Fundamental(ist) Flaws Underlie the Myth that Darwin Influenced Hitler
Chapter 1: Dirty Deeds Done Cheap: Christian Fundamentalist Lies About Darwin's Influence On Hitler
In response to claims that he was a theist Albert Einstein wrote, in a letter shortly before his death, “It was, of course, a lie.....a lie which is being systematically repeated”. This is a sentiment that could just as easily have been written by either Charles Darwin or Adolph Hitler in response to the myth that Hitler had derived the core of his ideological beliefs from the earlier scientific findings of Darwin. So widespread is the claim that in some people’s minds it has been lifted to the status of historical fact. For example, the influential conservative American political commentator Ann Coulter in her book 'Godless: The Church Of Liberalism' (2006) wrote:
“From Marx to Hitler, the men responsible for the greatest mass murders of the twentieth century were avid Darwinists..........So it should not be surprising that eugenicists, racists, and assorted psychopaths always gravitate to Darwinism. From the most evil dictators to today’s antismoking crusaders, sexual profligates, and animal rights nuts, Darwinism has infect the whole culture”.
According to Coulter, not only was Karl Marx responsible for mass murder, he was also an avid Darwinist. She is being somewhat less than truthful. Firstly, there is no evidence that Karl Marx ever murdered anyone, or that he ever incited anyone else to kill on his own behalf or that of his political philosophy. Now let’s look at the facts regarding Marx and Darwin:
The gestation period and birth of Marx’s communist ideology, first outlined in ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’ and 'Demands of the Communist Party in Germany' (both published in 1848) occurred without any influence whatsoever from Darwin’s scientific findings as he didn't publish his seminal work ‘On the Origin of Species’ until 1859 (though he had published some of his ideas in a joint scientific paper a year earlier). Furthermore, despite living less than 25 km away from each other for over thirty years Marx and Darwin never actually met. Marx did write to Darwin on two occasions but not until fourteen years after the publication of ‘Origin of Species’. He then gifted Darwin a copy of the second edition of his book ‘Das Kapital’ in June 1873 with a handwritten note on the inner sleeve, "Mr. Charles Darwin/ On the part of his sincere admirer!" Marx did this out of publishing etiquette; he had included two brief references to Darwin, one a single sentence within the text and the other a footnote. In the first reference Marx briefly compares Darwin's comparison of specialised organs in plants and animals to that of specialised tools in manufacturing industry and suggests that industrial output would benefit if tools were designed specifically for the "separate functions of each kind of worker." Hardly a controversial statement in any way. The later footnote reads:
"2. Ricardo’s Fundamental Principle in Assessing Economic Phenomena Is the Development of the Productive Forces. Malthus Defends the Most Reactionary Elements of the Ruling Classes. Virtual Refutation of Malthus’s Theory of Population by Darwin."
It is interesting to note that the footnote is incorrect. Darwin made no effort to refute the work of Rev. Malthus. On the contrary, he acknowledged Malthus as an important influence. These brief mentions were the only time Marx cited Darwin in any of his numerous publications. Furthermore, Marx did not, as is often claimed by fundamentalist Christians, dedicate 'Das Kapital' to Charles Darwin. It is possible that this myth has arisen because among Darwin's papers was a letter from Edward Aveling, who had written a book about atheism and who was seeking Darwin's permission to dedicate the book to him. Darwin wrote back declining permission on the basis that as a scientist he did not address religious matters. Aveling, nevertheless, published his book with the title 'The Student's Darwin'. Aveling and Karl Marx's daughter Eleanor enjoyed a lengthy relationship (though they never married) and, on Aveling's death, she inherited his papers including the reply from Darwin to Aveling. She also inherited her father's papers and it is thought that the two archives became mixed.
Notwithstanding a need to reverse the timeline, the claim that Marx privately acknowledged Darwin's scientific findings as providing the basis for his political ideology is also completely without merit. Indeed, Marx mentioned Darwin in his personal writings on very few occasions; the first time was in a single sentence in a letter to Friedrich Engels (December 19th 1860; Engels was co-author of 'The Communist Manifesto' and financed Marx to write 'Das Kapital') and, slightly less than a month later, a single sentence in a letter of January 16th 1861 addressed to philosopher Ferdinand Lassalle. The two sentences are very similar; both describe Darwin's "clumsy English style of argument" in vanquishing the notion of teleology from biology. Tellingly, the sentence in the Lassalle letter refers to Darwin's achievement, "despite all deficiencies". The following year, on June 18th 1862, again in correspondence with Engels, it becomes obvious that Marx did not follow Darwin's career particularly closely as he writes, "I am amused at Darwin, into whom I looked again." Finally, in his unpublished manuscript from 1862-63, 'Theories of Surplus Value', Marx mentions Darwin in another single sentence, however, again he mixes praise with pointing out a shortcoming. After referring to his "splendid work" he goes on, "Darwin did not realize that by discovering the 'geometrical progression' in the animal and plant kingdom, he overthrew Malthus' theory", again apparently unaware that Darwin did not actually question Malthus. It is known that Marx, along with his friends, Wilhelm Liebknecht and Friedrich Lessner, attended a number of lectures given by 'Darwin's Bulldog' the biologist Thomas Huxley between 1860-64. Perhaps it was Huxley, acting as a proxy for Darwin, who had influenced Marx? It would seem not. Although Marx admired Huxley as a scientist he was, unsurprisingly, highly critical of Huxley's perennial philosophical stance, exemplified by this statement given in his lecture 'On the Physical basis of Life (1868):
"I, individually, am no materialist, but, on the contrary, believe materialism to involve grave philosophical error."
The copy of 'Das Kapital' containing Marx's handwritten note still exists in the Darwin Museum at Down House in England and we can tell from it’s physical condition that it has never been read. In October 1873 (some four months after receiving the book) Darwin returned the following brief, polite note of thanks to Marx (note that he addresses Marx formally):
I thank you for the honour which you have done me by sending me your great work on Capital & I heartily wish that I was more worthy to receive it, by understanding more of the deep & important subject of political economy. Though our studies have been so different, I believe that we both earnestly desire the extension of knowledge & this in the long run is sure to add to the happiness of Mankind."
It seems obvious that Marx and Darwin had no relationship at all and Darwin's influence on Marx was minimal. Engels appears to have been far more knowledgeable and enthusiastic about Darwin's scientific findings (having purchased one of the 1,250 first print copies of 'Origin of Species'; he later wrote, contrary to Marx, that Darwin accepted Malthusian ideas "naïvely and uncritically"), but all this makes little difference to my point; Coulter's charge is specifically and erroneously aimed at Marx. So much, then, for Marx being an “avid Darwinist” and Darwin (who was gifted a large sum of money on his marriage and inherited an even larger amount, and subsequently quadrupled that fortune during his lifetime) was certainly no Marxist. I have discussed Coulter’s allegation in a little detail because it is a prime example of how lies are spread and myths easily generated and how relatively recent historical events (with readily available archival evidence) can be deliberately distorted for nefarious reasons. But Coulter goes much further than mere historical ineptness and indiscretion. She wilfully denigrates biologists too by claiming that Darwin’s findings are responsible “for the greatest mass murders of the twentieth century”. Another writer, Richard Weikart, author of ‘From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany’, published in 2004, spices up the polemic:
“No matter how crooked the road was from Darwin to Hitler, clearly Darwinism and eugenics smoothed the path for Nazi ideology, especially for the Nazi stress on expansion, war, racial struggle, and racial extermination”.
Henry Morris, the grandfather of modern creationism takes the hyperbole goes even further in 'The Twilight of Evolution', published in 1963:
"Evolution is at the foundation of communism, fascism, Freudianism, social Darwinism, Kinseyism, materialism, atheism and, in the religious world, modernism and neo-orthodoxy."
Less abrasively, the far more erudite British political commentator Andrew Marr asked viewers of his three-part BBC2 TV series ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea’, first broadcast in 2010:
“But what has Charles Darwin ever done for … politics? It’s one of the great paradoxes of modern times that this liberal, kindly, cautious scientist has been used to justify … the Nazi holocaust …”.
Are any of these views actually true? Can we really observe any firm ideological link between Charles Darwin the man and his scientific findings, and Adolph Hitler the man and his subsequent political policies? Surely one man and his books cannot be held ultimately responsible for the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities? Well, of course not. Such a claim is ludicrously simplistic. Yet it is commonly made (perhaps, though, not quite as ludicrous as the accusation made by Christian fundamentalists Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams who, in their 1996 book 'The Pink Swastika' claimed, apparently quite seriously, that homosexuality was largely responsible for the Nazi regime!). Would it be considered a realistic analysis if any other major historical event were to be explained with reference to a single cause? The political rise of Nazism in Germany had multiple complex causes dating to the aftermath of the First World War and the political and social policies of Hitler and his henchmen have their origins many centuries before Darwin was born. Darwin and his scientific findings were in no way complicit in either the spawning or implementation of Hitler’s lunatic ideology. When presented honestly and cogently the case for Darwin's defence is compelling.
It is obvious from Hitler’s own writing and speeches, and those of his fellow Nazi ideologues, that they either did not really understand or accept Darwinian ideas on evolution. Hitler’s rambling and often incoherent ideology had it’s origin in multiple sources, most of which were broadly theological and philosophical, and all existed many years prior to Darwin’s findings. Making the Darwin-Hitler link, then, is a prime example of the rhetorical fallacy of ‘post hoc, ergo propter hoc’, i.e., simplistically assuming that an event that follows some other designated event must have been caused by it. Hitler discussed the influences on his worldview in detail in his two-volume book ‘Mein Kampf’ (‘My Struggle’) which he published in 1924-25. Despite what plenty of people are being told and may believe, Darwin rates no mention at all. Furthermore, all of the authors from the late 19th and early 20th centuries who Hitler explicitly acknowledges as influences either ignored, only partially accepted or explicitly rejected Darwin’s findings, and were not afraid to say so. This seems obvious from any objective reading of their work and arguing otherwise is only possible from a basis of either profound ignorance or dishonesty. Those who proclaim an ideological link between Darwin and Hitler, therefore, appear to fall into three distinct camps:
First there are those who simply do not possess any reasonable grasp of the machinery of Darwinian evolution, or may think that they do despite having serious misunderstandings. They usually have a limited formal education in biology (and European history) and hold little interest anyway, so they are content to believe what others tell them. Unfortunately, they are prey to the opinions of others who also don’t understand evolutionary theory and especially to those people who are in the business of systematically lying to their audience. They probably attend fundamentalist Christian churches commonly located behind woefully ignorant signs that ask questions like “If evolution is real, how come there are still monkeys?”. This, despite the wide availability of popular science books explaining the mechanisms of evolution.
The second group are really a more obstinate and enthusiastic version of the first. They also have little understanding of evolutionary theory (and European history) but, unlike the first group, nevertheless see it as their duty to warn the world of the dangers of ‘evolutionism’. They can often be found trolling the internet making erroneous statements ad nauseam. To their minds, evolution is “only a theory” and they are happy to continue using this phrase in a perjorative fashion without bothering to understand what scientists actually mean when they bestow the title of ‘theory’ on an explanatory model. So enthralled of the worldview to which they subscribe (or more usually were subscribed to by their parents) that they are in pathological denial that any differing perceptions hold any legitimacy. Although they are a long way from winning their war (at least in developed places outside of the USA), they undoubtedly win some battles. For example, as long ago as 1926 the American creationist and ardent anti-evolution Baptist pastor William Bell Riley made the claim that the phrase "we may suppose" occurs over 800 times in Darwin's ‘Origin of Species’, thus suggesting that the work was far more speculative than it actually is (another version of this myth commonly found in creationist literature uses the term "we may assume", still holding to the magical figure of 800). The phrase "we may suppose", however, actually occurs a mere three times, once each in chapters 10, 11 and 13. Like Coulter, Riley was of course lying, banking on his audience not having read the book. This particular example resonates with me because only a year or so ago, chatting with a street corner evangelist in a small town in North Wales, he proffered that almost identical ‘fact’. When challenged, he remained so sure of himself that he pointed to the bookstore conveniently located directly opposite us and confidently told me to go check for myself and then come back to apologise! It had obviously never occurred to him that it might be worthwhile to actually open the book and check such ‘facts’ for himself; a simple internet search for the document, followed by Control + F would suffice.
The third group are those that probably do possess a reasonable, or even good understanding of the mechanisms underlying evolutionary theory (and even European history) but their religious convictions oblige them to find the science disagreeable. Such people make a habit (and sometimes a living) seeking to discredit any aspect of modern biology based on Darwin’s findings which, in effect, means they are trying to discredit just about the entire basis of modern biology. Attempting to ideologically link Darwin and Hitler is a mere byproduct, then, of a generally anti-science, pro-faith attitude. Conservative Christian authors representing the intelligent design touting Discovery Institute such as Weikart, and Jerry Bergman, author of a number of anti-evolution articles such as ‘Darwinism and the Nazi Race Holocaust’, published in 1999 in the ‘Journal of Creation’ (submission guidelines: “Do not use too many big or extra words”) are probably the most commonly cited in recent years.
Bergman, especially, paints such a dishonest picture of Darwin’s life, scientific work and personal opinions that much would surely be considered libelous where he alive today. He wrote a particularly scurrilous paper entitled 'Was Charles Darwin Psychotic?: A Study Of His Mental Health' in which it is clear that Bergman has no proper understanding of current psychological diagnoses. He details a constellation of psychological ailments (most of which are gleaned from works written post 1970s, only two are from Darwin's own pen) such as anxiety, agoraphobia, digestive problems and depression, all of which might point to a diagnosis of neurosis rather than psychosis. The only 'symptom' Bergman can find which comes anywhere near to the psychotic end of a psychological personality continuum is his love of shooting as a young man (with which Bergman makes great play; I somehow doubt, though, that he considers any of many Christian hunting organisations in the USA to be similarly psychotic). He is deliberately and cynically employing the word 'psychotic' as a lay person's notion of madness with evil intent to taint Darwin's scientific findings.
The extent of Bergman's basic historical and scientific errors and misunderstandings have become legend. For example, in his 2001 paper in the 'Journal of Creation', 'The Darwinian Foundation of Communism', Bergman claims that Marx first "encountered Darwin’s writings and ideas at the University of Berlin". This is highly unlikely and even if true is a trivial fact. Marx attended the University of Berlin between 1836 and 1840 and during those years Darwin had published only brief descriptive work (usually one or two paragraphs in society transactions) concerning geological structures, birds, plants and moulds; certainly nothing that could have led to the genesis of a political philosophy. An error of a similar magnitude can be found in the opening statement of his paper entitled “The Ape-to-Human Progression: The Most Common Evolution Icon is a Fraud”, also published in the ‘Journal of Creation’, this time in 2009:
“Darwin suggested an unbroken evolutionary chain of life from simple molecules, such as ammonia, water, and phosphoric salts, to humans”.
This is sheer nonsense. Darwin famously did not speculate as to how the first life forms emerged, other than one offhand remark in a private letter about the possibility it may have occurred in a "warm pond". He did not feel there would ever be enough information available in his lifetime to be able to generate any meaningful hypotheses. From the letter written in 1863 to the English botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker:
“It is mere rubbish to talk about the origin of life; one might as well talk about the origin of matter.”
And in 'Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex' (1872) he reiterated that thought:
"It is no valid objection that science as yet throws no light on the far higher problem of the essence or origin of life."
If Darwin had indeed suggested some mechanism for abiogenesis Bergman would no doubt have used a direct quote. He doesn’t because none exist. Instead he misleadingly cites a sentence from Stephen C. Meyer’s 2009 book ‘Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design’. Meyer isn’t a biologist, he’s not even a working scientist though he does have a joint first degree in physics and earth sciences. He has yet to conduct any experiments in an attempt to falsify evolution. He’s a philosopher and intelligent design advocate from the Discovery Institute where he enjoys the company of Weikart and Bergman.
This pseudo-academic affiliation is important. Linking Darwin with Hitler is no more than a fringe view promulgated most notably by American fundamentalist Christians from the Discovery Institute and occasionally by Islamic authors such as Harun Yahya. So publications that postulate a link between Darwin’s findings and Hitler’s ideology originate from very few sources and they are invariably not legitimate university history departments, with the possible exception of Daniel Gasman’s 1971 book ‘The Scientific Origins of National Socialism: Social Darwinism in Ernst Haeckel and the German Monist League’. It is telling that not a single biographer of Hitler has ever noticed any Darwin-Hitler connection whatsoever, with a single (rather vague) third-hand exception. The following quote can be found in Alan Bullock's (1952) book '‘Hitler: A Study In Tyranny’:
"His secretary, who had to endure many such outbursts, records that after his return to Berlin in January his conversations became entirely self-centred and was marked by the monotonous repetion of the same stories told over and over again. His intellectual appetite for the discussion of such large subjects as the evolution of man, the course of world history, religion, and the future of science had gone; even his memory began to fail him. His talk was confined to anectodes about his dog or his diet, interspersed with complaints about the stupidity and wickedness of the world."
The citation Bullock gives is Zoller, A. ‘Hitler Private'. Dusseldorf, 1949. Alfred Zoller was a French army officer who, in turn, apparently received the quote from his interviews with Christa Schroeder, Hitler's private secretary. As discussed in some detail later, even if the quote is accurate it's translation may not be; the commonly translated German word for 'evolution' at that time actually translates most accurately as 'development'.
Evolution by natural selection simply describes a natural phenomenon. It can, in itself, be no more disturbing or distasteful than any other natural phenomenon such as the theory of gravity, or the germ theory of infectious disease. What these authors ultimately object to is this: before Darwin there was a consensus of perceived apparent design in nature, which required the actions of a top-down agent. Darwin discovered that this apparent design was able to be produced automatically, via bottom-up mechanisms. Darwin’s findings don’t necessarily dismiss the possibility of a deity entirely. However, they do demonstrate that although the actions of a deity might well be sufficient, they are certainly not a necessary condition to explain the diversity of life we observe on Earth today. As supporting data rapidly accumulated in the following years this view of the non-necessity of a deity in order to explain other natural phenomena naturally spilled over into all other branches of science.
One of the strengths of Darwinian evolution is that it offers a comprehensive historical narrative for the abundance of life forms on this planet. Intelligent design does not. Perhaps this is why, as we shall see, authors such as Weikart and Bergman have such difficulty presenting an honest and balanced account of history. Intelligent Design proponents not only offer no timeline, they detail no design mechanism at all other than ‘an intelligent designer must have done it’. Not surprisingly, they have little to show in the way of of peer reviewed publications to support their views and so, with nothing new to put on the table, are forced to repeatedly chant their mantra that ‘evolution is just not possible’.
The accepted method of engaging in science is to test hypotheses, present research findings at open scientific conferences and meetings, then to publish these data and findings in peer-reviewed journals, and finally to write textbooks. The Discovery Institute blatantly bypass the first three stages. They present opinions, not scientific findings and spend large amounts of money lobbying politicians to include intelligent design in the science curriculum of state schools all the while recommending 'textbooks' published by their own 'fellows'. Despite holding an annual budget of several million dollars they do no actual research into intelligent design (though they keep promising to; meanwhile they have their 'research fellows' interviewed in front of a green screen later replaced by stock images of laboratories and continue to claim tax exemption status partly on the grounds they fund scientific research) preferring to report and comment, usually in a highly distorted fashion, on the hard work done by others, most often in closed meetings. They publish their opinion pieces only in journals affiliated to their cause and go right ahead and write books (aimed only at the general public, never the scientific community). Furthermore, some of these authors rarely give permission to use excerpts from their books for the purposes of rebuttal and critique by evolutionary biologists.
They are not averse, however, to 'planting' ludicrously favourable reviews of their publications in the media. A recent review in the New York Times, written by economist George Gilder informs us that Discovery Institute fellow Stephen Meyer's 2013 book 'Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin Of Animal Life And The Case For Intelligent Design' is:
".........the best science book ever written. It is a magnificent work, a true masterpiece that will be read for hundreds of years."
Hyperbole, not much.....But then again, what would we expect from an economist, not biologist, reviewer who conveniently forgets to mention to his readers that he's the co-founder of the Discovery Institute. Gilder's praise of Meyer's book pales in comparison, however, with biochemist Michael Behe's opinion of his own 'discoveries' in intelligent design. In his 1996 book 'Darwin's Black Box' he actually claimed that they:
"must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science” rivalling “those of Newton and Einstein , Lavoisier and Schrödinger, Pasteur and Darwin.”
He claimed all this before even a single peer-reviewed paper supporting intelligent design had been published in any scientific journal, in any discipline! Not surprisingly, academically, their approach has been a failure; as far as the academic community is concerned they lack any scientific credibility whatsoever. We can see that Robert Park's seven warning signs for bogus claims ('The Seven Warning Signs Of A Bogus Science, 'Chronicles Of Higher Education', January 2003) show a particularly tight fit in the case of the opinions offered by Discovery Institute authors and their ilk; (i) their claims are pitched directly to the media and general public, thus bypassing peer review; (ii) next, they play the victim by claiming that a powerful orthodox establishment is suppressing their 'evidence'; (iii) a substantial number of their claims are at the limits of the data available to them; (iv) they make abundant claims utilising the argument by popularity; (v) their 'research' is done in isolation from mainstream scientific communities and (vi) their claims would require new laws of nature to be formalised.
Further evidence for the pseudoscientific credentials of Discovery Institute fellows is exemplified by their track record of supporting potentially dangerous medical causes. William Dembski, for example, has claimed that childhood autism is caused by vaccines while both Rev. Jonathan Wells and Phillip Johnson are signatories to the 'Aids Appraisal Letter', first published in June 1991 and ongoing, which denies any link between the HIV virus and AIDS. Rev. Wells (a devotee for over 40 years of the self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, aka the 'Moonies') also claimed in 2004 that cancer was not caused by genetic mutations. Representing the Discovery Institute in federal court in the famous Dover trial in 2005, their keynote scientist Michael Behe was forced to admit that, potentially, if intelligent design were to be considered valid, astrology would also meet that same standard as a reputable scientific theory. Discovery Institute fellow Paul Nelson has actually confirmed their arid research terrain. Quoted in an article entitled 'Interview: The Measure of Design, A Conversation About the Past, Present & Future of Darwinism & Design' which appeared in 'Touchstone' magazine in 2004, he admitted:
"Easily the biggest challenge facing the intelligent design community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don't have such a theory right now..........we've got a bag of powerful intuitions and a handful of notions"
But intuitions and notions do not a science make. Their failure as researchers has therefore forced the Discovery Institute 'fellows' to take another, more sociologically based approach to push their agenda; by claiming that evolution by natural selection (or random drift, or any other discovered mechanism) is simply rotten. The logic behind their argument is that because they claim to be able to identify disagreeable social consequences emanating from Darwin himself and/or his findings (with Hitler's regime at the pinnacle), then the findings themselves ought to be brought into question. However, as University of Chicago historian Robert Richards rightly notes in his paper ‘Was Hitler A Darwinian?:
“.........even if Hitler had the Origin of Species as his bedtime reading and clearly derived inspiration from it, this would have no bearing on the truth of Darwin’s theory or directly on the moral character of Darwin and other Darwinians”.
Indeed, even if Hitler had been a scientist and had himself discovered evolution by natural selection, and if Nazi stormtroopers had shouted 'Heil Darwin' as they went about their work, the science itself would in no way be invalidated. To claim otherwise would be absurd, an argumentum ad consequentiam. The tactics employed by members of the Discovery Institute, then, are simply a diversion to hide their real intentions of divorcing Nazism from German Christianity and attempting to discredit any scientific endeavour that might lead to doubts as to whether a deity exists. Again, this strategy has been admitted to by their own 'Research Director' Bruce Gordon, in his article entitled 'Intelligent Design Movement Struggles With Identity Crisis', published in 'Research News And Opportunities in Science And Philosophy' in January 2001:
".....design theoretic research has been hijacked as part of a larger cultural and political movement......it must be worth pursuing on the basis of its own merits, not as an exercise in Christian 'cultural renewal'".
Ironically, the fact that the Nazi regime was able to exercise the power that they did surely brings into question whether a benevolent deity actually exists, or able to exert any effect. Or perhaps not, given the apparent propensity of the Judeo-Christian God to commit mass genocide himself. When Christian (or Muslim) apologists argue for the pivotal role played by Christianity (or Islam) in the development of Western (or modern) thought, they surely must also accept that the Bible (or Qu'ran) also acted as an early prototype for the subjugation and slaughter of millions of people by numerous Western (and Islamic) societies.
If you still have any doubts as to Weikart and Bergman’s and other Christian fundamentalist motives, ask yourself why they don’t level similar absurd arguments at any other field of science. Did anyone ideologically link Isaac Newton (or even the Wright brothers) with Hitler because the Luftwaffe and the Italian airforce so effectively targeted a wholly civilian population when they bombed the Basque town of Guernica in 1937? Or to any other aerial bombing campaigns deliberately targeting civilians? Has anyone ideologically linked Antoine Lavoisier with Hitler because he decided to use the chemical agent Zyklon-B in the Nazi death camps rather than some non-chemical means of mass murder? Mendelian genetics directly informed the scientific basis for eugenics policies worldwide, yet we witness none of the vindictiveness aimed at Darwin targeted also at Gregor Mendel. Indeed, who outside of the fundamentalist Christian community would even consider it reasonable for a scientist to be deemed responsible when, after their death, another individual uses their research findings and exploits them to serve their own political agenda? And how come we never hear Christian fundamentalists denigrate classical music? After all, the Nazis employed it to great effect in their propaganda films and mass rallies.
So what is it about Darwin that they hate so much? He simply discovered the existence of a mechanism that explains the diversity of the species currently observed on our planet (not, as Bergman and Meyer would like their audience to think, a mechanism for abiogenesis). He was a naturalist. He had no initial underlying philosophical interest in finding such a mechanism, other than a curiosity to explain phenomena as diverse as such as corals, orchids, birds and barnacles and there is a mighty long philosophical road from barnacles to concentration camps, despite Bergman’s pathetic assertion that “he wanted to murder God”. As noted, Bergman has quite a history of making asinine statements. In a 2009 debate with developmental biologist PZ Myers on whether creationism should be taught alongside evolution in schools he stated, incredibly, that:
"........no scientists opposed Hitler".
If Bergman was anything like a diligent researcher he would have found the November 26th 1938 edition of the influential British magazine 'Picture Post' which displayed a collage cover featuring Hitler, Goebbels and Göering contrasted with the faces of a number of German scientists opposed to Nazism as well as detailed article inside. He would know the story of Franz Boas (1858-1942), the German-born pro-Darwinian, anti-racist 'father of American Anthropology' who was responsible for getting many anti-Nazi German scientists out of their homeland and arranging academic positions for them in the United States. Obviously Bergman hasn't bothered to read Jean Medawar and David Pyke's 2001 book 'Hitler's Gift: The True Story of the Scientists Expelled by the Nazi Regime'. In the same debate Bergman also claimed that a schoolteacher had been fired for posting the periodic table on his classroom wall, on the grounds that the periodic table was irreducibly complex and therefore constituted a religious statement. The story was, of course, untrue. But let's give Bergman some benefit of the doubt. He's probably perfectly aware of the facts, he just never lets the truth get in the way of a nice juicy dishonest claim.
