Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Review of Richard Weikart: From Darwin to Hitler (part 6)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6


A subject I haven't mentioned is that From Darwin to Hitler is divided into four parts besides the preface, introduction, and conclusion. These four parts are:

  1. Laying New Foundations for Ethics, ch. 1-3;
  2. Devalueing Human Life, ch. 4-6;
  3. Eliminating the "Inferior Ones", ch. 7-10; and
  4. Impacts, ch. 11.

This outline of course also indicates the historical steps from, as Weikart sees it, the refoundation of ethics from the Judeo-Christian absolute ethics with its sanctity of human life to Darwinian relativism, where ethics is part of biological history, to the holocaust. As mentioned, Weikart doesn't claim that this outline is the whole truth, not even that the holocaust was a logical consequence of Darwinism.

Now, to the extent there was such an outline, it was rather based around the German nation and the value of an individual being that individual's contribution to the progress of the nation. Such ideas can be based on evolutionary thory or creationary theory, since whichever theory is adopted will be twisted until it fits the needs of those adopting the theory.


We'll jump to chapter 11, "Hitler's Ethics".

Beginning this chapter, Weikart writes p. 209:

Did Hitler have an ethic? Since Hitler is the epitome of evil, some will think it absurd even to consider the possibility that morality played a significant role in his worldview. In order to perpetrate such radical evil, many assume, he must have been either an immoral opportunist or else an amoral nihilist.

Weikart operating with an absolute ethics can of course identify "the epitome of evil"; but as he indicates, this way of thinking is too superficial. So, for Weikart the two possibilities mentioned are both wrong (loc. cit.):

On the contrary, [Hitler] was highly moralistic and consistently applied his vision of morality to policy decisions, including waging war and genocide. It may be difficult for us to grasp this, but in Hitler's worldview war and genocide were not only morally justifiable, but morally praiseworthy. Hitler was so dangerous, then, precisely because his policies and decisions were based on coherent, but pernicious, ethical ideas.

Indeed, just like Weikart, Hitler believed in an absolute ethics, a divinely given ethics. In volume 1, chapter 1, "In the Home of My Parents", of Mein Kampf, Hitler writes:

What history taught us about the policy followed by the House of Habsburg was corroborated by our own everyday experiences. In the north and in the south the poison of foreign races was eating into the body of our people, and even Vienna was steadily becoming more and more a non-German city. The 'Imperial House' favoured the Czechs on every possible occasion. Indeed it was the hand of the goddess of eternal justice and inexorable retribution that caused the most deadly enemy of Germanism in Austria, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, to fall by the very bullets which he himself had helped to cast. Working from above downwards, he was the chief patron of the movement to make Austria a Slav State.

So, even Hitler believed in "eternal justice". And he saw that eternal justice carried out in history, just as the author of 1+2 Chroniclessaw divine justice in the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem for Solomon's marriages with foreign women and the foreign influence that followed from that.

Weikart continues (loc. cit.):

One also cannot comprehend Hitler's immense popularity in Germany without understanding the ethical dimension to his worldview and his political policies. Hitler not only promised to bring prosperity, health, and power to the German people, but he also promised moral improvement. Many scholars have noted the utopian appeal of Nazism, which aimed at creating a higher and better person. The police state he erected not only persecuted political enemies, but also tried to eliminate criminality and social deviance.

Just like any Judeo-Christian agitator. In chapter 11, "Race and People", of Mein Kampf, Hitler writes:

The Jew himself is the best example of the kind of product which this religious training evolves. His life is of this world only and his mentality is as foreign to the true spirit of Christianity as his character was foreign to the great Founder of this new creed two thousand years ago. And the Founder of Christianity made no secret indeed of His estimation of the Jewish people. When He found it necessary He drove those enemies of the human race out of the Temple of God; because then, as always, they used religion as a means of advancing their commercial interests. But at that time Christ was nailed to the Cross for his attitude towards the Jews; whereas our modern Christians enter into party politics and when elections are being held they debase themselves to beg for Jewish votes. They even enter into political intrigues with the atheistic Jewish parties against the interests of their own Christian nation.

