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Darwin and Hitler: Prominent anti-Jewish voices rejected Darwin

Many of the most prominent advocates of the above ideas knew little about Darwin, or actually repudiated him. So how could Darwinism be necessary for the Holocaust? Gobineau was skeptical of evolution, famously quipping “I’m not sure if humans came from apes, but we’re certainly heading in that direction.” Houston Chamberlain, the biologist whose massively influential racial meta-narrative modified Gobineau’s ideas into hatred of Jews and elevation of Germans, rejected Darwin outright. In his magnum opus of race, Foundations of the 19th Century,Houston Stewart Chamberlain. The Foundations of the 19th Century, 2nd ed., published by John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1912. In the discussion that follows I will quote liberally from this edition, available... he passionately pleaded for Germans to recognize that the entire “moral and intellectual history of Europe” was a dramatic struggle between the contaminating chaos created by Jews and half-breeds, and the great attainments of civilization created by the masterful Germanic spirit. He thought Darwinism was part of the problem, not cure, and emphatically decried “the evolution mania and the pseudo-scientific dogmatism of our century” and “the frenzy produced by the dogma of evolution, which has led to such confusion of thought in the 19th Century.” Speaking of the “powerful influence” exercised by “a manifestly unsound system like that of Darwin” the following could almost have come from Expelled:

And so we have seen the idea of evolution develop itself till it spread from biology and geology to all spheres of thought and investigation, and, intoxicated by its success, exercised such a tyranny that any one who did not swear by it was to be looked upon as a simpleton.lxxxviii "Introduction," in print edition.

An intellectual freedom fighter! And Chamberlain did not stop with critiquing the excesses of Darwinism. He advocated a wholesale rejection of scientific materialism (sharing this goal, but surely not others, with the agenda of the DI, which “seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.”)Wedge Document, Discovery Institute. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2005/10/discovery_institute_s_wedge_document_how.html For his doctoral work he argued that the major mechanistic theories of the day could not explain how water could flow so high up trees from their roots, and postulated a non-material “vital force.” It turns out that plant water relations was an area of emphasis in my own doctoral work as well, and Chamberlain was entirely correct to reject existing mechanistic theories as being inadequate. But he was wrong to conclude that because we couldn’t explain it then, we needed a special non-material cause. We have since discovered a fascinating explanation for the “ascent of sap.” This points out the danger of arguing for special forces on the basis of gaps in present understanding. In any case, it turns out that Chamberlain was never awarded his doctorate. Expelled?

Not really, and he was certainly not expelled from social influence. Chamberlain arguably became one of the most expansive master-race theorists in Germany, if not all history. In addition to repudiating Darwinism and rejecting scientific materialism, his views were anchored in a spiritual, explicitly Christocentric understanding of history. “The birth of Jesus Christ is the most important date in the whole history of mankind... ’history’ in the real sense of the term only begins with the birth of Christ...non-Christian peoples have no true history, but merely annals.” For Chamberlain, Jews were the resistors of historical progress. Germans were the intellectual, moral, and even biological heirs of divine destiny. (Thus, “Christ was no Jew” and there was “not a drop of genuinely Jewish blood in his veins.”)

Chamberlain’s thinking does not appear to involve mere religious posturing but genuine conviction: “having once seen Jesus Christ - even if it be with half-veiled eyes - we cannot forget Him...[nothing]can dispel the vision of the Man of Sorrow when once it has been seen.” His book was widely discussed throughout Germany, being required reading in civic life. Early in his political career, Hitler visited the nationally prominent ageing anti-Semite several times in his family home. After one such visit, Chamberlain wrote “Most respected and dear Hitler...That Germany, in the hour of her greatest need, brings forth a Hitler is proof of her vitality...May God protect you!”Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Briefe 1882-1924, un Briefwechsel mit Kaiser Wilhelm II, Vol.I (Munich: F.Bruckmann, 1928) pp124-6. Cited in The Nazi Germany Sourcebook: An Anthology of Texts. 1933-1945....