Darwin initially trained to be a clergyman and at the time of writing ‘Origin of Species’ Darwin was a committed theist who was married to a devout Christian. Although in his later life he described himself as 'agnostic' - and never as atheist - he nevertheless had openly atheist friends and, when they were invited to dinner at his home his wife would arrange the table so she did not have to sit next to them. Indeed, Darwin wrote on several occasions that he perceived no general incompatibility between his findings on evolution and religion. More specifically the theory of evolution by natural selection explains how the individual species that are observed today have descended, via means of often deceptively simple biological algorithms, from common ancestor species, a process referred to as ‘speciation’ (though, of course, evolution occurs in the absence of speciation). Thus Darwinian evolution is descriptive. Unlike the Bible, it is in no sense prescriptive. Many fundamentalist Christians appear to be philosophically blind to this most basic fact.
Now Hitler had no scientific training at all and left a respected Catholic school at sixteen with an undistinguished academic record in every subject, having been removed from an earlier respected school for his poor performance and was later turned down by art college. Not surprisingly, it is obvious from his own pen that he possessed no real understanding of evolution. Bergman, however, tells us differently:
“As early as 1925, Hitler outlined his conclusion in Chapter 4 of Mein Kampf that Darwinism was the only basis for a successful Germany”
Did he really? Actually no, he didn’t. Please go ahead and read Chapter 4 and you will find that Bergman is blatantly fabricating history. Indeed, we have available to us a complete record of everything Hitler wrote and said in public, and quite a bit of what he said and wrote in private. In addition to the lack of mention of Darwin in ‘Mein Kampf’, the transcripts of every recorded speech made by Hitler are freely available. Nowhere did he use the words ‘Darwin’, ‘Darwinist’, ‘Darwinian’ or ‘Darwinism’ or the terms ‘theory of evolution’ or ‘theory of descent’. Similarly, in his private correspondence and personal notes, ('Hitler's Letters and Notes' published in 1974 by the German historian Werner Macer) not a single mention is found of Darwin or 'Darwinism'. This is indeed a surprising omission, considering the intellectual debt Bergman and Weikart claim Hitler owes Darwin. The same goes for Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda. The volumes of his meticulously kept diary dated 1923-1945 similarly makes no mention of 'Darwin', 'Darwinism' or 'theory of evolution'. Indeed neither Weikart, Bergman or Gasman or anyone else have ever been able to uncover a single direct quote from any leading Nazi ideologue for that matter linking Nazi political policy with the ‘theory of evolution’, ‘Darwin’ or ‘Darwinism’.
It appears that Hitler was an avid reader. The writer Frederick Oeschner, who was given frequent access to both Hitler's private residence and offices estimated, in his 1942 book 'This Is The Enemy', that Hitler's personal library held 16,300 books. Of these, he noted that approximately 7,000 dealt with military matters, 1,500 with architecture and the arts and 800-1000 books could be classed as popular fiction. The remaining volumes dealt with diverse themes such as history and geography. Not a single work by Darwin was found. The portions of Hitler's library found in the United States Library of Congress and at Brown University confirm this. As Robert Richards remind us:
“There's not the slightest shred of evidence that Hitler read Darwin”.
Unperturbed by such evidence however, Weikart, responding to a 'Philly News' article 'Severing the Link between Darwin and Nazism', (June 7, 2013) written by Fay Flam, actually countered with ".......whether Hitler ever read Darwin is, of course, irrelevant" before claiming, seriously, that evidence that Nazi Party policies were influenced by Darwin can reasonably be construed by the fact that the German school biology curriculum included evolution by natural selection! I'm sure they taught about gravity and chemistry too which, as mentioned, are both sciences used by the Nazis with evil intent. Perhaps they too influenced political policy?
Hitler's favourite author, from childhood and into adulthood, was undoubtedly Karl May. He rates a particularly admirable mention in 'Mein Kampf' for the influence on his childhood and according to Albert Speer (quoted by Grafton in his December 2008 article in New Reblic, 'Mein Buch):
"...........when faced by seemingly hopeless situations, he would still reach for these stories........they gave him courage like works of philosophy for others or the Bible for elderly people."
May was, of course, German and despite having never travelled to the United States wrote novels set in the 'Wild West' all of which had a common theme of the sharp-shooting white hero defeating the noble savage, but racially inferior 'Redskins'. The underlying prevalent theme was that of 'Manifest Destiny', i.e., the moral right of Europeans to inhabit every corner of North America. Hitler referred to the value of this concept in a number of speeches. It is not difficult, therefore, to draw parallels between 'Manifest Destiny' and Hitler's concept of 'Lebensraum', or the advocation of German expansion into areas of Europe populated by 'inferior peoples', particularly toward the east. On October 17th 1941, Hitler is recorded as saying about Russia:
"There’s only one duty: to Germanize this country by the immigration of Germans, and to look upon the natives as Redskins."
And this was not a one-off sentiment; Hitler is frequently recorded as referring to Russians as 'Redskins'. By 1943 Germany had 217 divisions facing Russia and only 70 facing the Atlantic and Hitler had copies of some of Karl May's books distributed to troops the Russian front. Nor is is it a stretch to identify the similarity of Native American forced migrations into reservations with the forced displacement of the Jewish population into concentration camps. Of course, the phrase 'Manifest Destiny' was first used in 1845, though the concept obviously predates that year, and the forced migration of Native Americans commenced with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, some 29 years before Darwin wrote 'Origin of Species'.
Weikart claims to have found a number of instances where Hitler uses the term ‘evolution’. On closer examination, however, we can see he is attempting to deliberately mislead (this charge is made all the worse by the fact that Weikart actually lived in Germany at one time). The phrase ‘theory of evolution’ in modern German is ‘evolutionstheorie’, however, in Hitler’s day a number of terms could be applied to convey the general notion of biological evolution, for example, entwicklungtheorie (commonly used until the 1950s), 'abstammungslehre', 'deszendenztheorie' and 'abstammungstheorie'. More specific terms would be 'Darwin'sche evolutionstheorie' or die 'Darwinsche evolutionstheorie' (more commonly used since the 1950s). None of these words appear in any of Hitler's writings nor in any of his speeches. It has been argued that Hitler simply conveyed Darwinian notions without ever mentioning them. However, given the gravity of the charges made against Darwin, that his scientific findings weren't simply a minor add-on to Hitler's worldview but (according to the strong view of the myth at least), the core philosophy that drove his political and social aims, does this seem at all plausible? Hitler had no qualms about showing his gratitude to others he acknowledged had influenced him so why not do the same for Darwin?
The term ‘entwicklung’ was commonly used by Hitler in both his writings and his speeches. Entwicklung translates as ‘development’, similar to the English usage as in, for example, ‘economic development’ and Hitler often employed the word with this type of meaning. Similarly with 'entwicklungtheorie' (developmental theory) and 'höherentwicklung', most often applied in a philosophical sense, as in the 'higher development' of thought. These words have been claimed by Weikart to demonstrate that the Nazis used Darwinian ideas. It does no such thing. Weikart is simply counting instances of the use of these words while completely ignoring the context and intended meaning. His claim that Hitler’s repeated use of certain words translating simply as 'development' signifies his approval of Darwinian evolution is disingenuous as well as dishonest; indeed there is not a single instance of Hitler ever using the root-word ‘entwicklung’ to explicitly convey the sense of biological evolution.
A good example of deliberate mistranslation is found on numerous fundamentalist Christian websites and blogs. It is the following 'quote' from Chapter 6 of Mein Kampf which, they claim, demonstrates how Hitler explicitly used evolutionary theory to justify his view of Aryan racial supremacy:
"If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such a case, all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher state of being, may thus be rendered futile."
Now, ignoring the obvious teleological and profoundly un-Darwinian notion that nature "wishes" and makes "efforts" toward "evolutionary higher state", it might well appear to someone unfamiliar with the mechanics of evolutionary biology that Hitler is appealing to evolutionary mechanisms for support. After all, he actually mentions the word. This is not the case, however. Here is the same passage in the original German:
"So wenig sie aber schon eine Paarung von schwächeren Einzelwesen mit stärkeren wünscht, soviel weniger noch die Verschmelzung von höherer Rasse mit niederer, da ja andernfalls ihre ganze sonstige, vielleicht jahhunderttausendelange Arbeit der Höherzüchtung mit einem Schlage wieder hinfällig wäre."
The word that fundamentalists have deliberately mistranslated as 'evolutionary' is in bold. It translates as 'higher breeding', hardly a Darwinian concept. It has never been used by native German speakers to refer to evolutionary biology.
There are two instances where Hitler appears to have alluded to Darwinian evolution. Both come from the ‘Table Talks’, a series of conversations and monologues recorded by stenographers between 1941 and 1944. Hitler would not allow any recording devices to be used during these talks and the subsequent accuracy of the two extant transcripts of these talks and the quality of the translations has been repeatedly questioned and criticised. Nevertheless, in October 1941 Hitler discusses the absurdity of schools teaching the story of the creation in one class and notions of evolution in another and how the two conflicting stories had confused him as a child. He then goes on to say that:
“it would be more profoundly pious to find God in everything”.
He offers no value judgement as to the theory of evolution. In July 1942, Hitler likens himself to a scientist:
"I feel I am like Robert Koch [the German doctor who isolated the responsible agents for tuberculosis, anthrax and cholera] in politics. He discovered the bacillus and thereby ushered medical science onto new paths. I discovered the Jew as the bacillus and the fermenting agent of all social decomposition.”
This was the second occasion in which Hitler had likened himself to Robert Koch. The first was in a speech in Salzburg 22 years earlier when he also likened himself to Pasteur (an ardent creationist of course). Yet we are being led to believe that Darwin was his scientific hero. So why did he not say that? He praises men like Martin Luther, Arthur de Gobineau, Houston Chamberlain, Koch and Pasteur among others, but never, ever, Darwin. The previous January he was recorded as saying:
“From where do we get the right to believe, that from the very beginning Man was not what he is today? Looking at Nature tells us, that in the realm of plants and animals changes and developments happen. But nowhere inside a kind shows such a development as the breadth of the jump, as Man must supposedly have made, if he has developed from an ape-like state to what he is today.”
By any reading this is surely a straightforward and unambiguous denial of not only speciation but of the accepted evolutionary origins of human beings. Indeed this passage could have been written by any modern-day creationist trying to convince his audience that evolution sans speciation is as far as the evidence goes. It surely beggars belief that after writing two large volumes, giving dozens of public speeches, and then having regular conversations on a wide range of subjects over a period of three years, the man who supposedly based his entire political ideology on Darwinism had no more to say on the matter than these trivial few lines. Weikart can surely see that Hitler negated Darwinian evolution completely, yet he chooses to consider this statement as an “abberation” (as if he had any others to compare it with) and so is forced to partially quote from Arthur Keith (1866-1955), a Scottish anatomist and anthropologist:
“The German Führer, as I have consistently maintained, is an evolutionist. He has consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution.”
In addition to Weikart’s book this carefully selected quote can be found on a number of fundamentalist Christian websites. What you never find in these places, however, is Keith’s following sentence:
"He has failed, not because evolution is false, but because he has made three fatal errors in its application".
So, completely contrary to what Weikart and others would like us to believe, the point Keith was actually making is that Hitler didn't understand evolution well enough to apply it. And neither, it appears, did Arthur Keith. He was responsible in 1914 for giving a scientific name, Homo piltdownensis, to the fraudulent fossil skull (part human, part orang-utan, part chimpanzee) known as the Piltdown Man, despite a paper having appeared a year earlier in 'Nature' denouncing the skull as an obvious fake. Keith was not only convinced that Hitler was an “evolutionist” but he also denied the validity of all proto-human fossils found in Africa, believing instead that all humans originated in Europe and that “racial characters are more strongly developed in the Jews than in any other race”. Two out of three of these ideas sound like something pulled directly from ‘Mein Kampf’.
The closest to a direct reference to Darwinian ‘natural selection’ in the entire Nazi archives is found in the minutes of the Wansee Conference of 1942 and even this is highly questionable. Reinhard Heydrich, one of the architects of the Holocaust (the name of the project to build three of the death camps was Operation Reinhard) reported on his plans for Jewish work camps:
“Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes. The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as a the seed of a new Jewish revival”.
In this common English translation Heydrich is stating, correctly, that Jews who are able to survive the rigours of the camp will be the hardiest and if allowed to reproduce will pass these traits onto their offspring. This would certainly be an example of natural selection. As Darwin explained in his book ‘The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex’ (1871): “the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health”. Note that Heydrich is simply reporting the possible natural consequences of his plans. He has not fallen for an argumentum ad consequentiam. He is not even remotely attempting to use natural selection as a justification for the Jews being placed in the camp. Indeed, Heydrich is bringing natural selection to the attention of his colleagues only because of its potentially negative effects on Nazi aspirations. However, translation of the quote is highly suspect. The original German text does not refer to natural selection in the Darwinian sense. The second sentence of the above quote reads:
"Der allfällig endlich verbleibende Restbestand wird, da es sich bei diesem zweifellos um den widerstandsfähigsten Teil handelt entsprechend behandelt werden müssen, da dieser, eine natürliche Auslese darstellend, bei Freilassung als Keimzelle eines neuen jüdischen Aufbaues anzusprechen ist."
The relevant term here is "eine natürliche Auslese darstellend" which more accurately translates as "representing a natural selection". This was not the phrase commonly used by German-speaking biologists to describe Darwinian natural selection. This was 'natürliche selektion'. It is possible, of course, that Heydrich was unaware of the correct scientific term and substituted a more generic phrase but this would not explain why he prefaces the term with an indefinite article.
Because of this disturbing lack of direct quotations from Nazi sources, authors claiming a Darwin-Hitler link are forced to copiously scaffold their assertions by quote-mining from carefully selected third parties. Weikart’s book and Bergman’s papers are replete with examples of this practice. Further, they often deliberately convey these opinions in such a way that they masquerade as a primary source. Bergman again:
“His race views were not from fringe science as often claimed but rather Hitler’s views were “..… straightforward German social Darwinism of a type widely known and accepted””
A cursory glance would make it look like the nested quote emanates from Hitler. It doesn’t. If it did, why would Bergman not quote Hitler himself stating that his views were “straightforward German social Darwinism”? It’s not as if Hitler boxed shy of letting the world know his opinions. Well, apart from Hitler never having used the word ‘Darwinism’, the phrase ‘social Darwinism’ wasn’t even coined until the final year of Hitler’s life. Why else would Bergman feel the need to nest-quote an opinion from George Stein’s 1988 paper in 'Scientific American', ‘Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism’?
Another sly trick employed by anti-Darwin commentators is to use selective quotes derived directly from Darwin, but in a rebuilt form, in a blatant attempt to distort the original meaning. The following, for example, is an excerpt from the transcript of the voiceover from the documentary ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’. This film attempted, among other aims, to argue that the theory of evolution has led to all manner of atrocities, including eugenics and the Nazi Holocaust. This passage purports to be a direct quotation from Darwin that demonstrates his support of eugenics and callous lack of concern for his fellow humans:
“With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed”.
It certainly appears that Darwin is suggesting that weaker members of society not be allowed to have children. Now here is the original quotation in full, taken from ‘The Descent of Man’. The words deliberately omitted are in bold:
“With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed”.
This exact doctored quote has a long history and was first used by the anti-evolution prosecuting lawyer William Jenning Bryan in the 1925 Louisiana 'Scopes' trial which challenged the legality of the Butler Act which had prohibited the teaching in state schools of "any theory that denies the Story of Divine Creation of Man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animal." It is difficult to imagine that the producers of the documentary were not aware of their falsehood. Even worse, the documentary simply ignores the paragraph immediately following in which Darwin makes crystal clear his contempt for eugenics :
“The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil”.
So, contrary to what 'Expelled' is claiming, Darwin actually told us that the practice of eugenics would result in "deterioration in the noblest part of our nature" and be "an overwhelmingly present evil". Comparing the two versions, I think anyone would agree that the view painted of Darwin in ‘Expelled’ falls far short of honesty. In fact, rather than being a cold-hearted eugenicist Darwin reveals himself to be considerably more tolerant and less bigoted than are many present-day fundamentalist Christians. Another example of the dishonesty of 'Expelled': there are scenes at the opening and closing of the film in which Ben Stein is lecturing to a packed auditorium of university biology students who appear to be enthusiastically applauding his diatribe against 'Darwinism'. No such events occurred. The scenes were filmed at Pepperdine University, a Christian University in California which doesn't even have a biology department. It is now common knowledge that the enthused 'students' were extras bused in especially for the filming. Another example purporting to be Darwin's exact words has been oft-quoted by creationist sources for almost twenty years. It goes like this:
" At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous [i.e., most human-looking] apes … will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla".
This excerpt apparently demonstrates Darwin's acceptance of a racial hierarchy within human beings and his prediction that the 'civilized races' will replace the 'savage races'. It is invariably unreferenced and is a perfect example of the dishonest practice of quote-mining by an author attempting to support an assertion devoid of evidence. This version of this particular passage originated sometime in the mid-1990s and its origin has been traced back to the Discovery Institute. In fact, Darwin meant no such thing. Here is the original passage, from chapter 6 of 'The Descent of Man'. Again, the critical omitted words are in bold:
"The great break in the organic chain between man and his nearest allies, which cannot be bridged over by any extinct or living species, has often been advanced as a grave objection to the belief that man is descended from some lower form; but this objection will not appear of much weight to those who, from general reasons, believe in the general principle of evolution. Breaks often occur in all parts of the series, some being wide, sharp and defined, others less so in various degrees; as between the orang and its nearest allies -- between the Tarsius and the other Lemuridae -- between the elephant, and in a more striking manner between the Ornithorhynchus or Echidna, and all other mammals. At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla".
When the paragraph is rendered in full it becomes obvious that Darwin is not giving us his own views but discussing the opinions of someone else, in this case Hermann Schaaffhausen (1816-1893), Professor of Anatomy at the University of Bonn, writing in the 'Anthropological Review' of April 1867. Reading the several sentences before this also reveals the true context of the quote; that Darwin is not even discussing the conquest of one species over another but apparent gaps in the fossil record at his time of writing and how these might be interpreted by observers in the future as one species destroying another. Anyone familiar with Darwin's writings would be aware that he constantly used the term 'race' to mean 'species', a word which was not in such common use in Darwin's time. But why let the facts get in the way when you can selectively quote and alter the text to produce some good propaganda? One could just as reasonably state that the Bible surely claims "there is no God" by selectively quoting Psalms 14:1, "the fool said in his heart there is no God". in fact, this very phrase appears twelve times in the King James Version and fifteen times in the New International Version.
None of these examples are as brazenly dishonest, however, as this offering from Michael Craven, President of the Center for Christ & Culture, in his paper 'Expelled: Exposing the Darwinian Paradox'. Here he claims to directly quote Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), the English biologist and famous supporter of Darwin, as saying:
"Only from death on a genocidal scale could the few progress".
Craven has simply made this quote up. How do we know? Well, the term 'genocide' didn't exist until 1944 when it was coined by the Polish-born writer Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) in his paper 'Axis Rule in Occupied Europe'. He invented the term in response to a comment made a few months earlier during a BBC radio interview with Winston Churchill: "We are in the presence of a crime without a name." One has to ask if there are any deeper literary depths to which Christian fundamentalists will not stoop in order to further their anti-Darwin agenda.
Even if Hitler had been influenced by Darwin he would have found himself to be squarely at odds with the official scientific policy of his own Nazi Party. In the very first volume of the ‘Zeitschrift für die Gesamte Naturwissenschaft’ (Journal of All Natural Science, the official science journal of the Nazi Party) in 1935, one of the editors, Kurt Hildebrandt (1881-1966), wrote that Darwinism had to be rejected because:
“.......the creative unfolding of species, the origin of species from the amoeba to man, cannot be explained by this mechanistic theory. Rather exact research on heritability has clearly destroyed the mechanistic framework of Darwinian theory”.
Note the critical use of the term "mechanistic theory". Hildebrandt would feel quite at ease with the Discovery Institute on this point. He also clearly didn’t realise that Mendelian genetics supported Darwin’s basic thesis. Or maybe he did but he didn’t like it because it simply didn’t fit with Nazi volkisch-biological (folk-biology) views. This appears likely, as two years later the botanist Ernst Bergdolt (1902-1948) wrote in the same journal that Darwinian natural selection was:
“typical of the kind of passive environmentalist theory declaimed by Jewish liberals”.
Despite the journal's most public display of distancing Nazi Party ideology from Darwinian science, Weikart claims:
“In surveying many Nazi periodicals I have never discovered a single article that even called into question evolutionary theory............”
Why on earth would Weikart expect Nazi periodicals, which covered a wide range of non-science based subject matter, to question accepted scientific findings? Notice what he's doing here? He's assuming that evolutionary theory is immoral. So, whenever someone calls into question evolutionary theory they are taking a moral stance. Because many Nazi periodicals did not call evolution into question, they therefore must have been accepting of such immorality. Not only is his logic flawed, he obviously did not look hard enough among Nazi periodicals.
Nazi political ideology rested on a particularly narrow base and to a large extent this was reflected in the German scientific community. Whereas socialism and communism, it’s main philosophical and political rivals within Europe, had a number of reference works to refer to, such as the writings of Marx, Engel, Lenin and Stalin, Nazism relied heavily on Hitler’s writings and speeches. After Hitler came to power, ‘Mein Kampf’ was distributed free of charge to all newly-wed couples and to everyone serving in the armed forces, a total of 10 million copies in all. If, as Christian fundamentalists claim, Hitler himself was the driving force behind the enthusiasm for Darwinian thought in Nazi Germany, he appears to have been spectacularly unsuccessful. As late as 1940 the Darwinian zoologist and Nazi Party supporter Konrad Lorenz complained in the journal ‘Der Biologie’ that there were:
“schools of National-Socialistic Greater Germany who in fact still reject evolutionary thought and descent theory”.
Lorenz further mentions that the rejection of descent theory in German universities had less to do with the concept of evolution per se and more specifically with Darwin's synopsis of natural selection. For those interested in Germany's relatively slow take-up of Darwinian ideas, I suggest reading Levit and Hossfeld's 2013 paper in 'Historical Biology: A Journal of Paleobiology', entitled 'A Bridge-Builder: Wolf-Ernst Reif and the Darwinisation of German Paleontology'.
The truth is that Hitler had no enthusiasm whatsoever for Darwinist thought. Throughout ‘Mein Kampf’ Hitler discusses the history of the human species and ‘racial theory’ in general in the language of creationist polygenics (i.e., separate creations for the different races), Biblical-style bloodlines and supernatural causation. This was clearly the ideology and language with which he was more familiar, not the terminology of Darwinian evolution and Mendelian or population genetics. Hitler actually believed, as the Bible says, that 'racial heritage' is primarily passed from generation to generation less by cultural means than physically, through the 'life-blood' itself. Because of his fundamentalist belief in verses such as Leviticus 17:11 he strictly limited the availability of blood to hospitals, causing the needless deaths of tens of thousands of German civilians and soldiers.
It is particularly interesting to note that Hitler frequently used the word ‘kind’ in place of the now commonly used ‘species’, which had gained much common usage at that time. ‘Kind’ (translated from the Hebrew ‘min’ or ‘miyn’; ‘created type’) is a term lifted directly from the Old Testament Books of Genesis, Deuteronomy, Leviticus and in one instance, Ezekiel. One formidable ongoing problem for creationists has been defining what a ‘kind’ is. They are plagued by a lack of agreement as to the actual phylogenetic level at which a ‘kind’ resides. For example, one early ‘creation scientist’, J. Barton Payne, writing in the late 1950s, classified ‘kind’ as any group of animals displaying distinct morphological similarities and many current creationists stick to that definition. This reasoning would place, for example, Australian echidnas (egg-laying mammals of the family Tachyglossidae), the European, African and Asian hedgehogs (of the subfamily Erinaceinae, which are distantly related to shrews), some species of Madagascan tenrecs (mammals of the family Tenrecidae) and the Asian, African and American porcupines (all rodents belonging to the families Erethizontidae or Erethizontidae) within the same ‘kind’ due to the prominence of their prickly protrusions of the skin. Such a grouping would obviously negate any genetic link. However, the ‘kinds’ of animals allegedly taken onto Noah’s Ark apparently had to be able to breed together successfully, thus requiring genetic compatibility (and far larger numbers). It is in the interests of creationists and intelligent design proponents to maintain vagueness and elasticity whenever they need to characterise a 'kind' because they are then free to swap definitions to suit different purposes. Only one 'kind' is never considered to be so malleable; human beings.
Thus a ‘kind’ (or it’s pseudoscientific counterpart, the ‘baramin’) simply represents some group of organisms whose genetic structures are hypothesised to be protected by some undetermined form of barrier that can never be breached genetically (again by some unspecified mechanism) and so preserves the God-endowed morphology of the ‘kind’ (whatever that is). If, as Hitler believed, Homo sapiens have not “developed from an ape-like state to what he is today”, then such a (surely supernatural) barrier would be necessary. Darwin’s (and neo-Darwinian) findings, however, flatly contradict Hitler’s view. There is no conceivable barrier, either natural or supernatural, that would prevent speciation from occurring within any species given suitable environmental exigencies. There is no evidence whatsoever that DNA specified to act only within certain 'species' or 'kinds'.
Chapter 2: Some Influences Hitler Did Acknowledge
Hitler’s racial ideology hinged upon the notion that human beings do not comprise a single composite species but are made up of a number of ‘races’ or ‘subspecies’. This Hitlerian worldview has somehow been morphed into a principle accusation made by Christian fundamentalists toward Darwin, i.e., claiming that Darwin was inherently racist and used science to portray human beings as split into ‘subspecies’ according to a hierarchy. He did no such thing. Indeed, Darwin refuted this view on a number of occasions during his career and dedicated a whole chapter of ‘The Descent of Man’ to demonstrating his doubt and contempt for such ideas. Polygenist views can be traced back to ancient times in several cultures, but for Hitler it was the work of Arthur de Gobineau (1816–1882) a Frenchman born into a family of minor nobility that struck the major chord. Obsessed with heredity and bloodlines, and claiming to have descended from Norman and Viking royalty, Gobineau somehow managed to conjure up a personal philosophy comprised of a mixture of pseudoscience, Catholic values, anti-democratic views, French aristocratic sentiment and German romanticism. Written several years before Darwin’s findings suggested that all humans, regardless of their ‘race’, have a common evolutionary origin, his highly influential book ‘Essai Sur l’inégalité des Races Humaines’ or ‘Inequality of the Human Races’ was first published in French in 1853. It was translated into German in 1897 by Ludwig Schemann, a leading proponent of Nazi theory. Two quotes from the book encapsulate his racial views:
“It is said that Genesis does not admit of a multiple origin for our species..........we must, of course, acknowledge that Adam is the ancestor of the white race. The scriptures are evidently meant to be so understood, for the generations deriving from him are certainly white..........there is nothing to show that, in the view of the first compilers of the Adamite genealogies, those outside the white race were counted as part of the species at all”.“I conclude......... that the permanence of racial types is beyond dispute; it is so strong and indestructible that the most complete change of environment has no power to overthrow it.”
