Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Third Reich and the Holocaust--By Darwin or by God's Will?

Since the primary claim of the movie Expelled, hosted by Ben Stein to the point of teary-eyed boredom, is to make the connection between Darwin's theory of natural selection and the events of the Holocaust, I have decided to look critically at what were the major motivations of the Third Reich's will to kill off millions of Jews and other "undesirables" during Word War II.

Before I get into this, let me first start with Hitler's nemesis, Joseph Stalin, leader of the USSR during the Second World War. Stalin's tyranny in Russia was comparable to that of Hitler in Germany, killing off many opponents, both real and imagined. From what I can tell, when it comes to saying who was more evil--Stalin or Hitler--the jury is still out. Stalin's only saving grace would be winning the war and stopping Hitler. This hardly gets him off the hook for being cruel, but let's leave this aside. When it comes to Stalin, did evolutionary thinking come to mind? Did he accept Darwinian evolution and apply it to his populace? The answer is an emphatic no. Stalin did not accept Darwinian evolution--instead, he took on the debunked Lamarkian evolutionary scheme of nature, a theory which had been disproved and disbanded mostly before Darwin wrote his Origin of Species. So, before Stein makes a sequel to Expelled trying to link Stalin to Darwin, this bud should be properly nipped.

So, on to the meat and potatoes of this post. The thesis of the movie is this (the quoted material is at the bottom of the page and needs to be highlighted to be seen):
Many scenes are centered around the Berlin Wall, and Ben Stein being Jewish actually visits many death camps and death showers. In fact, Nazi Germany is the thread that ties everything in the movie together. Evolution leads to atheism leads to eugenics leads to Holocaust and Nazi Germany.
What elements played in the minds of Hitler and other high-up officials in the Third Reich that caused one of the worst abominations to humanity? Firstly, how much of the element is based on divine thinking?

A lot. Let us look at what Hitler had to say about his motivations:

Firstly, was Hitler an atheist? Let's see what are some of the things he said and did. When Hitler came to power as Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, his actions after that spoke loudly. One of his earliest actions came less than one month after Hitler became Chancellor when he began a campaign against the "godless movement".
A campaign against the "godless movement" was announced by Bernard Rust, Nazi commissioner for education and culture in Prussia, in an address Tuesday night before students at the technical university here. He said the details would be revealed in the next few days. In his speech opening the campaign for the Reichstag and Prussian diet elections, Hitler attacked communists for the spread of atheism. (Hitler Aims Blow at 'Godless' Move, Lansing State Journal, February 23, 1933)
The same report from the AP says that Hitler is [was] a Catholic. Thus, according to the papers, Hitler fought against the godless and wanted Catholic support for this. So, if the Stein thesis is to be taken seriously, it has already reached a major hurdle: if evolution leads to atheism and Hitler believed in evolution and it did not lead to atheism in the Nazi movement, then the first premise is falsified.

Hitler's words in Mein Kampf are also illuminating.
His life is really only of this world, and his spirit is as alien to true Christianity, for instance, as his nature was two thousand years ago to the Sublime Founder of the new doctrine...But for this [opposing the Jews], of course, Christ was crucified, while our present party Christianity disgraces itself begging for Jewish votes in the elections and later tries to conduct political wirepulling with atheistic Jewish parties, and this against their own nation (pp. 422-3).
Note especially the link between atheism and Jews; that is, Hitler links his racial hatred and the people he considered to be the cause of Germany's problems to be in the same boat as atheists. We can also see that this element comes about from Hitler's Christian faith that is quite antisemitic. Hitler also says that a Jewish state be less spiritual and "religion is ridiculed" (p. 450). Further on April 26, 1933, Hitler signed the Nazi-Vatican Concordat, and stated:
Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without religious foundation is built on air; consequently all character training and religion must be derived from faith... (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, Vol. 1 of 2, Oxford University Press, 1942).
A concordat is an agreement between a religious organization and at political body of another nation. So, not only was the Nazi party siding against atheist and atheism, but it was working with the Vatican. So, where is Hitler's atheism?

