The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Charles Darwin - Slave Master

I’ll get back to the regularly scheduled plane crash coverage shortly, but I heard something today that just blew my mind due to its sheer inanity. I am not upset by what I heard – it’s so silly that it would be hard to get upset – just awed at the sheer weirdness of it, and interested in the psychological and social processes that are probably behind it.

If you spend time listening to what the various public creationism advocates have to say (and yes, I actually do listen to them – I don’t reject their claims out of hand, I reject them because I have yet to hear one that actually holds water), you get accustomed to hearing them claim that every form of social ill can be placed at the feet of what they label as “Darwinism” (what the rest of us call “acceptance of reality”). These often end up as an argument that has come to be known as the reductio ad hitlerium – claiming that acceptance of evolution led to Nazism*. However, sometimes they are more subtle – the Discovery Institute is very good at making false anti-evolution claims that are subtle and clever enough to appear plausible if you don't bother to look too closely.

Anyway, I heard one today that was so bizarre that I was left just staring and thinking “where the hell did this person come up with THAT?” That was before I burst into laughter.

I was listening to a podcast of a call-in radio show. The topic had to do with religion, politics, and morality, but did not directly involve evolution/creationism. One fellow called in from Sacramento and stated that the Bible held no teachings that would be repugnant to a reasonable person. When one of the guests asked the caller about the bible’s acceptance of slavery (after all, it was written in the ancient Middle East, where slavery was very common and important to the economy of many city-states), the caller stated:

“The Bible doesn’t teach slavery. Slavery came from Charles Darwin, who claimed that all Africans were negroids and only fit to be slaves.”

I have heard people try to attribute slavery to the acceptance of evolution before, but usually in a less direct way. This guy was really in a bizarre class all his own, and I rather suspect that he’d be booed off-stage even at a creationist convention.

Okay, first off, Charles Darwin was opposed to slavery.

Second, Charles Darwin was a naturalist, not a world leader. How would he have instituted Slavery, even if he had wanted to? His ideas were hotly debated for some time after he published, so it’s not as if politicians immediately began jumping on the bandwagon

Third, slavery has been around since before recorded history. Racial slavery dates to at least the 16th century, when slave ships brought Africans to the Americas. Darwin was born in AD 1809. Origin of Species was published in 1859, at the final bow of U.S. slavery and well after it had been outlawed in England. So, what is the caller proposing? Time travel?

Fourth, there is no fourth! Look upon my fourth, oh mortal, and despair....wait a minute, I think I was channeling Ozymandius there for a moment...sorry about that.

And, of course, slavery is discussed in the Bible, sometimes with approval (provided that owners followed certain rules) and sometimes only as a fact of life in the ancient Middle East, but it is discussed nonetheless - proving that this guy not only knows nothing about history, but hasn’t even read the book he’d called to defend. Racially-based slavery as we now think of it is somewhat different from slavery in the ancient Middle East and much more recent, but it still predates ol’ Charlie by a few centuries.

And, again, as I know someone will think I’m upset, I’m not. But sometimes you just get struck by how bizarre some people’s beliefs can get, especially when they are trying to justify a claim at odds with reality such as “evolution leads to evil”. It’s actually rather fascinating.

*It is true that the Nazis did rely on a misunderstanding (possibly intentional) of evolution in some of their pro-Aryan propaganda. However, it is also true that they appealed to the religious views of much of the German population (which was largely anti-semitic) as well as the general non-scientific and non-religious patriotic attitudes of many Germans. So, if you’re going to lay blame for the Holocaust on evolution, any well-informed person will also have to give at least equal blame to patriotism and religion.

Or you could just accept reality and see it as the very deadly culmination of several centuries of German history, beginning with pogroms in the Medieval period. Ultimately, the origins of the anti-semitic sentiments lay before the origins of modern science, and whatever their initial impetus (religious or provincialism/tribalism), had very much taken on a life of their own by the 1930’s (often adopting the veneer of piety or research in order to justify pre-existing beliefs), and were exacerbated by conditions at the end of WWI and the nature of German government and society in the 1920’s. If you want a good discussion of how the extreme conditions of the post-WWI era led to the rise of radical political movements, including but not limited to the Nazis, go here.


Evan Davis said...

You should hear my theory on creation. It whoops anything those Christian "think tanks" dribble out.

I actually like the idea of slavery in the context of indentured servitude. There are some folks that just cannot manage their own lives and get into trouble. It might motivate get them back on the right track. The problem (and the reason it doesn't work) is those entrusted with the servants too often abuse their position. The idea is not so bad though.

Kay said...

I see a "first off" and then a "Second," and then.... "Fourth"

The auditor in me reached for my highlighter.

Kay said...

Evan, I think there is a big, no wait a HUGE, diff between slavery and indentured servitude.


Anthroslug said...

Evan: Kay has a point there. Besides, people who can't get their lives in order needing direction is Amway's job.

As to your theory about the development of life, does it involve muffins? If it involves muffins, then you ARE way ahead of everyone else.

I loves me some muffins.

You'll have to forgive me, I'm having a strange interlude.

Chris said...

From what I've read lately, you ARE a muffin of one type or another... You won't hear the last of this one for a LONG time.

Anthroslug said...

You're just jealous that I am a stud muffin, and you are merely a stud biscuit. Ryan, on the other hand, is only a semi-studly cracker, so things could be worse.

Chris said...

Ha! I actually pity your stud muffin-like status, as my stud level far surpasses mere pastoral pastries and triscuits. I think you're being far too generous to Ryan to even give him cracker status.

Anthroslug said...

Chris: It is the holiday season, we should be generous to Ryan, even if he doesn't deserve it.