21 March 2008

Response to Steve Casey's "Darwin's evolution also supports racism"

Here's my response to Steve Casey's op-ed column in the Shreveport Times ("Darwin's evolution also supports racism," 29 February 2008):
Dear Editors,

I'm responding to the mistaken interpretation of evolutionary biology presented by Steve Casey ("Darwin's evolution also supports racism," 29 February 2008).

Yes -- it's true that some bigots have misunderstood Darwin's theories and the later refinement of these theories.

Yes -- it's true that these misunderstandings were used to support racism, sexism, economic classism, and other types of unjust oppression.

However, we need to keep in mind that this is simply a reflection of a flawed humanity using any available intellectual framework to support injustice and evil in the world.

People have used in the past and still use the Bible and religion to promote injustice.

For example, Exodus 21:20-21 does not condemn slavery but does regulate the severity of whippings. Ephesians 6:5-6 does not condemn slavery but tells slaves to obey their masters.

Because of this lack of scriptural support for abolishing slavery, Christian politicians like Jefferson Davis wrote that slavery was " ... established by decree of Almighty God ... it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation."

The Christian minister Rev. Alexander Campbell wrote "There is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not then, we conclude, immoral."

These examples are not intended to condemn Christianity or the Bible but rather to point out how nearly any collection of ideas (religious or scientific) can be misused to support injustice.

It would be intellectually dishonest to quote evolutionary biologists from the mid to late 1800s or a school biology textbook from 1930 to defend the assertion that evolutionary biology is racist today. To do so would be the same as quoting Christians from the mid-1800s to defend the assertion that Christianity and the Bible are pro-slavery today.

One of the most successful ways to eliminate those things that harm us in the world is through the scientific methods that has brought us evolutionary biology. Through the imperfectly-human but eventually self-correcting methods of science, we know today that the "science" behind Victorian-era racism and sexism quoted by Steve Casey was flawed (I would recommend "The Mismeasure of Man" by Stephen Jay Gould for an excellent introduction to this history of racism and science).

Some religious leaders use the findings of science to change how they read the Bible. This is one way that religion can reject racism, sexism, bigotry, and superstition.

We are seeing this reformation of religion through science happening today in the changing views on homosexuality in Christianity. The current anti-gay doctrines promoted by some Christians today will be rejected in time through the same process that Christianity used to become anti-slavery and anti-racist.

Steve Caldwell
I submitted this as a letter to the editor and it wasn't published. I'm now recycling this as a blog post.