Do they really mean it?
These days, leading creationists claim to be anti-racist. But fundamentalist Protestantism has a sour history of racism. Do today’s creationists have a fair claim to be authentically anti-racist? Short answer: Yes. Though it might muddy our progressive assumptions, we need to recognize that dissent from mainstream science has also often included dissent from mainstream racism.
Today’s conservative pundits usually don’t like to talk about it. But historically, as I argue in my new book, in the United States conservatism has been tied pretty closely to racism. And as we’ve seen in these pages, white racism has enjoyed strong support within fundamentalist circles.
Let me be clear: Unlike some progressive pundits, I’m not insisting that white conservatives these days are *really* all a bunch of racists. And unlike some progressive historians, I don’t believe that the *real* explanation for the politicization of conservative evangelicals in the 1970s was white racism. But the historical record is pretty clear: Throughout most of the twentieth century, white conservatism was bound up with traditional notions of white dominance.
There is, however, one glaring and important exception to this rule. Among white conservative creationists, there has been a long record of anti-racism. This has usually not been motivated by a civil-rights style of social activism, but rather from creationism itself. If Adam and Eve were the literal historic parents of all humanity, then there can’t be real differences between the races.
Today’s leading young-earth creationist ministry, Answers In Genesis, has long trumpeted its anti-racist creationism. As AIG likes to explain, racism can’t survive if we really believe in Adam, Eve, and Noah’s Ark.
AIG’s position is nothing new among dedicated creationists. As Bradley Gundlach argues in his terrific new(ish) book, Process & Providence, at the dawn of our modern evolution/creation battles, creationists defined themselves as opposed to racist mainstream science. In 1859, Professor Gundlach writes, the main evolutionary question at conservative Princeton Seminary was not Darwin’s new book. Rather, the creationists at Princeton in 1859 were outraged by the new scientific fad of “polygenism.” Leading contemporary scientists embraced the notion that human races were actually different species. Creationists at Princeton said no.
As the creation/evolution battles heated up in the 1920s, too, the anti-evolution crusade had the better claim to anti-racism. White mainstream science at the time often proved friendly to notions of “scientific racism.” As I describe in my new book (page 49 for those of you following along at home), leading evolutionary pundit Henry Fairfield Osborn supported both evolutionary theory and the racism that he thought went along with it.
Of course, simply because dedicated and consistent creationists have often been anti-racist, we can’t conclude that all creationists are anti-racist. Perhaps most famously, Bob Jones University in South Carolina has been fervently creationist AND fervently racist throughout most of its history.
The point here, rather, is that mainstream science has not always been right. Creationists these days can legitimately claim a more consistent history of anti-racism than can mainstream scientists. The same theological impulse that leads young-earth creationists to insist on a young earth also leads them to insist that all of humanity has the same roots.