Utterly Potty Claim: “Teaching Evolution leads to Nazism!!” … really?

I’m prompted by the article in today’s UK Guardian by Katherine Stewart. She writes about, “The new anti-science assault on US schools“. Yes indeed, the US creationists appear to have taken a page directly out of “Night of the Living Dead”, and even after a fatal blow to their lunacy was delivered by the 2005 decision of the US district court of Middle Pennsylvania (pdf), which ruled in the case of the Dover Area schools that teaching intelligent design is unconstitutional, they are at it once again …

They are back. There are six bills aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution before state legislatures this year: two each in New Hampshire and Missouri, one each in Indiana and Oklahoma. And it’s only February.

For the most part, the authors of these bills are singing a song we’ve heard before. Jerry Bergevin, the Republican sponsor of one of the New Hampshire bills, says of evolution that “It’s a worldview and it’s godless.” He blames the teaching of evolution for Nazism and Columbine. Josh Brecheen, the sponsor of the Oklahoma bill, wants to stop the teaching of “the religion of evolution.” These legislators, and their colleagues in Missouri and Indiana, trot out the hoary line that evolution is “just a theory” and that real science means saying that every point of view is just as good as any other.

I’ll leave it to you to read the rest of the article … its interesting, she discusses why they are back and also observes that they appear to be targeting both “evolution” and also “global warming” because “the people who don’t like evolution are often the same ones who don’t want to hear about climate change“. What I’d like to latch on to (if you can’t guess from the title already), is the utterly daft claim that teaching evolution leads to Nazism!! … Yep apparently we are supposed to believe that Hitler was inspired by “Origin of the Species”. OK lets take a really close look at that so that we can see how truly daft this is.

To some, this might indeed appear to be credible because of the full title for Darwins famous 1859 publication is “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.”. They see the words “Favoured Races”, and make an assumption regarding the content of the book because they have not understood what the word “Race” actually means. Does this fool truly intelligent people? Apparently yes. As we have seen in the news above, Jerry Bergevin, a New Hampshire Legislator, made exactly this claim when he Linked Evolution With Nazis, and so he introduced specific legislation to stop the teaching of evolution in schools

Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/02/jerry-bergevin-evolution-columbine-nazis_n_1179589.html

Now, before we go any further, lets clarify the confusion regarding the word “Race”. Darwin’s famous “Origin of Species” introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection, and did so by presenting a body of evidence that the diversity of life arose by common descent through a branching pattern of evolution. It is a work of scientific literature, but was written for non-specialist readers.

Key Observation: The evidence in the book relates to animals and plants, not humans. “Oh”, some my say, “Then why does the title mention ‘races’?”.

What is going on here is that the word “Race” in Darwins work was used as a purely scientific term relating to the phylogeny of animals and plants – scientific usage has altered so we’d now use the word “species”. Darwin wrote in depth about races of barnacles, pigeons and plants (including cabbages). To actually understand that, you need to read the actual content and not just the title page, but quite clearly those making the claim have not done so. Today, the word “Race” is applied to humans only, but this was clearly not always the case, Darwin, or for that matter, any other naturalist or biologist from that time, was using it in the way we now apply the word “species”.

To illustrate that, here are several random quotes to illustrate the use of the word Race from, “Origin of Species” …

…it seems to me not improbable, that if we could succeed in naturalising, or were to cultivate, during many generations, the several races, for instance, of the cabbage, in very poor soil …

…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…

…Great as the differences are between the breeds of pigeons, I am fully convinced that the common opinion of naturalists is correct, namely, that all have descended from the rock-pigeon (Columba livia), including under this term several geographical races or sub-species…

Origin of the Species – Chapter 1

In was not until his 1871 publication, “The Descent of Man”, that Darwin applied the theory of evolution and sexual selection to humans. Once again, the use of the word “Race” was not as we understand it today.

Now lets return back to the claim that evolution was used to justify Genocide. Did Hitler ever cite anything written by Darwin in either public or private conversation? No, he never did, in fact I doubt he ever read anything by Darwin, because such books were banned.

Fact: Darwin’s books were banned in Nazi Germany, not endorsed.

Link: http://www.library.arizona.edu/exhibits/burnedbooks/documents.htm

One part of the claim also often made is that evolution leads to atheism, which in turn leads to the Nazi’s, yet if you check that list of banned books, you should note that they also banned, “All writings that ridicule, belittle or besmirch the Christian religion and its institution, faith in God, or other things that are holy to the healthy sentiments of the Volk”. Most of the Nazi’s were in fact religious, a mix of Lutherans and Catholics, and that includes Hitler himself who remained a Catholic, so there is no evidence of any atheism here at all, instead they vigorously opposed it.


When we think of the Nazi’s, a common word that often arises is “Eugenics”. This is the idea that you can improve the genetic composition of a population” by manipulating it. Lets make one thing clear, this is a notion that uses pseudoscientific notions of racial supremacy and purity, and has nothing to do with Darwin’s ideas. The idea of breeding and selecting the right people has been with us since the dawn of time. There are abundant examples,

  • The concept of Royals only being permitted to marry other Royals in order to select and breed the ideal royal descendants
  • The concept of class
  • The Hindu concept of cast
  • Many tribes often lined up all the available brides and then choose on the basis of physical characteristics

What the Nazi’s did was to not simply attempt to breed the right people, but to eliminate the wrong people. That was not unique to them and has happened within other cultures that pre-date Darwin.

