Science in Christian Perspective



The Contribution of Anthropology to the Understanding of Race*
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Shelton College, New York

From: JASA 5 (June 1953): 4-7.
This paper, in condensed form, was read at the Sixth Annual, Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation in New York, August 28-31, 1951.

Probably anthropology, more than any other single science, has been responsible for refining the definition of human races. Racism, or racial prejudice too, has been directly within its scope. The first authoritative spokesmen from modern science for the physical and mental equality of the various races have been anthropologists whose researches have once and for all shown the error of the old evolutionary arrangement of the modern races.

There are several important conclusions which can be reviewed at this date, which have been arrived at largely by means of th study of the ethnological and genetic data which comprise major aspects of anthropology.

First of all, the concept of primitive pure races as ancestral to the present varieties has been discarded. In evoutionary thought this concept was held by some who claimed that man evolved on different portions of the earth and finally interbred after several "pure" races had been established. In Christian circles this concept stemmed from a mistaken impression that the three sons of Noah were the founders of the three major racial groups, white, black, and yellow. In its most extreme form this belief even considered the families of Shem, Ham, and Japheth to have been made respectively yellow, black and white from the time of the dispersion from Babel.

This question has been adequately treated by Smalley and Fetzer in the second edition of the A. S. A. symposium Modern Science and Christian Faith, and by Horner in the first edition, so we will not pause to discuss the various aspects of the argument here.

Wbidenreich points out that fossil men differed contemporaneously in a fashion analogous to the differences of modern races, stating that "It is evident from the beginning that any search for stable archetypes, whether of Negroes, Mongolians, or any of the white racial groups, will be condemned to failure. All available facts indicate that crossing is not a late human acquisition which took place only when man had reachhis modern phase." He concludes that humans must have interbred ever since they began. (Weldenreich, 1946, p. 82).* Boyd says of the idea of originally pure races that it shows "ignorance of the nature of the phenomena of racial variation." (Boyd, 1950, p. 193.)

Another concept that has been shown to be in error is one which is a good deal more touchy. That is, that inter-racial marriage is biologically harmful and is bound to "degenerate" the race. The sociological implications involved with interracial marriages are what cause it to be such a touchy question. There are always such gravely practical questions as, Which racial group is going to accept the mixed marriage? and What is going to be the lot of the children? which must be considered.

The study of genetics and the study of history prove prove without a question of a doubt that the mixing of races cannot be considered biologicaly or culturally harmful. The anthropological position can be summed up pretty well in the words of Ruth Benedict and Gene Weltfish:

"The movements of peoples over the face of the earth inevitably produce race mixture and have produced it since before history began. No one has been able to show that this is necessarily bad. It has sometimes been a social advantage, sometimes a running sore threatening the health of the whole society. It can obviously be made a social evil, and, where it is so, sensible people will avoid contributing to it and grieve if their children make such alliances. We must live in the world as it is. But, as far as we know, there are no immutable laws of Nature that make racial intermixture harmful." (Benedict and Weltfish, 1943, in Benedict, 1945, pp. 179-180)

Weidenreich brings out the fact, in quoting Ernst Kretschmer on the effect of racial mixture on the development of Western culture, that "High cultures in their most marked form have so far developed withm in the sphere of the Nordic race only in those regions where that race has been exposed to an intense mixture with other races . - - " (Geniale Menshen, Berlin, 1929, quoted in Weidenreich, 1946, p. 90) This can be shown to be true for other major civilizations throughout history.

In view of the general consensus of scientific opinion which has predominated in this matter for a generation or more, it is sometimes startling to be brought up short by the realization of how slowly these facts percolate through the prejudices of even our most well informed citizens.*

It has also been anthropology's lot to investigate problems of racial unity and dispersion. As far back as scientific evidence goes, the original and continued unity of the human race throughout time and space is fundamental. Weidenreich, one of the foremost of the accepted paleontological authorities, even claims that "not only the living forms of mankind but also the past forms-at least those whose remains have been recovered-must be included in the same species." (Weidenreich, 1946, p. 3).

Benedict and Weltfish again, state that "The Bible story of Adam and Eve, father and mother of the whole human race, told centuries ago the same truth that science has shown today: that all peoples of the earth are a single family and have a common origin."

The dispersal of the human race from its creation to the Flood, and from Noah to the present day constitutes.

* See complete references at end Of paper.

one of the major problems of anthropological investigation.

