The Bible vs slavery and apartheid
6 March 2001; Reposted 11 April 2009
From Mr Robert Howard of New Zealand, who gave permission for his full name to be used. By his own admission in other correspondence, he is an atheist lacking any scientific qualifications (and seems quite proud of this), in common with many vocal skeptics in Australia. This letter continues his practice of criticising CMI without first bothering to find out what we actually say, because many of his objections, including in this letter, have long ago been answered. His letter is printed first in its entirety. A response by Dr Jonathan Sarfati, also (formerly) of New Zealand but now of Creation Ministries International, Australia, immediately follows his letter with point-by-point responses interspersed as per normal email fashion. Ellipses (…) at the end of one of Bob Howard’s paragraphs signal that a mid-sentence comment follows, not an omission.
‘Most of what you write I treat with amusement but your article suggesting evolution led to racism is outrageous. Did you know the Dutch Reformed Church, one of your Christian churches in South Africa upheld apartheid?
‘In spite of all the Christian churches in the American South I don’t recall reading of any outcry against slavery before the civil war. Where were the Churches and God fearing Christians during segregation in the South in the earlier part of the last century.
‘The truth is your Christian churches upheld a lot of racism.
‘In the 19th century it was thought evolution meant humans ranged from the Englishman at the top of the tree to the black African at the bottom but that was at a time of still a lot of scientific ignorance. During the last century scientific testing of people showed there was no difference between any humans mentally and only minor physical differences.
‘You might have read in the last few days that studies of DNA have shown even less difference. There might be more difference between two people of the same race than between two people of different races.
‘Science has done more to kill racism than anything.
‘Plimer was right when he said you were prepared to lie to uphold your philosophy.
It’s doubtful that Mr Howard is in a position to know, because it’s obvious from this and other correspondence that he has’t read most of what we write.
… but your article suggesting evolution led to racism is outrageous.
‘Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1859, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.’
Did you know the Dutch Reformed Church, one of your Christian churches in South Africa upheld apartheid?
Yes we know that (and we also know that the South African Anglican Church always denounced apartheid as a heresy). However, the DRC’s seminaries had accepted theistic evolution, effectively denying the authority of Scripture. Also, they developed a theology of separate development of different ‘races’ by misapplying Scriptural passages about the separation of the Israelite theocracy from the surrounding pagan nations. Of course, this was based on religion rather than ‘race’, and as shown in One Blood—the Biblical answer to racism, individuals from different ‘races’ (or preferably, people groups) could marry Israelites if they converted to faith in the true God of Israel. The Biblical rules of separation applied only to the coming of Israel’s Messiah through whom all nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Since His death and Resurrection, the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile has been broken down (Ephesians 2:14). Now both Jews and Gentiles can become one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28, Col. 3:11). See the discussion in Separation from the nations and Breaking down barriers.
But based on their faulty theology, which was not helped by the evolutionism at the top, and ignoring the above Biblical teachings, the DRC created a separate church for black believers. Persons of colour were not allowed to attend any services of the white church. The DRC never officially supported white supremacy, although this was the effect in practice of their faulty theology, with its corollaries of white-only beaches, amenities, etc.
The DRC did however lead the way out of apartheid in the early 80s when a committee paper, Kerk en Samelewing (Church and Society) was accepted by the annual general convention of the DRC (Algemene Sinode). This paper rejected the former position and effectively destroyed the theological foundation of apartheid—at a time when it was still firmly entrenched politically speaking. This paper in theory allowed persons of colour back into the DRC, and eventually led to a countrywide church split when the nationalist Afrikaanse Protestante Kerk (Afrikaans Protestant Church) was founded in protest. This paper undoubtedly had a great influence in dismantling apartheid, since >70% of white South Africans voted ‘yes’ in a series of referendums that led to the Nationalist government’s demolition of the apartheid system, which culminated in the first all-race elections in 1994. Therefore it was the Bible that corrected the previous errors, and as will be shown, this was true of slavery too.
One chapter of One Blood is devoted to refuting the nonsense that black people are the result of a curse on Ham, which is non-existent in the Bible. Another is devoted to refuting other pseudo-biblical arguments adduced by white supremacists to support their cause. The main point is that the Bible speaks against racism regardless of any way in which people have misused it, and CMI has consistently opposed racism for this reason, as a cursory glance at our website would show (see Q&A: Racism). Any good philosophy can be (and is) misused to support evil, but sound exegetical principles make it clear that it is indeed misuse. Conversely, racism is consistent with evolutionary theory. For example, the atheistic evolutionist Sir Arthur Keith, wrote (Evolution and Ethics, Putnam, NY, USA, p. 230, 1947.):
‘The German Führer, as I have consistently maintained, is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution.’
In spite of all the Christian churches in the American South I don’t recall reading of any outcry against slavery before the civil war.
This merely shows that Mr Howard’s recall is faulty, as will be shown.
Where were the Churches and God fearing Christians during segregation in the South in the earlier part of the last century.
The novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896), Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), written from an overtly Christian perspective, is widely recognized as a major cause of people in the North turning so strongly against slavery. Abraham Lincoln called her: ‘the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war.’ She came from a prominent family of theologians and married a theologian, and also wrote religious poems and Woman in Sacred History (1873), an exquisitely illustrated book, which stated in the Introduction (p. 11):
The object of the following pages will be to show, in a series of biographical sketches, a history of WOMANHOOD UNDER DIVINE CULTURE, tending toward the development of that high ideal of woman which we find in modern Christian countries.
She also pointed out (p. 63):
It has well been said that nations struggling for liberty against powerful oppressors flee as instinctively to the Old Testament as they do to mountain ranges. The American slave universally called his bondage Egypt, and read the history of the ten plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea as parts of his own experience. In the dark days of slavery, the history of Moses was sung at night, and by stealth, on plantations, with solemn rhythmic movements, reminding one of Egyptian times.
The anti-slavery forces in the USA were influenced by William Wilberforce (1759–1833), who tirelessly fought for 50 years against slavery in Britain, basing his opposition on Biblical morality. Wilberforce realized that the Dominion Mandate of Genesis 1:28 did NOT extend to fellow humans. He also understood that 1 Tim. 1:10 lists ‘slave traders’ (ανδραποδιστής andrapodistēs) with murderers, adulterers, perverts, liars and other evil people. Paul also encouraged Philemon to free his escaped slave Onesimus (Philemon 16), and ordered masters to treat their slaves in the ‘same way’ as they were treated, and not to threaten them (Eph. 6:9). Such practice would see the end of slavery.
Wilberforce in turn had been influenced by the preaching of John Newton (1725–1807), who wrote the famous hymn Amazing Grace. Newton in his earlier days had been a slave trader himself before his conversion to Christ. After conversion he first insisted that slaves were treated humanely, then came to see that since the slaves were also created in the image of God, the slave trade was wrong regardless. He left the trade, became friends with the great evangelists George Whitfield and the Wesleys, became a minister, and testified to King George III about the atrocities of the slave trade.
Another prominent anti-slavery activist in Britain was Granville Sharp (1735–1813), who was most responsible for a law that a slave became free from the moment he set foot on English territory, and founded a society for the abolition of slavery. He was also a joint founder of the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Society for the Conversion of the Jews. A noted Greek scholar, he published a detailed and accurate study, discovering a rule of grammar that’s accepted by the majority of Bible translators today and now bears his name. But the existing English translations had overlooked this rule, thus, as he pointed out, they obscured the deity of Christ in places like Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1, which should say ‘our (great) God and Savior Jesus Christ’. (See also this collection of Christian anti-slavery articles from history.)
Because of their tireless efforts, Britain not only abolished slavery, but used her gunboats to enforce the ban—i.e. she imposed her morality on others!
In America, there were also powerful Christian voices against slavery — see the many articles in this archive (off site).
Closer to our time, the news has reminded us of one of the atrocities during the civil rights struggles in the USA in the 1960s. That is, the indictment of former Ku Klux Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry for murder, for his alleged part in the KKK bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, 15 September 1963, which killed four black girls. This shows once more the virulently anti-Christian attitudes held by fanatical racists. (Update 17 July 2001: Cherry was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial, but two other ex-klansmen had previously been convicted of murder for this bombing).
Conversely, it was futile to rely on other means to achieve abolition. For example:
Politics: The USA had been prepared to give states the option of choosing to be ‘slave’ or ‘free’. By 1820, there were only 22 states, 11 of each. After that, in admitting new states, Congress was very keen to make sure that this ‘balance’ was maintained. So the ‘Missouri Compromise’ was reached when Maine entered the Union as a free state and Missouri as a slave state, and any new states to the south would be slave and northern ones were to be free. Thus Arkansas entered as a slave state in 1836 and Michigan as a free state six months later. Then there was the ‘Compromise of 1850’ where California was admitted as a free state while allowing for the possibility of admitting more slave states to balance the numbers.
England’s politicians were no better—Wilberforce, Sharp and their allies had to battle prevailing attitudes like, ‘Humanity is a private feeling, not a public principle to act upon’ (Earl of Abingdon) and ‘Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life’ (Lord Melbourne). It is also notable that pagan philosophers such as Aristotle regarded some people as ‘natural slaves’, and ‘Enlightenment‘ philosophers hostile to Christianity such as Hume and Voltaire believed in inferiority of dark-skinned people.
But society hasn’t learnt from this folly—when pro-lifers speak out for the millions of unborn babies butchered in their mothers’ wombs every year, much the same fallacious arguments are raised about ‘religion invading public life’ (never mind the humanist religion that has already invaded it!). Instead, abortion, like owning a slave, is portrayed as a ‘choice’ that must be protected, and the fact that another human being is involved is conveniently ignored. For more information, see Q&A: Human Life: Abortion and Euthanasia.