The first quote is pure Christian-based polygenism. Two sections of the second passage, concerning ‘racial types’ are of particular note with regard to biology. First, he claims that “the most complete change of environment has no power to overthrow it”. Thus, de Gobineau succinctly and completely denies the possibility that humans have resulted from speciation within the primate line. Even after becoming aquainted with Darwin’s findings, Gobineau remained disdainful throughout his life. He then qualifies his statement by going on to say “so long as no crossing takes place”. By “crossing” he refers to ‘miscegenation’ or ‘interacial breeding’. Hitler later echoed de Gobineau’s thoughts, writing in Mein Kampf:
“Marriage is an institution called upon to produce images of the Lord and not monstrosities halfway between man and ape."
In April 1933 all government employees in Germany were required to show evidence that they had no Jewish blood. Two years later, in 1935, Hitler signed miscegenation statutes into law in both the ‘Nürnberger Gesetze‘ (Nuremburg Laws), which made all sexual relations, including marriage, between Aryans and Jews illegal, and ‘Gesetz zum Schutze des Deutschen Blutes und der Deutschen Ehre’ (The Protection of German Blood and German Honour Act) which applied similarly to other races where at least one of the partners was a German citizen. Those already in such a marriage suffered legal discrimination by being excluded from government employment or government funded organisations. Until 1874 births in Germany were not registered by the state but by religious authorities. This meant that these laws could not be enacted effectively without the cooperation of the churches. In the case of both the Lutheran and Catholics this was given without dissent. The first law explicitly considered Jews as a distinct racial group, rather than in any religious sense. Having a single Jewish grandparent classified an individual as Jewish, regardless of the religion they had been raised with, or whether they practiced any religion at all. Jews who had converted to Christianity were not exempted and, again, the churches provided the Nazis with baptismal records.
Because it was not based on anything resembling sound science, the policy was problematic from the outset. The prominent race theorist and adviser to the Nazi Party, Hans Gunther, had commissioned a report in April 1936, 'How Does One Best Research the Magnitude and Type of German-Jewish Mixing (Bastardization)?' which estimated that there were about 500,000 Germans who, although would not meet any criteria for being full-blood Jews, would nevertheless be at least partly genetically Jewish. Other anthropologists cautioned that discriminating Jewishness on the basis of physical features was unscientific. This was not news to Nazi Party officials. In 1933, when Genealogical Authority director Achim Gercke was asked by Rudolph Hesse how prospective racial assessments would be made, Gerck made it plain that racial assessments did not rely on standardised methodology and therefore had no scientific or medical basis. This, however, did not faze him:
“God created the races.....entrusted us to improve and pass on.”
He suggested a purely genealogical criteria; a Jew was someone who could be ascertained to have one sixteenth Jewish blood. He was unable to implement his idea, however, as he was sacked in 1935 after allegations he was homosexual. Thus it was inevitable that the religious notion of ‘racial purity’, as opposed to a cultural definition of Jewishness, was later to backfire on the Nazis. That same year, Emil Maurice, one of the founders of the SS, was discovered to have had Jewish ancestry but, after personal intervention from Hitler, was declared to be ‘Ehrenarier‘ or 'honorary Aryan'. Similarly, the Luftwaffe officer in charge of procurement, Erhard Milch, was found to have a Jewish father and was given Aryan status only after his mother signed an affadavit naming another man as the real father. The most embarrassing episode of this type, however, involved a six-month old girl. In 1935 the Nazi Party's family magazine 'Sonne ins Hause' ('Sun in the Home') announced a competition to find the most beautiful Aryan baby, judged by no less than the Minister for Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. In an attempt to poke fun at the Nazi Party's racial policies, photographer Hans Ballin entered a photograph of Hetty, born to Jacob and Pauline Levinsons, a Jewish couple who had immigrated to Germany from Lithuania seven years earlier to pursue careers in classical music, They had lost their positions with an opera company after the Nazi Party came to power and were now doing menial work. Hetty won the competition and featured on the front page of the magazine. After the war she emigrated to the USA and became a professor of chemistry in New York.
Richard Weikart is prone to ideologically linking various German scientists, who worked within an evolutionary model, with both de Gobineau's ideas about race and Nazi Party racial policy. However, on closer examination these links are exaggerated. Two of the leading evolutionary theorists in 1920s-30s Germany were anthropologist Eugen Fischer and geneticist Fritz Lenz. According to Weikart they were "...........both influential figures in racial science during the Nazi period". This much is true and they certainly viewed 'race' as a biological concept. Along with botanist Erwin Baur they edited the seminal work 'Human Heredity and Racial Hygiene' (1921; updated five times between then and 1940). According to some scholars, this 700-page tome is considered to have played a pivotal role in influencing Nazi Party racial policy from a scientific standpoint. Weikart further claims that Fischer and Lenz "embraced both Gobineau and Darwinism.” No doubt they did embrace 'Darwinism' as an explanation for an overarching evolutionary theory. The claim that they explicitly employed Darwinian science to influence Nazi racial policy, however, is far from truthful. One of the most characteristic features of this collection of papers is its complete disregard for Darwinian science. In the important 1931 edition, the terms 'Darwinist' and 'Darwinism' do not occur at all. The term 'Darwinian' is mentioned once on page 132 in reference to the 'Darwinian tubercle', a thickening on the helix of the upper and middle thirds of the primate ear. Darwin himself rates three minor mentions, one of which is entirely unconnected to biology, occurring two thirds of the way through the book, on page 575, where the authors give Darwin as an example of a successful person who was a member of a gifted family! The other brief and inconsequential mentions are on the following page and on page 617.
Weikart also declines to mention that both Fischer, and especially Lenz, were not particularly interested in Nazi politics, beyond seeking funding for their research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Genetics, and Eugenics. First and foremost they were scientists. According to Paul Weindling in his 1989 book 'Health, Race and German Politics Between National unification and Nazism, 1870–1945', Fischer's relationship with the Nazi Party was distant (he wasn't even a member until 1940 and only joined on the insistence of Himmler) and he was only ever a peripheral figure with respect to the formulation of policy. Indeed, soon after Hitler came to power, Fischer had a public spat with the Nazi Party by claiming that Jewish racial characteristics, though distinguishable from Aryan characteristics, were by no means inferior. The Nazi Party were so concerned with the influence Fischer might have that when he attended the International Congress for Anthropology and Ethnology in London in 1934, they insisted that Walter Gross, founder of the 'Aufklärungsamt für Bevölkerungspolitik und Rassenpflege' (Office of Population Policy and Racial Hygiene') accompany him to keep him under surveillance.
Lenz was more directly antagonistic to Nazi racial policy than Fischer. Although he became a party member in 1938, his notions of 'race' differed considerably from the Nazi Party. Like Darwin, Lenz denied that 'pure races', including that of the Aryan, could be identified on the basis of physical features and, contrary to Nazi Party policy, recognised no consistent demarcation of 'racial' characteristics on the basis of morphology. Rather, he thought that heritable differences between the races became apparent in their cognitive abilities and styles of thought. Because of this Lenz was not anti-Semitic. In his paper 'The Inheritance of Intellectual Gifts' (1931) he wrote:
".........contrary to the opinion of the anti-Semite, the Jews have played a constructive role in history...........the Jew is a good family man; he has a natural 'business sense'. Germans and Jews are more similar to one another than most have realised. Next to the Teutonic, in fact, the Jewish spirit is the chief motive force of modern Western history..............the lop-sided anti-Semitism of National Socialism must be regretted.”
Another individual identified by Weikart as a "prominent evolutionary anthropologist" and influence on Nazi racial policy is Hans Weinert. As with Fischer and Lenz, Weikart again distorts the truth. To start with, Weikart attempts to place him on an equal academic footing with Fischer and Lenz by claiming "He worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Genetics, and Eugenics until 1935". This is not exactly true. Weinart was merely an amateur anthropologist who worked as a schoolteacher and volunteered to catalogue the the skull collection at the institute during his holidays. He was never a member of staff and even employed an assistant out of his own pocket. Both Nazi anti-miscegenation and eugenics laws were instituted during Weinart's volunteer work; is it at all plausible that the upper echelons of the Nazi Party were then taking scientific instruction from an unknown schoolteacher doing voluntary work? He did enjoy a meteoric rise to academia, however, courtesy of the Nazi Party, when they appointed him Professor of Anthropology at the University of Kiel.
Weikart exaggerates the degree to which purportedly Darwinian German anthropologists agreed with and colluded with the unscientific criteria of racial assessment. In July 1940, the Reichsstatthalter (Governor) of the central state of Thuringia wrote to the director of the Genealogical Authority Kurt Mayer complaining that anthropological expert reports were questionable:
“I have seen hundreds of extremely criminal full-Jews in the Buchenwald concentration camp by Weimar, who, for the most part, did not exhibit even a trace of anthropological Jewish characteristics. Frequently they were tall and blond and possessed a sharply deﬁned ‘Aryan’ countenance.”
He further notes:
“In the book Jewish Villainism (Das jüdische Gaunertum) by Herwig Hartner-Hnizdo, you can see numerous pictures of Jews that would in no way be anthropologically recognizable as Jews.”
After his promotion, Weinart was the sort of anthropologist frequently commissioned by the Genealogical Authority to assess a person's race. What Weikart declines to tell us is that, again like Darwin, Weinart was highly sceptical as to the notion of 'race' and often clashed with Kurt Mayer on this very point. For example, in one 'Expert Report' (R39/838B; 12th September 1941) he wrote:
“An individual characteristic is not 'Jewish' in so far as its occurrence is only to be found in Jews. The Jews are not a uniﬁed race. . . . Accordingly, a person who exhibits this or that 'Jewish looking' characteristic cannot [automatically] be accused of having received that characteristic due to Jewish ancestry. He could always fall under the more or less large percentage of persons that have Jewish looking characteristics without being Jews."
The following year, in another report (R39/226:35, 8th December 1942) he stated that ascertaining the racial heritage of any person is “only conditionally possible on the basis of a pure racial-scientific evaluation.”
Putting aside the fact that Darwin gave no credence whatsoever to polygenism, the notion of a direct ideological pathway from Darwin to Hitler can only really be taken seriously if it can be demonstrated that the concepts of human ‘subspecies’ did not exist before Darwin. This is, of course, not so. For Hitler, the modern cradle of such laws was not Darwin’s mind but the governments of the United States. Anti-miscegenation laws were present in the first Thirteen Colonies in the late 1600s, long before Darwin or de Gobineau. At their peak, 31 states had anti-miscegenation laws on their statute books and in every case the justifications given for instituting such laws were based on Christian morality. Although there was never any equivalent Federal law, the right for states to pass such laws was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1883, twelve years after Darwin had suggested that all the ‘races’ had a common origins. We now know Darwin was correct. Genetic variation within any one 'race' is greater than the genetic variation between any two 'races'. It has even been observed that variation in a single trait can be greater in an extended family than in the population as a whole. In other words, it is possible that any two random individuals from different 'races' are genetically closer than any two random individuals from the same 'race'.
In 1912 however, Representative Seaborn Roddenberry of Georgia tried to enable a federal anti-miscegeneration law through Congress arguing that:
“Intermarriage between whites and blacks is repulsive and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit. It is abhorrent and repugnant. It is subversive to social peace. It is destructive of moral supremacy”
Note that Roddenberry makes his appeal not to Darwinian or other scientific notions of biology but to emotional and moral sentiment. Thus there was ample legal and religious precedent from the United States, devoid of any Darwinian motivation, that could have influenced Hitler. What is surprising is how entrenched these laws proved to be. Even after Hitler was defeated and anti-miscegenation laws were repealed in occupied Germany, they hung on in several US states for another two decades. In 1960, seventeen US states had laws prohibiting people of different races from marrying. As late as 1959 a mixed-race couple of white and African-Native American descent who had married in Washington DC, were jailed for one year under Virginia’s ‘Racial Integrity Act’ of 1924 by Judge Leon Bazile. The sentence was suspended for 25 years on condition that they did not step foot in Virginia. Paraphrasing the German physician and anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840), with whom he was obviously familiar, Judge Bazile wrote in his summing up:
“Almighty God created the races White, Black, Yellow, Malay and Red, and he placed them on separate continents. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix”.
Of course, Hitler shared Judge Bazile's sentiment about miscegenation. From Chapter 6 of Mein Kampf:
"The act which brings about such a development is a sin against the will of the Eternal Creator. And as a sin this act will be avenged."
Even fourteen years after Hitler’s demise, Bazile was couching his arguments in favour of anti-miscegeneration laws in terms of Christian morality, not Darwinian biology. Blumenbach, though not a polygenist, did promote the idea that Adam was white-skinned and all the other four ‘races’ (‘Mongolian’, ‘Ethiopian’, ‘American’ and ‘Malayan’, in addition to ‘Caucasian’) were the result of degeneration in his bloodline largely due, he hypothesised, to the effects of climate. His work with craniometry, however, led him to change his views somewhat after his data revealed that both mean skull volumes and variations in skull volume were similar in both Europeans and Africans. A later study by Friedrich Tiedemann (1781-1861) confirmed Blumenbach’s findings. In ‘Das Hirn des Negers’ (‘The brain of the Negro’) published in 1837, he reported no differences in brain and skull volume, either absolutely or in relation to body size, between ‘Caucasians’, ‘Mongolians’, ‘Malays’, ‘American Indians’, and ‘Negros’. Thus scientific evidence that human beings did not comprise distinct ‘subspecies’ but shared important phenotypic characteristics was available many years before either de Gobineau, Hitler or Bazile had formulated their own views. All evidently chose, however, to ignore the science.
The last anti-miscegenation law was quashed in the USA as late as 1967. That same year, a judge sitting in the Supreme Court of Georgia, who clearly did not understand either Darwin’s or Gregor Mendel’s scientific findings on hybridisation, stated that:
“Amalgamation of the races is.....unnatural, [yielding offspring who are] generally effeminate, and.....inferior in physical development and strength to the full-blood race”
Unfettered Darwinian natural selection would, of course, result in just what Hitler or these learned judges found so objectionable, i.e., it increases the likelihood of ‘crossing’ in all sexually reproducing species, including humans. What American anti-miscegenation laws were doing (unknowingly, for they were founded on Christian notions of morality, rather than having any scientific basis) was profoundly un-Darwinian as they were hindering natural selection via the crude promotion of artificial selection. As with the American states, the Nazis defended their use of anti-miscegenation laws, not by referring to Darwin’s findings, but to pseudoscientific imperatives based firmly on Judeo-Christian precedent. Hitler himself wrote in Mein Kampf:
"...it is one of those concerning which it is said with such terrible justice that the sins of the fathers are avenged down to the tenth generation...Blood sin and desecration of the race are the original sin in this world..."
Did Hitler get the idea that blood desecration is a sin down to the tenth generation from Darwin? No, he got it direct from Deuteronomy 23:2-3:
"No bastard shall enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord. No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none belonging to them shall enter the assembly of the Lord for ever"
Hitler had his friend Julius Streicher (1885-1946), the founder and publisher of the pro-Nazi weekly newspaper Der Stürmer’, help set up the ‘Instituts zur Erforschung Jüdischen Einflusses auf das Deutsche Kirchliche Leben’ or ‘Institute for the Study and Elimination of Jewish Influence on German Church Life’. Headquarted in Jena, the institute, whose members included professors of theology and bishops, trained the clergy in anti-semitic theory and practice, organised conferences with an anti-Jewish theme and published a number of pamphlets and books vilifying Jews, including a de-Judaised version of the New Testament, on the basis that Jewish forgeries had been added to the original texts. Der Stürmer’s title banner carried the slogan ‘Die Juden sind unser Unglück’ (‘the Jews are our misfortune’; a phrase originating from the 19th century German historian Heinrich von Treitschke) and Streicher produced record sales by publishing lurid stories of the sexual violation of German women by Jews, accompanied by staged semi-pornographic photographs. In recognition of his work, the city council of Nuremberg voted to present Streicher on his 52nd birthday with a first edition (1543) of the Christian theologian Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) anti-Semitic treatise ‘Von den Juden und Ihren Lügen’ or ‘On The Jews And Their Lies’. In their story reporting the gift, ‘Der Stürmer’ described the work as “the most radically antisemitic tract ever published”. During his trial at the the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1945, Streicher attempted to use Luther's treatise in his defence. Even when not citing Luther he was unambiguous as to the religious basis for Nazi anti-miscegenation laws:
"......the Jews should serve as an example to every race, for they created the racial law for themselves.....the law of Moses, which says, "If you come into a foreign land you shall not take unto yourself foreign women”......These laws of the Jews were taken as a model for these [Nazi] laws........notwithstanding many Jews had married non-Jewish women, these marriages were dissolved......That was the beginning of Jewry which, because it introduced these racial laws, has survived throughout the centuries, while all other races and civilizations have perished."
His last words before being hanged were "Now it goes to God!".
That indigenous German Christian thought had an early anti-Semitic slant is no more evident than in Luther’s comprehensive 65,000 word treatise. The language he employs is ornate, even for a 16th century clergyman, and particularly vexatious, describing Jews as a "base, whoring people.......full of the devil's faeces.......which they wallow in like swine", while the synagogue was an "incorrigible whore and an evil slut”. Hitler was clearly taking his cue from Luther when he wrote in 'Mein Kampf':
"........the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew."
Luther recommended seven remedial actions to be taken against the Jews. Summarised, these are for Jewish synagogues, schools and homes to be burned to the ground; for any gold and silver owned by Jews to be confiscated; for their religious writings to be confiscated, for Jewish preaching to be made illegal, with death as the punishment; for Jews to be given no legal right of safe passage and Jews to be forced to work as agricultural slave labour. It is not difficult to see that the essence of what Luther wrote in the 16th century was what the Nazis actually achieved in the first half of the 20th century. Every single one of Luther's seven suggested actions were implemented by the Nazis. They were simply carrying out his suggestions. They needed no input from Darwin.
The importance of Luther in framing Hitler's political ideology did not stop at hatred at Jews, however. Eighteen years before Luther published his infamous anti-Semitic tract he had published a pro-feudal pamphlet 'Against the Peasant Bands of Robbers and Murderers' that goes beyond despotic in it's detailing of the divinely-ordained autocratic rights that all rulers should exercise over their subjects. The peasants, Luther declared:
"........are no better than straw. They will not hear the Word and they are without sense; therefore they must be compelled to hear the crack of the whip and the whizz of bullets, and it is only what they deserve. We must pray for them that they may become obedient; but if they do not, pity is of no avail here; we must let the cannon-balls whistle among them, or they will only make things a thousand times worse..........Like the drivers of donkeys, who have to belabour the donkeys incessantly with rods and whips, or they will not obey, so must the ruler do with the people; they must drive, beat, throttle, hang, burn, behead and torture, so as to make themselves feared and to keep the people in check.........the duty of the preachers is to preach hatred. If the authorities refuse to follow this drastic advice, the pastors and preachers are at all events to proclaim it to the people."
Again, Luther provided Hitler with a template for government derived not from Charles Darwin but from Germanic Christianity. Similarly, the coloured stars that Hitler demanded be worn by the Jews and homosexuals were not of his invention but an idea borrowed from the Catholic church. They derived from the earliest Catholic Inquisitions against the French Cathars who had denounced the God of the Old Testament as Satan and considered the Catholic church as having betrayed and corrupted the original purity of Christ's message. After massacring 20,000 Cathars in a single day, the Inquisitors required all those remaining alive who denounced the Cathar teachings to wear a yellow cross on their clothing for the rest of their lives. In 1921, writing in his book 'The New Jerusalem', the devout Catholic convert G.K. Chesterton (currently the subject of a campaign to be canonised) both echoed the church law and predated Nazi law with his suggestion that Jews should not be discriminated against in the social arena, but:
".........let there be one single-clause bill, one simple and sweeping law about Jews.....every Jew must be dressed like an Arab...........The point is that we should know where we are; and he should know where he is, which is in a foreign land."
Darwin certainly wasn't to blame for Chesterton's fascist ideals. Although originally unconcerned with evolutionary theory, by the time he wrote about Jews and their clothing Chesterton had became strongly anti-evolution, both from a theological and a scientific perspective. In 'Orthodoxy' (1908) he wrote:
"Evolution is a good example of that modern intelligence which, if it destroys anything, destroys itself. Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, it is an attack upon thought itself. If evolution destroys anything, it does not destroy religion but rationalism."
That Luther’s ideas were entrenched early in the development of Nazi policies is further evidenced by this line from Mein Kampf, "beside Frederick the Great stands Martin Luther as well as Richard Wagner" and by a quote from Bernhard Rust, Hitler’s Education Minister, in the Nazi Party newspaper, ‘Völkischer Beobachter’ (‘People’s Observer’). This he said in early 1933, before Hitler had passed any anti-miscegenation or anti-Jewish laws and well before the destructive events of 9-10th November 1938 (Kristallnacht; note that November 10th was Luther’s birthday):
"Since Martin Luther closed his eyes, no such son of our people has appeared again. It has been decided that we shall be the first to witness his reappearance ... I think the time is past when one may not say the names of Hitler and Luther in the same breath. They belong together; they are of the same old stamp”.
The continuing importance of Martin Luther to Nazi thought during their regime is apparent by, for example, the Nazi-financed anti-Semitic feature film 'Jud Suess', released in 1940 but set in the 18th century (well before Darwin had any influence on anyone) and featuring numerous voiceovers of quotes from Luther (and, of course, none from Darwin) inciting anti-Semitic activity. The following year at his acceptance speech on being promoted to Director of Film at the ‘Ministry for the People's Enlightenment and Propaganda’, Hans Hinkel had this to say:
"Through his acts and his spiritual attitude, he began the fight which we will wage today; with Luther, the revolution of German blood and feeling against alien elements of the Volk was begun”.
Another film financed by Hinkel's department was never completed, though footage remains. This anti-Soviet documentary concentrates not on the economic or political differences between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union but on the differing attitudes toward religion. Much is made of the conversion of churches to secular use, including factories for the war effort, in 'Die Gottlosen' ('The Godless).
In her 1975 book 'The War Against the Jews 1933-1945' the American historian Lucy Dawidowicz writes that an obvious progression of “anti-Semitic descent” from Luther to Hitler is “easy to draw” and a preponderance of evidence suggests this is so. Nevertheless it is commonplace for authors claiming an ideological link between Darwin and Hitler to seriously downplay the influence of Martin Luther on Hitler’s ideology. They have good reason to do so. Criticisms of Luther, who effectively, like Hitler, viewed the Jews as sub-human, effectively destroys the Christian fundamentalist falsehood that the notion of humans being comprised of a hierarchy of ‘sub-species’ is a Darwinian invention. Fundamentalists could argue from the ‘no true Scotsman’ angle, of course, claiming that Luther’s ideas of Christianity were simply a distortion of the genuine article. They tend not to do this either however as the argument skates on even thinner ice. Luther was, after all, the primary historical initiator for the existence of Protestantism, the broad Christian grouping from whose churches nearly all of them belong. It is important to note, in this regard, that in the 1932 Reichstag election in which the Nazis won the largest representation in the German parliament, the Nazi share of the vote in the predominantly Protestant north and east of Germany was approximately double that of the mainly Catholic south and west of the country. Weikart manages to gracefully sidestep all of these issues. He simply makes no mention of Martin Luther at all in his book.
Another prominent German theologian who gave the Nazi party considerable ideological succour was the Lutheran Gustav Adolf Deissmann (1866-1937). Deissmann held Professorships in theology first at Heidelberg and later at Berlin, the latter position long considered to be the most eminent chair in German theology and certainly so during the Reich. In September 1914 he wrote a theological treatise for the Lutheran church and the German people entitled 'The War and Religion' which outlined the Christian case for Germany's involvement in what we now call World War I. His argument was based on the notion that the war provided an important opportunity for Germany to realise Luther's ideals. He goes on:
“The positive effects of war upon religion are infinitely stronger than its negative ones.......Our present religion is national and German, and we preach a German God! A German, a national God!........Christianity is the religion of war”.
Deissmann considered Lutheran German Christianity to be the true expression of Christianity, unlike the “.........sweet-sentimental, and sentimental-weak Christianity” of Germany's opponents and in his sermons (which were invariably held to packed audiences) has been quoted as saying in response to German soldiers handing out poisoned sweets to children in Belgium:
"I am proud to preach the religion of might and what our enemies call barbarism.........only in a German cloak can the real Christ breathe."
All this nourishing food for Hitler's thought, and not a single mention of Darwin anywhere in Deissmann's writings and speeches. Indeed the above quote could have been lifted straight out of 'Mein Kampf'. However, at least three other leading Lutheran theologians bear responsibility for recommending the ideologies of both Luther and Hitler to the German people. The first, Gerhard Kittel (1888-1948), was Professor of Evangelical Theology at the University of Tübingen. He was a passionate anti-Semite throughout his life and became a (prominent) member of the Nazi Party in 1933 and stated at the time that his choice to join was not pragmatic but was based on "a Christian moral foundation." He was a member of a group of twelve leading German theologians and pastors who issued the 1939 'Godesberg Declaration' in which they thanked God for Hitler, described Nazism as "a call of God" and pledged to transform their respective churches into "an instrument of racial policy".
Second was Emanuel Hirsch (1888-1972), Professor of Theology at Göttingen University and a member not only of the Nazi Party but also holding a post within the SS. He described Hitler coming to power in 1933 as a "sunrise of divine goodness" and the Nazi Party "should be accepted and supported by Christians as a tool of God's grace." He gave enthusiastic public support to both the 'Nuremburg Laws' and the 'Protection of German Blood and German Honour Act' and was highly critical of theologians and clergy who did not show active support for the Nazi cause. The third was Paul Althaus (1888-1966), Professor of Practical and Systematic Theology at the University of Göttingen. He wrote 'The Theology of Martin Luther' (1962) and 'The Ethics of Martin Luther' (published posthumously 1972) both of which offer an unrepentant and uncompromising glorification of the man and his ideology. Like Deissmann he too viewed the waging of war as a perfectly Christian endeavour in order to resolve differences with other nations. He went so far as to equate Hitler with Martin Luther and even Christ himself.
Again, powerful home grown theological underpinning for Hitler's political ideologies with Darwin nowhere in sight. Furthermore, as we shall see, there were often frightening ideological similarities between German and American Protestant theologians and clergy in the 1930s. Despite such evidence, however, it has been suggested by some contemporary German theologians such as Johannes Wallman (b.1930) and Uwe Siemon-Netto (b.1936) that Luther’s treatise actually had little effect on the development of Nazi attitudes toward the Jews, as there had been a decline in the number of occasions the treatise was cited in academic works published in the 19th century. They both claim that the Nazis were already anti-Semitic and merely revived Luther’s treatise to bolster their policies. This might be so, but it begs the question as to whether, if Luther’s treatise had never existed, Nazi vehemence toward the Jews would be so strong and so devastatingly effective. The fact remains that Hitler and his many supporters within the German clergy were able to call upon a nationalistic German and Christian-based hatred of the Jews that pre-dated Darwin by centuries.
Some Christian churches in Germany have accepted the role played by Luther’s treatise in motivating their clergy into supporting Nazi policy. For example, on the 60th anniversary of 'Kristallnacht’ the Lutheran Church of Bavaria issued this statement:
"It is imperative for the Lutheran Church, which knows itself to be indebted to the work and tradition of Martin Luther, to take seriously also his anti-Jewish utterances, to acknowledge their theological function, and to reflect on their consequences. It has to distance itself from every [expression of] anti-Judaism in Lutheran theology.”