Given this gripping story, and others, it is not difficult to see how some make the case that it is Christianity that led to or at least inspired the Holocaust. And not just Christianity, but a Darwin-rejecting, special causes-promoting, transcendental interpretation of history not unlike some forms of contemporary anti-evolutionism. In Fighting Words: Origins of Religious Violence, religion scholar Hector Avalos concludes that “Nazi racism is a synthesis of modern pseudoscience and biblical concepts of ethnocentrism and genealogical purity...In this regard, Nazi ideology is similar to creationist ideology...”Hector Avalos. Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. Prometheus Books. 2005:p318.In a recent lecture responding to Expelled, Avalos claimed “Hitler was a creationist who used biblical and theological rationales in his policies.”"Expelled wrong on Holocaust." Thomas Grundmeier in Iowa State Daily, 4/23/08. nhttp://media.www.iowastatedaily.com/media/storage/paper818/news/2008/04/23/News/Avalos.expelled.Wrong.On.Holocaust-3341914.shtml...

So which is it - Hitler was a Darwinist, or Hitler was a creationist?

And here’s a final, fascinating twist to this story: Hector Avalos is the atheist professor at Iowa State who coauthored and spearheaded the petition against ID after the publication of Gonzalez’s book.

What a densely tangled web. Are Avalos’s conclusions suspect because of his stringently anti-religious commitments? If so, we’d have to apply the same logic to questioning the conclusions of Weikart and Expelled. But such criticisms entail the genetic fallacy - criticizing an idea on the basis of its origin. No, Avalos’s and Expelled’s assertions stand or fall on the merits of evidence, and they by no means exclude each other, or other proposals. It appears both conclusions entail a kernel of truth surrounded by a nutrient endosperm of over-simplification.

Both Darwin and the Bible were seized upon by anti-Jewish zealots in search of a legitimating ideology. Hatred is notoriously indiscriminate in what it cobbles together to justify itself. Hitler, in particular, evidenced little regard for learning and - as the historical sources cited by recent defenders and critics of Expelled acknowledge - he extracted whatever was useful to support his preconceptions, from widely ranging popular, crude sources.David Klinghoffer defends Expelled and supports his assertion that "Darwinism contributed mightily to Hitlerism" (http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/04/hitlers_debt_to_darwin.html) by selectively... In the case of Darwinian and Christian tradition though, there really exist disturbing themes that were (and are) amenable to misuse. However the fundamental ideas of the Holocaust were not just absent from, but contrary to the founders of each tradition. This would seem to represent something considerably weaker than being “necessary for,” but rather involves being “amenable to” distortion and employment by Nazism.

In the current public controversy raised by Expelled, many of those most prominently linking Darwin to Hitler are Christian anti-Darwinians. Many of those most prominently defending Darwin and blaming Christianity are evolutionary atheists.The response of Jewish commentators – Ben Stein and David Klinghoffer notwithstanding – has been primarily critical of Expelled’s treatment of the Holocaust. Surprise, surprise - each blaming the other. Ironically, it is precisely this out-group blame casting, the impulse to find a moral scapegoat for life gone awrySee, for example, Rene Gerard. The Scapegoat. Johns Hopkins, 1989. Or his Violence and the Sacred. Johns Hopkins, 1979. that, if anything, could be identified as the ultimate cause of the Holocaust. This is not to say that great evil does not have ascribable proximate causes, and that ideas, individuals, and societies cannot be assigned responsibility. But ought not the task of moral assessment - even at the historical level - begin with ourselves and our own traditions?

In the view of many, a film that employs case studies of the sufferings endured by four Christians, who support an American anti-Darwin movement made up almost entirely of Christians, the ideas of which are represented in the movie by interviews with sympathizers who are nearly all Christians - a work that does this by employing the murder of six million Jews in a criticism of these Christians’ enemy is - at best - rhetorically inastute and gravely insensitive.There are countless reviews of the film that claim it was not only insensitive, but morally repugnant on this point. An earlier statement issued by the ADL on the use of the Holocaust in Christian arguments... In response to these issues, the Anti-Defamation League issued a formal statement about the film:

The film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed misappropriates the Holocaust and its imagery as a part of its political effort to discredit the scientific community which rejects so-called intelligent design theory. Hitler did not need Darwin to devise his heinous plan to exterminate the Jewish people and Darwin and evolutionary theory cannot explain Hitler's genocidal madness. Using the Holocaust in order to tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry.ADL Press Release, "Anti-Evolution Film Misappropriates the Holocaust" http://adl.org/PresRele/HolNa_52/5277_52