There is only one source in all the literature that gives us any hint that Hitler lacked a theistic belief. This would be Hitler's Table Talk, a collection of accounts of what the Furer said. The notes taken come primary from the years 1941-2. However, these very few statements which seem to run contrary to Hitler's other deeds and statements, appear to be forgeries by a French-speaking Swiss man, Francois Genoud, how was one of the primary translators of one of the manuscript traditions of Table Talk (Richard Carrier, "Hitler's Table Talk, Troubling Finds" German Studies Review 26:3 October 2003). In the other manuscript tradition(s), these key anti-Christian statements are either absent or they are the exact opposite of what Hitler was made out to say. For example, in the version that comes from Genoud reads as such: "Our epoch will see the end of the disease of Christianity." However, the better version does not include this statement at all. There is one point that is more-or-less anti-Catholic in which Hitler disagrees with the idea of the one true church (die alleinseligmachende Kirche). And that is about it when it comes to Hitler being an atheist. The only last thing that can possibly make him so would be Hitler's use of Nietzsche, but Nietzsche was an anti-antisemite and anti-nationalist. Just read Nietzsche's The Gay Science (I prefer the Kaufmann translation) and you can see how this criticism of nationalism in Germany (and other nations for that matter) as well as antisemitism. Further, Nietzsche broke off his friendship with Richard Wagner, the great composer known best for his Ride of the Valkyries, because Wagner had strong antisemitic tendencies. This is all well known and need not be taken apart in detail.

So, it seems that atheism was not in the mindset of the Fuhrer, and I know of nothing that says any other high-ranking official was an atheist in the Nazi party. In fact, the details given above would suggest that allegiance to the party required a theistic stance, since it was communists that were atheists. But was there at least Darwinism in there?

To answer this question, a bit of digging into the Nazi archives is needed. Die B├╝cherei, the official Nazi journal, in 1935 produced a list of things not to be taught:
Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (279).
Apparently, the science was not allowed and was rejected between the times of Hitler's rise to power and the Final Solution.

What about Hitler's magnum opus? In Mein Kampf, the word "Darwin" in any form does not appear at all. In only six cases do I find anything in relation to biological evolution (though the word "revolution" is used ad nauseum by Hitler). Let us see if Hitler actually understood biology all that well. In the first case, Hitler talks about the strong not breeding with the weak. However, Hitler is mistaken when he says "[e]very crossing between two breeds which are not quite equal results in a product which holds an intermediate place between the levels of the two parents." The point of sexual reproduction is that genetic information can get swapped around into new combinations that can bring about offspring with characteristics that are superior to the previous genome from either parent. Otherwise, why not just still with asexual reproduction and just "clone" oneself? Also, this notion of a place "between" parents in quality is a human construct here, for the sense of "better" does not exist in nature--only better adapted. Besides, if this was how nature worked, species could never get "better" but only reach some sort of medium amongst all the breeding members of a population; there is no "goo, to the zoo, and then to you" as creationists say in this paradigm. This sort of thinking from Hitler is not to be found in Darwin's Origin; rather, it comes from Hitler's (poor) understanding of nature, and I can bet the farm that he did not examine nature as carefully as Charles Darwin. Hitler also errs in the same paragraph when he says "for if such a law did not direct the process of evolution then the higher development of organic life would not be conceivable at all."

Moving on, we find this next statement:
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 stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.
Here Hitler makes the common mistake that most Creationists make, that evolution has a hierarchy of what speices are "better" or "worse" than another. It is simply false; species (or races) are only better or worse adapted to their environment. What is "better" to humans is completely subjective. For example, which is better: greater strength or greater intelligence? Both have advantages and one without the other can be poorly adaptive. Another example: better food-gatherer or a better lover in bed? The later has the obvious advantage of producing more children, though the former is good in making sure those offspring are fed. Again, it is a matter of balancing what is better for a given situation. As for morally better, that first requires knowing what things are and are not moral, to which arguments are without end. In any case, it has nothing to do with biological evolution.

The next point where Hitler mentions evolution in a biological setting has little to do with racism; it is more in relation to evolutionary psychology, and Hitler is no Steven Pinker. Hitler speaks of the formation of instincts in higher forms of animals, of things going from the conscious to the subconscious. Firstly, to have something be done consciously in order to change the phenotypes of a race is not Darwinian but Lamarkian evolution. Further, Hitler's argument would have us believe than lower animals were self-aware, when it seems to be the case that instincts have formed in all creatures, even though that are no self-aware, such as dolphins and primates. Again, Hitler demonstrates his lack of understanding of nature.

