pressed a revolver to his chest and sent a bullet through his heart.
The theory of Darwinian evolution claims that human beings changed “from-molecules-to-man” over millions and millions of years, with one of our intermediate states being that of the apes. This theory logically implies that certain “races” are more ape-like than they might be human. Ever since the theory of evolution became popular and widespread, Darwinian scientists have been attempting to form continuums that represent the evolution of humanity, with some “races” being placed closer to the apes, while others are placed higher on the evolutionary scale. These continuums are formed solely by outward appearances and are still used today to justify racism—even though modern genetics has clearly proven that our differences, few as they might be, are no deeper than the skin.
On the last page of his book, The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin expressed the opinion that he would rather be descended from a monkey than from a “Savage.” In describing those with darker skin, he often used words like “savage,” “low,” and “degraded” to describe American Indians, pygmies, and almost every ethnic group whose physical appearance and culture differed from his own. In his work, pygmies have been compared to “lower organisms” and were labeled “the low integrated inhabitants of the Andaman Islands.”6
Although racism did not begin with Darwinism, Darwin did more than any person to popularize it.Although racism did not begin with Darwinism, Darwin did more than any person to popularize it. After Darwin “proved” that all humans descended from apes, it was natural to conclude that some races had descended further than others. In his opinion, some races (namely the white ones) have left the others far behind, while other races (pygmies especially) have hardly matured at all. The subtitle of Darwin’s classic 1859 book, The Origin of the Species, was The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The book dealt with the evolution of animals in general, and his later book, The Descent of Man, applied his theory to humans.
As the seeds of Darwinism continued to spread in the 1900s, the question being asked was “Who is human and what is not?” The answers were often influenced by the current interpretations of Darwinism.7 The widely held view was that blacks evolved from the strong but less intelligent gorillas, the Orientals evolved from the orangutan, and whites evolved from the most intelligent of all primates, the chimpanzees.8 Across the globe, such conclusions were used to justify racism, oppression, and genocide.
Within decades, however, evolution would be used as justification for the whites of Europe to turn upon themselves. The fruits of Darwinian evolution, from the Nazi conception of racial superiority to its utilization in developing their governmental policy, are well documented. The works of J. Bergman in Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith, June 1992, and March 1993, are just a few examples of vast amounts of material that show the connection between evolutionary thinking and Hitler’s genocidal slaughter of innocent human beings.
Jim Fletcher recalls these vivid impressions from visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.:
The railroad car, once you realize what it represents, forces you in, although not in the same way that people it memorializes were forced off aboard so many decades ago. The odd smell—which many visitors say must be the smell of death—can’t be scrubbed away. It shouldn’t be, for it reminds our senses in a visceral way of what happens when men leave God, and malevolent ideas go unchallenged. . . . When Adolph Hitler looked for a “final solution” for what he called the “Jewish problem”—the fact of the Jews’ existence—he had only to recall what scientists like Ernest Haeckel and liberal theologians embraced: that a purposeless process, known as evolution, had generated all of life’s complexity, including civilization itself. It had done so through a pitiless procedure of the strong eliminating the weak. As the influence of this idea spread, the Bible was increasingly taught as myth.9
Continued racism on European soil has resulted in bitter struggles and untold bloodshed between those of different “races” who occupy the same lands. The recent ethnic conflict between the Serbs and Croats, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic, and Slovakia are just a few examples.
The effect of Darwinism on racism, however, is certainly not limited to Europe. The fruit of Darwin’s garden was (and is) being reaped in my homeland of Australia, which was involved in a gruesome trade in “missing link” specimens fueled by early evolutionary and racist ideas. Documented evidence shows that the remains of perhaps 10,000 or more of Australia’s Aborigines were shipped to British museums in a frenzied attempt to prove the widespread belief that they were the “missing link.” Evolutionists in the United States were also strongly involved in this flourishing industry of gathering species of “sub-humans.” (The Smithsonian Institution in Washington holds the remains of over 15,000 individuals!) Along with museum curators from around the world, some of the top names in British science were involved in this large-scale grave robbing trade. These included anatomist Sir Richard Cohen, anthropologist Sir Arthur Keith, and Charles Darwin himself. Darwin wrote asking for Tasmanian skulls when only four of the island’s Aborigines were left alive, provided that the request not “upset” their feelings.
