Scientific American: Denying evolution is white supremacy

August 22, 2021 • 9:30 am

As we’ve seen, the once-respectable journal Scientific American is circling the drain, with an increasing surfeit of articles pushing a particular ideological point of view—a woke one. Well, this article, by writer Allison Hopper, has a bit of science in it, but it’s mixed with politics in such a toxic way that it’s almost funny. It’s full of unsupported assumptions and false claims, is based on no logic at all, and is false in its main claim for two reasons.  Those of you who still subscribe to this rag may want to either write the editor, Laura Helmuth, or cancel your subscription.

Laura had a distinguished career before she took over this journal (she has a Ph.D. from Berkeley in neuroscience and has edited or written for Science, The Washington Post, and Smithsonian). I have no idea why she lets this kind of tripe into her magazine. But she’s less to blame than the author, who doesn’t even have a coherent argument. All Hopper wants to do is show that American creationism has nothing to do with religion, but that white supremacy, not belief in God, is at the core of creationism.

Read and weep: this is a this is a three-hankie article:

Now over the last 12 years I’ve given plenty of evidence that creationism stems from religious belief: belief in the Bible for conservative Jews and Christians, and belief in the Qur’an for Muslims, with both books having their own creation stories. For one thing, I’ve never met a creationist who wasn’t motivated by religion, and all creationist organizations, including the Discovery Institute, are at bottom manifestations of religious belief, regarding evolution as inimical to belief in God. This is so obvious that only someone with a bizarre agenda could deny it.

Well, Hopper does deny it.  She says that the roots of creationism really lie in white supremacy and not religion. Here’s the logical connection that leads her to that conclusion.

a. If two falsities are in the Bible, they can be connected as causal.
b. Two falsities that Hopper deals with are Biblical creationism as limned in Genesis, and the claim that humans started out with white skin and then God, marking the descendants of Cain, made them black.
c.  The supposedly black descendants of Cain have been historically portrayed as bad people, and then as black people, as the “mark” given to those descendants is said to be black skin.
d.  Therefore the Bible evinces white supremacy, since humans, made in God’s image, started out white, but a bad subset of them were turned black.
e.  In reality, human ancestors were black, so even the Bible story is wrong.
f.  The white supremacy story comes from Genesis (4:15), a book that also tells the creation story.
g.   Ergo, creationism stems from white supremacy.

(Note, as I say below, the white supremacy argument is itself based on religion!)

You’ve already noted a number of fallacies in this argument. One is that if two bad things are in the Bible, particularly in the same part of the Bible, they can be connected, and one can assert that one bad part gave rise to the other. Well, there are a number of mass killings in Genesis: beyond the extirpation of humanity by the Flood, there’s also the destruction of the Cities of the Plain, including Sodom and Gomorrah. And of course the Old Testament itself is full of genocide. By this logic, one could say that creationism stems from an impulse to murder. (Indeed, Hopper connects creationism with “lethal effects” on black people!).

The other bit of “evidence” Hopper adduces to draw creationism out of white supremacy is this (I am not making it up):

In fact, the first wave of legal fights against evolution was supported by the Klan in the 1920s.

Well that’s a strong proof, right? No matter that a lot of people who didn’t support the Klan still went after evolution in the 1920s and before.

And that’s all the evidence that Hopper has. She makes no case that creationism comes from a desire of whites to be on top save the occasional depiction of our African ancestors as white people (and, because they’re often men, this shows misogyny as well). But that claim really argues that our view of evolution comes from white supremacy!

Do you think I’m kidding? Here are a few sentences from Hopper’s article:

I want to unmask the lie that evolution denial is about religion and recognize that at its core, it is a form of white supremacy that perpetuates segregation and violence against Black bodies.

. . . At the heart of white evangelical creationism is the mythology of an unbroken white lineage that stretches back to a light-skinned Adam and Eve. In literal interpretations of the Christian Bible, white skin was created in God’s image. Dark skin has a different, more problematic origin. As the biblical story goes, the curse or mark of Cain for killing his brother was a darkening of his descendants’ skin. Historically, many congregations in the U.S. pointed to this story of Cain as evidence that Black skin was created as a punishment.

The fantasy of a continuous line of white descendants segregates white heritage from Black bodies. In the real world, this mythology translates into lethal effects on people who are Black. Fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible are part of the “fake news” epidemic that feeds the racial divide in our country.

