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I’ve been perusing an issue of CSA News, the newsletter of a Kansas creationist group, written by a charming fellow named Tom Willis who believes that supporters of evolution should be denied the right to vote. Willis also says that “the facts warrant the violent expulsion of all evolutionists from civilized society” and apparently sees nothing strange about believing that evolution inspired both socialism and predatory capitalism, as well as both right-wing fascism and left-wing communism. But there’s a different evil he attributes to evolution that I want to talk about today.

[Evolution] was also a major justification in the defense of slavery in the 1800’s against Christian opponents.

Yes, he really says this. One would think Mr. Willis might have noticed that the places where slavery was most prominent were also the places where evolution historically and still today has encountered the greatest resistance. Evidently, he expects us to believe those slaveholding Southern states had an abrupt change of heart after the Civil War and went from being fervent supporters of evolution to staunch opponents virtually overnight.

But never mind that. Against Mr. Willis’ ludicrous claim that defenders of slavery were motivated by evolution, let’s see what justifications were actually invoked by the slaveholding Confederate States of America.

Ed Brayton cites the famous “Cornerstone Speech”, delivered by CSA Vice President Alexander Stephens, who said that abolitionists “were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal”:

With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system… It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of his ordinances, or to question them. For his own purposes, he has made one race to differ from another, as he has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.”

I would add the following sentiment from the CSA’s President, Jefferson Davis, who said that slavery

was established by decree of Almighty God… it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation… it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.

The CSA as a country took these sentiments to heart, which is why they made their official motto “Deo vindice” – “God is our defender”. Notably, their motto was not “Darwin vindice“. The Confederate constitution, unlike the U.S. Constitution, also directly invoked the blessings of God.

These views carried down to the Confederate military officers who led the battle for secession. The Confederate general Leonidas Polk was a bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Louisiana. Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was a fervent Presbyterian whose nickname was “Deacon Jackson”. Supposedly, both Jackson and Confederate general William Rosecrans were hesitant to fight on Sundays [actually, Rosecrans was a Union general —Ed.]. Polk also baptized two other Confederate generals, John Bell Hood and Joseph Johnston, who converted during the war.

Robert E. Lee himself, commander of the Confederate army, was a devout believer who at one point served as president of the Rockridge Bible Society, of which Stonewall Jackson was also a member. Lee’s views on slavery are more complicated than some of his fellow Confederates, but insofar as he considered it an evil, he apparently considered it an evil to whites, not blacks, and thought that blacks were “immeasurably better off” enslaved in America than free in Africa.

The Confederacy as a whole was extremely religious. The Confederate army experienced a massive religious revival in 1863, about which CSA army chaplain John William Jones wrote a book called Christ in the Camp which estimates that over 150,000 soldiers were converted. (No corresponding wave of abolitionist sentiment seems to have arisen.) Confederate soldier John Dooley wrote a letter home that said:

Perhaps this is the night for prayer meeting, for the parsons, taking advantage of this period of calm, are indefatigable in their efforts to draw the soldiers together to sing psalms and assist at prayer. Hundreds and thousands respond to their call and the woods resound for miles around with the unscientific but earnest music of the rough veterans of Lee’s army. In doleful contrast to the more enlivening notes of the initiated, the chorus of the ‘Mourners’ may often be recognized; for conversions among the non-religious members of the army of Lee are of daily occurrence, and when they establish themselves upon the ‘Mourners Bench’, it is evident to all how deep and loud is their repentance. There is something very solemn in these immense choruses of earnest voices, and there are, I am sure, hundreds of these honest soldiers truly sincere in believing that they are offering their most acceptable service to God.

Only in delusional fantasies like those of Tom Willis was the Confederacy led by evolutionists. In reality, the CSA was a deeply religious if not theocratic nation. It based its defense of slavery on Christianity and a no doubt widespread and sincere belief in God. One supposes that creationists, who are practiced at rejecting vast amounts of evidence as a matter of course, may have trained themselves to ignore all this in an effort to substitute their preferred version of reality.

DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...