Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Reflections on the Pseudo-Science of Social Darwinism, the Ethics Derived Therefrom, and Its Use as a Justifying Rationale for the Nazi Holocaust

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_FOIrYyQawGI/TEIb5ZmftyI/AAAAAAAAC6g/nYdXMdEdDpk/s1600/WeikartBook.jpg

The following is derived from a dialogue I had with a friendly atheist. I am only posting my side of it because the entire discussion isn't allowed to be cross-posted, due to board rules.

* * * * *

Social Darwinism led to eugenics and the Nazis. Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Barrenhood) was neck-deep in all that hogwash. Human beings are not mere animals. We use our rationality.

I'll call your bluff. I want you to run this sort of thing by your wife on your anniversary; tell her that you were destined by impersonal, immoral, non-teleological evolutionary processes to select her to have sex with and to marry for that purpose. Try it next time you make love to her. Let me know how it goes!

Folks have a sex drive. That is explained just as easily by a Christian worldview than by a materialistic view where men are literally simply a higher-developed animal. Theistic evolution does not have this dilemma because it is not so shortsighted as to exclude God from all consideration.

In the materialistic evolution framework, a man can be far more successful in reproduction by learning how to flirt and seduce effectively and bed as many women as he can find (the Casanova / President Bill Clinton / Wilt Chamberlain approach), and have as many children as possible. Why bother to get married or even to be committed to any one woman?

It doesn't happen that way (usually) because in fact there is a moral understanding that is built-into us, whereby commitment is simply the right thing to do, for all parties concerned. Women, especially, instinctively understand this, which is why they are particularly devastated and violated by adultery (and rape).

Even the late great Wilt Chamberlain eventually came to understand this, because he said that it was far more fulfilling to make love 10,000 times to one woman than to make love to 10,000 different women. Very perceptive . . . That is morality: put into us by God. It ain't any kind of evolution, because promiscuity is just as possible as commitment, if not much more so. Men's natural urge is towards multiple partners, and we have to fight that off. That is your "naturalism." But because human beings are far more than mere matter, there are other factors in play that society promotes: monogamy, commitment to children, etc.

Even our decadent, degraded society still looks down on the rapist and the deadbeat dad and the prostitute . . . true materialistic evolution (and/or Social Darwinism), consistently thought out, would have nothing to say against any of that. The Nazis took Malthusian survival of the fittest (arguably partially where Darwin got some of his ideas) to its logical conclusion (outside of the realm of mere biology). It was precisely because science had crossed the line there and tried to dictate to other parts of life, that it became so corrupt and wicked in the Nazi regime. Yet men continue to blame God for what men and their goofy false ideas do, by way of mistreating others.

None of this has any bearing on evolutionary biology and whether that is true or not as a brute fact about evolutionary development of species. I am talking about what it can explain and how it is abused in various "Social Darwinian" schemas.

* * *

The fact that primitive societies attribute things to God is no argument against God. Sure, they can get it wrong, but it should be notable that religion is universal. Why is that? If indeed, there is no God it isn't what we would expect at all. It would never arise in people's minds. But if there is a God it makes perfect sense that He would instill knowledge of Himself in us.

You're just as religious as I or any believer. You're doing it in this very post: making evolution absurdly the explanation for anything and everything. That's because it is your religious worldview. It helps you understand things that you can't fully explain. You in effect worship the atom, because you think that mere atoms can "create" the entire universe and us and our thoughts, by the inherent capability or potential that lies within the initial helium and hydrogen of the Big Bang. That takes far more faith than what I believe. I think there is an eternal Intelligence that created. You think the atom can do all that even though there are many things yet to be explained by that: not even close. But no matter. You simply exercise faith (just as every Christian does) that pure matter can achieve all that. I don't look down on anyone for having faith, because it is inevitable for everyone. But I oppose the idea that Christians have an irrational faith and atheists are all reason with no faith at all. That's poppycock.

