The science of racism and its consequences
Dr Colin Groves (the skeptic, 18:4 p.11)
And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:
And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told
his two brethren without.
And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their
shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father;
and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness.
And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done
And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his
And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his
God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and
Canaan shall be his servant. (Genesis 9:20-27).
The curse of the Children of Ham
Creationists have been very vocal in ascribing the spread, even the very genesis, of racism to evolution (see, for example, Henry Morris's 1974 book, The Troubled Waters of Evolution, as quoted by Richard Trott ). The facts are entirely otherwise. Racism was alive and kicking long, long, before the Darwinian revolution; and almost invariably it was the curse laid on the children of Ham (above) that was cited in justification. Morris himself, in his 1991 book, The Beginning of the World, has stated:
The descendants of Ham were marked especially for secular service to
mankind... These include all nations which are neither Semitic nor
Japhetic. Thus, all of the earth's "colored" races - yellow, red, brown and
black - essentially the Afro-Asian group of peoples, including the
American Indians - are possibly Hamitic in origin. (Quoted in Trott, 1998).
Morris goes on to explain that the Hamites were indeed the earliest
cultivators, builders, clothing makers, physicians and surgeons,
mathematicians, traders and businessmen, and inventors of writing, but:
...the prophecy again has its obverse side. Somehow they have only gone
so far and no farther. The Japhethites and Semites have, sooner or later,
taken over their territories, and their inventions, and then developed them
and utilised them for their own enlargement. Often the Hamites, especially
the negroes, have become actual personal servants or even slaves to the
others. Possessed of a genetic character concerned mainly with mundane
matters, they have eventually been displaced by the intellectual and
philosophical acumen of the Japhethites and the religious zeal of the
Semites ... Neither negroes nor any other Hamitic peoples were intended to
be forcibly subjugated on the basis of this Noahic declaration. The
prophecy would be inevitably fulfilled because of the innate natures of the
three genetic stocks, not by virtue of any artificial constraints imposed
by man. (Quoted in Trott, 1998).
Richard Trott (1998) reports that he tackled Henry Morris in person about this, and Morris denied that his statements were racist, because there are "black Jews" and "black Indians" who are not Hamitic, moreover there are whites who are Hamitic. This, as Trott points out, contradicts the statement, in Morris book, that all the "`coloured" races - "red, yellow, brown and black" - are "possibly Hamitic". Lippard (1998) likewise shows that some other prominent American creationists have racist affiliations: the Ku Klux Klan, Defender magazine, Holocaust revisionism and so on.
All this has a long and unedifying history. The Rev John Bachman and Dr S A Cartwright, writing somewhat before the American Civil War, had used the same Biblical argument in defence of slavery. The African is "an inferior variety of our own species ... incapable of self-government ... looks to us for protection and support", wrote Bachman (cited in Gould, 1981:70). Slaves who tried to run away suffered from a disease called Drapetomania, wrote Cartwright: they have to be "treated like children, to prevent and cure them from running away" (cited in Gould, 1981:71).
In the same way, the Aboriginal people of Australia were the children of Ham, "the progeny of him who was cursed to be "a servant of servants to his brethren"' (Rev William Walker, to the Wesleyan Missionary Society, in 1821; quoted in Reece, 1974:74).
But are they human at all?
But there was another school of thought as well. The foundation of modern "scientific" racism was Gobineau's (1853-5) Essay on the Inequality of Human Races. Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882) was a one-time diplomat who held that humanity is divided into three races, white, yellow and black. He considered that his reasoning established that the black race had an "animal character, that appears in the shape of the pelvis"; has a crude yet powerful energy; and dull mental faculties but has an "intensity of desire". The yellow race has little physical energy; feeble desires; mediocrity; a respect for order; and "does not dream or theorise". The whites have an energetic intelligence, perseverance, instinct for order, love of liberty, and sense of honour; they can be cruel, but when they are "they are conscious of their cruelty; it is very, doubtful whether such a consciousness exists in the negro".
Gobineau was, naturally enough for Europeans of his day, a Biblical literalist; and he remained so all his life, seeing in Darwinism a negation of his view that races always had been and always would be as they now are; but he rejected the "children of Ham" idea. In his Essay, he seriously discussed whether all three races were, really and truly, all descended from Adam and Eve; he himself was inclined to think that they were not, though he admitted that the fertility of their hybrids was an argument the other way. Adam, he opined, was almost certainly the ancestor only of the white race:
... there is nothing to show that, in the view of the first compilers of the Adamite genealogies, those outside the white race were counted as part of the species at all.
