Years ago I took my young son to the Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C. He spent 4 hours in the National Museum of Air and Space and I thought it was going to kill me. Dehydrated ice cream in a foil packet was his favorite part. Yum. When we arrived at the National Museum of Natural History, something I was more interested in, he took one look at the exhibit of monkeys and explanation of evolution and declared it a “fake”.
At first, I thought he meant the bones. I doubted they were real too. Surely the actual pre-historic bones and fragments were locked in a humidity-controlled, pressure-sealed vault so that they wouldn’t be damaged by a careless accident.
But, one look at his face and I knew I was wrong. He’d learned in his Christian school that evolution was an elaborate hoax. That reading Harry Potter could endanger your soul. There was no sense in debate. If the Smithsonian museum wasn’t compelling enough...I doubt I could come up with a better, more convincing argument. We walked out and I decided to address this when he was a big older. (I’m proud to say he’s now read every Harry Potter book )
Fast forward to last weekend when I was was visiting the Smithsonian museums again. I was enjoying the experience, reading the informative descriptions and admiring the curated works. Beside me, a man approached a display case, pumped his fist in the air and called out, “You lied, Darwin.”
Here was the problem.
I wasn’t at the National Museum of Natural History, I was at the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
The display didn’t not mention Darwin. I know because I’d just walked past it. I didn’t pay too much attention because the title was something like “…proved the African-American was not inferior to the white race.” It wasn't exactly earth-shaking news to me.
But this man was transfixed by the exhibit and he was very angry at a man who’d been dead for 137 years. So while my husband walked through the rest of the exhibits, mostly on athletes, I snuck off to find out what this stranger had against Darwin.
I have to tell you, I’m disappointed in what I discovered.
First, let’s start with the title of the book as I learned it: The Origin of Species
The original title was: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. That second part was dropped in later editions.
The book taught that natural selection, those better adapted to their environment (stronger, faster, bear more children) will be selected out by nature and have an increased survival rate. That's the part I remember but Darwin also had some specific ideas about race that were never mentioned to me in school. (maybe it's taught now?)
While Darwin felt that slavery was wrong, he did not consider slaves as his equal.
Steven Rose, in “Darwin, race and gender” wrote,
He was also convinced that evolution was progressive, and that the white races—especially the Europeans—were evolutionarily more advanced than the black races, thus establishing race differences and a racial hierarchy.
Phil Moore’s article titled “What Your Biology Teacher Didn’t Tell You About Charles Darwin” is even more distressing.
What’s astonishing is how little they understand that Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution provided the doctrine behind its white supremacism. Whereas the British Empire of the early 19th century had been dominated by Christian reformers such as William Wilberforce, who sold slave badges that proclaimed, “Am I not a man and a brother?”, Darwin’s writings converted an empire with a conscience into an empire with a scientific philosophy. Four years after Darwin published The Origin of Species, James Hunt turned it into a justification for slavery. In his 1863 paper, “On the Negro’s Place in Nature,” he asserted: “Our Bristol and Liverpool merchants, perhaps, helped to benefit the race when they transported some of them to America.”
According to this Moore, Darwin’s work has not only been cited to justify slavery, but by other groups seeking to justify their actions. Hitler, for instance.
After reading everything I could about the subject, I have this to say…
You lied, Darwin.