Wednesday, April 25, 2007

If Hitler was a Darwinist...

Then why did the Nazis burn Darwin's books? Or, did they?

If you go to a website called “When books burn," an online exhibit sponsored by the University of Arizona Library, you'll find lists of books that the Nazis banned. On a page called "Lists of Banned Books, 1932-1939" you can page down to find this item 6 on the list of types of books Nazis wanted banned:
Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Häckel).

That only shows Darwin's books were banned at one time, in one place by Nazis. It is possible that Darwin and Haeckel were promoted at some times and places because the Nazis were inconsistent. They had no coherent relationship to Darwin and evolution. Hitler had no interest in or understanding of the theory as evidenced by his writing.

I bring this up because in my comments section for "If Hitler was an atheist..." I got a comment from someone calling themselves "jewish philosopher" saying:

Hitler was not exactly an atheist or a theist. He was a pantheist and Darwinist.

"Jewish philosopher" (JP) is another clueless sucker who doesn't know the difference between Darwin's theory of evolution and its precursors and influences. However, JP is not as clueless as Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly. This is one of those ideas that the web hasn't yet absorbed but it's related my earlier post that debunked Hitler's supposed atheism. Unlike looking for "Hitler, atheist" on google which gets you many sites debunking the claim Hitler was an atheist, if you search on "Darwin, Hitler, evolution, Nazis" you get 539,000 sites the vast bulk of them trying to smear evolution and atheism. It is either ignorance or a dishonest attempt to score political points in the culture war on the backs of six million Jewish victims and others who died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust. "jewish philosopher" has been suckered by them, writing on his website:

Hitler seemed to have believed in a sort of impersonal god of nature who wanted all life to achieve the greatest perfection possible through struggle, conflict, extermination of the weak and success of the strong. This, combined with German nationalism and anti-Semitism, was the essence of Nazism. Apparently, his god was the Darwinian force of nature. Hitler, while not exactly an atheist, was a post-Christian European.

There is no "perfection" in evolution as Darwin envisioned it. There is only the fittest and most well adapted. That term "greatest perfection" actually points to a religious belief. As Lenny Flank points out in his little assay, "Creationists, Hitler and Evolution," the claims that Hitler's actions were based on Darwinain evolutionary theory are false.

Look at any of the online English translations of Mein Kampf and you will find only one use of the word "evolution" and that is in a context which does not refer to biology, but to the development of political ideas in Germany: "This evolution has not yet taken the shape of a conscious intention and movement to restore the political power and independence of our nation." You will find no mention of Darwin. What you will find is this sentence: "For God's will gave men their form, their essence and their abilities."

In Mein Kampf, Hitler writes that Aryans are the "highest image of the Lord," put here specifically to rule over the "subhuman" races:

"Human culture and civilization on this continent are inseparably bound up with the presence of the Aryan. If he dies out or declines, the dark veils of an age without culture will again descend on this globe. The undermining of the existence of human culture by the destruction of its bearer seems in the eyes of a folkish philosophy the most execrable crime. Anyone who dares to lay hands on the highest image of the Lord commits sacrilege against the benevolent Creator of this miracle and contributes to the expulsion from paradise."

Actions which aid the "subhumans" at the expense of the Aryan master race, Hitler declared, were an offense against God. So, rather than basing his racism on any evolutionary theory, Hitler based it squarely on his view of white Aryans as the favored people of God. Apparently he thought, like the Jews Old Testament, that he was part of God's chosen people. Concepts in Mein Kampf about "subhumans" the "purity of blood" are in no way evolutionary. They have more a pseudo-religious flavor than a pseudo-scientific flavor.

The concept of purity shows up in a different way in Leviticus where the blind and the lame cannot serve in temple, because they are unclean, and only unblemished lambs can be offered to God. The inferiority of the imperfect is part of the Bible. Jesus healed the blind and the lame so they could look good in the eyes of God, their creator, and he was himself offered as an unblemished lamb, so we all could be accepted by God. If it wasn't because of a zealous God, who was hard to please, all this would not have made any sense.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler listed Martin Luther as one of the greatest reformers and Luther was one of those who promoted antisemitism in Europe. Luther in turn was influence by anti-Jewish theologians like Lyra, Burgensis, (and John Chrysostom, before them). Luther's 1543 book, "On the Jews and their lies" proposed setting fire to Jewish synagogues and schools, to taking away their homes and forbidding them to pray or teach. Luther wanted to "be rid of them" and he wanted the government to deal with them. He requested preachers to issue warnings against the Jews. He goes so far as to say; "We are at fault in not slaying them" to avenge Christ's death. The Nazi government of the 1930s and 40s fit Luther's desires to a tee.

In discussing racial purity and "race-mixing," Hitler chooses not the words of evolutionary biology or eugenics, but of religion without even a light touch of eugenic pseudo-science. Aryan blood, lower peoples, racial mixture, racial poisoning, those are the concepts you find in Mein Kampf. If you think they have any origin in ideas about evolution, you're an ignorant twit who doesn't know what the theory of evolution is.

