Roots: A historical understanding of climate change denial, creationism and slavery – 1629-1775

What do black slavery, creationism and climate change denial all have in common?  In the US, at least, a biblical justification and a fascinating geographic overlap.  We look at the issues and then try to understand their historical roots, looking back to the early waves of British immigrants to the US between 1629-1775.

First, lets start with some geography.  The map below shows the pre Civil War split between slave states, in red, and free states plus free territories, in green. The brown territories were up for contention, with a leaning towards being slave states.  If the green territories became  free states, and the brown territories were not allowed to become slave states, the number of free states would exceed the slave states, enabling anti slavery laws to be passed.  This threat was the main driving force for southern secession  and thus the Civil War as the North tried to stop the South from seceding. 

It is worth reminding ourselves that at this point in time the Republicans were the party of the North and the more populated areas, as the map below shows, and that Republicans were anti slavery and Democrats were generally pro slavery.

The inversion of Republican / Democrat states did not happen until Kennedy (Massachusetts) and Johnson (Texas), who realised that his push for Civil Rights for African Americans would alienate the South and would result in the loss of the South for Democrats for a generation.  Johnson was right about losing the South, but wrong about how long it would take, as the 2008 Presidential election shows.  With exception of Florida, whose population is boosted by Democratic retirees fleeing the North for warmer weather, the map looks remarkably like that of the Free / Slave states above.

If you then look at a map of Baptists, who are more conservative Christians, as a percentage of all residents in 2000, you see an interesting overlap between Baptist church adherence and the South.  In addition, Lutherans and Mormons top up modern Republican states in Indiana, Utah, Arizona and North and South Dakota.

Understanding religious beliefs is important as the pre Civil War South maintained their belief that slavery was justified by the Bible, based on Genesis 9:25-27.  Noah’s son, Ham had seen “the nakedness of his father”, while Noah was passed out, drunk.  As a punishment for being humiliated by his son, Noah thought fit to curse Ham’s son, Canaan:

“Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers. He also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japeth live in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his slave’. “

Since Canaan supposedly then settled in Africa, African people’ dark skin became associated with Cannan’s curse.  Thus, since Noah, who was beloved by God, had cursed Canaan, and Canaan’s descendants were black slaves,  it was okay for Southern plantation owners to also own black slaves.  A perfectly logical conclusion.




Evolution cant happen because the Earth is not old enough

This same Biblical logic is at work with creationism and why conservative Christians believe evolution cannot exist.  The main religious problem with evolution, if you set aside the fact that the Book of Genesis clearly states that Man was created at the same time as all of the beasts and thus fully formed and not evolved, is one of time.  Scientists say that evolutionary biology needs a very long time in order for it to work.

Early geological work in 19th Century Britain was highly controversial as it suggested the age of the Earth as being much longer than what Christian research had led everybody to believe: that God had created the Earth at 9am on the 23rd October 4004 BC.  Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was also radically opposed by leading minds in the late to mid 19th Century Britain as being preposterous as his evolutionary time frame required far longer than what was  deemed available.

Modern science, which is the bedrock of our industrial and medical society, has presented strong evidence that the Universe is over 14.6 billion years old, that the Earth is over 4.5 billion years old and that evolution is the foundation of all modern biology.  Conservative Christians, however, do not accept that the writings in a 3,000 year old religious document might be wrong.

Global warming wont destroy planet because God promised Noah

Can it be surprising then, when conservative Christians deny that climate change is taking place?  As with slavery and creationism, conservative Christians have solid Biblical justification for denying climate change.  The first good reason is that there are natural cycles and that God promised Noah not to flood the Earth again, as The Cornwall Alliance: For the Stewardship of Creation helpfully points out:

The natural cycles necessary for human and ecosystem thriving (summer and winter, planting and harvest, cold and heat, day and night) will continue as long as Heaven and Earth endure (Genesis 8:22), and (2) that flood waters will never again cover the Earth (Genesis 9:11– 12, 15–16; Psalm 104:9; Jeremiah 5:22).

In addition, in order for:

humanity to fulfill the stipulation of Genesis 1:28 to multiply and to fill, subdue, and rule the Earth—a stipulation repeated in God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:1–17)

mankind cannot have a negative impact on the Earth as it would be contrary to God’s commandment.  Hence, there should be no concerns about overpopulation.  Finally, what God made during the creation of Earth was “good” (Genesis 1:31).  Thus to suggest that mankind can harm the planet that God has made “good” by doing what God has asked mankind to do (fill, subdue and rule the Earth (Genesis 1:28)) clearly cannot make sense. Population growth should be encouraged and the environment cannot be damaged.

This brings us to our next important question.




Why is there a North South split in the United States?

Why are people in the Northern, more populated states, less likely to deny global warming is happening, less likely to believe in creationism and less likely to have supported slavery than people who live in the South? Surely they all came from pretty similar British stock.  The answer to that is “no” and at this point we turn to one of the finest books on early American history by David Hacket Fischer called Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: A Cultural History).  