Some museums were not only interested in bones but also in fresh skins. These were sometimes used to provide interesting evolutionary displays when they were stuffed.10 Good prices were being offered for such “specimens.” Written evidence shows that many of the “fresh” specimens were obtained by simply going out and murdering the aboriginal people in my country. An 1866 deathbed memoir from Korah Wills, mayor of Bowen, in Queensland, Australia, graphically describes how he killed and dismembered local tribesmen in 1865 to provide a scientific specimen.
Edward Ramsay, curator of the Australian Museum in Sydney for 20 years starting in 1874, was particularly heavily involved. He published a booklet for the museum that gave instructions not only on how to rob graves, but also on how to plug bullet wounds from freshly killed “specimens.” Many freelance collectors worked under his guidance. For example, four weeks after Ramsay had requested skulls of Bungee Blacks, a keen young scientist sent him two of them, announcing, “The last of their tribe, had just been shot.”11
The seeds from Darwin’s garden even spread as far as Asia, where evolutionary thinking was used to justify their acts of racism and genocide. In order to justify their nation’s expansionist aggression, the Japanese had been told that they were the most “highly evolved” race on earth. After all, the Europeans, with their longer arms and hairy chests, were clearly closer to the ape, weren’t they? Westerners returned in kind, of course, often portraying the Japanese as uncivilized savages in order to dehumanize their killing with weapons of mass destruction.
In North America, Darwinism was used to justify colonial slavery as well as the elimination of “savage native tribes” who hindered the European’s westward expansion in the name “manifest destiny.” People on various continents wanted to “prove” that their “race” originated first. As a result, the Germans trumpeted Neanderthal fossils, the British did the same with Piltdown Man, and so on. Currently, members of the Ku Klux Klan justify their racism on the basis that they are a more evolutionary advanced race. The current Christian Identity Movement believes that Jews and blacks are not really human at all.
Today, Darwinism and evolutionary thinking also enable ordinary, respectable professionals—otherwise dedicated to the saving of life—to justify their involvement in the slaughter of millions of unborn human beings, who (like the Aborigines of earlier Darwinian thinking) are also deemed “not yet fully human.”
Six thousand years ago, God created a perfect world and fashioned the first two humans in His image. Humans were created to rule under God and to care for all of God’s creation. After the Flood, God restated this plan to Noah and his three sons.
According to God’s Word, all the people on earth today descended from Noah’s three sons, who descended from the first man, Adam. So we all share the same bloodline. We’re all brothers and sisters, siblings and cousins in the same family.
God formed man of dust from the ground(Genesis 2:7).
God said, “Let Us make man in Our image”(Genesis 1:26).
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son(John 3:16).
While Darwinian evolution has often been used to justify genocide and racism, God’s
Word clearly condemns the
abuse of others. God said to
Noah and his sons,
shall not eat flesh with its life,
that is, its blood. . . . from every
man’s brother I will require the
life of man. Whoever sheds man’s
blood, by man his blood shall be
shed, for in the image of God He
made man” (Genesis 9:4–6).
God’s Word condemns a long list of abuses: the abuse of the unborn, the abuse of the young, the abuse of the old, the sick, and the poor. Principles derived from God’s Word also condemn discrimination based on language, culture, gender, or skin tone.
God’s Word says that all people after the Flood descended
from Noah’s three sons.
“These three were the sons of Noah,
and from these the whole earth was populated” (Genesis 9:19). At
Babel, mankind rebelled against God and refused to follow His
Word. They lifted themselves up as the ultimate authority and
began a cycle of abuse that has been repeated by every people in
every generation. Later, the events of the Tower of Babel split up
the human gene pool. Different combinations of genes in different groups resulted in some people having predominately light skin, some having predominately dark skin, and others with every shade in between.
With our current understanding of genetics, we now know that these biological differences are superficial and insignificant. Our physical differences are merely the result of different combinations of physical features that God put in the human gene pool at creation. Because of the small genetic differences involved, the appearance of different people groups was very recent and could have occurred quickly in small populations after only a few generations after the Tower of Babel, as groups of people spread throughout the different environments of the earth.
