Did Darwin lead to Hitler?
Without question, Expelleds
single most riveting though not necessarily central claim, and the one that has
turned out to be a lightning rod for contention, is the assertion that Darwin
inspired the Holocaust. Strictly
speaking, this question is not really germane to the films purported emphasis
on whether or not ID should be part of science.
Arguing against an idea on the basis of supposedly negative social
consequences is called the consequentialist fallacy. Russian Marxism, for example, wrongly
rejected traditional genetic theories in favor of Lysenkoism for this very
But still, the question is hugely important in its own
right. On the one hand, any
understanding we can muster of horrendous evil is crucial for making sense of the world and
for attempts to make it better. On the
other hand, there is a terrible tradition of dishonoring the moral gravity and
the victims of the Holocaust, and sabotaging civil conversation, by
manipulatively using Nazism to vilify those one disagrees with. Every American president from JFK to George
W. Bush has been equated by their critics with Hitler. This is not only unfair to them but also
grossly dismissive of truly Hitlerian malice.
In fact, the Holocaust has been used by critics to vilify Expelled.
Prominent bioethicist Art Caplan calls the film a
toxic mishmash of persecution fantasies...and a very repugnant form of Holocaust
denial from the monotone big mouth Ben Stein. Rod Rose claims, If you believe the
Holocaust was funny, youll love Expelled, an
anti-science, anti-intelligence propaganda bolus ejected from the mind of Ben
I dont believe the Holocaust was funny, nor does the Jew,
Ben Stein, nor do I believe it is acceptable to use hyperbolic claims of
Holocaust denial or finding the Holocaust comical, as rhetorical devices of
criticism. Like a number of others
speaking to the issue, my own stake in this is personal. I am the son of a German Jewish refugee from
Hitler, and I have held my father in my arms as he wept in front of the empty
graves of his family, marked by tombstones that simply said ermordet in Riga.
I do not say this to play an emotional trump card, but to plead against playing the ultimate emotional
trump card of Holocaust shaming as seems to be the case here.
The question is whether Expelled
has done the same thing. Lets take a
serious look. This is far too serious an
issue to be settled by film clips or sound bites on one side or another.
There are several ways Darwinism (or any idea) could have
contributed to the Holocaust. The most
modest way is that evolutionary theory could have been used merely as a
justification for what Nazi social architects wanted to do anyway. Politicians do this kind of justifying
behavior all the time. So do our
children! So do all of us. Or, it could actually have contributed to the
thinking of some master race theorists, even if such ideas were neither
advocated by Darwin himself nor employed by all Nazi thinkers. The historical record amply and indisputably
confirms the fact that references to Darwin and to ideological principles
attributed to the evolutionary process were frequently employed by the
intellectual architects of the Reich, at the very least in this way. That Darwin was used (or abused) in Holocaust
thinking seems uncontestable.
But it is also not necessarily very interesting. Darwin has been used in this way for many
other social movements very different from fascist eugenics: e.g., racial egalitarianism, feminism,
anti-feminism, Marxism, and free enterprise capitalism. Big ideas can be used, or misused, for all
manner of big causes, and Darwinism - like the Bible - has been claimed to
justify or inspire many. In fact, the
Bible and the Christian tradition themselves were used to justify the
anti-Semitism of the Holocaust. Martin
Luthers fierce denunciation of Jews (everyone would gladly be rid of them,
we are at fault in not slaying them)was frequently referred to by Hitler and other influential anti-Semites. Luther was lauded as the greatest
anti-Semite of his time, and the infamous Kristallnacht on the night of
November 9/10, when my own grandfather was taken to a concentration camp, was celebrated
with the applauding observation that on Luthers birthday, the synagogues are
burning in Germany.Not just Luther, but Jesus gets in the story too. Hitler personally claimed
My feelings as a Christian
point me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter... How terrific was His fight for the
world against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest
emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before, the fact that it was for
this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross.
These words stun me, as they should any follower of
Christ. I believe they betray a
monstrous distortion of the life and message of Jesus. [And there is considerable evidence that Hitler
didnt believe them anyway, but merely used them to manipulate the religious
emotions of others.] Either way though,
the point is that they did
successfully manipulate Jew hatred. The
question we should ask - regarding Christian or evolutionary ideas - is did
right understanding of such ideas reasonably lead to Nazi racism?
If so, there are two ways this could occur, and Expelled features advocates of each
interpretation of Darwins influence.
The strongest and most pernicious way would be for Darwinism to lead
to Hitler by advancing ideas that logically entail it. When historian and ID advocate Richard
Weikart - author of From Darwin to Hitler
- is asked in the film, Was Hitler insane?, he answers that he was not
insane but just took an idea to its logical conclusion. I am not a clinically trained mental health
professional (and neither is Weikart).
But if a man who orchestrates the mass murder of millions as a life
ambition, who endorses not just violence but terror as a preferred means of
social control, who has episodic fits of rage, depression, and schizophrenia, who
utterly fails to develop adult friendships or attachments, who murders or
drives to suicide his two primary erotic partners, and who does all this with
the confidence that he is the greatest German who has ever lived and the
divinely appointed, infallible Savior for the next millennium - if that is
sane, Ill take the blue pill.
Of course Hitler may well have been gravely mentally ill (as
many serious studies of his personality conclude), and yet still have been
clever enough to see the logical entailments of a Darwinian worldview that
Weikart argues are there. The problem
with this is that many of the most important aspects of the Hitlerian program
have nothing at all to do with Darwin (such as Germanic superiority, Jewish
vileness, a racial view of human history).
And those ideas that are attributed to Darwin (such as natural selection
makes might right in social policy) were actually not advocated but repudiated
by Darwin and his immediate colleagues.
Nor have ensuing generations of self-professed Darwinians and modern
evolutionary biologists been led to conclusions that are remotely similar. Clearly the horrors of Nazism cannot be
inevitable outcomes or logical extensions of Darwinian theory.
So another option is that Darwinism did not lead to Hitler
- the road to the Holocaust is paved with something else - but perhaps it
provided some of the necessary gas to get there. Movie producer Ben Stein appears to endorse
this option, saying Darwinism does not lead inevitably to Hitler but it may
have inspired such ideas. In his film
interview David Berlinski makes this same distinction with the very emphatic
claim that for the atrocities of the Reich Darwin was not a sufficient idea
but a necessary one.
Ok, so the movie claims that Darwin was necessary- not the
whole recipe but a crucial ingredient in the stew, or golden spike in the
tracks - and without it we never could have had the evils of the final
solution. But there are also serious
inadequacies with this seemingly more modest assertion. For one thing, there have been many programs
of racial extermination - before and after Darwin - that made no appeal to
evolution. So the idea isnt necessary
to such evils. And looking specifically
at the Holocaust, there are important factual problems with the claim even when
applied just to this phenomenon.
| Feedback | Credit: Jeff Schloss and