The folks at Scientific American are steamed at Ben Stein: (see links):
Stein’s controversial movie Expelled links Charles Darwin to Adolf Hitler, the ultimate scientific hero to the ultimate manifestation of human evil. “A shameful antievolution film tries to blame Darwin for the Holocaust,” shouts John Rennie’s headline. Rennie then declares that its “heavy-handed linkage of modern biology to the Holocaust demands a response for the sake of simple human decency.”
The problem is, that the link is quite real. In fact, undeniable. One doesn’t need to see the film to make that link. Simply read Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man and Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
Darwin’s Descent of Man applies the evolutionary arguments of his more famous Origin of Species to human beings. In it, Darwin argues that those characteristics we might think to be specifically human—physical strength and health, morality, and intelligence—were actually achieved by natural selection. From this, he infers two related eugenic conclusions.
First, if the desirable results of strength, health, morality, and intelligence are caused by natural selection, then we can improve them by artificial selection. We can breed better human beings, even rise above the human to the superhuman. Since human beings have been raised above the other animals by the struggle to survive, they may be raised even higher, transcending human nature to something—who knows?—as much above men as men are now above the apes. This strange hope rests in Darwin’s very rejection of the belief that man is defined by God, for “the fact of his having thus risen” by evolution to where he is, “instead of having been aboriginally placed there” by God, “may give him hopes for a still higher destiny in the distant future.”
Second, if good breeding gives us better results, pushing us up the evolutionary slope, then bad or indiscriminate breeding drags us back down. “If…various checks…do not prevent the reckless, the vicious and otherwise inferior members of society from increasing at a quicker rate than the better class of men,” Darwin groaned, “the nation will retrograde, as has occurred too often in the history of the world. We must remember that progress is no invariable rule.”
Now to Hitler. The first, most important thing to understand is that the link between Darwin and Hitler was not immediate. That is, nobody is making the case that Hitler had Darwin’s eugenic masterpiece The Descent of Man in one hand while he penned Mein Kampf in the other. Darwin’s eugenic ideas were spread all over Europe and America, until they were common intellectual coin by Hitler’s time. That makes the linkage all the stronger, because we are not talking about one crazed man misreading Darwin but at least two generations of leading scientists and intellectuals drawing the same eugenic conclusions from evolutionary theory as Darwin himself drew.
A second point. We misunderstand Hitler’s evil if we reduce it to anti-Semitism. Hitler’s anti-Semitism had, of course, multiple causes, including his own warped character. That having been said, Nazism was at heart a racial, that is, a biological political program based up evolutionary theory. It was “applied biology,” in the words of deputy party leader of the Nazis, Rudolph Hess, and done for the sake of a perceived greater good, racial purity, that is, for the sake of a race purified of physical and mental defects, imperfections, and racial inferiority.
The greater good. We need to remember that, even though we rightly consider it the apogee of wickedness, the Nazi regime did not purport to do evil. In a monstrous illustration of the adage about good intentions leading to hell, it claimed to be scientific and progressive, to do what hard reason demanded for the ultimate benefit of the human race. Its superhuman acts of inhumanity were carried out for the sake of humanity.
Hitler had enormous sympathy for the downtrodden he witnessed as a young man in Vienna. “The Vienna manual labourers lived in surroundings of appalling misery. I shudder even to-day when I think of the woeful dens in which people dwelt, the night shelters and the slums, and all the tenebrous spectacles of ordure, loathsome filth and wickedness.”
He believed that the social problems he witnessed in Vienna needed a radical, even ruthless solution if true change were to be effected. As he says with breathtaking concision, “the sentimental attitude would be the wrong one to adopt.”
“Even in those days I already saw that there was a two-fold method by which alone it would be possible to bring about an amelioration of these conditions. This method is: first, to create better fundamental conditions of social development by establishing a profound feeling for social responsibilities among the public; second, to combine this feeling for social responsibilities with a ruthless determination to prune away all excrescences which are incapable of being improved.”
The proposed ruthlessness of his solution was in direct imitation of nature conceived according to Darwinism. “Just as Nature concentrates its greatest attention, not to the maintenance of what already exists but on the selective breeding of offspring in order to carry on the species, so in human life also it is less a matter of artificially improving the existing generation—which, owing to human characteristics, is impossible in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred—and more a matter of securing from the very start a better road for future development.”
How do we secure a better road for future development? By ensuring that only the best of the best race, the Aryan race, breed, and pruning away all the unfit and racially inferior. That isn’t just a theory; it’s eugenic Darwinism as a political program. As Hitler made clear, “the State is looked upon only as a means to an end and this end is the conservation of the racial characteristics of mankind.” Jews have to be pruned away, but also Gypsies, Slavs, the retarded, handicapped, and any one else that is biologically unfit.
That’s Darwinism in action. Does that mean that Darwin would have approved? No. Does that mean that Darwin’s theory provided the framework for Hitler’s eugenic program? Yes.