* * *

[a materialist atheist ethical perspective was asserted, in which it was stated that if we abuse our fellow man and our children, society will become dysfunctional as a result. Therefore, materialistic evolution dictates that altruism and helping others will prevail]

To the contrary, society can be quite functional with abuse and murder going on. Mao killed 60 million people and China has paid no penalty for that at all. China is prospering more than we are. We're fast approaching them in numbers of murders (50 million plus) and we're doing "fine" too, but for the economy, which has little to do with Darwinism, either.

Stalin starved 10 million Ukrainians in the 1930s and committed untold additional murders, and didn't have to pay any price. In fact, we were allies with him in the next decade (World War II). Hitler's thing was going fine. The trains were running on time (including to the concentration camps). The only reason that was stopped was because there were more relatively moral people in the world who knew it was wrong, and opposed it. But if it hadn't affected them, they wouldn't have even done that. Hence, China and Russia killed many times more millions than Hitler did.

And that's why we go on our merry way, with the slaughter of about 4000 preborn babies a day (including pulling full-term babies halfway out of the womb in order to stick scissors in the back of their necks, and sucking their brains out: that's "partial-birth abortion," for those unaware). It doesn't affect our society, does it? At least not on an outward, superficial level . . .

Therefore, your argument there falls completely flat. It couldn't be more demonstrably wrong than it is. The fact is, that raw power and human greed and selfishness can easily trump any supposed "evolutionary" guide to "altruism" or what-not. Love is far more than mere survival or self-interest (more things to run by your wife: but it would be more fun to try with an atheist wife [his wife is a Christian] ).

* * *

A second atheist (quite hostile and bigoted and very unlike the first person) jumped in at this point, and dismissed my arguments since I am supposedly a "master of digression" and because, according to Godwin's Law, I had "completely lost" the argument or my head or both. "Godwin's Law" (noted in Wikipedia) states:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1. Put another way, Godwin puts forth the sarcastic observation that, given enough time, all discussions —regardless of topic or scope —inevitably wind up being about Hitler and the Nazis. Godwin's law is often cited in online discussions as a deterrent against the use of arguments in the widespread reductio ad Hitlerum form.

What the second atheist conveniently failed to also note, of course, was the following observation, from the same article (my emphases):

The rule does not make any statement about whether any particular reference or comparison to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis might be appropriate, but only asserts that the likelihood of such a reference or comparison arising increases as the discussion progresses. It is precisely because such a comparison or reference may sometimes be appropriate, Godwin has argued that overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact.

Quite obviously, my use of the Hitler / Nazi example and analogy was perfectly legitimate and appropriate, being based on massive historiographical evidence and scholarly consensus, and it was altogether relevant to the topic at hand. But this atheist would rather call names and dismiss, than condescend to actually argue any point with me. For my part, I'm interested in rational argument and open-minded socratic dialogue.

For the connection between Social Darwinism and eugenics and the Nazis, see, for example:

John P. Jackson, Nadine M. Weidman, editors, Race, Racism, and Science: Social Impact and Interaction (Rutgers Univ. Press, 2005), pp. 84-88)

Robert C. Bannister, Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo-American Social Thought (Temple University Press, 1989). See particularly the footnotes on pp. 257-258)

Dagmar C. G. Lorenz, "Social Darwinism in Edgar Hilsenrath's Ghetto Novel 'Nacht'"; pp. 214-223 in Dagmar C. G. Lorenz, Gabriele Weinberger, Insiders and Outsiders: Jewish and Gentile Culture in Germany and Austria (Wayne State University Press, 1994)

Arthur Grenke, God, Greed, and Genocide: the Holocaust Through the Centuries (New Academia Publishing, 2005) See particularly the conclusion: pp. 232-251.

Richard J. Evans, "In Search of German Social Darwinism," pp. 55-80 in Manfred Berg, Geoffrey Cocks, editors, Medicine and Modernity: Public Health and Medical Care in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Germany (Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Eric Ehrenreich, The Nazi Ancestral Proof: Genealogy, Racial Science, and the Final Solution (Indiana University Press, 2007) See particularly chapter two: "The Origins of Racial Eugenics in Imperial Germany," pp. 14-32.

