Many Christians today believe that human evolution can be harmonized with Genesis. Two cases have been selected to illustrate attempts to make this compromise with Genesis. It will be shown that attempts of two professing Christians, Harvard Professor Louis Agassiz and University of Michigan Geology Professor Alexander Winchell, have done violence to both the scientific facts and Scripture. This trend, in an attempt to document human evolution, resulted in scientific justification for racism in the Western world for over a century. The main focus here is how this idea, namely anti-black racism, was woven into a “scientific” apologetic that not only supported both the Ku Klux Klan and slavery, but also drew support from a new, scientific reading of Genesis. Here we focus on how the idea pre-Adamites was read into Genesis and woven into a “scientific” apologetic for racism, thereby helping to justify the Ku Klux Klan’s beliefs and slavery.
The History of Scientific Racism
As European explorers discovered various human people groups with different physical characteristics, they speculated on the origin of what they judged to be “primitive,” less-evolved, pre-modern humans. In contrast to this speculation, most
American Christians in the early nineteenth century read the biblical Creation stories as literal history. God, they believed, created Adam and Eve about six thousand years ago. Descendants of the first couple multiplied rapidly, perhaps because of their extraordinary longevity, and quickly occupied the earth. (Nelson 2003, 162)
As will be documented, the major motivation to develop the pre-Adamite theory was to accommodate the evolutionists’ conclusion that less-evolved, semi-humans existed. This is clear in the text of the supporter’s writings as well as the illustrations that accompanied their writings, as shown in fig. 1. Furthermore, evolutionary teaching necessarily pushes human origins well beyond the Biblical age of six thousand years.
Professor G. B. Nelson, a leading scholar on this topic, claims it was not until after Darwin’s theory was accepted by scientists that “evolutionists were widely convinced that human-like creatures existed long before the biblical Adam” (Nelson 2003, 178). These pre-Adamites were a separate creation, created along with the animals before Adam, and were considered sub-human.
The most serious problem with the pre-Adamite theory is its open contradiction of the Biblical account that teaches all humans on Earth today were descended from Adam and Eve. Examples of the many scriptures used to defend this biblical teaching include Adam being the first man (1 Corinthians 15:45) and Eve the first woman. Thus “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20 NIV). Furthermore, the Scriptures teach that all people are descended from Adam: “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth” (Acts 17: 26 NIV).
The Case of Louis Agassiz
The most eminent nineteenth century biologist was Louis Agassiz (1807–1873), Professor of Zoology and Geology at Harvard. Agassiz was also the head of Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School, the founder of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, and editor of America’s premier science journal, Science (Lurie 1960, 184).
Agassiz accepted the general fixity of species doctrine, writing, “there can remain no doubt respecting the natural limitation of species . . . It is, therefore, impossible that by variation one class of differences should pass into another” (Agassiz 1859, 259; 1962, 54). What he explained he meant here was that Genesis kinds are immutable—a belief he covered in detail in his book on classification (Agassiz 1859, 159–160; 1962, 64, 258–259). By this he meant that all animal species were endowed from the beginning with all of their basic characteristics. These characteristics are transmitted to their progeny unchanged within certain limits, which he attempted to define, although imperfectly, a problem we are faced with even today.1 Consequently, molecules-to-man evolution is impossible. Agassiz strongly opposed Darwin’s theory of evolution, and documented his “valid objections to the theory, [and] . . . felt called upon to challenge the Darwinian scientists in public” (Forsee 1958, 176). As he was then one of the world’s most prominent palaeontologists, his arguments carried a great deal of weight, both in the scientific world and with the general public.
