The Scandal of Whitewashed Scientific Racism

Is Scientific American Really Ignorant of History, or Is It Knowingly Spinning Tales in the Name of Science?

Allison Hopper, a graphic designer with a background in theater and filmmaking, made her Scientific American debut with an opinion piece bearing the fully-woke-compliant title, Denial of Evolution Is a Form of White Supremacy. Did you know that questioning evolutionary theory was never about religion?

"I want to unmask the lie that evolution denial is about religion and recognize that at its core, it is a form of white supremacy that perpetuates segregation and violence against Black bodies."

Except, well yeah, it’s about religion too, as she charged in the next two sentences:

"Under the guise of “religious freedom,” the legalistic wing of creationists loudly insists that their point of view deserves equal time in the classroom. Science education in the U.S. is constantly on the defensive against antievolution activists who want biblical stories to be taught as fact."

Regardless of the boogeyman du jour, she has created a “playful” approach to boost Darwin-compliance with “teaching materials that are a mix of science and imagination.”

Indeed, they are. Imaginative, that is. Ms. Hopper is seriously imagining things if she thinks it’s biblical Christianity that has engaged in and endorsed institutional racism. Nooothat would be science. Examples are legion. Here’s just one: the tragic case of Ota Benga.

Ota Benga was purchased from an African Congo slave market and transported to New York City in 1906, along with two chimps, a snake, a parrot, and fifty boxes of exotic items the purchaser, Samuel Phillips Verner, hoped to sell to museums. On Saturday, September 8th, 1906, he was put on display in the Monkey House at the New York Zoological Park, also known as the Bronx Zoo, which was operating under the directorship of noted zoologist William Temple Hornaday, former Smithsonian associate and founder of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

New York clergymen were horrified. Rev Robert Stuart McArthur of the city’s Calvary Baptist Church was first to speak out. “The person responsible for this exhibition degrades himself as much as he does the African. Instead of making a beast of this little fellow, he should be put in school.”

Black clergymen, too, protested. They appealed to New York City Mayor George McClellan, Jr., who refused to meet with them, but instead dispatched an assistant referring them to the New York Zoological Society. They found no favor there either, as the Zoological Society at the time was under the directorship of open racist Madison Grant, trustee of the American Museum of Natural History and founder of the Bronx Zoo.

James H. Gordon, superintendent of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn, also spoke out, pointedly objecting to the display’s promotion of Darwinian evolution in a Christian country. “Neither the Negro nor the white man is related to the monkey,” he said. “Such an exhibition only degrades a human being’s manhood.”

Oh, but evolution is science, came the response. And indeed, it was presented as science. The Bronx Zoo exhibit was a reflection of the ideas of mainstream anthropology at the time. “Anthropology was kind of founded on this idea  of mapping civilization from the highest to the lowest, with the lowest at that time said to be Africans,” said Pamela Newkirk, Ph.D., author of Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga, “Leading men of science from Harvard and Princeton and Columbia University were saying that Africans were midway between an orangutan and a human being.” Don’t miss the credentials of all those figures noted above. They were prominent voices of academia and science.

To the credit of New York Christians, both black and white, the exhibit stirred up enough controversy that Benga was removed from the zoo and entrusted to Rev. Gordon, but not before the New York Times weighed in on behalf of the zoo, editorializing that evolution was “no more debatable than the multiplication table.” It was taught in all the schools. (When Benga died ten years later, its obituary called him an employee of the zoo who had been hired to feed the apes, demonstrating that the Times’s truth problem has a long history.)

In any event, the point of all this is not so much to smear any figure from the past as it is to respond to Ms. Hopper’s ill-informed broadside against Christianity, penned under the guise of science.

For the sake of integrity in both science and history, John West of the Discovery Institute has documented all these and other shameful violations of human dignity perpetrated specifically in the name of science in Human Zoos: America's Forgotten History of Scientific Racism.

One commenter on its discussion thread wrote, “Who needs horror movies when u can watch ‘human history’?”

Indeed. And if Ms. Hopper’s opinion piece is what we can expect from Scientific American, who needs Scientific American when we can scroll through Facebook? At least on social media, we expect to find ill-informed sophistry posing as truth.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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