When faced with such ideas in the 1870s, Darwin himself rejected this as an un-allowable “evil” and that progress was open to all people, and there should be no laws to give favoritism to specific groups.

There should be open competition for all men; and the most able should not be prevented by laws or customs from succeeding best and rearing the largest number of offspring. Important as the struggle for existence has been and even still is, yet as far as the highest part of man’s nature is concerned there are other agencies more important. For the moral qualities are advanced, either directly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, &c., than through natural selection; though to this latter agency may be safely attributed the social instincts, which afforded the basis for the development of the moral sense.

– Charles Darwin; The Descent of Man, 1871

Dr. Richard Weikart; From Darwin to Hitler

Mr Richard Weikart is the high priest of the “Darwin to Hitler” claim and has an assortment of books that he has published with this assertion. Whenever you challenge the central claim, you will usually find that a reference to one of his books is wheeled out in conjunction with a, “So there” comment.

Of his four books, the two of immediate interest include:

  • From Darwin to Hitler, Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany. (NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004) ISBN 1403965021
  • Hitler’s Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress. (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) ISBN 0230618073

If ever faced with these, do you then need to proceed to read and debunk this nonsense? No, not at all, others have already done so. However, not only has it has been widely criticized by the academic community, but it has also been promoted by Christian creationists, specifically the infamous Discovery Institute who provided funding, so they will keep popping up.

As I have already demonstrated, Hitler was not a Darwinian, but was instead greatly influenced by writers who were opposed to evolution.

What happened during the Nazi period was truly horrendous, and must of course be exposed so that it never happens again. However, the claim that Darwin caused it is truly daft, not just because there is not a jot of evidence to support that, but also because it was Darwin who took away the scared view of race and species, and showed that there were no significant distinctions between races and species. Factually based science like this is our best defence against such lunacy, not irrational creationist beliefs, that actually do promote racism by suggesting God created distinctly separate races.

It is irrational fanatical belief that leads to atrocities. Even Martin Luther advocated the killing of imbecile children, because he believed they had been exchanged by Satan for the real children.

As for debunking Mr Weikart’s books, Hector Avalos, a professor of Religious Studies, wrote an essay “exposing the historical flaws found in the work of Mr Weikart and argued that the defense of genocide, infanticide and “eugenics” by creationists actually has a very venerable and lengthy tradition that precedes Darwin

         Link: http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Genocide.cfm

Social Darwinism

It is perhaps appropriate to also make a few observations regarding the term, “Social Darwimisn”.

  • It is a term that is used to describe the application of evolutionary theory to sociology and politics and has its roots in the 1870s.
  • It might have Darwin’s name, but it is not his, but is instead linked with others, notably Herbert Spencer, Thomas Malthus, and Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics.
  • The term appears to implicitly claim that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection could be used to understand the social endurance of a nation or country, it actually refers to ideas that predate Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species.
  • There is also considerable evidence that the entire concept of “social Darwinism” as we know it today was virtually invented by Richard Hofstadter in the 1940’s

What we actually have here are a bunch of kooks practising cargo-cult science. None of the authors of this thinking actually employed evolutionary concepts, nor did they adhere to the known evolutionary science of the time, they more or less ignored the ideas and ethics of Charles Darwin. In addition to that, many of the ideas held by these various supposed thinkers, especially Herbert Spencer, have since been proven wrong by evolutionary science. They were not men of science, but instead  simply gleaned generalities from popular evolutionary notions and deployed them to promote their pre-existing ideas.

Today we have many pseudo-science kooks who will deploy popular concepts and lace their claims with terms such as “Quantum”, and perhaps also quote mine Einstein in order to lend their crackpot ideas some credibility. In the same same manner, Darwin’s idea had become popular, and so others attempted to ride that bandwagon by associating their potty ideas with popular concepts of the day. For example, Herbert Spencer, argued for a “survival of the fittest” capitalism, which is of course not consistent with the actual theory of evolution at all.

In conclusion, you should never let yourself be fooled by the term “Social Darwinism”, it is nothing to do with with evolution, and is not a credible application of evolutionary science.

Do not be Fooled

Darwin was indeed one of the true opponents to racism, he showed through careful study and evidence that we are all related. With this one brilliant insight all claims and arguments that favour racism or eugenics are washed away, gone is the nonsense that a supernatural entity created separate races, gone is the thought that superior people have the right to own other inferior people, gone is the very concept of class, casts or breeding. The very idea that the “savages” were inferior and had no hope of ever living in a state of equality with whites was dashed upon the rocks of evidence based reason.

As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. If, indeed, such men are separated from him by great differences in appearance or habits, experience unfortunately shews us how long it is, before we look at them as our fellow-creatures. … This virtue, one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and more widely diffused, until they are extended to all sentient beings. As soon as this virtue is honoured and practised by some few men, it spreads through instruction and example to the young, and eventually becomes incorporated in public opinion.

– The Descent of Man; Charles Darwin, 1871

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