Fischer does a comparative analysis of four major British settler groups in America and looks back to how they lived in Britain and how they brought their distinctive cultural and social values to the Americas.  The book is nearly a 1,000 pages long and a challenge to summarise.  However, the four waves of settlers are:

  1. Wave one,  to the North, consisted predominantly of the Puritans from East Anglia who settled in New England between 1629 and 1640, the years immediately preceding the English Civil War in which Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan army defeated and beheaded King Charles I.  This group was dominated by families who had higher levels of literacy and yeomanry than average and were very religious.  Socially, they were essentially the same class, with minor variations. While their strong religious beliefs could have kept them on the path of creationism and climate change denial, high levels of literacy and an emphasis on education (eg founding Harvard University in the US and Cambridge University educated in Britain) made them more receptive to the Enlightenment and concepts of science that were emerging in Britain.
  2. Wave two, to the South, consisted of the defeated (or soon to be defeated) supporters of the king and the (Anglican) Church of England, primarily from the south and west of England, who settled in the Chesapeake Bay regions of Virginia and Maryland between 1642 and 1675.  This group brought their concepts of social hierarchy and quasi Roman Catholicism.  Future settlers came from the same rich farm lands of England and were frequently the second sons of aristocrats who founded dynasties in America.  Washington, Jefferson and General Lee were all archetypes. The non elite typically came over as indentured servants, people who sold their labour in advance for long term contracts in return for the cost of transport to America.  Used to feudalism and semi feudalism back home, slavery as a concept was not hard to adopt when cotton farming made it particularly lucrative.  Educating black slaves was at times illegal.
  3. Wave three, to the North, was the migration of Quakers from the English midlands (and their religious kin from various German sects) who settled in the Delaware Valley (southeast Pennsylvania, west New Jersey, north Delaware) between 1675 and 1715. They were socially even more egalitarian than the Puritans. Formal schooling was important.  Many of them founded businesses with a social contract, both in Britain and in America.  Pacifist in nature (Pennsylvania was one of the last states to vote for independence prior to the Revolution) their views became very dominant in the anti slavery movement of the 1800s and women’s rights at the end of the 19th / early 20th centuries.  American idealism comes from this group.
  4. Wave four, to the South, were the “Scotch-Irish”, referring collectively to immigrants from the north of England, lowland Scotland, and Ulster who settled the Appalachian backcountry from Pennsylvania southwest through Virginia, the Carolinas, and into Tennessee and Kentucky from 1717 to 1775.  They were less homogenous in religion than the prior waves.   The Scotch-Irish were a mixture of Presbyterians, the dominant group, and Anglicans, a significant minority.  Their home territories were the least developed in Britain and historic blood feuding between massively extended family networks were not uncommon (and reprisals there were a key feature of the War of Independence).  One of their key characteristics was wanting to be left alone by government and they had strong views about the rights of States vs the US Federal government.

New, non British, immigration has made significant changes to societies since the initial British migratory waves.  Catholics from Ireland, Poland and Italy, accompanied by Christian Orthodox from eastern Europe and Russia, settled heavily in the North East.

However, the establishment of an industrial, egalitarian, educated class in the North and a more rural, less equal and less educated class in the South had already formed the bedrock of their respective societies.

It is by understanding our history that we can best understand the present.  By understanding the present we are able to understand how our societies will develop in the future.

This is what History, Future. Now. is all about.




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  • New article: A Historical Understanding Of Climate Change Denial, Creationism And Slavery – 1629-1775

  • Great article and a lot of good research, Tristan. Hope it is controversial and sparks some discussion. I grew up in New York, moved to New Jersey for a few years, and now have been in North Carolina for almost 15 years. The culture and beliefs are strikingly different, even with a lot of migration from North to South.

  • Article: How British immigrants to America between 1629-1775 set the culture that made climate change denial possible

  • Chuck Nolan

    This attempt to attack religion based an the minority views of a few is pathetic and shameful. Many of the “facts” are not widely accepted though they are presented as valid data on which to base conclusions.
    Many consider the Civil War to have been fought over tariffs, where the Northern states felt the need to protect emerging industrial production from European competition, but the South was limited in export revenue because of European retaliatory tariffs on US exports.
    Morons who run around telling us that God will protect us from the consequences of our actions have probably never met a drug addict or seen a deliberately set forest fire.
    Long before man was burning coal to power modern cities, climate change exterminated entire classes of species. Humanity is seriously contributing to current instabilities that may be even more dangerous than small increases in actual temperature, but climate change is part of the dynamic environment of this planet.
    Pollution from Chinese coal plants damages the health of people living in Los Angeles. These things need immediate action, not political attacks on religious extremists.
    Finally, many scientists talk of guided creation, as being the most likely cause of the creation of entirely new species, not the continuous adaptation to the environment that is designed into all forms of life. If less than 20 California Condors is not a large enough population to sustain the biodiversity needed to survive, how can a complex mutation result in a unique species?
    Posted by Chuck Nolan

    • Tristanfischer

      Hi Chuck, thank you for your comments.