Hitler's next statement is of little consequence: "Organization is a thing that derives its existence from organic life, organic evolution."

Every other times Hitler uses "evolution" it is a context of social or political evolution. Thus, biology is only a subtext to further his argument for what the State should do or has done. But there is one question that remains: how much of this understanding is Darwinian or necessarily based on Darwinian theory? From what I can tell, not in the least. His proposals on life's evolution is more Lamarkian than Darwinian and his understanding of genetics is not worth talking about. Further, his understanding of breeding is in the category of what humans had been doing for centuries with dogs, cows, horses, plants, etc. Artificial selection was something well understood before Darwin was born; even our most primitive ancestors that farmed had a sense of this form of breeding. Because of this already existing knowledge, not to mention that Darwin is never mentioned in Mein Kampf, nor the phrase "survival of the fittest", the connection between Darwin and the Nazi movement is not apparent; worse, Hitler's notions are contrary to Darwin's work at times.

In a survey of other materials on the web from those that argue Hitler's ideology is based on Darwinian thinking, no other examples seem to exist. Rather, the arguments presented appear to be more in tune with the line of thought that because Darwin showed humans are animals then their moral worth is minimized. This is simply then a con-job, taking the wool over the eyes of the reader so that they do not ask for direct evidence of Darwinian thinking in the Holocaust. The argument is not that Hitler was a Darwinist, but that he saw no value in certain humans. And since very few examples where Darwin is shown to be the primary influence, it seems worthy to investigate a different source for Hitler's policies.

Let us now look at what Hitler believed when it came to religion. I have already pointed out that he was not an atheist and there is no evidence he ever was. The papers reported he was a Catholic and nothing seems to contradict this--he may not have been an ideal Catholic since he did not accept the church to be the only way to heaven, but he still qualifies as a Christian. In Hitler's statements he seems to actually use religion as the reason for his actions against Jews:
Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord (Mein Kampf, p. 65)
Also in the same books:
A folk-State should in the first place raise matrimony from the level of being a constant scandal to the race. The State should consecrate it as an institution which is called upon to produce creatures made in the likeness of the Lord and not create monsters that are a mixture of man and ape.
The mixing of races then is not simply a matter of biology; it is a matter of keeping humans in the likeness of God. Hitler repeats this thought later on:
Their very existence [of Jews] is an incarnate denial of the beauty of God's image in His creation.
Hitler also prays in his book:
Almighty God, bless our arms when the hour comes. Be just, as Thou hast always been just. Judge now if we deserve our freedom. Lord, bless our struggle.
There are no prayers to Darwin, or to science, or to reason for that matter. When it comes to science, Hitler is actually more likely a Creationist. As seen above, he invoked The Creation into his argument. In other parts, it is even clearer his thoughts on science.

