Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Piper and Race

While I don't agree with all he says, I cannot help but respect the preacher John Piper.

In a recent sermon he argues:

"1. Evolutionary theory of human origins encourages racist thinking about human groups.

Evolutionary theory: Humans came from lower life forms.

Why does this tend toward racism? It can cause you to think that other groups of humans can be explained by saying they are less evolved".

However, I've got to disagree with this reasoning.

I quoted Hans Küng, during my review of his Der Anfang aller Dinge a while back, the following:

"Never to forget: Aborigines, Bushmen, Asians, Europeans or Americans – these are not different kinds of humans, they all present one single kind of human, the same family of humans. And even if we are very different in our outward appearances, we probably all have, as molecular genetic analysis shows, one common origin. Under our skin we are all Africans" (184)

Indeed, surely much of the biblical narrative implies sinfulness at a corporate, racial level. Hence nations suffer under judgment for persecuting God's chosen people (cf. Joel 3:2 for example). Of course, for Paul all are sinners, but some may want to suggest that some are more sinners than others - as 'Paul' appears on first reading to do in Titus (Titus 1:13-13). Given Küng's point above, I think evolution may help prevent racism actually. Besides, the summary: "Evolutionary theory: Humans came from lower life forms" perhaps forgets the following: "Biblical narrative: Humans came from the dust". Besides, what's this 'less evolved' business? Evolution says that we are all part of the same family of humans.


At 6/12/2007 2:30 AM, Anonymous Eric Rowe said...

Chris, I don't quite follow your reasoning. Evolution doesn't just declare that all humans are related, it declares that all life on earth is related. This idea doesn't compel humans to embrace their relatedness to one another any more than it compels them to embrace their relatedness to their favorite foods (be those cows, chickens, or spinach). Nor is the idea of some species or races being more highly evolved than others a straw man invented by Piper. The idea of humans being the most advanced and noble species is a common idea among preeminent popular authors of works expounding on evolution, including G. G. Simpson, et al. The idea of some races being more highly evolved than others is a mere corollary of that, and one with a long history of wide popularity going back to Darwin (who happily embraced the racist implications he drew from his own theory), and having left its mark on the planet in such major historic happenings as the eugenics movement, colonization of peoples who were thought to have been not long out of the trees, and the Holocaust.

At 6/12/2007 2:58 AM, Anonymous Pastor Bob Cornwall said...


This piece from Piper is an old canard that dates back to much earlier -- social darwinism -- No respectable evolutionary biologist supports such ideas. And it was, after all, the Bible Belt South that insisted that Blacks were a lower species.

Finally to Eric, the basic premise of evolutionary thought is that all of the human race is homo sapiens sapiens, so we are all related.

At 6/12/2007 5:08 AM, Anonymous Eric Rowe said...

Pastor Bob,
I did not disagree with the the fact that evolutionary theory views that all humans are related. I only pointed out that according to the same principles, we are also related to spinach. According to evolution, our relatedness to spinach only differs from our relatedness to monkeys by matters of degree, just as our relatedness to some members of our own species differs from that to other members by matters of degree. To find in this theory a special significance for the commonality of all humans that doesn't apply to the commonality of a human with a member of any other species is to draw the lines of significance at places that, as far as the science is concerned, are purely arbitrary.

Kung's ideal does not derive from the theory of evolution. It derives from his prior commitment to an ethic that is basically Christian.

As far as the charge of racism being an old canard, the charge exists both because of the history of the impact of evolutionary theory and because of the nature of it. Modern theorists may not talk about which humans they consider more highly evolved because it would be politically incorrect. But they do frequently adhere to notions of some lifeforms being more highly evolved than others, to apply this concept between species makes it logically required within the theory of evolution to apply it also between members of a species.

It is, of course, also an option for some evolutionists to eschew all notions of being more or less advanced as value judgments that have no place in their understandings of scientific discourse. But to eschew the absolute truth of the creators laws and values would hardly be an ethical improvement over social darwinism.

At 6/12/2007 11:08 AM, Anonymous Michael F. Bird said...

Chris, there is a great book called "One Blood" and it narrates how the theory of evolution has been used to justify the liquidation of the indigenous population in Australia. Even narrating "Abbo hunts" as a once acceptable after church activity.

At 6/12/2007 4:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Chris,

Genetically speaking, there is a greater difference between two chimpanzees in the same family group, than there is between any two humans, anywhere in the world. Racial distinctions are irrelevant. Except, of course, in the minds of men. And there's the rub.

While I think Piper's concerns are probably a little bit outdated. Considering human history, his vigilance may be a virtue.


At 6/12/2007 5:39 PM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...


I'd say both evolutionary and strict literal interps of human life are open to racist appropriation: the curse of ham, and the racism of Darwin and the Nazis, for example. Neither frame of reference is excluded from racism a priori, ipso facto.

At 6/12/2007 8:57 PM, Anonymous Jon said...

"This piece from Piper is an old canard that dates back to much earlier -- social darwinism -- No respectable evolutionary biologist supports such ideas." - yeah obviously the man on the street agrees with this statement. Or maybe you're just really clever Pastor Bob Cornwall.

