Re: New book on Hitler and evolution

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Tue May 04 2004 - 12:55:10 EDT

Bob writes:
I am writing this from memory, and Ted Davis is in the better position to
correct, but it should be clear what kind of "Darwinism" one is talking
about during the latter part of the 19th and the first part of the 20th
century. I think that one should consider "Social Darwinism" as a more
likely culprit in the forming of racial philosophies among the German
military class and Hitler. Two often no distinction is made between
Darwin's science and Spencer's philosophy.

ted responds:
Historically, that distinction was thin on the ground. Many, many leading
biologists and anthropologists (to leave out the philosophers and the
theologians) thought that evolution and social implications (as they
perceived them) were part of a package. "Darwinism" often didn't mean
Darwinism, pure and simple; it often meant Lamarckian or Spencerian forms of
evolution. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that Darwin himself can be
read as a social Darwinist to a limited degree. Weikart himself has a short
essay in Isis (the main American journal for the history of science) about
just this aspect of Darwin.

In this connection I strongly recommend a book by Duke anthropologist Matt
Cartmill, "A Vew to a Death in the Morning: Hunting and Nature Through
History." He shows (at least to my satisfaction) the degree to which
evolutionary theory itself (the idea that humans and "lower animals" are
related by descent) has caused tensions with democracy and other expressions
of human values. Our friends in the antievolutionist camp aren't exactly
right about this--creationism has also been used to support racism, for
example--but they are substantially right. It's a useful exercise to obtain
a copy of "A Civic Biology" by Hunter, the book that Tennessee required John
Scopes to use when he substituted in a biology class in 1925. Full of
racism, "scientific," in the name of evolution.

Received on Tue May 4 12:55:52 2004

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