The creationist group Answers in Genesis is running an amusing new ad campaign in various conservative magazines, blaming racism on Charles Darwin, whose Origin of Species was published on the eve of the American Civil War, six years after Gobinau’s pseudo-pscientific racialist ur-text An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races.
It is, of course, true that early 20th century racialists seized on Darwinian theory in an attempt to validate their views, and that Darwin himself wrote some distinctly unlovely things on the topic. But (and where AiG is concerned, perhaps it’s otiose to point this out), the argument comes unglued in about a dozen ways. For one, the research they cite to the effect that race is more social construct than biological reality all comes from geneticists themselves working in the evolutionary paradigm. And their alternative, putatively non-evolutionary account of phenotypic differences between groups is itself, in principle, perfectly compatible with the possibility of average differences in, say, intelligence being correlated with the more overt racial traits. In other words, if evolution can be invoked in support of racism, then what they’re proposing is enough like evolution to allow the same move.
Of course, this is all a bit of a sideshow, because how many people, in 2006, actually hold racists beliefs on the basis of their understanding of evolutionary theory? Anyone want to take bets on whether we’ll find more bigotry in the M.I.T. biology faculty than in the pews of a randomly chosen white evangelical church?