A Cordial Challenge to Members of Races

I’m sure the title got your attention. So let’s unpack it. I’d like to challenge you to prove (if only to yourself) not only that your particular race, but that races in general, exist. I ask this, because racism, racists, and racial identity itself depends on there being races to begin with. All of these things presuppose that category, in fact. I reject the category of “races” as a subjectivistic, modernistic, arbitrary construct. There is one race – the human race.

As I have noted before, the notion of race seems to be inveterate – ingrained into modern western culture at a fundamental level. I would submit, however, that it doesn’t belong in western culture, and that it was introduced as a foreign contaminant to justify the expansionism and reintroduction of slavery into the west after series of plagues and wars that reduced populations below the limit required to both sustain their economies, maintain armies AND colonize foreign lands. But we’ll leave that alone for now. Does this inveteracy mean, however, that it is a true notion? If races exist, how are they defined? Even the categories of culture and ethnicity are somewhat shaky, when it comes to solid definition – but be that as it may, what, exactly, makes two races distinct?

Is it melanin count? Not if the self-classification of various ethnic groups is to be determinative. The pigment variation in most “races” is rather large – to the point where it effectively erases the distinction, in most cases.  Further, not if we are to not group together natives of India, most of Africa, and the Southern Indonesian chain, together with Australian natives.  How are we to classify the various subcultural groups within a “race” – like Asians, for example? Or, say, distinguish Greeks from Arabs? How many races are there? Are you sure? Which race are Pakistanis or Iranians? Indians? Brazilians? Notice something in these examples – there are widely variant “racial” characteristics, for the various historical schemas, present in each.  Take a look at images – say, “Indian man” – the pigmentation variation in your typical search on that term, in particular, is astonishing.

You can make the category depend on practically anything, really – and people have. Unfortunately, nobody has ever really agreed on a definition. Ol’ Mirriam-Webster has this:

Definition of race
1
: a breeding stock of animals
2
a : a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock
b : a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics
3
a : an actually or potentially interbreeding group within a species; also : a taxonomic category (as a subspecies) representing such a group
b : breed
c : a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits
4
obsolete : inherited temperament or disposition
5
: distinctive flavor, taste, or strength
Now, correct me if I’m wrong – but didn’t that pretty much say that race can basically mean just about anything to do with society or relation? It can 1) Relate to a breeding stock of animals. 2) Family, tribe, people or nation of the same stock (So, basically, every or any level of society). Class or kind of people – unified by… something. 3) Ability to interbreed (Universal, in our case) – OR sharing distinctive physical traits.
So, in other words… anything at all. Right? So, what is a race? If everything is a race, nothing is a different race.

Now, I’m aware of the postmodern deconstruction of race – that isn’t what I’m engaged in. What I’m engaged in is questioning a fundamental presuppositional commitment that many, if not most of our readers have had, at some point in their lives. To many, it is virtually seen as an incontrovertible fact that “the science is settled” on the matter of races. Unfortunately for this opinion, this is anything but true. The American Association of Physical Anthropologists has a position statement you might want to check out, if you think this is so. It states:

 Popular conceptualizations of race are derived from 19th and early 20th century scientific formulations. These old racial categories were based on externally visible traits, primarily skin color, features of the face, and the shape and size of the head and body, and the underlying skeleton. They were often imbued with nonbiological attributes, based on social constructions of race. These categories of race are rooted in the scientific traditions of the 19th century, and in even earlier philosophical traditions which presumed that immutable visible traits can predict the measure of all other traits in an individual or a population.
It goes on, later in the statement to say this:
There is great genetic diversity within all human populations. Pure races, in the sense of genetically homogenous populations, do not exist in the human species today, nor is there any evidence that they have ever existed in the past.
Still later:
There is no necessary concordance between biological characteristics and culturally defined groups. On every continent, there are diverse populations that differ in language, economy, and culture. There is no national, religious, linguistic or cultural group or economic class that constitutes a race. However, human beings who speak the same language and share the same culture frequently select each other as mates, with the result that there is often some degree of correspondence between the distribution of physical traits on the one hand and that of linguistic and cultural traits on the other. But there is no causal linkage between these physical and behavioral traits, and therefore it is not justifiable to attribute cultural characteristics to genetic inheritance.

