Hitler and evolution
| The divine comedy|
By associating a universally-reviled figure with the idea of evolution, people who harness the argument seek to discredit the theory of evolution as invalid or a dangerous idea.
The above also functions as a prime example of Godwin's Law.
- 1 A quick summary
- 2 Hitler on natural selection
- 3 On human evolution
- 4 On interbreeding
- 5 On higher and lower orders
- 6 On intelligent design
- 7 Precursors and contemporaries: Some views about Darwin
- 8 And remember "micro"evolution?
- 9 Conclusions
- 10 See also
- 11 External links
- 12 References
- 13 References
A quick summary
An imagined connection between evolutionary theory and the Holocaust relies on the fact that Hitler's conception of national struggle and supremacy was rooted in a type of social Darwinism, an obsolete political theory that holds that the concept of "survival of the fittest" applies to nations, races, or ethnicities. Social Darwinism was derived from a misapplication of scientific thinking, has no real basis in the biological theory of evolution, and was not an idea advanced by Charles Darwin, whom Hitler never mentioned in any of his surviving speeches or writings.
Even if Hitler believed that evolutionary theory justified his destructive and oppressive vision, this does not undermine the theory's basis; what people do with an idea has no bearing on the scientific validity of that idea. Using Hitler's supposed belief in evolution as an argument against evolutionary science is an example of the logical fallacy of an argument from adverse consequences, suggesting that we should not accept the theory of evolution because it could lead to the kind of racist views perpetuated by Hitler. It is also an example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, implying that because Darwin's theory came into being before Hitler's racism, that the former necessarily caused the latter. Even if there were connections between the theory of evolution, social Darwinism and the Holocaust, this does not imply that evolution is a dangerous theory, only that Hitler perverted the theory to justify his beliefs and actions.
By way of contrast, Hitler admired Robert Koch, an important figure in the discovery of the germ theory of disease, and Hitler compared his campaigns against the Jews and other "undesirables" to a type of social or national disinfection. But this is completely irrelevant to the universal medical/scientific acceptance of germ theory.
However, it seems that there is at least some evidence to suggest that, far from embracing Darwin's work and social Darwinism, the Nazis tried to ban them. The 1935 edition of the official Nazi journal for lending libraries, Die Bücherei, contains a list of banned books. One of the entries in this edition of Die Bücherei is "Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Häckel)".
Hitler on natural selection
In Mein Kampf (1924-25), Hitler expressed his views on the natural world, largely as an analogy and justification for his racialist views on human society (yes, you have to go into this). It is clear that he saw "struggle" for survival, and natural selection based on this struggle, as crucial to the lives of animals, as outlined these excerpts:
“”Whatever survives these hardships of existence has been tested and tried a thousandfold, hardened and renders fit to continue the process of procreation; so that the same thorough selection will begin all over again. By thus dealing brutally with the individual and recalling him the very moment he shows that he is not fitted for the trials of life, Nature preserves the strength of the race and the species and raises it to the highest degree of efficiency.
“”By leaving the process of procreation unchecked and by submitting the individual to the hardest preparatory tests in life, Nature selects the best from an abundance of single elements and stamps them as fit to live and carry on the conservation of the species.
However, this view of "natural selection" as applied to society has little to do with biological evolution; it has more in common with social Darwinism, an idea originated by Herbert Spencer. Linking social Darwinism with Darwinian evolution simply because the names are similar is just as absurd as linking the Christian Identity movement to Christianity because they both contain the word "Christian." Moreover, the term "social Darwinism" was mostly applied by outsiders, and Spencer differed from Darwin in that he took a more Lamarckian view of the evolutionary process that assigned much less importance to natural selection as a guiding factor in biological evolution.
Hitler also seems to have confused the concept of survival of the fittest with survival of the strongest. This is of course wildly inaccurate - the survival of a a species depends on its ability to adapt to its environment, not necessarily on its strength. With regards to humans, the factors that have led to our survival have been our intelligence and our ability to co-operate, rather than our physical strength or hardiness.
