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Examining the historical and logical links between Darwin and eugenics10 min read

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In the latest podcast over at Reasonable Doubt, the resident atheists discuss my comment on their blog, where I suggested that there is a historical link between Darwinism and Nazism.  Naturally, since I attacked their religion science worldview, they took issue with me. Unfortunately, their interesting, amusing and often profanity-laden podcast (I say that with some affection but not admiration ;) often misrepresented my points, and created a few straw men to boot. I ask you fellas (challenge you?) to address your ‘mistakes’ in a future podcast. Like you, I don’t enjoy being ridiculed or misrepresented. Here’s my response to your discussion.  I hope these clear things up and lead to reasoned argument!

1. Darwinism did not create Nazism or eugenics, it justified it scientifically.

imageIt’s not that Darwinism created Nazism, nor do I claim that Darwinism created eugenics. Rather, it gave scientific *validity* to them in the mind of the Nazis (and the American eugenics movement). As the quote from Wiekart said, Hitler used it to justify his position, not to create it.

It is notable that both Charles Darwin and his son were prominent members of the British Eugenics Society, as was his half cousin and intellectual friend Francis Galton (for which the Society was later renamed to the Galton Institute) which is damning evidence that their world view and public professions tightly integrated tightly eugenic and evolutionary thinking.  You my find this association tenuous, but a historical examination may prove otherwise. You should have more closely considered these historical associations and lines of reasoning, which are part of Wiekart’s book. Whether or not that is a correct application of Darwinism is not the point. The point is that it was used that way.  That alone does not condemn or invalidate Darwinism, it is merely an important observation that may indicate problems with it, for other reasons I will explain.  (Sorry for all the emphases, but I want to stress those words, they are important clarifications). In fact, in a response to straw men and critics of his book on this subject, Weikart tried to clarify, and he did so elquently:

Darwinism [note: not just Darwin I discuss many Darwinian-inspired scientists and scholars] produced new thinking about morality and ethics, especially medical ethics, helping bring about [note: I didn’t say “inevitably producing”] the rise of ideologies such as eugenics, infanticide, euthanasia, and racial extermination. I never claimed Darwinism was the only influence on these ideologies (I stated the exact opposite in my book). However, even if Darwin had believed in the equality of races (he didn’t), even if he denied that races were annihilating each other in the struggle for existence (he argued the contrary), even if he completely rejected eugenics (he only rejected compulsory eugenics measures), and even if he viewed infanticide and euthanasia as immoral (lo and behold, he did!), and even if he was anti-militarist (he was, and I say so in my book); this would not undermine my point that leading Darwinian biologists, anthropologists, medical professors, physicians, and other social thinkers in Germany overtly used Darwinian principles to promote eugenics, infanticide, euthanasia, and racial extermination. (emphasis mine)

And yes, you could make the same argument based on Biblical ‘atrocities.’ But you would then have to investigate the history to try to prove that link. For example, you could claim that the bible led to Luther’s anti-semitism, which influenced Hitler (400 years later). That would not make a condemnation of the Bible correct, but rather, only of Luther’s interpretation. But proving that, or other historical links is important in the NEXT step.

2. Is ‘evil’ application of an idea a reasonable, straightforward, and natural conclusion that could be deduced from it?

This is why I argued that Darwin understood the implications of his theory, and gave that quote – to prove that even Darwin himself saw this direct application, even if he did not support it. And showing the parallels between this quote and one from Hitler is not just a mere guilt by association trick, but rather, it shows the direct parallels of their ideas and statements, and how the logical leap from one to the other is one of mere degree, not of content, whether or not Darwin would have made that leap. He was not a hard racist, but a soft one (see Weikart’s quote above), but many subsequent, prominent Darwinists were (see Darwinism’s history of racism). I, and Weikhart, argue, based on