|2. Pig-faced Baboon||Cape Land|
|7. Orang, young (female)||Borneo|
|8. Orang old||Guinea|
|9. Chimpanzee, young (female)||Guinea|
|10. Chimpanzee, old||Guinea|
|11. Gorilla, young (female)||Guinea|
|12. Gorilla, old||Guinea|
|13. Papuan (female)||Van Diemen’s Land|
|14. Hottentot||Cape Land|
|15. Caffre||Zulu Coast|
|17. Australian||Victoria Land|
|18. Malay (female)||Polynesia|
|19. Mongolian (male)||Thibet|
|20. Arctic (female)||Kamtchatka|
|21. American (male)||Mississippi|
Agassiz attempted to defend his views by making his case in three major essays, namely “The Geographical Distribution of Animals,” “The Diversity of Origin of the Human Species,” and “Contemplations of God in the Kosmos” (Flannery 2020, 15). In spite of his opposition to Darwin’s theory, Agassiz was influenced by prominent evolutionists, such as Thomas Huxley who believed “that blacks represented an intermediate hierarchical level between Caucasians and apes” (Flannery 2020, 15). In fact, ironically, Agassiz and Huxley collaborated on several writing projects, such as a book on Darwin (Agassiz and Huxley 1883).
Accepting certain evolutionary views, such as the inferiority of certain racial groups, motivated Agassiz to accommodate the inferiority of Blacks belief to the Bible (Gliddon, Agassiz, Gliddon, and Nott 1868). Agassiz accepted the Hebraic view that the common ancestry of Adam and Eve derived from the “authority of the Mosaic record” and, thus, produced an explanation to blend the then common conclusion of anthropologists that human races did not originate from a common center, nor from a single pair of humans (Agassiz, 1850a, 135–136; Flannery 2020, 6; Lurie 1960, 260). In “reference to the races of men,” Agassiz asked the following question:
Have the differences which we notice among the different races, as they exist now, been produced in the course of the multiplication and diffusion of men upon the earth, or are these differences primitive, independent of physical causes. Have they been introduced into the human race by the Creator himself, or has nature influenced men so much as to produce this diversity, under the influence of those causes which act in the physical world? (1850c, 134)
Agassiz concluded that Adam and Eve fathered one race, the white race, and a separate pair of humans fathered the black races, thus, in his mind at least, satisfying both the Bible and the-then general consensus of science of the inferiority of some people groups (Agassiz 1850b, 184–185). Much to the chagrin of evolutionists today, the proof of this view was the then scientific consensus that confirmed major differences in intelligence and other traits which Darwinists used to prove evolution (Chapman 1873, 162–174). Agassiz thus explained the differences between Whites and Blacks as the result of fixed inborn differences due to the separate creations of the races. He first presented these views in the March 1850 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Charleston, North Carolina (Lurie 1960, 260).
Agassiz acknowledged the common belief that all humans have descended from Adam and Eve was both derived from the authority of the Mosaic record and widely accepted, but nevertheless he argued “that this view was flawed” (Agassiz, 1850c, 134–135). Agassiz concluded
What is said of animals and plants in the first chapter of Genesis, what is mentioned of the preservation of these animals and plants at the time of the deluge, relates chiefly to organized beings placed about Adam and Eve, and those which their progeny had domesticated, and which lived with them in closer connection. That Adam and Eve were neither the only nor the first human beings created is intimated in the statement of Moses himself, where Cain is represented to us as wandering among foreign nations after he was cursed, and taking a wife from the people of Nod, where he built a city, certainly with more assistance than that of his two brothers. (Agassiz, 1850b, 184–185)
Agassiz failed to realize that if the Black “race” was “created” before the Flood, all persons, Black or White, not on the Ark would not have living descendants unless one or more of the Ark inhabitants mated to someone on the Ark, which violates his concerns about interbreeding. Agassiz , cognizant of pre-Charles Darwinian evolutionary writings, such as by Erasmus Darwin, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, and Robert Chambers, concluded
the view of mankind as originating from a single pair, Adam and Eve . . . is neither a Biblical view nor a correct view, nor one agreeing with the results of science, and our profound veneration for the Sacred Scriptures prompts us to pronounce the prevailing view of the origin of man, animals, and plants as a mere human hypothesis, not entitled to more consideration than belongs to most theories framed in the infancy of science . . . we are satisfied that he never meant to say that all men originated from a single pair, Adam and Eve. (Agassiz, 1850b, 185 )
Agassiz described Blacks as, by nature, “submissive, obsequious and imitative” (Agassiz 1850c, 144), and, therefore, the question is how we should treat
