From Darwin to Hitler?

charles darwin adolf hitler

“From Darwin to Hitler,”–that’s what Ben Stein has said he would have preferred the title of Expelled to be. Well, he didn’t get his way, but the early reviews do report the movie goes back and forth between shots of Nazi gas chambers and modern evolutionary biologists with disturbing and rather obvious implications.

Of course, the Nazis did draw heavily on so-called “Social Darwinism,” which is/was a rather ignorant application of the biological principle of natural selection (the description of which is a statement of what “is”) to the field of social policy (the prescription of which is a statement of what “ought to be”). How well Social Darwinism was rooted in actual Darwinian evolutionary biology is debatable. But whether or not the application of Social Darwinism to society has horrific results has no bearing on the underlying biological truths of universal common descent and natural selection. To argue that it does is an appeal to consequences.

Since he was one of the scientists conned into being in the film, Richard Dawkins, has been vocal in responding to the film. For the record, I really enjoy Dawkins’ science writings, but I have some quibbles with Mr. Dawkins myself, some of which are described well here, but in this case he hits the nail on the head”

The alleged association between Darwinism and Nazism is harped on for what seems like hours, and it is quite simply an outrage. We are supposed to believe that Hitler was influenced by Darwin. Hitler was ignorant and bonkers enough for his hideous mind to have imbibed some sort of garbled misunderstanding of Darwin (along with his very ungarbled understanding of the anti-semitism of Martin Luther, and of his own never-renounced Roman Catholic religion) but it is hardly Darwin’s fault if he did. My own view…is that there are two reasons why we need to take Darwinian natural selection seriously. Firstly, it is the most important element in the explanation for our own existence and that of all life.

Secondly, natural selection is a good object lesson in how NOT to organize a society. As I have often said before, as a scientist I am a passionate Darwinian. But as a citizen and a human being, I want to construct a society which is about as un-Darwinian as we can make it. I approve of looking after the poor (very un-Darwinian). I approve of universal medical care (very un-Darwinian). It is one of the classic philosophical fallacies to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. Stein (or whoever wrote his script for him) is implying that Hitler committed that fallacy with respect to Darwinism. If we look at more recent history, the closest representatives you’ll find to Darwinian politics are uncompassionate conservatives like Margaret Thatcher, George W Bush, or Ben Stein’s own hero, Richard Nixon. Maybe all these people, along with the Social Darwinists from Herbert Spencer to John D Rockefeller, committed the is/ought fallacy and justified their unpleasant social views by invoking garbled Darwinism…

Anti-Semitism was around long before evolutionary theory. And maybe we could make a better case for blaming the Holocaust on scientists such as Pasteur and Koch whom Hitler actually quoted, unlike Darwin. Or Mr. Luther.

For those of us raised Protestant, it’s easy to think of Martin Luther as a hero who rebelled against the dogma of the Catholic Church when he nailed his 95 Theses to that door. Because our time for history is short, and the facts our inconvenient to our mythologizing, we don’t always get the complete picture.

Luther wrote a thesis in 1543 helpfully entitled On the Jews and Their Lies. Please note that this was a full 316 years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Because he was such a thoughtful guy, Luther included this list of recommendations on how to get rid of the Jews:

1. “First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. …”
2. “Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. …”
3. “Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. …”
4. “Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. …”
5. “Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. …”
6. “Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them. … Such money should now be used in … the following [way]… Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed [a certain amount]…”
7. “Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow… For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants.”
8. “If we wish to wash our hands of the Jews’ blasphemy and not share in their guilt, we have to part company with them. They must be driven from our country” and “we must drive them out like mad dogs.”


Sound familiar??

So, we already knew Ben Stein wasn’t up on his biology, but now we know he is ignorant of history as well, and likely purposefully so. Oh well, at least he’s got his movie career going for him.

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6 Responses to From Darwin to Hitler?

  1. How much do you want to bet that HU shows “Expelled” in the Benson next fall?

  2. globalizati says:

    $50?
    But really, do you want to bet against that?
    I know that an ad for it has been sent out by a faculty member on the colleague’s listserv, and that at least on other faculty member responded to that person letting them know they thought it was crap…

  3. Glad CD’s got plenty of defenders out there.

  4. globalizati says:

    Heya Peter. Thanks for stopping by. I like what ya’ll are doing at the Beagle Project.

