Saturday, May 10, 2008


Propping Up the 'Ganda

There is a nice example in The Modesto Bee of how the Discoveryless Institute goes about making its alleged connection between "Darwinism" and Hitler and the Holocaust, and the best that can be said of it is that the smoke and mirrors are artfully arranged.

The article focuses on Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. According to the article, Weikart makes the following claims (though without connecting them):

About that last, Larry Arnhart has correctly categorized this maneuver, which Weikart shares with, among other DI stalwarts, John West and his book Darwin Day in America, as follows:

Like Weikart, West [claims] that I am criticizing a straw man because "not everything in the book is directly tied back to Darwin." As West indicates, he does say in his Introduction (p. xvii) that Darwinism is "only one part" of the larger story of "materialistic reductionism" from Democritus to the present. But on that same page, West claims that "the work of Charles Darwin ultimately supplied the empirical basis for a robust materialism finally to take hold."

Like Weikart, West employs a rhetoric of bait and switch. He draws attention to the supposed primacy of Darwin as a source of evil policies, but then when readers ask for evidence and arguments to support this strong claim, he insists that he has never made such a claim.

In short, the Undiscovery Institute drones tell one crude story to the faithful and, when they want to maintain a rag of intellectual integrity to cover themselves, they retreat to caveats about how it is their audience who should go out "on their own" to find out what they aren't being told by the very people who claimed the connection in the first place.

But beyond the disingenuousness, let's look at the central claim: that the supposed "replacement" of "Judeo-Christian sanctity-of-life ethics" with "evolutionary ethics," somehow, in some unspecified manner, "influenced" Hitler and the Nazis. Ignoring those "Gott Mit Uns" belt buckles the Nazis wore or Hitler's proclamations of doing "the Lord's work;" forgetting the "influence" of Luther and a thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism on Hitler; overlooking Darwin's own invocation of "the noblest part of our nature" against simplistic attempts to apply selection within human societies; and paying no mind to the fact that, well before Hitler had embarked on his murderous spree, evolutionary science had shown that eugenics could never work; does Weikart's claim even make sense on its own terms?

The claim that it was "evolutionary ethics" (whatever that might be) replacing Christian ethics that freed Hitler to pursue crimes against humanity only holds water if Christian ethics would have prevented or massively ameliorated the Nazi program. What evidence is there of that? Slavery, in which millions died and were horribly abused, prospered under Christianity and was defended with vigor from the pulpit. The Crusades, the Thirty Years War, the Inquisition and numerous other examples show the compatibility of "Judeo-Christian ethics" with the condemnation of "the other" and exercising the "final solution" of putting them to fire and the sword.

Weikart has attempted to excuse Hitler's explicit invocation of Christian ethics by claiming that the Nazis' "Christianity was always interpreted through the lens of their racial ideology, not vice versa." But, as Larry Arnhart points out, exactly the same can be said of what the eugenicists and Nazis did with evolutionary theory, including the mistake that Weikart himself promotes. In his next book, Weikart will claim that "Hitler's ideology revolved around evolutionary ethics ... whatever promoted evolutionary progress is good and whatever hinders it is bad." Since evolution doesn't promise progress, especially not within the human species, Weikart is merely positing that Hitler misunderstood evolution as badly as he did Christianity.

Weikart is either as ignorant of evolutionary theory as Hitler was or, like Hitler, he has no compunction about using any misrepresentation, any lie, to advance his own agenda.

Professor Arnhart is a good source of criticism of Weikart and his book, as is Pat Hayes' unfortunately inactive blog, Red State Rabble.

I'd also suggest looking at Orac's blog, Respectful Insolence at for March 29, 2008, "A question for Ben Stein ..." which points out how Koch and Pasteur were misused by these people:

There seems to have been more affinity with Koch and Pasteur, and I would add Mendel, than there was to Darwin. Add to that that there is some evidence of an opposition to Darwin: the idea that Aryans could be related to gorillas wasn't apt to go over very well; and they surely didn't think that natural selection could be trusted.

Tom S.
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