This chapter shows how the implications that evolutionary ideas held for
thinking about race and society were far from straightforward. On the one
hand, there were those who argued that evolution showed that all humans were
related and that any racial differences between them were ultimately
superficial in the vast expanse of evolutionary time. On the other hand,
there were those who argued that races could be ranked in a hierarchy based
on their evolutionary progress or that each race descended from its own
unique ape ancestor. Evolution also shed light on the development of
civilizations. The eighteenth-century idea that societies followed a linear
course on the way to civilization fit well within an evolutionary worldview.
Along with accepting the idea that white European civilization represented
the apex of progress, other white atheists also gave a subversive reading of
societal evolution in which religion itself was seen as a product of
evolution, formed when humanity was in its “savage” state. In this view,
Christians were really no better than their savage counterparts.