By: Jonathan Harris
Having just finished the book Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, I realized the Christian argument against racism and the Darwinian argument against racism are on totally different levels. Let me explain. Have you ever had someone tell you, "You Christians are racists because for years it was Bible believers who participated in the slave trade?" Well I sure have. It seems like every pup-pup atheist who's on their first rodeo arguing with a Christian has to bring this point up somewhere in the conversation. Most Christians I've heard, even in formal debates, answer the charge this way. "It was Christians who abolished the slave trade and stopped slavery!" First of all, that statement isn't completely true. Yes, Wilberforce was a Christian and he did lead the charge in ending the British Middle Passage. But here in America, as it pertains to slavery itself, it was primarily Unitarians and Transcendentalists who led the revolt claiming that slave masters were monsters and sinful by nature- an indictment the Bible does not make. Most Christians were in fact racist, as was everyone in the 18th and 19th centuries, and most believed in gradual emancipation. Sure there are plenty of exceptions, but that's the predominant lay of the land. Anyway, The Christian dealing with this question makes himself look foolish when he makes such outlandish claims. What is the skeptic supposed to think, that it was atheists involved in the slave trade until Christians came along and put a stop to it? As you can see, this rebuttal doesn't make any sense for the simple reason that it answers the charge on a different level than the one in which the charge is being laid.
Flawed Atheist Assumptions
Let me illustrate. The skeptics problem is that Christians who believed the Bible participated in slavery and therefore are racist. This statement has many inherent assumptions, and like the mosquito in the nudist colony (as Dinesh D'souza so humorously puts it) we need to figure out which conception we will attack. Let's examine the assumptions before coming up with a strategy.
Assumption 1: The Christians involved in slavery believed the Bible.
Problem: This is a straw man fallacy. Implicate the Bible by bashing the Christian. Whether they believed the Bible or not is irrelevant. The question is, "Did they follow it?" The Bible is above the misapplication of its claimed followers, just as an atheist would claim that Darwin is above the misapplication made by Hitler.
Assumption 2: The Bible condones the type of slavery the Christians were involved in the 19th century.
Problem: The Bible clearly forbids man-capture and racism and Biblical slavery was governed by restrictions American slavery lacked. The two cannot be painted with the same brush.
Assumption 3: Racism and Slavery are the same thing.
Problem: Just because a system is based on racism doesn't mean that each individual part is racist. The slave master can be an exemplary model of Christian love by purchasing a slave and treating him/her well as most slaves were treated once they arrived in the South.
Now then, how do we go about surfacing these assumptions and proving that Christianity in actuality holds the moral high ground? Simple. Make your argument from your source of authority and not its adherents. Say something like this, "Those who participated in 18th century slavery were not doing so in accordance with what the Bible actually teaches on the subject. The Bible offers no foundation for racism, unlike Atheism." This will put the skeptic on the defensive because now you've shifted from arguing about the followers of a belief to the actual belief itself. In short, the Christian racist does not conform to his/her worldview. The atheist racist does.
Allow me to offer you some historical incites in order to explain why Christians did participate in slavery, and why atheists can't use this as ammunition. During the slave trade, the Christian justification for the institution came from Genesis 9:26-27 which says, "And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant." This was a curse Noah made in reaction to verse 22 which states, "And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without." There is much speculation as to what Canaan's role in the whole affair was, but nonetheless God found it sinful enough to curse him. Those trying to justify slavery read into this that Ham was the "cursed" one, and that his descendants were in Africa, therefore it was their just due to be enslaved. However, a clear reading of the text does not give this authorization to slavers. In fact, Canaan's descendants were wiped out by Israel as he was the one cursed, not Ham. "Christians" looking for a justification prove by their shoddy reasoning how desperate they were to find a stamp of approval from God for their practice. I chalk it up to a guilty conscience which twists the intellect. Anyway, this justification for slavery is unfounded as you can see. However, the evolutionary justification is not. In the chapter "Philadelphia's Race Scientist" in the book Complicity it is noted that:
Samuel George Morton, one of Philadelphia's most eminent physicians, starting in the 1830s used measurements from his world-famous collection of skulls to show that black people had a the smallest cranial capacity of all human types and were doomed to inferiority.
Morton's disciples Josiah Nott and Louis Agassiz published a 700-page treatise entitled "Types of Mankind" in the 1850s which "proved" that blacks were a separate species than whites. In Crania Americana Morton
. . . presumed that the Bible had been misread. Caucasians and Negroes were too different to both be descended from Adam through Noah. Morton speculated that God must have intervened at the time of the Flood to reshape mankind.
It is no wonder Morton's most ardent critic John Bachman was a Charleston minister. In Nott's paper The Mulatto a Hybrid, "Nott declared that science-not the Bible- must decide the true origins of mankind. . . Nott proposed that God must have made separate races of men, just as He had made separate species of animals."
It is important to note that all three of these race scientists were highly educated men in Northern universities and welcomed by academia and newspapers around the country. An evolutionist would be angry if I were to say, "This is what you believe," because many of them today don't. But lets examine their foundation. If Genesis is wrong, if Blacks are inferior, if they do fare better under laborious conditions as these men justified over and over, than who's to say slavery or racism is wrong? The objective standard has left the building and all we're left with is man's reasoning. Darwin built upon the premise Morton developed. Hitler found the whole thing very convenient.
When it's all said and done you could have a "Christian" yelling racial slurs and beating a slave and an Atheist freeing slaves and exhibiting gentility and it would say nothing about the foundations of their worldviews. One worldview castigates racism, the other authorizes it. A better question than, "Why are you Christians racist?" is "Why are you atheists not?"