In the first edition of Mein Kampf Hitler said "this planet will, as it did thousands of years ago, move through the ether devoid of men" (p. 65). In the second edition, "thousands" is changed to millions. The world was not devoid of humans thousands of years ago. The first Homo sapiens sapiens existed over 100,000 years ago. However, if Hitler lacked clarity there in other places it is more clear:
The undermining of the existence of human culture by the destruction of its bearer seems in the eyes of a folkish philosophy the most execrable crime. Anyone who dares to lay hands on the highest image of the Lord commits sacrilege against the benevolent Creator of this miracle and contributes to the expulsion from paradise (p. 383).
Thus they put an end to their own separate existence; for the original sin committed in Paradise has always been followed by the expulsion of the guilty parties.
Apparently, Hitler believed in the creation of humans in God's image and the expulsion from Paradise as recounted in Genesis. And another point helps as well in showing that Hitler believed God was the Creator:
What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, . . . so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe (p. 214).
How about some more?
The act which brings about such a development [of the superiority of races being lowered] is a sin against the will of the Eternal Creator. And as a sin this act will be avenged.
It seems pretty obvious that Hitler believed in a creator god and had a notion of sin. He believed in the Garden of Eden, in a young earth, and argued that the lessening in quality of the Aryan race was against, not Nature, but God. Natural selection is not part of the equation at all in Mein Kampf. This line of thought was repeated by Hitler even after he came to power. On August 26, 1934:
National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary it stands on the ground of a real Christianity....For their interests cannot fail to coincide with ours alike in our fight against the symptoms of degeneracy in the world of to-day, in our fight against a Bolshevist culture, against atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for a consciousness of a community in our national life... These are not anti-Christian, these are Christian principles! (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, Vol. 1 of 2, Oxford University Press, 1942.)
Also notice that Hitler was against any "atheist movement[s]" and that we stated what he did was based completely on Christian principles. Hector Avalos, an excellent biblical scholar, has put together a collection of points that show were such evil principles can come from in the Bible. One thing that he notes is that some of the defenders of genocide are in fact Christians! For example, Jonathan Sarfati, an Australian Young-Earth creationist with a Ph.D. in chemistry and mentioned on Answers in Genesis, defends the genocides of the Old Testament. There is also Reuben A. Torrey, the famed fundamentalist apologist. However, what really scared me was that William Lang Craig, probably one of the smartest Christian apologists today, defends the genocides done by the Jews in the Old Testament because God said it was the thing to do. So, if God says it is okay to kill any number of people, then it is morally okay. This to me is sickening and frightening. This means that if Craig has a bad sandwich last night, had a dream that had Jesus telling him to kill anyone that is critical of him, and Craig reads this blog, then Craig would fell justified in killing me in cold blood without a second thought. And this is perhaps the smartest of the Christians. Well, no wonder Hitler could justify the Holocaust based on God-think!

Now, I could add more quotes from Hitler and other Nazis to make the point, but it would be of little value. What is obvious is that Darwinian evolution had little or nothing to do with Hitler's policies, while his Christian faith was a much more prominent element in his determination for killing Jews. And with the antisemitism of the New Testament, that is not hard to do. Matthew 27:25 has the Jews accepting the blame for the death of Jesus. Acts 3:14-5 repeats the charge, which is repeated many more times in Acts. Paul seems to say this too in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-6. The Catholic Church did not remove the charge of deicide from the heads of all Jews until Vatican II under Pope John XXIII. And according to Christopher Hitches in god is Not Great, the only high-ranking Nazi to be excommunicated was Joseph Guebbels. Why? Because of his crimes against humanity? He married a Protestant. Pope Pius XII never excommunicated any Nazi (R.L. Simpson, "Vatican charges it is target of a 'slanderous campaign' in connection with Pope Pius XII." Associated Press, 2001-AUG-07) though he did excommunicate a few German Catholics for choosing cremation.

So, to say that Hitler's actions were pro-Darwin and anti-Christian is unfounded and the reverse is more likely. However, one should also consider the historical circumstances. After all, Britain did not have a campaign to wide out Jews like Nazi Germany did, nor did France or the USA. Firstly, it must be remembered that Hitler had an abusive father, as did Stalin, so the psychology of such an evil person is more likely due to his upbringing than his denomination. Further, Germany had gone through a terrible war, a humiliating defeat, and a devastated economy. Hitler's message of national hope and promise, coupled with the citing of the agent that destroyed Germany (the Jews in Hitler's mind, and many others as well), combined with the prejudices ingrained into the people that Hitler commanded--these agencies seem to be much more likely candidates for what caused the Holocaust. It would be sloppy to say any one agent brought about the evils of the Third Reich. Simply blaming it on Darwin or Christian dogma would be foolish. Of the two, Christianity was by far the more potent in causing the Holocaust, but not all Christians are mass murders, so more elements are required than just indoctrination. However, it must also be pointed out that Christian morals did not cease the growth of the Nazi party and many followed Hitler because of religious reasons. The evidence of this can be seen on the belt buckles of Nazi soldiers.
And even to the end of the war, there were those that saw Nazism consistent with Christian dogma (Richard Steigmann–Gall, The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) p. 5). After all, Martin Luther's tract On the Jews and Their Lies is antisemitic through and through. So, any argument that Christian morality could have kept the Fuhrer in check seems to be lacking (that includes your work, Denish D'Souza).