  5. Pauli Ojala says:

    Ben(jamin) Stein is under heavy artillery for ‘exaggerating’ or ‘going easy’ on the influence of evolutionism behind Nazism and Stalinism (super evolution of Lysenkoism in the Soviet Russia). But the monstrous Haeckelian type of vulgar evolutionism drove not only the ‘Politics-is-applied-biology’ Nazi takeover in the continental Europe, but even the nationalistic collision at the World War I. It was Charles Darwin himself, who praised and raised the monstrous German Ernst Haeckel with his still recycled embryo drawing frauds etc. in the spotlight as the greatest authority in the field of human evolution, even in the preface to his Descent of man in 1871. If Thomas Henry Huxley with his concept of ‘agnostism’ was Darwins bulldog in England, Haeckel was his Rotweiler in Germany.

    ‘Kampf’ was a direct translation of ‘struggle’ from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859). Seinen Kampf. His application.

    Catch 22: Haeckel’s 140 years old fake embryo drawings have been mindlessly recycled for the ‘public understanding of science’ (PUS) in most biology text books until this millennium. Despite factum est that Haeckel’s crackpot raging Recapitulation/Biogenetic Law and functioning gill slits of human embryos have been at the ethical tangent race hygiene/eugenics/genocide, infanticide, and Freudian psychoanalysis (subconscious atavisms). Dawkins is the Oxford professor for PUS – and should gather the courage of Stephen Jay Gould who could feel ashamed about it.

    Some edited quotes from my conference posters and articles defended and published in the field of bioethics and history of biology (and underline/edit them a ‘bit’):
    http://www.helsinki.fi/~pjojala/Asian_Bioethics.pdf
    http://www.helsinki.fi/~pjojala/Haeckelianlegacy_ABC5.pdf

    The marriage laws were once erected not only in the Nazi Germany but also in the multicultural states of America upon the speculation that the mulatto was a relatively sterile and shortlived hybrid. The absence of blood transfusion between “white” and “colored races” was self evident (Hailer 1963, p. 52).

    The first law on sterilization in US had been established in 1907 in Indiana, and 23 similar laws had been passed in 15 States and sterilization was practiced in 124 institutions in 1921 (Mattila 1996; Hietala 1985 p. 133; these were the times of IQ-tests under Gould’s scrutiny in his Mismeasure of Man 1981). By 1931 thirty states had passed sterization laws in the US (Reilly 1991, p. 87). Typically, the operations hit blacks the most in the US, poor women in the Europe, and often the victims were never even told they had been sterilized.

    Mendelism outweighed recapitulation (embryos climbing up their evolutionary tree through fish-, amphibian- and reptilian stages), but that merely smoothened the way for the brutal 1930’s biolegislation – that quickly penetrated practically all Western countries. The laws were copied from country to country. The A-B-O blood groups, haemophilia, eye colours etc. were found to be inherited in a Mendelian fashion by 1910. So also the complex traits and social (mis)behaviour such as alcoholism, schizophrenia, manic depression, criminality, rebelliousness, artistic sense, pauperism, racial differences, inherited scholarship (and its converse, feeble-mindedness) were all thought to be determined by one or two genes. Mendelism was “experimental” and quantitative, and its exaggeration outweighed the more cautious biometry operating on smaller variations, not discontinuous leaps. Its advocates boldly claimed that these problems could be done away within a few generations through selection, persisted (although most biologists must have known that defective genes could not be eliminated, even with the most intense forced sterilizations and marriage restrictions due to recessive genes and synergism. Nevertheless, these laws were held until 1970’s and were typically changed only when the abortion legislation were released (1973).

    So the American laws were pioneering endeavours. In Europe Denmark passed the first sterilization legislation in Europe (1929). Denmark was followed by Switzerland, Germany that had felt to the hands of Hitler and Gobineu, and other Nordic countries: Norway (1934), Sweden (1935), Finland (1935), and Iceland (1938 ) (Haller 1963, pp 21-57; 135-9; Proctor 1988, p. 97; Reilly 1991, p. 109). Seldom is it mentioned in the popular media, that the first outright race biological institution in the world was not established in Germany but in 1921 in Uppsala, Sweden (Hietala 1985, pp. 109). (I am not aware of the ethymology of the ‘Up’ of the ancient city from Plinius’ Ultima Thule, however.) In 1907 the Society for Racial Hygiene in Germany had changed its name to the Internationale Gesellschaft für Rassenhygiene, and in 1910 Swedish Society for Eugenics (Sällskap för Rashygien) had become its first foreign affiliate (Proctor 1988, p. 17). Today, Swedish state church is definitely the most liberal in the face of the world.

