Nazi Soldiers Indoctrinated with Darwin? Yeah, Right.

Koukl apologetics evolutionWhy were the Nazis so unpleasant? Because they were force-fed evolution, of course! Christian podcaster Greg Koukl thinks that he’s uncovered the missing link.

In a 2011 Stand to Reason podcast (starting at 5:00), Koukl spoke of being informed that all 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.

About the logic behind Hitler’s assigning these books, Koukl 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 Koukl 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 who’d heard the podcast and asked the very same question. That blogger raised a great point: Why issue those two books but not Hitler’s own Mein Kampf?

And remember that Nazis liked to ban books. Or burn them. 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.

That Origin of Species supported Nazi thinking seems unlikely.

Let’s move on to Koukl’s ill-informed ramblings on evolution. One of Koukl’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. (I’ve written more on Creationists taking Darwin out of context here.)

Darwin rejected eugenics, Greg. Of course, you’ll quickly 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 or had an autographed photo of Darwin on his night table 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 topic 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, this is 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? Koukl seems to imagine a sweet 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 we don’t need to imagine any such nudging. Germany had plenty of anti-Semitism around already. In fact, Martin Luther himself wrote 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.

[Jews are a] base, whoring people,
that is, no people of God,
and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law
must be accounted as filth.
— Martin Luther, On the Jews and their Lies, ch. 4

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 9/24/11.)

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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About Bob Seidensticker
  • avalon

    Hi Bob,
    This is your second blog which mentions eugenics and Nazis. Since WWII the two seem to go hand-in-hand. But it wasn’t always so. A little history goes a long way in explaining why eugenics (literally “born well”) went from good to bad:

    Just mention eugenics today and everyone automatically thinks ‘Hitler’. How many would associate the word with George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Winston Churchill, Alexander Graham Bell, and the Rockefeller Foundation?
    Darwin brought up a good point: we use eugenics to improve the species in corn, wheat, dogs, horses, etc., but not to improve our own species. And he told us why: our moral intuitions. But intuition can be wrong.
    Early eugenics was crude by today’s standard and, like any scientific tool, was vulnerable to abuse. But why let Hitler taint a scientific tool? Is there something inherently bad about being ‘born well’ with a minimum of genetic defects?


    • Bob Seidensticker

      I’ve been replaying some of the old posts to this new audience.

      We practice eugenics to some extent today and, with improved genetic testing, that will only increase. Someone with the gene for Huntington’s disease, for example, may be encouraged to not have kids. Or to adopt. The big difference, it seems, is that the ownership of this issue (through increased information) is now the person, while it had been in the hands of the state.

      Are there still laws that say that a person with attribute X can’t have kids? Can someone with Downs syndrome be a parent? I’ve heard of women getting norplant (a long-term contraceptive) involuntarily.

  • avalon

    You say, “One of Koukl’s favorite ploys is to try to tie eugenics with evolution.” and you reply: “First off, Darwin himself rejected eugenics.”
    By your response, you’re letting theists get away with associating eugenics with evil, Nazi-types. Why cede that point?
    How about this instead:
    Theist: “Darwin was in favor of eugenics!”
    Atheist: “You mean like Winston Churchill and Alexander Graham Bell?”

    By doing so, you’ll have completely blown away this ‘evil-by-association’ idea.


    • Bob Seidensticker

      Hmm. That’s an idea. I think, though, that eugenics is such a negative issue that rehabilitating it is too complicated for anything less than a long discussion. I think I’d prefer to say, “You don’t like eugenics? Whatever. Just don’t lay that at the feet of evolution.”