Gobineau admitted that each of the three races has particular abilities, but those of the white race, especially in its purest form, the Aryan, are pre-eminent: they include all important virtues such as conquering the others and founding civilisations. "A nation", he wrote,
does not derive value from its position [ie its environment]; it never has and never will. On the contrary it is the race which has always given - and always will give - to the land its moral, economic and political value... The purer a race keeps its blood, the less will its social foundations be liable to attack; for the general way of thought will remain the same.
This way of thinking, even its expression, survived well into the present century: "A people that fails to preserve the purity of its racial blood", wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf, "thereby destroys the unity of the soul of the nation in all its manifestations"; while for Juan Peron race is "something spiritual ... our personal soul, indefinable and irrefutable".
Let us not think that polygenism, the idea that only whites are descended from Adam and Eve, died with Gobineau's intellectual heirs. In an American racist newspaper, The Thunderbolt, published in Savanna, Georgia, we have an article by "a noted investigator on the negro brain", William P Pickett. We are informed that "no white person has ever mated with an ape and produced conception", whereas "sexual couplings of negro women with apes have resulted in pregnancy". The author cited a Professor Charles Carroll, at the time working on book entitled In the Image of God, in which he would show "that the negro and anthropoid ape are derived from the same genus. He holds that only the Whiteman [sic] is made to the image and likeness of God". The conclusion is that:
Negroes are a form of animal and its is against the will of God and nature to mate with such creatures. It is specifically forbidden in the Holy Bible. Cain was punished by God for mating with a negress. (Nothing loath, the same newspaper in an unattributed article on p.10, uses an evolutionary argument: the negro is "still in the ape stage ... actually a higher form of gorilla". "They are retarded, actually 200,000 years behind the white race". They suffer from sickle-cell trait, "an hereditary [sic] racial characteristic of negroes, and is found in no other race" - this half-truth elicits not compassion from the writer, but a demand that blood should be labelled by the donor's race, because "negroes have diseased blood").
The Aborigines of Australia: children of Ham, or a different species?
In Australia the problem was not one of finding a Biblical rationalisation for keeping slaves in subjugation, but one for destroying an inconvenient native population. Tasmanian settlers, for example, expressed the view that, as the Aborigines had not obeyed God's injunction to "be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it", they should be exterminated (The Rev T. Atkins in 1869, quoted by Ryan, 1996:97). The Sydney Herald in 1838 used a version of this argument (which became the infamous terra nullius argument which was not overturned until the Mabo judgement):
The British people found a portion of the globe in a state of waste - they
took possession of it; and they had a perfect right to do so; under the
Divine authority, by which man was commanded to go forth and people and
till the land (quoted in Reece, 1974: 172).
The Presbyterian minister J D Lang in 1856 was likewise reported as
having told a public meeting that -
God in making the earth never intended it should be occupied by men so
incapable of appreciating its resources as the Aborigines of Australia. The
white man had indeed, only carried out the intentions of the Creator in
coming and settling down in the territory of the natives. God's first
command to man was "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth". Now
that the Aborigines had not done, and therefore it was no fault in taking
the land of which they were previously the possessors. (Quoted in Day,
1996: 109- 110).
The Rev William Walker's views, expressed in 1821, that Aborigines were the cursed children of Ham, were quoted above. Other missionaries, from William Henry in 1799 through at least into the 1840s, regarded the Aborigines as "deplorable", "addicted to drunkenness and idleness and vice", and "far below the brute creation". Such attitudes played into the hands of the squatters, such as "Anti-Hypocrite", a correspondent to The Sydney Herald in 1838:
... these hordes of Aboriginal cannibals, to whom the veriest reptile that
crawls the earth holds out matter for emulation, and who are far, very far,
below the meanest brute in rationality, and every feeling pertaining
thereto (cited in Reece, 1974:93).
The settlers were, meantime, doing more than taking the Aborigines' land away. Lt W H Breton, RN, in 1833, advised that one had to make a strong impression on them:
... for if only one or two be killed, the sole effect is to instigate them
to revenge their companions... (quoted in Reece, 1974:81).