the different races in consequence of their primitive difference . . . but, for our own part, we entertain not the slightest doubt that human affairs with reference to the colored races would be far more judiciously conducted, if, in our intercourse with them, we were guided by a full consciousness of the real difference existing between us and them (Agassiz 1850c, 144)
Consequently, according to a leading authority on Agassiz, Edward Lurie, it was
mere ‘mock philanthropy’ to consider them equal to whites. Africans, for instance, had been in contact with whites for thousands of years, yet were averse to civilization influences. White relations with colored peoples would be conducted more intelligently if the fundamental differences between human types were realized and understood. (Lurie 1960, 261–262)
Agassiz acknowledged the equality of the descendants of Adam, but concluded “the Fuegians, Hottentots, and the inhabitants of Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania] . . . must have originated where they occur . . . . [W]e have evidence of primitive races, extending everywhere.” (Agassiz 1850c, 127, 128)
The evidence of “primitive races, extending everywhere” was reasoned from the observation that wherever men have migrated, they met aboriginal people existing in the parts of the world which they migrate to (see Agassiz, 1850b 132). Agassiz never openly supported slavery and felt his views on polygenism were not political, but his polygenism views clearly emboldened slavery proponents (Jackson and Weidman, 51).
The weight of Agassiz’s scientific authority confirmed the imprimatur of science to racism without violating the Bible, a view widely accepted in the slaveholding, yet religiously conservative pre-Civil War South. Pre-Adamism was “an idea that could be used equally to relieve the tensions of internal biblical exegesis and rationalize the politics of racial ideology (Harrold 1991, 3; Livingstone 1987, 42). His ideas were contrary to the belief that all people groups were equal because all humans are children of Adam and Eve (Chapman 1873).
Agassiz’s view not only contradicted the Scriptures, but also the scriptural teaching implied in the second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence, which states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The basis for this part of the Declaration written by Jefferson was Genesis (Guyatt 2016, 27). The fact is, “the inconvenient truth of Genesis acted as a break on racist theory throughout the antebellum years” (Guyatt 2016, 27). In other words, Jefferson and others recognized that Blacks were descendants of Adam, as were whites, and realized the slaves had to be set free someday; the question, however, was when and how.
In short, Agassiz’s compromise solution to the conflict between evolution and Christian teaching was although all humans were descendants of Adam, the putative “inferior” races were all created before Adam (Randolph 1888). This solution was adopted by others, including another compromiser, theistic evolutionist University of Michigan geologist Alexander Winchell.
Case Two: Professor Alexander Winchell
The ideas of Methodist Alexander Winchell (1824–1891) were enormously influential in the development of Darwin’s doctrine within the Methodist Church (Scott 1954, 337). The theistic evolution of Winchell eventually mutated into Scientific Racism which, in turn, progressed into Biblical Racism, birthing one of the ugliest chapters in American history (Guyatt 2016). Scientific Racism is the proper term for racism based on Darwinism (Barkan 1993).
Alexander Winchell was Professor of Geology and Paleontology at the University of Michigan. This eminent scientist had a considerable impact on science as well as a major role in developing the discipline of geology in America (Livingstone 1987, 87). He is most well-known today for his attempts to reconcile evolution with Genesis that led to a racist form of theistic evolution which influenced thousands of persons, from church leaders to the Ku Klux Klan (Engel 1956).
His Pre-Adamite Theory
To accomplish unification of evolution and theism, Winchell used the Pre-Adamism belief which he promulgated in his book, The Pre-Adamites. He was not just flirting with this idea, but “Winchell actively embraced” this view, both as a means of harmonizing the evidence used to support human evolution and Christianity, as well as the view that Blacks were an inferior species as advocated by the scientific racists for over a century from about 1850 to 1950 (Livingstone 2008, 141). The theory, as modified by Winchell, is a good example of the various evolution-Christianity harmonizing strategies employed across diverse disciplines in the decades after Darwin. The scientific basis cited in scores of books such as Primitive Man (Figuier 1876) and America’s Greatest Problem: The Negro by R. W. Shufeldt (1915) used claims of brain size and differences, lack of achievements of Blacks and numerous other ideas once widely accepted by mainline science until about 1950 (Gould 1996).
