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Monday, November 20, 2006

Hitler as social Darwinist: Another salvo in the barely civilized controversy

The story regarding flunking students sympathetic to intelligent design theory got plenty of attention. But there are a few other things going on that might also justify a bit of attention.

Over the past few months, this blog has been host to quite the little controversy over whether Hitler was a social Darwinist or a creationist. If you want to pursue that in detail, try
"Does Darwinism devalue human life?" (July 2, 2006)
What did Hitler believe abut evolution? (September 2006)
"Hitler as a Darwinist: Prof accused of academic dishonesty" (September 15, 2006)
Recent posts (October 9, 2006) (Scroll down to Coral Ridge for the Anti-Defamation League flap.)

Now, I was brought up to believe that Hitler was one sick puppy. Indeed, I have Jewish friends who will not use his name, calling him only "that man." So I don't know how much it matters in principle what he thought about origins. But having listened to both sides, I think that he was, for all practical purposes, a social Darwinist who doubted the creative power of natural selection alone.

Anyway, Professor Richard Weikart , an expert on Nazi ideology, has often been the target of Darwinists who need to believe that Hitler was exclusively a creationist, which Weikart can hardly confirm for them. Prof. Weikart writes me to say:
Nick Matzke at Panda's Thumb has been critiquing my book, and his latest salvo from early Oct. deserves a response, I think (but it's too late to respond to the discussion board on that blogsite, since the discussion on it ceased long ago). I e-mailed Nick to ask him to post the following response to Panda's Thumb, but thus far I haven't heard a peep from him. Maybe I don't have his correct e-mail address. In any case, I'm wondering if you would mind posting this response on your ID blogsite.

Here is the text:

Recently Nick Matzke unearthed a neat piece of evidence that he (and others at Panda's Thumb) thinks delivers a knock-out blow to my arguments in From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. Unfortunately, his evidence is to the history of Nazism what the Nebraska Man is to evolutionary theory an extrapolation of fragmentary evidence that wildly misses the mark. To be fair, Matzke makes a few comments showing that he recognizes some of the problems with his evidence, but nonetheless he persists with nonsequitur comments, such as: "The above lists do not prove that books by Darwin or Haeckel were actually physically burned, only banned [by the Nazis];" Do they really?

Before I get to this, though, I'd like to clear up one big misunderstanding about my book that Matzke promotes. He has claimed more than once that my thesis is hopelessly confused because: a) I criticize Daniel Gasman's Haeckel to Hitler thesis, b) I argue for a Darwin to Hitler thesis, but c) Haeckel was obviously a bigger and closer influence on Hitler than Darwin was. Matzke's objection fails, however, because while I concede point c), points a) and b) are misleading, at least to those who haven't read both Gasman's book and mine. Gasman claimed that Haeckel was THE progenitor of Nazi ideology (and in his second book, he argues the same for European fascism in general). My approach is quite different, because I overtly state in my book that Darwinism does not lead logically to Nazism nor the Holocaust (Gasman thinks Haeckel's ideas do lead inevitably to Nazism), and that Darwinism is not the sole influence on Nazi ideology (Gasman thinks Haeckel's ideas are the only significant influences). My book confirms the point that Haeckel was a bigger influence on Hitler than Darwin was (you only need to look in the index to see that I spend a lot more time discussing Haeckel than I do discussing Darwin). In fact, you might be interested to learn that I seriously considered entitling my book, _From Haeckel to Hitler_. I finally decided against it, because a) few people know who Haeckel is; and b) I didn't want my position to be confused with Gasman's.

So just how do Matzke's objections destroy my thesis, which properly stated is this: 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. I'm sorry if you don't like this, but it happened. Instead of criticizing me for pointing it out, you should argue with these nineteenth and early twentieth-century Darwinists.

Having cleared this up, what is this new evidence that Matzke produced in his October 1, 2006, blog, that allegedly demolishes my thesis? He perceptively discovered that in guidelines for banned books issued by the Nazis in 1935, one of the categories of banned books were those about "primitive Darwinism and Monism (Haeckel)." Matzke then claims that Darwin was banned under the Nazis (once he concedes that it might just have been something called "primitive Darwinism," so he apparently recognizes one of the huge problems with his claim but he persists nonetheless).

