Friday, April 25, 2008

From Darwin to Hitler

The American Spectator published an article by Dr. Richard Weikart, who appears at the end of "Expelled," on the logical connection between Darwinism and Nazism. This summarizes some of the essential material from his academic title, From Darwin to Hitler. While critics are fuming that this argument is absurd or reactionary, it is not. Dr. Weikart is is professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus. (I hope he has tenure.)


Sirfab said...

Hello Dr. Groothuis.

Besides the obvious point that fierce antisemitism predates Darwin, so that Hitler could find ample support for his criminal plan throughout history (even in religion) without having to resort to Darwin's ideas, Prof. Richards of the University of Chicago has a more complex view of the responsibility of Darwin with regard to Hitler's crimes. It is summarized here.
For balance, I would also submit the following link.

In addition to being a professor of history at California State University, Dr. Weikart is also a fellow at the Discovery Institute.


David said...

I haven't read Mein Kamp or any of Hitler's personal letters, but I wonder if Darwinism provided the conceptual justification for a criminal plan he already intended to carry out. Of course, this is not an uncommon approach--we form a certain belief and *then* seek evidence or support for it.

Along these lines, it wouldn't be quite true to say that without such evidence the subsequent belief would have never developed. But the belief, in an important sense, still needs that evidence, and wouldn't enjoy as much epistemic support in its absence.

Another possibility is that Darwinism represents just *part* of the ideological motivation for the holocaust. Perhaps there were other factors, such as those mentioned by Richards, which also play an important role. Apart from reading the primary sources, I have no idea which causes were most significant.

So I'd be surprised if Darwinism played the only role, and I doubt Weikart even makes this claim; but I also suspect there's little reason to think it played no role in the atrocities of the Third Reich.

Maybe another distinction would be to claim that Hitler's crimes are not causally related to Darwinism, but rather they are merely evidentially related, if that makes sense. And the latter option would not be insignificant, in my opinion.

Again, I have no idea if any of these insights are true to reality. I'm just exploring some of the options in how to explicate this alleged connection between Darwin and Hitler.

Doug Groothuis said...

Neither the film nor Weikart is claiming that Darwinism was the only factor in Nazism. This is another misnomer. The claim is that Darwinism was a necessary and significant part of Nazism: the survival of the fittest, the elimination of the weaker. (Hitler was also inspired in some part by Nietzsche.) I made this point in my review of "Expelled." Weikart is clear on this in his book and in the movie.

John Stockwell said...

I finally did get around to seeing Expelled.

The most ethically egregious part of this
film was the exploitation of the
victims of the Holocaust for purposes
of promoting "intelligent design".
Indeed, the entire movie attempt to
paint the modern scientific community
with the black brush of fascism.

Propaganda gets milage from half-truths.
There was an "evolutionary"
aspect to all of the major political and economic
movements of the late 19th and early
20th century. These included Naziism,
Marxism, racism, and laissez-faire capitalism, in that each of these
philosophies contained some of the
language of "struggle for existence"
taken out of context from the writings
of Charles Darwin.

(Marxism was not
really "Darwinist" though, it followed
the defunct Lamarkian notions of evolution
through acquired traits that were
promoted by Lysenko.)

Let's not
forget such notions of "social
darwinism" go back, not to Darwin but
to philospher Herbert Spencer. So
I doubt you would have found a political
or social philosophical system that did
not attempt to incorporate some form of
these ideas.

The irony, of course, is the notion of
fitness in evolution is measured by
genetic diversity. Indeed, the
originator of this notion was
geneticist RA Fisher, who proved a
mathematical theorem to this effect.
Even he could not see that the ramifications of his work invalidated
the notions of eugenics that prevailed
at the time, as he himself was an ardent

Had any of these people understood
evolution in a modern sense, they would
have been trying to encourage genetic
diversity by encouraging their members
to marry the very people they were
attempting to kill, and to promote
diversity by preserving the societies
they were seeking to destroy.

I was actually quite cheered up by seeing Expelled. When people stoop to
attempting to "Hitler" their opponents, they really have nothing. The
emptiness of the intelligent design
movement was apparent by the lack of
substantive content in this movie.