Ok, so maybe not 'Judeo-Christian', just 'Christian'. The Jews are here described as materialistic ("of this world only"), and Jesus as a fighter against the Jews that are also described as "enemies of the human race" - exactly like the Romans described the early Christians. And Hitler also scorns Christian compromisers that cooperate with the atheistic Jews "against the interests of their own Christian nation" just as any creationist/IDist today scorn theistic evolutionists for giving in to the enemy, the atheistic evolutionists.

Did Hitler believe his own rhetoric? If he didn't, how are we then to know that any modern (Judeo-)Christians believe their own rhetoric?

Back to Weikart. On p. 210, he writes:

Because of Hitler's support for "family values," some mistakenly assume that Hitler was a moral conservative. If we examine some specific moral issues - abortion, the role of women, or homosexuality - then Hitler's views do reflect a conservative position. However, taken as a whole, Hitler's ethical views do not comport well with traditional morality, since he based his morality on an entirely different foundation than did most conservatives. Hitler's morality was not based on traditional Judeo-Christian ethics nor Kant's categorical imperative, but was rather a complete repudiation of them. Instead, Hitler embraced an evolutionary ethic that made Darwinian fitness and health the only criteria for moral standards.

This, of course, moves us back to the new foundation for ethics. However, it is not quite that simple; as Weikart himself has indicated, for Hitler, the goal of ethics was the preservation of the chosen nation, and everything else was subservient to that goal. Since Darwinian evolution, as any creationist/IDist can tell you, doesn't have a goal, to the extent Hitler was an evolutionist, he wasn't a Darwinist.

In the article Evolution and Modern Racism, Henry Morris writes:

According to the Biblical record of history, the Creator's divisions among men are linguistic and national divisions, not racial. Each nation has a distinct purpose and function in the corporate life of mankind, in the divine Plan (as, for that matter, does each individual).

"(God) hath made of one, all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation: That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him" (Acts 17:26,27).

No one nation is "better" than another, except in the sense of the blessings it has received from the Creator, perhaps in measure of its obedience to His Word and fulfillment of its calling. Such blessings are not an occasion for pride, but for gratitude.

This is, according to Morris, the creationist position.But in what way is this different from Hitler's? The term 'race' is used very loosely by just about everybody, and in the Bible, while all humans have descended from one pair (though we don't really know, where the wives of Cain and Seth came from), nations are in general attributed forefathers - and bad nations of course with some deviant sexuality in their founding. The Edomites were supposedly the descendants of Esau, who had foreign wives, and the Ammonites and Moabites supposedly descended from an incestous relation between Lot and his two daughters.

As for purpose in the divine Plan and blessings from the Creator, these expressions could have been copied from Mein Kampf; but, of course, it's rather the opposite way around: Hitler grew up with Christianity, with Christian eschatology; the Third Reich was to be the Millenium.

Telling the good guys from the bad guys isn't as easy as Morris and Weikart claim. Once you get the idea of a divine plan, and that you have a part in it, anything goes, whether you are a creationist or an evolutionist.


On p. 211, Weikart writes:

Hitler's view that morality is purely a human construction undermines any system of ethics claiming transcendence, such as Judeo-Christian ethics or Kantian ethics. Hitler did not believe in the existence of immutable, universal moral standards.

Well, why not ask Hitler for his opinion? In chapter 2, "Years of study and suffering in Vienna", of Mein Kampf, when mentioning political talks between his fellow orkers during lunch, Hitler writes:

I drank my bottle of milk and ate my morsel of bread somewhere on the outskirts, while I circumspectly studied my environment or else fell to meditating on my own harsh lot. Yet I heard more than enough. And I often thought that some of what they said was meant for my ears, in the hope of bringing me to a decision. But all that I heard had the effect of arousing the strongest antagonism in me. Everything was disparaged--the nation, because it was held to be an invention of the 'capitalist' class (how often I had to listen to that phrase!); the Fatherland, because it was held to be an instrument in the hands of the bourgeoisie for the exploitation of' the working masses; the authority of the law, because that was a means of holding down the proletariat; religion, as a means of doping the people, so as to exploit them afterwards; morality, as a badge of stupid and sheepish docility. There was nothing that they did not drag in the mud.