One bit of advice for Ms. Hopper: besides the obvious one that you’re wrong about where creationism comes from, PLEASE stop using the term “black bodies” for “black people”. Yes, I know the phrase is au courant, but it dehumanizes black people in the same way that “slaves” dehumanizes “enslaved people.”  You are using racist language. And what, by the way, are the lethal effects of creationism on black people? Is Hopper speaking metaphorically or literally here?

But I digress.

Hopper is right that the Genesis account of the Bible is creationist, and says that Adam was made in God’s image. But does it say what color Adam was? I don’t think so. It’s just assumed that he was white, but on this point Scripture is silent. In fact, we don’t know, though Hopper asserts it confidently, that the earliest human ancestors were black, though humans certainly split from our closest relatives, the bonobos and chimps, in Africa, and evolved black pigmentation at some point. This is because humans probably evolved from chimplike primates (as “naked apes,” we’re outliers), and chimps happen to have white skin. As the Encyclopedia Brittanica says:

Chimpanzees are covered by a coat of brown or black hair, but their faces are bare except for a short white beard. Skin colour is generally white except for the face, hands, and feet, which are black. The faces of younger animals may be pinkish or whitish. Among older males and females, the forehead often becomes bald and the back becomes gray.

Here’s a photo from Forbes, but you can find lots of photos like this.

Old and young chimps from NBC News:

It’s entirely possible that the first members of the hominin lineage after it split from the chimp lineage had light skin, and darker skin evolved later via natural selection. If this is the case, Hopper’s argument falls apart. But it doesn’t matter, because, really, who cares besides evolutionists and anthropologists—and energetic anti-racists like Hopper—about the skin color of the earliest hominins? I’m not claiming that the earliest members of the hominin lineage were white, and I’m certainly not making a case for white supremacy, for our later hominin ancestors were surely much darker. All I’m saying is that these early hominins could have been white or gray. Hopper has no way to be sure, and in that case she has no argument.

It is likely that after several million years, hominins in Africa did evolve dark skin, and that those hominins were the ones that gave us fire, tools, and other rudiments of culture. But I don’t see how that buttresses Hopper’s argument. Even if it did, her big fallacy is not assuming that the first hominins were black, but connecting white supremacy supported by some religionists with creationism, with the former giving rise to the latter.

Why does Hopper make this argument? Because she has a goal:

My hope is that if we make the connection between creationism and racist ideology clearer, we will provide more ammunition to get science into the classroom—and into our culture at large.

Good luck with that!  Because creationism really comes from religion, and accepting evolution would overturn the faith of many Biblical literalists (about 40% of Americans), you’re not going to change their minds by telling them: “Hey! Your creationism is really a manifestation of white supremacy because the story of Adam and Eve is a tale of white supremacy!”

But were Cain’s descendants really black? Hopper assumes that they were, and that’s how many people have interpreted the story, but let’s read what the Good Book says (King James version; Genesis 4:15).

And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

This is a “mark”, not dark skin, and I can’t find any scholar who interprets the Hebrew as meaning “dark skin”. Furthermore, the “mark” placed on Cain was not to identify him and his descendants as miscreants, but to protect them.  Here, from the King James Bible again, are verses 9-16 from Genesis 4:

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.

11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand;

12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.

13 And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.

14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.

15 And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

16 And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.

The “mark” is clearly given by God to protect Cain, so even if it were dark skin, for which there’s no evidence, it means that dark skin marked Cain and his descendants as people protected by God. How does that comport with Hopper’s narrative?

I’ve already gone on too long picking additional in Hopper’s Swiss cheese of a narrative, but I have one more bit of evidence that tells against her risible theory.  And that is this: historically, in the United States black people have been far more creationist than whites. If creationism draws from white supremacy, then haven’t black people heard the news?

Here are some data from a Pew Study in 2015: see bars 4-6 from the top:

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends: an insupportable argument, weakly based on erroneous science, and gracing the pages of what was once America’s premier science magazine. How low the mighty have fallen!

All I want to add in closing is that Hopper is dead wrong in claiming that the roots of creationism are not in religion, but in white supremacy. And, as the supreme irony in her argument, the “white supremacy” argument is rooted in, yes, the Bible! So even her main thesis is wrong. Yes, no matter how you slice it, even Hopper’s way, creationism is an outgrowth of religion.

In case they ditch this article, I’ve archived it here.

51 thoughts on “Scientific American: Denying evolution is white supremacy

    1. Logically, yes – although some interpretations of the Bible suggest that Noah’s son Ham married a descendant of Cain after sodomising his father when he discovered Noah drunk and naked. It’s not enough that the Bible itself is a load of made up nonsense, there’s centuries of equally ridiculous traditions loosely based on it, too.