There are many reasons why Matzke's discovery, interesting though it is, does not present a serious challenge to my own scholarship.

First of all, Matzke himself apparently realized that by modifying Darwinism with the word primitive, this list did not really mean Darwinism per se. Good observation, but then why does he persist in maintaining that Darwin's works were banned? Darwinian biologists (and Darwinian theory) under the Nazi regime were promoted, not silenced. There are many good scholarly books that clarify this issue, such as Ute Deichmann's Biologists under Hitler (Harvard UP, 1996)and Paul Weindling's Health, Race and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism, 1870-1945 (Cambridge UP, 1989). These works and many others show that Darwinian biologists thrived under Nazism. Hans F. K. Guenther, who was appointed to a professorship in social anthropology by the Nazi minister Frick after the Nazis came to power in the state of Thuringia (against the objections of the faculty there), was committed to Darwinian theory. Eugen Fischer, a Darwinian anthropologist and eugenicist, was named rector of the University of Berlin in July 1933, and he headed up the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute on Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics, a leading research institute. In 1944 (that's still under Nazi rule) the institute was even named after Fischer! Many other Darwinian biologists landed in important positions under Nazism: Fritz Lenz, Emil Abderhalden, Konrad Lorenz, and the list could go on and on.

Another problem for Matzke's critique of my position is that just about all historians discussing Nazi eugenics, euthanasia, and racism have mentioned the importance of Darwinism as a precursor to Nazi ideology and policies. Also, most historians writing about Hitler's ideology have discussed the role of Darwinism in his thinking. Many other Nazi leaders were enthusiastic about Darwinism, too. Sure, some of these historians may call it "vulgar Darwinism" or "social Darwinism," or some other such appellation, but these still all had Darwinian elements of some sort. You cannot be a "social Darwinist" without first embracing Darwinism. This should be an obvious point, but apparently it eludes some people.

Finally, you might be interested to learn that historians (including myself) already know that Haeckel's ideas were not universally well-received in Nazi circles. An essay I published in 2002 about the Monist League showed that Haeckel and the Monist League supported pacifism and feminism, which did not sit well with the Nazis. Also, the Monist League had many socialist members, making it suspect. No wonder the Nazis dissolved the Monist League when they came to power. But it had nothing to do with any supposed antipathy toward Darwinism. (My article is: " Evolutionare Aufklarung'? Zur Geschichte des Monistenbundes" in Wissenschaft, Politik, und ™ffentlichkeit: Von der Wiener Moderne bis zur Gegenwart, ed. Mitchell G. Ash and Christian H. Stifter, Vienna: WUV Universitatsverlag, 2002. pp. 131-48).

The infighting about Haeckel (but not about Darwinism!!) merely shows what many historians have been saying for years: Nazism was not a monolith (Matzke points this out, to his credit, but he doesn't point out that it undermines his critique of me, since I only discussed Hitler in my final chapter, not Nazism in general). There were considerable disagreements within Nazism. Weindling and others have shown that Haeckel's views were contested: some Nazis liked his views and others didn't. According to Deichmann, Walter Gross, the head of the Nazi Office of Racial Policy, was an avid Darwinist, but opposed Haeckel's monistic philosophy. However, Karl Astel, rector at the University of Jena, along with SS member and biologist Gerhard Heberer and biologist Viktor Franz, were all enthusiastic about Haeckel, as was Heinz Bruecher, who in 1935 published a tribute to Haeckel in the Nationalsozialistische Monatschrifte. This article, by the way, was published in a major Nazi journal the same year that the banned book list included Haeckel on the list!

So, Matzke's piece of evidence only proved what I already knew not all Nazis liked Haeckel. So what?

Note: If anyone with access to Panda's Thumb sees this, please post this or a link to this to Panda's Thumb. I e-mailed Nick Matzke asking him to post this, but I received no response, so maybe I don't have the right e-mail address for him.

Okay, Prof, I posted it. If anyone needs the link to this blog post, this is it.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy att he University of Minnesota.

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being granted tenure at Baylor after a long struggle - even after helping in a small way to destroy the Baylor Bears' ancient glory - in the opinion of a hyper sportswriter.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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