Richard Weikart, "The Impact of Social Darwinism on Anti-Semitic Ideology in Germany and Austria, 1860-1945" (chapter four, pp. 93-115), in G. N. Cantor and Marc Swetlitz, editors, Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism (University of Chicago Press, 2006).

Alfred Kelly, Descent of Darwin: The Popularization of Darwinism in Germany, 1860-1914 (Univ. or North Carolina Press, 2009)

Hans-Gunter Zmarzlik, "Social Darwinism in Germany Seen as a Historical Problem," in Hajo Holborn, editor, Republic to Reich: The Making of the Nazi Revolution (Viking, 1973).

Hans-Gunter Zmarzlik, "Social Darwinism in Germany -- An Example of the Socio-Political Abuse of Scierntific Knowledge," in G√ľnter Altner, editor, The Nature of Human Behavior (Allen & Unwin, 1976).

Paul J. Weindling, "Darwinism in Germany," in David Kohn, editor, The Darwinian Heritage (Princeton Univ. Press, 1998).

Richard Weikart, Hitler's Ethic: the Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (Macmillan, 2009) See particularly the many references in the footnotes, pp. 205 forward.

Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)

Peter Haas, "Science and the Determination of the Good," pp. 49-89 in John K. Roth, editor, Ethics After the Holocaust: Perspectives, Critiques, and Responses (Paragon House Pub., 1999)

Paul Crook, Darwin's Coat-Tails: Essays on Social Darwinism (Peter Lang Pub., 2007). See particularly Essay Three, pp. 29 ff.

The important question, of course, is whether Social Darwinism was corrupted and perverted by the Nazis, or if they consistently followed the principles of it. I contend that the latter is the case; however, as I have alluded to already, I think (along with several of the scholars cited above) that Social Darwinism itself is an absurd and incoherent application of larger Darwinism (since physical science is the study of matter).

Thus, either it is a case of inconsistent corruption of a true set of beliefs and principles (Social Darwinism), or a consistent use of a corruption (Social Darwinism) of a true set of beliefs and principles (Darwinism; i.e., as applied to biology and physical evolution only). That Darwinism was used, or corrupted, or utilized, or co-opted (pick your term) in some fashion by the Nazis as a rationale for their ideology and evil programs is beyond dispute.

12 comments:

Jon said...

Dave, keep in mind that a Darwinian explanation of why we have evolved ethical norms is not the same as saying that this is what we OUGHT to believe. Fact is evolution does have much to say about things like altruism and love. That's just the way it is. But objecting to evolution social Darwinism has been abused is like objecting to gravity because Hitler used gravitational principles to drop bombs.

Yeah, Mao killed millions. The US has killed more non-citizens than any other state since WWII. Governments do awful things. I think science can say a lot about why these things happen. That's not the same as advocating that they do happen.

Dave Armstrong said...

I pretty much agree. We were talking past each other, then, because I was referring primarily to the "ought" aspects of morality. That is the essence of it: not sociological (or scientic analysis.

Human Ape said...

Theistic evolution does not have this dilemma because it is not so shortsighted as to exclude God from all consideration.

Please don't pollute my favorite branch of science, evolutionary biology, with the disgusting adjective "theistic". There's nothing theistic about any branch of science, and you insult the world's biologists when you use that worthless word only for biology.

In my blog I explain why theistic evolution is bull****.

You also wrote "That is morality: put into us by God."

Wow, that's disgusting. Can you describe your god fairy's magic wand?

Your master of the universe gives a crap about some human apes on an insignificant planet in the middle of nowhere?

When you make childish ridiculous claims that couldn't possibly have any evidence, you should expect to be laughed at and ridiculed because that's what you deserve.

Here's a quote you need to read and understand:

Religion is the antithesis of science, an anesthetic for the mind that disables critical thought and encourages the acceptance of inanity as fact, and wishful thinking as evidence. -- PZ Myers

Dave Armstrong said...