As far as I am concerned, I think John Piper actually makes good here. I don't always agree with him either but as far as I'm concerned he could be right. I think the important thing to realise here is the fact the Piper is talking about grass-roots response to evolution. "Evolution" if you like. The layman's appropriation and misinterpretation of whatever evolution is looks very similar to the type of thought that leads to evolution. That is not to say evolution is wrong but that "evolution" is wrong - now perhaps "This piece from Piper is an old canard that dates back to much earlier -- social darwinism -- No respectable evolutionary biologist supports such ideas." or some other such intellectual superior view but the fact of the matter is, the average believer in evolution is not a respectable evolutionary biologist and mutatis mutandis not every evolutionary biologist is a racist. So I suspect there is a grain of truth in what he says.

You see it's not about what happened - it's about how people perceive what happened.

At 6/12/2007 9:20 PM, Anonymous Dan Morehead said...

I agree with your post.

At 6/12/2007 10:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Racial distinctions should not be minimized. There are definitely some genetic mutations discovered in the last ten years related to brain size and other mysterious stuff present in some races and not in others. None of this is as crude as just skin color, but nevertheless correlates with different breeding groups which historically were rather fixed in neolithic times.

Medicine has had to come to grips with the fact that many heart and stroke medications don't work on African Americans and thus special medications have been designed to function for their racial makeup. This of course doesn't mean that anyone evolved beyond anyone. It just shows that there may be some significant genetic differences between the races. Not of a species order just mutations, variety. We can still talk and interbreed of course.

The real excitement would have been 200,000-1 million years ago years ago. Then the situation theologically may have been far more complex. With many hominids, related but impossible to breed with and others capable of breeding with but brutish in their differences from sapiens sapiens.

Anyway the "race is a social construct" is on its way out of the natural sciences. The humanities should reconsider embracing it.

At 6/13/2007 3:50 AM, Anonymous Looney said...

As I see it, you have to choose between one of four propositions:

1) All men are created equal.
2) All men evolved unequal.
3) All men evolved equal.
4) All men are created unequal.

Traditional Christianity is 1), traditional Darwinism is 2), post-modernism is 3) and some crazies embrace 4).

At 6/13/2007 10:20 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thank you all for your comments!

JB, I think you hit the nail on the head.

At 6/13/2007 6:47 PM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

Piper should stop stuffing his pipe with the wrong stuff.

1) Scientists of all religions or none, utilize the theory of evolution today. Has the world grown more "racist" as a result?

2) Some of the most long lasting bastions of racisms were in the American South, and in South Africa, home to "fundamentalistic" varieties of Christianity.

3) Racism existed centuries before Darwin, among creationists. Even in Darwin's day, creationist scientists advocated racist views concerning the differences among mankind. And the aboriginies began being wiped out in Tasmania and elsewhere before Darwin's Origin was ever published.

4) Nations can fall into any number of dirty ditches, swaying too far right or left. For instance...

A collapse of theological liberalism occurred in Weimar Germany after the devastation of World War I. Defeated Germans abandoned the liberal-democratic religious center for a wild assortment of religious and political groups as they searched for a more authentic spiritual experience and a more judgmental God.

So far, says Lilla, the most disturbing manifestations of the American turn—the belief in miracles, the rejection of basic science, the demonization of popular culture—have occurred in culture, not politics. But Americans are right to be vigilant about the intrusion of such impulses into the public square, because “if there is anything . . . John Adams understood, it is that you cannot sustain liberal democracy without cultivating liberal habits of mind among religious believers.”

The above is from the Summer 2005 Wilson Quarterly, which discusses the article “Church Meets State” by Mark Lilla, in The New York Times Book Review (May 15, 2005) [QUOTE] [T]he Founding Fathers and other Anglo-American thinkers saw religion as an important support that would help form new citizens by teaching self-reliance and good moral conduct. But they “shared the same hope as the French lumières: that the centuries-old struggle between church and state could be brought to an end, and along with it the fanaticism, superstition, and obscurantism into which Christian culture had sunk.” The Founding Fathers gambled that the guarantee of liberty would encourage the religious sects’ attachment to liberal democracy and “liberalize them doctrinally,” fostering a “more sober and rational” outlook. The idea, says Lilla, was to “shift the focus of Christianity from a faith-based reality to a reality-based faith.” These hopes don’t appear to very close to reality today. Christianity appears to be more faith-based than ever before. Many of the biggest cultural issues of Christianity today have little to do with reality — consider the loudest voices on evolution, stem-cell research, and Terri Schiavo, for example. [END QUOTE]

5) I could also go into research today concerning human ethics and morality that does not propose any animal is a mere "beasts;" animals do NOT act "beastly" all the time, but rather that there is a profound recognition of the power of friendship and even reconciliation in the primate world. And of course, human beings of all faiths or none, are able to live together in relative peace in enormous cities today. Quite an achievement. Marc Hauser of Harvard has also demonstrated the near universal aggreement concerning answers he rec'd to questions concerning moral dilemmas, regardless of one's religious beliefs or lack thereof.