Winchell was encouraged by a friend, Edward Conkling to examine the pre-Adamite theory in 1873. Conkling wrote to Winchell asking the respected geologist’s scientific opinion on the subject covered in Conkling’s 127 page handwritten manuscript. His manuscript was an attempt to harmonize evolution and the Bible. Winchell’s book Preadamites: or, A demonstration of the Existence of Men before Adam (1880), argues that a number of races, including Negroes, are inferior and were not descendants of Adam. Winchell called these creatures created before Adam the pre-Adamic family, or Dravida, a name Winchell coined (Farrelly 2008, 682). They were the proposed race that Cain went to live with when he was banished, and it was also among them where he found his wife (Harrington 1891, 17).
Winchell taught that non-Adamic/Dravida humans, such as Blacks, could not normally interbreed with the Adamic race. In other words, he taught that they were non-human animals. In his introduction, Winchell distorted beyond recognition Genesis which taught all humans descended from Adam and exploited the fact that many of the mainline denomination’s in
Christendom has turned its back on the Genesis . . . creation myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the beguiling talking snake and introduction of original sin, death, evil . . . . they accept the Theory of Evolution which explains that mankind evolved from a common ancestor with all other apes . . . .Denying a real Adam, a real fall, the introduction of Original Sin, Evil and Death would present an even greater problem for Catholicism and Protestantism. Jesus saves us based upon the idea that the Genesis account of Creation is real. (Anonymous 2014)
Thus, if the Creation and the fall are mythological and not literal accounts there is no basis to assume there is original sin. The gospel of Jesus Christ is based upon original sin. The death of Jesus upon the cross is a sacrifice (propitiation) for that sin. Paul argues it, “As in Adam all have sinned and died so in Christ all are made alive.” Since there was no Adam, Eve, Eden, or Fall then there is no basis for a need of salvation and hence no basis for Christianity to even exist in our modern era. (Anonymous 2014)
The Consequences of His Theory
Winchell concluded that his theory explained the existence of the evolutionists’ claims of primitive pre-humans, such as the Neanderthals. This was also the same reason given by other supporters of the Pre-Adam creation theory (Lester 1875; Randolf 1888). Although Winchell’s pre-Adamite theory was “designed to preserve post-adamic biblical chronology intact . . . he [Winchell] did not hesitate to marshal his pre-adamites in the cause of white supremacy” (Livingstone 2008, 186). In doing so, he descended into racism and his ideas were in his day, and still are, exploited by various racists groups including the Ku Klux Klan (Harrold 1991).
His pre-Adamite person began as a “savage yet [somehow Winchell reasoned] was made in the image of his maker” viz God (Harrington 1891, 17–18). In 1877, Winchell authored an article on his theory which was in such demand that, in 1878, it was reprinted as a pamphlet (Harrington 1891, 7). He authored a total of 12 bound books and hundreds of articles in his career. His pre-Adamite book, the largest and most successful of all the books he wrote, appeared in 1880 and went through at least five editions (Harrington 1891, 9, 17).
Winchell Highly Respected in His Day
Winchell was one of the most respected academics of his day among scientists. His honors included President of the American Geologist Journal and the state geologist of Michigan. His indefatigable efforts resulted in creating one of the largest and highest quality collections of fossils, plus zoological and botanical specimens, at the “Harvard of the Midwest,” the University of Michigan (Davenport 1951, 190). His books on science and religion, including The Sketches of Creation: A Popular View of Some of the Grand Conclusions of the Sciences in Reference to the History of Matter and of Life (1870) and The Reconciliation of Science and Religion (1877),which sought to solve the conflict between scientific theory and religion by attempting to show that the Bible teaches evolution. His World-Life: Or Comparative Geology (1889) was a comprehensive work on world history of races, peoples and nations which his supporters claimed displayed very careful research.
