Thursday, November 17, 2005

From Darwin to Hitler to Dover

Michael Behe is one of the leading proponents of "intelligent design theory." He is particularly important for the ID movement because he is a real biologist who teaches biology at Lehigh University. Proponents of ID can cite Behe's book Darwin's Black Box as evidence that some biologists object to Darwinian evolution on scientific grounds.

Behe was the leading "expert witness" for ID at the recent federal court case on the teaching of ID and creationism in the public schools of Dover, Pennsylvania. Although much of his testimony was on the scientific debate over Darwinism, he also made it clear that Darwinian theory was unlike other scientific theories because of the moral and political implications of Darwinism. In his testimony on October 18, Behe argued that Darwinism was rightly perceived by many people as having political implications. To illustrate his point, he quoted from my book Darwinian Conservatism my claim that "Darwinian biology sustains conservative social thought by showing how the human capacity for spontaneous order arises from social instincts and a moral sense shaped by natural selection in human evolutionary history." He also made references to others--such as Daniel Dennett--who see Darwinism as a "universal acid" that denies the traditional religious grounds for morality.

Although he did not explicitly say so, Behe's talk about the moral and political implications of Darwinism evokes the fundamental fear of Darwinian science as promoting a morally corrupting atheistic materialism. A big part of my book is the attempt to dispel this fear by showing how Darwinian biology actually supports traditional morality as rooted in a natural moral sense.

The fear of Darwinian immorality is evident in Richard Weikart's book From Darwin to Hitler, which was subsidized by the Discovery Institute, the leading conservative think-tank supporting ID. Weikart argues that Darwinian biology supported a tradition of German social Darwinism that led to Hitler's Nazism. Against Weikart, I suggest in my book that he has not shown a direct path "from Darwin to Hitler."

In response to my critique, Weikart has charged that I have distorted the argument of his book. I say that his book does not show a direct line "from Darwin to Hitler," because he does not show that Darwin actually supported the ideas that Hitler expressed. But now Weikart says that the title of his book does not convey his true argument. He says to me "I don't argue the kind of straightforward 'Darwin to Hitler' thesis' that you claim." Rather, he insists that he stated clearly in his book "that Darwinism does not lead inevitably, or of logical necessity, to Nazism."

If that really is his position, then I have no disagreement with him. But my complaint is that the folks at the Discovery Institute cite Weikart's book as showing that there really is a direct line "from Darwin to Hitler," and they use this as an argument for why Darwinian science is morally corrupting, as opposed to the morally healthy teaching of ID.

As I argue in my book, what really motivates the proponents of ID is not so much the scientific arguments over Darwinian theory as the moral arguments concerning the moral implications of Darwinism. Darwin himself believed that his theory supported traditional morality. Supporters of ID deny this because they cannot believe that morality can be rooted in evolved human nature.


Anonymous said...

Dr Weikart is in hot water right now at California State University Stanislaus for attacking students who do not toe the creationist line. He tells everybody that he did not choose the title in order to distance himself from the obvious theme of his book. He will attack every academic reviewer of his book for knocking him for writing that Darwin leads to Hitler but he will not attack the discovery organization of which he is a member for saying the same thing. Dr Weikart is very dishonest and he is in hot water at the University where he teaches right now for being dishonest.

Larry Arnhart said...

To anonymous:

I know nothing about any controversy at Weikart's university.

I respect the scholarship of Weikart's book, which is a careful study of the intellectual world of Social Darwinism in Germany. I agree with him that Hitler and others in the Nazi movement used the language of Darwinism for their own rhetorical purposes.

But I cannot see that this emerged as a logical extension of Darwin's ideas. Weikart actually seems to agree with me when he concedes that there is no direct, logical line of connection "from Darwin to Hitler." This point is lost in the rhetorical agenda of the Discovery Institute, which is devoted to promoting the popular idea that Darwinian science is morally corrupting.

Richard Weikart said...

Just to clarify, I am by no means in trouble at my university. I am still chair of my department and chair of a major university committee. This past year I won the CSU, Stanislaus, Research Professor of the Year. I have never attacked students for disagreeing with my position (though apparently sometimes students who get grades they don't like anonymously attack professors).

Richard Weikart
Dept. of History
CSU, Stanislaus

Larry Arnhart said...

