Friday, April 25, 2008

Connecting Hitler and Darwin (or Luther?): David Berlinski's Sophistry

The last third of Ben Stein's movie Expelled claims that there is a direct connection from Charles Darwin to Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust. This is supposed to show how morally corrupting Darwinian biology can be. To support this conclusion, Stein interviews Richard Weikart, the Discovery Institute historian who wrote From Darwin to Hitler. Stein was very careful not to interview any historians who dispute Weikart's claims, because this would have weakened the propaganda value of the movie.

David Berlinski, another Discovery Institute fellow who was in the movie, has now written an article defending this part of the movie. Here is how he puts his argument:

"One man--Charles Darwin--says: 'In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals.'

"Another man--Adolf Hitler--says: Let us kill all the Jews of Europe.

"Is there a connection?

"Yes obviously is the answer of the historical record and common sense."

Really? Is this connection obvious?

In Darwinian Conservatism and in many posts on this blog, I have argued that Weikart's putative connection "from Darwin to Hitler" is very weak. For example, one of the obvious weaknesses in this argument is that there is no anti-Semitism in Darwin's writing. If one were looking for the source of Hitler's anti-Semitism, one might consider Martin Luther. Luther's "On the Jews and Their Lies is one of the most repugnant expressions of anti-Semitism in European history. Scholars such as Richard Steigman-Gall--in his book The Holy Reich--have shown the immense influence of Luther on the Nazis.

So what does Berlinski say about the Luther connection? "A professor of theology at Iowa State University, Hector Avalos, is persuaded that Martin Luther, of all people, must be considered Adolf Hitler's spiritual advisor. Luther, after all, liked Jews as little as Hitler did, and both men suffered, apparently, from hemorrhoids." That flippant comment is all Berlinski says about this. For him, that's enough. There's no need to confront the scholarly record on the history of Luther and anti-Semitism in Germany, because that might upset the rhetorical strategy of the Discovery Institute.

Astonishingly, Weikart never mentions Luther, because this would weaken his argument that Christianity promoted the equal moral dignity of all human beings against the degrading materialism of Darwinism. Of course, Weikart could rightly argue that Luther's anti-Semitism was a distortion of the Christian tradition. But then wouldn't he also have to consider the possibility that social Darwinism was a distortion of Darwinian science?

Weikart has written a hostile review of Steigman-Gall's book. But almost everything he says in criticizing Stegman-Gall's connecting Nazism to Christianity could easily be said in criticizing Weikart's connecting Nazism to Darwinism. For example, Weikart says that if one looks closely as the Nazi interpretations of Christianity, one can see that "their Christianity was always interpreted through the lens of their racial ideology, not vice versa." Yet the same could be said about the Nazi interpretations of Darwinism!

In the movie, neither Berlinski nor Weikart ever mention this debate over whether Luther is a better source for Nazism than Darwin, and Stein never raises this as a question. To have raised such questions would have provoked some deep thought about the issues, and that would have subverted the sophistical rhetoric of this movie.


Mark Pallen said...

Berlinski gets his Darwin wrong (no surprise) Darwin never said 'In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals.', despite this quote appearing in the show Heroes. Take a look at the Darwin Correspondence Project or Darwin Online. You will search in vain for the quote!

inchirieri apartamente cluj said...

You wrote on your post "Stein was very careful not to interview any historians who dispute Weikart's claims, because this would have weakened the propaganda value of the movie." I don't think that an opinion should be formed based on just one scientist. Take for example the forensic experts that testify in lawsuites: the one that testifies for the defence argues in favor of the defence, and the one brought by the DA against.