  1. Connecting non-belief in evolution to white supremacy is missing out on the history. It is like our goofy belief in our revolutionary war and our great victory without naming France as the primary reason for this win. Oh yes, the French played a part. No it would be more honest to say the Americans played a part in the French victory. Religion is separate from evolution and evolution contradicts much of religion. Therefore, the reason for the separation between the belief in the fact of evolution and not is religion. White supremacy is an ignorant belief but hardly attached to evolution.

  2. I thought the biblical explanation for dark skin was the “Curse of Ham” — the banishment of Noah’s son Ham to the African continent, as punishment for whatever manner of sexual deviancy he partook of with a drunken, naked Noah in his father’s tent.

    This was cited as the justification for slavery by hard-shell preachers in the antebellum south and, among Mormons, for the denial of the priesthood to blacks (until a rather convenient “revelation” came to the LDS church president 1978, at about the time there was talk of a challenge to the church’s tax-exempt status under civil-rights laws).

    1. Could it be that simple: Hopper has confused Cain with Ham?

      I can’t let the editor Laura Helmuth off the hook for this article. Although she does have a PhD, Helmuth has been a media professional (not a scientist) for a long time – she earned her neuroscience PhD in 1997, and switched to science writing in 1998. Her last research article was published in 2002.

      I’m not denigrating that: a career in science writing is a good thing, and we need great science writers. But in the media business, it seems to be hard to rise to top positions without a woke stance. Helmuth’s twitter feed is full of equity, inclusion, and diversity. I think she owns this article along with the author Hopper.

      1. According to Wikipedia (I know…) the Mark of Cain and the Curse of Ham are often conflated. Although the Curse of Ham was actually a curse on Ham’s son Canaan. “Confused? You will be!” as a much later soap opera than the biblical one put it…

    2. I think the “Mark of Ham” can easily be interpreted as justifying slavery. The Bible says the descendants of Ham shall be the servants of the descendants of Noah’s other sons. If you are a Southerner in 1850, it is so obvious. Black people are slaves, so they must be the descendants of Ham, and slavery is what God wants for them.

      1. Except that the curse of Ham doesn’t say anything about pigmentation, and at the time of the Bible, most slaves were white. To justify slavery of black people from that story, you’d basically have to make up stuff.

    3. But according to Wikipedia Ham was never cursed, was not sent to Africa, and was not given dark skin. Read the bit in the Bible about the “curse”. It cannot be used, either, to justify Hopper’s argument.

    4. Whatever.

      In the minds of the writers of the Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament, anyhow), Adam was probably the same as them, which means middle eastern in appearance. i.e. not white. In fact, mow I think about it, the Bible was either written by people who were Jews or people whose descendants became the Jews. I’m amazed the white supremacists are prepared to have anything to do with it.

  3. I thought that it was the descendants of Ham that were cursed to be somewhat less than white and delightsome. Or was God just redoing his original curse because he accidentally killed all the slaves in the flood? This high-end theology is SO confusing!

    1. Okay, here’s the bit from the Bible. You tell me where it says anything about pigmentation:

      20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:
      21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
      22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
      23 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.
      24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
      25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
      26 And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
      27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

  4. The disclaimer:
    “This is an opinion and analysis article; the views expressed by the author or authors are not necessarily those of Scientific American.”

    “Scientific” American should provide a little more scientific oversight and stop relying on disclaimers in order to print misguided trash like this.

    1. Yes, her argument borders on incoherence. However, it is true that white supremacists have used (or misinterpreted) bible stories to justify their beliefs. The South used such stories to justify slavery. Creationism served its end. In other words, creationism can be solely religiously based for some, but for others it can serve other purposes. In their defense of southern slavery, slaveholders used what ever arguments they could find. Scientific racism was in vogue during the antebellum period. Before science self-corrected, it was a powerful tool for those who argued that blacks should be enslaved because they are inferior to whites.

      1. I doubt that the creation stories of Genesis were used to justify slavery (certainly not using Hopper’s tortuous logic) as much as stories in the Bible that deem slavery acceptable. And that has nothing to do with my argument in this post.

    2. Her “logic” is actually quite simple: Everything bad is a result of white supremacy; creationism is bad; therefore creationism derives from white supremacy.

  5. I think Hooper has the causal arrow pointing in the wrong direction: white supremacy didn’t lead to creationism; instead, white supremacists scoured scripture seeking support for their biased beliefs.