Of course mining for critical quotes doesn’t validate a criticism, and the debate over Darwin and Hitler rages with vigor and virulence in the wake of Expelled.There are scores of excoriating criticisms, indignant defenses, as well as more thoughtful assessments. DI Fellow David Klinghoffer has been particularly active in the discussion, or perhaps better put,... Polemicists notwithstanding, did Expelled mistreat the issue of the Holocaust itself? Sadly, even if there were merit to the Darwin à Hitler claim, the answer would still be yes. The immensely complicated intellectual topic was over-simplified, and the gravely important moral issue was rendered by the film with painfully inadequate nuance and dignity. Moreover, the DI makes this worse rather than better by claiming, in response to vitriolic reviews that emphasize this feature of the movie, that “Actually the discussion of the influence of Darwinism on the Nazis in Expelled lasts only about ten minutes...”"Dawkins Outraged at Exposure of Link Between Darwinism and Nazi Ideology" Discovery Institute. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/04/little_richard.html “Only” 10 minutes on the Holocaust? First off, when it comes to the commandeering gravitas of the Holocaust, there is no such thing as “only” a few minutes of emphasis. The images rightly conscript attention and leave their indelible stamp on the film and on the viewer. Second, what does it say about respect for one of the gravest moral catastrophes of history, to spend only a few minutes making a complicated, serious, and highly controversial claim about its cause?

Regrettably, it doesn’t stop just there. There have been ugly, destructive personal castigations of Stein himself as being a self-loathing Jewish anti-Semite, or as having committed a “blood libel on Western Civilization.”John Derbyshire, "A Blood Libel on Our Civilization." National Review Online, April 28, 2008. http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=ZGYwMzdjOWRmNGRhOWQ4MTQyZDMxNjNhYTU1YTE5Njk= This is awful, and it could even be seen as playing the emotional trump card of racism that Stein is being accused of himself. Ben Stein does not condone Jew hatred any more than Darwin inspired it. The infinite regress of moral accusation can be broken by recognizing that not all who mishandle the topic of racism, endorse it. Yet having said this, things are not helped by Stein’s response to concerns that the topic was mishandled, which he begins with the line: “Let’s make this short and sweet.”"Darwinism: The Imperialism of Biology?" Ben Stein’s blog on the movie website: http://expelledthemovie.com/blog/2007/10/31/darwinism-the-imperialism-of-biology/ Short and sweet on setting right an offense over how the Holocaust was treated, perpetuates if not confirms the perceptions that need to be corrected. Stein then deals with Darwin, imperialism, and the Holocaust - in 800 words. And he concludes by suggesting, with no discussion of the science at all, that maybe we would be better off without Darwinism in preference to a new theory. Why? “We are just pitiful humans. Life is unimaginably complex. We are still trying to figure it out. We need every bit of input we can get. Let’s be humble about what we know and what we don’t know, and maybe in time, some answers will come.”Stein, above. Oh, Ben - yes! But physician, heal thyself. Why could you not have followed this wise counsel in the treatment of the “unimaginably complex” issue of the Holocaust, not to mention the grand questions of science and religious belief currently in need of a healing touch.

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Darwin and Hitler: Prominent anti-Jewish voices rejected Darwin

Seeking an Open Inquiry
Is Evolution Wedded to Atheism?
Do “anti-science bigots...censor scientists and stifle science”?
Are ID advocates being expelled?
Was Caroline Crocker expelled?
Was Richard von Sternberg expelled?
Was Guillermo Gonzalez expelled?
Should ID advocates be expelled?
Did Darwin lead to Hitler?
Darwin and Hitler: Darwin disavowed selective breeding of humans
Darwin and Hitler: The idea of a master race and subhuman Jews does not fit well with Darwin’s theory
Concluding Comments: Walls Torn Down?


Dr. Jeff Schloss
Dr. Jeff Schloss

See also:

The Relation of Science & Religion
Purpose and Design
The Argument From Design
The Anthropic Principle
Charles Darwin
DNA Double-Helix