September 3, 2021 | Jerry Bergman

Blacks Realize Evolution Is Racist, Thus Few Become Evolutionary Biologists

A recent scientific paper tried to understand the following concern:
“Why are there so few ethnic minorities in evolutionary biology?”

 

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

The paper titled “Why Are There So Few Ethnic Minorities in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology?” was co-authored by a biologist and psychologist at Tulane University along with a psychologist at California State University, San Bernardino. The paper raises “questions about the role of religiosity in preventing underrepresented groups, especially African Americans, from becoming involved in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology.”[1] The concern addressed by O’Brien et al. is this: “African Americans in particular are severely underrepresented in graduate programs and as faculty in departments specializing in ecology and evolutionary biology.”[2] Another study found much the same thing, namely that “evolutionary biologists would argue (and correctly so) that the representation of persons of African descent in our field is probably an order of magnitude lower (0.3%)” than other similar fields.”[3]

Good question. Why does this difference exist? Although “women now outnumber men among Ph.D. recipients and new tenure-track hires… African Americans have extremely low representation” in evolution and related academic areas. They also “found that African Americans were more likely than Whites to have misconceptions about evolution.”[4] This problem was explored in detail by an online survey of college undergraduates majoring in STEM disciplines. The goal of the survey was to explore ethnic differences in experiencing potential challenges effecting inclusion in the field of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB). A total of 2,181 participants, including 360 African Americans, were included in the study. Over half of the participants reported having taken at least one class in evolutionary biology (55.5%). The survey, unfortunately, lumped together two very different fields, ecology and evolutionary biology. This paper focuses only on the evolutionary field.

Does religion impede African Americans from pursuing the field of evolution?

Religious beliefs may serve as a potential source of issues that can affect one’s desire to be involved in the field of evolutionary studies. While the vast majority of Americans believe in God (close to 90 percent), the percentage of scientists who believe in God is very much smaller. According to Gallup polls dating back several decades, close to 87% of Americans believe in God. A Pew poll of all scientists finds that 41 percent do not believe in God or in any higher power.[5] A survey of elite research scientists that are members of the American Association for the Advance of Science (AAAS) found close to 99% are functional atheists. A functional atheist is a person who lives their life as if there is no God (30 Aug 2021). Moreover, vocal religious critics, evolutionary biologists in particular, are often correctly perceived as hostile to religious belief.[6] Well-known examples include Oxford University Professor Emeritus Richard Dawkins and University of Chicago Professor Emeritus Jerry Coyne.

In contrast to scientists, African Americans are significantly more religious than most every other American ethnic group. They also overwhelmingly self-identify as Protestant Christians.[7] Thus, African Americans may be more likely than Whites to experience a major dissatisfaction with their pro-evolution courses and faculty. This perception could well affect their feelings about evolution classes and professors. In effect, African-American undergraduates appear to be more aware than Whites of the foundation of evolutionary theory which is

methodological (and de facto metaphysical) naturalism. Their religious inclinations will therefore be in conflict with the culture within the [evolutionary] community and it will be difficult for them to feel a sense of belonging in that community. The same with their moral objections to evolution, moral objections that are well founded in the African-American experience. The demands of methodological naturalism thus become an impediment to the greater participation of people of color in ecology and evolutionary biology.[8]

Evidence exists that religiosity functions as a challenge to inclusion within evolutionary biology. Religiosity is negatively associated with exposure to evolutionary theory, knowledge about evolution, and acceptance of evolution. In a sample of African-American college students, Bailey found that the more religious the students were, the less knowledge they had about evolution.[9] Moreover, religiosity is also associated with having moral objections to the theory of evolution. Thus, a cultural mismatch exists between the religious beliefs of students, and those of evolutionary faculty who are unable to properly deal with religious differences and moral objections to evolution. This  may create a challenge that leads to a lower sense of belonging in fields of study that are entrenched in evolutionary thinking.

Editor comment: “Religiosity” is a misleading term used by scientists, because everyone has a worldview, and the evolutionary worldview has profound religious implications.

The O’Brien, et al. research found that “African Americans had a significantly lower sense of belonging in evolutionary biology as compared to Whites…. greater religiosity and moral objections to evolution were associated with feeling a lower sense of belonging in evolutionary biology.”[10] It is well-documented that African Americans consistently score higher on surveys of religiosity than the general population, which is not surprising to one familiar with the African-American church tradition. Furthermore, the climate in evolutionary biology

may be particularly foreign or hostile to African Americans relative to other groups…. being religious and having moral objections to evolution were related to having a lower sense of belonging in evolutionary biology. …  cultural mismatches between students and [evolutionary] faculty (e.g., religion) were both related to feelings of belonging.[11]

O’Brien et al. concluded that

cultural differences in religiosity as well as the moral objections to evolution cannot be ignored in efforts to increase URM’s sense of belonging in EEB educational contexts (or other science fields that are rooted in evolution). A large proportion of the U.S. population is religious and disbelieves in evolution. African Americans and Latinos/as are more religious than the U.S. population as a whole and scientists in particular (Pew Research 2009a, b). One method to improve religious students’ feelings of belonging in EEB contexts might be teach EEB faculty to navigate conversations around religion.[12]

A nurse collecting blood for the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (Wiki Commons). HistoryCollection.com. Newsweek—African and American Men Receiving “Special Free Treatment” from Physicians and Nurses. This racist experiment is a blot on the history of science.