Nor were they ever justified in retaliating, for the courts were run on Christian principles, like those to which the settlers subscribed. Ryan (1981:90) recounts how in 1826 two Tasmanian Aboriginal men, thought to be responsible for the spearing of three Europeans, were brought before Chief Justice John Lewes Pedder, who appointed counsel and an interpreter for them; but, because they could not take an oath on the Bible, they were unable to give evidence, found guilty, and duly hanged. In 1838, seven white men were hanged for the massacre of at least 28 Aboriginal men, women and children at Myall Creek, NSW, the very first time whites had been brought to justice for such a crime. When they were brought to trial, for one of the murders, the colony's newspapers were outraged. The Sydney Herald accused the Government of failing to protect colonists, and urged its readers, that if "ferocious savages" were to threaten their property or their lives, they should "SHOOT THEM DEAD" (quoted in Reece, 1974: 148, capitals original). The jury took fifteen minutes to find them not guilty; one of the jury later stated that he knew that they were guilty, but he would never see a white man hanged for killing a black one:
I look on the blacks as a set of monkies [sic], and the earlier they are exterminated from the face of the earth the better. (Quoted in Reece, 1974:
But for once Christian justice was replaced by a different kind of Christian justice. The Attorney General, J H Plunkett, re-indicted the seven whites for another of the murders, and this time the jury, overruling a last-ditch stand by its foreman, found them guilty. The colonial paper The Monitor reported a conversation between a Town Gentleman and a Country Gentleman shortly after this, in which the Country Gentleman showed that they had learned from this affair: "We are going on a safer game now... we are poisoning the Blacks; which is much safer; and serve them right too" (quoted in Reece, 1974:49). Meanwhile the threatened indictment of four other white men depended on locating a young Aboriginal man and putting him into the witness box, a prospect which outraged The Sydney Herald.
We trust that, should any such witness be pushed into the witness box,
that the Counsel for the defence will probe his competency to the quick,
and not permit the possibility of four men's lives being frittered away
upon the statements ... of a young black savage, possessing no more idea of
ultimate responsibility ... than a baboon (cited in Reece, 1974: 160).
The young man, Davey, could not be found, nor could any of the accused be persuaded to turn Queen's evidence, and the trial of the four was aborted. The massacres continued. In 1841, G J McDonald, Commissioner for New England, led troops in search of those responsible for a theft on a cattle station. In the evening they came across a large party of Aborigines near Grafton; they surrounded them during the night, and next morning rushed them and opened fire, killing an unknown number of men, women and children. This was called "dispersing" Aborigines, and was common practice at the time. In 1846, John Lort Stokes, successor to Fitzroy as Captain of HMS Beagle wrote that the colonists had:
started with an erroneous theory, which they found to tally with their interests, and to relieve them from the burden of benevolence and charity. That the Aborigines were not men, but brutes, was their avowed opinion; and what cruelties flowed from such a doctrine (quoted in Reynolds, 1995:74).
Polygenism in Australia, too, then. - Stokes, in the course of his voyages around both the Australian mainland and Tasmania, had taken the trouble to get to know some Aboriginal people personally, and the fact that he had once been speared did not affect his opinion that actions of the colonists, some of which he had himself witnessed, were atrocious in the extreme.
Christianising the Aborigines
Even the apparently well-meaning George Augustus Robinson "was convinced that the Aborigines would only respond to Christianity when they had been stripped of their land and their culture" (Ryan, 1996:152). The Lord Bishop of Adelaide, in evidence to a Select Committee on Aborigines 1860, went even further:
It is necessary for their salvation to Christianize them if we can ... I would rather they died as Christians than drag out a miserable existence as heathens. I believe the race will disappear either way. (Cited by Stone, 1974:75).
Of course, if the Aborigines were really human, descended from Adam and Eve, then like all of humanity they had originally known and worshipped the true God and lived in a state of "comparative civilization"; and to the degree that a people had lost its knowledge of God, so it had sunk into savagery. The way to improve a people intellectually, and raise them once again to a civilised state, was to Christianise them. Modern creationists have uttered similar sentiments. Thus John Mackay:
The current status of the races, which varies from stone age to space age, from animal worship and spirit worship to Christianity, is not a result of innocent ignorant people searching for improvement. It is a direct consequence of whether the ancestors of any race worshipped the living God or deliberately rejected Him. There is no such thing as a primitive race evolving upwards...