Anti-Semitism was by no means confined to German Lutheran Christian circles, however. Cosmo Lang, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury from 1928-1941, contended in a speech to the House of Lords that "the Jews themselves" were to blame for the "excesses of the Nazis."
Another political party that claimed to have been directly influenced by Martin Luther was the Christian Social Party of Hitler's native Austria. Founded in 1893 with a great deal of support from the Catholic priesthood within Austria it became the first political party in the world to attain power on the issue of anti-Semitism, winning 66% of the seats on the Vienna City Council in 1895. For the following 25 years it's emblem consisted of a Jewish snake strangling the Austrian eagle. In 1907 the party merged with the Austrian Catholic Conservative Party and, representing the vast majority of Catholic voters, the party rose in power to form every national government except one in the period 1918-1938. Despite some Catholic Bishops petitioning Pope Leo XIII to censure the party because of its racist platform he refused to do so and by not doing allowed the party to claim publicly that it had Vatican approval.
The claim that Adam was white-skinned certainly predates Darwin. It had been given a thin veneer of scientific credibility through the writings of, among others, the Swiss paleontologist and geologist Louise Agassiz (1807-1873), the American surgeon Josiah Clark Nott (1804-1873), and the American Egyptologist George Gliddon (1809-1857). Weikart points out that Hitler paraphrased Agassiz in 'Table Talks (October 24th, 1941):
"There have been humans at the rank at least of a baboon in any case for 300,000 years at least. The ape is distinguished from the lowest human less than such a human is from a thinker like, for example, Schopenhauer."
Here is the original quote (from 'Types of Mankind', 1854):
"The chimpanzee and gorilla do not differ more one from the other than the Mandingo and the Guineau Negro: they together do not differ more from the orang than the Malay or white man differs from the Negro.........I maintain distinctly that the differences observed among the races of men are of the same kind and even greater than those upon which the anthropoid monkeys are considered as distinct species."
Amazingly, according to Weikart, Hitler paraphrasing Agassiz is evidence that Hitler was a Darwinian! This is surely as illogical and spurious a connection as one can ever imagine. First, the sentiment expressed by both men is distinctly un-Darwinian. Second, and precisely because Agassiz was so un-Darwinian in his ideas, Henry Morris in the book 'Men of Science, Men of God' (1982) considers Agassiz to be one of the esteemed founders of creation science. He is listed on the website 'Creation Science Hall of Fame: Honoring those who Honored God's Word as literally written in Genesis', where we are told:
".......it is significant that he was an inveterate opponent of evolutionism to the very end of his life."
But Hitler is not the only one paraphrasing and agreeing with Agassiz. Here is George M. Price writing in his 1924 book, 'The Phantom of Organic Evolution':
"These present-day anthropoid apes may be just as much a product of modern conditions [degeneration] as are the negroid or the Mongolian types of mankind. And if I were compelled to choose between saying that the apes are degenerate or hybridized men and that man is a developed ape, I am sure it would not take me very long to decide which it would be. Nor do I think it would take any well-informed scientist long to make the choice."
That reads very similar to Agassiz, does it not? George M. Price, was of course, the 'father of flood geology', a highly conservative Biblical literalist who wrote that Darwin's scientific findings were "unbiblical and innately immoral" and even blamed German militarism leading up to the First World War on Darwin's influence. If Weikart insists on charging Hitler with paraphrasing Agassiz he must surely also accept that Hitler is echoing Price. And why wouldn't he, given that Hitler's own written work has a distinctly creationist bias?
Nott’s writings were particularly popular. In 1857, two years before Darwin published ‘Origin of Species’, his book ‘Indigenous Races of the Earth’ had pre-orders well in excess of it’s first print-run. These three polygenists accepted a translation of the name ‘Adam’ as "to show red in the face" or "blusher". Since only lighter skinned people display a discernible blush, they took this as evidence that Adam must have been Caucasian. This notion was, in turn, predicated on studies of ancient Hebrew made by a number of Christian academics including the Presbyterian minister Josiah Priest, author of ‘Bible Defence Of Slavery: On The Origin, History And Fortunes Of The Negro Race’, published 1843, who wrote:
“First Adam, as above, signifies earthy man, red; second Adamah, signifies red earth, or blood; third Adami, signifies my man red, earthy, human; fourth Admah, signifies earthy, red, or bloody ; all of which words are of the same class, and spring from the same root, which was Adam, signifying red, or copper color.”
Like Nott's work, Priest's own book was not considered fringe. It proved to be immensely popular, being reprinted eight times in the first five years of publication. Later additions included a supplementary pamphlet by the Rev. W.S. Brown, which was highly critical of the anti-slavery movement. On the basis of evidence as flimsy as this, fellow polygenists such as de Gobineau enthusiastically partitioned humans into distinct ‘groupings’. In de Gobineau’s case he chose the white (Aryan) race (superior in terms of intelligence, morality and physical harmony), the black race (intense, willful) and the yellow race (lazy, uninventive). In the obvious absence of a biological barrier between the races he proposed the need for a ‘moral’ barrier, in the best interests not only of the Aryan race but of humans in general.
In stark contrast to Christian polygenists, however, Darwin did not start out with any particular views on ‘race’ but simply tried to explain the sometimes mutually reinforcing presumptions made by others for racial differences. Writing in ‘The Descent of Man’, he made plain he considered all attempts to subdivide humans into races or subspecies to be premature and likely scientifically worthless:
“The question whether mankind consists of one or several species has of late years been much discussed by anthropologists … . But it is a hopeless endeavour to decide this point, until some definition of the term “species” is generally accepted; and the definition must not include an indeterminate element such as an act of creation. We might as well attempt without any definition to decide whether a certain number of houses should be called a village, town, or city”.
Darwin also commented on the disagreement between the various factions of anthropologists on how the human ‘races’ or ‘subspecies’ should be delineated. As he saw it the problem was that all of the physical and mental characteristics chosen to categorise each ‘race’ proved, on closer examination, not to be unique to any one ‘race’. It was obvious to Darwin, therefore, that the various ethnic groups had a common evolutionary origin with all identifiable human characteristics highly intermingled. As he further wrote in 'The Descent of Man':
Although the existing races of man differ in many respects, as in colour, hair, shape of skull, proportions of the body, &c., yet if their whole organisation be taken into consideration they are found to resemble each other closely in a multitude of points. Many of these points are of so unimportant or of so singular a nature, that it is extremely improbable that they should have been independently acquired by aboriginally distinct species or races. The same remark holds good with equal or greater force with respect to the numerous points of mental similarity between the most distinct races of man. The American aborigines, Negroes and Europeans differ as much from each other in mind as any three races that can be named."
“Now when naturalists observe a close agreement in numerous small details of habits, tastes and dispositions between two or more domestic races, or between nearly-allied natural forms, they use this fact as an argument that all are descended from a common progenitor who was thus endowed; and consequently that all should be classed under the same species. The same argument may be applied with much force to the races of man.”
“.........all the races agree in so many unimportant details of structure and in so many mental peculiarities that these can be accounted for only by inheritance from a common progenitor; and a progenitor thus characterised would probably deserve to rank as man...........It may be doubted whether any character can be named which is distinctive of a race and is constant. Savages, even within the limits of the same tribe, are not nearly so uniform in character, as has been often asserted...... Man has been studied more carefully than any other animal, and yet there is the greatest possible diversity amongst capable judges whether he should be classed as a single species or race, or as two (Virey), as three (Jacquinot), as four (Kant), five (Blumenbach), six (Buffon), seven (Hunter), eight (Agassiz), eleven (Pickering), fifteen (Bory St. Vincent), sixteen (Desmoulins), twenty-two (Morton), sixty (Crawfurd), or as sixty-three, according to Burke...... the races ought not to be ranked as species......they graduate into each other, and that it is hardly possible to discover clear distinctive characters between them”.
Of course, when 'Origin of the Species' was first published, slavery was still legal and enthusiastically sanctioned by many churches in the United States. Thus, African-American Christians appeared to have understood the true import of Darwin's findings of common descent much earlier than many of their white counterparts. Indeed, many African-Americans were more disposed to Darwinian science than to some of the teachings of the white churches in the southern states (polygenist views were so rife in these places that European ethnologists had begun referring to such notions as the 'American School' of ethnology). In 1863 the African-American Methodist paper 'The 'Christian Recorder' positively reviewed Darwin's findings and particularly praised him for having acted as a counter to polygenist views:
"One question of much dispute seems to have been settled by Mr Darwin.......the Caucasian, the Malay, and the Negro, according to his facts, are varieties of a species, and may all have descended from a single pair, as set forth in the scriptures."
Proper appreciation of the import of Darwin's scientific findings did not always find favour in the more fundamentalist, white Christian sects, however. Another highly influential book authored by Charles Carroll in 1900, 'The Negro a Beast or, In the Image of God' and published by American Bible House argued, like de Gobineau that Adam was the progenitor of only the white 'race' and that the negro was, in fact, not a human but a pre-Adamite animal that did not possess a soul. According to Carroll, the mindset that accepted the ideas of atheism and Darwinian evolution resulted from the moral and intellectual degeneration of the white race brought on by miscegenation with such animals.
Fortunately, more honest and realistic views were also available. In Spring 1925, for example, the 'Baltimore Afro-American' newspaper published a series of articles, 'Day to Day' by William N. Jones, in which he argued that Darwinian evolution had "created greater racial sympathy in the short-term". In an article celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Thomas Huxley he wrote that few white men had done as much as Huxley to help race relations because Darwin's scientific findings had questioned the Christian notion that some men were born to be rulers "by Divine right" while others were born to be slaves "by Divine curse". He went on:
"Science won, and as a result the world, in spite of hidebound and narrow dogmas, is heading towards real brotherhood."
A few years later the journalist W. J. Cash writing in his book of personal memoirs, 'The Mind of the South' (1941) had this to say:
"One of the most stressed notions which went around was that evolution made a Negro as good as a white man-that is, threatened White Supremacy."
It is mind-boggling indeed that modern day fundamentalist Christians can read passages like Darwin's and these and infer from them that Darwin and his scientific findings convinced that human beings could and should be classified and placed on a hierarchy according to racially specific characteristics. Those who do so would surely fail any standardised reading comprehension test. Compare for yourself the above quotations from Darwin with Bergman’s own warped version of Darwin’s beliefs outlined in his paper, ‘Darwinism and the Nazi Race Holocaust’:
“........it was Darwin who claimed that certain races were genetically inferior as was scientifically ‘proven’ by Darwinism..........the ‘superior race’ belief was based on the theory of group inequality within each species, a major presumption and requirement of Darwin’s original ‘survival of the fittest’ theory”.
Even when ignoring the embarrassingly tautological nature of the first quote I cannot imagine a more dishonest rendering of what Darwin actually said. Biologist Steven J Gould didn’t share Bergman’s difficulty in understanding Darwin’s words. Writing in his essay ‘Eternal Metaphors of Palaeontology’ (1977) he succinctly notes:
“an explicit denial of innate progression [of a racial hierarchy] is the most characteristic feature separating Darwin’s theory of natural selection from other nineteenth century evolutionary theories.”
Even Gasman, in the final pages of his book, recognises this and curiously, given the theme of his work, admits that Darwin's findings were, in fact, wholly incompatible with Nazi racial theories, writing:
“It was therefore hardly ideologically admissible at the same time to allow for the evolution of the Aryans from a group of inferior anthropoid progenitors. Any theory of this kind would have destroyed the notion that the Aryans were in possession of racial superiority from the beginning”.
Despite such clear differences between the likes of de Gobineau, Hitler and Darwin in their attitude to the ‘races’, however, it is Darwin who creationists frequently claim was inherently racist. One very common source of such accusations is based on the full title of his first book, which is ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’. Throughout the book Darwin uses terms like ‘race’, ‘sub-species’ and 'variety’ interchangeably when discussing a range of animals such as dogs and horses as well as plants. For example, in this passage from Chapter 1 he uses three different words to describe the same concept:
“When we look to the hereditary varieties or races of our domestic animals and plants, and compare them with species closely allied together, we generally perceive in each domestic race, as already remarked, less uniformity of character than in true species”.
Some other example passages for 'Origin of Species' were Darwin mixes his terms:
"................if we could succeed in naturalising, or were to cultivate, during many generations, the several races, for instance, of the cabbage.”
"...............it is quite incredible that a fantail, identical with the existing breed, could be raised from any other species of pigeon, or even from the other well-established races of the domestic pigeon."
The irony is that ‘Origin of Species’ doesn't even discuss the evolution of humans, so whenever someone remarks on the racist nature of the book’s title, you can be certain he or she hasn't actually familiarised themselves with his work but is merely parroting the words of misinformed and dishonest Christian fundamentalist sources.
True though, by today’s standards Darwin probably was racist. He was after all, a middle-class white Englishman brought up in the 19th century Church of England where the inferiority of the non-white races was considered to be an empirical fact. Indeed, during Darwin's lifetime the vast majority of Europeans had never set eyes on a non-European. The term ‘racism’ is not an absolute and we can observe degrees and varieties of racism. For instance, Darwin made no anti-Semitic comments anywhere in his writing (except perhaps in one case; in a letter to his sister Susan in 1845 he used the relatively innocuous phrase "we are as rich as Jews") and he expressed pleasure when he found his work quoted and discussed in Hebrew language publications. Nevertheless, a recent anti-evolution primary school 'Islamic Science' textbook published in Turkey has bettered even the Discovery Institute authors by taking the ad hominem fallacy regarding Darwin to a whole new level of absurdity:
"First, he was a Jew. Second, he hated his prominent forehead, big nose and misshapen teeth"
How either of these statements might impact on the veracity of his findings is not mentioned, of course. Unless intelligence is a Zionist conspiracy. Darwin did, however, commonly use the terms ‘savage’ and ‘barbarian’ when referring to Africans and some other ethnic groups. These comments were unlikely to be intended as derogatory. It was simply an acknowledgement of the English lexicon of the time and such words were used both formally and informally by people from all walks of life, including in children’s books. The term ‘negro’, especially, was in formal use at that time and included in Parliamentary and other legal documents, medical and scientific papers and certainly by the church. Indeed, even a British politician as esteemed as Winston Churchill used terms such as ‘blackamoor’ ‘chink’, ‘wop’, and ‘baboo’ publicly, even into the 1950s. We are able to glean nothing from Darwin’s writings, therefore, that suggests that he was any more racist than any of his peers and in some ways he was much less so, obviously much less so than the likes of Agassiz, Priest, Carroll, de Gobineau or Hitler.
He did make what appear to be derogatory remarks about Africans being intellectually inferior to Europeans in his correspondence with fellow naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). It is important to understand, though, that naturalists such as Darwin and Wallace did not consider intelligence to be more desirable than any other trait for members of any species to possess. They recognised that nature has no trait hierarchy, simply favouring those traits that conferred a greater chance of reproduction in a specific environment. In his 1890 paper ‘Human Selection’ for example, Wallace had written "Those who succeed in the race for wealth are by no means the best or the most intelligent." He also considered such people to fall short in the moral stakes too, writing of his distaste for those who were comfortable risking human life and health by employing people to perform dangerous occupations in the service of their bank balance.
Darwin (along with the rest of his extended family) was a notable opponent of the slave trade. The campaign phrase often employed by the anti-slavery movement "Am I not a man and a brother?" was actually coined by Darwin's grandfather, the potter Josiah Wedgwood, who had it engraved on mass produced china cameos alongside an image of a black man in chains. Charles Darwin made no secret of his wish that the Confederate States would lose the American Civil War. In ‘The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin’, published in 1887 by his son Frances Darwin, he tells of his sharing a cabin with the captain of the Beagle, a devout Christian with a missionary zeal named Robert FitzRoy, en route to the Galapagos Islands. FitzRoy refused to carry anyone aboard his ship who did not agree to attending a daily worship conducted by himself. Although they were in agreement on many scientific matters, they argued on the subject of slavery to such an extent that Darwin chose to eat alone and seriously considered leaving the ship. Fortunately for him (and for science) the gun-room officers invited him into their cabin whereupon FitzRoy sent a naval officer with a written apology and request that they remained sharing a cabin. It is ironic that Darwin collected his specimens and made the field notes that were to form the basis of evolutionary theory while having a six-day Biblical literalist as his closest companion. Years later, after Darwin had published his work on evolution, and Fitzroy's faith had become even stronger, he became wracked with guilt at the part he had played in Darwin's discovery of "the abomination of evolution" writing that it had caused him "acutest pain" and attending public meetings concerned with evolution in order to argue the case against.
While at medical school in Edinburgh Darwin came across the work of a black taxidermist, a freed Guyanese slave, and asked if he would teach him his art. He later wrote in his autobiography:
"By the way, a negro lived in Edinburgh, who had travelled with Waterton, and gained his livelihood by stuffing birds, which he did excellently: he gave me lessons for payment, and I used often to sit with him, for he was a very pleasant and intelligent man."
Darwin counted Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Colonel of the First South Carolina Volunteers (the first federally organised African-American regiment, which fought in the American Civil War), as a good friend and had him stay in his home. Writing to him in 1873 Darwin remarks:
“I always thought well of the negroes, from the little which I have seen of them; and I have been delighted to have my vague impressions confirmed, and their character and mental powers so ably discussed”.
At the time of writing, Higginson was actively involved in fighting for the rights of the freed slaves. Later he wrote two books, ‘Common Sense About Women’ (1881) and ‘Women and Men’ (1888), in which he advocated gender equality in all spheres of life. Darwin had previously written in 1833 to Catherine Darwin:
"I have watched how steadily the general feeling, as shown at elections, has been rising against Slavery. What a proud thing for England, if she is the first European nation which utterly abolishes it. I was told before leaving England that after living in slave countries all my opinions would be altered; the only alteration I am aware of is forming a much higher estimate of the negro character”.
He wrote a very similarly worded sentiment the following year to the clergyman and geologist, J.S. Henslo. Darwin also tells us that when he doing his field work aboard the ‘Beagle’ he enjoyed the company of the three westernised natives from Tierra del Fuego every bit as much as his own countrymen and remarks:
“I was incessantly struck, whilst living with the Feugians on board the "Beagle," with the many little traits of character, shewing how similar their minds were to ours.”
That very same line later appears in 'The Descent of Man' when Darwin discusses alleged differences between the races. He was obviously not averse then, when occasion permitted, to mixing with other races and treating them as his equal. More likely he suffered, as we all surely do, from a whiff of cultural supremacy, suggested by his also writing about how much he disliked native Fuegan culture. Unlike de Gobineau, he probably discriminated more against the cultures he found objectionable rather than the people of other races per se.
One particularly fanciful notion held by de Gobineau was that Aryans were descended from a primeval people from Northern India who had originally lived an ideal ‘Rousseau-esque’ existence and it was from these origins that all the major human cultures such as Ancient Egyptian and Greek, Roman, Chinese and pre-Columbian American, had flourished. He wrote that, "history springs only from contact with the white races." All these societies had eventually failed, he believed, because the Aryan bloodline had eventually become diluted by interbreeding with the other two inferior races. Only the Germanic peoples were deemed to have enough of the original Aryan bloodline left to be able to reconstitute a pure Aryan race once again. This would obviously require an end to all interacial breeding in order to reduce the previous ‘deleterious’ effects of Darwinian natural selection.
de Gobineau observed this process of racial dilution being continued in 19th century Europe as a result of colonisation and for this reason he opposed Europeans becoming too involved in other cultures, lest the pure Aryan bloodline was further diluted and purity become even more unattainable. de Gobineau was not particularly anti-Semitic, however, and in ‘Inequality of the Human Races’ wrote at some length in praise of the “free, strong, and intelligent” Jewish people who had succeeded despite their “natural disadvantages”. Obviously these opinions were anathema to the Nazi party and they heavily edited this aspect of his work for public consumption. Although he wrote ‘Inequality of the Human Races’ before Darwin had published ‘The Descent of Man’, de Gobineau lived for another eleven years after Darwin’s findings became available and would certainly have become aware of how Darwin so strongly negated polygenist ideas and notions of racial hierarchies. Despite having ample opportunity to defend his ideas, however, he chose not to do so, writing only fiction and historical texts in his remaining years. Although Darwin was responsible for first outlining the actual mechanism by which natural selection has effect, it is only fair to mention that notions of ‘speciation’, that plants and animals (including humans) had changed over vast amounts of time, existed long before Darwin’s findings, originating as far back as Ancient Greece with philosophers such as Anaximander, Empedocles and Aristotle. Having been a diplomat in the French mission in Tehran, and a keen and knowledgeable student of oriental culture (he wrote a history of the Persian people and was the first European to publish on the Baha’i faith), it is almost certain that de Gobineau would also have been aware of the views of early Islamic thinkers on the subject of the common ancestory of humans.
Compared to the Bible the Qur'an contains a relatively incomplete chronology of creation. In particular, the ‘six ayums’ it supposedly took Allah to create the seven firmaments plus the Earth do not equate to the six days outlined in Genesis. Ayums tend to be defined as developmental stages, each of which is of an indeterminant time. It is not uncommon for Islamic scholars to consider the concept of the six ayums to be consistent with the scientific evidence for the timeline of the universe. Thus notions equating to the silliness of Christian young Earth creationism are comparatively recent concepts to Islam. Having an indeterminate and potentially extended timeframe at their philosophical disposal resulted in a number of early Islamic scholars producing texts that anticipated both abiogenesis and modern evolutionary theory.
The prolific Arabic author Al-Jahiz (c. 776-869), for example, in his seven-volume ‘Book of Animals’ suggested a form of ‘Lamarkian’ inheritance in which environmental factors caused a ‘struggle for existence’ resulting in the survival of stronger bloodlines by the transmission of inherited characteristics. Another Christian fundamentalist Darwin myth has him learning Arabic from the Cambridge University linguist Samuel Lee (1783-1852) and then plagiarising Al-Jahiz. Unfortunately for the purveyers of the story, Darwin knew no Arabic at all and and, in any case, he records meeting Lee on one occasion only, at a dinner party. Later, Persian scientist Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201-1274) outlined a notion of evolution not unlike that of the 20th Century Catholic scientist, philosopher and priest Pierre de Chardin. Al-Tusi considered that the universe initially consisted of equal and similar elements. However, internal contradictions began to appear, resulting in differences between elements. These elements then evolved into minerals, then plants, then animals, and now humans. This evolutionary process was claimed to result from individual variability to adapt to environmental contingencies. Humans were deemed by al-Tusi to be at an intermediate level of evolution with any further evolution taking place in a spiritual dimension (whatever that means). In the 19th century, after initial scepticism, the later writings of the Islamic political activist and commentator Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897) pointed out that Islamic scholars had long written about evolutionary principles. He himself came to accept Darwin’s findings but was unable, like Hitler, to acknowledge that they applied to human beings also.
The concept of a separate creation for each of the human races was, as de Gobineau continually affirms, a distinctly Christian notion, although to be fair the majority of Christians did not adhere to that belief until the African slave trade became established and needed to be defended. While the Qur'an posits a sharp distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims, teaching for example that Allah loves believers and comparing unbelievers to the lowest of animals for whom just about every type of sanction is permissable, there is no similar delineation made on the basis of a biological concept of ‘race’ anywhere in Islamic teachings. In contrast to the Nazis the Jews are generally only considered lower beings on the basis of their (lack of) faith, not their ‘race’. Islamic ‘colour-blindness’ was certainly recognised in the mid-19th century. For example, a Dr. Browning (a member of the London Abolition Convention) recounting his experiences of travelling in Islamic countries in the ‘Pennsylvania Freeman’ of August 6th August, 1840 noted that:
"There was one circumstance connected with the East that was peculiarly interesting, and that was, that there they knew of no distinction of color; they had no nobility of skin. White men, of the highest rank, married black women, and black men frequently occupied the highest social and official situations."
So, despite de Gobineau having ready access to contrary views from both another religion and from scientific investigation, he seemed unwilling to modify his view that the ‘races’ were created separately and that the Biblical Adam was the progenitor of only the Aryan race. Hitler’s attitude was no different, by allowing himself to be guided by de Gobineau rather than Darwin, he was effectively opting for a racial view of humanity based on religious faith and romantic ideals rather than scientific evidence. Accordingly, in ‘Rassenpolitik’, a government pamphlet issued in 1943 attempting to explain Nazi racial policies in a ‘scientific’ way to the German people, no mention is made of ‘Darwin’, ‘Darwinism’ or of ‘natural selection’. There is mention, however, of de Gobineau and of Gregor Mendel and of course some typical Nazi un-Darwinian pseudoscientific nonsense. Some extracts:
“Gobineau recognized with sure perceptiveness the danger of race mixing........We owe to these Nordic scientists this revolutionary knowledge: Humanity is not equal.......Racial differences are physical, spiritual, and intellectual....... Gregor Mendel was the first to discover the laws of genetics......Genetics tells us that characteristics are passed unaltered from generation to generation, and that spiritual and other characteristics are inherited along with physical ones”
Similar pseudoscientific gabble can be found in the 'Hitler Youth Manual' which also purports to explain Nazi policy in scientific terms. This document has been claimed to provide evidence that the Nazi Party's ideology was based on Darwinian principles. Nothing could be further from the truth. The actual terms ‘Darwinist’, ‘Darwinian’, ‘Darwinism’ and ‘natural selection’ also occur nowhere. Darwin himself is mentioned once – in a single sentence in Chapter 3 – the word ‘evolution’ is similarly mentioned only once – in that very same sentence. This is the context:
“………types today have developed gradually out of the older forms. This assumption is in fact generally accepted today after experiments have demonstrated that race and consequently species transformation occur on the earth. The study, which has to do with this question, is called the study of evolution. Closely associated with it is the name of the Englishman Charles Darwin (1809-1882).”
And that’s it. That’s the totality of the mention of the man claimed to have provided the scientific basis for Nazi racial policy. Simply that Darwin is “closely associated” with the concept of biological evolution. There is far more mention of Gregor Mendel, including a brief biography and a surprisingly accurate, lengthy discussion of Mendelian heritability. Any objective reader would surely conclude that the Nazis were pushing Mendel’s ideas, not Darwin’s. The document even says as much:
“ ……..we shape the life of our people and our legislation according to the verdicts of the teachings of genetics. Out of the laws of heredity, we have learned something about the nature of races.”
Darwin, of course, knew nothing and wrote nothing about genetics or the laws of heredity. Mendelian biologists enjoyed a much higher status in Germany than Darwinian biologists who, as we have seen, found it difficult to get papers published after the Nazi Party science journal contained editorials denouncing Darwinian evolution in the strongest of terms. But it gets worse. The manual is replete with religious sentiment and ideology:
“To man belongs his body, his mind, and his soul. These three form a unity. Therefore, in our consideration of races we will investigate not only physical structure, but also mental and spiritual characteristics.”
“We have learned already that numerous inheritable factors of a bodily, mental, and spiritual sort are transmitted from man to man.”
“The inheritableness also extends, however, to the diseases of body and soul.”
