Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hitler & Darwin

Below is an old post from my political blog, South Dakota Politics.  It will offer some flavor of what is to come on this blog.

File this one under strange bedfellows. The Left Wing Huffington Post has a piece by David Klinghoffer of the Discovery Institute. The D.I. is an organization dedicated to saving the world from Charles Darwin. Klinghoffer gives us the standard moral/political argument against Darwinism. Nazism and Eugenics are the malignant but altogether legitimate offspring of Darwin's theory. 

Hitler's ideas, [David Berlinski, another Discovery fellow] carefully notes, "came from many different sources but no honest account will omit Darwin." A reading of Mein Kampf makes that clear. Certainly, Berlinski says, the men who formulated Nazi ideology "weren't reading the Gospels." 

Well, if no honest account of Hitler's ideas would omit Darwin, one wonders why Hitler omitted Darwin. If the Fuhrer ever mentioned Chuck in his speeches or writings or his dreadful book, I have not seen the quote. Hitler certainly did have a concept of evolution and of genetics, but his grasp of the science was about as close to real science as astrology is to astronomy. He was a largely ignorant man. 

There are two problems with Klinghoffer's screed. One is that misunderstandings of genetics were as much responsible for the atrocity of forced sterilization in the U.S. and elsewhere as Darwinian evolution. If the latter is discredited by the atrocities, should we abandon genetics? 

Worse is the fact that Nazi racist mythology is wildly inconsistent with Darwinian biology. Let me count the ways. 

First, Nazi racial mythology is progressive in structure. Human beings are superior to vermin, just as the higher races of man are superior to the lower races, let alone the vermin race. By contrast, Darwinian biology supports no theory of progress. In terms of reproductive fitness, bacteria are superior to cockroaches, and cockroaches to Catholics. But that is true only on the most speculative of grounds, as in "which species would survive an asteroid strike?" For purposes of real science, each species is surviving comfortably in its own ecological niche, and that is a kind of equality. 

Second, Nazi mythology takes race seriously. Darwinian biology does not. There is as much or more genetic diversity among Black Africans as there is between Zulus and Norwegians. Race is not a scientific concept and it is no part of modern Darwinian Theory. 

Third, Nazi mythology treasures racial purity. If both mom and dad had blond hair and blue eyes, you will be stronger for it; and a large population of pure Aryans is stronger than one that is tainted with the blood of the lesser kinds. By contrast, Darwinian biology points toward genetic diversity as an utterly essential factor. A population that is genetically uniform is prey to any pathogen or environmental change (climate change, or a change in the food supply) that may come along. What allows populations to roll with environmental punches is genetic diversity. That's why sexual reproduction is a good thing (it keeps changing the genetic code), and why inbreeding is a distinctly bad thing. 

Fourth, Nazi mythology ranks races according to their nobility. Aryans are bolder, more musical and more brilliant, more warlike, etc. Darwinian biology has nothing to do with ranking races, in which it does not believe, or populations, or individuals. But if you tried to get a ranking out of it, the only thing it would tell you is that any group of animals or human beings is more likely to stick around longer if it has more babies. I am guessing that that standard wouldn't have favored early twentieth century Germans over their Chinese counterparts. 

Darwinism is not a theory of human history. It is not a theory of human progress, or human virtue, or human ethics. It is a biological theory that tries to understand how the various forms of organisms emerged and by what forces those forms are sustained. It gives no support, none at all, to racist mythologies. Those who say that it does either do not understand the biology, or are not honest in their interpretation.


  1. "There is as much or more genetic diversity among Black Africans as there is between Zulus and Norwegians. Race is not a scientific concept and it is no part of modern Darwinian Theory. "

    I see Lewontin's fallacy is still alive and kicking.

  2. Anon: Can you tell me a bit more about why "Lewontin's fallacy" is a fallacy? I am not fan of Lewontin. I would be glad to hear it.