For the Christian, the dispersal of mankind to North and South America has interesting implications for the study of the period and scope of the Flood. If there were people inhabiting America before the Flood who were destroyed by it, the length of time taken to repopulate America by normal means of dispersion from the region of the middle East would have assured the appearance of quite a distinctly different racial type, in terms of the dynamics of racial change discussed in the last two sections of this paper, from the type that had been there before the Flood. Since in all the history of American prehistoric archeology there has never been found any evidence of human beings fundamentally different in racial features from the generally Mongoloid American Indian type, it would seem to be reliably concluded that America was only populated after the Flood. This is just one example of the many problems of the prehistoric dispersion of peoples over the face of the earth.

Physical Anthropology has not only contributed to the investigation of racial origin and theory, but also to racial dynamics. What causes racial variation? Here anthropology joins hands with biology, geography, and genetics to form one of its many inter-disciplinary alliances for the analysis of certain problems.

According to the recognized scientific research in this area, there are several mechanisms of racial differentiation. It is hardly necessary to point out, however, that to the evolutionist, these are the mechanisms of the process of evolution, being at once the processes observed in the genes of the famous fruit fly, the causes of the variations among the species and sub-species of birds, and the explanation for the racial differentiation of mankind. These mechanisms are known collectively as speciation. G. G. Simpson writes of speciation:

"The process typical of this mode of evolution is the local differentiation of two or more groups within a more widespread population. On the smallest scale, this process involves group differences so minor and so fluctuating that they are given no taxonomic designation and have no clear evolutionary significance, although the event may prove that they are the beginning of changes that do become permanent and important. At a slightly higher level local groups attain temporary equilibrium, but the condition is not fixed or irreversible: the groups are approximately subspecies in taxonomic terms. If, or when, definite isolation of the groups occurs, there is a splitting of the population into two or more separate closed systems, which are at first species, but may be a continuation of the same sort of process and other processes become genera or somewhat higher units." (Simpson, 1944, p. 199.)

Those who are familiar with R. L. Mixter's monograph Creation and Evolution will recognize that this is the phenomenon under discussion when he writes: 

"If the Savannah Sparrow of the mainland gives rise to the Ipswich Sparrow, living on Sable Island 100 miles off the coast of North America, evolution has occurred. But this is a very restricted use of the term. In this sense, Creationists can be called evolutionists. Any change at all of any amount, no matter how small, may be called evolution. So believing that the descendants of Adam and Eve are now members of different races is believing in evolution in this restricted sense." (Mixter, 1950, p. 2.) 

Elsewhere in the literature of genetics and systematics, one may find many and repeated examples of species, through one or another phase of, or combinations of phases of speciation, giving rise to groups which taxonomically may be called sub-species and new species. All this is merely to say that speciation does occur.

Four of the processes of speciation, outlined by Boyd in Genetics and the Races of Man are: genetic mixture, genetic mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift. We will briefly illustrate each one of these.

Genetic mixtures occur when populations of a species which, having been isolated from one another and having developed genetic differences through a number of different ways, come together and distribute or redistribute their genetic composition throughout the entire group by subsequent crossing.

Mutations are sudden alterations of particular genes or members of alternant gene pairs called alleles, which, due to their unpredictable, random, and relatively infrequent occurrence cause only very slight variation in a population except where other factors are involved and over comparatively long periods of time.

It has been widely claimed by creationists that since mutations are usually detrimental to the individual, that this could not possibly be a mechanism of evolution since evolution presupposes a change for the better, an idea incidentally of evolutionary progress which is quite unfounded in present day evolutionary theory.* Mutations are generally to the disadvantage of the individual, but not quite in the sense usually understood. One geneticist explained it this way. The organism is very highly adapted to his environment in the same way as a finely adjusted microscope. Any chance mutation like any chance turn of the adjustment knob would be more than likely to destroy the adaptation or adjustment. We will return to our illustration presently.

The next mechanism, natural selection, is the one most famous or should we say notorious for its implications for Christianity. Advanced as the most important cause or mechanism of evolution by Darwin it has been used and misused ever since.

Let us go back for a moment to our illustration of the microscope. The detrimental effect of a mutation is the usual thing, if, indeed it is not completely unadaptive, making no difference to the organism whether it occurred or not. However, in our illustration of the microscope we were presuming that the slide which we are examining is held stationary by the clips. Should the slide be lifted slightly at one corner, there would now be a fifty fifty chance of a turn of the knob being in the direction of a proper re-adjustment. If we realize that a well adapted organism is in a changing environment, and that the rate of change is seldom constant, we can see clearly how, for example, a mutation and resulting manifestation of the gene involved might easily cause the individual to be more poorly adapted to the environment of its immediate ances tors but, passed on to its progeny, result in their being much better adapted to a changed environment within several generations.

There has been a strain of sheep carefully bred and selected for their extremely short legs by shepherds who realized an advantage in their sheep's not being able to jump the fences. Such a strain originated on two separate occasions when through mutation, a sheep was born with quite unusually short legs. This characteristic was preserved by artificial selection.