It is ironic that the distinctly Nazi notion that the soul can be affected by mechanisms of heredity has been taken up by some Christian (particularly Catholic) theologians in recent years. Faced with the overwhelming scientific evidence for Homo sapiens being a branch of the ape family and not descended from only two individuals, requires that they identify at what point in history the first hominid (or first heterosexual pair of proto-humans, or small group of humans simultaneously) was 'infused' with a soul, which is then inherited by their offspring, eventually becoming fixed in the entire species. Such a process would not be visible from fossil remains, as 'ensouled' hominids would not be expected to differ physically from 'soul-less' hominids. Some suggest that the presence of a soul can be determined by the ability to reason and to use that reasoning ability to alter the environment, something which can be observed. Unfortunately, this idea also has obvious Nazi-type leanings. If being 'ensouled' is synonymous with possessing the ability to reason, it follows that human beings who cannot adequately reason either do not have souls, or have inferior souls.
Back to the 'Hitler Youth Manual'. In particular, Hans Gunther’s definition of race and his classification of six distinct races is described in detail, but the main thrust of the argument is standard Nazi creationist and anti-evolution polemic; that the races were created separately, are ultimately immutable, and can only be 'diluted', never completely changed:
“......we believe that races receive their different natures in order to develop them and not to mix them.”
Indeed, much of the discussion of race could have been lifted from a Christian polygenist book from the mid-19th century or a pamphlet aimed at preventing the repeal of US anti-miscegenation laws in the latter half of the 20th century. Further examples from Chapters 2-4:
“A race is a collection of individuals differentiated from every other group (constituted in such a way) by its unique combination of bodily characteristics and soul attributes and continually reproduces its own kind.”
“In no instance up to this time have environmental influences brought about the formation of a new race. That is one more reason for our belief: A Jew both in Germany and in all other countries remains only a Jew. He can never change his race by centuries of residence with another people, as he often asserts, but just as often contradicts by his own actions.”
“the blood stream of a people can be defiled by being mixed with blood that is essentially and racially foreign to it. Our fostering of a race should prevent these pollutions.”
“Intermarrying with races of foreign blood is as dangerous for the continuance and existence of a people as inheritable internal defects.”
“……….we could make two types of influences responsible for the creation of new races. These have to do with environmental influences or with changes of internal factors. We will see what there is to be said as to both possibilities…………… Only that which is of value in the struggle for life remains permanent………..What we need to learn from these experiments is the following: In no instance up to this time have environmental influences brought about the formation of a new race…………. All arguments and political demands, which are founded on the belief in the power of environment, are therefore false and weak.”
When the Hitler Youth Manual does appear to discuss natural selection (it devotes a whole two pages to a bastardised version of the mechanism) it does so in terms of the dangers it poses to maintaining racial purity. The effects of natural selection are claimed to be almost always deleterious and for that reason, they conclude, they should not be encouraged to spread and attempts should always be made to remove the effects from the gene pool. Note the serious discrepancy in reasoning here between the Hitler Youth Manual and the minutes of the Wansee Conference of 1942. In the former natural selection is claimed to be detrimental to Nazi aspirations as it would lead to a weakening of a race and in the latter it is claimed to be detrimental to Nazi aspirations as it would lead to a strengthening of a race! Arthur Keith appears to be correct; Hitler and the Nazi Party did not understand evolutionary theory at all and certainly couldn't apply it effectively.
A major intellectual influence on Nazism was Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927). Chamberlain was a British-born author and self-described devout Christian who chose to live in Germany for most of his life and whose second wife was Eva von Bülow-Wagner, Franz Liszt's granddaughter and Richard Wagner's step-daughter. He became a German citizen during the First World War and was awarded the Iron Cross by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Hitler became a close friend of Chamberlain in the last few years of his life and visited him, along with Joseph Goebbels, on a number of occasions in the years 1923-1926 at his home at Bayreuth, at the time Hitler was writing ‘Mein Kampf’. In 1923 Chamberlain wrote to Hitler giving him his blessings:
“Most respected and dear Hitler … That Germany, in the hour of her greatest need, brings forth a Hitler – that is proof of her vitality … I can now go untroubled to sleep… May God protect you!”.
Chamberlain became a member of the Nazi Party and penned a number of articles for their periodicals. Despite possessing a BSc degree and having conducted postgraduate experimental work in plant physiology, Chamberlain repeatedly made it clear that he had no time whatsoever for Darwin’s evidence and thoughts on evolution. Bear in mind when reading the following quotes that Chamberlain is acknowledged to have been a primary ideological influence on Hitler by a number of creationist authors. In a letter to his future mother-in-law Cosima Wagner, written in 1896, he stated:
“this hair-raising absurdity poisons not only natural science but the whole of human thought: Darwinism rules everywhere, corrupting history and religion; it leads to social idiocy; it degrades judgment about men and things.”
And from his philosophical work, ‘Kant’ (1905):
“.........man was said to be descended from the ape; the anatomical impossibility of this is established to-day by a thousand reasons …”
Where else have we read such sentences? Their blunt and erroneous nature – they are as wrong then as they are now – is mirrored by any number of creationist authors and websites today. Chamberlain’s own seminal book (‘Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts’; ‘The Foundations Of The Nineteenth Century’; decoriusly described by Robert Richards as “a rich farrago of Goethean sentiment, Kantian epistemology, Wagnerian mysticism, and Aryan anti-Semitism”) was published in 1899, and continued his anti-Darwinian theme along with his own novel ideas on Christianity and no less than 135 pages examining Jewish physiology and character traits. In his introduction, Chamberlain referred to ‘Darwinism’ as “a manifestly unsound system”, an “English sickness” and “a craze”. He then goes on to describe it as “the evolution mania and the pseudo-scientific dogmatism of our century”, followed by:
“.......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.”
Slightly more florid in style than something that might be published by the Discovery Institute, perhaps, but the sentiment is near identical. In ‘Kant’ he further wrote:
“the historical sketch with which Darwin prefaced his book is a mere mockery. From the very first sentence Darwin speaks of species as if they were things running about like Tom, Dick and Harry, which any child might see by merely opening its eyes.”
Chamberlain’s hatred of evolutionary theory did not stop at criticism of the science, however. He disparaged Charles Darwin the man at every opportunity, venting his spleen particularly strongly in ‘Kant’ where he informs us that “Darwin.......did not see clearly, and still less did he think deeply” and jibes “Had Darwin...... been in ever so slight a measure a thinker”, and “what a want of reflection disfigures the fundamental thoughts of Darwin and his followers.”
Jerry Bergman, ever seeking to discredit Darwin insists, quite incredibly, in 'Darwinism And The Nazi Race Holocaust' that Chamberlain was actually pro-Darwin and that Darwin's theory was merely "modified by Chamberlain" and "clearly contributed to the death of over nine million people in concentration camps". I feel can safely leave it up to the reader to make their own mind up about Bergman's honesty in this regard. However, Bergman's cynical and selective use of history is particularly disingenuous when it comes to Chamberlain. Discovery Institute fellow, biochemist Michael Behe, who claims to have identified irreducible complexity in his book 'Darwin's Black Box' (1996), employing the bacterial flagellum as his flagship mechanism, actually owes a great deal to Chamberlain. For it was Chamberlain, in Chapter six of Kant (1905) who first suggested that the bacterial flagellum could not have evolved by Darwinian mechanisms because all of its parts would have been needed from the outset. As usual, Bergman is wrong; it wasn't Chamberlain who modified Darwin, it was Behe who modified Chamberlain.
Unsurprisingly for someone who could not accept Darwin’s scientific findings, Chamberlain also advanced explicitly racist sentiments. There are significant differences in thinking between de Gobineau and Chamberlain in this regard, however. While de Gobineau was primarily motivated by romantic and scholarly endeavours, and did his best to place his opinions within a Christian context, Chamberlain, although also a Christian, was far more overtly political. Chamberlain’s view of what comprised the Aryan race was also much wider than that of de Gobineau, emphasising a Proto-Indo-European culture linking the northern European Nordics, Celts and Teutons with the southern European Slavs, Greeks, and Latins. He also considered the North African Berber tribes to have originated from Aryan stock. Of course the natural leadership of this racial grouping and of all ethnic groups was considered to be provided only by the Germanic peoples:
“the less Teutonic a land is, the more uncivilised it is..........the Aryans are pre-eminent among all peoples; for that reason they are by right ... the lords of the world”.
Further, he championed governance of the Aryan people by a non-democratic, "thought out by a few and carried out with iron consequence”, Catholic-based theocracy:
“the Roman Church is not only a religion but also a secular system of government, and that the Church as representative of God upon earth may eo ipso claim — and always has claimed — absolute power in all things of this world.”
Unlike de Gobineau, Chamberlain held particular disdain for the Jewish people, typically pronouncing that “Their existence is sin, their existence is a crime against the holy laws of life” and “all that is derived from the Jewish mind, corrodes and disintegrates what is best in us” and, apparently unaware of the irony, described Judaism as “a religion of exclusive self-assertion and fanatical intolerance”. As a result of his comprehensive analysis of the Jewish character, he became certain that Jesus could not have been a Jew, but a Galilean of Aryan descent. One peculiar perception he had of Jews was that they were more likely than Christians to become atheist, “theists become in the twinkling of an eye atheists, a strikingly common thing in the case of Jews …” Of course, this conversion was not so prevalent in Germans as “…...for us (Teutons) God is always in the background”. Hitler, with his characteristic hatred of both atheists and Jews, picked up on Chamberlain’s idiosyncratic Jewish-atheist link and later included it as a criticism of the Jews in ‘Mein Kampf’. He also accepted Chamberlain’s view that Jesus was not a Jew.
Hitler would have had more than the historical views of Luther or the contemporary views of Chamberlain to influence him, however, as virulent anti-semitic and anti-evolution feelings were not confined to Germany. They were particularly prominent in the United States among Baptist preachers. Perhaps the best known was William Bell Riley, founder of the World Christian Fundamentals Association. He was also the founder and long-time director of the Northwestern Bible School in 1902 (shut in 1966 and reopened in 1972 as Northwestern College) which at the time of his death in 1947, aged 86 years, was the second largest Bible college in the world. Riley was a staunch advocate of the inherent superiority of the white race and a rabid anti-Semite and hater of evolutionary theory. He regularly praised Hitler throughout the 1930s on his weekly radio show broadcast throughout the United States, sharing such gems as:
“There is no question in my mind that Hitler is an instrument of God with help from on high"
and asserting that Hitler had “snatched Germany from the very jaws of atheistic Communism" and supported his efforts to "foil the nefarious Jewish plot". He maintained this stance until the United States entered the war on the side of the allies when, realising that he would be perceived as unpatriotic, he did an abrupt about-turn and started referring to the Nazis as “pagans”. He later published a number of anti-Hitler pamphlets including 'Hitlerism: The Philosophy of Evolution in Action'.
In 1934 in the basement of his church Riley published and widely distributed ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ (known in Germany as the 'Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion') a fraudulent document originating in Russia in 1902, purporting to have uncovered the Jewish plan for global economic domination and slavery of the non-Jewish peoples. The document had been largely plagiarised from a German novel published in 1869. This in turn was heavily influenced by a French work entitled 'Dialogue aux Enfers Machiavelli et Montesquieu' ('A Conversation in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu') by the journalist Maurice Joly, intended as a savage critique of Napoleon III. Protocol 2:3 of the Protocols states:
“Do not suppose for a moment that these statements are empty words: think carefully of the successes we arranged for Darwinism, Marxism, Nietzsche-ism. To us Jews, at any rate, it should be plain to see what a disintegrating importance these directives have had upon the minds of the Goyim [non-Jew]”
The document was already widely available in Europe in the early 20th century (and has become popular again in some Islamic countries such as Egypt). Hitler was certainly taken in. In Chapter 10 of the first volume of 'Mein Kampf' he labels the work as “authentic” and goes on:
“To what an extent the whole existence of this people is based on a continuous lie is shown by the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion.........with positively terrifying certainty they reveal the nature and activity of the Jewish people and expose their inner contexts as well as their ultimate final aims.”
The Italian philosopher Julius Evola (1898-1974) had provided a foreword to the 1938 edition in Italy where he described the Protocols as a "spiritual tonic", even though it was widely known that he was dubious as to the authenticity of the document. Like Riley, Evola was pro-European, an anti-Semite and determinedly anti-Darwinian. His influential 1941 book 'Sintesi di dottrina della razza ('A Synthesis of the Doctrine of Race'; published in Germany in 1943 after he fled there following the allied invasion of Italy), despite offering a far more esoteric version of racial theory than the Nazi pseudoscientific Christian model, was nevertheless considered recommended reading for Nazi intellectuals partly due to Evola's praise for the spiritual ideals of Himmler and the SS (he considered the moral basis for the SS and the Jesuits to be near identical), but also because of his consistent criticism of Darwinian theory. In his 1958 book 'Metaphysics of Sex' he further expounded his philosophy of 'de-evolutionary spiritual racism':
"Our starting point will be not the modern theory of evolution but the traditional doctrine of involution. We do not believe the man is derived from the ape by evolution. We believe that the ape is derived from man by involution........We concur with the various researchers........who have rebelled against the evolutionary dogma."
The Protocols pamphlet had previously been published more than ten years earlier than Riley's edition in the United States by car-maker Henry Ford through his Dearborn Publishing Company, which was forced to cease trading due to the large number of lawsuits they attracted due to anti-Semitic editorials and articles which libelled several prominent Jewish-Americans. In 1927 Henry Ford was forced to issue a public apology for publishing the Protocols, admitting that they are “gross forgeries.” Nevertheless, after Riley, in 1938, the Protocols were republished by the Catholic priest Charles Coughlin in his extreme right-wing magazine 'Social Justice'. To do this, he received financial help from Henry Ford (which is doubly ironic, as Ford also took a dislike to Catholics, referring to them as "slaves of Jews" after a Catholic lawyer represented a Jewish businessman who had sued Ford for libel) and, it has been claimed though never proven, from Nazi Germany also. Like Riley, Coughlin had a nationwide radio show, with an audience estimated at up to 30 million, in which he regularly spewed forth his pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic venom. An investigation by the Department of Justice into the activity of the priest found:
"...there is at least one occasion upon which [Father Coughlin's magazine] 'Social Justice' reprinted in almost identical form a speech delivered by Joseph Goebbels. The 'Social Justice' article gave no credit to Goebbels and did not in any way indicate that it was a reprint of Goebbel's speech."
The popularity and influence of anti-Jewish rhetoric in the United States at this time was remarkable. When Ford first gained control of the medium-sized weekly newspaper, the Dearborn Independent in 1919, it was distributed only in the Dearborn, Michigan area and had a circulation of 72,000. After the first anti-Semitic article appeared, however, circulation steadily rose, reaching ten-fold within five years, eventually becoming by 1925, the newspaper with the second-largest circulation in the United States after the New York Daily News, which only surpassed it by 50,000 copies. It was distributed primarily through Ford car dealerships and churches, as well as colleges and schools, often given away.
On March 8th 1923, The Chicago Tribune published an interview with Hitler. When asked about the possibility that Henry Ford might run for President, Hitler responded:
“I wish I could send some of my shock troops to Chicago and other big American cities to help in the elections. We look on Heinrich Ford as the leader of the growing fascist movement in America. We admire particularly his anti-Jewish policy which is the Bavarian fascist platform. We have just had his anti-Jewish articles translated and published. The book is being circulated to millions throughout Germany”.
Hitler was referring to Ford’s compilation book, 'The International Jew: The World's Problem' which comprised 91 anti-Semitic articles and published in 1920. It was rebadged as 'The Eternal Jew' in Germany where it sold very well. There were two German publishers, one in Berlin and the other in Leipzig. The Leipzig company, Theodor Fritsch, alone reported that between 1920-22 five re-printings were made and by 1938 they had released 29 editions. The 1923 Chicago Tribune interview with Hitler went on to mention that their reporters could not find a single bookshop in Southern Germany that did not stock Ford’s book. Four years later Samuel Untermeyer, President of The Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League, had this to say in the New York Times (25 July 1927):
“Wherever I went on my recent world tour, even into the most remote corners of the earth, in every county, city, and hamlet, the Ford cars were to be found. Wherever there was a Ford car there was a Ford agency not far away, and wherever there was a Ford agency these vile, libelous books in the language of that country were to be found.... These articles are so fantastic and so naive in their incredible fantasy, they read like the work of a lunatic and but for the authority of the Ford name, they would have never seen the light of day and would have been quite harmless if they had. With that name, they spread like wildfire and became the bible of every anti-Semite.”
Not surprisingly, Hitler praised the work of Henry Ford throughout his political career. The New York Times reported on 3rd December 1922 that in Hitler's office in Munich:
"The wall beside his desk is decorated with a large picture of Henry Ford. In the antechamber; there is a large table covered with books, nearly all of which are a translation of a book written and published by Henry Ford."
He is the only American to get a mention in 'Mein Kampf' and striking similarities can be observed between some of the passages in that book and 'The Eternal Jew'. In July 1938 Ford was awarded the 'German Eagle Order'. This award, instituted by Hitler himself, was given to non-Germans who had benefitted German society in some way. Their were only ever four recipients, one of whom was the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Ford's influence was felt way beyond Hitler, however. According to French historian Leon Poliakov (in The History of Anti-Semitism Vol. IV: Suicidal Europe, 1977) the Nazi aide Felix Kerstin told him that Heinrich Himmler's dislike of the Jewish people came only after reading 'The Eternal Jew'. Similarly, the leader of the Hitler Youth Movement, Baldur von Schirach, stated at the International War Tribunal in 1945 that Ford's book had been the primary reason he had joined the Nazi Party at the age of seventeen, adding:
"You have no idea what a great influence this book had on the thinking of German youth.The younger generation looked with envy to the symbols of success and prosperity like Henry Ford, and if he said the Jews were to blame, we naturally believed him"
The respect was certainly not one-sided. Ford's 'right-hand man', Ernest Liebold, who acted as general manager of Dearborn Publishing, placed an order for a commemorative box of 100 swastika tie-pins, to be given as gifts for Ford's like-minded business associates. While Dearborn publications and the views of Ford himself were certainly denounced by ‘liberal’ church pulpits on the east coast of the United States, the more conservative, evangelical-style churches in the south and mid-west proved far more supportive. Even the normally circumspect Christian Science Monitor published an editorial entitled ‘The Jewish Peril’ in 1920. Indeed, in a poll of Christian college students conducted by the Christian Nationalist Crusade in 1920, Henry Ford was voted the third 'greatest man who had ever lived', after Jesus Christ and Napoleon (the same organisation were later to republish 'The International Jew' in 1964 - it remains in publication in the USA, available from the website of the Christian organisation Promise Ministries, where it is described as a "monumental work").
The ‘Protocols of Zion’ appealed to Riley, not only because they provided him with anti-Semitic ammunition but also because he abhorred anything to do with Darwin and evolution, especially when it was taught in schools. He often claimed, in similar manner to the Nazi botanist Ernst Bergdolt, that evolution was no less than "an international Jewish-Bolshevik-Darwinist conspiracy”. In 1923 he set up the Anti-Evolution League of Minnesota which grew within a year to be the Anti-Evolution League of America. The organisation was anti-evolution to what bordered on a perverse level. One of his closest colleagues, T.T. Martin claimed on more than one occasion that teachers in American public schools who taught evolution were less moral than German soldiers who had killed Belgian children during the first World War by giving them poisoned candy. It is obvious why people like Riley disliked evolution. If all the ‘races’ shared common ancestry, as Darwin suggested, then state laws promoting racial barriers, which he avidly supported, could be perceived as arbitrary and so difficult to justify on the basis of Biblical knowledge and authority.
One of the first campaigns fought by the Anti-Evolution League of America culminated in the 1925 Tennessee anti-evolution law known as the 'Butler Act', which banned teachers in state schools from denying the Biblical account of human origins. They made no secret in their pamphlets as to why they gave their support. Apart from the fact that evolution questioned the Biblical creation, they also feared that evolutionary theory promoted the notion that the black and white races were equal and belonged to the same species. This certainly appears to have been understood in a scathing editorial in the 'Chicago Defender', published during the trial:
"The Tennessee legislators who passed a law making it a crime to teach Darwinism in that state probably have never read the text themselves and all they know about the subject is that the entire human race is supposed to have started from a common origin. Therein lies their difficulty. Admit that premise and they will have to admit that there is no fundamental difference between themselves and the race they pretend to despise."
A further difference between de Gobineau and Chamberlain concerned their view of the current status of the Aryan race. To de Gobineau, although the Aryan race was superior in most aspects of human endeavour, other races might have minor superiorities which could be capitalised on by a small influx of blood from other races. However he warned that too much race mixing would result in the dilution in purity of the Aryan race with the ultimate destruction of civilisation. Chamberlain, on the other hand, perceived the Aryan race as enjoying a high level of purity and the object should be to preserve this purity at all costs. Thus Hitler’s attitudes toward other races, and particularly to the Jewish people, as well as his ideas of racial purity were influenced far more by the Darwin-phobic Chamberlain than by Darwin-ignoring de Gobineau.
‘The Foundations Of The Nineteenth Century’ was distributed to all German libraries on the instructions of Kaiser Wilhelm II and included in the German school curriculum. It was later considered recommended reading by all Nazi Party members simply because Hitler was so impressed by it. Not surprisingly, given this level of recommendation, it sold extremely well; surpassing 60,000 copies within 10 years, 100,000 copies by 1914 and 24 editions and more than 250,000 copies sold by 1938. In 1925, the official Nazi Party newspaper dedicated five columns to Chamberlain to honour his 70th birthday, describing his book as the ‘gospel of the Nazi movement’.
A third influence on the Hitlerian worldview, albeit with a much more chequered history, is that of Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). Haeckel was a polymath with particular expertise in biology and zoology, rising to Professor of Comparative Anatomy at the University of Jena where he spent 47 years. Impressed with Darwin’s work at an early stage he wrote, rather sycophantically, to Darwin in July 1864:
“Of all the books I have ever read, not a single one has come even close to making such an overpowering and lasting impression on me as your theory of the evolution of species ........Since then your theory — I can say without exaggerating — has occupied my mind every day.”
Haeckel later travelled to England to visit Darwin on several occasions. His own book ‘Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte’ or ‘The History of Creation’, published in 1876, was marketed in Germany as an attempt to explain Darwin’s ideas to the general public. It was not an accurate description of its content. Although he is often painted as the man who did more than anyone else to promote the work of Charles Darwin in Germany, Haeckel’s views on biology in general and on human origins in particular can be considered no more than semi-Darwinian. Although certainly an enthusiastic proponent of the concept of evolution, in no sense can he be labelled a ‘Darwinian’ as he did not believe that natural selection was the method by which evolution progressed. He was also a polygenist.
Despite these most basic scientific disagreements between Haeckel and Darwin there is no shortage of Christian fundamentalist authors who try to convince their readers that the two men were in complete agreement. In order to do so they often invent their own definitions of a ‘Darwinist’ which are invariably far broader than would be accepted by mainstream biology. For instance, in their paper ‘Haeckel: Legacy of Fraud to Popularise Evolution’, published in the ‘Journal of Creation’ (where else?), Finnish authors Ojala and Leisol refer to Haeckel as “a Darwinian demagogue”. This is nowhere near being true. By his own admission, Haeckel’s view of evolution was far more Lamarckian than Darwinian. To be considered a Darwinian in the first half of the 20th century required, at a minimum, acceptance of two of Darwin’s claims re humanity. First, that Homo sapiens comprised a single species, were part of the primate family and had evolved from a common ancestor shared with modern non-human primates. Second, that the evolution of Homo sapiens had been mediated by natural selection. Haeckel accepted the first claim in part only while Hitler accepted neither of these claims. As Gasman reminds us, "Haeckel's Darwinism is a vast transformation of what Darwin wrote and stood for." Haeckel was also far more popular than Darwin in the wider public eye; at the time of Haeckel's death his works had been translated into more languages and he had sold far more copies.
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) was the French naturalist credited as the first to suggest explicitly that human beings had evolved from the ape lineage. His book ‘Philosophie Zoologique’ published in 1809 contains the following paragraph:
“Certainly, if some race of apes, especially the most perfect among them, lost, by necessity of circumstances, or some other cause, the habit of climbing trees and grasping branches with the feet..…and if the individuals of that race, over generations, were forced to use their feet only for walking and ceased to use their hands as feet, doubtless … these apes would be transformed into two-handed beings and … their feet would no longer serve any purpose other than to walk”.
This passage demonstrates key differences between the views of Lamarck and Darwin. Lamarck is suggesting that speciation was caused by phenotypic changes occurring during an organism's lifetime due to use and/or disuse, being passed on to future generations (the ‘inheritance of acquired characteristics’). Darwin, on the other hand, hypothesised something very different; that advantageous traits would appear more often in future generations simply because the individual organisms having that advantageous trait would be more likely to reproduce (‘naturally selected’ characteristics; strictly speaking, however, no selection actually takes place, and it is disadvantageous traits being removed from the gene pool that shapes the next generations). Although Darwin shows great respect for Lamarck in his publications, it is clear from his private correspondence that an early repudiation of his views was the case. This from a letter he wrote to the English botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker in January 1844:
“Heaven forfend me from Lamarck nonsense of a ‘tendency of progression,’ ‘adaptions from the slow willing of animals,’ etc.!”
Conversely, Haeckel considered ‘Philosophie Zoologique’ to be “the first systematically founded presentation of the theory of the origin of species”, representing “the beginning of a new period in the intellectual evolution of mankind.” Darwin disagreed particularly with Lamarck’s further notion of directed variation, or an underlying teleology to evolution which would always flow in the same direction, and which had enabled a selected ‘lower’ form of life to eventually become a ‘higher’ form of life (i.e., humans). It was not that Darwin outright rejected the notion of evolutionary progress, at least in his early work. As he wrote in the penultimate paragraph of ‘Origin of the Species’:
“.......as natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection”
This is highly unusual wording for Darwin as his main premise for direction in natural selection was that it tends toward fecundity, nothing more. Darwin was, of course, a theist when he wrote ‘Origin of the Species’ and it likely that this passage might simply reflect his belief. He had, however, written earlier in the text:
“It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as "plan of creation," "unity of design," etc., and to think that we give an explanation when we only restate a fact”.
Nevertheless, this sole suggestion of Darwinian teleology was naturally picked up by Chamberlain:
“Darwin specially recommends his theory for our acceptance in that it also promises to mankind that all corporal and mental endowments will tend to progress in the direction towards perfection”.
Taken at face value this is a profound misunderstanding of what Darwin meant. His contention was, that with natural selection, ‘progress’ (whatever that is) could potentially occur equally in any lineage, albeit at differing rates and in different ways, according to the specific environmental exigencies. In other words, there is no such thing as any favoured lineage. Unlike Darwin, who conducted extensive fieldwork, Lamarck’s ideas were largely philosophical and he presented far less data. In contrast, then, Lamarck took a theological view. He concluded that progress had occurred in one deity-favoured lineage while Haeckel suggested very few (human) lineages. Bearing in mind that both Lamarck and Haeckel perceived the human ‘races’ as separate lineages it was not a huge leap, then, to view the ‘lower’ races as having been exposed to difficult environmental conditions for so long that significant progress in their ‘direction toward perfection’ was unlikely. Haeckel never came to fully accept a Darwinian view and kept to a Lamarckian outlook even after Gregor Mendel’s (1822-1884) work on trait inheritance demonstrated that Lamarck was wrong and Darwin was right. Haeckel may well have been someone’s demagogue, but he was certainly not a Darwinian demagogue.