    One apt example comes from the opinion of the trial judge upholding the Virginia anti-miscegenation statute in the case that eventually reached SCOTUS as Loving v. Virginia:

    Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

    This was in the 1960s United States of America, for cryin’ out loud.

  6. “I want to unmask the lie that evolution denial is about religion[…]”

    And it’s just rude to say “lie” instead of something more like “mistake”. It implies an intention to deceive but doesn’t say who or why.

  7. Scientific American leaves the more important question unanswered: which is more white supremacist, evolution denial, gardening or knitting? [Also, why were so many of the “scientific racists” on the Darwinist side historically?]

    The problem with this article–the fact that it is historical nonsense aside–is that there are more creationists than actual white supremacist, and by equating the two, you are likely to end up with more white supremacists not less creationists.

  8. Allison Hopper is a white filmmaker who has worked at PBS (surprise!), and has a master’s degree in educational design. If Scientific American is trawling this widely for its specialist authors, perhaps it will next commission me to write an article about the Renaissance in Europe, another obvious case of white racism. After all, portrayals of Adam and Eve in Renaissance art invariably show white bodies rather than black bodies, as do portrayals of God, Jesus, and angels. Moreover, the Renaissance led directly to the European invention of technology, such as the carrack ship, the telescope, and the marine chronometer, which in turn facilitated European expeditions to Africa and then the slave trade. QED.

    While we are on this subject, can we assume that Ken Ham is a descendent of the biblical Ham?

  9. My last issue of Scientific American came this week. I don’t trust it anymore, so let my subscription elapse.

    Scientific American itself has taken an anti-evolution, pro-creationist stance via paleo-anthropology. There was a recent article which explicitly claimed to be written on the basis that evolutionary and scientific evidence stands along side Native American creationists myths. In essence, merely different ways of propounding “truths”.

    Also, I know from affluent, educated friends that they take the word “indigenous” literally. So, when they hear that Native Americans are “indigenous”, they take it to me that they are from “here”, North America.

    1. “Also, I know from affluent, educated friends that they take the word “indigenous” literally.”

      The “they” refers to the friends, not Scientific American.

  10. Thank you Jerry. I was feeling blue, facing another day of lockdown, me and the cats. I now have a smile on my face. This article made me laugh, comedy writing doesn’t get any better than this…

  11. Jerry, you’re so right about this. Creationism is about religion. The connection to racism is probably factually incorrect. Here is what I wrote to the editor of Scientific American. You’ll note that to keep it short I didn’t get into the question of whether the connection to racism is true, except tangentially. They are more likely to read and publish short contributions. Here’s mine:

    Dear editor,

    I just read Allison Hopper’s July 5 essay “Denial of Evolution is a Form of White Supremacy” and I note that it is marked as an Opinion piece. I’m glad for that. Ms. Hopper has a right to her opinion. That said, adopting the position that evolution denial is a form of white supremacy is unnecessary and may even be factually incorrect. Creationism is deeply embedded in some sects of American Christianity and, as such, has no place in science classrooms simply based on the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. Tying creationism to white supremacy does not add anything to the already clear case for evolution and can only muddy the waters.

    Thank you for listening.
    —Norman G.

    1. Well, good for you for writing in. I wouldn’t have been able to restrain myself as much as you do. Also, perhaps Ms. Hopper has the right to her opinion, but I don’t see any “right” to publish such misinformed garbage in a popular scientific journal. Even her assertions of fact are either dubious or wrong.

      You might put the address to write to in another comment, as I could find no place to send a peevish plaint.

      1. I’ll create a new comment and provide the address to the editor. I found the e-mail address in the print version of the magazine after looking in vain online. Yes. I still get the print version ever since my mother’s sister bought me a subscription for my tenth birthday in 1967! Sad what the magazine has become.

        Scientific American should not have published this nonsense, but we have to respond to the reality on the ground. For whatever reason, they did publish it. Yes. I was being restrained. 🙂

  12. For those who want to respond to Scientific American, here is the e-mail address to the editor: I found it in the print version of the magazine after looking for it online without success.

  13. Hooper’s article as written isn’t amazing, more of a blogpost, but there are some substantial connections between white supremacy and creationism in history. It’s not an accident that anti-evolution legislation has been primarily been pushed and been successful in the Old South.

    I recommend these book for a deep historical dive into the theology of the North vs. the South in the Civil War:

    Mark A. Noll – America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln
    Mark A. Noll – The Civil War as a Theological Crisis

    Short version: the text of the New Testament basically endorses slavery, or at least accepts it as a fact of life and doesn’t bother advocating against it. E.g. St. Paul actually instructs a slave to return to his master.