The pre-Adamite theory did not originate with Winchell or Agassiz. Others were also trying to an attempt to harmonize evolutionist conclusions with the Scriptures and historic Christianity (Nelson 2003, 178). In 1863, Charles Lyell introduced to the reading public his book The Antiquity of Man which presented
compelling new scientific evidence that humankind had originated far earlier than the commonly accepted date for the creation of Adam and Eve . . . . In different ways Agassiz’s and Lyell’s announcements contradicted the deeply held Christian belief that Adam and Eve were the parents of the entire human race . . . both [views] reflected vigorous debates in the years before the publication of Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man about the . . . antiquity of humanity. (Nelson 2003, 161)
Lyell discussed the Negro, Neanderthals, and other “inferior races of mankind” in chapter five of this book in a section titled Human and Simian Brains. According to Lyell, the “average Negro skull differs from that of the European in having a more receding forehead, more prominent superciliary ridges, and . . . the face [and] also . . . brain is somewhat less voluminous on the average in the lower races of mankind, its convolutions rather less complicated, and those of the two hemispheres more symmetrical . . . which points . . . to the simian type.” Lyell concludes “the range of capacity between the highest and lowest human brain is far greater than that between the highest simian and lowest human brain . . . [and] the Neanderthal skull . . . in several respects . . . is more ape-like than any human skull previously discovered . . . ” (Lyell 1863, 90–91)
Agassiz’s and Winchell’s view that nature was “a fixed order established by God” had scientific support, thus they agreed with the view that the
intricate design of plants and animals and their perfect adaptation to their environments testified to God’s design in nature and revealed God’s goodness and wisdom in providing for creation. (Nelson 2003, 162)
However, Winchell, unlike Agassiz, argued that evolution was the means by which God created our ordered world that is now teeming with life. He also taught many ideas now shown to be false. One is he used Haeckel’s claim based on his fraudulent embryo drawings to prove ontology recapitulates phylogeny to show human fetuses successively evolved into a fish, a quadruped, a monkey, and a man, thereby rehearsing their evolutionary history (Whedon 1874, 517). See Hopwood 2015 for decisive refutation of Haeckel’s theory of embryonic recapitulation.
Winchell Fired from Vanderbilt
Winchell first published his pre-Adamite theory when a professor at the Methodist Vanderbilt University. The Vanderbilt administrators recognized that his theory, as detailed in Winchell’s 1874 treatise and also his 1880 pre-Adamite book, were both unbiblical and racist. (Davenport 1948, 516). Another problem these administrators faced was the question, if Blacks were not descendants of Adam, Christ’s sacrifice would not be valid for them, thus “Black people had no claim to the messianic promise—an unacceptable postulate for Christians, even in a racist society” (Farrelly 2008, 684).
As a result of this major theological concern, Winchell was terminated from Vanderbilt in 1878. His termination was the impetus for the long attack on Christianity and Vanderbilt by evolutionists for what they argued was Vanderbilt’s anti-science, anti-evolution position. In The Shame of Tennessee, science writer Maynard Shipley wrote that the “war on evolution in Tennessee” began “when the trustees of Vanderbilt University unceremoniously dismissed Prof. Alexander Winchell from the faculty. They had been thoroughly alarmed upon discovering that an evolutionary wolf had been let loose among the Fundamentalist lambs” of Vanderbilt (Shipley 1927, 187).
The result of his termination was “universal criticism from the secular, and even part of the religious press” (Harrington 1891, 7). Andrew White, President of Cornell University then, wrote that Winchell’s termination from Vanderbilt was ironic because Winchell was “one of the truest of men, devoted to science but of deeply Christian feeling, … [and] was driven forth for views which centered in the Darwinian theory” (White 1897, 84). However, it should be noted that his firing was not due to his support for evolution, but rather due to the “implication that Africans were beyond God’s promise of salvation” (Farrelly 2008, 686). Winchell died at age 67 in 1891.
