Re: Washington Post Magazine article on ID

From: Ted Davis <tdavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Wed Feb 22 2006 - 13:09:10 EST

>>> Pim van Meurs <pimvanmeurs@yahoo.com> 02/22/06 12:28 PM >>>questions the
validity of this part:

Or eugenics and Nazism

"From this ill-conceived theory, she concluded, much harm had arisen. Nazi
Germany had taken Darwin's ideas about natural selection, the credo that
only the fittest survive, and followed it to its extreme conclusions --
anti-Semitism, eugenics and death camps."

Ted responds:
I know this has come up before on this list, and it's a complex historical
question to which there is no simple answer. However, I would say that to a
considerable degree the excesses of Hitler were seen to be justified by
evolution. That is, there is a clearly identifiable current of German
"scientific" thinking in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, thinking
that Hitler fell heir to and adopted, thinking that explicitly linked
evolution with both racism (ie, German "Aryan" supremacy) and militarism
(ie, Germany *ought* to dominate the rest of the world, it's only the law of
nature worked out). They aren't making this up, Pim.

Now I'm not saying that other factors weren't operative here, such as old
fashioned antisemitism as promoted by Christians and others (don't overlook
"others"). But evolution, at least as it was presented by German
intellectuals such as Haeckel, did seem to give "scientific" impetus and
respectability to it. If you don't believe this, have a look at the
following article:

George J Stein, "Biological Evolution and the Roots of Nazism," American
Scientist 76 (1988): 50-58, reprinted from a collection called The
Sociobiology of Ethnocentrism, ed. V. Reynolds et al (1987). It's a real
eye-opener, not for "holocaust denyers" but for what we might perhaps call
"evolution as racism" denyers.

The best response to those who use this argument as yet another reason not
to teach evolution (and this was one of Bryan's most compelling arguments 80
years ago, Henry Morris and company didn't invent it), is to do two things,
IMO. (1) Do one's best to separate science as science from science as grand
metaphysical program, as one should do for folks like Dawkins. (2) Point
out that lots of good Christian creationists (ignoring for the moment lots
of libertines and other non-Christians at the same time) supported slavery,
and used the Bible to that end, indeed used the supposed separate creation
of various "races" as support for slavery.

The history is complex, as usual, and a comment linking racism and
evolution can certainly mislead, if taken out of context. But the actual
historical context does show that it isn't wildly off base, any more than
linking Darwinism to scientific atheism would be wildly off base.

Ted
Received on Wed Feb 22 13:09:53 2006

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