    Southerners therefore had a strong textual argument that the Bible supported their side. The Northerners had to argue that slavery was against the larger “spirit” of the Bible. The Southerners said, basically correctly, that this was lefty squishy wishful thinking. Several denominations split into Northern and Southern branches, e.g. that is the origin of the Southern Baptists.

    The North won the war but the (white) Southerners kept their literalist theology, which included anti-Geology and antievolutionism. There is even a great quote from a Southern preacher, James Thornwell, advocating for slavery who takes an aside to go after geology — google these quotes to get various books that cite Thornwell:

    “No Christian man, therefore, can give any countenance to speculations which trace the negro to any other parent than Adam. […he then disclaims scientific polygenism…] They [polygenist speculations] are the offspring of infidelity, a part of the process by which science has been endeavoring to convict Christianity of falsehood; and it is as idle to charge the responsibility of the doctrine about the diversity of species upon us slaveholders, as to load them with the guilt of questioning the geological accuracy of Moses. Both are assaults of infidel science upon the records of our faith, and both have found their warmest advocates among opponents of slavery.” (Thornwell, 1860, Our National Sins)

    Noll: “Thornwell and other proslavery divines believed that slavery held the capacity for benevolence between owner and laborer.”

    1. All well and good, but nothing you say supports the idea that creationism grew out of white supremacy and HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH RELIGION. Even Hopper’s stupid argument starts with religion as its premise.

  14. Not being American, the strange thing for me is the idea that creationism is a modern movement born of American politics, when the ideas of creationism were well and truly mapped out in Europe centuries before. Feels like an erasure of a lot of the non-American history to even try to tell the story in regard to what what supremacists in America supported.

    Suppose this is everything with the woke politics. For the activist left who for decades have preached the dangers of seeing the world through American eyes, they have taken a position that writes an American view into their activism…

    1. Of course! The essence of pop-Leftism, including its current “woke” version, is to take every
      narrow, conventional, conservative trope without examination—provincially American in this case—and simply turn it upside down.

  15. It may be worth mentioning that Ken Ham, among the most prominent proponents of YEC, has been a steadfast enemy of racism for his entire bizarre career.

  16. Jerry you might be interested in this recent paper:

    Jon D. Miller et al, Public acceptance of evolution in the United States, 1985–2020, Public Understanding of Science (2021). DOI: 10.1177/09636625211035919
    Journal information: Public Understanding of Science

  17. BEFORE I read your commentary (to avoid bias) I just read the article itself: what a bunch of hooey. Proponents of creationism have only three agendas/goals: Father, son, holy spirit – and all that madness. Racial bs is just part of the atmosphere for many of them, creationism is all about the Jay-sus!
    This useless article from an ever more useless publication is just trying to promote a trendy issue (White Supremacy – which is apparently all we can think about now even though it is vanishingly rare in the real world).

  18. Plus, there’s nothing in the Bible or in folklore about the mark of Cain being hereditary. Cain had it, because he needed protection; his descendants didn’t.

  19. Many creationist screeds focus on the ‘horrible’ idea that apes and monkeys gave rise to humans. The classic anti-evolution cartoon shows apes and monkeys closely resembling racist caricatures of people of African descent, plodding toward ‘humans’ drawn as Caucasians.

    So here’s an intermediate perspective: Is it possible that racism – specifically, horror at the thought of Africans giving rise to whites – has given the emotional and political fuel to creationism, while Christian Biblical literalism has provided an official justification?

    Remember, the Bible says a lot of stuff, most of which no-one cares about. E.g. from Leviticus, the book that proscribes homosexuality: “You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.” — We haven’t yet seen any GOP bills prohibiting cattle breeding, polycropping, or fabric blends.

    1. So creationists produce caricatures of evolution which posit white people as the peak of evolution, and then deny that ‘evilution’ happened because they are white supremacists?

  20. All good but isn’t this the same article you already very cogently countered in “More mishigas at Scientific American” on July 11th? You demolished it then primarily with a cross-country correlation between belief in God and acceptance of evolution, and also mentioned the point that Muslim countries like Turkey are also very creationist.

    Nothing wrong with taking it on again, of course. Particularly given her claim to “unmask the lie that evolution denial is about religion”. Without that phrase, her article would be a silly and unsupported opinion piece. With it, it is simply wrong and frankly offensive. She deserves any monstering the Internet can provide in response.

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