The NBA, Darwinism, and ‘Favored Races’

At a college basketball game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Arizona Wildcats, ex-NBA star Bill Walton presented his fellow commentators with gifts. He gave sportscaster Dave Pasch a copy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species “with a note that he wanted to make sure Pasch believed in evolution.” Pasch’s reply was simple and direct: “I don’t.”

I would have asked Walton had he read any of Darwin’s works and those of other evolutionists who followed the logic of his system.

I would have then asked Walton if he knew the full title of Darwin’s book, which is On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. This brings me to the NBA where “African-Americans comprised 76.3 percent of all NBA players” and “eighty-one percent of players were players of color,” of what might be considered “less favorable races.”

Going further, I would want to know from Walton if he knew some of the racial theories that were supported by Darwinists, from Thomas Huxley to Ernst Haeckel.

Racial theories existed before and after Darwin, but it was Darwinism that made the some of the theories “scientific.”

Now for some examples that make an ex-NBA player giving a copy of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species as a gift to anyone so that they might embrace its theories highly inappropriate.

In the 1925 “Scope’s Trial,” the defendant, John Scopes taught from “an approved school text called A Civic Biology by George Hunter.”1

The book is not so much a scientific defense of Darwinism as a rehearsal of “Darwinism’s social implications. In particular, chapter seventeen discusses the application to human society of “the laws of selection” and approves the eugenic policies and scientific racism common in the United States at the time.” (Scopes, a substitute teacher planted by the ACLU to test Tennessee’s anti-evolution law, was teaching his students from chapter seventeen.)

In his A Civic Biology, “Hunter believed that it would be criminal to hand down ‘handicaps’ to the next generation and regarded families with a history of tuberculosis, epilepsy and feeblemindedness as ‘parasitic on society.’ The remedy, according to Hunter, is to prevent breeding.”2 Here’s how Hunter put it:

“If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race.”3

Evolution validated the eugenics movement by giving it scientific legitimacy. The same was true about entrenched ideas concerning race.4 “Hunter believed that the most evolved of the ‘races of man’ is that of ‘the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America,’ which is ‘the highest type of all.’”5

The Origin of species

Where did Hunter get his ideas? From Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Darwin’s supporters claim that his use of “races” was meant to describe subspecies of animals. To a certain degree, this evaluation is true. But what did Darwin mean by “subspecies”? What if Darwin thought of evolving non-whites as “subspecies” of animals? In his evolutionary sequel, The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote:

“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes . . . will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.”6

Darwin believed that the various races were at different evolutionary levels, all distant from the apes, with Blacks at the bottom and Caucasians at the top. Thomas H. Huxley, an ardent defender of Darwin who garnered the nickname “Darwin’s Bulldog,” believed that “No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man.”

Huxley described whites as “bigger-brained and smaller-jawed.”7

As Raymond F. Surburg observed, “Professor Hofstadter has made a special study of the influence of Darwin on American thought. In his book, Social Darwinism in American Thought, he has shown that Darwinism was one of the chief sources of racism and of belligerent ideology which characterized the last half of the 19th century in Europe and America. . .” (Raymond F. Surburg, “The Influence of Darwinism,” Darwin, Evolution, and Creation, ed. Paul A. Zimmerman (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1959), 198.)).

Surburg continues by declaring that

“The theory of evolution became the philosophy of life for militant atheism in the 20th century. Few people realize that Hitler, in bringing about World War II, merely put into practice what he believed was human evolution. Darwin and Nietzsche were the two philosophers studied by the National Socialists in working out the philosophy set for in Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In this work Hitler asserted that men rose from animals by fighting. It was the contention of the Fuehrer that this struggle, wherein one being feeds on another and the blood of the weaker is the life of the stronger, has continued from time immemorable and must continue until the most highly advanced branch of humanity dominates the whole earth.8

Racism has been with man since the dawn of sin. We cannot claim, therefore, that evolution gave rise to racism.9 Evolution only made the practice respectable because it justified racial attitudes and practices on the basis of “science.”

Darwin’s defenders don’t like to talk about Darwinism’s dirty little secret. “Darwin’s racial and sexual views permeated his discussion of the origin of species and especially of the descent of man. His contemporaries were shocked by the notion that human beings had evolved from primates. Now many people are shocked by his racism.”10

Richard Weikart, Professor of History at California State University, Stanislaus, in an interview in the online edition of The Stanford Review, points out that Darwinism influenced a number of 20th century ideologies:

“Though Nazi ideology derived from many sources, most of them having nothing to do with Darwinism, Darwinism was a central, guiding principle of Nazi ideology. Hitler believed in a human struggle for existence, especially between the races that would result in the triumph of the ‘superior’ individuals and races and the extinction of the ‘inferior’ ones. He viewed his pronatalist policies, compulsory sterilization and compulsory abortion for ‘inferior’ individuals, killing the disabled, expansionist warfare, and extermination of ‘inferior’ races as measures to promote biological evolution. Many of Hitler’s ideas about how Darwinism applied to races and society derived from leading Darwinists in early twentieth-century Germany, such as Ernst Haeckel, Alfred Ploetz, Fritz Lenz, Eugen Fischer, and others.”11

It seems to me that Bill Walton gave the wrong gift to Dave Pasch.

  1. Philip J. Sampson, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity & Civilization (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 54. []
  2. Sampson, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity, 54-55. []
  3. George W. Hunter, A Civic Biology (New York: American Book, 1914), 263. Quoted in Sampson, 6 Modern Myths, 55. []
  4. Racism is the belief that one race is superior to another. Racism is not the same as “bigotry” or “prejudice,” although it can include them. []
  5. Sampson, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity, 55. []
  6. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 2nd ed. (New York: A. L. Burt Co., 1874), 178. Quoted in Henry M. Morris, The Long War Against God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), 60. Richard Weikart writes: “In his published writings, especially in The Descent of Man, Darwin made claims about the origins of morality, the origins of religion, social developments, the need for laissez-faire economics, and the extinction of lower races.” []
  7. Thomas H. Huxley, Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews (New York: Appleton, 1871), 20. Quoted in Morris, The Long War Against God, 60. []
  8. Raymond F. Surburg, “The Influence of Darwinism,” in Darwin, Evolution, and Creation, ed. Paul A. Zimmerman (St. Louis, MO: Concordia 1959), 196. []
  9. Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought, rev. ed. (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, [1944, 1955] 1967), 171–72. []
  10. Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob, Telling the Truth About History (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1994), 184. []
  11. “The Impact of Darwinism,” The Stanford Review  Online Edition, Vol. XL, Issue 7 (April 22, 2008). []
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