Evolutionary Biology’s History of Racism

Some researchers consider another reason why few Blacks become evolutionary biologists: systemic racism. Graves wrote in 2019 that “racism in America as it is manifested in higher education (specifically evolutionary biology) creates a culturally non- inclusive environment that systematically disadvantages persons of non-European descent.”[13] Graves admits that evolutionary

racial theories had been utilized to justify the slaughter of millions of people in both the European and Pacific theaters of the war. What is not as well realized is that these theories had their origin in the West and prominent evolutionary biologists and geneticists contributed to their rise. Worse still was that after the war Nazi race scientists such as Fritz Lenz, Hans Gunther, and Eugen Fischer were “rehabilitated” by their American and English colleagues and continued to support the “scientific” principles of eugenics.[14]

Graves does acknowledge the religiosity reason for non-interest in EEB among blacks as well. He notes that one

explanation proffered for the lack of progress generally goes: “African Americans are not interested in evolution…” Often this is associated with claims concerning ….  greater religiosity …  The greater religiosity of African Americans has been well studied. In a 2014 Pew Center Research Survey, 61% of whites stated that they absolutely believed in God, while 20% stated they were fairly certain in the existence of God. These figures were 83% and 11% for blacks in this same survey. Alternatively, 11% of whites stated that they did not believe in God, versus 3% of blacks.[15]

He added that “for evolutionary scientists the figures for the non-belief in God are higher than for general science professions. Darwin’s agnosticism on the existence of God is a well-known feature of his life. … Jerry Coyne’s position on the incompatibility of evolution and religion is one that I shared earlier in my career. However I have since recanted.”[16] He has now become a believer, but does not describe any details of his belief. Graves admits, as a Black, the

American university has been in the main a tool of white supremacy, from its slave holding origins to the modern research university of the twenty-first century. In the early days of the American university, the relationship between its scholarship and white supremacy was “owned” and unchallenged.[17]

Shedinger ties evolutionary biology in with methodological naturalism. He says that the

reigning philosophy of methodological naturalism will continue to be a force for exclusion [of Blacks and religious people] . And to the extent that that exclusion falls along racialized lines, methodological naturalism can only be understood as a contributing factor in the perpetuation of systemic racism. If this is not a reason to jettison methodological naturalism, I don’t know what is![18]

Two of these factors causing rejection of evolution included (1) a greater tendency toward religiosity and (2) moral objections to evolution. Of interest is Shedinger’s observation:

[If] methodological naturalism truly creates a racialized impediment to the full participation of all interested persons in the field of ecology and evolutionary biology, then methodological naturalism fits the textbook definition of a racist structure. Recall that earlier this summer Scientific American ran an article accusing critics of Darwinism of being motivated by racism. Actually, those involved in the struggle against purely naturalistic understandings of evolution might well be engaging in anti-racist activism![19]

To rectify this situation, the authors O’Brien, et al. provide suggestions on how to overcome religious students’ negative feelings about studying about and belonging in an evolutionary supportive community. One suggestion would be to help evolutionary faculty gain some knowledge about Christianity. Shedinger agrees: “As a religion scholar conversant with the science of evolutionary biology, I would love to be able to lead such an effort. But does anyone really think the biological establishment is ready to embrace such a move? Of course not.”[20]

Editor’s Note: Evolutionary biologists and Big Science journals have been struggling to come clean about Darwinians’ racist past ever since the death of George Floyd launched the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Dr Bergman has been covering this struggle for the past year and a half, drawing on his extensive historical collection of Darwinian racist articles, textbooks and drawings. See his previous articles and illustrations:

Summary

The fact that Blacks are more religious and far more likely to believe in God, are major impediments to their becoming involved in evolutionary studies and programs. The idea that humans evolved from some less-evolved ape does not fit into their worldview, and thus they tend to avoid this field of study. Plus, many of them remember the presentations by many evolutionists from Darwin to the Jim Crow era of blacks being a “less evolved” species of human.

Two pages (this and below) from a Time-Life book The Epic of Man (1961) picturing human evolutionary ancestors as dark-skinned individuals.

 

Note that the more “evolved” human is portrayed with lighter skin, and the apes and Negroes with dark skin. This was in 1961. Biased portrayals like this fed the racism of the Jim Crow era, which is still within the living memory of some African-American families.

References

[1] Shedinger, Robert F., 2021, Is Methodological Naturalism Racist?, Evolution News, 27 August.