      I am not sure which religious extremists you were referring to. In the South, prior to the Civil War, these views regarding slavery were the norm and the majority. Prior to Darwin EVERYBODY thought that God had created the Earth and man in his image.

      Some of the greatest scientists of the 19th Century were British country parsons who did their Sunday services, occasional wedding and funeral and then went on with their research. Science and religion can be quite compatible. This article was no attack on religion but rather an observation of how some people continue to interpret the Bible.

      Unfortunately, these interpretations are not minority extremist views. Today, leading Republican politicians frequently question both evolution and climate change, using biblical references to back up their arguments.

      Rick Santorum, for example, argued that Obama was wrong about Climate Change as it “elevates the Earth above man… we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven — for example, that politicization of the whole global-warming debate… this is just all an attempt to centralize power and to give more power to the government… I’m talking about, you know, the belief that man should be in charge of the Earth and should have dominion over it and should be good stewards of it.” This view is almost identical to that of the Cornwall Alliance mentioned in this article. To see the Santorum quote click here.

  • M. A. (Ma) Hook

    I read a book some time ago that divided the US into geographical areas according to agricultural south, industrial north, the plains states, great lakes states, and west coast. The voting pattern they compared to the geography was in similar configuration as this work cited here. It seems the waves of immigrants were bounded by geographical boundaries, or at least according to the other works I have read.

    This bears further research and watching in the future.
    Posted by M. A. (Ma) Hook

  • Article:Which British immigrants to America between 1629-1775 set the culture that made climate change denial possible?

  • yellowroz

    Great summary, but it would be a good idea to add “some” before the phrase “conservative Christians…”

    • Tristanfischer

      Thank you for your comments. I thought about it and was about to change it to accord with your kind suggestion. But the problem is that it is not “some” but rather “many” or “most” conservative Christians.
      I guess the question that should be answered is what is a conservative Christian. In England, most Christians who are Church of England absolutely do NOT believe in creationism. Evolution is a well accepted religious view here.

  • Wayne Demerse

    Thanks for posting this. I am not surprised. After a year long study of the response to the ecological crisis by Christian churches (in BC though) I found a greater and more practical concern for nature in sacramental churches (Anglican, RC, Orthodox…) and less concern in the evangelical churches (Baptist, Pentecostal). Some of the reasons are the same as what is described in this study you posted but there are other more complex factors. I think this is changing here. From what I read, however, I think this difference is more pronounced in the southern US (as this study seems to suggest). There is quite a strong biblical mandate for caring for creation actually–which has been maintained by the churches in the sacramental group. This mandate has to be re-discovered within the evangelical camp — which is very slowly happening, yet perhaps not fast enough in the red section of the map!
    Posted by Wayne Demerse

    • Tristanfischer

      I would be very interested in finding out more about this study. Is it publicly available?

    • Wayne Demerse

      f you mean my study, Tristan, it is available on the Anglican Communion Environmental Network under Resources, then Documents and Papers, then Academic Publications by Anglicans. It is called Sensitizing Christians to the Value of Creation. There are other papers there you may find of interest. Or, a quicker way to get to mine would be just to google it. Anyways, cheers and thanks for your interest.
      Posted by Wayne Demerse

  • Q: Which British immigrants to America between 1629-1775 set the culture that made climate change denial possible?

  • Roots: A historical understanding of climate change denial, creationism and slavery – 1629-1775 – History, Future. Now.

  • Article: Early British migrants to America brought with them red and blue state divide. Read why this impacts future.

  • jpbrown3

    I think that Genesis 1:28 is often subject to misinterpretation. While the invitation to “multiply and to fill, subdue, and rule the Earth” is clearly established, nowhere does it say that misusing the Earth won’t have consequences.

    In fact, later portions of the Bible would seem to point to the opposite being the case. Adam and Eve misused the Tree of Knowledge. Look how that turned out.

    As for flood waters will never again cover the Earth, I think we’ve all been conscious ever since the southeastern tsunami and hurricane Katrina that water doesn’t need to cover the entire planet to do a lot of damage.

  • Windinstrument

    This is what happens when people only read the crib notes.
    What they are missing is from the end of the book; Revelation 11:18:

    The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come,
    And the time of the dead, that they should be judged,
    And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints,
    And those who fear Your name, small and great,
    And should destroy those who destroy the earth.

    Final Word – in the end God will reward the prophets and saints and destroy those who have destroyed the Earth. Very clear and simple.

    This is the ‘hidden’ passage that none of these GOP type Christian ministers want their people to read, but that should be shown and repeated to them over and over and over.

  • Article. Slavery is ok. The Earth is 6000 yrs old. God told Noah ‘no more floods’, so climate change not happening.

  • Friday Read: British pre colonial immigrants to America set the culture allowing slavery and creationism today. Why?

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