Mark I. Vuletic
Last updated 6 December 2008
(i) Philosopher Philip Kitcher correctly points out that evolution, like all good scientific theories, is morally neutral:
Various people have appealed to the theory of evolution to lend respectability to their appalling moral views...But this fact says very little about evolutionary theory itself. Virtually any morally neutral, or even morally good, doctrine can be misused for evil purposes. (Kitcher 1982:196)
(ii) Creationists, most of whom are fundamentalist Christians, should be able to understand the point by considering some of the horrendous moral doctrines others have taken Christianity to be their basis for, and asking whether or not this means that Christianity must therefore be evil or incorrect:
The most popular doctrine for use in rationalizing evil and immoral actions has surely been Christianity. There is a long record of brutalities and atrocities perpetrated in the name of Christ: the Crusades, the persecution of the Huguenots, periodic waves of anti-Semitism, sporadic witch burnings, the Inquisition, 300 years of Irish "troubles"; the list could go on and on. Add to this the explicit racism of some contemporary Christian sects, the repressive moral doctrines imposed by the Church at many times in the past, the denials of justice and human rights in the name of the "divine right of Christian princes."
Yet although the Christian Church has a checkered history, it is evident that Christians can claim — quite justifiably — that the evils result from perversions of religious doctrine. Evil or misguided men have twisted the Gospel to evil ends...But if charity ought to be extended to the Christian doctrine, then it is equally appropriate for evolutionary theory. Both the Bible and evolutionary theory can be misread and their principles abused. (Kitcher 1982:197-198)
(iii) Philosopher and historian Michael Ruse notes that while Germans from Bismarck to Hitler did seem to absorb a "bastardized" form of Darwinism, this form "bore little resemblance to anything to be found either in The Origin of Species or The Descent of Man" (Ruse 2000:81). Moreover, explains Ruse,
it does not take much to see that there could have been no simple relationship between any philosophy based on evolutionary ideas and the ideology that was so important for the national socialists (Kelly 1981). Apart from anything else, evolutionism — Darwinism in particular — stresses the unity of humankind. The Victorians were quite happy to put themselves at the top of the evolutionary tree — others, including Slavs and Jews, came lower down. However, ultimately, we are all part of one family. A consequence like this was anathema to Hitler and his cronies. It is revealing that although [German evolutionist Ernst] Haeckel (like so many of his countrymen at the time) was anti-Semitic, his solution to the Jewish problem was one of assimilation rather than elimination. This was the very opposite of the policy endorsed and enacted by the Nazis...Truly, as scholars have shown, national socialism owed far more to the Volkish movements of the nineteenth century, and particularly to the so-called redemptive anti-Semitism of the group of Wagnerians at Bayreuth, than it did to anything to be found in the writings of evolutionists (Friedlander 1997). (Ruse 2000:81-82)
The late Carl Sagan adds a few comments:
Nazis and other racists may call on "survival of the fittest" to justify genocide. But Darwin did not make...Adolf Hitler...Ethnocentrism, xenophobia, social hierarchies, the long history of anti-Semitism in Germany, the Versailles Treaty, German child-rearing practices, inflation, and the Depression seem adequate to explain Hitler's rise to power. Very likely [this] or similar events would have transpired with or without Darwin. And modern Darwinism makes it abundantly clear that many less ruthless traits, some not always admired by...Führers — altruism, general intelligence, compassion — may be the key to survival. (Sagan 1997:260)
(iv) A recent book by Discovery Institute fellow Richard Weikart (2004) arguing for a strong link between Darwin and Hitler has gained tremendous popularity among creationists, since it tells them what they want to hear. However, Weikart's books has been thoroughly panned by experts. Historian and philosopher Sander Giboff, for instance, writes in a review:
It is dismaying to see such opinions being passed off as results of scholarly research. The book's few merits only deepen the dismay because they suggest that Weikart knows better.
Kitcher P. 1982. Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Ruse M. 2000. The Evolution Wars: A Guide to the Debates. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Sagan C. 1997. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Random House.
Weikart R. 2004. From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. New York: Palgrave.
Copyright © 1997, 2014, Mark I. Vuletic. All rights reserved.