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Friday, September 15, 2006

Hitler as a Darwinist?: prof accused of academic dishonesty

Recently, several people have generously devoted considerable time to padding the comments section of the Post-Darwinist on the question of whether Hitler was a creationist or a Darwinist. Now, one recent commenter, Mitchell Coffey, went over the top, accusing Cal State prof Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler, of being dishonest. Critiquing my post, he scolds, in part:
This is to be expected if you rely on the immorality of dishonest academics like Richard Weikart. Most of his assertions about Darwin's beliefs are contradicted by the historical sources -- often by the historical sources he himself cites for support! In one case, he out-and-out lies about what he calls Darwin's "system."

But if you want to see a straight-out lie by Prof. Weikart, locate his one quote from H.G. Wells. Weikart makes extravagant claims about the significance of the quote, which Weikart wants you to believe meant that Wells believed in killing off "inferior" races.

Weikart, who is fluent in German, replies,
Mitchell Coffey’s claim that I engaged in academic dishonesty is patently ridiculous.

I should note that my overall argument in no way depends on the Wells’ quotation, since the vast majority of my book is about German thinkers, and most of my quotations are from primary sources, unlike the Wells quote, which I provided to show that Germans weren’t the only ones advocating racial extermination. If anyone can show that my primary source quotations are wrenched out of context, this would be troubling indeed. To date, no one has raised such a criticism, despite many reviews by historians in historical journals.

To me, the really interesting aspect of this whole exchange is why it should matter so much to some people whether Hitler was a Darwinist, a creationist, or something else. After all, what if Pol Pot was a Darwinist and Idi Amin a creationist? Do we think the better or the worse of mass murderers on such an account? So I asked Weikart for some thoughts, as he deals frequently with such attacks.

His reply was interesting:
The reason why people care about Hitler being a Darwinist was because his version of Darwinism influenced his murderous ideology. It wasn't incidental to his mass murder, as it might be in the other cases you mentioned. Darwinists have to distance themselves from his social Darwinist views, so they campaign against it as against heresy. Also, it's remarkable how many websites run by atheists and anti-religious people prominently feature articles about Hitler being a Christian, and they blame Christianity for Hitler and the Holocaust.

It's also remarkable that many Darwinists idolize Darwin so much that they cannot come to admit that he was a social Darwinist (though many scholars, to their credit, have conceded this).

Hmmm. I have often suggested that Darwinism would repay study by social scientists. It does come with a worldview, including a number of positions on hotly contested but apparently unrelated topics. For example, I would like to hear from a single serious Darwinist who disapproves of stem cell research on discarded human embryos on ethical grounds. It is easy to find non-Darwinists who disapprove such things.
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.

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Thinkquote of the day: Darwin's influence on modern thought

According to one of the best-known Darwinists, Ernst Mayr (1905-2005), here is the difference Darwin made:

But furthermore—and this is perhaps Darwin’s greatest contribution—he developed a set of new principles that influence the thinking of every person: the living world, through evolution, can be explained without recourse to supernaturalism; essentialism or typology is invalid, and we must adopt population thinking, in which all individuals are unique (vital for education and the refutation of racism); natural selection, applied to social groups, is indeed sufficient to account for the origin and maintenance of altruistic ethical systems; cosmic teleology, an intrinsic process leading life automatically to ever greater perfection, is fallacious, with all seemingly teleological phenomena explicable by purely material processes; and determinism is thus repudiated, which places our fate squarely in our own evolved hands. To borrow Darwin’s phrase, there is grandeur in this view of life. New modes of thinking have been, and are being, evolved. Almost every component in modern man’s belief system is somehow affected by Darwinian principles. (pg. 83)

– Ernst Mayr, "Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought," Scientific American, pg. 79-83 (July 2000). ( Note: SCiAm is the original source, but this link is from a botany page.)

This is useful information if a school board PR rep tells you that Darwinism is "just another part of the science curriculum." It clearly is not, as Mayr makes clear above, and as Australian biologist Stephen E. Jones also explains. Darwinism is, among other things, a philosophy that is held in explicit contradiction to traditional philosophies and religions, as Mayr is at pains to specify.

Some of the biology teachers who promote Darwinism, incidentally, hope that it will cause people to care more about the environment (because we're all just animals who happened by chance , and they're all just animals who happened by chance, right?)

The problem is that such a view is incoherent. If we can really care about or do anything about the environment as a whole - as opposed to the points at which it impacts us - we are not them and them 'r' not us. And nothing useful follows from a refusal to make the distinction.
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?

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 denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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