Nazi Soldiers Indoctrinated with Darwin? How Convenient.

1871 image of a monkey with Charles Darwin's headWhy were the Nazis so disagreeable?  Because they were force-fed evolution, of course!  Christian podcaster Greg Kokul thinks he’s uncovered the Nazi/evolution connection.

In a recent Stand to Reason podcast (starting at 5:00), Kokul spoke of being informed that German soldiers during World War II were issued two books, Goethe’s Faust and a German translation of The Origin of Species.  And it was Hitler himself who insisted that they get them.

(Wow—right out of the gate we’re embracing Godwin’s Law!)

About the logic behind Hitler’s assigning these books, Kokul says:

It’s because the ideas in The Origin of Species served [Hitler’s] purposes well, and if a person actually believed what Darwin taught, then they would make good Nazis.

My first complaint is that Kokul accepted the story uncritically.  This story nicely supports his worldview that evolution is both harmful and wrong, so he passes it on with no fact checking.  I do my best to take the opposite approach: when I find a delicious story that skewers an opponent (either a person or idea), I want to make sure that I have strong evidence so that I don’t look ridiculous after passing on flawed hearsay.

In doing my own research on books issued to German soldiers, the only page I came across was a post in another atheist blog (IAmAnAtheist) who’d heard the podcast and asked the very same question.  That blogger raised a great point: Why issue those two books and not Hitler’s own Mein Kampf?

That Origin was a central part of Nazi thinking seems unlikely.  The official Nazi library journal in 1935 listed twelve categories of banned books.  One category was:

Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism.

(If anyone comes across evidence for this books question either way, please add that to the comments.)

Now let’s move on to critique Kokul’s ill-informed ramblings on evolution.  One of Kokul’s favorite ploys is to try to tie eugenics with evolution.

First off, Darwin himself rejected eugenics.  In The Descent of Man, he said, “No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that [not culling the inferiors] must be highly injurious to the race of man.”  Creationists enjoy quoting just the paragraph that contains this sentence and ignoring the very … next … paragraph where he overturns this argument.

Darwin rejected eugenics, Greg.  Of course, you’ll be quick to backpedal and argue that Darwin’s own personal opinions say nothing about the validity of evolution.  Agreed!  Which is why whether or not Hitler kept his copy of Origin under his pillow says nothing about the central issue here: Is evolution the best explanation of why life is the way it is?  Which is why this entire conversation is simply mudslinging.

“Hitler was bad, and Hitler and Darwin were BFFs!  And Darwin was ugly!  And … and he probably ate babies!  And didn’t recycle!”  Whether true or not, it’s irrelevant.

This is what one does when one doesn’t actually have a real argument.

Science is not policy.  Evolution is science (the domain of scientists), and eugenics is policy (the domain of politicians).  Any scientist who advocates eugenics has left the domain of science and jumped into policy.  Eugenics isn’t science, and criticism of eugenics is no criticism of science.

Which brings up the last point: Did Hitler base his eugenics policies on evolution?  Kokul seems to imagine a kind and gentle Adolf Hitler, picking up litter and helping little old ladies cross the street, being turned to the scientific Dark Side® after reading Darwin.  But wasn’t there plenty of anti-Semitism around already?  Didn’t Martin Luther himself write the violently anti-Semitic On the Jews and Their Lies?

This bypasses the issue: Is evolution correct?  Bringing up eugenics is not only flawed but irrelevant.

It’s the white flag of surrender.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Related articles:

  • The Stand to Reason podcast archives are here.  The podcast referenced here is from August 21, 2011.
  • “Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn’t Want You to Know…” Scientific American, 2/11/09.
  • Full-text version of Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man available here.

  • RandomFunction2

    Hi Bob,

    Actually, in the early 20th century, the scientific consensus was that there were races, and that white Europeans were superior to anyone else. Part of the reasons for this view came from a flawed understanding of evolution (but in that time, it was state of the art). Another reason was the technical superiority of western weapons. And also the so-called superiority of Christianity.

    Another view that was popular was that some people were degenerates (for instance those who had a mental handicap or gays) and had to be controlled lest they make degenerate babies!!!

    At the same time, the catholic Church (since the 19th century) opposed racial inequality. A pope said that it was wrong that races were unequal.

    So it was a case when the Church was ahead of science.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      The church was ahead of policy, not science. “You should get rid of the weaker members of the species, and that includes human society” is policy, not science.

      All of us agree, I think, that eugenics was a failed idea. Darwin agrees as well. But this reflects not at all on evolution.

      • RandomFunction2

        Hi Bob,

        No, the Church was also ahead of science, because it denied the inequality of races, which was taken to be a fact by the earlier scientific consensus.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        If the church indeed say that “racial inequality” was a flawed concept, it didn’t say it on scientific grounds. Moral, perhaps, but not scientific.

        I think I see your point, and to the extent that the church rejected racial distinctions, that’s terrific. But positioning the church as the standard bearer for racial equality requires a lot of cherry picking IMO. There’s that whole curse of Ham thing, used to justify racial distinctions throughout history (in particular, American history).

  • http://noreligionblog.wordpress.com noreligion

    Strangely enough there isn’t a Christian alive that realizes and would admit that The Origin of Species was banned in Nazi Germany in 1935.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Great point! The University of Arizona has a summary of banned books in Nazi Germany. They caution, “It is difficult to say for sure [what was forbidden or burned], in part because there were so many agencies which got involved. According to [one source], over forty agencies had lists ennumerating 4,100 publications to be banned.”

      But they note that the official Nazi journal for libraries in 1935 listed twelve categories of banned books. Here’s #6:

      Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism

      Maybe Nazi Germany wasn’t such a hospitable home for evolution after all!

      • Retro

        Nazi Germany definetly wasn’t hospitable to the Freethinkers.

        Anyone who wants to link the Nazis to atheism must ignore the facts.

        Here’s a bit from the Wikipedia entry on the German Freethinkers League: “…by 1930 the German Freethinkers League had a membership numbering some 500,000. The League was closed down in the spring of 1933, when Hitler outlawed all atheistic and freethinking groups in Germany. Freethinkers Hall, the national headquarters of the League, was then converted to a bureau advising the public on church matters.”

        This was one of the FIRST things Hitler did. He shut down the opposition (The Freethinkers) and gave their assets to his supporters (a bureau advising the public on church matters).

        As Edward Current would say: Checkmate!

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