“Do You Trust White People?”

It’s not just what you say. It’s who says it. When it comes to accepting or rejecting evolutionary theory, we at ILYBYGTH have always argued that science wonks should abandon our long-held missionary suppositions and adopt a principled indifference about evolution’s religious significance. This week we see another argument that the message of evolution can sometimes get mixed up with the wrong messenger.

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Not just the message, but the messenger

First, the background: Historically, as Prof. Jeffrey Moran has argued so convincingly, African Americans have had just as complicated a relationship to evolutionary theory as have the rest of Americans.

A century ago, as Prof. Moran detailed in American Genesis, African-American pundits were split on the implications of evolutionary theory. Some wanted to join white fundamentalists in rejecting evolution out of hand. Others wanted to accept it as cutting-edge modern science. Still others wanted specifically to reject the racialized hierarchies endorsed by some evolutionary scientists.

These days, racial disparities still muddy the evolutionary waters. Consider the wisdom of Dr. Joseph L. Graves. According to the Indianapolis Recorder, Graves was in 1988 the first African American to earn a PhD in evolutionary biology. And, as Graves explained to IR, America’s bitter history of racial injustice taints today’s climate:

One of the most common rebuttals to someone who rejects evolution is that most scientists — 98 percent is a common number on polls — accept evolution. But considering only 28 percent of Black Americans have a “great deal” of confidence in scientific leaders, according to a 2018 study by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, it may be that scientific consensus doesn’t matter.

“That’s the same thing as asking them, ‘Do you trust white people?’” Graves said. “… If I show up as a scientist, I guarantee the trust factor would change. For the vast majority of these communities, they’ve never seen a person of African descent in a leading role in science.”

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