Weikart's response to my reading of his book FROM DARWIN TO HITLER can be found at

Edward T. Babinski said...
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Edward T. Babinski said...

Dr. Arnhart,
I read Weikert's response to your review of Darwin and Hitler. In one part Weikert wrote:

"...[T]he social Darwinists of the nineteenth century criticized Christianity for its egalitarianism. Darwinists who opposed the 'equal moral dignity of all human beings' were forthrightly critical of Christianity, which they thought did uphold the sanctity of life for all."

So? Many non-Christian intellectuals of the nineteenth-century, novels, theologians, etc., were critical of Christianity, trying to skewer Christianity before the Origin ever acheived fame, and they later imagined they might be able to make a case against Christianity via utilizing the then popular bastardization of science known as "Social Darwinism" too.

Among Darwinists of the nineteenth century there was also Kropotkin, author of Mutual Aid, who was not anti-egalitarian, but stressed the benefits that accrue to species that cooperate. Even Darwin, himself a man of the nineteenth-century, mentioned the benefits of cooperative group behavior.

"Those communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring."

"As Darwin pointed out in The Origin of Species (opening pages of chapt. three), the `struggle for existence' can often be described just as well as a mutual dependence. And harmless coexistence as parts of the same eco-sphere is also a very common relation... Among social creatures, positive gregariousness, a liking for each other's company, is the steady, unnoticed background for the conflicts."

"It is not the especially aggressive primate that reaches the highest rungs on the ladder of rank, but the especially friendly one that knows how to win the others' sympathies. In baboons, rhesus monkeys, and Japanese macaques the ability of a male to make friendships with others is a prerequisite for high-ranking status. A high-ranking male must be tolerant toward young animals and allow them to play round about it. It must furthermore be a good protector. Thus positive social qualities determine status and not just the aggressiveness of an animal striving for dominance... It is true that a certain aggressiveness, which motivates a striving for dominance, also goes with a high-ranking position. But the trials of strength are to a great extent ritualized. We have already mentioned Jane Goodall's chimpanzee, which improved its rank after discovering it was good at making a noise with empty petrol cans."

An annoying aspect of all such arguments that attempt to connect "Social Darwinism" with "Darwinism" in the reader's mind and imagination (IF that was what Weikert was attempting to do in his book--since he seems to be backing away from that angle and stressing more the strictly descriptive nature of his work) is that such arguments rely upon the reader not distinguishing between "Social" Darwinism and the scientific theory known as Darwinism.

Here is Darwinism (not to be confused with "Social" Darwinism): Species in nature interact in a variety of ways, including not just competitive trials involving outright combat, but far subtler trials involving actuity of the senses, or competitions primarily for show that avoid combat, or indirect competitions between species that raise more young than other species. Heck, birds compete for mates via song ability, or via to impress females by building bowers as in the case of the bower birds of Australia, or they compete for how well they can find or dig up food, including vegetarian food, or they adjust to other food sources as a result of such "competition" hence the entire ecosphere with a wide variety of species living alongside one another. The vast majority of species interact relatively benignly. Most of the species on earth are benign parasites of one sort of another living the easy life on but a minute fraction of their hosts bounty, and not killing it or even making it ill in return. And many species cooperate, some even live symbiotically, as the plant kingdom and animal kingdoms do, or as the tiny little "organelles" inside each cell live in harmony with the cell itself and other organelles inside it--though some oganelles may once have lived separately outside the cell and evolved to fit together inside it. So there is mutual positive aid and benefit in nature. All of that is recognized today as part of the evolutionary process, even of "Darwinism" in action. (Also visit the marvelous scientific website, "Was Darwin Wrong?" Google it by name.)

An irony of nineteenth-century "Social Darwinists" is how little they are admired by today's Darwinistic scientists and psychologists who are far better scientifically informed. Nineteenth century "Social Darwinists" were perhaps like atomists who seemed to believe that molecules were better off if they were considered merely as singular atoms rather than as entire molecules. In effect, "Social" Darwinism wasn't all that "Social." While modern day Darwinistic ethicists and psychologists acknowledge a wide and more complex range of influences in people's genes, environments, indeed in human SOCIETY as a whole.

So whatever else Weikert's book is about, it's not arguing SCIENCE, nor the scientific theory of Darwinistic evolution. It's not even arguing modern day theories of evolution, ethics and psychology.