At a very early date in prehistory, Eohippus, the earliest fossil horse known, was well adapted to an environment and dietary conditions which included browsing habits, and seeking food among brush and shrubs. The story can be correlated almost precisely with the findings of the paleobotanist, that following this particular period, the ecology of the regions in North America inhabited by Eohippus and later fossil horses, underwent a gradual change, resulting in the description of vast stretches of plains and the coming of grasslands. During the same period the horse underwent changes too as indicated by well preserved fossils from these horizons. What kind of changes were they? Their teeth structure changed so that the animal was better adapted for grazing. The feet changed so that the animal was better adapted for running. These and other changes occurred during an extremely long period of environmental alteration. Mixter reemphasizes Simpson's statement of the gradualness of these changes: "Simpson says, 'if the change in any one character from Hyracotherium to Equus is divided into 300 steps, these steps are imperceptibly small and are incomparably less than the amount of intragroup variation at any one time.' Therefore the modern horse appears to have ascended from Eohippus by gradual changes no greater than those accounting for genetic differences within a species." (Simpson, 1944, p. 46, quoted in Mixter, 1950, p. 22.)

This is natural selection.

Needless to say such processes have been operative in mankind but not to the same degree.

Man's chin has changed; his brow ridges have changed; the thickness of his cranial bones has changed; other features of a noticeable and probably of an unnoticeable sort have changed. Yet the evolutionary implications commonly accompanying a discussion of speciation and natural selection need never darken the mind of a Christian student of these marvelous aspects of God's Creation.

Drastic, periodic reduction in numbers has been observed in various populations of fish and land animals. (Boyd, 1950, p. 156). Geneticists have observed that when a population numbers very few individuals, there is a much greater chance of having a gene entirely lost within a few or even one generation. This is the fourth agency which may be responsible for a change in gene frequency within a population, hence disturbing the finely balanced environmental adaptation, if only a trifle, and becoming one of the factors in racial differentiation. In this regard Boyd states of genetic drift, the chance fluctuation in gene frequencies with succeeding generations (particularly in a small population) will often result in a gene being lost. A subdivision of species into isolated populations, plus time to allow a sufficient number of generations to elapse (the number of generations being a function of the population size), is all that is necessary for race formation." (Boyd, 1950, p. 155.)

Incidentally, such a population reduction with its resulting possibility of genetic drift, coupled with an increased rate of mutation and marked ecological change, constitutes a chief evolutionary explanation for the supposed descent of one major taxonomic category from its forebears throughout prehistoric time. This genetically and ecologically dynamic situation is constructed as a projection of known experimental facts, to a point which has no basis in the paleontological record. It is at this point that the Creationist must offer an alternate conclusion from the facts whereas, at a more nearly experimental level, or one at which lower taxonomic categories are being discussed, the

Creationist should have no objection to the findings of the sciences of genetics and paleontology.

There is current in the field of physical anthropology a rather marked trend away from reliance completely upon the traditional racial characteristics arrived at by measurement and description, toward a healthy appreciation for the contributions of the genetic approach. There still remain however, many who condemn the new approach as inadequate and naive. Chandler W. Rowe for example, criticizes Boyd rather strongly regarding some supposed fallacies in Boyd's argument. He says that "Boyd would discount as useless those physical characteristics which are used today for racial classification. By what means, and with what factors would he classify Man into 'races'? Of primary importance he feels, are the known blood groups since 'blood groups are characteristics genetically determined by known mechanism, absolutely objective in character, absolutely unaffected by environment, not subject to mutation at any rapid rate and, so far as we are able to discover by extensive investigation, non-adaptive.' (Boyd, 1940, p. 447.) What Boyd is doing here is using only one criterion for racial classification (Rowe, 1950, p. 199.)

Rowe then shows the difficulty of such a view as, for example, that such a classification would result very frequently in the assigning of members of a single family into different races. Rowe concludes at one point by saying that "Any attempt therefore, to assign the members of the human population to positions . . . in races on the basis of genotypes must, for the present, at least, meet with failure." (Rowe, 1950, p. 209.)