Neo-Nazis in America also use God and the Bible in support of racism. The Aryan Nation group wants to "serve the Lord of Glory and His Holy Race." The Ku Klux Klan says that only those of "Christian faith" can be members, and asks every new recruit "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" None of their racist websites mentions "Darwin" or "evolution" or "eugenics" as a justification for any of their beliefs. Many of them are as creationist as Hitler probably was.

The connection of Darwin to Hitler is very round about and dishonest and it goes through eugenics. Ann Coulter’s book Godless (chapter 11, “The Aped Crusader”) is about Darwin and Hitler. Coulter wrote:

"The path between Darwinism and Nazism may not be ineluctable, but it is more ineluctable than the evolutionary path from monkey to man. Darwin’s theory overturned every aspect of Biblical morality. Instead of honor they mother and father, the Darwinian ethic was honor thy children. Instead of enshrining moral values, the Darwinian ethic enshrined biological instincts. Instead of transcendent moral values, the Darwinian ethic sanctified death.

So it should not be surprising that eugenicists, racists, and assorted psychopaths always gravitate to Darwinism. From the most evil dictators to today’s antismoking crusaders, sexual profligates, and animal rights nuts, Darwinism has infect the whole culture. And yet small school children who know that George Washington had slaves are never told of the centrality of Darwin’s theory to Nazism, eugenics, abortion, infanticide, “racial hygiene” societies, genocide, and the Soviet gulags.

In his magnificent book From Darwin to Hitler, Richard Weikart documents the proliferation of eugenics organizations in Germany around 1900, all of which asserted their “scientific imprimatur by claiming harmony with the laws of evolution.”
-- Ann Coulter, "Godless: The Church of Liberalism"

You don't need Darwin to have eugenics and in fact, Darwin cuts away at many eugenic concepts. Eugenics would have been better off if science had stopped before Darwin's theory became accepted because the creationist scientists before Darwin had a more eugenic-friendly idea of natural selection.

The creationist Edward Blyth had already in the 1830s, many years before Darwin, written about natural selection as a mechanism that weeded out the defective individuals, those who deviated from the species. He included a concept of God ordained perfection that Darwin eliminated. The aim of Darwin's evolutionary theory is to explain the origins of biological diversity. Edward Blyth and Hitler just credit "God" for that.

Blyth's version of natural selection was a mechanism to conserve the species, like most biologists believed in the generations before Darwin. Natural selection sustained what God created individually. What fell by time's decay, individuals who did not have the required strength, swiftness, hardiness, or attractiveness, fell without reproducing. They fell either to predators or disease or malnourishment. Their place taken by the more "perfect" of their own kind.

The idea of eliminating the sub-standard to keep the standard was there long before Darwin. Darwin's addition was that natural selection could even improve a species. The idea of species being created perfect in a creationist mind would not lead to Darwin's concept of evolution.

Natural selection ranked as a standard item in biological discourse, but with a crucial difference from Darwin’s version. For in Blyth's interpretation natural selection was part of an argument for created permanency. Natural selection, in this negative formulation, acted only to preserve the type, constant and inviolate, by eliminating extreme variants and unfit individuals who threatened to degrade the essence of created form. Natural selection had eliminated the less viable forms.

Darwin saw past that and realized that the variation could create new forms. Darwin changed natural selection around to mean evolutionary descent of all beings from a common ancestor, which was never Blyth's original contention at all. Another mental leap Darwin made was seeing humans not as specially created, but having evolved from animals and therefore subject to the same natural laws as animals.

It's Blyth's ideas that led to Eugenics, not Darwin's. And It's Blyth's ideas that modern creationists and Intelligent Design proponents still believe. They are projecting their own guilt on people who do not share it.


Anonymous said...

Hitler also was quite clear in Mein Kampf on his views on speciation, and his views are those of a creationist. His understanding of evolution is the opposite of a so-called "Darwinist".

There is also the old antisemitic hoax "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion". It was promoted by Hitler and used in German schools. It describes "Darwinism" as false and part of a Jewish plot.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, if anything Hitler's view of science was more akin to that of Intelligent Design advocates. Religion is a tool used by folks who need to twist reality to suit themselves and manipulate others.

The enemy is irrational authority and religion is the enemy's most devastating weapon.

Anonymous said...

Nice summary and helpful debunking of a misconception.

But of course ideas regarding eugenics greatly predate Blyth too. The concepts of breeding animals and crops has been around for millennia, and Plato suggested applying it to humans. The Spartans actually did so through selective infanticide.

Throughout history, racists have sought a variety of reationalizations to justify their existing biases - religion and pseudoscience have both been appropriated in this way. However, these hollow rationalization are not the causes of the original bias.

normdoering said...

Anonymous wrote: "... ideas regarding eugenics greatly predate Blyth too. The concepts of breeding animals and crops has been around for millennia, and Plato suggested applying it to humans.

Yes, indeed. Even the Old Testament has genocide which God ordered Moses to do.

Anonymous said...

When Hitler ordered such books to be burned, it's obvious he wanted to include Darwin's Origins of Species book in the burnt pile as well. Great post.

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