June 9, 2020 | Jerry Bergman

Evolution is the Fuel Behind Racism


A Brief History of Darwin-Inspired Racial Prejudice

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

The riots that have plagued the world during the last few weeks were, in my experience, the worst I have seen in my lifetime. Even those that occurred after Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered were not as violent. I was born and reared in Detroit and remember the race riots, fires and looting on 12th Street, not far from where I spent nine years at Wayne State University for my Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degrees. One description follows:

Scorching images from across the country fill our screens, a reminder that the racial past remains an unhealed burn in America’s present. …. It is getting very close to home. Some have called racism America’s historical “original sin.” Where did many white people of the past get the wicked idea that their lives matter more than black lives? The question is complex but, without doubt, Darwinian theory helped to fuel our present racial fire.[1]

The close connection between racism and evolution will not surprise historians of evolution. The reason is, because the main proof of human evolution for a century after Darwin published his book that changed the world was the ‘evidence’ from ‘inferior races.’ One of the best examples are the many drawings of various races which were ranked from the highest most-evolved humans, to the lowest, the less-evolved humans. The least-evolved humans shown were very similar to the highest-evolved apes. As Klinghoffer writes, Charles Darwin conceived the idea of evolution which

posits a racial hierarchy. That’s not surprising, since the theory sees all of life as a vast smudge, graduating from the simplest to the most complex animal life. In any hierarchy, someone has to be at the bottom. As Darwin stated explicitly in The Descent of Man, that place was occupied by Africans. For generations, American public school children learned from their biology textbooks the pseudoscience that Caucasians are more “advanced” on the evolutionary ladder than Africans. Yet this was the scientific consensus of its day.[2]

Eugenics turned out to be one of the worst blights on humanity that eventually lead to the Nazi holocaust which, in turn, resulted in the murder of over 12 million lives.


Figure 1. Illustrations in Chapman[13] Using Race Hierarchies to Prove Human Evolution. Number 13, the Papuan is the lowest human race, the Hottentot is number 14; both are close to the Gorilla (number 12). Note that the Gorilla and the Hottentot are almost identical. A Negro is number 16 and a European, the highest race, is number 24. The Gorilla profile was greatly distorted to look human and the Papuan and Hottentot greatly distorted to look like apes. This distortion is called “artistic license.” Below is the caption to the illustrations.

1. Baboon Guinea
2. Pig-faced Baboon Cape Land
3. Macaque Sumatra
4. Semnopitecus Java
5. Nasalis Borneo
6. Gibbon India
7. Orang, young (female) Borneo
8. Orang old Guinea
9. Chimpanzee, young (female) Guinea
10. Chimpanzee, old Guinea
11. Gorilla, young (female) Guinea
12. Gorilla, old Guinea
13. Papuan (female) Van Diemen’s Land
14. Hottentot Cape Land
15. Caffre Zulu Coast
16. Negro Soudan
17. Australian Victoria Land
18. Malay (female) Polynesia
19. Mongolian (male) Thibet
20. Arctic (female) Kamtchatka
21. American (male) Mississippi
22. Drave India
23. Nubain Kordofan
24. European Greece

Very Low in the Human Scale

As Klinghoffer writes, the harm of this racist past has resulted in many evils including

Dehumanizing Africans and others is not only part of America’s, but of evolutionary biology’s terrible burden. Near the turn of the last century, in New York City, St. Louis, Seattle, and elsewhere, Africans and other native people were put on exhibit in zoos, as animals. Human Zoos recounts, among other heart-breaking stories, the life of African pygmy Ota Benga (1883-1916). He was bought in a slave auction and displayed in 1906 alongside an orangutan in the Monkey House at the Bronx Zoo. The organizers intended this as a lesson for the public, illustrating the scientific truths of Darwinian theory. African-American clergy at the time spoke out against the insult to their dignity, only to be dismissed by the New York Times, which explained that “the pygmies … are very low in [on] the human scale.” [14]

Present-day racists and others continue to draw on Darwinian racial theory. Protesters called for racial justice, remembering George Floyd and his death at the hand of four Minneapolis policemen, two of which were themselves persons of color. But how many remember the horrific injustice that occurred, in the name of science, just a few miles away? Namely, African American Ota Benga’s protest — “I am a man! I am a man!” — summarizes the very best message of the struggle for human rights today.[15]


Figure 2. Notice how the ape-man, so-called missing link, is drawn very negroid in appearance, more so than even the distorted drawing of a chimp, which was drawn in profile to show the similarity. From the Illustrated London News, 14 February 1925, p. 5. This drawing is by the very talented French artist, Amédée Forestier.

Evolution of Homo erectus Racial Attitudes

In the 1920s, only Piltdown Man, Java and Peking Man, and some Neanderthal bones existed as evidence of human evolution from some ape-like creature, and these were very human, not at all ape-like. Then, when more fossils were uncovered, Peking Man was found to be “very similar to [the] Pithecanthropus erectus fossil that Eugene Dubois had found in Java.”[3]

Furthermore, “anthropologists had only the work of Dutch anatomist Eugene Dubois on which to base theories of the presence of early man in Asia,” the location then widely thought to be the evolutionary origin of mankind, according to Darwin’s writings.[4] In short, only Java-Peking Man and Piltdown Man existed, plus a large collection of very human Neanderthal bones.[5] Piltdown was proven to be a fraud only in 1953.  Peking Man and Java Man are now both classified as Homo erectus, regarded as a putative primitive race of humans, but not evidence of a significant  progression of evolution from monkeys.

