They say that Intelligent Design proponents suggest that the evolutionary development of life was not the result of natural selection, as Charles Darwin suggested, but was somehow given purposeful direction and, by implication, was guided by God.
Arguing in favour of what they believe is a non-prejudicial science, they contend that children in public schools ought to be taught Darwin’s explanation of how the human race evolved, which they claim is value-free and dependent solely on scientific evidence. Nothing could be further from the truth!
In reality, Darwin’s writings, when actually read, express the prevalent racism of the nineteenth century, and endorse an extreme laissez faire political ideology that legitimates the neglect of the suffering poor by the ruling elite.
Those who argue at school board meetings that Darwin should be taught in public schools seldom have taken the time to read what he had to say. If they even knew the full title of his book, which is On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, they might have gained some inkling of the racism propagated by this controversial theorist.
Then, if they had gone on to read his second book, The Descent of Man, it is likely that they would be shocked to learn that among Darwin’s scientifically based proposals was the elimination of “the negro and Australian peoples,” which he considered to be savage races whose continued survival was hindering the progress of civilisation.
In The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin went so far as to rank races in terms of what he believed was their nearness and likeness to gorillas. He further proposed the extermination of those races which he “scientifically” defined as inferior. To not do so, he claimed, would result in those races, which have much higher birth rates than his designated superior races, exhausting the resources needed for the survival of better people, and eventually dragging down all of civilization.
Darwin even argued against advanced societies wasting time and money on caring for those who are insane, or suffer from birth defects. To him, these unfit members of our species ought not to survive.
In case you think that Darwin sounds like a Nazi, you are not far from the truth. Konrad Lorenz, a biologist who provided much of the propaganda for the Nazi party, made Darwin’s theories the basis for his polemics. The Pulitzer Prize winner, Marilynne Robinson, in her insightful essay on Darwin, points out that the German nationalist writer, Heinrich von Treitschke, and the biologist, Ernst Haeckel, also drew on Darwin’s writings as they helped Hitler develop those racist ideas that led to the Holocaust.
Those creationists who fear Darwin because his theories contradict their literal Biblical belief that creation occurred in six 24-hour days, do not get at the real dangers of Darwinism. They do not realise that an explanation of the development of biological organisms over eons of time really does not pose the great threat to the dignity of our humanity that they suppose. Instead, they, along with the rest of us, should really fear the ethical implications of Darwinism.
I hope that in school our children will be taught that it is up to science to study the processes that gave birth to the human race. But, as postmodern as it may be, I also want them to learn that whatever science discovers about our biological origins, there is, nevertheless, a mystical quality in human beings that makes each of us sacred and of infinite worth.
Personally, I hold to the belief that, regardless of how we got here, we should recognise that there is an infinite qualitative difference between the most highly developed ape and each and every human being. Darwin never recognised this disjuncture. And that is why his theories are dangerous.
Tony Campolo is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University and served as pastoral counsellor to former President Bill Clinton.