This, of course, is directed against Marxists; but still it doesn't exactly imply that Hitler thought of morality (or any other traditional values) as mere human constructs. Also, in volume II, chapter 2, "The State", of Mein Kampf, Hitler writes:

A folk-State should in the first place raise matrimony from the level of being a constant scandal to the race. The State should consecrate it as an institution which is called upon to produce creatures made in the likeness of the Lord and not create monsters that are a mixture of man and ape. The protest which is put forward in the name of humanity does not fit the mouth of a generation that makes it possible for the most depraved degenerates to propagate themselves, thereby imposing unspeakable suffering on their own products and their contemporaries, while on the other hand contraceptives are permitted and sold in every drug store and even by street hawkers, so that babies should not be born even among the healthiest of our people. In this present State of ours, whose function it is to be the guardian of peace and good order, our national bourgeoisie look upon it as a crime to make procreation impossible for syphilitics and those who suffer from tuberculosis or other hereditary diseases, also cripples and imbeciles. But the practical prevention of procreation among millions of our very best people is not considered as an evil, nor does it offend against the noble morality of this social class but rather encourages their short-sightedness and mental lethargy.

What Hitler is writing about here is hypocricy. Sure, we might say that Hitler was wrong, and he might certainly have been; but even that doesn't prevent him from having thought this way.


Let's return to Weikart. Ending the chapter, he writes p. 227:

Indeed Nazi Barbarism was motivated by an ethic that prided itself on being scientific. The evolutionary process became the arbiter of all morality. Whatever promoted the evolutionary progress of humanity was deemed good, and whatever hindered biological improvements was considered morally bad. Multitudes must perish in this Malthusian struggle anyway, they reasoned, so why not improve humanity by speeding up the destruction of the disabled and the inferior races? According to this logic, the extermination of individuals and races deemed inferior and "unfit" was not only morally justified, but indeed, morally praiseworthy. Thus Hitler - and many other Germans - perpetrated one of the most evil programs the world has ever witnessed under the delusion that Darwinism could help us discover how to make the world better.

Not quite that simple, I'm afraid. In evolutionary theory, evolution is adaptation to an environment, not something that involves any progress in absolute terms. Weikart has limited himself to the period after the release of Darwin's The Origin of Species in 1859, and thereby missing that the idea of progress already was in place before that year. In 1857, two years before Origin, Herbert Spencer wrote "Progess: Its Law and Causes", The Westminster Review, Vol 67 (April 1857). In this article, Spencer wrote:

The advance from the simple to the complex, through a process of successive differentiations, is seen alike in the earliest changes of the Universe to which we can reason our way back, and in the earliest changes which we can inductively establish; it is seen in the geologic and climatic evolution of the Earth, and of every single organism on its surface; it is seen in the evolution of Humanity, whether contemplated in the civilized individual, or in the aggregation of races; it is seen in the evolution of Society in respect both of its political and economical organization; and it is seen in the evolution of all those endless concrete and abstract products of human activity which constitute the environment of our daily life. From the remotest past which Science can fathom, down to the novelties of yesterday, that in which Progress essentially consists, is the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous.

So, the idea of progress already existed and influenced Darwin, who then handled this progess in biology. But please notice that progress as defined here is not simply replacement, but diversification: "the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous". For Darwin, this was seen in biogeography and domesticated races, variations from a common origin. The fossil record wasn't as friendly towards his theory, because it didn't actually support gradualism - it was full of gaps. When Darwin in The Descent of Man wrote about more "civilised races" exterminating more "savage races", it wasn't the joy of loosing those savages that was his point, but a way of getting around the problem with the fossil record. The "missing links" were missing, because they had been exterminated. Fossilation only happens under certain conditions, and fossils are only a small sample of the organisms that ever existed, and if some species or race only existed shortly before being replaced by another, it might not have made it to the fossil record.

The Nazi idea of racial purity had nothing much with Darwin's theory of evolution to do. It could have been picked up from the Bible or contemporary Christianity. Many Christians are against marriages between Christians and non-Christians, and even Paul warns against having anything to do with non-believers. Eschatological oriented Christians today believe that the world will come to an end any day soon, and all non-believers will be killed. What if these Christians got the idea that Doomsday already had started and that they should take part in that killing? And who's a Christian? According to some Christians you need to accept certain doctrines, such as a six-days creation around 6,000 years ago, to count as a Christian. Does Weikart believe in that doctrine? If not, maybe he should be more worried about some other people than about Darwinists.