Edward T. Babinski

At 6/13/2007 7:08 PM, Anonymous Looney said...

Edward wrote: "2) Some of the most long lasting bastions of racisms were in the American South, and in South Africa, home to "fundamentalistic" varieties of Christianity."

Having grown up in the US south, I can tell you first hand that the most racist people were the "unchurched". Fundamentalist churches are passionate about missions and it is quite a trick to teach racism simultaneously with a notion of God's love for the same race. Perhaps you have never met a fundamentalist?

At 6/13/2007 8:34 PM, Anonymous J. Clark said...

It is popular culture that says that the South U.S. was a "long lasting bastion" of evil racism and no where else exhibited such evil. But there's always an Eskimo trying to tell the Amazon how to deal with the sun. I think history will tell us that most races have had a preference for their own and have created many spectacular theologies and political rhetoric(s) for propagation. "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Diamond is an excellent intro into why certain societies advance and others don't. I hope the title gives a hint.
Racism has nothing to do, directly, with science or religion but with the hearts of men and women. Racism exists in everyone if given the chance. Read a little history of Africa to see how the "lighter" black people have set themselves against the "darker" black people. Or the "light" Brahmins of India have oppressed the black Dravidians (dalits) of the same region. And I'm sure we could find some "darker" skinned oppressing the lighter such as my Irish ancestors felt when they came to the shores of America with their fiery red hair to go along with their temper. Those dark-light skinned people of Germany wouldn't leave us alone.

Mr. B, those are nice characterizations of us nonreality based Christians of America. Its sure is good to know that scientist know what morals are.

At 6/13/2007 10:29 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

I agree with j.b.'s comment ("both evolutionary and strict literal interps of human life are open to racist appropriation").

Ten years ago, a professor at the University of Western Ontario (Canada), argued that Asians are the most highly evolved humans, Caucasians are next, and blacks are on the lowest rung of the evolutionary ladder:

What I've found is that in brain size, intelligence, temperament, sexual behavior, fertility, growth rate, life span, crime, and family stability, Orientals, as a group, consistently fall at one end of the spectrum, Blacks fall at the other end, and Whites fall in between. … That the same three-way racial pattern occurs repeatedly on some 60 different biological and behavioral variables is profoundly interesting and shows that race is more than "just skin deep."

The scientific and academic communities came out all guns ablazing against Rushton, but he certainly fits within Piper's paradigm.

At 6/13/2007 11:40 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thank you all for these helpful responses. I suspect that evolution is used by conservative Christians to embody all that is evil, and Christianity and faith by others. Both are wrong, of course.

At 6/14/2007 7:40 PM, Anonymous Looney said...

Edward, there are racists all over this planet. I lived a few years in Asia and know first hand that racism today among non-Christians is worse than anything you described.

Jesus is not a racist.

At 6/14/2007 8:09 PM, Anonymous J. Clark said...

I know and sat under Clayton Sullivan at the University of Southern Mississippi. He is not impressive except he can quote the Jesus seminar like nobody's business. He got kicked out of those racist churches because he did not believe in Jesus Christ but in Rudolph Bultmann. As today, none of Bultmann's miracles have been proven and therefore he is not deserving of the "son of a man" title and "new heir to god of theology" and his disciple are rather "fundamentaly" like him which puts many men's hearts to sleep.
If there is one thing the SBC is guilty of it is providing a climate of theology in which someone like Clayton can grow. (oh, yeah, and for harboring racism) So if the U.S. has racist should we leave and not believe in democracy anymore?

I don't know why any Christian would claim the thing you think you are attacking(that good Christian men did not play any part in slavery). It seems a straw man for my buddy or anyone else. But at the same time, the thing you attack about Christian fundamentalism is from an equally perverted force of "I am against all things Evangelical Christian especially in the southern U.S. and some how have elevated humanism to the same kind of authority I had been opposing." In other words, you are arguing the same case for humanism. Humanism is funny; they say, "Look at us we have morals without God, see you don't need him, and amazingly, we have the same morals as Jesus without even consulting God." "There are no transcendental morals, now, don't question us what we say is true for everyone."

Can you answer me this: What historical movie has actually been completely and absolutely faithful to the actual event?(besides Braveheart of course, I believe that happened just as it was filmed no matter what the so called scholars say) This is absurdity. Even in writing history there is no so such certain to the actual events. Man can only know compartments of history.

Most people were theist during the American slave years therefore most people who were against slavery were theist. Big shock.

What the hell are atheist doing about all the slavery today and what hymns have they written about how people can be forgiven of such sin and be utterly transformed from the inside out? In the meantime those sloppy joe Christians will go on laying their lives down while the humanist convince themselves of how moral there are. "See, Clive, you are a fine chap without invoking such archaic superstitions such as worshipping Christos as if he were a god, now everyone bow to the my clay statue of John Dewey and pay your tithes, oh and Charlie get the whores....yes, Frank, it is good we humanist/atheist have never been racist."


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