Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Evolution-Hitler myth - let's explode it once and for all

A frequent argument against evolution by creationists is that it's a pre-text for Hitler's racial policies and ethnic cleansing - the idea that you could "improve" the human race through selective breeding. This bizarre argument comes up more frequently than you might think, even amongst well-known and "respected" followers of creationism ad intelligent design.

It is time to put this myth to bed once and for all with a VERY simple reasoning:

Evolution: The scientific explanantion for how life developed on Earth, how animals react and adapt to their environment, and how creatures divide into species.

Hitler: A man with evil, twisted ideas about racial "purity" who used a fascist state to commit genocide.

It's hard for me to see how anyone can confuse the two. Saying that Darwin and evolution are responsible for Hitler and the Holocaust is like saying nuclear physics are responsible for atomic weapons, so therefore nuclear physics is evil and/or not true.

Even if teaching people about evolution and natural selection encourages them to starting killing Jews and gypsies - which frankly, it doesn't - nothing changes the fact that evolution is just a non-moral, biological explanantion of how life developed.

Please share this, either on facebook/twitter/etc. or by word of mouth, and let's stop the creationists hiding behind one of the lamest arguments in the history of bad logic.


  1. I'm a first time poster on your blog, and a co-blooger of mine (Michael) had led me to your blog. After reading this, a few lights have went up that I thought a sunday afternoon would be well spent on pointing out.

    Before I go into addressing your post, I want to say that I think that the inference of a eugenicist moral and social code is abhorrent to the degree of enforcing any kind of social prejudice, also I agree that is a non sequitur that eugenicism follows from Darwin's theory. Now to politely disagree with how you've written your post.

    1. It's hard to interpret your 'argument'. At a guess, I would surmise that your argument has the following form

    Df. 1 Evolution is a scientific enterprise concerning the origin of life, division of species(...)
    Df. 2 Hitler was a eugencist with a racialised agenda

    I'm not sure you have elaborated any conclusions or conditions for your thesis (namely, there is no connection between evolution and hitler's programme of racial purity). Any explicitly logical conclusion is supposed by the reader, or established viz conversational implicature (which, perhaps other readers who already understand your presuppositions would understand).

    Some conclusions could be made on the following bases, which you do suggest to be the base of the conclusion:

    C1: you cannot get a moral thesis from a non-moral theory (I'll address this in 2.)

    C2: blaming evolution for hitler is comparable to blaming nuclear physics for the atomic bomb, namely, the former is not responsible for the latter. (I'll address this in 3)

  2. 2. Is it really the case that we cannot derive a moral conclusion from a non-moral hypothesis such as evolution? I would not say that it is true or false, but I would say that it is at least moot.

    Consider the following cases:

    i. Sociobiology (the notion that social behaviours are dictates of entirely physical features based in the organism such as hereditary genetics)

    If you were to suggest that there was no impetus to derive moral conclusions from a non-moral theory, you would outrightly also denounce sociobiology. This seems a reasonable conclusion (if one were to argue for the premise asserted prior).

    ii. Folk attributions to evolution:

    It is often said that human behaviours can be explained by an appeal to evolutionary mechanisms, namely, how our (successful) ancestors had behaved and their random mutations that stayed onto our genetic makeup attribute to our disposition to [x], where x may be some behaviour such as: have sex/procreate or seek aggressive resolutions/escape situations. How we turn to anger or how we react to our sexual dispositions does not follow from an appeal to evolution, but it cannot be said that these domains (namely, volitional action from the perspective of the agent, and explanatory appeal to evolutionary mechanisms for said actions) are non-overlapping. To state that one cannot derive a moral conclusion from a non-moral thesis is perhaps ambitious, although moot all the same. You need to address this issue either as a caveat or exception or inclusion to the major premise you have stated to justify your claim that there is a non sequitur between evolution and hitler's programme. You have not.

    iii. Consider the (non evolution) studies of the experimental philosophers that have taken place in the past decade, such as Knobe and Doris, which show how studies using methodologies from the social sciences give insight into features of human behaviour that are morally significant (one conclusion is that their conclusions undermine many intuitions of human agency, but I won't go into that...). Whether or not you agree with the X-phi conclusions, you cannot outright make the claim that moral conclusions cannot be derived from non-moral hypotheses without acknowledging these very challenging studies which seem to suggest that they do. You are making a very broad blanket, and it doesn't do our 'camp' of atheists, secularists, agnostics and anti-theists a lot of good. It also supports the notion that atheists are non-sober, raged and oppinionated (militant) without very much subtle argumentation skill.

  3. 3. The analogy isn't a great one. If I left an iron on my table in my room, and my nephew (when visiting) happened to come by it and play with it, leading to an injury; I would feel very guilty about it, I'd probably feel irresponsible for it as well.

    Einstein, having worked on the manhattan project, was guilty knowing that his research was used to evil ends. In the case of nuclear science relating to the use of nuclear weapons, I'd say moral guilt would be a reasonable feeling to have for such direct application to the later events. Let's say even if they were not morally resopnsible for it (because it was not their direct agency involved in the use of the weapons), we can still at least make a direct connection between the nuclear science forming a precondition of the nuclear weapon deployment.

    With the case of Darwin; would he feel responsible for hitler? Probably not, mainly because Hitler was drawing from people who were themselves parasitic on Darwin's prized hypothesis. Galton, Herbert spencer and so forth. This is a matter in which we should shoot the messenger for warping the message. It's reasonable to say that Darwin was not responsible for hitler because firstly, he used a bastardisation of evolution (like social evolution and theories of race).

    A last point, probably not from any perspective about evolution. Hitler's influence came from a variety of more significant factors than the intellectual basis of social darwinism. The economy of Germany and hyperinflation; the treaty at the end of WWI, and perhaps the one thing that upsets me the most: Romanticism and the idealisation of the folk was appealed to, in a return to 'noble' values and a natural (non-democratic) order of things. Romanticism, wasn't warped, but was logically extended by hitler. You can't blame darwin for hitler.

    Anyway, great blog! I enjoyed using my old brain for once. I'd say 'bad argumentation is just what the nazis did', but I'd have no need to violate godwin's law since you've done it already ;)

    Antisophie (of Noumenal Realm)