Boyd, however, does not make exactly these claims. I believe Rowe quotes him quite out of context. Since Boyd is one of the outstanding protagonists of the Genetic approach to physical anthropology, it would be well to point out that he does not insist upon the use of the single criterion of blood groups for individual classification, but rather speaks in terms of "differences in frequencies of the four groups among various populations . . . " which resulting classification "happens to correspond with geography', (Boyd, 1950, p. 269). "Striking differences in certain gene frequencies mark off the inhabitants of the various continents." (Boyd, 1950, p. 270.) Furthermore Boyd emphasizes specifically: "It must not be supposed that the genetic deflinition of race would naturally be 'a group of individuals with identical genetic constitutions. This would not be a good definition . . . for groups of identical individuals are simply never found . . . ' (Boyd, 1950, p. 201.) He indicates further, "that it would be equally fallacious to define a race as a group of individuals having some single gene in common or some chromosome structure in common. Since so many variable genes and chromosome structures exist and since these different genes and chromosome structures can form a large variety of combinations, we should be certain to find individuals classified as belonging to one race insofar as some gene, say F, was concerned, but who would belong to a different race in regard to the gene G, and a still different race in regard to the gene H. A race' Boyd goes on to define, 'is not an individual and it is not a single genotype, but it is a group of individuals, more or less from the same geographical area (a population), usually with a number of identical genes, but in which many different types may occur." (Boyd, 1950, p. 202.) The genetic approach does not, then, base its case upon the observation of individual genetic composition but upon 'geographically differentiated' populations which 'differ in regard to the relative frequencies of chromosome, types (and genes).' Boyd says that' . . . this is exactly what the geneticist means by racial differentiation.'" (Boyd, 1950, p. 205.)

It will be apparent from the example of controversy and slight misunderstanding surrounding the analysis and definition of this one phase of the matter, that it will be some time before the difficulties from the encroachment of the genetic point of view upon the anthropometric tradition are resolved. Nevertheless great strides are being made in that direction. Joint symposia are being held and the sharp controversies seem to be gradually giving way before an attitude of the necessity of cooperation for further advance.


Mr. James Buswell: The question has been asked if we could discuss a little more fully the fact that anthropology would conclude that the black, yellow and white races of mankind did not stem from the sons of NoahShem. Ham and Japheth--directly.

Point No. I-Obviously Shem Ham and Japheth were presumably of the same skin color as their father, Noah.

Secondly, and perhaps more important, their dispersion, as recorded in Genesis, does not correspond to the traditional central locations of the three racial groups, yellow, black, and white.

Thirdly, a point which is more widely controversial but somewhat more easily settled, however, is the account of the curse of Noah upon Canaan, the son of Ham, and upon his descendants. Even though the curse said that Ham should be a servant, the argument that this had to do with the present negro race as a slave race throughout the world is very speculative indeed. I cannot go into the explanation of that part here but many biblical scholars have pointed out that the curse on Canaan was fulfilled at a subsequent annihilation or defeat of his progeny and did not have anything to do with people of the negro race of today.

Of course, there also are various details regarding Ham which have to do with the Ethiopian progeny of Ham having burned skin, being black, and so forth. But the people of the Ethiopian portion of Africa are not negroes. They are of another race by most classifications, morphological and otherwise.

To give an ultimate explanation of where the three races did originate from would be going pretty much into detail. It is a matter of geographic isolation, genetic mutation, in-breeding, and a slow, morphological changing and adapting to environment, complicated with many other factors plus a subsequent dispersion and redistribution of genetic materials in a complex of population movements.


Benedict, Ruth, 1945, Race: Science and Politics, Viking Press.

Benedict, Ruth, and Gene Weltfish, 1943, "The Races of Mankind." Public Affairs Pamphlet, reprinted in Benedict, 1945,

Boyd, Wm. C., 1940, "Critique of Methods of Classif 9 Mankind," American Journal of Physical Anthropology Vol. 27, pp. 333-364.

____ 1947, "The Use of Genetically Determined Characters . . . in Physical Anthropology", Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 3, pp. 32-49.

____ 1950, Genetics and the Races of Man, Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Mixter, R. L., 1950, Creation and Evolution. Monograph 2, American Scientific Affiliation.

Modern Science and Christian Faith, by members of the American Scientific Affiliation. 1948 and 1950. VanKampen Press.

Rowe, Chandler W., 1950, "Genetics vs. Physical Anthropology in Determining Racial Types", Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 6, pp. 197-211,

Simpson, G. C 1, 1944, Tempo and Mode in Evolution. New York: Columbia University Press.

____ 1949, The Meaning of Evolution. New Haven: Yale U. Press.


*One recent example of this is particularly interesting because of the attempt to put interracial marriage in bad company by calling it a "philosophy inspired by Moscow." Georgia State Representative David C. Jones and state Senator John D. Shepard have been quoted as planning to introduce legislation to forbid the presentation of entertainments, musicals, and the like which in any way advocate such subversive practice. They even go so far as to say "Inter-marriage produces halfbreeds, and halfbreeds are not conducive to the higher type of society. We in the South are a proud and progressive people. Halfbreeds cannot be proud. In the South we have pure blood lines and we intend to keep it that way." (New York Times, Sunday, March 1, 1953.)

* See for example Simpson's chapter on "Progress in Evolution" in his The Meaning of Evolution.