Weikart begins his "Conclusion" with:

Since its advent in the mid-nine-teenth century Darwinism has stirred up debate about many questions touching the very heart of human existence. Not least among these is: How should we live? While many philosophers and theologians ruled this question outside the purview of science, most prominent advocates of Darwinian theory - including biologists, physicians, social theorists, and popularizers - believed Darwinism had far-reaching ramifications for ethics and morality. Many argued that by providing a naturalistic account of the origin of ethics and morality, Darwinism delivered a death-blow to the prevailing Judeo-Christian ethics, as well as Kantian ethics and any other fixed moral code. If morality was built on social instincts that changed over evolutionary time, then morality must be relative to the conditions of life at any given time.

If morality was built on social instincts, we would have no choice; we do not pick and choose our genes.

I would also conjecture that Weikart is wrong about the naturalistic account giving any death-blow. Haeckel writes in Monism as Connecting Religion and Science:

Beyond all doubt the present degree of human culture owes in great part its perfection to the propagation of the Christian system of morals and its ennobling influence, although the great value of this has been impaired, often in the most deplorable manner, by its association with untenable myths and so-called "revelations." How little these last contribute to the perfection of the first, can be seen from the acknowledged historical fact that it is just orthodoxy and the hierarchical system based on it (especially that of the Papacy) that has least of all striven to fulfil the precepts of Christian morality; the more loudly they preach it in theory, the less do they themselves fulfil its commands in practice.

It's not disagreements about the ethical values that's the point, but whether those who preach Christian values, actually themselves live by those values.

Weikart end the "Conclusion" on p. 233 with:

Darwinism by itself did not produce the Holocaust, but without Darwinism, especially in its social Darwinist and eugenics permutations, neither Hitler nor his Nazi followers would have had the necessary scientific underpinnings to convince themselves and their collaborators that one of the world's greatest atrocities was really morally praiseworthy. Darwinism - or at least some naturalistic interpretations of Darwinism - succeeded in turning morality on its head.

This is Weikart's thesis. But again, the question is, to what extent can he link Darwinism with the Holocaust? According to Leviticus, the blind and the lame cannot serve in temple, because they are unclean, and only unblemished lambs can be offered to God. The inferiority of the imperfect is part of the Bible. The Qumran community made the command about the blind and the lame even more severe; the blind and the lame were not allowed to appear in the assembly, because there were angels present there. Jesus chose another interpretation: he healed the blind and the lame so they could look good in the eyes of God, their creator, and he was himself offered as an unblemished lamb, so we all could be accepted by God. If it wasn't because of a zealous God, who was hard to please, all this would not have made any sense.

How was 19th century Christianity really? One thing is to claim that it had this sanctity of human life ethics, another thing is, what it had to offer people in that human life. What has Christianity to offer? And do we even have the right to ask that question?


Ernst haeckel wrote in 1892 in The Confession of Faith of a Man of Science:

Monistic investigation of nature as knowledge of the true, monistic ethic as training for the good, monistic aesthetic as pursuit of the beautiful---these are the three great departments of our monism by the harmonious and consistent cultivation of these we effect at last the truly beatific union of religion and science, so painfully longed after by so many today. The true, the beautiful, and the god, these are the three august divine ones before which we bow the knee in adoration; in the unforced combination and mutual supplementing of these we gain the pure idea of God. To this "triune" divine ideal shall the coming twentieth century build its altars.

Well, if Haeckel had known, what those altar were to be used for, he might have had a few second thoughts. However, if Jesus were to return to earth today, how many of those who call themselves Christians would he approve of?


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

24 comments:

Steven Carr said...

Weikart writes about the 'Malthusian struggle'

I guess the Malthusian struggle is all a part of Judeo-Christian values, as the idea was developed by the Reverend Thomas Malthus

FreezBee said...

Interesting! I wasn't aware that Malthus was a reverend; but then again, Patrick Matthew, a creationist, built upon Malthus in his Naval Timber, so Weikart is certainly wrong in seeing a clear-cut division between 'Judeo-Christian' and 'Darwinian' thought.

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