[2] O’Brien, Laurie, et al.. 2020, Why are there so few ethnic minorities in ecology and evolutionary biology? Challenges to inclusion and the role of sense of belonging, Social Psychology of Education  23:449–477, p. 449.

[3] Graves, Jr, Joseph L., 2019, African Americans in evolutionary science: Where we have been, and what’s next, Evolution: Education and Outreach 12(1):1-10, Article 18.

[4] O’Brien, et al., 2020, p. 454.

[5] Pew Research Center, 2009, Scientists and Belief.

[6] Coyne, Jerry, 2015, Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible, Viking Press, New York, NY.

[7] Masci, David, et al., 2018, Black Americans are more likely than overall public to be Christian, Protestant. Pew Research, 2018 April 23.

[8] Shedinger, Robert F., 2021.

[9] Bailey, G.L., J. Han, D.C. Wright, and J.L. Graves,  2011, Religiously expressed fatalism and the perceived need for science and scientific process to empower agency, Science in Society 2(3):55–88.

[10] O’Brien, et al., 2020, pp. 463, 464.

[11] O’Brien, et al. , 2020, pp. 468-469.

[12] O’Brien, et al., 2020, p. 471.

[13] Graves, J.L., 2019, p. 2.

[14] Graves, 2019, p. 2.

[15] Graves, 2019, p. 4.

[16] Graves, 2019, p. 5. Data from the Pew Research Center, 2014.

[17] Graves, 2019, p. 5.

[18] Shedinger, 2021.

[19] Shedinger, 2021. Emphasis added.

[20] Shedinger, 2021.


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.

(Visited 360 times, 2 visits today)

Comments

  • R2-U2 says:

    David Coppedge wrote: “Editor’s Note: Evolutionary biologists and Big Science journals have been struggling to come clean about Darwinians’ racist past ever since the death of George Floyd launched the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.”

    The death of George Floyd (May 25, 2020) did not launch the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

    The movement began in July 2013 with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin (17) in February 2012. The movement became nationally recognized for street demonstrations following the 2014 deaths of Michael Brown (18) — resulting in protests in Ferguson, Missouri — and Eric Garner (43) in New York City. Garner had born a horticulturist at the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation before quitting for health reasons.

  • R2-U2 says:

    Typo. Should read:

    Garner had been a horticulturist at the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation before quitting for health reasons.

  • R2-U2 says:

    Another fruitful area of research for Dr. Bergman would be to document the history of racist attitudes and beliefs of biblical creationists.

    For example:

    J. Frank Norris (1877 – 1952) was a Southern Baptist preacher. In the 1920s he attacked the teaching of “that hell-born, Bible-destroying, deity-of-Christ-denying, German rationalism known as evolution” at Baylor University. Norris linked creationism with not only a denunciation of blacks, but also with a denunciation of Catholics by claiming Catholics were in favor of equality for blacks. Although Norris was not an official member of the Ku Klux Klan, he recognized their common goals. As a result, Norris often praised and was supported by the Klan. He said communists, like Catholics, advocated interracial marriage to form a “mongrel race.” In a 1952 speech, he equated civil rights with communism, denounced interracial marriage, condemned the teaching of evolution, and stressed the importance of white supremacy by claiming: “God didn’t make [blacks equal]. It’s hard to go against God’s laws”.

    I have not read anything to prove outright that William Jennings Bryan (1860 – 1925) was a racist. He was not a Klan member, but he did endorse Klansmen in political races. Bryan (with Bob Jones) endorsed Bibb Graves in his election race against Oscar Underwood for presidential electors in Alabama. In return, the Klan promoted Bryan’s lecture-tour “Is the Bible True?” — that helped spawn the anti-evolution movement in the 1920s. Bryan’s tour was promoted prominently on the front page of The American Forum, a Klan paper. At the 1924 Democratic National Convention, Bryan claimed he wanted to end the Klan, but spoke against an amendment to denounce it.

    Evangelist and segregationist Bob Jones, Sr. (1883 – 1968) founded Bob Jones University within months after the Scopes trial. The university was officially creationist, and banned the admission of blacks until 1970. Jones claimed the civil rights movement was “of the devil” and that modernists were trying to eradicate racial boundaries that God had set.

    In 1964, the university awarded an honorary doctorate to Alabama governor and segregationist George Wallace. Bob Jones Jr. read the following citation at the commencement, as a tribute to Wallace:

    “Men who have fought for truth and righteousness have always been slandered, maligned, and misrepresented. The American press in its attacks upon Governor Wallace has demonstrated that it is no longer free, American, or honest. But you, Mr. Governor, have demonstrated not only by the overwhelming victories in the recent elections in your own state of Alabama but also in the showing which you have made in states long dominated by cheap demagogues and selfish radicals that there is still in America love for freedom, hard common sense, and at least some hope for the preservation of our constitutional liberties.”

    The university had banned interracial dating until 2000.

    Read: “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity” (2020) by Robert P. Jones, CEO and Founder of PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.