Were Adam and Eve our first parents?
Atheism and polygenesis
in Race in a Godless World
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This chapter shows how a shared hostility to Christianity united white atheists and scientific racists in the nineteenth century. Crucial to this was the heretical doctrine of polygenesis, the idea that the various races of humanity had multiple origins instead of one single origin, as in the Christian doctrine of monogenesis. Polygenesis was a heretical theory that had both racial and theological implications. This theory gained scientific support by the middle of the nineteenth century among racial scientists, who argued that the races were innately different and could be ranked hierarchically. Atheists and freethinkers embraced polygenesis since it seemed to be the most accurate scientific explanation for the diversity of races, in contrast to the theory of monogenesis. More importantly, the theory seemed to deal a fatal blow to the creation account in Genesis and, with it, the entire foundation of Christianity. For this reason, many atheists often aligned themselves with irreligious scientific racists who posited vast differences between the various races.

Race in a Godless World

Atheism, Race, and Civilization, 1850–1914

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