The Exploitation of Winchell’s Theory by Racists
The end result of Winchell’s attempt to harmonize evolution and theism produced a form of theistic evolution that resulted in supporting, and openly encouraging, racism in America and elsewhere. Winchell’s fame, his description of Black inferiority, and the intensity of his disgust at miscegenation [interracial marriage] made racists “exuberant,” because they could now claim not only that science justified their racism, but it was supported by a “highly esteemed” scientist from one of the premiere American universities, the University of Michigan (Livingstone 2008, 188). Winchell devoted lengthy expositions to Negro inferiority in his pre-Adamite essays, which were often been reprinted by the KKK and cited by other racist groups (Winchell, 1882; White, 1966). In one such publication, Winchell wrote:
The Negroes have made us a great deal of trouble. . . . The anatomical structure of the Negro is inferior. . . . the black skin, the elongated and oblique pelvis—these are all characteristics in which, so far as the Negro diverges from the White man, he approximates the African apes . . . . I am not responsible for the inferiority of the Negro. I am responsible if I ignore the facts. I am culpable if I hold him to the same standard as the White man. (Winchell 1878, 240)
His Proof of Negro Inferiority book, one of the most popular racist booklets still in use today, is complete with pictures purportedly showing how close Negro brains are to ape brains and Negro-face profiles are to ape-face profiles (Winchell 1982). The book, reprinted a few years ago by a white supremacist group, concludes that the Negro race is biologically inferior, and that the Hottentots are biologically close to gorillas. It makes many comparisons between the black races and the lower primates, including facial traits, brain characteristics, and skeletal characteristics. Leaders in racist movements today, such as the longtime leader of the KKK, David Duke, rely heavily on the pre-1960 scientific racist literature (Bergman 2005; Duke 1998).
A booklet by one White Supremist features illustrations from Winchell’s pre-Adamite book on its cover (White 1966). The last example is a tract I obtained at a Klan rally in Bryan, Ohio, shown in fig. 3. On the back it listed the scientific sources for the claims made on the front illustration. Most all of the references were from well-known scientists, such as Harvard professor Earnest Hooton, published in mainline literature before 1950 (White and Cones 1999).
Attempts to weld the Bible with evolution resulted in postulating theories, such as the pre-Adamic creatures that were not decedents of Adam and Eve. Rather, they were part of the animal kingdom, a theory rejected by both the Scriptures and science. This and other theories that attempted to harmonize evolution and the Scriptures negated not only the clear teaching of the Bible but also gave birth to, and perpetuated, a virulent form of scientific racism based on Darwinism that flourished in the mid to late nineteenth century. Understanding this history provided insight into the folly of attempting to conform scientific fads with the clear teaching of not only the scriptures but also 2,000 years of Christian history.
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Yoon, Carol Kaesuk. 2009. Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science. New York, New York: W. W. Norton and Co.
His University of Michigan obituary stated “in his death America lost her greatest geologist of to-day” (Ann Arbor Argus, February 20, 1891).
His biography in the History of Geology stated “Alexander Winchell was a noted geologist, educator, and administrator. As a geologist, he initially made significant contributions to understanding the Cretaceous of Alabama, but his chief work was the paleontological and stratigraphical studies that defined the Michigan Basin and the salt- and petroleum-bearing strata therein, as well as later studies of the Archean rocks of the Lake Superior region.” (https://speakingofgeoscience.org/2013/03/08/the-geological-society-of-america-and-its-founders-alexander-winchell/)
“Alexander Winchell could be considered the father of GSA.” Hennings, Peter. “The Geological Society of America and its Founders—Alexander Winchell.” 8 March 2013.
Winchell (1878) devotes several chapters to Negro inferiority including chapter 16, (244–268) titled “Negro Inferiority” In this chapter he compares negroes to apes, arguing that “the color of the Negro brain is darker than that of the White, and its density and texture are inferior. The convolutions are fewer and more simple.” (250). He stresses “the Negro has contributed nothing to the intellectual resources of man” listing literature, science, philosophy, politics, business, or art. Adding “as the African diverges from the style of a white man, he approximates the lower animals (255) The inferiority of the Negro is fundamentally structural . . . It follows that what the Negro is structurally, at the present time, is the best he has ever been. It follows that he has not descended from Adam (Winchell 1880, 275—276). He describes many traits of Negroes the “same is true of anthropoid apes (Winchell 1878, 447).