Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
Charles Darwin was Responsible for the Vietnam War? | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Massacred Vietnamese women and children are sprawled across a dirt road hemmed in by tall grasses.
Photo taken by United States Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle on March 16, 1968 in the aftermath of the My Lai massacre showing mostly women and children dead on a road. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

For young Earth creationists, Charles Darwin is the eternal bogeyman. Interestingly, it is not just or even primarily because evolution is at odds with the biblical account of creation. As Carl Weinberg (author of Red Dynamite) has pointed out, for 

George McCready Price, the godfather of young-Earth creationism . . . and those who followed him, the main problem with evolution was NOT that its claims lacked scientific evidence or even that it contradicted the Book of Genesis. Rather, evolution was bad because it made people who believed in it do bad things. It made us behave in an immoral, “beastly” or “animalistic” way. 

To make this case, young Earth creationists have engaged in “creative” historical work. For example, Ken Ham has produced (along with many other writings making the same point) Darwin’s Plantation, a book whose title could easily lead the historically unaware reader to believe that Darwinism was responsible for American slavery . . . even though Origin of Species appeared in 1859, just four years before the Emancipation Proclamation. And it is not just the title: the cover of Ham’s book cover has a photo of African American slaves working the fields.

Of course, to suggest that Darwinism is responsible for slavery in the United States is a very convenient way to elide the fact that

In antebellum America millions of white Christians . . . stood on their literal reading of the Word of God to issue forth a raft of proslavery polemics and to deliver an almost-infinite number of proslavery sermons; in the South, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese observed, “evangelicals, having cited chapter and verse, successfully enlisted the Bible to unify the overwhelming majority  of slaveholders and nonslaveholders in defense of slavery as ordained of God.” These white Christians argued that opponents of slavery . . . were undermining the authority of the Bible with their unbiblical antislavery arguments that depended more on Christian experience, humanitarianism, and morality than on the “literal” meaning of the text. (Righting America, 186)

By the way, the aforementioned cover photo on Ham’s book fades into the photo of a Nazi concentration camp. Ham asserts in Darwin’s Plantation that “perhaps the most infamous application of evolution to justify racism was Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime” (92). The Darwin-to-Hitler trope is commonplace among young Earth creationists. As Henry Morris asserted in The Long War against God, “Hitler became the supreme evolutionist, and Nazism the ultimate fruit of the evolutionary tree” (75).

Many scholars have convincingly argued that the Darwin-to-Hitler conceit is absurdly simplistic, and of course leaves Christianity and Christians off the hook:

The Anti-Defamation League has vigorously critiqued the Darwin-to-Hitler trope, pointing out that such an argument, usually “offered by those who wish to score political points in the debate over the teaching of intelligent design,” neatly erases the multiple factors that led to the Holocaust, including a Christian anti-Semitism that long preceded Charles Darwin. Focus on Darwin-to-Hitler, and the slaughter of German Jews by eleventh-century crusaders, the Spanish Inquisition and its persecution of Jewish converts, and the history of Church teachings versus the Jews conveniently disappear. By focusing on the role of evolution in leading to the horrors of Nazi Germany, one does not have to consider the historical import of Martin Luther’s venomous words in “On the Jews and Their Lies”: 

‘Set fire to their synagogues or schools . . . Their houses should [also] be razed and destroyed . . . They are a heavy burden, a plague, a pestilence, a sheer misfortune for our country.’” (Righting America, 183-184)

One of the most prolific promoters of the young Earth creationist Darwin-to-Hitler trope is Genesis Apologetics’ spokesman Jerry Bergman, with books such as Hitler and the Nazi Darwinian Worldview: How the Nazi Eugenic Crusade for a Superior Race Caused the Greatest Holocaust in World History (2012) and The Dark Side of Charles Darwin: A Critical Analysis of an Icon of Science (2011). With his Ph.D. in measurement and evaluation from Wayne State University and his Ph.D. in biology from Columbia Pacific University (an unaccredited correspondence school that lured students with the possibility of a doctorate in less than twelve months), Bergman has now turned his “historical expertise” to the Vietnam War, with an article in the 2023 volume of Answers Research Journal (ARJ).

First, a little context regarding ARJ. This AiG online publication advertises itself as a “professional, peer-reviewed technical journal” that produces “cutting-edge creation research.” The titles of articles that appear in the ARJ make clear that this is not a typical scholarly publication, e.g., “Ruminating on Created Kinds and Ark Kinds,” “Jesus’ Resurrection: An Archaeological Analysis,” “To the Ark and Back Again? Using the Marsupial Fossil Record to Investigate the Post-Flood Boundary.”

Even more striking is the fact that just a few individuals write the bulk of the articles. And recently Bergman leads the pack. In the past four years 61 articles have appeared in ARJ, and he has written 20 of these articles (most of which are anti-Darwin diatribes). This comes to approximately 33% of all ARJ articles published since 2020. One could easily think of ARJ as Jerry Bergman’s vanity press.

And now we come to his most recent offering: “The Central Role of Darwinism in the Vietnam War.” I confess that, as an American historian, I find this piece almost unreadable. But here are some main points, as I can make them out:

  • While Confucian peace philosophy was important in Vietnamese society, thus producing an orderly and nonviolent culture, the embrace of “Darwinism’s survival-of-the-fittest ideology” by Vietnamese intellectuals was “one key factor in the events that led up to the Vietnam-American War” (126).
  • “French Catholicism did not spread past the coastal wealthy urban populations into the Buddhist rural areas . . . Had the church aggressively opposed communism and supported the power of the Scriptures, perhaps the awful results of Darwinism, secularism, and modernity could have been mitigated” (127).
  • Conclusion: “Darwinism had a major, but complex, influence on the development of communism which, in turn, had a profound influence of the Vietnamese people that resulted in the Vietnamese-American War” (128), the result being up to 3 million dead.

A few comments:

  • Bergman’s Darwin-to-Vietnam trope is even more simplistic and even more distorted than the Darwin-to-Hitler trope. In this telling, Darwinism destroyed the Confucian paradise that was Vietnam, and the result was three million dead. 
  • There is absolutely nothing here about the injustices perpetrated on the Vietnamese by the French colonial rulers. Not one thing. And this is very much in keeping with the dreadful history textbooks used in fundamentalist schools, books in which it is claimed that “colonialism was a benign and humane institution that benefitted the indigenous peoples of Asia and Africa.”
  • Also in keeping with the fundamentalist history textbooks, this telling of the story preserves American innocence. Here there is no anti-Asian racism, no carpet bombing, no napalm. Here there is no My Lai, with its mass rape and its slaughter of hundreds of children, women, and the elderly. Here there is no reference to Bible-believing evangelicals who – I grew up in such a church – wanted to bomb the hell out of the Vietnamese. 

It is not in the least surprising that Bergman’s list of references contains virtually nothing from the best and most substantive work on the Vietnam War. When you have your eternal bogeyman, in-depth scholarly research is beside the point. Instead, and as we suggest in Righting America, for the folks at AiG the past and present of human history can be reduced to a binary. On one side it is a literal Genesis 1-11, young Earth, capitalism, and heaven. On the other side it is reason, old Earth, Darwinian evolution, socialism, and hell. 

It’s all so simple.