Readers of the Philadelphia Inquirer rebutted Tony Campolo’s amazingly off-the-mark opinion piece that claimed Darwin and evolution as racist. They did it more briefly and with greater authority than I did (I have deleted e-mail addresses); from today’s paper, Saturday, January 26:
Tony Campolo argues that Charles Darwin supported the kind of racism that would eventually lead to Nazism and, by extension, the Holocaust (“The real danger in Darwin is not evolution, but racism,” Jan. 20). This point cannot be sustained upon closer examination of Darwin’s writings. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin made use of the term race on a number of occasions, but almost exclusively in reference to animals and plants. He did not relate his conclusions about plants and animals to the human world, and he never advocated “the elimination of ‘the negro and Australian peoples,’ ” as Campolo insists.
In Descent of Man, Darwin did not rank “races in terms of what he believed was their nearness and likeness to gorillas,” as Campolo states. In fact, Darwin did the exact opposite, taking apart theories about the origins of humanity that suggested that different races originated from different (and inferior) species. Darwin’s fundamental position was that any differences we have are either overshadowed by our similarities or so mutable that they have little explanatory power.
Jonathan C. Friedman
Holocaust and genocide studies
West Chester University
Science has evolved
Tony Campolo’s rant draws a tenuous connection between what he sees as Charles Darwin’s personal prejudices and Nazism in an effort to make us think twice about teaching Darwin’s scientific principles (Inquirer, Jan. 20). Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Should we not study the Declaration of Independence? The fact is that the science of evolution, with 150 years of substantiated science behind it, has evolved well beyond Darwin. David Messing
Saying Charles Darwin’s “theories are dangerous” (Inquirer, Jan. 20) is like saying Newton’s Laws are dangerous. Darwin’s concepts have been proven by developments in biology, geology, paleontology and other sciences since his time. Fortunately, as Tony Campolo notes, few people currently read Darwin’s works, so we hardly have to feel threatened that “he sounds like a Nazi.” In the last 50 years, we have gone from a society that accepted Jim Crow to one that recognizes it is a diverse, multiracial nation. We have a long way to go to be fully accepting of that diversity, but teaching evolutionary science in the schools is vital and necessary, hardly dangerous. Let’s leave teaching the humanity and equality of all persons to our religious institutions.
Richard S. Greeley