Is Creationism Racist?

I grew up reading copious amounts of literature from Answers in Genesis and attending conferences where Ken Ham and other leading creationists were speakers. I’ve been to the Creation Museum, and I’ve been reading Answers in Genesis’ Answers Magazine for close to a decade now. And one thing that was drilled into me over and over again is that racism is rooted in the theory of evolution and that creationism, which teaches that all humans are descended from Adam and Eve, is the antidote to evolution.

One Blood: The Biblical Answer to Racism is Ken Ham’s contribution to efforts to mend racial prejudice, and I do think Ham is genuine in his efforts. He believes that the understanding that all humans are descended from Adam and Eve, and ultimately from Noah’s three sons, is what is needed to curb racism. He also believes that the roots of racism are found in the theory of evolution, and that it was this theory of the races that inspired such atrocities as the Holocaust. Ham’s ideas – that racism stems from evolution and that creationism is the antidote – are echoed by other prominent creationists, including creationist heavyweight Henry Morris. I grew up reading this literature and firmly rejecting both (overt) racism and the theory of evolution.

Here is an image from the Creation Museum, an image which describes a theory of human origins that I accepted as gospel truth until college:

I was taught, and Answers in Genesis teaches, that Africans are the descendants of Ham, that Europeans are the descendants of Japheth, and that Asians and Middle Easterners are the descendants of Shem. I’m not surprised, then, to learn that some public school classrooms in Texas are using creationist textbooks that contain the following image:

Growing up in a Christian homeschool family, the textbooks we used for subjects like history and science were suffused with religion, and this theory of racial origins is exactly what I was taught – and what Answers in Genesis teaches. What I didn’t realize, and what Answers in Genesis seems weirdly oblivious to, is that this biblical theory of racial origins is actually, well, racist. Somehow this flew over my head growing up – which is weird, given my familiarity with the Bible – but the story of Noah’s three sons is not somehow equal or without preference or value judgment.

Genesis 9: 18-27

The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth.

Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness.

When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said,

“Cursed be Canaan!

The lowest of slaves

will he be to his brothers.”

He also said,

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem!

May Canaan be the slave of Shem.

May God extend the territory of Japheth;

may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,

and may Canaan be his slave.”

“The curse of Ham” was used by antebellum Americans as a justification for slavery. Africans, after all, were descended from Ham, and Ham was cursed by God and ordered to serve his brothers Shem and Japheth. (For more background, I highly recommend Sylvester Johnson’s The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity: Race, Heathens, and the People of God.) In other words, in spite of what Answers in Genesis maintains, racism both long predates the theory of evolution and has frequently sprung from the Bible and from the creation account itself.

Am I saying that the theory of evolution has never been used to justify racism? Of course not. Am I saying that modern creationists are of necessity racist? Not at all. What I am saying is that Answers in Genesis’ insistence that racism stems from the theory of evolution and that creationism is automatically anti-racist is both overly simplistic and factually incorrect. While I am very glad Ham wants to combat racism, I don’t think he completely understands that he is working to do so by promoting a theory of origins – that all men descend from Shem, Ham, and Japheth – that has long been seeped in racism. While this idea may hold no racist implications for him, it does for many others, especially in the American South.

(After writing the above I read this excerpt from One Blood, and I suddenly wonder if I am giving Ham too much of the benefit of the doubt. I clearly need to reread the book. Ham argues that “the curse of Ham” was actually only meant to be a curse on Canaan, but he somehow does that without making things much better at all.)

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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