The legal system: In 1857, the US Supreme Court, under Roger Brooke Taney (1777–1864) ruled in the ‘Dred Scott decision’ that Congress could not outlaw slavery in any territory—this was to be the territory’s ‘right’ after it had become a state. Also, slaves were defined as non-persons, and their descendants could not become citizens.
Later, this was rescinded, but it severely dented the moral authority of the Supreme court. And they haven’t learned either. In 1973, in Roe v. Wade, liberal justices led by Harry Blackmun invented a ‘right to privacy’ supposedly found in the US Constitution, applied this to a woman’s womb, and decided that she has a right to abort her baby for any reason. In the process, the Court explicitly declared the unborn baby a non-citizen. One day, posterity will look upon Roe v. Wade with as much revulsion as the Dred Scott decision.
Finally, liberals should not be so quick to point to the Judeo-Christian west for once having slaves, or considering it exclusively a matter of white-on-black racism. All parts of the world practised slavery. In fact the word ‘slave’ comes from a white race, the Slavs, who were often enslaved. Frequently black slaves were captured by other Africans and sold to the Europeans. Rather, we should remember that of all the cultures that practised slavery, the Judeo-Christian west was the only one to abolish it.
In the 19th century it was thought evolution meant humans ranged from the Englishman at the top of the tree to the black African at the bottom but that was at a time of still a lot of scientific ignorance. During the last century scientific testing of people showed there was no difference between any humans mentally and only minor physical differences.
CMI has always pointed out that the concept of human ‘races’ should be abandoned.
You might have read in the last few days that studies of DNA have shown even less difference. There might be more difference between two people of the same race than between two people of different races.
Clearly, Mr Howard has not paid us the common courtesy of reading what we say before criticising us. We have often pointed out this fact. For instance, the article Interracial marriage—is it Biblical? points out:
The truth though is that these so-called ‘racial characteristics’ are only minor variations among people groups. If one were to take any two people anywhere in the world, scientists have found that the basic genetic differences between these two people would typically be around 0.2 percent—even if they came from the same people group. But, these so-called ‘racial’ characteristics that people think are major differences (skin colour, eye shape, etc.) ‘account for only 0.012 percent of human biological variation.’ In other words, the so-called ‘racial’ differences are absolutely trivial—overall, there is more variation within any group than there is between one group and another. If a white person is looking for a tissue match for an organ transplant, for instance, the best match may come from a black person, and vice versa.
Actually, this article, because it argued there was no Biblical impediment to so-called interracial marriage, mainly because there is neither Biblical nor scientific basis for the concept of different ‘races’, resulted in a lot of hate mail from white supremacists. Our responses to their pseudo-biblical arguments formed the basis of ch. 7 of One Blood.
Science has done more to kill racism than anything.
Science can tell us that all humans are the same, but it can’t tell us that they ought to be treated the same. The Bible does give us an absolute moral basis for this. Conversely, if we are just rearranged pond scum, then as Lanier said and Dawkins affirmed here: ‘evolution … leads to what they perceive as a moral vacuum, in which their best impulses have no basis in nature.’ It’s important to note that Nazism flourished in the most scientifically advanced nation on Earth, with a third of all science Nobel Prizes awarded up to that time.
Plimer was right when he said you were prepared to lie to uphold your philosophy.
If anyone trusts a demonstrably unreliable source like Ian Plimer, then they are not to be taken seriously. After all, Plimer has sometimes professed to be a practising Christian and feigned concern that creation is damaging to Christianity, but this is incongruous with his signing of the following statement: ‘I subscribe to the objects and rules of the Humanist Society of Victoria in order to create a society in which a person may reach their full potential free from supernatural beliefs’, and he was even Australian Humanist of the Year (1995). All Plimer’s charges against CMI in his book Telling Lies … were proven false by the committee led by Mr Clarrie Briese, former Chief Magistrate of New South Wales (Australia), nationally famous for his campaign against corruption in high places, which ended the career of notable anti-Christian High Court justice Lionel Murphy (see interview). See the committee’s conclusion and CMI’s point-by-point rebuttal of the book. Also, a fair-minded person would see through Plimer’s unethical debating tactics such as guilt-by-association, innuendo, half truths, and name-calling. Also, anyone with a modicum of scientific competence would not have made crass scientific and logical blunders, and if the Australian Skeptics were truly concerned about good science rather than promoting atheism, they would have pulled him up on these. More examples of unethical behaviour by Plimer, which is evidently condoned by the Australian Skeptics, are documented in this critique.
Also, lying would be inconsistent with our belief that Jesus Christ is ‘the way and the truth and the life’ (John 14:6). But it’s impossible to conclude ‘lying is wrong’ from either of the premises ‘Evolution is true’ or ‘God does not exist’. So on what basis should a consistent evolutionist be concerned about alleged lying? We also shouldn’t be surprised that Plimer and his Skeptic mates believe that it’s acceptable to use deception to advance the anti-creationist cause. The problem is, how can we be sure that any attack on creationists they present isn’t just another part of this deception?
(Dr) Jonathan Sarfati
Research scientist, author and editorial consultant