On human evolution
Hitler did not explicitly address the topic of human evolution from animals in Mein Kampf, but he seems to have touched on the subject in some of the dinner conversations with Nazi leaders which were later published as Table Talk. These conversations aren't universally accepted as actually having taken place, and as such any evidence for the stances of Hitler based on this work is dodgy at best. While talking about the limitations of historical records, he is recorded as having stated that "there have been human beings, in the baboon category, for at least three hundred thousand years." In justifying his own vegetarianism, he noted that "[t]he monkeys, our ancestors of prehistoric times, are strictly vegetarian." This shows at least an awareness of the concept of humanity's evolution from primates, although it is a common misconception to state that humans evolved from apes or monkeys, since these animals, like humans, are the results of divergent evolution from our common ancestors.
On another occasion, however, Hitler seems to have expressed uncertainty on the matter of human evolution.
“”Where do we acquire the right to believe that man has not always been what he is now? The study of nature teaches us that, in the animal kingdom just as much as in the vegetable kingdom, variations have occurred. They've occurred within the species, but none of these variations has an importance comparable with that which separates man from the monkey — assuming that this transformation really took place.
As a white supremacist, Hitler was vehemently opposed to racial interbreeding, and used his views on nature to argue that it was abhorrent. He wrote of an "iron law of Nature" which compels creatures to procreate only with their own kind.
“”Each animal mates only with one of its own species. The titmouse cohabits only with the titmouse, the finch with the finch, the stork with the stork, the field-mouse with the field-mouse, the house-mouse with the house-mouse, the wolf with the she-wolf, etc.
Hitler saw this "iron law" as resulting in a fixity of species and their characteristics.
“”This urge for the maintenance of the unmixed breed, which is a phenomenon that prevails throughout the whole of the natural world, results not only in the sharply defined outward distinction between one species and another but also in the internal similarity of characteristic qualities which are peculiar to each breed or species. The fox remains always a fox, the goose remains a goose, and the tiger will retain the character of a tiger. The only difference that can exist within the species must be in the various degrees of structural strength and active power, in the intelligence, efficiency, endurance, etc., with which the individual specimens are endowed.
It is certainly true that procreation between distinct animal species rarely occurs, and that when it does, the offspring is usually sterile. However, Hitler's view of fixed non-interbreeding species and an "urge for the maintenance of the unmixed breed" contradicts evolutionary theory, which suggests that the development of separate species has resulted gradually over thousands of years from animals mating with those having similar but slightly differing characteristics. His statement that "[t]he fox remains always a fox, the goose remains a goose" seems to be at odds with his other statements in support of evolution of species.
On higher and lower orders
In applying these concepts to human miscegenation, Hitler stated that:
“”If Nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such a case all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.
This demonstrates another major fallacy in Hitler's understanding of evolution. While evolutionary science emphasises that the results of evolution are the great diversity of life, with each organism adapting to its own habitat and needs, Hitler saw only progress towards a "higher stage of being," and elsewhere mentioned "the higher evolution of living organisms." His comments on animal interbreeding further demonstrate this, for he stated that:
“”the offspring will indeed be superior to the parent which stands in the biologically lower order of being, but not so high as the higher parent. For this reason it must eventually succumb in any struggle against the higher species. Such mating contradicts the will of Nature towards the selective improvements of life in general. The favourable preliminary to this improvement is not to mate individuals of higher and lower orders of being but rather to allow the complete triumph of the higher order. The stronger must dominate and not mate with the weaker, which would signify the sacrifice of its own higher nature. . . . [F]or if such a law did not direct the process of evolution then the higher development of organic life would not be conceivable at all.
Clearly, rather than viewing the separate species as creatures which have evolved in order to adapt to their surroundings, Hitler saw always a distinction between stronger and weaker species. It seems probable that he believed in a kind of hierarchy of animal superiority, much as he believed in a strict racial hierarchy among humans.
On intelligent design
“”Whoever would dare to raise a profane hand against that highest image of God among His creatures would sin against the bountiful Creator of this marvel and would collaborate in the expulsion from Paradise.
“”[I]t was by the Will of God that men were made of a certain bodily shape, were given their natures and their faculties. Whoever destroys His work wages war against God's Creation and God's Will.
“”The most marvelous proof of the superiority of Man, which puts man ahead of the animals, is the fact that he understands that there must be a Creator.
As well as mentioning God, Hitler also extensively referred to Nature as if it was a conscious being. For example:
“”Nature concentrates its greatest attention, not to the maintenance of what already exists but on the selective breeding of offspring in order to carry on the species.