Nowhere else in Darwin’s work (or in later mainstream biology for that matter) does there exist the notion that evolution tends to “progress in the direction towards perfection”. This was well appreciated during both Haeckel and Hitler’s lifetimes. Even if there was some kind of teleological force directing evolution it would appear to be an incredibly wasteful process, as 99% of the species ever evolved have since become extinct and the remaining modern species are riddled with examples of how evolution has driven phenotypic changes by ‘piggy-backing’ on existing structures, often resulting in inefficiencies that no good designer would countenance. It would also beg the question: when is perfection reached and evolution ends (and what or who is it that decides)?
Haeckel did agree with Darwin that human beings had evolved from a common ancestor shared with modern apes, albeit thinking the cradle was in Asia rather than Africa. He departed from Darwin’s ideas far more seriously, however, in that he was also an adamant polygenist, unable to accept Darwin’s view that all human races were members of not only the same genus but the same species. Like de Gobineau and Chamberlain he was also resolute in his support of the notion of a superior Aryan race. He categorised human beings first crudely by their hair type and wrote that those people with ‘woolly-hair’, such as Africans, as opposed to ‘straight-hair’, such as northern Europeans, were:
“.......incapable of a true inner culture or of a higher mental development..........only among the Aryans was there that “symmetry of all parts, and that equal development, which we call the type of perfect human beauty”.
He then went on to identify a hierarchy of ten distinct sub-species of humans, going so far as to label each separately within the genus Homo. In his numerous human tree diagrams, Caucasians (Aryans or ‘Homo mediterraneus’) were, of course, always at the top and Negros always at the bottom of the ladder. What is perhaps most surprising given the society and era in which he published his tree diagrams was his consistent placing of the Jews at or very near the highest rungs of the ladder. For unlike Chamberlain, Haeckel was not nearly as anti-Semitic, if he could even be considered such at all, becoming known for his ‘Judenfreundschaft’, or friendliness toward Jews.
In 1894 the Austrian journalist and dramatist Hermann Bahr (1863-1934) published a series of interviews on the subject of anti-Semitism with several dozen of the leading contemporary European commentators, including Haeckel. Haeckel told Bahr that despite having students who were anti-Semitic, several of his good friends were Jewish and they were “admirable and excellent men”. He then went on to praise educated Jews:
“I hold these refined and noble Jews to be important elements in German culture. One should not forget that they have always stood bravely for enlightenment and freedom against the forces of reaction, inexhaustible opponents, as often as needed, against the obscurantists And now in the dangers of these perilous times, when Papism again rears up mightily everywhere, we cannot do without their tried and true courage”
Haeckel displayed other relatively liberal views for his time. In the last decade of his life Haeckel befriended the Jewish physician and sexologist, Magnus Hirshfeld (1868-1935), founder of the ‘Scientific Humanitarian Committee’, now considered the first advocacy group in the world for homosexual and transgender people (he also coined the term transvestite). His book ‘Naturgesetze der Liebe’ or the ‘Natural Laws of Love’, published in 1912, in which he contended that homosexuality was an innate part of human sexuality and therefore perfectly natural, was dedicated to Haeckel after he had read the proofs and praised them. Sexually liberal notions such as these proved too much for Hitler’s Catholic-minded sensitivities (indeed they remain abhorrent to the Catholic hierachy even today). Within a year of coming to power Hitler had Hirshfeld’s ‘Institut für Sexualwissenschaft’ (Institute for Sexual Research) closed down. The standard archival newsreel of the Nazi book-burnings that was distributed throughout the world is believed to be of Hirschfeld's library and records. Hirshfeld was in France at the time and died in Paris two years later.
Another interesting feature of Haeckel’s tree diagrams was that of the relative position of the ‘races’. They appear to have been malleable, not because of new scientific findings, but according to the effect Haeckel thought the ranking might have on his reputation. For example, earlier versions of his human tree show native Americans near the top, ahead of the Asian ‘races’. They were, however, relegated in favour of the Japanese ‘race’ when his books were translated into Japanese. Native Americans never did regain their lost position, forever placed lower than the Asian peoples in subsequent versions. Nevertheless, Haeckel always maintained the presumption that some sort of racial hierarchy existed. Again from ‘The History of Creation’:
“ … the morphological differences between two generally recognized species - for example sheep and goats - are much less important than those … between a Hottentot and a man of the Teutonic race”.
Darwin would have been either bewildered or appalled, likely both. Similarly from Haeckel’s book ‘Die Lebenswunder’ (‘The Wonders of Life’), published in 1904:
“the lower races, such as the Veddahs or Australian Negroes, are psychologically nearer to the mammals, apes and dogs, than to the civilised European. We must, therefore, assign a totally different value to their lives......their only interest are food and reproduction......many of the higher animals, especially monogamous mammals and birds, have reached a higher stage than the lower savages”.
The notion that sheep and goats, whose offspring are invariably stillborn, are closer in an evolutionary sense than two humans, such as an African and a European, who would ordinarily have no problem in achieving viable offspring, is obvious nonsense even to someone with no knowledge of phylogenetic trees. Nowadays, of course, there is an agreement among biologists that the concept of ‘species’ can effectively be defined by genetic relationship and ability to reproduce. In the late 19th century, however, the nature of a ‘species’ had yet to be so exactly determined. Darwin himself acknowledges this in Chapter 2 of ‘Origin of Species’:
“no one definition (of species) has as yet satisfied all naturalists” but then goes on to say, “yet every naturalist knows vaguely what he means when he speaks of a species”.
Defining a ‘species’ by the ability of two of it’s members to successfully breed was certainly not alien to Haeckel. As with de Gobineau, Chamberlain and Hitler, however, he appears to have decided to ignore evidence contrary to his views. The idea was first mooted in Alfred Russel Wallace’s book ‘Darwinism’. Briefly, he (correctly) proposed that natural selection contributes to reproductive isolation and that over time two populations can become reproductively isolated and eventually become two distinct species. When it came to humans, though, Haeckel appears to have dismissed any role for reproduction in his view of what constituted a species or sub-species, arbitrarily choosing perceived differences in language development as the delineating factor:
“With each of these human species, language developed on its own and independently of the others..…If one views the origin of the branches of language as the special and principal act of becoming human, and the species of humankind as distinguished according to their language stem, then one can say that arose independently of one another”.
Note that Haeckel’s culturally-based approach to defining “the different species of men” is, paradoxically, species-specific; it could not be used to sub-categorise any other species of animal. So we can see a general two-fold trend of un-Darwinian thought running through de Gobineau, Chamberlain, Haeckel and finally Hitler; that humans are not a singular species but made up of subspecies (or even different species) and that some subspecies are somehow more ‘advanced’ than others and so exceptional.
To substantiate an ideological link between Darwin and Hitler requires that one or more people acted as important intermediary influences. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least that there is no evidence that Hitler actually read any of Darwin’s works. Also, given that he was unsuccessful at any academic pursuit, even if he had read Darwin, it is questionable whether he would have sufficiently understood the material to have gained enough insight to be able to put the ideas into practice. de Gobineau could not have been an intermediary as his relevant work was written too early and, in any case, he ignored Darwin’s work. It was certainly not Chamberlain - he absolutely hated Darwin and all he stood for. The task, then, is left to Haeckel. However, evidence for this role has proven a highly contentious issue.
Notwithstanding the debate between Weikart and Gasman (who both accuse Haeckel of providing the link) and Robert Richards (who staunchly defends Haeckel), which I have no intention of further contributing to here, the problems in establishing an ideological link between Haeckel and Hitler are threefold. First, and most importantly to this discussion, Haeckel’s heart was never really into being a ‘Darwinian’. Although he was certainly a champion for the concept of evolution he never accepted that natural selection was the mechanism by which it operated. As mentioned, it is really not feasible to consider someone a ‘Darwinian’ if they outright deny natural selection, despite the arbitrary and inconsistent definitions of Darwinism employed by creationists such as Weikart, Ojala and Leisola. Redefining terms to suit the argument is, of course, commonplace in Christian fundamentalist literature and particularly noticeable in books written by 'fellows' of the Discovery Institute. Nonetheless, the practice is pounced on when the argument does not suit their agenda. For example, when Weikart reviewed Richard Steigmann-Gall’s book 'The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity' in 'German Studies Review' in 2004 he complained, "Many German pantheists used religious, even Christian, terminology, but they often redefined it." Second, Haeckel was a polygenist. Third, although Hitler would have had no difficulty with Haeckel’s basic racial ideology, he would certainly have taken umbrage (and did, as we shall see) at most of Haeckel’s political and philosophical beliefs.
One particularly tenuous line of evidence linking Haeckel to Hitler is his alleged membership in 1918 to the Thule Society. This claim was initially made by Gasman and has been repeated in a number of creationist publications since then. It is pertinent because the Thule society sponsored the ‘Deutsche Arbeiterpartei’ (‘German Workers Party’) who, under Hitler’s tutelage, became the National Socialists. Gasman describes them rather grandeously as “a political-theosophical-astrological-anti-Semitic secret organization.” Despite their support for the German Workers Party the Thule Society included a number of aristocrats in their membership and were wealthy enough to purchase a large circulation newspaper in Munich, which they used to publish pro-Nazi articles. To be accepted as a member the following oath was required:
"The signer hereby swears to the best of his knowledge and belief that no Jewish or coloured blood flows in either his or in his wife's veins, and that among their ancestors are no members of the coloured races".
The man who became Hitler’s deputy, Rudolph Hesse, was a prominent member, as was the Nazi propagandist Alfred Rosenberg. Despite claims to the contrary, however, there is no evidence that Hitler himself ever joined. Nor is there any evidence that Haeckel was a member. For a start, Haeckel was not anti-Semitic, at least to that degree, and was far too much of a naturalistic materialist to have anything to do with subjects as esoteric as theosophy or astrology. In addition, at the supposed time of his membership Haeckel was an invalid - he was to die within a year - and unable to leave his home. The society did, however, list a painter named Ernst Häckel as a member and we can distinguish between the two because the latter actually wrote to the former on a few occasions and these letters were kept by Haeckel and are currently archived.
Unlike de Gobineau and Chamberlain, Haeckel was not particularly enamoured with any of the Christian churches, especially Catholicism, and could be pugnacious in his dealings with clergy. One story goes that after he gave a lecture at the International Freethinkers Conference in Rome in 1904 the Pope was so incensed he ordered a "divine fumigation" of the auditorium. Nevertheless, Haeckel continued as a member of the German Evangelical Church, regularly paying his dues, until 1910 when he wrote an article announcing his resignation. His philosophical views were probably responsible for the Pontiff’s indignation for Haeckel was a staunch philosophical naturalist and strongly denied dualism in any form. In Haeckel’s ‘Monist’ view, organic and inorganic substances are different only in the relative sense. In essence they are identical. This sole primordial substance was even considered to include the concept of God. In other words the universe, including all it’s tangible and intangible manifesations, is ultimately made up of one material substance only, which remains always inseparable. The theological consequences are obvious: humans are solely material and there is no place for the existence of the soul. It is surprising, then, to note that the first president of the Monist League, formed in 1906, was the Protestant churchman Albert Kalthoff (1850-1906) and the institution was run along the lines of a church. The Nobel laureate in chemistry, Wilhelm Ostwald, even gave regular Monistic Sunday Sermons, later published in several volumes. The organisation became increasingly pacifist and socialist as well as atheistic. This trio of policies was, of course, a complete anathema to Hitler and so the Monist League voluntary disbanded when he came to power, their members fearing that they would be persecuted.
Chapter 3: The Fictional Influence of Darwin on Nietzsche and Nietzsche on Hitler
You would expect that anyone familiar with the trio of Darwin’s scientific findings, Nietzsche’s philosophical writings and the political ramblings of Hitler would have considerable difficulty amalgamating all three into any structured whole that can used to apportion blame for the Nazi era. Nevertheless, it has long been commonly believed that Hitler was an admirer of Nietzsche and a number of fundamentalist Christians have capitalised on this falsity and so cast Nietzsche in a similar role as Weikart has with Haeckel; as a pivotal link between Darwin and Hitler. Their roles are complementary. Whereas Haeckel is claimed to be the scientific conduit from Darwin to Hitler, Nietzsche becomes the philosophical intermediary between the two men. However, a closer examination shows that both links in the chain are contrived. In his closing argument in the Scopes Trial in 1925, the prosecutor William Jennings Bryan claimed that:
“Nietzsche gave Germany the doctrine of Darwin's efficient animal in the voice of his superman”
Thus succinctly linking all three. As did Henry Morris four decades later, writing in ‘Evolution and Modern Racism: Acts, Facts, Impacts’ (1974):
“The seeds of evolutionary racism came to fullest fruition in the form of National Socialism in Germany. The philosopher Friedrich Nietsche (sic)........ an ardent evolutionist, popularized in Germany his concept of the superman, and then the master race. The ultimate outcome was Hitler, who elevated this philosophy to the status of a national policy.”
William Bell Riley loathed the first two but was an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler and, so he deliberately confined his imaginary link to Darwin and Nietzsche describing the philosopher in a 1938 anti-evolution pamphlet as:
“.........the greatest exponent of evolution known to the age”.
More recently, fundamentalist Christian philosopher Max Andrews authored a blog post entitled ‘Charles Darwin, Meet Friedrich Nietzsche (June 16th, 2012) in which he compounds Riley’s falsehood. He starts off correctly noting that:
“It would be an appropriate evaluation of Nietzsche to state that his mere calling for the übermensch is a teleological claim.”
The übermensch (variously translated as ‘superman’, ‘overman’ or ‘higher being’) is of course, Nietzsche’s ideal human being, first discussed in his novel ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ (1883). It is a conceptualised as akin to a personal, even spiritual goal; a potential future state of human beings able to rise above other-worldly religious (and especially Christian) morality to purposely create and impose a new set of personal values. In his autobiography, ‘Ecce Homme: How One Becomes What One Is’, published posthumously in 1908, he maintains the concept is non-biological and avowedly apolitical and cannot be equated to authoritarian, democratic or humanistic ideals:
"The word Übermensch [designates] a type of supreme achievement, as opposed to 'modern' men, 'good' men, Christians, and other nihilists.......”
Andrews then goes on to say:
“Charles Darwin heavily influenced Nietzsche’s biological basis for truth. There is a stark similarity between Darwin’s natural selection and Nietzsche’s übermensch. Darwin attempts to account for the advancement of species (or mankind) by the upward struggle for something greater on a scientific and biological basis. In comparison, the übermensch is what enabled a higher man to advance. Nietzsche is philosophy’s Darwin.”
Once again we see fundamental misunderstandings of biological evolution. Andrews has somehow bolted teleology onto the Darwinian concept of evolution. At the risk of repeating ad nauseam, Darwinian evolution, or indeed the modern synthesis that has since grown out of Darwin’s initial findings has never claimed any concept such as “advancement of species” or “upward struggle for something greater”. It is a defining characteristic of Darwinian-based biology that no such process occurs. Yet Andrews seems not to realise this and goes on to labour his point even further claiming:
“Darwin attempted to account for teleology by natural means.”
Christian fundamentalists can’t have it both ways. You can’t argue on the one hand that ‘Darwinism’ is an inherently evil ‘philosophy’ because it rests on a blind mechanical process, having no inherent teleological design, purpose, intent or destiny and in the next breath claim that Darwin was, in fact, reassigning purpose and teleology from supernatural to natural means. But Andrews restates his error:
“In his writings, Nietzsche affirms Darwin’s scientific account for the biological advancement of man.”
This is an emulation of Weikart’s style of argument. Andrews is writing an opinion piece, in which he makes specific claims about Nietzsche’s philosophical antecedents that we would expect to be backed up by at least one example passage from somewhere in Nietzsche’s canon. However, nowhere does he (nor can he) do this; similarly to the case of Hitler never citing Darwin, no direct quote from Nietzsche exists to the effect that his spiritual and philosophical outlook has been influenced by Darwin. When it comes to Nietzsche’s views on Darwin it seems the more honest enterprise to let the man speak for himself. Darwin gets special mention in the book compiled from Nietzsche’s notes, ‘Will to Power’ (1901, updated 1906), in the chapter named, rather tellingly, ‘Anti-Darwin’. First, a straightforward denial of speciation:
“There are no transitional forms. Every type has its limits; beyond these there is no evolution. Up to this point, absolute regularity.”
This hardly accords with what the likes William Bell Riley, Henry Morris or Max Andrews are telling us. Indeed, it reads exactly like the sort of statement you would find on a creationist website. But then Nietzsche was a philosopher and not a scientist. Perhaps he did not have a good grasp of the science but was nevertheless able to appreciate and agree with the moral import of Darwin’s scientific findings, which of course was Weikart’s contention re Hitler and Darwin. Or perhaps not. The following passage is from Nietzsche’s ‘Later Notes’ (2003):
“What surprises me most when surveying the great destinies of man is always seeing before me the opposite of what Darwin and his school see or want to see today: selection in favor of the stronger, in favor of those who have come off better, the progress of the species. The very opposite is quite palpably the case: the elimination of the strokes of luck, the uselessness of the better-constituted types, the inevitable domination achieved by the average, even below-average types“
Once again, Nietzsche is explicitly refuting Darwin’s synopsis. Ironically however, although Nietzsche appears to not appreciate it, he is accidentally agreeing with Darwin, albeit having no real understanding of what Darwin meant by ‘fitter’ and ‘stronger’. With natural selection, successfully heritable characteristics are only able to be identified in retrospect, having been dependent on strokes of luck and environmental exigencies; they are never pre-planned for the progress of either individuals or the species. So Darwin would have agreed with Nietzsche; average types do succeed but this is because evolutionary change is observed not in individuals but across populations over time. According to Nietzsche, however, Darwin’s hypothesis is wrong because chance variation cannot advantage those self-evolving toward the state of übermensch. But Nietzsche is conflating two different processes. Nietzsche’s process is not a biological one acting on a collective of organisms. It is akin to an individual’s spiritual transformation, purposeful and teleological, characteristics which are alien to natural selection. Returning to ‘Will to Power’:
“I see all philosophers and the whole of science on their knees before a reality which is the reverse of the struggle for life as Darwin and his school understood it - that is to say, wherever I look, I see those prevailing and surviving, who throw doubt and suspicion upon life and the value of life. The error of the Darwinian school became a problem to me: how can one be so blind as to make this mistake?........the school of Darwin has everywhere deceived itself ”
Yet it is Nietzsche who has been deceived into thinking that evolution by natural selection has a fixed direction in which to travel. So Nietzsche views Darwin as explaining only part of the picture. In Nietzsche’s view, natural selection is able to account for the quantity and diversity of species (which is true) but not for the ‘fact’ that some species appear to have ‘progressed’ while others have not. Thus Darwinism is guilty of failing to recognise the more important role of the ‘vital force’ that allows this ‘progression’, to a higher spiritual, as opposed to physical form, which ultimately culminates in the übermensch. Not surprisingly, then, in his autobiography Nietzsche is explicit in his contention that his conception of the übermensch owes nothing to Darwin’s scientific findings. Suggesting otherwise, as Christian fundamentalists tend to do, is therefore less than honest.
On the face of it, one might expect that Hitler would find something to approve of in the general tenet of Nietzsche’s philosophy of the übermensch, that of human beings having to struggle to attain, or in Hitler's creationist view, return to perfection. Nietzsche and Hitler would surely have agreed with the ruthless racketeer Harry Lime depicted in the British film 'The Third Man', adapted from a novel by Grahame Green. Lime justifies his actions by noting:
"In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
There is also the shared dislike, though for differing reasons, of Darwinian evolution. However, in common with Haeckel, Nietzsche held to a number of other ideas that did not accord at all well with Hitler. He had a visceral hatred of Christianity, whereas Hitler repeatedly couched his political vision in the language of the Bible. In particular, Nietzsche had no time for anti-Semitism. One of the reasons his close friendship with Richard Wagner fell into disrepair in the late 1870s was due to Wagner’s increasing attachment to Christian anti-Semitism, as outlined in his essay ‘Nietzsche contra Wagner’ (1895). Also he expressed often his disgust at nationalist rhetoric of all types, including that of Germany, in the most forthright terms, having:
“nothing to do with anyone involved in the perfidious race-fraud.”
A view he seems to share with Darwin. Although not popular with the prevailing mood, Nietzsche’s lack of anti-Semitic sentiment proved to be influential in some German philosophical circles. The Austrian-Jewish existentialist philosopher and self-styled ‘cultural Zionist’, Martin Buber (1878-1965), for example, claimed to have been heavily influenced by Nietzsche, writing that he was a “creator” and an “emissary of life”. Immediately on the Nazi Party gaining power, Buber resigned his Professorial position at the University of Frankfurt in protest and several months later was banned from teaching anywhere in Germany.
Nietzsche’s own philosophical works were strongly condemned by the Nazi Party from its earliest incarnation. This was due, in no small part, to the role of Dietrich Eckart (1868-1923; the “spiritual father of National Socialism” according to the historian Arthur H. Mitchell). Eckart was a close personal friend of Hitler and introduced him to both Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Alfred Rosenberg and Hitler later dedicated Volume II of ‘Mein Kampf’ to him. Eckart’s posthumously published extended essay ‘Der Bolschewismus von Moses bis Lenin: Zwiegespräch Zwischen Hitler und Mir’ (Bolshevism from Moses to Lenin: Dialogues between Hitler and Me) is suspected to be for the most part fictional, but serves to give us a flavour of the idealistically religious mind frame underlying the political philosophy of the early Nazis:
“In Christ, the embodiment of all manliness, we find all that we need.......... our pagan ancestors were already so Christian as to have an indication of Christ in this ideal figure"
As early as 1917 he had written:
"To be Aryan and to sense transcendence is one and the same thing."
Eckart believed that Germany was about to receive their own “Messiah” and wrote a prophetic poem referring to the approaching “Great One” and “Nameless One”, of whom “All can sense but no one saw”. Soon after he met Hitler he considered that his prophecy had come true.
Eckart also developed an idea similar to that of Nietzsche’s übermensch which he labelled the "genius higher human". This notion was, in turn, based on the writings of a former Catholic monk, Lanz von Liebenfels who claimed that the Aryan race resulted from the mating of Adam and Eve, while the ‘lower races’ were the result of Eve mating with a demon. Incensed by Hitler not allowing him into his inner circle, von Liebenfel later accused him publically of having plagiarised his ideas for political gain. Eckart was highly critical of Nietzsche’s übermensch and referred to Neitzsche as "that crazy despiser of our religious foundations". Distinct differences between the two men’s notion of ‘supermen’ are obvious. Eckart’s is intimately related to racial differences, Christianity, collective struggle and has a political motivation; Nietzsche ignores race and is individualistic, atheistic and apolitical.
Eckart was not alone in his criticism. The influential pro-Nazi writer Curt von Westernhagen, best known for his biography of Wagner, also wrote a book denouncing Nietzsche entitled ‘Nietzsche, Juden, Antijuden’ (1936; ‘Nietzsche, Jews, Anti-Jews’) in which he catalogued the:
“.........defective personality of Nietzsche whose inordinate tributes for, and espousal of, Jews had caused him to depart from the Germanic principles enunciated by the Master Richard Wagner”.
Unsurprisingly, then, as is the case with Darwin, there is no record of Hitler ever writing about or formally speaking of Nietzsche or referring to any of his works.
The fly in the ointment, however, was Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth Förster who, although clearly close to her brother was also an avid supporter and strong financial backer of the Nazi Party. After Nietzsche's death in 1900, she inherited the copyright over his publications (and proceeded to purchase as many of his private correspondences as she could) and then ‘edited’ some of his unpublished work to make it appear as if her brother was a pro-German nationalist, anti-Semitic, and opposed to the rights of the individual over the state, and thus further deserving of a reputation as an early influence on Nazi ideology. In 1933 she arranged for Hitler (apparently after sending him numerous unsuccessful invitations) to visit the Nietzsche Archive she had set up in Naumberg and for several newspapers and photographers to be present to record the visit.
Thus, however unlikely it may seem, the myth emerged that Hitler was an admirer and follower of Nietzsche and some in the Nazi Party were prepared to utilise the untruth to their advantage. In the paper, ‘Nietzsche contra Wagner on the Jews’ (2002; in ‘Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism?: On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy’) the philosopher Yirmiyahu Yovel emphasises the insincerity that characterised their efforts:
“Linking Nietzsche’s ideas with Nazism is both absurd and contradictory..........The abuse of Nietzsche by the Nazis was often deliberate, and knowingly deceitful; and even when it was not deliberate, it resulted from a simplistic reading and outright misunderstanding of his complex position.”
The editors of the book in which Yovel’s paper was published, Jacob Golomb and Robert S Wistrich, concurred with that view:
“………nothing was more alien to Nietzsche than the pan-Germanism, racism, militarism and anti-Semitism of the Nazis, into whose service the German philosopher had been pressed.”
Undoubtedly, the German philosopher closest to the Nazi Party elite was Alfred Baumler who, in recognition of his ideological support for the Nazi Party throughout the 1920s, was given the Chair of Pedagogy and Politics at the University of Berlin when Hitler came to power. He remained in that post until Hitler’s demise, working hard to provide Nazi political policy with a legitimate philosophical basis and to this end he recruited Elisabeth Förster’s repackaged Nietzsche adding plenty of his own retroactive spin. He saw his task as promoting the view that Nietzsche’s philosophy both anticipated and nurtured the moral heart that beat within Nazism. He acknowledged that his was a novel rendering of Nietzsche’s work but felt that it was necessary task for the good of Germany.
Baumler was deliberately repeating the same manner of mistake that Nietzsche had made when reading Darwin; Nietzsche had confused Darwin’s notion of the biological evolution of populations to that of the spiritual evolution of the individual, while Baumler’s notion of collective struggle is a cavalier distortion of Nietzsche's notion of individual struggle. Baumler actually had the temerity to make much play of the constant struggles Nietzsche endured in his own life, arguing that they were representative of the collective struggle of the German people. The irony is that Nietzsche’s struggles were against the very ideologies that Baumler and the Nazi Party were now promoting in his name. The German-born philosopher Walter Kaufmann wrote of Baumler in his book ‘Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist’ (1950):
“He approached Nietzsche with preconceived ideas (Nazism) that he was determined to read into Nietzsche’s work.”
Adding later in the Forward to his anthology 'Basic Writings of Nietzsche' that he was:
“...........one of the worst Nazi hacks.”
Even fellow pro-Nazi philosopher Martin Heiddeger considered Baumler’s reading of Nietzsche to be overly contrived. In his compilation of essays and lectures from 1936-1940, 'Nietzsche: The Will to Power as Art Vol. 1', he wrote that Baumler:
“..........does not grasp Nietzsche metaphysically but interprets him only politically.”
