John Scopes was prosecuted for teaching the theory of evolution. He used a textbook called A Civic Biology, by GW Hunter, which, if you ever seen it, is a rather awful book, and is certainly something we wouldn’t want poisoining our classrooms today. Michael Egnor, as behind the times and obtuse as ever, uses the ugly racism of A Civic Biology to falsely damn evolution. He quotes some nasty bits of the book, such as suggestions to prevent breeding with the feeble-minded and its equation of civilization with white skins, and then concludes with a foolish switcheroo.
The struggle between a ‘benighted’ and an ‘enlightened’ understanding of man continues to this day. The people of Tennessee objected to the lessions taught in A Civic Biology, and they objected to the Darwinist ‘science’ that was the explicit basis for Hunter’s textbook. In rejecting dogmatic Darwinism as an ideology unfit for the education of their children, the people of Tennessee were a bit ahead of their time.
Did you catch that? He cites racist phrases from the book, and then claims that the “people of Tennessee objected to the lessons”, as if the outraged residents of a small Southern town were horrified that their children were being taught the superiority of the white race or that they shouldn’t have children with the feeble-minded.
This is a sneaky lie. The people were not espousing an enlightened understanding of man — the racist parts of the book were not objectionable to them at all, and probably passed them by as hardly worth noticing (unless, of course, you were one of those people judged inferior.) The law Scopes broke was against teaching evolution, not against teaching that clever white people were the best.
These “civics” books that endorsed eugenics were dime-a-dozen. It isn’t that evolution encouraged people to be racists, it’s that people were already outrageously racist, and they readily twisted the science, or the Christianity, to support their prejudices. For instance, here’s another book from roughly the same era, Applied Eugenics, by Paul Popenoe, that is in many ways far worse than A Civic Biology. The long section raging against the inferiority of the Negro race alone will leave you disgusted. It’s also noteworthy because it has a whole section on eugenics and religion, though, and throughout is quite happy to support religion.
For society to sterilize the feeble-minded, the insane, the alcoholic, the born criminals, the epileptic, and then turn them out to shift for themselves, saying, “We have no further concern with you, now that we know you will leave no children behind you,” is unwise. People of this sort should be humanely isolated, so that they will be brought into competition only with their own kind; and they should be kept so segregated, not only until they have passed the reproductive age, but until death brings them relief from their misfortunes. Such a course is, in most cases, the only one worthy of a Christian nation; and it is obvious that if such a course is followed, the sexes can be effectively separated without difficulty, and any sterilization operation will be unnecessary.
In fact, religion is a necessity. It’s essential to our racial welfare.
We have endeavored to point out that as a race rises, and instinct becomes less important in guiding the conduct of its members, religion has often put a restraint on reason, guiding the individual in racially profitable paths. What is to happen when religion gives way? Unbridled selfishness too often takes the reins, and the interests of the species are disregarded. Religion, therefore, appears to be a necessity for the perpetuation of any race. It is essential to racial welfare that the national religion should be of such a character as to appeal to the emotions effectively and yet conciliate the reason.
And who has been helping the eugenicists promote their ideas? Why, the churches!
The churches have been important instruments in this connection, and the worth of their services can hardly be over-estimated, as they tend to bring together young people of similar tastes and, in general, of a superior character. Such organizations as the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor serve the eugenic end in a satisfactory way; it is almost the unanimous opinion of competent observers that matches “made in the church” turn out well.
Did you know that one huge booster of eugenics was … the Young Men’s Christian Association? Hmmm. Evolution has only been around since 1859, but Christianity and racism long preceded it. If we’re going to make a stupid argument by correlation as Egnor has done, maybe we should be making the religious connection.
That would be stupid, too, only slightly less stupid than Egnor’s own argument. America was and is a fundamentally racist nation that denied full citizenship to a significant proportion of its inhabitants on the basis of their skin color, and even now is grossly unequal in the opportunities offered to its people. Racists would cheerfully appropriate any justification for their bigotry: they quoted the Bible as readily as they did their bastardized Darwin.