    Hitler’s formulation of the differences between the human races was affected by the brilliant sky-blue eyed Ernst Haeckel (Gasman 1971, p. xxii), praised and raised by Darwin. At the top of the unilinear progression were usually the “Nordics”, a tall race of blue-eyed blonds. Haeckel’s position on the ‘Judenfrage’ was assimilation and Expelled-command from their university chairs, not yet an open elimination. But was it different only in degree, rather than kind?

    In 1917 the immigration of “defective” groups was forbidden even in the United States by a law. In 1921 the European immigration was diminished to 3% based on the 1910 census. Eventually, in the strategical year of 1924 the finest hour of eugenics had come and the fatal law was passed by Congress. It diminished immigration to 2% of the foreign-born from each country based on the 1890 census in order to preserve the “nordic” balance in population, and was hold through World War II until 1965 (Hietala 1985, p. 132).

    Richard Lewontin writes:“The leading American idealogue of the innate mental inferiority of the working class was, however, H.H. Goddard, a pioneer of the mental testing movement, the discoverer of the Kallikak family,
    and the administrant of IQ-tests to immigrants that found 83 % of the Jews, 80% of the Hungarians, 79% of the Italians, and 87% of the the Russians to be feebleminded.” (1977, p. 13.) Regarding us Finns, Finnish emmigrants put the cross on the box reserved for the “yellow” group (Kemiläinen 1993, p. 1930), until 1965.

    Germany was the most scientifically and culturally advanced nation of the world upon opening the riddles at the close of the nineteenth century. And she went Full Monty.

    Today, developmental biologists are anticipating legislation of laws that would define the do’s and dont’s. In England, they are fertilizing human embryos for research purposes and pipetting chimera embryos of humans and monkeys, ‘legally’. The legislation should not distract individual researchers from their personal awareness of responsibility. A permissive law merely defines the ethical minimum. The lesson is that a law is no substitute for morals and that dissidents should not be intimidated.

    I am suspicious over the burial of the Kampf (Struggle). The idea of competition is innate in the modern society. It is the the opposite view in a 180 degree angle to the Judaeo-Christian ideal of agapee (contra epithumia, eros, filia & storge) (ahava in Hebrew), that I personally cheriss. The latter sees free giving, altruism, benevolence and self sacrificing love as the beginning, motivation, and sustainer of the reality.

    pauli.ojala@gmail.com
    Biochemist, drop-out (Master of Sciing)
    http://www.helsinki.fi/~pjojala/Expelled-ID.htm

  6. globalizati says:

    I’m not sure I get your point(s). Were there some? Yes, eugenics was a worldwide movement, not just a German one. Misuse of Darwinian evolution was certainly a key component of the Nazi worldview, but it was always poorly-done pseudoscience. Blaming Hitler on Darwin as Mr. Stein does is like blaming the Oklahoma City bombing on the people who discovered that ammonium nitrate is a good fertilizer. And besides, the Nazi anti-Semitism drew from a longstanding pool with explicit roots such as Martin Luther, but you don’t see Stein making a movie called “From Luther to Hitler”!

    And of course, belief in evolution does not rule out a preference for building an altruistic society (which is in part to goal of the Judeo-Christian ethics you mention, though certainly not exclusively claimed by that religious tradition). To look at the biological data for evolution and conclude that we should organize our societies in such a way is foolish, as it has its root a most fundamental error of philosophy: what “is” is not necessarily what “ought” to be.

    Dissidence is of course welcome, especially on ethical matters. You might not have any in Finland (I know little of your country other than Helsinki is beautiful in May) but we certainly have dissent in the US. That Stein et al. had to so distort the facts to find a few individuals who were supposedly discriminated against because of their beliefs is an indication of how non-far-reaching the Darwinist “conspiracy” really is.

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