So, does evolution lead to atheism? Probably not, at least not without another agency, since there are millions of people that are religious and accept Darwinian evolution, including the Vatican and biologists Ken Miller and Francis Collins. Does atheist lead to Nazism (with or without eugenics)? Apparently it could not since atheistic groups were antithetical to the Nazis. Does Darwinism lead to Nazism? No, since Darwin was not used by Hitler in his book, his understanding of evolution is primitive at worst, Lamarkian at best, and not educated by the work of Charles Darwin. (The same goes for Stalin.) Hence, the premise is completely false which Ben Stein bases his entire movie on. It is demonstrably false and the accusation he and other creationists give could be considered libel and/or slander.

One final note: it does not matter even if Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Saddam, etc. based their thinking on Darwinian evolution. It does nothing to demonstrate it is a false concept. Further, the use of evolution to make moral judgments goes against what all moral theorists must grapple with: Hume's is-ought problem. What Creationists keep doing is making the naturalistic fallacy. So, when the entire basis for the arguments about Hitler et. al. are based on a logical fallacy, then the historical analysis after it fails to convince no matter the case. But by being logically fallacious and historically inept, the production of this material by Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, Ben Stein, any many others for that matter, it shows that Creationists only have propaganda, not substance, and have been nothing but deceitful.

I doubt that this one blog post will convince such persons to end their use of this argument, since they depend on it for its emotional baggage, but hopefully this can make at least some people more immune to the powerfully ignorant and deceptive statements that will be in a theater near you.


Steven Carr said...

My picturs at does seem to have wide circulation now....

I have some more nice Hitler quotes at

Gilgamesh said...

Thanks for the quotes. All the more to make the point.

Greg & Jenn Wright said...

Excellent post. Good job in refuting Stuart Blessman's analysis, and I agree with you almost completely, and where I don't it's not worth bothering.

One point for your readers, though: "Evolution leads to atheism leads to eugenics leads to Holocaust and Nazi Germany" are the words of Stuart Blessman, only only saw the film. He didn't make it, and the film itself never makes that argument explicitly. I saw the film, at least, and didn't draw that conclusion -- though I daresay people will see what they want to see, and it's also reasonable to conclude that the filmmakers might WANT that conclusion drawn.

Does it matter that they deny in interviews that they want that conclusion drawn?

I spoke with P.Z. Myers about that very question over the phone, and was very satisfied with his answer: that, at the very least, the film rather irresponsibly fails to make distinctions between various schools of Darwinian influence, paints them all with the same brush, and fails to mention other influences on the Final Solution, such as the Church.

Jenn and I found the introduction of the Nazi sequence very unfortunate, and a distraction from what seemed to be the real point of the film. But it certainly didn't lead me to the rash line of thinking expressed by Mr. Blessman.

Maybe the real point of education here is not about science, but about films and how they work. They are not meant to be swallowed whole. All films are, to a degree, propaganda.

Gilgamesh said...

A good point in mentioning that Blessman is not a producer of the film (as far as I know). However, this line is found on the Expelled website, so it would seem that it was and is still approved by the makers of the film. If Mathis and Stein wanted to distance themselves from this line of reasoning it should not be or ever have been on the movie's website.

I also agree with your other points about the medium of film itself (which I think could expand into most every form of entertainment--think of the plays of Aristophanes or Vergil's Aeneid or so many songs from the 1960s). I also think it would have been smarter in making the point on scholars in academia being kicked out, but the movie seems to be a teasing of the emotions rather than an intellectual tract. After all, the subtitle is "No Intelligence Allowed". As best I can tell at this point, this film is less mentally satisfying that the works of Michael Moore.

Thanks for reading.

Greg & Jenn Wright said...

Yeah, I wondered about Blessman's identity, too, and whether he was even a real person. But he's just a student with a blog, and he sent that letter to Overstreet's blog. From there, Motive lifted it (without permission) and reprinted it in their news column. Overstreet then complained, and got an apology.

I wouldn't jump to too many conclusions about what Motive, the film's producers, and the Discovery Institute agree on. There's not a completely coordinated effort there... at least, the evidence would suggest that there isn't!