It is truly difficult to believe the excruciating efforts Intelligent Design proponents will make to link Darwin and Hitler. No one, with any understanding of Darwin, evolutionary theory, the rise of Nazism, or for that matter the rise of Christianity, can seriously make a case for such a link. Those who claim that link, like Richard Weikart, cherry-pick the data to make the link as strong as it can be without overtly lying about history. Time and again, this link has been refuted, but the Intelligent Design community has such a theological stake in the idea of intelligent design and is so rabidly against anything that smacks of Darwinian evolution that any and all anti-Darwin mythology much be sustained at all costs. Intelligent Design activists propagate the Hitler-Darwin link with the same fanaticism that the Nazi’s promulgated a Jewish conspiracy against the German people. If anything, the better link appears to be between the fanatic efforts to exploit the masses’ fear of ethnic diversity (Nazism) with fanatic efforts to exploit the masses’ fear of Darwinism (Intelligent Design).
PZ points that the real link between Darwin and Hitler, if there really is one, falls along the lines of a simple method known since early farmers began to selectively breed plants and animals for specific characteristics:
There is a central, incredibly obvious fact in Darwin’s insight.
If members of a population die or are killed off, they will leave no descendants for subsequent generations.
It isn’t razzle-dazzle genius. Any idiot can figure that one out – and many idiots have. Farmers have known it for millennia, when they set aside particularly fruitful seed stock or especially robust farm animals for breeding, and eat the rest. Nazis used this elementary logic when they decided to exterminate Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals. Eugenicists used it when they wanted to argue for shifting the distribution of certain properties in a population.
It ain’t “Darwinism”.
This is a point lost on Intelligent Design activists for the simple reason that their arguments are not about understanding the historical relationships for the purpose of gaining knowledge and insight into human behavior, motivations and ethics. They simply want to find the most heinous historical crimes against humanity and link them to an idea they find distasteful (Darwinism) in order to play on people’s fear and ignorance. In this way they can sow seeds of doubt among a generally illiterate populace on what is probably the most scientifically established idea the world has ever known…because they have theological issues with it.
The extent to which Hitler and the Nazis were influenced by an anti-Jewish Christianity is certainly up for debate, but I doubt anyone can seriously doubt that Christianity was less culpable than any other philosophical position known at the time. Skeptico makes a good point that if intelligent design activists really want to follow this line of reasoning (linking Hitler with Darwin…and the primary thrust of Expelled: No Intelligent Design Allowed is precisely this) it requires re-examining the rise of Nazism (at least for rational people in it for knowledge) in the context of other influences, such as Christianity:
Christian creationists may live to regret opening up this particular can of worms. In future, every time they trot out this tired piece of propaganda they should have Hitler’s real Christian influence, rationally for the Holocaust and his exact words thrust back down their throats. Evolution wasn’t responsible for the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the result of the exact same kind of unquestioning groupthink that characterizes religion. Or, to paraphrase the creationist twit I quoted at the top: Religion leads to unquestioning belief in what you’re told by authorities, leads to acceptance of an authoritarian state, leads to eugenics, leads to Holocaust, leads to Nazi Germany.
However, a commenter on Skeptico’s post raised a far more significant issue. Regardless of Hitler’s specific relationship with Christianity (whether he was a doubt believer or simply using the images and words as a political tool) he used Christian arguments to frame Germany’s problems as the result of other ethnic groups, and his followers rallied to those arguments:
What’s relevant is that Hitler’s followers were not atheists. That’s why they lapped up all that christian lets kill the jews for jesus crap. Whether or not Hitler believed it, he spouted it as part of his call to arms, and it worked. The Einsatzgruppen were not darwinists. The SS were not atheists or even fans of PZ Myers. Pope Pius the XII, who celebrated Hitler’s Birthday every year was not speaking to the atheist darwinists in his flock when he spoke of the “fervent prayers which the Catholics of Germany are sending to heaven on their altars” for Hitler’s success and well-being.
Don’t waste your time arguing about Hitler. Argue about what proportion of the Nazi party were avowed atheists (0% I am figuring)
There is incredible insight here and a point those of us who are forced to continually falsify the Hitler-Darwin link often miss. Moreover, while Hitler’s followers may have used and accepted the artificial selection arguments Darwin himself discussed, they completely rejected the Darwinian notion of evolutionary change, favoring instead a vision of creation more along the lines of those advocated by intelligent design proponents themselves. In reading the comments I was reminded of a piece I had posted sometime back challenging Worldnutdaily editor Joseph Farah’s tortured arguments in favor of the Hitler-Darwin link:
As I read through this, the depth to which Farah himself manipulated the article’s data to demonstrate his own warped sense of history became increasingly apparent. But the most egregious example was to come. Farah either didn’t read the whole article or (more likely) specifically ignored the following gem:
Himmler also found time to take Bohmers aside at a gathering to convey his personal views on the subject of human evolution. It must have been an instructive conversation. As Bohmers later reported, Himmler dismissed outright the notion that the human race was closely related to primates. He was also outraged by an idea proposed by another German researcher that the Cro-Magon arose from the Neanderthal. To Himmler, both these hypotheses were “scientficially totally false”. They were also “quite insulting to humans.”
Himmler, head of the SS and Gestapo, the person whose activities and ideology Joseph Farah would most like to lay at the feet of evolutionary theory, did not believe in evolution! In fact, it is quite clear that Himmler’s ideas on the subject of evolution were exactly the same as…Joseph Farah’s!
But in re-reading the post, I was further reminded of the greater relationship between the method of promoting Nazism to the German people with the methods of promoting Intelligent Design to the American people:
There was a final parallel I couldn’t help but notice. In an opening paragraph to the article I found the following description of Himmler’s need to establish the Ahnenerbe, which was partly to correct the fact that scholars had not uncovered evidence of the designers of the “master race”:
The answer to this problem, in Himmler’s mind, lay in more German scholarship – scholarship of the right political stripe. So he created the Ahnenerbe, which he conceived of as a research organization brimming with brilliant mavericks and brainy young upstarts who would publicly unveil a new portrait of the ancient world, one in which Aryans would be seen coining civilization and bringing light to the inferior races…”
The concept of conscripting “brainy young upstarts” to “publicly unveil” a new way of looking at things sounded vaguely familiar. And I didn’t have to go far to find where I had originally read it:
Scientific revolutions are usually staged by an initially small and relatively young group of scientists who are not blinded by the prevailing prejudices and who are able to do creative work at the pressure points, that is, on those critical issues upon which whole systems of thought hinge….The primary purpose of Phase II is to prepare the popular reception of our ideas. The best and truest research can languish unread and unused unless it is properly publicized….We intend these to encourage and equip believers with new scientific evidence’s [sic!] that support the faith, as well as to “popularize” our ideas in the broader culture…
These are from the Discovery Institute’s Wedge document. Will ironies never cease?