Then you'll enjoy my next massive research project: showing the profound and indispensable influence of Christianity on the founding and development of modern science.

You sit and insult and make a fool of yourself while I document from history. We'll see who has more impact.

The Celtic Chimp said...

Folks have a sex drive. That is explained just as easily by a Christian worldview than by a materialistic view where men are literally simply a higher-developed animal. Theistic evolution does not have this dilemma because it is not so shortsighted as to exclude God from all consideration.

From a Christian worldview perspective (which insidentally, equates the results of sex drive; i.e. thoughts about having sex to a sin) why do men have a much more profound sex drive than women.
Incidentally, the disparity in sexual drive in the sexes is entirely compatable with an evolutionary worldview. How does it fit in a Christian one?

Dave Armstrong said...

From a Christian worldview perspective (which insidentally, equates the results of sex drive; i.e. thoughts about having sex to a sin)

Not exactly. Having a drive or desiring sex is not a sin. The sin comes in lustfulness, which is a desire to control another person as a mere object for one's own pleasure.

why do men have a much more profound sex drive than women.

Biologically, it is the production of semen.

Incidentally, the disparity in sexual drive in the sexes is entirely compatable with an evolutionary worldview. How does it fit in a Christian one?

No problem. There has to be a drive to foster reproduction. If men's drive is higher (which is true as a generality, I think, though we should say "younger men"), then it would make sense to have one of the sexes take a more realistic and holistic view of the whole thing, and this is true, I think, of women, generally speaking. They place sex far more within the parameters of love and romance and commitment and more in its proper balance than men do.

To me that makes perfect sense under a theistic worldview, and poses not the slightest problem to such a view.

It's largely what creates stable families. It is the sexual revolution with its selfish "me" orientation that caters to the baser instincts of men: to use women for sexual satisfaction without committing to them as whole human beings.

Finsals said...

Excuse me, Dave. I am new to your blog. And I am learning a lot from you.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am an atheist/deist (depending on the day) who is experiencing with Christian prayer and, therefore, trying to go back to the Christian faith. My interest is to reconcile this faith with other knowledge (science, etc) to have an only unified and coherent worldview. I was raised as a Catholic so your blog is very interesting to me.

In the spirit of disclosure, English is not my first language, as you will see based on my tortured grammar, LOL.

I don't think you have answered the question asked by the Celtic Chimp (TCC). I don't think TCC does not believe that human sexuality does not fit with the Christian worldview (where "fits" means "is compatible with").

I think TCC is arguing (not very clearly, I admit) that evolutionary psychology explains the reason of certain behaviors that have been observed: men are more promiscuous than women, men select partners according to beauty and women select partners according to status, etc. These behaviors are explained in a straightforward and elegant manner by using evolution.

IMHO, TCC asks if the Christian worldview can explain these things the same way or these behaviors are not explained but given as axioms (as in "God created them this way").

This is my understanding of the TCC question. But even if TCC did not mean that and I am wrong, I would love to know your answer to what I have just said. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to argue (I know that you love intellectual arguments). I am only a learner.

IMHO, theistic evolution would solve that. But evolutionary psychology brings its own challenges. If, as you say, science is the domain of matter and religion is the domain of the spirit, evolutionary psychology explains human behavior (spirit) based on evolution (matter).

This is why an evangelical book I am reading now (http://www.amazon.com/Total-Truth-Liberating-Christianity-Captivity/dp/1581344589) says that the only way to have a coherent Christian worldview is to believe in intelligent design. Once evolution is accepted, evolutionary psychology follows and Christian morality is banned from the public realm because of being "unscientific". So adultery becomes perfectly normal (for example, the promiscuous Clinton is only an alpha male acting on instincts that have been wiring on him by evolution).

I agree with this analysis. But, on the other hand, it seems very difficult to me to agree with intelligent design in biology. I am convinced that the cosmological order implies a creator. But, when it comes to biology, it is very difficult to do away with evolution, because it explains so many things.

