by Carl Weinberg
Today’s post comes from Dr. Carl R. Weinberg. Weinberg is Senior Lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences and Adjunct Associate Professor of History at Indiana University in Bloomington. He is the author of Labor, Loyalty, and Rebellion: Southwestern Illinois Coal Miners and World War I (Southern Illinois University Press). He is completing a book manuscript entitled Red Dynamite: Creationism and Anticommunism in Modern America, under contract to Johns Hopkins University Press.
On November 7, 1917, one hundred years and three days ago today, workers and soldiers loyal to the Bolshevik Party seized power in Petrograd, Russia, and established the first workers’ republic in world history. As I pointed out in my last post, for the past century creationists have been rabidly anticommunist, seeing in Marxism the clearest possible evidence that evolution results in the devolution of morality.
Since the end of the Cold War, Answers in Genesis (AiG) has not often deployed the anticommunist weapon. But when they do, it is a blunt instrument. See, for example, Ken Ham’s May 2017 fundraising letter, published online as “Exposing the Connection: How Evolution Impacts Morality.” In this letter, Ham is careful to qualify his causal claim about evolution and morality: “While we do not argue that evolution directly causes immorality, people can use Darwinian thinking to justify their behavior.” But these subtleties go out the window when AiG’s Bodie Hodge analyzes “The Results of Evolution: Could It Be the Bloodiest Religion Ever?” The article features a table listing the “casualties” of evolutionary thinking, indicting a list of communist leaders (plus Hitler) who led their followers into revolution and/or war. Lenin and Trotsky alone are responsible, in Hodge’s view, for 15 million deaths attributable to the Bolshevik Revolution and Russian Civil War. (The twentieth-century total which includes, among other conflicts, World War I and World War II, along with all abortions from major countries, is 778,000,000.)
Speaking of Hitler, AiG is fond of pinning his crimes on evolutionary thinking. But this conveniently leaves out an awkward fact: antievolutionist William Bell Riley was a big supporter of Hitler. In the early 1930s, Riley discovered the viciously anti-Jewish Protocols of the Elders of Zion and blamed communism and evolutionism on an alleged Jewish conspiracy.1 In 1934, Riley explained that Hitler’s “anti-semitism has some just basis.” He cited a recent article which praised Hitler for reducing unemployment, restoring law and order, and promoting a unified nationalistic spirit. Riley even suggested that Hitler was a divine agent. “To me, at least,” he wrote, “it was nothing short of help from on high that enabled him to snatch Germany from the very jaws of atheistic Communism.” If he had to choose between Germany and Russia, Riley concluded, he would choose Hitler’s Germany “a thousand-fold.”2 When Riley did a public about-face on the eve of America’s entrance into World War II, it is telling that his pamphlet Hitlerism: Or, The Philosophy of Evolution in Action (1941) said not a single word about Hitler’s treatment of Jews.3
This all might seem worlds away from Ken Ham and AiG. But in 1946, a year before Riley’s death, searching for a successor to run Northwestern when he was gone, the old man offered the job to a young graduate student at the University of Minnesota who had just published his first book. His name was Henry Morris. Having read That You Might Believe, Riley recognized in Morris a man who understood the moral menace of modern communism and the role of evolution in facilitating it.4 Anticommunism was a common thread that united generations of creationists.
Though Ken Ham does not talk about communism these days—red-baiting has lost its caché and Ham is ever the populist—his letter does contain an echo of that Red Dynamite theme. He offers two case studies of evolution-inspired immorality. The first, more familiar to younger readers, is Bill Nye’s new TV show—Bill Nye Saves the World, an episode of which featured Rachel Bloom singing “My Sex Junk.” Ham’s historical example is less familiar but more relevant—Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, one-time socialist, eugenicist, and grandson of Charles Darwin’s “bulldog,” T. H. Huxley. Ham quotes Aldous Huxley about his youthful rebellion, which aimed at restraints on both “sexual freedom” and the “political and economic system.” As Huxley described it in 1937, he was engaged in “political and erotic revolt.”5 Ham’s second example reminds us that AiG’s campaign against evolution is fundamentally about morality and power—what are the standards of right and wrong, and who decides, in the words of famed Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer, how should we then live?6
Just as in 1917, these are still the fundamental questions posed today for the working people of the world, confronted by the latest slow-burning capitalist depression disguised as a “recovery.” Regardless of who is in the White House, the valuable lessons of the opening years of the Bolshevik Revolution will need to be relearned. This momentous anniversary is a welcome opportunity to clarify the real stakes in the battle over evolution today.
1William Bell Riley, Protocols and Communism (Minneapolis, MN: L. W. Camp, 1934).
2William Bell Riley, “Why Recognize Russia and Rag Germany?” Pilot (January 1934): 110.
3William Bell Riley, Hitlerism, or The Philosophy of Evolution in Action (Minneapolis, MN: Irene Woods, 1941).
4Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006; 2nd ed.), 220–21.
5On Huxley’s interest in eugenics and his left-wing politics, see Joanne Woiak, “Designing a Brave New World: Eugenics, Politics, and Fiction,” The Public Historian 29 (Summer 2007).
6Francis A. Schaeffer, How Then Should We Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1976).