Thus, at best, Java Man, Peking Man and Neanderthal Man, were all clearly humans but judged as inferior variations. As they were then the only evidence for evolution, they all were pictured in illustrations as Negroes. It was only in the 1960s that other fossils were discovered which were regarded as non-humans evolving into humans, namely the australopithecines, by the Leakeys. Their July 1959 find was first called Zinjanthropus boisei, now called Australopithecus boisei. For this reason, the best evidence then for evolution until the 1960s was the living “inferior” races, and evolutionists exploited this evidence to the hilt. An example is the book used in the Scopes Monkey Trial. At issue in the trial were certain chapters on evolution and eugenics in a biology text by George W. Hunter titled A Civic Biology that was mandated by the state of Tennessee and many other states.[6]

Impact of Evolutionary Racism on the Scopes Trial

For nearly a decade, Hunter’s book was the most widely used high school science textbook in the nation. The textbook was endorsed by many distinguished professors, including those at elite Universities including Brown and Columbia.[7] Tennessee parents and teachers had no problem with the bulk of the text, which covered Earth’s plants and animals, but were concerned mostly about its teaching of human evolution. Then, in March of 1925, the Tennessee legislature passed a law that made it illegal in public schools “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”[8]

A major concern of attorney William Jennings Bryan was the racism and degradation of humans by evolution and the influence of evolution on racism. From the many drawings, a few of which are reprinted here, the racist images are obvious. They bothered a man such as Bryan, who believed that all men descended from Adam and Eve, thus all are equal. The Hunter text illustrated Bryan’s concern because it was “laced with the racism of the day.”[9] Its discussions of eugenics included such scarlet passages as the following openly racist claim that claimed currently “there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other … the highest type of all, the Caucasians, [is] represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.[10]

Hunter also wrote that, as we can improve domesticated animals by breeding, likewise the  “future generations of men and women on the earth” can also “be improved by applying to them the laws of selection.” This process is called eugenics. Hunter stressed that eugenics is no small concern because nothing less than the “improvement of the future race” was at stake.[11] Hunter, under the subheading “Eugenics,” then made it clear what type of “improvement” programs he was referring to:

When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis … and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.[12]

Another example is Rhodesian Man (Homo rhodesiensis) the species name proposed by Arthur Smith Woodward.

Figure 3: The skull named Rhodesian Man was discovered in 1921 and claimed to be a missing link of our less-evolved evolutionary ancestors. Public domain.

Note how the artist gave the figures prominent  eyebrow ridges, the projecting upper lip, the large eye-sockets. The squatting figure is crushing seeds with a stone, and a rock used for crushing is lying on the rock to his right. The figure in the foreground is holding a staff. On the left, behind the sitting figure, is the entrance to their cave. This Rhodesian Man cave dweller was, when this picture was drawn, regarded as an extinct intermediate between Neanderthal Man and Modern Man.[16]

Figure 4. Peking Man discovered in China. Notice the attempt to tailor this image to the stereotypical Oriental. Also note the main difference between most modern men and the supposed missing link is the prominent prognathous jaw. From Wikimedia Commons.

A Forgotten Legacy? No Longer.

The 2020 demonstrations in our nation have been a lesson on how science intersects with culture. The documentary Human Zoos: America’s Forgotten History of Scientific Racism, directed by Discovery Institute Vice President John West, is a good summary of this history. The 19th- and 20th-century racists might have instructed us to “Listen to the scientists.” In the multiple award-winning Human Zoos, Dr. West unearths the story. Many listened to the scientists and some of the problems we see today have resulted.  Human Zoos reminds us that this history must not be forgotten. What is going in our country can’t be grasped without understanding this history. So far close to a million viewers saw it on YouTube.


[1] Klinghoffer, David. 2020. Human Zoos — How “Science” Fueled the Racial Fire,  June 1. https://evolutionnews.org/2020/06/human-zoos-how-science-fueled-the-racial-fire/

[2] Klinghoffer, 2020.

[3] Reader, John. 1981. Missing Links: The Hunt for Earliest Man. Chapter 4: Peking Man, p. 114. Boston, MA: Little Brown & Company.

[4] Janus, Christopher, with Brashler, William. 1975. The Search for Peking Man. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishers, p. 20.

[5] Hood, Dora. 1964. Davidson Black: A Biography. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, pp. 29, 35.

[6]  Hunter, George. 1914. A Civic Biology. New York, NY: American Book Company.

[7]  Larson, Edward John. 1997. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. New York, NY: Basic Books.

[8] Ginger, Ray. 1958. Six Days or Forever?:  Tennessee versus John Thomas Scopes. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, p. 3.

[9] Larson, 1997, p. 23.

[10] Hunter, 1914, p. 196

[11] Hunter, 1914, p. 261.

[12] Hunter, 1914, p. 261.

[13] Chapman, Henry. 1873. Evolution of Life. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott. The illustrations are in the appendix. From 1877 to 1880 Chapman  was demonstrator of physiology at the Jefferson Medical College, and 1879–1880 was curator of the museum. In 1878 the college awarded him his second degree in medicine for a thesis on the “Persistence of Forces in Biology.”

[14] Klinghoffer, 2020.

[15] Klinghoffer, 2020.

[16] Woodward, Arthur Smith. 1921. A New Cave Man from Rhodesia, South Africa. Nature. 2716(108): 371-372, November 17.

Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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