While non-Christian peoples
are not primitives in need of education and technical aid so that they can understand the Gospel, but spiritual degenerates in need of the gospel of the Creator Christ so they can appreciate education and the relevance of technology. (Mackay, 1984:11,12)
Which brings us to other non-white peoples
J D Lang, the Presbyterian minister whose views on Aborigines were quoted above, in 1857 went on record as being opposed to Chinese women being allowed to join the men on the goldfields:
We don't want the flat faces, the pug noses, the yellow complexions, the small feet, and the long tails multiplied a thousand-fold amongst us, as they would very soon be if the Chinese ladies came to us as well ... A few years of unlimited Chinese immigration ... would swamp the whole European population of these colonies. (Quoted in Day, 1996:148-149).
Present-day racist organisations in Australia, as briefly described by Lyndall Crisp (1989), include:
Action, led by Jim Saleam, convicted several times for violent activities, not to mention
for insurance fraud;
Australian Nationalist Movement, formerly, led by Jack Van Tongeren,
now in prison for bombing a Chinese restaurant;
Australian League of Rights, which agrees with the aims of NA and the
ANM, but claims not to hold with violence: "We're trying to face it in a constructive Christian context";
Logos Foundation, a fundamentalist Christian organisation;
organisations like Greypower have been infiltrated by racist organisations; and the founder of Women Who Want to be Women, Jacki Butler, is as opposed to Asian immigration as she is to abortion (Crisp, 1989).
evolutionists can be racists, too
All that happened as a consequence of the Darwinian revolution was that non-white races became, instead of the children of Ham or different species altogether, more primitive than whites [read, less completely human]. Gould (1981) described this process in some detail, and I won't go over it here, except to point out that, as the "yellow race" or Mongoloids became more and more economically visible their status rose as well, even above (well, slightly above) the whites. And so it is in the most recent manifestation of pseudoscientific racism. This is the work of J P Rushton, a Canadian psychologist, who has propounded the Differential K Theory, which "directly links gamete production with brain size and both to a constellation of other life-history attributes" (Rushton, 1988:1018). K and r are terms from evolutionary ecology, standing for Carrying Capacity and Reproductive Rate respectively: a species whose reproductive rate is low and whose population is fairly constant, inferentially related to the carrying capacity of its environment, is said to be K-selected, while one with a high reproductive rate is said to be r-selected. The chimpanzee, who may have about five zygotes in her entire lifetime, and the sturgeon, who produces 20 million, illustrate these extremes. On the whole, K-selected organisms have longer childhoods, and are more intelligent.
Rushton divides humanity into three races, Negroid, Caucasoid and Mongoloid, and arranges them along the r-K spectrum in that order. Negroids, he says, are more fertile, mature more rapidly, have a looser social organisation, are more aggressive, more impulsive, more sexually active, smaller-brained and less intelligent; Mongoloids are just the opposite, and Caucasoids are in between though nearer to Mongoloids.
Several authors have examined Rushton's model, and I make no apology for relying on my own critique here (Groves, 1990). Briefly, I raised the following points:
1. The term "race".
Anthropologists have argued for nearly 250 years over how many races there are, or if race is a meaningful category at all. Rushton declares that there are three races, full stop. He never considers Saharan people, Somalis, Bushmen, Pygmies, Andamanese, Central Asians, Southeast Asians, New Guineans, Aboriginal Australians, Pacific Islanders, Ainu, American Indians or numerous other peoples who fall uneasily, if at all, into the three-major-race categorisation; indeed his sample of Negroids, Caucasoids and Mongoloids is, with some exceptions, restricted to their representation in North America, hence Americans of West African, European and Chinese origin respectively. Any differences within races, he says, do not count, because this "obfuscates hierarchical order", which is tantamount to admitting that the only way he can get his results is to lump the data until he has got the answer he wants.
2. The concept of intelligence.
Psychologists have argued for most of the 20th century over whether "intelligence" is a unitary concept, and if so whether IQ measures it adequately, and if so whether it has a predominantly genetic basis. Rushton takes all three steps for granted, and cites studies that find the IQ correlates with head size. So they do, but the highest correlation in any study is 0.30. If one thinks that those correlated variables have a cause-and-effect relationship, we can calculate a Coefficient of Determination, which is the square of the correlation coefficient, and in this case would be 0.09 - so a maximum of 9 percent of the variation in IQ would be explicable by the variation in head size.
