Darwin, Evolution, and Racism
In the February 12, 2009 debate between Dan Barker and Kyle Butt, one minute and 30 seconds into his rebuttal speech, Kyle pointed out that Adolf Hitler was attempting to breed a superior Arian race of humans. He suggested that this plan fit perfectly with Darwin’s understanding of natural selection, especially in light of Darwin’s subtitle to his major work The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. In short, Kyle suggested that Darwin thought some races of humans were evolutionarily superior to others, and this idea led Hitler to attempt to eliminate those he deemed to be inferior (Butt and Barker, 2009).
In Barker’s five-minute closing arguments, he addressed this idea, and stated: “When Darwin talked about favored races, in those days the word race did not mean human race, like Hitler might have used it. In his day the word race was just a synonym for animal species. He wasn’t talking about favored races like whites over blacks or something.” According to Barker, Darwin did not make a distinction between various human races, but simply between the human race and animal races. Barker’s statement was not backed by any documented definition from Darwin or his contemporaries, and, in truth, is patently false.
Darwin did distinguish between various human races, or “species of men,” and he believed that some were superior to others (1871, p. 395). Although he steered clear of these ideas in The Origin of Species, his second major work on evolutionary theory, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, published in 1871, did address the issue.
Darwin began the first chapter of The Descent of Man with these words: “He who wishes to decide whether man is the modified descendant of some pre-existing form, would probably first enquire whether man varies, however slightly, in bodily structure and in mental faculties; and if so, whether the variations are transmitted to his offspring in accordance with the laws which prevail with the lower animals” (1871, p. 395). Later, in his chapter titled “On the Affinities and Genealogy of Man,” Darwin wrote:
At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla (p. 521, emp. added).
Clearly, Darwin was convinced that the more “civilized races” (e.g., Caucasian) would one day exterminate the more “savage races,” which he considered to be less evolved (and thus more ape-like) than Caucasians. Darwin believed that “the Negro” and “Australian” are more of a sub-species, somewhere between Caucasians and apes. [NOTE: In addition to Darwin’s racist comments in The Descent of Man, he also included sexist statements. His evolutionary views led him to believe that “[t]he chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shown by man’s attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can woman—whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands.... [T]he average of mental power in man must be above that of woman.... [M]an has ultimately become superior to woman” (pp. 873-874).]
One of Darwin’s closest friends and defenders, the prominent, 19th-century English biologist Thomas Huxley, was even more direct in his evolutionary-based racist remarks. In his 1865 essay, “Emancipation—Black and White,” Huxley remarked:
It may be quite true that some negroes are better than some white men; but no rational man, cognisant of the facts, believes that the average Negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man. And, if this be true, it is simply incredible that, when all his disabilities are removed, and our prognathus relative has a fair field and no favour, as well as no oppressor, he will be able to compete successfully with his bigger-brained and smaller jawed rival, in a contest which is to be carried on by thoughts and not by bites. The highest places in the hierarchy of civilisation will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins, though it is by no means necessary that they should be restricted to the lowest (emp. added).
According to “Darwin’s Bulldog,” as Huxley was called, the “negro” is not equal to “the white man.” The alleged smaller-brained, big-jawed “Negro” supposedly cannot compete on the same playing field with the white man. Huxley espoused the false notion that “[t]he highest places in the hierarchy of civilisation will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins” (1865, emp. added). Little did Huxley know that less then 150 years later an African-American would sit in the highest office of the most wealthy and powerful nation on Earth.
The fact is, Darwinian evolution implies that some groups of humans are closer to our alleged ape-like ancestors in their mental faculties than others. Thus, some groups of humans supposedly are superior to others. The Bible teaches exactly the opposite. There are not different species or races of men; there is just one human race—an intelligent people (see Lyons, 2002)—that God created “in His image” in the beginning (Genesis 1-2; see Lyons and Thompson, 2002), both “male and female” (Genesis 1:27, emp. added). All of humanity descended from Adam and Eve, the first couple (1 Corinthians 15:45; Genesis 3:20), and later Noah, through whom the Earth was repopulated after the Flood (Genesis 6-10). Whether we are red, yellow, black, or white, we share equal value as human beings, God’s image-bearers (Genesis 1:26-28; cf. Romans 10:12). What’s more, all men stand on equal footing before God as sinners (Romans 3:10,23) in need of a Savior (John 8:24; Mark 16:15-16).
Barker’s attempt to vindicate Darwin of racist ideas was founded on groundless assertions and is easily disproven. Darwin used the term “race” to distinguish between Caucasians, Negros and Aborigines, exactly as was suggested in Kyle’s statement concerning the implications of Darwin’s evolution. As with many of Barker’s assertion in the debate, we encourage the discerning listener/reader to ask a simple question: Does Barker provide a valid argument or supply documentation for the assertion he is making? The majority of the time, the answer is a resounding, “No.”
Butt, Kyle and Dan Barker (2009), The Butt/Barker Debate: Does the God of the Bible Exist? (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Darwin, Charles (1859 reprint), The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (New York: The Modern Library).
Darwin, Charles (1871 reprint), The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (New York: The Modern Library).
Huxley, Thomas (1865), “Emancipation—Black and White,” [On-line], URL: http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/CE3/B&W.html.
Lyons, Eric (2002), “Ancient Nitwits or Knowledgeable Ancestors?” [On-line], URL: http://apologeticspress.org/articles/1798.
Lyons, Eric and Bert Thompson (2002), “In the ‘Image and Likeness of God [Parts I/II],’” Reason & Revelation, 22:17-23,25-31, March/April.