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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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