The rebellion of man at this critical moment in history, however, forever set these unique people groups against each other. Ethnic hatred, fighting, and “racism” have been the norm ever since. Man against man, nation against nation, the murder of Australian Aborigines, mockery of African pygmies, slavery of black Americans, slaughter of the Jews—the list goes on and on—and the only way humans can justify their evil actions is to abuse the truth about history, science, and the Word of God.
Abuse against fellow humans knows no boundaries. Over one hundred years ago, some Aborigines in Australia used “death shoes” to sneak up on their victims, usually at early dawn, to murder them. Sometimes the assassin was sent officially by the tribe; sometimes he acted out of private revenge. The death shoes, made of emu feathers, left no traceable track. The upper part of the shoe is made of human hair.
In the mid-19th century, various distortions of the Bible and science were used to try to justify slavery. Some denied the biblical truth that all are descended from Adam and Eve. Others distorted what the Bible says to argue falsely that dark skin color was a curse upon Noah’s son Ham.
Perhaps the most infamous abuse of evolution to justify racism was Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime, which promoted a master race and sought to exterminate so-called inferior races. Historian Arthur Keith described this particularly insidious harvest from Darwin’s garden with these words in the book Evolution and Ethics:
To see evolutionary measures and tribal morality being applied rigorously to the affairs of a great modern nation, we must turn again to Germany of 1942. We see Hitler devoutly convinced that evolution provides the only real basis for a national policy. . . . The German Fuhrer, as I have consistently maintained, is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution.12
Genocide as a state policy—such as in the Soviet Union, China, and Nazi Germany—has been condemned since the end of World War II. The world saw the effects on “racism” through the lens of the Holocaust, but has human wisdom and effort been able to curtail it?
The word racism, of course, has its roots in race, the concept that there are distinct racial groups throughout the world: Asia, Europe, the Middle East, South America, and so on. But did you know that the concept of human races is not found in the Bible? The philosophy of racism, therefore, is alien to Scripture and originated with men.
In mid-19th-century England, “racism,” or ethnic superiority, was quite popular. It also coincided with some of the most blatant attacks on the Bible as men like Herbert Spencer, Darwin, and Thomas Huxley sought to mythologize the Old Testament, starting, of course, with the creation account in Genesis.
Unfortunately, tragically, their views inspired men who would come after them and turn the 20th century into the bloodiest in all human history. Stalin, Hitler, and Mao were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions—and it can be shown that they did this because of the influence of Darwinian naturalism, which fanned the flames of ethnic superiority. According to human reason, everyone decides what is right in his own eyes. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
Once people abandon the authority of God’s Word, there is no foundation for morality and justice in the world. When God’s truth is rejected, human reason alone is used to justify evil of every sort.
Rather than esteeming our brothers, we discriminate against them.
Rather than protecting our brothers, we hate them.
Rather than embracing our neighbors, we despise them.
Rather than protecting the helpless, we put ourselves first.
Without any absolute authority for right and wrong, humans in every generation have devised a multitude of excuses to justify abuse. Modern humans are no different. They have abused science to justify all sorts of evils. According to evolution, humans are nothing special:
Even Stephen Jay Gould, a leading evolutionist, explains how people in the 19th century abused science to support their own prejudices:
Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1859, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.13
Darwin’s garden—a pervasive and powerful root of racism—continues to spread throughout our culture and our world. It’s not just part of our past; it continues throughout this generation. In some places there has been progress. In certain fields of our society racism is being rejected, and men and women are coming together as brothers and sisters.
In other parts of the world, racial and ethnic hatred continue to be unleashed in astronomical proportions. The evening news is a tale of man hating men because of the shade of color of their skin or the shape of their face.
Where will it end?
Certainly it will end at the second coming of Jesus Christ, when truth and order will be restored. But until then, what are we to do? How are we to live, think, and respond to our fellow humans on this planet? Is there any hope? I believe there is.
As we continue to survey the history of racism, we will see that these two solutions (biblical principles and scientific fact) are indispensable and powerful tools in uprooting Darwin’s garden and planting new seeds of truth in our hearts, our churches, and our world.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.