Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Darwin and Slavery

A common tactic for ceationist is to link Darwin to racism, slavery and hitler. It is a bizarre idea because well, what are we supposed to think? Darwin was a racist, therefore his ideas must necessarily be wrong? How does that work? Or are they saying we should pretend Darwinism is wrong? You know, like they do. It just makes no sense. Virtually all biologists today accep the theory of evolution because of the overwhelming evidence and the opinions of he originator of the theory are irrelevant.

But what makes this tactic so odious is that the links to Christianity are far stronger. This is part two in a series of four posts.

Darwin on Slavery


Darwin was against slavery, as this passage makes clear:

Those who look tenderly at the slave-owner, and with a cold heart at the slave, never seem to put themselves into the position of the latter;--what a cheerless prospect, with not even a hope of change! picture to yourself the chance, ever hanging over you, of your wife and your little children—those objects which nature urges even the slave to call his own—being torn from you and sold like beasts to the first bidder!  And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbours as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his Will be done on earth!  It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty.

 - Voyage of the Beagle 496-98

Indeed, there is a theory that Darwin's desire to promote the theory of evolution was down to his desire to abolish slavery (see here).

To be fair, most creationists accept that Darwin was anti-slavery - the evidence is just overwhelming. Instead, they employ an indirect tactic, via "social Darwinism". Social Darwinism was not proposed by Darwin and is not and has never been a part of the theory of evolution, so how does a fault in social Darwinism impact the theory of evolution?

Well, you would have to be a creationist to explain that one!

The Bible on Slavery

Now let us compare what the Bible says. Leviticus says how Israelites cannot take fellow Israelites as slaves, but everyone else, God is happy for thoem to be slaves.

Lev 25:44 “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

Many Christians like to pretend that actually slavery in those days was a fine and jolly thing, just a way to help poor folk, rather than the brutal slavery of the Southern States. Such fairy tales do not stand up against passages like this, which makes it clear that beating your slave to death is fine as long as he takes a few days to die:

Exodus 21:20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

Slavery as a form of social security can, with some looking the other way, be made to work for enslaved Israelites - they could expect to be freed in a jubilee year (but not his children necesarily). Not so lucky the gentile slaves, with no hope of freedom.

Some try to excuse the Bible's position on slavery as the norm for the time. But think about that. Why was it the norm at that time for God's chosen people to keep slaves? All their laws came supposedly from God; if we believe the Bible, then it was the norm at that time because God made it so!





In the New Testament, St Paul has a thing or two to say about slavery - all supporting it.

Epheians 6:5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.

1 Timothy 6:1 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare[a] of their slaves.

There is nothing in the Bible to directly condemn slavery; it is an institution apparently condoned and supported by God. And slave-owners for centuries used the Bible to  show that slavery was morally right (Google the "Curse of Ham" for how it was rationalised).

So Darwin against slavery, Bible for slavery. Remember that when creationists argue we should abandon evolution because Darwin was a bad person.

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