Skin Color—A Useful Tool for Teaching Evolution?

According to Nina Jablonski, professor and head of the Department of Anthropology at Penn State, “The mechanism of evolution can be completely understood from skin color.”[1] Most would consider the mechanism of evolution to be natural selection, and I would agree that variations in skin color may be due in part to natural selection. However, natural selection cannot be a mechanism for evolution since it does not result in the gain of new genetic information required for molecules-to-man evolution.

Very often we see scientists equivocating the terms natural selection and evolution. Natural selection falls under the category of observational/operational science (what I call “here and now” science that gives us computers, planes, and vaccines) and evolution falls under the category of historical science (regarding an event in the past that is not testable or repeatable). For more information, see Is Natural Selection the Same Thing as Evolution?

I’m not opposed to Jablonski’s reasons for wanting to use skin color when teaching children. She states,

People are really socially aware of skin color, intensely self-conscious about it. The nice thing about skin color is that we can teach the principles of evolution [no—natural selection is being taught, which is not the same as evolution] using an example on our own bodies and relieve a lot of social stress about personal skin color at the same time.

In a few weeks in my Sunday school class for first- through third-graders, we will be discussing the topic of skin color. We will discuss the biblical foundation for the different people groups (the Tower of Babel event) and also discuss the genetics of skin color (simplified, of course). This is very relevant in my class which consists of two Caucasians, two African-Americans, and two Asians—all in a small church in rural Indiana!

I want to equip them with answers beginning with God’s Word, so that if the topic of skin color is taught to them in school, they will clearly know it is not an example of evolution but an aspect of the genetic diversity that God placed in Adam and Eve at creation. I will likely read the book All God’s Children to them to begin our study. I have found it to be effective in teaching my own daughter (who is Asian) on this topic. She especially likes the book since the first child in it is from China! I hope you’ll check it out and pray for opportunities in your own church to help children get equipped.


[1] “Skin color: Handy tool for teaching evolution,” February 20, 2011, physorg.com.