Other examples can be seen in some of the other quotes on this page. It is unclear whether he was simply using "the will of Nature" as an allegory for the entirety of natural processes as he perceived them. However, his references to God, along with his belief in progress towards a higher evolutionary order, strongly suggest that he believed that evolution was guided by a purposeful entity.
This is not implying that intelligent design is flawed simply because Hitler believes in it (it's flawed for many, many other, better reasons). Rather, this is just one example undermining the assertion that Hitler believed in evolution as we normally know it.
Precursors and contemporaries: Some views about Darwin
“”A manifestly unsound system like that of Darwin ... Darwinian castles in the air ... no tenable position can be derived even from the most consistent, and, therefore, most shallow Darwinism."
“”Protocol 2: ... 3. Do not suppose for a moment that these statements are empty words: think carefully of the successes we arranged for Darwinism, Marxism, Nietzsche-ism. To us Jews, at any rate, it should be plain to see what a disintegrating importance these directives have had upon the minds of the GOYIM.
And remember "micro"evolution?
Let's suppose that there was something about evolution within "mankind" that made people think that it would be a good idea to become a Nazi. And then, let us recall that many of the creationists insist that they fully accept "micro"evolution within a "kind". Nobody is claiming that macroevolution, such as the descent of birds from dinosaurs, has any relevance at all to how we treat our fellow humans. All that the creationists, when dragging up the supposed Hitler connection, are claiming is that evolution within "mankind" is responsible. How, then, do the creationists avoid the same responsibility?
Due to his many references to evolution, Mein Kampf is often quote mined to suggest that Hitler was an adherent of Darwinian theory. Similarly, with its references to God and the guiding will of Nature, it has sometimes been quote mined by atheist websites to prove that Hitler was a creationist as well. In fact Hitler's views on nature seem to be a weird mixture of the two ideas, and he made some rather muddled statements, confusingly mixing the two concepts. For example, in regard to marriage, and avoiding miscegenated marriages, he stated that:
“”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.
Based on comments like this, Hitler seems to have believed that humanity, and especially the Aryan race, had evolved to become the likeness of God (rather than being created initially in God's image), while other races were closer to humanity's evolutionary ancestors. His comments citing apes or monkeys as the ancestors of humans imply that he believed some creatures had stopped evolving while others evolved on from them. This would account to some extent for his hierarchical conception of higher and lower orders of creatures, and for his belief that some races of humans were more evolved than others. This is, however, a blatantly false understanding of the theory of evolution as upheld by biologists of Hitler's time as well as our own.
- Hitler's religion
- Was Hitler a Darwinian?, University of Chicago
- Nazi racial ideology was religious, creationist and opposed to darwinism, by Coel Hellier
- Roger Bannister (1979). Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo-American Social Thought. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 0877225664.
- Peter J. Bowler (1988). The Non-Darwinian Revolution: Reinterpreting a Historical Myth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801836786.
- Richard J. Richards, Was Hitler a Darwinian?: Disputed Questions in the History of Evolutionary Theory, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013 (October 22), ISBN 978-0226058931. Chapter 9, "Was Hitler a Darwinian?", pages 192-242. Final sentence, "The only reasonable answer to the question that gives this chapter its title is a very loud and unequivocal No."
WARNING: Accessing these files may be contrary to local laws in some countries. Please be aware of your country's laws regarding Hitler's publications before accessing them.
- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1924-25 complete translated text.
- Hitler's Table Talk - 1941-1944, Introduced by Hugh Trevor Roper. Translated by Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens.
- Guidelines from Die Bücherei, 1935. University of Arizona (See no. 6.)
- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. 1, chapter III.
- Hitler's Table Talk - 1941-1944, edited by Hugh Trevor Roper, p. 86.
- Hitler's Table Talk, p. 231.
- Hitler's Table Talk, p. 248.
- Mein Kampf, vol. 1, chapter XI.
- Mein Kampf, vol. 2, chapter IV.
- Mein Kampf, vol. 2, chapter I.
- Mein Kampf, vol 2, chapter X.
- Hitler's Table Talk.
- Mein Kampf, vol. 1, chapter II.
- Author's Introduction, page lxxxviii; First Part, Division II, Fourth Chapter, "Scientific Confusion" volume 1, footnote beginning on page 264; Second Part, Ninth Chapter, "Historical Criterion" volume 2, pages 215-216
- Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion
- Mein Kampf, vol. 2, chapter II.