Particularly difficult for Baumler was the ready availability within Germany of Nietzsche's texts which would have been impossible to read as anti-Semitic. Unable to rewrite the passages, Baumler was left with no alternative but to criticise the very philosopher that he was commending to his Nazi audience. To do this he stooped to arguing that all of Nietzsche’s pro-Jewish comments were a sign of the immaturity of some aspects of his thoughts and that they were merely a means of courting controversy; attention-seeking in order to gain a wider German audience. This was a tactic he pursued whenever Nietzsche’s intention was plainly stated and contrary to Baumler’s Nazi propaganda. Hence, Kaufmann notes that Baumler:
“resorted to the subterfuge that Nietzsche did not mean it” whenever he was “confronted with the books in which Nietzsche quite consistently.......poured invective on state idolatry, Germanomania, racism, nationalism, and almost the entire Nazi creed.”
Similarly, historian Steven E. Aschheim, writing in ‘The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany: 1890-1990’ (1992) describes Baumler’s treatment of Nietzsche as:
“pure distortion, a radical inversion of everything that the prophet of creativity actually stood for”
Nevertheless, Baumler was somewhat successful in his goal. Two of his books in particular were promoted by the Nazi regime for use in the education system: ‘Nietzsche as a Political Educator’ (1931) and Politics and Education (1937). In his influential essay, 'Nietzsche and National Socialism’ (1937) Baumler explicitly links Nietzsche and Hitler, claiming that the two men shared an emotional reaction to the political problems of their day; Nietzsche’s feelings toward Wilhelm’s rule during the 1870s-1880s being mirrored by Hitler’s attitude to the Weimar Republic.
And of course the myth that Nietzsche influenced Hitler lingers to this day. In the end, though, the true ideological basis for the Nazi Party is obvious: they didn’t give away free copies of Nietzsche’s ‘Man and Superman’ at the Nuremberg Rallies. They handed out Martin Luther’s ‘On the Jews and their Lies’.
Chapter 4: Hitler's Lifelong Antipathy Toward Atheism
This brings us to another Christian fundamentalist-originating myth that Hitler was an atheist. As discussed earlier, this was certainly not what highly influential American clergymen, such as the Baptist minister William Bell Riley and the Catholic priest Charles Coughlin, thought in the 1930s. They argued forcefully that Hitler's correct sense of Christianity was instrumental in stopping communism and evolution from gaining ground. Nor was it the opinion of the majority of German Lutheran clergy or even senior Anglican clergy. William Temple, for example, who served as both the Archbishop of York and Canterbury during the Reich wrote two books, 'The Hope of a New World' (1941) and the 'The Church Looks Forward' (1944) in which he discusses Hitler's motivations at length. In neither does he suggest that Hitler is anything other than a misguided Christian. Indeed, the charge that Hitler was an atheist was never made by any of his contemporaries, either in Germany or elsewhere. It therefore has as much currency as the mythological Darwin-Hitler link. Less, perhaps; even Richard Weikart acknowledges that Hitler was not an atheist.
It is certainly the case, pervasive in his writings, speeches and political policies over three decades, that Hitler held a lasting hatred of atheism. As early as 1922, Hitler was emphasising his religiosity to the German public. The following passage is from a speech he gave in Munich on April 12th of that year. Note the four times in the space of a few minutes he identifies as a Christian:
“My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, 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. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice…..........For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.”
'Mein Kampf' (1924-25) in particular is replete with justifications for his political ideology based on Biblical influence. Indeed, the book contains 116 references to a deity (e.g., God, Goddess, Creator, Lord) and in every case these terms are used they are referred to in a wholly positive sense. In contrast there are only two references to atheism. Both are perjorative. Examples of these passages have already been quoted. Here are some more:
"What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, the sustenance of our children and the purity of our blood, the freedom and independence of the fatherland, so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the Creator of the universe."
"............finally to put an end to the constant and continuous original sin of racial poisoning, and to give the Almighty Creator beings such as He Himself created."
"The folkish-minded man, in particular, has the sacred duty, each in his own denomination, of making people stop just talking superficially of God's will, and actually fulfill God's will, and not let God's word be desecrated. For God's will gave men their form, their essence and their abilities. Anyone who destroys His work is declaring war on the Lord's creation, the divine will."
There is a commonly recited anti-Nazi verse written by the Lutheran clergyman Martin Neimöller where he writes of his regret that he did not use his influence as a clergyman quickly enough to counter the growing despotism of the Nazi Party. One English translation, commonly found in Christian literature, goes:
"First they came for the Communists,
And I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
And I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
And I did not speak out because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
And by then, no one was left to speak for me."
This common English translation is false. The original German version is as follows:
"Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
ich habe geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Kommunist.
Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
ich habe geschwiegen;
ja ich kein Sozialdemokrat war.
Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
ich habe nicht protestiert;
ja ich kein Gewerkschafter war.
Als sie die Juden holten,
ich habe nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Jude.
Als sie mich holten"
There is surely no need of a translation to appreciate that the original version is devoid of any mention of Nazis 'coming for' Christians. Neimöller mentions only communists, social democrats, trade unionists and Jews (yet another version feature all these as well as adding Christians). The translated version above was doctored specifically to bolster claims that Hitler was anti-Christian and/or atheistic. However Neimöller, like many Lutheran clergy, actually started out as an ardent supporter of Hitler, later recanting because of his concern at the growing despotic tendencies. He was interned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps, not as is commonly believed, simply because he was a Christian, but on a doctrinal issue; he rigorously opposed state interference in the running of the Lutheran church (which included the building of several churches according to Nazi architectural ideals; in actuality much of what the Nazi Party sought was a similar arrangement between the state and the churches as existed in the UK and Scandinavian countries). Clergy who had no problem with such a church-state partnership were left alone. What is interesting, however, is why he supported Hitler in the first place. His former cellmate, Leo Stein, eventually managed to gain refugee status in the United States and wrote of his experiences of Neimöller in the 'National Jewish Monthly' in 1941. Stein quotes him as saying:
"I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932.........I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler."
Thus Neimöller viewed Hitler in the same way as the American churchmen William Bell Riley and Charles Coughlin; as a staunch anti-atheist. The following quotes are some examples of Hitler's consistent, unwavering antipathy to atheism. On the inauguration of the Vatican as a sovereign state in 1929 Hitler wrote, in the Nazi Party newspaper 'Völkischer Beobachter' ('People's Observer'):
"The fact that the Catholic Church has come to an agreement with Fascist Italy ...proves beyond doubt that the Fascist world of ideas is closer to Christianity than those of Jewish liberalism or even atheistic Marxism."
Watching old newsreels of Hitler shouting, violently gesticulating, punching the air and skilfully moulding his audience into an idolatory mass, was he really shouting, as Christian fundamentalists would have us believe, Nietzsche's maxim 'God is dead'? No, on the contrary, in March 1933, in a speech before the Reichstag, he had this to say:
"By its decision to carry out the political and moral cleansing of our public life, the Government is creating and securing the conditions for a really deep and inner religious life. The advantages for the individual which may be derived from compromises with atheistic organizations do not compare in any way with the consequences which are visible in the destruction of our common religious and ethical values."
From another speech given in Stuttgart in February 1933:
"..........Christians and not international atheists are now standing at Germany’s fore."
Similar sentiments in a speech in Koblenz, August 1934:
"..........our fight against the Bolshevist culture, against an atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for the consciousness of a community in our national life......
Why would we expect Hitler to say otherwise? After all, the 24th Principle of the Nazi Party, which he himself had co-authored in 1920 states:
"......... the Party represents a positively Christian position without binding itself to one particular faith."
Undoubtedly many people voted for the Nazi Party because of this anti-atheist platform. Not surprisingly then, one of the first political moves made by Hitler on becoming Chancellor was to ban all atheist organisations in Germany, including the 600,000 member-strong ‘Deutscher Freidenker-Verband’, which at the time was the largest atheist organisation in the world. Hitler ordered that the 'Deutscher Freidenker-Verband' not only be made a banned organisation but had their Berlin city-centre headquarters stormed by elite SS troops in March 1933 and the building given to the Lutheran church. We can be sure that the troops who stormed the offices of the ‘Deutscher Freidenker-Verband’ were believers in God: although membership of the SS was open to German males of all religions their Oberführer, Heinrich Himmler, who held a long-term interest in Pagan mysticism (considered by the more Christian-inclined Hitler to be "nonsense") prohibited both Jews and atheists from serving in any capacity. In his definitive biography of Himmler (Heinrich Himmler: A Life, 2011) the German historian Peter Longerich quotes Himmler as saying in 1944:
"I have never tolerated an atheist in the ranks of the SS. Every member has a deep faith in God."
There is another commonly held myth that Hitler was interested in Paganism. This seems highly unlikely as he was notoriously suspicious of any organisation or school of thought that involved secret ceremonies and initiations, preferring to build an openly practised, mass ideological movement. In a speech in Hamburg in September 1938 he made this position clear:
"We will not allow mystically-minded occult folk with a passion for exploring the secrets of the world beyond to steal into our Movement. Such folk are not National Socialists, but something else."
After banning atheist movements Hitler gave a speech in October of the same year in which he said in front of an estimated 250,000 people:
“We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.”
Also informative are the comments and notations made by Hitler in his personal collection of books. For example, examination of a collection of works by the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (described by the historian Robert Nisbert as "the true author of National Socialism"), gifted to Hitler by the filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl reveals, according to the right-wing, pro-Christian, Holocaust-denying historian David Irving:
"a veritable blizzard of underlines, question marks, exclamation points, and marginal strikes that sweeps across a hundred printed pages of dense theological prose".
Irving particularly remarks that whenever the Holy Trinity is discussed, or whenever Jesus is referred to as the Son of God, Hitler's notations are approving. Particularly revealing is Hitler's response to Fichte's question: "Where did Jesus derive the power that has held his followers for all eternity?" Hitler had boldly underlined Fichte's answer: "Through his absolute identification with God." Another passage underlined by Hitler is also telling:
"God and I are One. Expressed simply in two identical sentences -- His life is mine; my life is his. My work is his work, and his work my work."
Article 24.6 of Hitler’s program of ‘Positive Christianity’ (a de-Judaised version of Christianity which places greater emphasis on Jesus) included the statement:
"The German religion is a religion of the people. It has nothing in common with free thoughts, atheist propaganda, and the breakdown of current religions."
The first international treaty signed by Hitler after gaining power was the 'Concordat' with the Vatican. In the speech he gave after signing the treaty in April 1933, he made the following statement:
"Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently all character training and religion must be derived from faith"
This last statement would surely find no fault with many modern Christians. In accordance, Bernhard Rust, Hitler's education minister, made Christian religious education, including communal daily prayer, a compulsory subject in all state schools, including trade schools.
Although Darwin’s findings do not negate the possibility of a deist creation, they bring into question theistic interpretations as to the origins and purpose of life, as did Haeckel’s Monism. It is hard to see how either Haeckel’s or Darwin’s views on this matter would have been tolerated by the Nazis, and they weren’t. In the Guidelines from Die Bücherei 2:6 (the official Nazi party journal for librarians; 1935) the following categories of books were strongly discouraged (though not outright banned, as is commonly claimed) from being stocked in public libraries, something the vast majority of librarians adhered to, except for inclusion in the so-called ‘Poison Cabinets’ of the large city and university libraries:
Item 2. The literature of Marxism, Communism and Bolshevism.
Item 6. Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Haeckel).
Item 10. Literature by Jewish authors, regardless of the field.
There was, however, a concurrent list of banned German authors, which was legally enforced and all told, the Nazis eventually banned over 4,100 books. In comparison to the Nazis, the Vatican were surprisingly liberal. Their equivalent list of proscribed and banned books, the ‘Index Librorum Prohibitorum’, active until 1966, never included any publication by either Haeckel or Darwin (or notably, Hitler) although a number of works attempting to amalgamate evolutionary theory with Catholic theology were included in the Index. To the Nazi Party, however, Haeckel’s 'monism', in particular, well overstepped their philosophical mark. Gunther Hecht of ‘Rassenpolitischen Amt der NSDAP’, or the ‘National Socialist Department of Race-Politics’, writing in 1937 in the ‘Journal of All Natural Science’ makes plain their attitude:
“The common position of materialistic monism is philosophically rejected completely by the volkisch-biological view of National Socialism........The party and its representatives must not only reject a part of the Haeckelian conception — other parts of it have occasionally been advanced — but, more generally, every internal party dispute that involves the particulars of research and the teachings of Haeckel must cease.”
Hitler's antipathy toward atheism continued as late as the 'Table Talks' where he is recorded as saying, for example:
"An educated man, on the other hand, runs the risk of going over to atheism, which is a return to the state of the animal".
There is a commonly held myth among fundamentalist Christians that Hitler had crucifixes removed from schools and replaced with portraits of himself. It’s completely untrue. As head of state, Hitler’s portrait was indeed displayed in all schools, but this was no different to previous decades when the head of state’s (or Kaiser’s image) was displayed in schools and other public buildings. The story about the removal of crucifixes is based on two unrelated events. The first was in Oldenberg in November 1936 when a local government official, Carl (sometimes reported as Karl) Röver, enacted a local law to remove crucifixes from those Catholic and Protestant schools which were funded directly by the state of Bremen. The same decree also had images of Martin Luther (revered by many Nazis) removed from the Protestant schools. The reason given was not anti-Christian but similar in kind to that of the constitutional separation between state and religion in the USA. Newspaper reports at the time indicate that government officials in Berlin were unaware of Röver’s plans and this is likely, as some of Röver’s previous policies had found disagreement with Nazi Party officials and he was known to be intensely disliked by Göering (though he was a personal friend of Bormann). After a cross-church protest organised by the local Catholic bishop, Röver rescinded the ban three weeks later at a rowdy public meeting in the town of Cloppenberg. According to Röver, Hitler himself had ordered him to reverse the policy and to reinstate the crucifixes. A similar local government move was made in Bavaria in 1941, again apparently without Hitler’s knowledge, and in this case there is documentation showing that Hitler personally had the order rescinded within days. Both cases were widely reported in newspapers both within Germany and in other European countries and are available in archives.
During the Second World War the United States government commissioned an expert group of four psychologists and psychiatrists, led by Harvard University's Walter C Langer, to perform an analysis of Hitler's state of mind so as to predict how he might behave in the future. Not surprisingly, then, their report, 'A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler (1943) came to the conclusion that the fundamental motivation for Hitler's behaviour at that time was religious:
“A survey of all the evidence forces us to conclude that Hitler believes himself destined to become an Immortal Hitler, chosen by God to be the New Deliverer of Germany and the Founder of a new social order for the world."
They went on to describe a man whose religious fervour, rather than abating, was actually increasing with age:
"..........Hitler's conviction in his mission and his belief that he is guided by some extra-natural power which communicates to him what he should and should not do under varying circumstances............... Although beliefs of this kind are common during childhood they are usually dropped or are modified as the individual becomes older and more experienced. In Hitler's case, however, the reverse has taken place. The conviction became stronger as he grew older until, at the present time, it is the core of his thinking.”
Their diagnosis appears to have been correct. These are Hitler's words, from a radio broadcast made on 30th January 1945, exactly three months before his death:
“In the years to come I shall continue on this road, uncompromisingly safeguarding my people’s interests, oblivious to all misery and danger, and filled with the holy conviction that God the Almighty will not abandon him who, during all his life, had no desire but to save his people from a fate it had never deserved, neither by virtue of its number nor by way of its importance.”
They were particularly accurate as to Hitler's predicted behaviour should Germany lose the war: they stated that the most likely scenario would be his suicide. Similarly, Max Steer, then Professor of Audiology at Purdue University analysed the many available recordings of Hitler's voice and concluded (as quoted in Wallace Deuel's 'People Under Hitler'; 1942):
“Hitler almost always speaks in one of only two moods. One is a mood of mystical and semi-religious self-abasement. It is this mood that he habitually appeals for the confidence and support of the German people. In it, he speaks of faith and destiny and miracles, of regeneration and martyrdom, and of his struggle for the souls of men. Often in this mood he uses purely religious terms: shame, sin and expiation. He is a redeemer, calling upon the people to lay their sins end sufferings on his shoulders.”
Historian Lucy Dawidowicz concurs with these findings, pointing out that Hitler became increasingly obsessed with what he saw as a “demonologized universe" inhabited by Jews.
Perhaps one of the least cited pieces of evidence for Hitler not having any atheist sympathies is his preservation of the neutrality and integrity of the Vatican State (which is completely surrounded by the city of Rome) during the German occupation of much of Italy in 1943-44. Here was an opportunity for Hitler to make a decisive strike against the largest Christian church in the world that would undoubtedly have had a devastating effect on the future of the church. According to Herman Rauschning (The Voice of Destruction, 1940) he had even threatened to do so at a dinner party in Berlin in the early 1930s:
"I am a Catholic. Certainly that was fated from the beginning, for only a Catholic knows the weaknesses of the Church. … If I wished to, I could destroy the Church in a few years; it is hollow and rotten and false through and through. One push and the whole structure would collapse. We should trap the priests by their notorious greed and self-indulgence. We shall thus be able to settle everything with them in perfect peace and harmony. I shall give them a few years’ reprieve. Why should we quarrel? They will swallow anything in order to keep their material advantages. ... They are no fools. The Church was something really big. Now we’re its heirs. We, too, are a Church. Its day has gone. It will not fight."
However, research performed by the British historian and Anglican priest Owen Chadwick and published in the book 'Britain And the Vatican During The Second World War' (1988) reveals that the Vatican had no concerns whatsoever of a German invasion. They were far more concerned with the reduction in the domestic policing of Rome as a result of the political upheaval caused by the war. After the war had ended the Vatican Refugee Commission knowingly provided dozens of Nazi war criminals with false identities. Historian Gerald Steinacher's book 'Nazis on the Run: How Hitler's Henchmen Fled Justice' (2014) details how the Vatican issued 10.100 travel documents that were accepted by the Red Cross as genuine, allowing large numbers of Nazi personnel to escape to South America. They did this, Steinacher concluded, less for any sympathy for the individuals involved and more in the hope that it would enable a resurgence in European Christianity needed to counter the growing influence of the atheistic Soviet Union.
Chapter 5: The Notion That Natural Selection Is The Basis For Eugenics Is Not Even Wrong
The notion of an ideological link between Darwin and Hitler can be no more odious than when claims are made that Darwin’s findings and views were the inspiration for the Nazi Party’s policy of eugenics. Perhaps the most chilling statement of all from Haeckel is a single sentence embedded in a paragraph in which he is discussing the ‘lower races’. In the ‘Wonders of Life’ he says simply, “We must, therefore, assign a totally different value to their lives”. Elaborating, he goes on to say:
“We must class as a traditional dogma the widespread belief that man is bound under all circumstances to maintain and prolong life, even when it has become utterly useless - a source of pain to the incurable and of endless trouble to his friends. Hundreds of thousands of incurables - lunatics, lepers, people with cancer, etc. are artificially kept alive in our modern communities, and their sufferings are carefully prolonged, without the slightest profit to themselves or the general body … What an enormous mass of suffering these figures indicate for the invalids themselves, and what a vast amount of trouble and sorrow for their families, what a huge private and public expenditure! How much of this pain and expense could be spared if people could make up their minds to free the incurable from their indescribable torments by a dose of morphia!”
Haeckel is speaking explicitly here of eugenics. Compare what he has written above with this passage from Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man’, already quoted earlier in this essay:
“The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.”
Does this honestly read like someone in agreement with Haeckel? Someone enthused by eugenics? Alfred Wallace was no less direct. In his personal letters, published by James Marchant in 1916, he had vilified eugenics as, among other things, "the meddlesome interference of an arrogant scientific priestcraft". Note the linking of religion and eugenics in his statement. In stark contrast to Darwin and Wallace's admonition against ill-feeling toward Haeckel’s “incurables”, many people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries considered eugenics to not only hold great promise for the benefit of future generations, but to be entirely consistent with Christian morality. Haeckel’s eugenic-friendly views were not unusual for his time. What made him stand out as a promoter of eugenics was his suggestion that it was the state who should sponsor and administer a comprehensive program of eugenics in order to strengthen the German nation and people.
There is one ‘Darwinian’ idea which, on the surface at least, appears to be shared with Hitler’s philosophy. I refer to the general concept of struggle between species. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is the relevant phrase, first used by the British polymath Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) in his book ‘Principles of Biology’ (1864). He certainly intended the term to be synonymous with natural selection, writing:
"This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection’”
Spencer originally employed the phrase to argue in support of a laissez-faire economic system of the type now seemingly beloved by American Christian fundamentalists. Darwin repeated the phrase as a synonym for natural selection in the fifth edition of ‘Origin of Species’, which he published in 1869. It was clearly intended metaphorically and does not appear in any previous versions. By Hitler’s time, the term ‘survival of the fittest’ had become mangled in use and synonymous in popular culture with not only physical fitness and strength but also with the victors in any number of competitive activities including but not limited to the sporting, social and economic arenas. ‘Social Darwinism’ therefore remains simply defined as any attempt to incorporate observed natural processes, such as ‘survival of the fittest’ into human social structures. The term has been applied retrospectively to Nazi Germany. Despite what many fundamentalist Christians believe, and regularly portray, at no point did Darwin extend his theories beyond biology. Yet there appears to be no shortage of anti-Darwinian critics claiming that acceptance of the concepts of ‘natural selection’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ have been a major cause of immorality. Natural selection, they argue, acts to justify a whole raft of selfish behaviours which result in the weaker members of society becoming prey to the ‘fittest’ in society. As one particularly puerile Creationist website opines:
“The most evolution could produce would be the idea that ‘might makes right’........if you teach children that they evolved from monkeys, then they will act like monkeys”
Taken to it’s extreme, social Darwinism states that the strongest or fittest individuals or social groups should be allowed to flourish, while the weak and unfit should be allowed to die or otherwise become extinct on the basis that this is what happens in nature, ‘red in tooth and claw’ (another phrase widely and erroneously attributed to Darwin by Christian fundamentalists; it was actually written in 1848 by the poet Alfred Tennyson). Nazi-style eugenics policies are, therefore, conveniently trotted out by Christian fundamentalists as an inevitable consequence of Darwin having discovered evolution by natural selection. One fine riposte to this simplistic, deterministic and overtly bleak Christian view of human nature comes from Richard Dawkins, in his essay ‘A Devil’s Chaplain’ (2003):
“There is no inconsistency in favouring Darwinism as an academic scientist while opposing it as a human being; any more than there is inconsistency in explaining cancer as an academic doctor, while fighting it as a practising one. For good Darwinian reasons, evolution gave us a brain........capable of understanding it’s own provenance, of deploring the moral implications and of fighting against them”.
In other words, the creationist idea that if you tell people they are animals they will behave like animals is logically obvious nonsense. Neither does it accord with the evidence. By taxonomically equating people with animals, Darwinian style thinking can be shown to have influenced a number of schools of thought which have proposed giving animals greater rights, sometimes on a par with human rights. The Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer, for example, has cogently questioned the validity of 'speciesism', in which the welfare of human beings is privileged over other animal species. The reality is that possessing knowledge does not debase us; simply understanding that we belong to the animal kingdom does not make us any less human (or humane).
While Spencer was concerning himself with the structure of social and economic systems, Haeckel saw the struggle for existence in terms of polygenic racial ideology, in which the Aryans were continuously pitted against ‘inferior races’. Hitler embraced the notion of ‘survival of the fittest’, to not only expand on de Gobineau, Chamberlain (the phrase “struggle for existence” was used eight times in ‘Foundations of the Nineteenth Century’, while the word ‘struggle’ itself appears 112 times) and Haeckel’s racial ideologies, but to provide the moral basis for a new German society. The following excerpts are from Mein Kampf:
“I do not see why man should not be just as cruel as nature. ..............Struggle is the father of all things. It is not by the principles of humanity that man lives or is able to preserve himself above the animal world, but solely by means of the most brutal struggle........ The very first essential for success is a perpetually constant and regular employment of violence......... Mankind has grown strong in eternal struggles and it will only perish through eternal peace”.
Does that sound like anything Darwin would have written? Following on from these ideas, Hitler had no doubt that state-ordained eugenics served a higher ‘spiritual’ purpose than that of ‘materialist’ science. Again from Mein Kampf:
“Thus for the first time a high inner purpose is accredited to the State. In face of the ridiculous phrase that the State should do no more than act as the guardian of public order and tranquillity, so that everybody can peacefully dupe everybody else, it is given a very high mission indeed to preserve and encourage the highest type of humanity which a beneficent Creator has bestowed on this earth.”
The charge that ‘Darwinian’ concepts of ‘natural selection’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ are primarily responsible for the atrocities perpetrated by Hitler and his fellow Nazis can be effectively refuted on a number of levels. First, and most importantly, the concept of ‘Darwinian fitness’ has nothing in common with the numerous concepts of ‘fitness’ employed in either popular culture or social theory. ‘Darwinian fitness’ never refers to physical size, or physical prowess or even degrees of selfishness or possessing greater intelligence. It simply refers to the ability of an organism to adapt successfully to it’s immediate habitat, resulting in reproductive success. This in no way implies physical strength or intelligence.
A student of Darwinian evolution would consider, for example, the bacterial lineage known as Pelagibacteraceae, which make up between 25-50% of all the bacteria found in the ocean to have exhibited far more ‘fitness’ than humans thus far. Or, on land, the common earthworm can be considered magnificently ‘fit’, having survived 600 million years since it’s last direct ancestor species, including five extinction events. And what about the 500 known species of tardigrade? These 1mm long animals are so hardy they can live on the ocean floor and even in the zero gravity of outer space, even surviving high levels of radiation. They can survive temperatures ranging from absolute zero to well above the boiling point of water. They can go decades without sustenance. The notion that Homo sapiens, never mind a subset of the species, comprise some pinnacle of evolution is nonsensical. Even in the case of, say, adult human males, 50kg weaklings with highly motile sperm are far fitter in an evolutionary sense than an army of Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alikes with less motile sperm. Ironically it is in the Biblical account of Genesis where we first see a single species elevated to a Nazi definition of ‘fitness’; our own species being divinely commanded to subdue the planet, use it for our own purposes and to multiply freely. Clearly, Darwinian and Hitlerian notions of ‘fitness’ are world’s apart and could not even begin to share any moral basis.
Second, even if Darwin’s and Hitler’s views of 'fitness' had coincided, moral arguments for applying ‘social Darwinism’ to any society would still be subject to the naturalistic fallacy, i.e., that prescriptive moral statements or intentions cannot necessarily be derived from purely descriptive premises. Some less hardline creationists, of course, do accept a denuded version of natural selection, conceding that ‘microevolution’ is possible i.e., they claim that evolution occurs solely within a ‘kind’ or ‘species’ (or barymin) but never proceeds to speciation. It is precisely this within-species genetic variability that eugenics seeks to exploit. However, this begs the question: if ‘social Darwinism’ and eugenics really are based on the principles of natural selection, as creationists claim, how come they are so unwilling to link their own concept of ‘microevolution’ with the alleged inevitable consequences of ‘social Darwinism’? What is good for the goose is surely good for the gander.
Third, although Darwin does, in the ‘Descent of Man’ discuss the possibility of a blind utilitarian ethics based on natural selection he was shrewd enough to appreciate that natural selection doubtless also evolved overtly caring and altruistic behaviours in species that had developed sufficient intelligence to develop social instincts such as cooperative effort. Sympathy, Darwin writes in the ‘Descent of Man’:
“......can hardly be doubted was originally developed through natural selection as one of the most important elements of the social instincts”.