(a) these historical events (b) Darwin’s own admission, AND (c) the obvious ideological parallels

that Social Darwinismisa reasonable and straightforward application of Darwin’s theory. The American eugenics movement thought so as well. Again, this does not invalidate the *science* (still to be examined) of Darwinism, it only sheds light on the need for, at least, another principle that might curtail such ‘atrocities.’ Such as the value of human life (which, alarmingly, is often *devalued* because of a Darwinian view that humans are merely higher animals). So I would ask, by what authority or using what principle do you counter the lofty principles of Social Darwinism? This is an important question for anti-theists to answer. I would further argue that, while Social Darwinism is a natural and straightforward application of Darwinism (and the eugenics movement among America’s scientific community agreed for a time before Hitler showed us what morally unbounded eugenics really is), the logic behind ‘Biblical’ antisemitism, or genocide, is NOT straightforward, but is logically and theologically flawed if we apply some reasonable and standard logical principles.  And as I said, you would also have to prove that there was a historical link, showing that other people used this logic in history to justify atrocities.

3. If Social Darwinism and eugenics are a logical application of Darwinism, what does this indicate about the theory itself? Is it evil or wrong?

Here is where we must move from a heuristic and historic evaluation, which has value, into one of philosophy of science, followed by science (section 4). Regarding the philosophy of science, anti-Darwinists (like myself) would claim that these atrocities associated with Darwinism *could* indicate moral, ethical, logical, and scientific faults with Darwinism, but we would have to make a stronger argument. And here’s the further reasoning:

(a) The Moral/Ethical Objection to Darwinism – because Darwinism logically extends to Social Darwinism and eugenics, which has proved to be morally and ethically wrong, it is faulty as a moral philosophy (see Can Darwinism Provide a Positive Moral Framework?)

(b) Darwinism is primarily a historical, not an empirical science – because Darwinian evolution and origins are not observable phenomenon, but merely a conjecture about historical data, Darwinism is not empirical science.  While some of the mechanisms that are proposed to support and drive it have been validated (natural selection, speciation), these mechanisms also support other models, and the core claim of evolutionary origins for the major taxa have not been proven.

(c) Darwinism integrates with failed moral/ethical systems, but not with accepted systems.  The fact that Darwinism is compatible with systems of thought that many in the West find morally, ethically, and logically flawed, such as eugenics, authoritarian atheisms, and the devaluing of human life indicate that Darwinism violates the principle that all truth is intergrated and works in harmony.  In fact, it works more in harmony with rejected ideas in other disciplines, including information theory.

Again, these are not reasons to reject Darwinism on a scientific basis, but furthers our conviction that it needs to be questioned, and these points are relevant to anyone interested in history and science.  Your ridiculing of these associations is based on your straw man assumption that we reject evolution as a science based on these ideas. The truth is, we merely add this information to the scientific objections, and we, unlike you, recognize the part that Darwinism played in history.  I guess that you ignore it because it offends your sensibilities and love for all things evolutionary, not because you think these things are ahistorical. To repeat, to some extent, the fact that Darwinism has repeatedly been associated with eugenics, including the Nazi eugenics, and logically leads to Social Darwinism are important and somewhat damning ideas that we think Darwinists should admit.  If you think that those conclusions don’t follow, why not?  Even Darwin saw it.


Highlighting the historic and logical connections between Darwinism and social evils (not to mention how Darwinism pushed back racial rights gains during Civil War Reconstruction) is relevant to the discussion of the validity of Darwinism, even though it is inconclusive without a scientific evaluation.  Your ridicule is based on straw man misconceptions, a bias or seeming lack of interest in the real consequences of ideas, esp. Darwinism, which may have been complicit in, and necessary (but not alone sufficient) for the successful creation of the worst genocidal governmental and war machines of recent history (see Atheist Atrocities).

Ignoring this is ignoring history, which is what fools do. And lest you continue to think that us anti-Darwinists have made our decisions based on mere guilt by association fallacies, or these reasonable philosophic and moral objections, in my followup post, I’ll provide a short list of our reasonable, though debatable, scientific objections evolution.