Sunday, February 12, 2017

"Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history"

Alright. Quick reflex answer needed. No deep thinking before responding. Ok?

Answer with a yes or a no.

Do you think that people who are convinced that humans descended/evolved from apes will, by and large, subscribe to ideas that any one human "race" is superior to another?

Or, to put it differently, do you think that people who deny that we descended/evolved from apes might possibly belong to supremacist groups, or might operate with a sense of one human "race" being superior to another?

As I look at the American socio-political landscape, I see among the Republican Party a great overlap between those who deny evolution and those who are also convinced about their white supremacy.

Apparently there is a reason for me to think along those lines.  Darwin’s theory of evolution might have encouraged the abolition of slavery.  How?  First, what did Darwin himself say about where humans came from?
Darwin was so concerned about the heretical nature of his message that he decided to avoid mentioning the most incendiary of all his conclusions: that humans, supposedly created in the image of God, were in fact nothing more than modified great apes. He therefore devoted just 12 timid words to human evolution in the entire 500-page work: “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.”
The man buried the lede, eh!

What's the connection to abolishing slavery?

Darwin, whose birthday is today--and, hence, this second post of the day--published his opus in 1859.  In that era, prior to his publication:
At the time, it was debated whether humans had a single origin or several, with each race being separately created. The multiple-creation school, polygenism, was popular with apologists for slavery. If, as they supposed, the Adam-and-Eve creation produced whites, but other races derived from earlier and inferior acts of creation, then whites were justified in applying a different moral standard to people of nonwhite race, who were not created in God’s image. Polygenists sometimes saw blacks as subhuman intermediates or even as members of a different species, justifying their subjugation and enslavement.     
You can see where this is going.  And you can, therefore, see why those who championed white supremacy in the American South even made a lawsuit out of the teaching of evolution.  (Click here for an older post on this topic.)

So, back to 1859.  Darwin's ideas are heretic.
But if humans had a single origin (monogenism), as Darwin proposed for other species, then all human races were genealogically connected: Blacks were every bit as human as whites — equivalent to distant cousins — and slavery became morally untenable.
Aha, you say!

Of course, even by 1859, there were enough abolitionists, and enough of a momentum to abolish slavery.  Darwin's book might have added that much more to the abolitionists' arguments.
Things haven’t changed much since 1860. A 2014 Gallup poll showed that 42 percent of Americans are young-Earth creationists, while another 31 percent are theistic evolutionists like Gray, accepting some form of human evolution but insisting it was directed by God. And only 19 percent of us — 1 in 5 — adhere to Darwin’s view that humans evolved in a purely naturalistic way with no supernatural help. Slavery, thankfully, is no longer with us
Only 1 in 5 view that humans evolved without a divine intervention.  Only one in five!  Oh My Darwin! ;)


3 comments:

Ramesh said...

Not sure if I understand the relationship in belief of evolution and supremacy of races. Maybe its a particular Christian and American peculiarity.

In India for example, many people would accept evolution, and yet are intensely racist. The Chinese, who of course have become utterly irreligious are equally prone to racism.

Racism , or tribalism, is probably a remnant of our evolutionary instincts. You are affiliated to some group and instinctively believe that it is superior to every other group. I would therefore tend to think that those who believe in evolution might be supremacist rather than those who believe in divine intervention.

Ninja said...

“…ideas that any one human "race" is superior to another?” This is a loaded question because of the word “superior”.

But consider this:

The top 8 fastest men in the world (finalists in the 100 m dash in the Olympics) are all blacks (descended from) West Africa.

Does this imply that (some) blacks are superior to others in sprinting?

The top 5 fastest runners of the marathon race are all blacks from East Africa (Kenya or Ethiopia).

Does this imply that (some) blacks are superior to others in long-distance running?

The top spellers of the English language in the US, based on winning the Scripps Spelling Bee, are all of Indian origin.

Does this imply that Indians are superior to others in spelling?

Suppose you were trying to predict the winner in the following events: Olympic 100 m, Olympic marathon, and the Scipps Spelling Bee in the year 2020. Or 2040. Would you expect the winner to be along the above lines, or would the pattern be altered?

Sriram Khé said...

I suppose I have become way Americanized ... when I blog on such issues, I am not even thinking of other cultures/contexts ... so, yes, this might be a peculiarly Christian/American thing. But then the slavery as was practiced here was also a peculiarly Christian/American thing, right?

Ninja is confusing cause and effects.
-Americans winning the spelling championships is not because of anything special in their genes--it is from the enormous effort they put into it. There are even "minor league" training grounds that Indian-American groups organize for their kids to practice.
Simlarly with football. Even when I landed in the US, there was quite a strong opinion that blacks couldn't be quarterbacks. But, it turned out that they had never been given a chance. And when they were, like with Doug Williams at the Washington/Denver game, well, there went another stereotype through the window. Now, we have plenty of black QBs and nobody thinks twice.
East Africans win long distance running because they have not been provided a whole range of opprtunities to develop and nurture their multiple talents.
Until Kapil Dev came along, the prevailing wisdom was that India could not produce anything more than a medium pace bowler, and that it can only produce spinners.

I can forever provide examples and arguments.

We do a great disservice to everybody when we believe that a certain group is fit only for a certain kind of activities. It is not fact-based. It is wrong. It is racist.

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