Hitler, Darwin, and a Question – Oh my!


I was asked the following question:

Did Darwin’s teachings on evolution necessarily cause Hitler’s view and actions of genocide?

I provided the following answer:

It’s a tricky connection. Naturalism does not necessarily lead to a belief in a superior race; but such a conclusion isn’t non-sequitur with naturalism either. That is to say, while one will not always conclude, “Genocide is okay” after reading Darwin, one can certainly use Darwin’s theory as a justification in his defense of genocide. (see: The Descent of Man by Darwin for Darwin’s view of the races).

Naturalism is amoral and is the teaching (due to Darwinian biology) that nature will simply take its course. Thus, if Species A is aided by working with Species B, then naturalism nods its head in approval. If, however, Species A benefits by the destruction of Species B (even at the hands of the other species), then naturalism will likewise nod its head in approval. That is because naturalism, while offering no advocacy for genocide or racial supremacy, also lacks the capacity to condemn such acts. So even if one proves that naturalism (of the Darwinian sort) holds no link in causing Hitler’s ideas or doesn’t justify Hitler’s ideas, one must likewise concede that naturalism doesn’t prohibit Hitler’s ideas either.

One could argue that genocide can lead to an unstable society or isn’t beneficial to the human race as a whole, but this argument stems from consequentialism and utilitarianism; in other words, it relies upon an ethical system, but such a system is not inherent within naturalism. Naturalism is a branch of Hume’s empiricism, which is a sensational epistemology (meaning we can only rely on our senses in order to gain knowledge; there are no transcendent thoughts). Since ethical systems are not empirical (unless we allow for induction in our investigations, which is forbidden by Humean naturalism, the style of naturalism predominant today), any ethical statements made concerning naturalism are inherently contradictory to naturalism since it is amoral.

Regardless, there is little doubt among proponents of history that naturalism provided a justification for Hitler. He didn’t have to “twist” anything; he merely had to supply Ockham’s nominalism in defining “human” or “person” and then use the Darwinian theories of the day to justify his course of action. Before getting to Hitler, consider the following:

* Eugenics was the science of the day in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The great Utopian hope of rationalism (via Kant) had failed due to WWI. WWI had also brought an end to the romantics’ view of Utopia as well. In light of this, science was viewed as the final hope for Utopia (hence Jean-Francois Lyotards’ essay/book “The Postmodern Condition” lamenting how there was no hope for humanity because there was no hope for Utopia). Thus hope was placed in the scientific use of genetic breed (eugenics) to benefit the human race.

* Margaret Sanger founded “Planned Parenthood” to promote eugenics (the name itself should be evidence enough). Through allowing only the “superior” (read; white people who were intelligent and had desirable physical attributes) people to breed, the hope was that the human race would evolve.

* Other things were done in the name of evolutionary science, such as the Tuskegee Experiments, that were justifiable by placing “science” at the center of the worldview (which is what Darwinian biology does).

So we come to Hitler – why is it so far fetched to believe that Darwin’s theory played into his view of people? It did provide a justification – there was a superior race that had evolved beyond other races; there were scientific benefits to performing life-ending tests on “undesirables” which enhanced the progression of the human race; subjugating and oppressing those of a “lesser” species; relying on nominalism to change what it means to be in a “species” (which, naturalism relies upon nominalism in order to define what is and is not a species).

Likewise, one only need read Mein Kampf to see Hitler’s justification. Though we can point to the religious rhetoric in his public speeches, in his books and private letters Hitler even says that he only uses religion as a tool to further his cause! He was an atheist and believed that in order to save humanity (specifically the Aryan race) he had to rid the world of lesser evolved humans, those who would hinder progress (since natural selection can also wipe out a species, proponents of eugenics viewed human involvement as the best way to assure that evolution and mutations were stacked in favor of humans).

The problem with Darwinian evolution does have scientific problems, but its most damaging problems are philosophical and logical (both of which guide anything; if something is wrong philosophically, then it is simply wrong and there is no justification for it). The problem is that it relies on Humean empiricism, which says we can only know things via the senses. The immediate problem is that this is self-refuting; how can I prove via the scientific method that all of my knowledge must be based upon the scientific method? The standard put forth can’t even meet itself, thus it is self-defeating (meaning it is false). This is why Darwin’s contribution to science, though great and an overall advantage to technological and biological development, also has its limits. These limits should be recognized, specifically when it comes to morality. When science is placed over the transcendent, when empiricism reigns and idealism (the philosophical definition, not the layperson’s definition) is cast aside or ridiculed, genocide is simply not a condemnable act and can be justified by Darwin’s view of evolution. Darwin’s view doesn’t lead someone to embrace genocide, but it certainly doesn’t forbid the act either.

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3 thoughts on “Hitler, Darwin, and a Question – Oh my!

  1. I don’t understand how one can be a naturalist and NOT condone eugenics. If we are the only beings on earth NOT trying to evolve and remain the dominant species on earth, then we surely will not survive.

    Every other being will do whatever it can in its power to ensure a biological superior outcome. This is why smaller, weaker animals are not provided special attention, and therefore are left to die.

    Essentially, nature has no value for genetically inferior species. Therefore, under a naturalistic point of view, we should have no value for genetically inferior species (i.e. those with mental and/or physical defects or those who have to feed off others to survive).

    Under the naturalistic worldview, our race is endangered when we do not seek to keep it genetically superior. In conclusion, not only does Darwinian Evolution warrant Hitler’s view of a superior race, it is NECESSARY for the survival and evolution of the human race.

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