In the 1925 “Scope’s Trial,” the defendant, John Scopes taught from “an approved school text called A Civic Biology by George Hunter.”[1] The book is not so much a scientific defense of Darwinism but a rehearsal of “Darwinism’s social implications. In particular, chapter seventeen discusses the application to human society of “the laws of selection” and approves the eugenic policies and scientific racism common in the United States at the time.” Why would a state like Tennessee adopt such a book in the first place? I’ve never seen this question asked, but let me hazard a guess. Was Tennessee looking for a way to justify segregation through the “science” of Darwinism? Is it possible that interbreeding between blacks and whites was also in mind? If blacks are deemed “inferior,” then laws prohibiting marriage between superior whites and inferior blacks would be legitimate. In his Civic Biology, “Hunter believed that it would be criminal to hand down ‘handicaps’ to the next generation and regarded families with a history of tuberculosis, epilepsy and feeblemindedness as ‘parasitic on society.’ The remedy, according to Hunter, is to prevent breeding.”[2] Here’s how Hunter put it:

If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race.[3]

Evolution validated the eugenics movement by giving it scientific legitimacy. The same was true about entrenched ideas concerning race. “Hunter believed that the most evolved of the ‘races of man’ is that of ‘the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America,’ which is ‘the highest type of all.’”[4] Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898), a Southern Presbyterian theologian praised by Princeton professor A. A. Hodge as “the best teacher of theology in the United States, if not the world,” understood the ethical implication of Darwinism long before the Scope’s trial. Dabney wrote:

If mine is a pig’s destiny, why may I not hold this “pig philosophy”? Again, if I am but an animal refined by evolution, I am entitled to live an animal life. Why not? The leaders in this and the sensualistic philosophy may themselves be restrained by their habits of mental culture, social discretion and personal refinement (for which they are indebted to reflex Christian influences); but the herd of common mortals are not cultured and refined, and in them the doctrine will bear its deadly fruit.[5]

Because Christianity had so impacted nineteenth-century society, the ethical and cultural effects of Darwinism were at first minimal. In time, however, as consistency began to be demanded of the new naturalistic worldview, the evolutionary dogma impacted the world in ominous ways. Marxism and Nazism are built on Darwin’s theory. “Given the close relationship between Darwinism and the horrific crimes committed by Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge Regime we are forced to conclude that ours has been the Darwinian century.”[6]


[1] Philip J. Sampson, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity & Civilization (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 54. [2] Sampson, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity, 54-55. [3] George W. Hunter, A Civic Biology (New York: American Book, 1914), 263. Quoted in Sampson, 6 Modern Myths, 55. [4] Sampson, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity, 55. [5] Robert L. Dabney, “The Influences of False Philosophies upon Character and Conduct,” in Discourses (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Pub., 1979), 4:574. [6] F. W. Schnitzler, “Darwinian Violence,” Christianity and Society, 4:3 (July 1994), 28.