Is race biological?

I am reading through the book, White Fragility, right now because it is such a current topic around the theme of racism. My millennial children have been heavily influenced by the Critical Race Theory which proposes similar ideas as in this book. White Fragility has been divisive in a local church in our community, so I have been praying for God to help me discern truth from error as I read.

I do not agree with the following quote from the book, but would appreciate someone with a science background to clarify for me what is truth:

“But race, like gender, is socially constructed. The differences we see with our eyes - differences such as hair texture and eye color - are superficial and emerged as adaptations to geography. Under the skin, there is no true biological race…However, the belief that race and the differences associated with it are biological is deep-seated.”
The author cites a book from Princeton, NJ, & an article from the New England Journal of Medicine as her reference.

Thank you in advance for your time to answer this question!

Debra Tweedie

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I do not have a science “background” if you mean a degree in science. I do have a couple of clarifying questions to ask:

  • How does the author define race?
  • What are some of the author’s theological views related to origins?
  • Does the author wrestle with e.g. the Tower of Babel, the dispersion of nations, etc.?

I agree with you that the essence of the statement you have quoted is not true. I would add that it expresses a radical philosophy which is not rooted in science at all - it is, in fact, a repudiation of natural science. I do hope that someone with a scientific background will assist you in debunking this fantasy.

But I would like to also provide a biblical perspective to evaluate other data with.

From a biblical standpoint, I would observe that God biologically established gender in Genesis 1:27, and only science falsely so called (I Timothy 6:20-21) will contradict that.

As for race, I would observe that most people do not currently use that word the way the Bible does. The word occurs four times in the Bible, and it always refers to a contest between runners - never to ethnicity.

The closest thing to the concept of biological race in the Bible is the statement in Acts 17:26 which says that God hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.

We are all one blood - one race - the race of Adam. The visible differences that your author is denying and passing off as social constructs are what the Bible describes with words like nations and kindreds and people. The word nations is the Greek ethnos, from which we get the word ethnic.

So I would phrase it this way: God designed the biology of Adam and Eve to be incredibly genetically rich - so much so that when the 70 nations of mankind (see Genesis 10) dispersed from Babel and began inbreeding, biological distinctions began emerging which adapted them to the various climates where God led them to settle.

Men with big bones and large frames who generated a lot of body heat fared better in colder climates - smaller framed men did better in the tropics. People in equatorial regions needed more melanin in their skin to resist sun damage and skin cancer. People with less melanin in northern regions needed paler skin to absorb vitamin D from the sun’s more oblique rays.

That same verse in Acts 17:26 also says that God determined the bounds of their habitation. God knew which families were best adapted for one region or another, and He orchestrated events so that they would settle in conditions that were optimal for them.

While it is true that these ethnic distinctions are in one sense superficial, they display the Creator’s love for variety and the way that He has fashioned even the families of mankind to have strengths and weaknesses whereby each can serve and be served in mutual love and respect.

Of course, how men choose to work that out has too often turned out to be another story.

I hope these thoughts will help you.

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From a medical perspective, there are biological differences in people belonging to different people groups or races. For example, black Americans (or African-americans to be politically correct) have a much higher incidence of stroke and cardiovascular illnesses compared to their caucasian (white) counterparts. Indians and some Asian populations have a different prevalence of diabetes and heart illness when compared to general worldwide trends . There are specific illnesses that are unique to certain population groups. For example, Moyamoya disease is a neurological illness that is particularly prevalent in the Japanese and to some extent in Asians of other countries. Sickle cell disease is common in certain ethnic groups in India. Whether these differences are conclusively due to genetic or ethnic differences is not proven in all cases but the differences are quite obvious. For this reason, medical professionals who see a particular ethnic group will actively look for the unique illnesses that pertain to that group when they come with certain symptoms.

So yes, though there is some degree of debate on this issue, there appears to be fairly good medical evidence that point to biological differences between people of different races and people groups.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-36077-w

http://www.ijmr.org.in/article.asp?issn=0971-5916;year=2015;volume=141;issue=5;spage=509;epage=515;aulast=Colah;type=3

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I believe the writer is using social work terms. According this perspective, gender is the “role” we learn to act out based on societal and cultural norms. For instance, in America, it is most common that men perform manual labor, men are portrayed as strong and protectors, etc. Whereas in other cultures and societies, women actually perform these roles.

As far as race, I believe that they mean something different than ethnicity. Ethnicity is genetic (which I believe all humans share something like 99.9% commonality genetically). Race, however, is referring to a categorical difference among people groups based on skin color. This is a social construct because society places significance/meaning on different skin colors. The color of skin doesn’t inherently discriminate or categorize people into groups (giving some more of less value); culture does that.

I may not have explained the sociological terms very well here, as I am still learning them myself. However, I think it would help you in your understanding of the book, and perhaps you children’s points of view, to look a bit more into this framework of thought.

Hope something of this was helpful.
God bless you

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