Should We Cancel Darwin?

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In an effort to “cancel” historical racists, culture has missed one of the most influential racists of all time.

During a presidential election season, most Americans would normally be thinking about the campaign more than any other topic. Yet another serious issue—racism—continues to occupy the nation’s mind. Since the horrific killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last May, racism has filled the news as much as it did during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.

Amid the angry demonstrations with people crying for change, one of racism’s most insidious influences has been almost completely overlooked.

Modern views about human origins are built on a toxic error. Unless these opinions change, racism will keep raising its ugly head. Any serious desire to solve racism must inspire the question, “What about the influence of Charles Darwin’s racist views? Should they be banned (or ‘canceled,’ in popular jargon) from the culture?”

Darwin’s Racism

In a sequel to the better-known On the Origin of Species, Darwin’s The Descent of Man argued that humans, having descended from apelike creatures, were continuing to evolve and produce various races. Darwin posited that some races were more developed than others. Throughout Descent, Darwin labeled different people groups other than his European race as “low” and “degraded,” including Africans. Darwin argued that the “highest races and the lowest savages” clearly differed in their “moral disposition” (Darwin, 445).1 These “savages,” he further claimed, possessed “insufficient” powers of reasoning (Darwin, 489). At the end of Descent, Darwin declared he would prefer to be descended from a “little monkey” or an “old baboon” as opposed to an Indian “savage” from South America (Darwin, 919).

Darwin’s racism and belief in white supremacy were an outgrowth of his ideas regarding natural selection.

Darwin’s racism and belief in white supremacy were an outgrowth of his ideas regarding natural selection (a view popularized later by others as “survival of the fittest”). Accordingly, he excused aggressive colonial imperialism with the comment, “The civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world” (Darwin, 521). Although he may not have explicitly endorsed such imperialism, Darwin saw the elimination of nonwhite races as the natural result of white Europeans, who “stand at the summit of civilisation” (Darwin, 507), being the superior race.

Such reasoning, even before Darwin laid it out, was essentially the same rationale used by European, Muslim, and American slave traders, who viewed the Africans as less than human and deserving of enslavement.

Of course, racism has been prevalent for millennia, including within the Christian church. Because they have misinterpreted and misapplied biblical texts, many Christians deny the value of humankind created in the image of God. In the Western world in general, Darwin wasn’t even the first to put forth biological arguments for racist views. To his credit, Darwin detested slavery. (However, his apologists today feebly cite that fact to mitigate his appalling racism and instead declare that Darwin was just a product of his times.)

Some honest evolutionists have acknowledged that even though Darwinism didn’t cause racism, it fueled it. The famous late scientist Dr. Stephen Jay Gould wrote, “Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1859 [the date of Darwin’s Origin of the Species], but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.”2 Yet some historical figures are so high on the pedestal of our secular society that they appear beyond reach, even in today’s “cancel culture.” The hypocrisy is glaring. (At the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that racism has emerged too many times in America’s church history.)

But Don’t Erase Darwin

So should today’s cancel culture seek to erase things that are reminders of the racist history of Western nations? Should we delete the sad chapter of Darwin from history books and museums? I suggest not. There are important lessons to be learned. Just as historians should not erase Nazism and Communism from textbooks and museums, they should not ignore the consequences of bad beliefs like Darwinism—such as the way his ideas fueled racism—but should learn from them.

In 2004, my family visited southern Germany and enjoyed seeing the Bavarian Alps and beautiful towns like Rothenburg. But we also toured the notorious Nazi concentration camp of Dachau as an unforgettable way for our three sons to learn more about the evils of anti-Semitism.3 The victorious Allied forces could have razed Dachau to the ground, but some wise leaders realized that preserving the barracks and ovens would help later generations not forget one of history’s most virulent acts of racism.

Concentration Camp

Prisoners in the Dachau (Germany) concentration camp cheer at the US troops liberating them from the atrocities instigated by Nazi racism.

Similarly, removing Darwin and his errant beliefs from schools and museums is not realistic, for they are too entrenched in society. Yet at the very least his racist views should be exposed and included. All of Darwin’s beliefs, warts and all, should be presented to students. This includes the many that are unscientific and not in support of his ideas of amoeba-to-man evolution.

Sadly, almost no public schools challenge evolution. Students are not permitted to develop their critical thinking skills to consider the flaws of Darwin’s ideas. They are rarely taught that his proposed mechanism for evolution, natural selection, does nothing to produce new genetic information that would be necessary to turn one creature into another.

If they were consistent, cancel-culture advocates would ban Darwin from society. But most won’t touch him, for he is like a prophet for their worldview. Even if they condemn racism, they blindly still want to commemorate Darwin. From him, they have a supposed scientific justification for rejecting the Creator and living as they please with regards to abortion, sex, and so on.

The Solution

The answer to racism is found in God’s Word.

The Bible’s history is crucial to a true understanding of “race.” God’s Word reveals that all humans are descended from Adam and Eve. At the tower of Babel, God separated the rebellious people by both geography and language. The population broke up into sub-groups, and as people married within their own group, certain genetic features (like skin shade and eye shape) became more prominent. Some people groups ended up with light skin and others with dark skin. All people today are actually shades of brown, depending on the amount of melanin, the main pigment, in our skin (and some other minor factors). There are no truly black or white people.

The Bible also explains why people mistreat each other. Because all people are descendants of Adam and Eve, we all inherited the same problem: we’re sinners, like our first parents. As rebels against God, we deserve death. But the good news for all people, regardless of their ethnicity, is that Jesus Christ was sent by God (John 3:16) and stepped into history to die on the cross and be resurrected. He now offers the free gift of eternal life to those from every nation, tribe, and people who will put their faith in him (Revelation 7:9).

It’s more important than ever that Christian leaders and parents proclaim the biblical worldview starting with Genesis. Millions of children in Christian homes are being lost to the godless secular culture as they attend government-run schools and hear the pervasive antibiblical thinking in museums and media. At the same time, all students should learn about Darwin’s racism and not see his views erased.

Believers should display an unflinching passion to fight human abuses and injustice. We believe our solutions, based on God’s Word and its true history of the human race, are the most effective means to eliminate the roots of evil. We must speak with confidence, pray in faith for our country, and proclaim the unchanging good news of the gospel. If we do, then along the way we will see racism reduced as well.4

Mark Looy is a cofounder of Answers in Genesis. An avid student of the abolition movement, Mark wrote his master’s thesis on the British anti-slavery leader William Wilberforce. Mark grew up in a multiethnic neighborhood in south Los Angeles.

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October–December 2020

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Footnotes

  1. Quotes come from the combined volume The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. New York: The Modern Library, 1936.
  2. S. J. Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (Harvard University Press, 1977), 127.
  3. Of course, a less violent form of racism existed against African Americans during this time, including within the very military that helped defeat the genocidal Nazis in 1945.
  4. For further study, read Dr. Charles Ware and Ken Ham’s book One Race, One Blood. Master Books, 2019.

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