This isn’t anything new. It isn’t even anything controversial, if we’re honest. So, why does the idea persist? It’s the same answer that most things have. Tradition. An intransigence of presuppositional commitments. When your very self-identity is wrapped up in a thing, that is something that is, apart from God’s grace, well-nigh ineradicable. In an age where so much lip service is paid to “scientific progress,” it is telling that the high priests of scientific inquiry, on this issue, are ignored so thoroughly by so many, is it not? Genetics, as we have seen demonstrated quite often of late, is no friend to the modern materialistic, secularist presuppositional commitments. This isn’t the only issue, of course – this is merely symptomatic of a systemic, all-encompassing rejection – a collapse of knowledge, of learning, of thought, as an interconnected field of inquiry in the western world.  In some respects, it’s a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We’ve replaced valuable, time-tested categories with arbitrary ones. Theology is no longer the queen of sciences, but the exile. Philosophy is considered to be at war with the sciences, instead of our being able to articulate a coherent philosophy of science.

Specialization has, to a great extent, emasculated our educational system.  Those of you who have read your history know what the sciences used to be called. Natural philosophy, right? Wiki helpfully informs us that Natural Philosophy is “considered to be the precursor of natural sciences.” Notice something else in that wiki article, however – something important. It notes that “natural philosophy” was “akin to a ‘systematic study of nature.'” Heidegger, as the article notes later, commented that “Aristotle’s ‘physics’ is philosophy, whereas modern physics is a positive science that presupposes a philosophy.”[1]

That is no longer true, is it? Many modern scientists, as we recently read, seem to be openly hostile to philosophy as a discipline. In addition to being hostile, they seem to be fundamentally ignorant of what, precisely, it is. The Heidegger work cited above was written in the mid-50s – around when my father was born. How did we switch tracks so quickly – and is that really progress, when “so many smart people” are “idiots about philosophy?”  If we’re going to ignore scientific expertise about the issue of race, and adopt a philosophy concerning the issue that dates back, roughly, to the same period where, according to those experts, “modern science” was in its infancy – shouldn’t we have a good reason for it? “Race” didn’t mean what it means today prior to that era. I didn’t see much of an academic push to refute the conception until the last decade or so, either, although it dates back to the 60’s, interestingly enough. It isn’t because there is a globalist conspiracy to debabelize the earth – it’s because post-moderns got around to deconstructing this, too. Interestingly, the presuppositionalist credo often involves tackling many of the same subjects, and utilizing a different methodology to arrive at a similar result, for different reasons. When we look back at the foundational impetus for “natural philosophy”, we see the same factors that gave us systematic theology.  We see a desire to have a philosophy which addresses the entire picture. When we look at the sciences today, we often see the various specialists working at cross-purposes. The cross-discipline collaboration is an exception, not a rule.  Why do we have such an odd take on race? We have an odd take, as western culture, on just about everything. We’ve narrowed our focus, as individuals, to our particular specialties, and worked in isolation, to a large degree. When we do that, we lose sight of the bigger picture, and we miss fundamental self-contradictions in our worldview. Some may be familiar with Van Til’s “scout” analogy;

  Then too the apologist may be something in the nature of a scout to detect in advance and by night the location and if possible something of the movements of the enemy. We use these martial figures of speech because we believe that in the nature of the case the place of apologetics cannot be very closely defined. We have at the outset defined apologetics as the vindication of Christian theism. This is well enough, but we have seen that each discipline must make its own defense. The other disciplines cover the whole field and they offer defense along the whole front. Then too they use the only weapons available to the apologist; namely, philosophical and factual argument. It remains that in apologetics we have no well-delimited field of operation and no exclusive claim to any particular weapon.

The net result then seems to be that in apologetics we have the whole field to cover. And it was this that was included in the analogy of a messenger boy and a scout. This does not imply that the messenger boy or the scout must leave all the work of defense to the others so that he would have nothing to do but carry news from one to the other. No indeed, the scout carries a rifle when he goes scouting in the historical field. Then too he may have to and does have to use the large stationary guns that command a larger distance.[2]

We cannot afford to overly narrow our focus if we are to be apologists. We range the field, to and fro, pitching in where needed. We are all, at some point in our lives, apologists. We are to be ready, are we not, to give an answer? When we are called, we cannot remain narrowly focused on a particular specialty. We have to know how that specialty fits into the rest of what we are called to know and believe – and that means believing, and knowing those things, not just your technical specialty. We certainly can’t afford to utterly ignore the theological novelty of race while addressing novelty elsewhere.

  1. [1]Martin Heidegger, The Principle of Reason, trans. Reginald Lilly, (Indiana University Press, 1991), 62-63.
  2. [2]Van Til, Christian Apologetics

Leave a Comment