Indeed he devotes much of Chapter 5 of the 'Descent of Man' to argue that a progression in morality is necessary to survival of human beings. We now know that Darwin was likely correct. Altruistic behaviours can readily be observed in non-human primates (there is even evidence that some species may have some degree of sentience) and there is evidence that they existed in some proto-human species too. We commonly observe two distinct evolutionary mechanisms resulting in ‘moral’ or altruistic behaviours from one member of a species toward others. Furthermore, Homo sapiens are producers of these altruistic behaviours par excellence. There is the obvious case of altruism toward those with whom we share some immediate genetic inheritance. Groups of genetically related individuals commonly act in unison, particularly when competing with non-kin out-groups. Next, there is reciprocation, or the bestowing of favours with the expectation of a future payback. In addition to these two broad behaviour patterns, there is the paradox of ‘true altruism’, observed thus far only in humans, where individuals act in such a way that they sacrifice themselves (or more accurately their reproductive potential) to aid a non-kin individual or group. It is highly unlikely that ‘true altruism’ is selected for in any direct sense as the trait would not confer any obvious selection benefit. It is surely an example of Dawkin’s observation that humans are able to deplore “the moral implications” of natural selection and concern ourselves with “fighting against them”, in contrast to the simplistic, bleak and dark view of human nature suggested by Christian fundamentalism.
The term ‘Social Darwinism’ was first used by the American historian Richard Hofstadter in the title of his book ‘Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915’ published in 1944. Coming from the political left, he intended the term to be derogatory in his criticism of free market economics and especially American style capitalism during the 1920s and 1930s. Hofstadter’s main premise, still relevant today, was that by the 20th century ‘Darwinian’ principles had become almost meaningless within social and political theory as they had been annexed by groups of all complexions, often in ways which demonstrated a limited understanding of the actual science or even the ethical values of Darwin himself. Particularly interesting in light of the Darwin-Hitler link is that despite being Jewish, anti-Darwin as well as an ardent anti-fascist and having written during the Nazi era, he appears to have deemed the Nazi contribution to the concept of ‘social Darwinism’ to be so irrelevant that he made no mention of it at all. Hofstadter’s ghost lives on. Modern American anti-Darwinian Christian fundamentalists, nearly all of whom are advocates of unfettered free market economics, have effectively hijacked a term originally aimed perjoratively at some of their own views, in order to ideologically link Darwin with Hitler, while neither fully understanding the actual science or the ethical values of Darwin himself. They are thus a prime example of a group that Hofstadter would consider to be utilising ‘social Darwinist’ traits. Indeed, Joseph Palermo, an historian from Sacremento State University, wittily described the 2012 American Republican Party National Convention in an article in the Huffington Post as “social Darwinism meets theocracy”.
Soon after being voted into power, in July 1933, Hitler signed into law the ‘Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses’ or ‘Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring’. This act required that people suffering from a wide range of illnesses, including but not limited to hereditary deformities, blindness and deafness or mental illnesses such as manic-depression (now bi-polar disorder) and schizophrenia, be sterilised to eliminate the possibility of descendents becoming a burden on the state and wider society. This was followed, on the imminent outbreak of war in 1939, by a decree ordering the widespread euthanasia of the chronically ill and disabled, starting with babies and young infants, but eventually progressing to adults, and soon afterward, during wartime, by the ‘Holocaust’, the mass killing of primarily non-Aryan ethnic groups, especially Jews, across much of Germany and German-held territory. It is estimated that 12 million non-combatants died, approximately 50% of whom were Jews, and the rest a wide range of humanity including, but not limited to Gypsies, homosexuals, atheists, communists, Jehovah’s witnesses, Christian clergy who publicly opposed Hitler’s policies and various other opponents of the Nazi regime.
The French social theorist Michel Foucault, writing in his book ‘The Will To Knowledge’ (1976) argues that, with laws as drastic as these, the Nazi regime could not have prevailed for long, even without the allied war efforts, as Nazi social policies were inherently unsustainable, short-sighted and illogical. On the one hand, although they had created a society which had perfected 19th century techniques of social discipline, on another level they were:
“a society of blood......an absolutely suicidal state” with an “oneiric exaltation” of savagery in “the systematic genocide of others, and the risk to oneself of a total sacrifice”.
There is no mechanism within natural selection that would similarly act to lead a species to it’s own extinction. What Hitler was attempting was as far from natural selection as you can get. I challenge anyone to find something - anything - written by Darwin or implied by the theory of evolution by natural selection that would justify behaviour that comes anywhere close to what the Nazis became after 1932. Once again, though, Darwin unfairly gets the blame for Nazi policy. According to Weikart:
“Darwinism provided the moral justification for infanticide, euthanasia, genocide, and other policies that had been (and thankfully still are) considered immoral by more conventional moral standards. Evolution provided the ultimate goals of his policy: the biological improvement of the human species”.
William Dembski and Benjamin Wiker, intelligent design creationists allied with the Discovery Institute and co-authors of ‘Moral Darwinism: How We Become Hedonists’ (2002) seem to suffer from the same reading comprehension deficit as Weikart. Their view is:
“Darwin is the founder of the modern eugenics movement…….whether it is expressed through a call to weed out the unfit, breed more of the fit, abort the undesirable and deformed or manipulate our nature genetically through technology”.
Hang on a minute, didn’t Darwin describe the notion of eugenics as “an overwhelming present evil”? How can someone tell us that a behaviour is “an overwhelming evil” and subsequently be considered to have provided “the moral justification” for those who act in that way? At the very least Dembski and Wiker are obliged to tell us where Darwin expressed this “call to weed out the unfit” or “abort the undesirable”. In true creationist fashion, however, they offer no reference, because none exists. It is no more than unsubstantiated assertion. Similar fare comes from the crackpot Islamic creationist Harun Yahya:
“The eugenics, euthanasia, forced sterilization, concentration camps, racial purity and gas chambers of the mid-20th century emerged as a result of the Darwin-Haeckel-Hitler coalition, representing the worst and most ruthless cruelty in the history of humanity”.
What “Darwin-Haeckel-Hitler coalition”, you might well ask? And does it possibly bear any relation to Riley’s “Jewish-Bolshevik-Darwinian conspiracy”? Or Andrews' Darwin-Nietzsche-Hitler consortium? Is there any group threatening the sanctity of the civilised world that Darwin was not in league with? Well, just in case you might suspect that Darwin made a habit of threesomes, here’s another couple of quotes concerning ‘Darwinists’ from Harun Yahya, from his own website:
“Since Darwinists are fearful of science, they employ propaganda tactics instead. Darwinists employ a hypnotic technique that prevents people from thinking independently or examining the true scientific evidence”.
And another quote, from a 2008 interview in the German magazine ‘Der Spiegel’:
“Muslims who commit acts of terrorism are really atheistic Darwinists trying to discredit Islam”.
And again, this time from an interview with Denyse O'Leary in 2009 published on the 'Uncommon Descent' website:
“Darwinism is a Pagan religion whose roots go back to the Sumerians and Ancient Egypt.........the Darwinist materialist mindset lies behind all wars, revolutions and anarchy”
Yes, those quotes are real and made by the same Harun Yahya the Discovery Institute used to consider an important ally but have now publicly dissociated themselves. The reason? Well it’s not because of his penchant for lunacy and the comedic phrase, or (maybe) even because he’s a Muslim. It’s because Yahya is critical of intelligent design. He considers it to be a deceitful endeavour, "another of Satan’s distractions" as he explains on his website. Not because intelligent design is intended to counter evolution, obviously, but because it does so without. for the most part, mentioning God.
There is an oft-quoted link made between Darwin and his fellow Englishman labelled the ‘father of eugenics’. Like Harun Yahya’s views it is similarly laughable. Francis Galton (1822-1911), creator of the first weather map, the founder of psychometrics and the statistical concepts of correlation and regression toward the mean, was also a proponent of eugenics, in fact he coined the term. Christian fundamentalists usually cite his 1883 book ‘Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development’ (in which the term 'eugenics' first appeared) as evidence that it was Darwin, because of his earlier discussions on eugenics in the 'Descent of Man' in 1871, who had been the first to propose eugenics as a cure for human social ills.
This is another example of a blatantly dishonest claim. Apart from the fact that Darwin so strongly denounced eugenics in 1871, it was Galton, not Darwin, who first discussed eugenics, on two separate occasions, before Darwin had even published a single word on the issue. The first was in two related articles entitled 'Hereditary Talent and Character Parts I and II' which had appeared in MacMillan's Magazine in 1865, and second in his 1869 book 'Hereditary Genius'. Galton suggested (in the first part of his 1865 papers) that British society should instigate a policy of ‘positive eugenics’ in which families be given marks according to their hereditary strengths. Families with higher ranks would then be encouraged to intermarry as early as possible and given financial incentives to do so. In effect, these arrangements are not dissimilar to what had been going on for centuries between Europe’s noble and wealthier families. Galton intended that these arrangements be widened and in a novel twist suggested that, historically, the churches were to some degree responsible for degeneration within humanity because they encouraged some of the more intelligent and able members of the younger generation to become celibate by becoming priests, monks and nuns. Haeckel similarly pointed out the folly of a society allowing the strongest, bravest and brightest young men to die in war while leaving the weakest males of a generation to freely reproduce.
A further example of the Darwin-Galton link, seemingly a compulsory one to be made by anti-Darwin commentators, is none other than the fact that Darwin and Galton shared a grandfather, Erasmus, though not a grandmother; they were thus second cousins (with a coefficient of relationship of only 3.13%; though they are more often erroneously referred to as first cousins). Why someone should be considered morally responsible for the opinions of their second cousin is never explained, however. Indeed, there was very little contact at all between the two families until 1853 when Darwin wrote a short note to Galton to congratulate him on publication of his book 'Narrative of an Explorer in Tropical South Africa'. It is clear from the content of the letter that the two men were largely unaware of each other, Darwin writes: "
The only member of your family whom I have seen for years, is Emma, who gave myself and wife a very cordial greeting at the British Association at Birmingham, some few years ago."
Darwin even has to explain to Galton where it is he lives and the work he was doing and then inquires as to what Galton's two brothers are doing with their lives. The pair did continue corresponding afterward and it is in these letters that Darwin's distrust of the concept of race is further amplified, as well as his doubts about Galton's eugenics. Consider, for example, these excerpts. Galton writes:"
The life of the individual is treated as of absolutely no importance, while the race is as everything".
To which Darwin replies on January 4th 1873:
".......but surely Nature does not more carefully regard races than individuals, as (I believe I have misunderstood what you mean) evidenced by the multitude of races and species which have become extinct. Would it not be truer to say that Nature cares only for the superior individuals."
It is important to note also that at no point did Galton ever propose ‘negative eugenics’ in the Hitlerian sense, such as the sterilisation or the mass murder of those people deemed undesirable. He only ever proposed the promotion of positive traits. Indeed, he was heavily criticised in some circles for not advocating ‘negative eugenics’. One such critic was the English novelist H G Wells, an enthusiastic promoter of eugenics who, when asked about Galton’s views, remarked in 1904:
"I believe ... It is in the sterilisation of failure, and not in the selection of successes for breeding, that the possibility of an improvement of the human stock lies."
The Nazis did implement one policy of ‘positive eugenics’. In their ‘Lebensborn’ project, set up in 1935, ‘biologically fit’ and ‘racially pure’ women were encouraged to have children with elite German soldiers. In return they were provided with maternity homes, superior medical care and financial assistance. The fact is that Nazi eugenics programs were more characterised by being overtly ‘negative’ and as such were not even strictly Galtonian, never mind Darwinian. To distance Darwin further from any sense of support for eugenics, Galton published his work and coined the term ‘eugenics’ only after Darwin’s death. Furthermore, as mentioned, Darwin discussed the subject of both positive and negative eugenics, specifically in Chapter 21 of ‘Descent of Man’ as a possible misinterpretation of his findings. He clearly rejects eugenics as “evil” and “inhumane” and also points out difficulties in implementation as it would be impossible to agree on who should be a fair judge of desirable traits. Again, from his letter to Galton, January 4th 1873:
"I am not, however, so hopeful as you...........the greatest difficulty, I think, would be in deciding who deserved to be on the register."
As it turns out Darwin was right once again. This lack of agreement is just what happened when eugenics programs commenced in the 1920s. While Hitler considered the Jewish people to be “the vermin of society”, advocates of eugenics in other countries invented their own scapegoat peoples. With delicious irony, one such advocate in the United States, the Reverend Newell Dwight Hillis (1858-1929), a Congregationalist minister from New York, travelled throughout the country giving lectures calling for the sterilisation of America’s German-derived citizens. In his 1918 publication ‘’The Blot on the Kaiser’s Scutcheon’ he refers to Germans, in language not dissimilar to Hitler or Chamberlain’s description of Jews, as “brutes” and “orang-outangs”.
The fact that different advocates of eugenics representing different social groups had differing ideas of what constituted good human stock demonstrates that, like the polygenists before them, their criteria were not primarily based on objective scientific data, ‘Darwinian’ or otherwise, as we are led to believe by creationists, but on religious, political, cultural, subjective and aesthetic considerations. The Nazi criteria for who constituted an Aryan (or an honorary Aryan) was no different.
The Nazis had plenty of excuses for a moral basis for eugenics at their disposal. Twenty-seven US states had adopted eugenics laws based on pseudoscientific ideas by the time Hitler had gained power and Hitler demonstrated in ‘Mein Kampf’ that he made a particular study of American eugenics laws and programs. American business leaders and medical scientists travelled to Germany to share their knowledge of and plans for eugenics. Indeed, a pro-eugenics poster depicting a young blindfolded couple walking off the edge of a cliff was a common site in medical centres in Nazi Germany. It was not a product the of the Nazi publicity machine. It had been copied directly from a similar poster campaign issued by the Louisiana Department of Public Health. Hitler merely followed their lead, attempting to legitimise his anti-Semitism by swathing it in a façade of pseudoscience, none of which bore the slightest resemblance to ‘Darwinian’ thought.
A number of Nazi ideologues even stated publicly that their racial and social policies were not based on scientific principles but on cultural, religious and political motivations. And they were proud of it too. The ‘Journal of All Natural Science’ referred frequently to “the volkisch-biological view of National Socialism”. Folk-biology? Darwin would undoubtedly have been amused at notions that the natural world is able to alter the way it operates to suit political and/or religious viewpoints. Consider also this statement by Gerhard Wagner, the German government’s chief medical advisor, in a speech titled ‘Race and Population Policy’ at the Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally in 1936:
“Our genetic and racial thinking stems.......not from our scientific, but rather from our National Socialist convictions, and that it was not learned scientists, but rather our Führer Adolf Hitler, and he alone, who made genetic and racial thinking the centre of our National Socialist worldview............the doctrines of blood and race are not first of all an important and interesting piece of biological science to us, but rather above all else a political-ideological attitude”
Similarly, these two statements from the scientifically-trained Chamberlain make it further clear that his own racial philosophy made no pretense to having a scientific basis:
“Biologists delude themselves with the belief that empirical theories such as those of Darwin are sufficient”
“if a man possesses a sacred book, which contains all wisdom, then all further investigation is as superfluous as it is sinful”
Doesn’t that second statement read more like the doctrine of a modern-day creationist than a Darwinian? Well, compare Chamberlain’s thoughts above to those of the British creationist Paul Taylor (who holds a degree in chemistry), taken from the ‘Answers in Genesis’ website:
“........scientific models, while helpful, must never take the place of scripture. The scientific model can be superseded. Scripture cannot”.
Indeed, it seems to be the case that Nazis rejected Darwinian evolution for the very same reasons as do the advocates of intelligent design at the Discovery Institute. In 1996, the then President of the Institute, writing in their journal had this to say:
“...for over a century western science has been influenced by the idea that God is either dead or irrelevant......the center seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and it’s cultural legacies.......to raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and reopen the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature”
Note the similarities between Nazi ideology and that of the Discovery Institute. Both parties view science not as an objective enterprise but as a primarily culturally-based pursuit, viz the Nazi “volkisch-biological view” and the Discovery Institute’s use of the term “western science”. It could also be argued that the Discovery Institute are, in effect, purveyers of folk-science as 80% of @DiscoveryCSC, their Twitter account, hail from the USA. If they were truly an organisation that promoted science you would expect this figure to be far more international, representative of a scientific, rather than national community. Of more concern, however, is that some of the Discovery Institute's 'fellows' (e.g., Jonathon Well's 'Icons of Evolution') are published by the right-wing Regnery Press. The owner, William Regnery is a prominent funder of the extremist right-wing think tank 'National Policy Institute' whose mission statement would certainly find favour with Nazi Party principles:
".........to elevate the consciousness of whites, ensure our biological and cultural continuity.......study the consequences of the ongoing influx that non-Western populations pose to our national identity."
In a speech given in Chicago in 2005 to the 'Friends of the American Renaissance' William Regnery unashamedly mimicked Hitler:
".........within the first or secondhand memories of people in this room the white race may go from master of the universe to an anthropological curiosity."
Both the Discovery Institute and the Nazi Party also make a habit of denouncing ‘materialism’ and in so doing frequently and erroneously, and perhaps deliberately, equate naturalistic or scientific materialism with philosophical materialism. Indeed, one of the oft-made claims of Discovery Institute supporters is that a conspiracy exists to silence their views. They perceive the scientific evidence supporting evolutionary theory not only to be weak but claim that many biologists actually know this, continuing to support the theory because it so effectively reinforces philosophical materialism! However, while all philosophical materialists are naturalistic materialists (as was Haeckel), it does not follow that all naturalistic materialists are necessarily philosophical materialists. Gregor Mendel, for example, was an Augustinian friar and a number of contemporary researchers of evolutionary theory, such as Ken Miller, are life-long practising Christians. Nevertheless, conflating naturalistic and philosophical materialism allows attacks on evolution, as it is probably the science that most directly inform ethics. In this way they aim to weaken the ‘materialism’ of society.
Even in those instances when science was explicitly claimed to have informed Nazi thought it was never allowed to be given a greater prominence than political or religious motivations. Nazi pronouncements on the natural sciences, when not erroneous, were often cynical. George Stein, in a 1988 article in American Scientist ‘Biological Science and the Roots of Nazism’, sums up the attitude well:
“......... it is clear that science was used merely as raw material or evidence by ideologically interested political actors as proof of preconceived notions..........all attempts to use science in this manner are, in fact, mere pseudoscience”
Indeed, the view of eugenics having both a knowledge- and a moral-base outside of science was not confined to the Nazis. One prominent advocate of this view was the English Baptist pastor Frederick Brotherton Meyer (1847-1929). Meyer was author of the book ‘Religion and Race Regeneration’, published in 1912. He argued strongly that attempting any nationwide policy of eugenics based solely on scientific considerations was bound to fail. In his view:
“only one force supplies us with the inspiration and discipline necessary for achieving lasting race improvement: religion”.
There is considerable irony in Hitler’s notion of purifying the Aryan bloodline. Because it was founded on pseudoscience underpinned by a lack of understanding of natural selection and principles of heredity it was likely doomed to fail. Any species that reproduces using sexual mechanisms has, despite smaller overall numbers of offspring per mating pair, a considerable advantage over asexual reproducing species in terms of the quality of progeny. Although molecular biology did not appear until after the Nazi era, the basic mechanisms of population genetics were certainly understood by biologists at the time (and even, to a lesser extent, by farmers with little or no formal education). They understood that limiting genetic variation by reducing the size of a gene pool makes certain traits more readily available but ultimately leaves a population ‘less fit’ and more susceptible to disease processes.
However, despite a plethora of evidence from agriculture and animal breeding programs, Hitler seemed to think that hybridisation was harmful, against the “law of Nature” (for some reason Hitler capitalised 'nature') and “a sin”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hybridization actually produces genetic vigour and more successful offspring. On the other hand breeding within a relatively small genetic pool is shown to result in reduced fertility, lower birth rates, higher infant mortality, shorter lifespan, the increased expression of heritable disorders and a reduction in immune system function. The very high levels of disability, deformity, and disease associated with pedigree dogs attests to this. Genetically pure races such as espoused by the likes of de Gobineau, Chamberlain, Riley, Coughlin and Hitler can also be likened to an agricultural monoculture. Compared to a human grouping with a larger genetic pool, a pure ‘race’ faced with a hardy enough disease or parasite would have its ability to survive compromised. If, as Christian fundamentalists claim, Nazi racial theory had truly been inspired by evolution by natural selection surely Hitler would have been encouraging German citizens to mate with as wide a variety of humans as possible, so as to increase the genetic fitness of their population by expanding their gene pool?
Other important non-German moral advocates of eugenics were the English clergymen, Ernest Barnes (1874-1953), who was the Bishop of Birmingham from 1924 until his death, and the Reverends J.H.F Peile and John Percy Hinton. All three elucidated a Christian moral basis for eugenics. As a member of the House of Lords, Bishop Barnes petitioned the British government on a number of occasions to enact eugenics legislation, particularly that concerned with sterilisation. Peile authored what was then a highly influential paper ‘Eugenics and the Church’ published in ‘The Eugenics Review’ in 1909, later given as a talk at the ‘Eugenics Education Society’. He viewed Galton’s ‘positive eugenics’ as perfectly compatible with Christian philanthropy, but agreed also with some of the milder aspects of ‘negative eugenics’, describing the recent marriage of two deaf mutes as “a triumph of unenlightened philanthropic effort”. Hinton on the other hand, was a particular advocate of ‘negative eugenics’, apparently under the impression that “mental deficiency is increasing by leaps and bounds”. In his 1935 book ‘Sterilization: A Christian Approach’, which he co-authored with Josephine E. Calcutt and the prolific Christian author the Rev. Leslie Dixon Weatherhead, they stated:
"We consider it a sin against the idea of personality and conscience to insist upon the propagation of degenerate and sick life, if means are available to oppose such a calamity. It seems blasphemy to imagine that the birth of sick children could be at all God's will and Divine providence".
A number of extracts from Hinton, Calcutt and Weatherhead's book were included in an unpublished German book manuscript (‘Eugenics and Christianity: Questions of Sterilisation, Northernisation, Euthanasia, Marriage’) being written by Karl Brandt, the head of the Nazi euthanasia program and Hitler’s personal physician. The manuscript came to light when it was accepted into evidence at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. Most pertinent to the present discussion is that neither Peile nor Hinton et al nor Brandt make any mention at all of either ‘Darwin’ or ‘Darwinism’ in their writing. Piele uses the term ‘natural selection’ once only, describing it in terms which make clear his disapproval of this aspect of the natural world:
“..............crude and wasteful, carried out at the cost of an amount of suffering which neither our instinct nor our reason will tolerate if we can prevent it.”
Whenever fundamentalist Christians acknowledge past Christian support for eugenics programs they invariably blame liberal or modernist tendencies within the churches (see Bergman’s paper in the Journal of Creation, 2006, ‘The Church Preaches Eugenics: A History of Church Support for Darwinism and Eugenics’ for an outline of such views, as well as mention of eugenics support from liberal Jewish rabbis). This is a less than accurate picture, at least in the United States. What Bergman declines to discuss, for example, are the large numbers of anti-evolution Baptist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist ministers who enthusiastically competed in the many 'sermon contests' in favour of eugenics organised by the American Eugenics Society in the 1920s and who refused to marry couples where one or both partners had a physical infirmity or history of psychological illness. Clergymen like Barnes, Piele and Hinton were also considered perfectly mainstream, in this case, establishment Church of England. Bergman is surely aware of all this and chooses to argue from a parochial standpoint, misleading his readers by discussing only the opinions and activities of so-called ‘liberal’ American churchmen.
The fact remains that Darwin’s discovery of natural selection and the practice of eugenics (whether ‘positive’ or ‘negative’) are polar opposites in terms of underlying ‘motivations’. Arguably the most consequential factor in natural selection, both scientifically and philosophically, is that it operates automatically and needs no conscious agent. It is a blind mechanical process, having no inherent teleological design, purpose, intent or destiny. Indeed, evolutionary processes are able to, and have, exploited any DNA, regardless of where it comes from. Because of this, the effects of natural selection can only ever be identified in retrospect. Indeed, this aspect of evolution is invariably portrayed by creationists as it’s cardinal philosophical evil. What Hitler and other eugenicists attempted to do was the exact opposite to the ‘Darwinian’ evolutionary process; they were in effect acting as a deity might, purposefully planning and designing the characteristics of future generations of people in order to determine their destiny. Artificially selecting for the future. Eugenics, like the Christian view of creation, is a form of controlled selective breeding and it is not difficult to see how eugenicists could conceive themselves as doing, or at least ‘helping along’ God’s work, something the clergy cited seemed to have no difficulty understanding. The modern Christian fundamentalist view, then, is paradoxical. How can they link Darwin’s findings to Hitler’s intentions when, by their own admission, evolution by natural selection is evil because it has no agency behind it, no goals, a blind mechanism, devoid of any purpose?
Another important reason why artificial selection (or “sculpting the gene pool” as Richard Dawkins so aptly refers to it), whether ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, cannot be linked to Darwin is that it predates him by a very long way. Breeding techniques had been employed successfully by livestock farmers, horticulturists, horse, dog and pigeon breeders etc for millennia. Studies of mitochondrial DNA, for example, suggest that dogs were first bred from wolves somewhere in the region of 12-15,000 years ago, an example of artificial selection which is still going on. At the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York held in February 2011, no less than six new breeds were introduced. Indeed, Hitler’s own pet German shepherd was the result of artificial selection. Although Darwin did write a book about artificial selection, ‘The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication’, published in 1868, none of the research was his own. He simply discussed knowledge which was already in the public domain, apart from Chapter 27, which outlines some of his own speculative ideas on heredity.
Ironically, probably the oldest available text that describes the benefits of eugenics is a passage from the creationist’s favourite book of the Bible, Genesis 30:31-43:
“What shall I give you?” he asked. “Don’t give me anything,” Jacob replied. “But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-coloured lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages. And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-coloured, will be considered stolen.” “Agreed,” said Laban. “Let it be as you have said.” That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-coloured lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks. Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals. Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys”.
Discussing the knowledge of eugenics held by the ancient Jews, Rabbi Max Reichler one of the authors in 'Jewish Eugenics and Other Essays' (1916) had this to say:
"To be sure eugenics as a science could hardly have existed among ancient Jews; but many eugenic rules were certainly incorporated in the large collection of Biblical and Rabbinical laws. Indeed there are clear indications of a conscious effort to utilize all influences that might improve the inborn qualities of the Jewish races, and to guard against any practice that might vitiate the purity of the race or ‘impair the racial qualities of future generations’ either physically, mentally, or morally...The very founder of the Jewish race, the patriarch Abraham, recognized the importance of certain inherited qualities, and insisted that the wife of his ‘only beloved son’ should not come from ‘the daughters of the Canaanites,’ but from the seed of a superior stock".
Putting aside the typical Biblical nonsense about the effects of animals mating in front of peeled branches, the history of agriculture and animal breeding demonstrates that the basic knowledge underlying eugenics was certainly known and used several thousand years ago. Hitler just attempted to substitute people for goats and dogs. Although he was attempting to repurify, rather than to create a new ‘breed’, or master race of people (as is often erroneously thought), the mechanisms of heredity are the same. And it is emphatically not based on Darwin’s findings, whether you believe in the genetic effects of peeled branches or not.