So, after having boring you to death with my long rambling, I would like to know what do you think about these things. What do you think about evolutionary psychology and intelligent design.

It would be enough for you to send me links to previous writings of yours that deal with these issues. I have tried to look for such writings in your blog, but there is so much stuff there that it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Well, thank in advance for your attention.

Maroun said...

Finsals said :This is why an evangelical book I am reading now (http://www.amazon.com/Total-Truth-Liberating-Christianity-Captivity/dp/1581344589) says that the only way to have a coherent Christian worldview is to believe in intelligent design. Once evolution is accepted, evolutionary psychology follows and Christian morality is banned from the public realm because of being "unscientific". So adultery becomes perfectly normal (for example, the promiscuous Clinton is only an alpha male acting on instincts that have been wiring on him by evolution).
So Finsals,where is sin?where is right and wrong?where is obedience to God or disobedience?where is the will of God and the opposing will of the devil?
Relativism destroys everything we believe in my friend.Now i personaly prefer to believe Jesus who is the truth and never lies , instead of mere private opinions.
So to answer your question (and i am sure that David will answer 100 times better) sin was never,is never and never will be normal.
GBU , EVEN IF U R AN ATHEIST

Jordanes551 said...

But, on the other hand, it seems very difficult to me to agree with intelligent design in biology. I am convinced that the cosmological order implies a creator. But, when it comes to biology, it is very difficult to do away with evolution, because it explains so many things.

There is no necessary conflict between Intelligent Design theory and evolution. Michael Behe, one of the prime exponents of ID theory, is an evolutionist who accepts the common biological origin of all species.

The compatibility of ID with evolution is often obscured or suppressed by 1) evolutionists, who deceitfully misname it "intelligent design creationism" in the hopes of keeping people from seriously studying ID, and by 2) creationists who have the idea that ID and evolution are mutually exclusive (a little like the spurious Science vs. Religion and Faith vs. Reason false dichotomies that rationalists, materialists, and fideists labor under).

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Finsals,

Thanks for your cordial, articulate question.

I think Jordanes hit upon the key point: theistic evolution is completely compatible with both intelligent design and the Catholic faith. So if one of your concerns is that evolution was somehow ruled out, that isn't my argument, and would have to be taken up with creationists.

I am actually an agnostic on the creation-evolution issue, but I know what is allowable within the parameters of Catholic doctrine.

I also deny that social Darwinism is able to fully explain human behavior, per the article this combox is under.

Sexual behavior is explained perfectly well, I think, by biology and human propensity to sin. Sexual drive is siomply the urge to reproduce. We have to have that in order to perpetuate the species. That holds true in a strictly secular evolutionist view or in a Christian worldview (that can incorporate theistic evolution).

Why are men often sexual predators? The Christian would argue that every good thing that God gives can be corrupted by human sin; the world, the flesh, and the devil. So a healthy sexual drive becomes corrupted into lust and desire for mere conquest and control. Women's natural feminine charms can degenerate into manipulative game-playing. Every good thing can be corrupted.

That is the nature of evil. It's a slap in God's face and putting ourselves totally in control, for selfish, self-centered reasons. These tendencies explain virtually all of the sexual behavior we see, in my opinion. We don't need to appeal to abstract evolutionary instincts or what not. Human beings are rational creatures, with wills, who can control their own destinies, not mere animals driven along by forces beyond their control.

That gets into issues of the soul and being made in the image of God.

It's a huge discussion, but those are a few of my thoughts, anyway.

Vicent said...

Thank you, Dave and the other people for your answers. I am only a learner and I have a lot to learn. I am reading your comments and reflecting on them.

Last Tuesday, I was submitted to a medical surgery, which has ended up well, thank God. I am at home, again, right from the hospital.

I cannot write too much right now, but I thank you your interest and your answer to my questions.

Dave Armstrong said...

Glad to hear your surgery went well. God bless you!