Thursday, February 07, 2008


Herd Mentality

Speaking of Michael Ruse, he has a nice piece, entitled "Darwin and Hitler: a not-very-intelligent link," in the Tallahassee Democrat about the scant connections between Darwin's science and Hitler's murderous rampage.

Before the First World War, a sometime member of the German military high staff, General Friedrich von Bernhardi, wrote a book arguing that war was a Darwinian necessity, a real obligation facing Germany in its struggle with Britain. Hitler did write: "He who wants to live must fight, and he who does not want to fight in this world where eternal struggle is the law of life has no right to exist."
On the other hand:

... the message of Jesus has been used to draw contradictory inferences -- because of their faith, some Christians (starting with George Bush and Tony Blair) think the move into Iraq was morally justified, whereas others (Quakers, for a start) oppose the war bitterly because of their reading of the Christian Gospels. Likewise, Darwinism has been used to draw contradictory inferences. Bernhardi was in favor of war in Darwin's name. Herbert Spencer in the cause of evolution thought militarism was atavistic, and bad for trade. Prince Peter Kropotkin believed in a principle of mutual aid and was an anarchist. The American biologist and peace activist Vernon Kellogg hated war and thought in bad morally and bad biologically. A case could be made for saying that, by teaching Darwinism, we are teaching the virtues of free trade and small government, and encouraging our best young people to marry and have families!
But Ruse brings up a fact I did not know about the person who is often cited as the link between evolutionary science and Nazi madness:

... whatever the initial approval, the Nazi ideologists quickly realized how completely antithetical the whole evolution idea was to their own ideology. Not only are we first cousins to the monkeys but, even worse, the Aryans are brothers and sisters with the Jews, the Slavs, the gypsies, and the rest of the world's riffraff and degenerates. The greatest German evolutionist of the 19th century was Ernst Haeckel -- a man whose solution to the Jewish problem was to interbreed with them so they would no longer exist as a definite group. There was not much celebration of this man and his ideas in the upper levels of the Nazi hierarchy.
It still remains the case that attempts at eugenic improvement within H. sapiens, including the horrific version Hitler instituted, are based on notions of animal and plant breeding, not on an understanding of how entirely new species come into existence. Blame the farmers!

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