3. Brain size.
Rushton says that Mongoloids have bigger brains, on average, than Caucasoids, who have much bigger brains than Negroids. Brain size is most conveniently measured as cranial capacity: that is, the volume inside the skull. You pour sand, or birdseed, or lead shot, into the braincase, then pour it out into a measuring cylinder. (The resulting volume is a slight overestimate, as about 50cc is accounted for by cerebrospinal fluid). A rough average capacity for a human skull would be about 1400cc. Rushton takes two different anthropologists' sets of figures and comes up with the following mean capacities: Mongoloid 1448, Caucasoid 1408, Negroid 1334. He ignores the sexual size difference (men exceed women of the same population by some 100- 150cc), and the very large differences within these gross categories (which of course he claims does not count). Earlier anthropologists were fascinated by brain size differences, and have left us a vast corpus of data; assuming for the sake of argument that their measurements are always comparable, we find that, yes, most Negroid populations' capacities are on the low side, and most Mongoloid populations' are on the high side, but there are vast exceptions. Restricting ourselves to just males, one of the largest mean capacities of any population measured is 1570cc, for the Xhosa (viva Mandela!); one of the smallest, 1359cc, for the Tyroleans (sorry, Adolf).
4. Maturation rate.
There are studies, cited by Rushton, that have found that Negroid babies start walking at 11 months on average; Caucasoids, at 12 months; Mongoloids, at 13 months. There are studies that find that Negroids become sexually mature earlier, that they have a shorter gestation, and that they have more twins. There are also studies, not cited by him, that show that gestation lengths vary with age, marital status, socioeconomic status and health, and that age of sexual maturity and twinning rates vary enormously between populations within a single race.
Rushton found some statements that confirmed his belief in different reproductive rates: that Mongoloid tribes and nationalities are more sexually restrained than Caucasoids, while Negroids are less so, and ignored others from the same sources (especially Ford & Beach, 1951) that pointed in just the opposite direction (the Ashanti of Ghana, for example, are said to have a sexually "restrictive" society, while the Inuit are "permissive"). He also says that Negroid men have larger penises, but does not say what this has to do with reproductive rate and fertility.
6. Social organisation.
In America, as Rushton says, more blacks ("Negroids") per head of population are in mental institutions, abuse drugs, and get arrested for both violent and white-collar crime; and fewer Orientals ("Mongoloids"). Rushton did not investigate the degree to which this might itself be a result of racism, via both poverty and the attitudes of police and the courts. Other authors did, and found that socioeconomic circumstances had a great deal to do with it: once education, earnings, purchasing power and domestic crowding are taken into account, black/white differences vanish altogether. As elsewhere, Rushton is entirely unaware of the world outside North America: Australian figures show that African immigrants have a noticeably low crime rate.
7. r and K.
Ecologists have argued for over thirty years whether the r-K distinction is really valid. It is perhaps valuable, if one realises that it is an oversimplification. But when all is said and done, it is a concept of evolutionary ecology. Rushton's use of the concept entirely misses the ecological connection: for him it concerns entirely "progress"; K-selected means "more evolved", for are not humans the most K-selected of all mammals? Hence, Mongoloids (with Caucasoids not far behind) are "more evolved" than Negroids. Actually, it is a model of density-dependant natural selection. The idea is that in an unpredictable environment there will be bad times, with episodes of mass mortality, and reproductive rates will need to be high so that the population can take advantage of the good times and "bounce back" quickly (r); in a stable environment a population will conserve its resources by breeding slowly, and a high proportion of those born will survive (K). That's all - no inference of "more" or "less" evolved.
In Rushton's claims, like those of any pseudoscientist, we find correct statements jumbled up with half-truths and total inaccuracies, and without detailed analysis we'd never be able tell which is which; once a pseudoscientist gets the bit between his teeth everything is interpreted in a single-minded (and simple-minded) fashion and what doesn't fit gets swept away out of sight. Now there may be a genetic basis to differences in maturation rates, or fertility, between people, even between whole populations; there may even be a genetic basis to mental differences. But one cannot find out whether there is or not by using flimsy arguments, and one cannot pile one flimsy argument on another and then claim that one has discovered a universal truth. The shocking, appalling history of racism shows what that type of thinking led to, and still leads to.
"As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies being extended to men of all nations and races."
Charles Darwin, 1872, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (2nd.ed., 1901:187-8).
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Day, David. 1996. Claiming a Continent: A history of Australia Sydney:
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Lippard, J. 1998. Creationism and Racism. The TalkOrigins Archive
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Pickett, W.P. 1968. Scientific evidence: negro is related to apes - not
white people. The Thunderbolt, Issue no.101, May, 1968:5.
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Reynolds, Henry. 1995. Fate of a Free People. Ringwood, : Penguin .
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Trott, R. 1998. Is the ICR's Henry Morris racist? TalkOrigins Archive