Nor does it appear (I could always be prove wrong later) that Weikert has yet gotten over his fears as a Christian that when non-Christians deny the truths of his church's holy book and orthodox theology or when they deny the existence of God, their ethical behavior will necessarily degenerate and society collapse. Actually there are societies with few "Christian" believers today, even relatively few believers in God from Japan to eastern European democratic republics that have lower rates of crime and work harder to maintain their environment and education levels and give a higher percentage of their taxes to aid the less fortunate in other countries, than say, more "Christian" nations like America or Northern Ireland. Go figure.

So there are ethical non-believers. Even Einstein was one. He wrote, "A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."

While Christians who acknowledge all of the "religious bases," can still be tempted to act unethically. So, I ask Weikert, what is the greater miracle, an atheist (or even an ape) who aids his fellows, or a Christian or other Bible-believing monotheist who slanders, steals or harms his fellows? We have examples of both throughout history.

"We are told by those who assume authority in these matters, that the belief in the unity of origin of man and brutes involves the brutalization and degradation of the former. But is this really so? Could not a sensible child confute by obvious arguments, the shallow rhetoricians who would force this conclusion upon us? Is it, indeed,
true, that the Poet, or the Philosopher, or the Artist whose genius is the glory of his age, is degraded from his high estate by the undoubted historical probability, not to say certainty, that he is the direct descendant of some naked and bestial savage, whose intelligence was just sufficient to make him a little more cunning than the Fox, and by so much more dangerous than the Tiger? Or is he bound to howl and grovel on all fours because of the wholly unquestionable fact, that he was once a fertilized egg cell, which no ordinary power of discrimination could distinguish from that of the fertilized egg cell of a Dog? Or is the philanthropist, or the saint, to give up his endeavours to lead a noble life, because the simplest study of man's nature reveals, at its foundation, all the selfish passions, and fierce appetites of the merest quadruped? Is mother-love vile because a hen shows it, or fidelity base because dogs possess it? [As Mark Twain wrote, 'Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.'] The common sense of the mass of mankind will answer these questions without a moment's hesitation. Healthy humanity, finding itself hard pressed to escape from real sin and degradation, will leave the brooding over speculative pollution to the cynics and the 'righteous overmuch.'"

To which MUST be added...*smile*


The famous American humorist and news commentator, Will Rogers, had the following to say about the Scopes Trial in Dayton Tennessee in the 1920s, when a schoolteacher name John Scopes was put on trial for violating a Tennessee law against the teaching of evolution in school:

“The Supreme Court of Tennessee has just ruled that you other states can come from whoever or whatever you want to, but they want it on record that they come from mud only!”

[Will Rogers is referring to the passage in Genesis that states, “God formed man from the dust of the earth,” i.e., dirt or mud, which reminds me of Thomas Huxley’s saying, “It is as respectable to be a modified monkey as modified dirt.”--E.T.B.]

“I don’t know why some of these states want to have their ancestry established by law. There must be some suspicion of doubt somewhere.”

“William Jennings Bryan tried to prove that we did not descend from the monkey, but he unfortunately picked a time in our history when the actions of the American people proved that we did.”

“Some people certainly are making a fight against the ape. It seems the truth kinder hurts. Now, if a man didn’t act like a monkey, he wouldn’t have to be proving that he didn’t come from one. Personally I like monkeys. If we were half as original as they are, we would never be suspected of coming from something else. They never accuse monkeys of coming from anybody else.”

“You hang an ape and a political ancestry over me, and you will see me taking it into the Supreme Court, to prove that the ape part is O.K., but that the political end is base libel.”

“If a man is a gentleman, he don’t have to announce it; all he has to do is to act like one and let the world decide. No man should have to prove in court what he is, or what he come from. As far as Scopes teaching children evolution, nobody is going to change the belief of Tennessee children as to their ancestry. It is from the actions of their parents that they will form their opinions.”

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Anonymous said...

I have a blog "Discovering Hitler" at Blogspot where I work slowly through Mein Kampf attempting to understand the book. I have made a observations about Darwin with my Favourite quote from Mr Hitler being "a fox is a fox" because Mr Hitler mentor Houston Chamberlain did not embrace all aspects of the Darwin theory. My funniest comment is when my editor wants to know if Darwin is Jewish.