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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Darwin's Plantation: Evolution's Racist Roots by Ken Ham and A. Charles Ware

Ken Ham is a lightning rod of a figure for outspoken atheists, especially for those who use evolutionary biology as the basis for their beliefs about religion. The internet is full of attacks and counterattacks on this topic. Ken Ham gets a lot of attention from people who have really not read his work. Whether you disagree with a person or not, it makes no difference to me, but at least be somewhat familiar with the person's work before you attack it.

Darwin's Plantation: Evolution's Racist Roots, in particular, has attracted some attention, mostly because of its provocative title. So, let me start this review with a general rundown about Ham's theses.

Ken Ham's point in the book is this (made in this quote by a quite famous evolutionary scientist):

"Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1859, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory." - Stephen Jay Gould (Ontogeny and Phylogeny - 1977)(p. 15)

That's what Ham is saying.

At no point does he remotely excuse the "Christian" excuses for racism that were common in the 18th and 19th centuries.

At no point does he claim that Darwin invented racism.

Ken Ham
Ham correctly notes that scientists used any number of ways to measure human racial groupings and rank them (head size, brain weight, etc.) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hitler used those biological arguments to justify his genocides against the Jews, gypsies and everyone else he hated.

In my master's program that I completed two summers ago I saw similar research done to explain low achievement rates by African-Americans in school. Seriously. I think it's junk but it's out there.

Even the co-discoverer of DNA, Dr. James Watson weighs in with a bit of old-fashioned scientific racism: "There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capicities of peoples geographically seperated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so." (October 2007) (p. 55) Search it - I typed in his name and got lots of articles about it.

Science-based racism does exist because of this old line: "Figures don't lie but liars figure." Science generates lots of facts and figures and they can be twisted to say just about anything.

Does that mean all scientists are racists? Certainly not! Ham never claims it.

So, why only the three stars?

Ken Ham and his co-author A. Charles Ware wrote the book in turns - each wrote different chapters. I give the part that Ham wrote 4 stars. It was interesting and I found it to be quite well-written - a lively style with numerous quotes.

Dr. A. Charles Ware
The part written by Ware was tedious to me. Ware is the president of Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis and his focus was on mitigating the effects of racism in society. He wants the church to recognize and acknowledge racist attitudes that were commonly taught from the pulpit in the past and move beyond them with the grace of God in a spirit of forgiveness.

It was an important topic but full of cutesy lines like needing to move beyond " 'race' relations to the unity of grace relations". (p. 136) He also has lots of lists and constructions like D.R.E.A.M.S. to help you remember how to build a multicultural church. I found myself in the odd situation of absolutely of agreeing with an author wholeheartedly but the text was ... rather bland. Great information but delivered in a way that did not work for me. I give Dr. Ware's section 2 stars, which makes an average of 3 stars.

Reviewed June 20, 2009.

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