Avalos Contra Weikart: Part I: General Problems With Dr. Weikart’s Methods

Dr. Hector Avalos responds to Dr. Weikart in what follows:

One of the main goals of Intelligent Design creationists is to undermine the theory of evolution by arguing that it can have catastrophic human consequences. This, of course, involves a fallacious logical argument from consequences. Whether a theory has good or bad consequences is irrelevant to whether that theory is true.

But, this logical fallacy has not deterred Intelligent Design creationists who use it to instill fear of evolution in the public. One of the latest attempts in this fear-mongering effort is the pro-Intelligent Design propaganda film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which paints Darwinism as the main, or only, factor in the Nazi Holocaust.

In Expelled, David Berlinski, a Fellow of the Discovery Institute, the pro-Intelligent Design headquarters, makes the claim that Darwinism was “necessary” to produce the Holocaust. The movie says nothing about the long history of Christian anti-Judaism, and it tries to erase any thought that Hitler was using the Bible or religion for some of his rationales.

The film is heavily dependent on the work Dr. Richard Weikart, who wrote a book called From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (New York: Palgrave, 2004 = FDTH). Dr. Weikart, a Fellow at Discovery Institute, is a trained historian, specializing in modern German history.

Compared to Berlinski, Weikart has a more nuanced, though somewhat contradictory position. On the one hand, he vehemently rejects the idea that Darwinism was a necessary cause of the Holocaust (FDTH, p. 9). On the other hand, he ends his book with this remark:
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 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.
So, it does appear as though Weikart also is saying that Darwinism was “necessary” in some ways, and not just a factor. As we shall see, his idea that Nazi leaders needed “scientific underpinnings” to convince masses of Germans to participate in the Holocaust is itself a most questionable claim. Moreover, his own words even have caused other supporters of his thesis to misunderstand him—see here.

On May 19, 2008, I and Dr. Weikart participated in a one-on-one debate, broadcast on WHO-Radio in Des Moines, Iowa, on the question: “Was Darwinism MORE important than Christian anti-Judaism in explaining Nazi ideology.”

He had earlier rejected a proposal to debate the question: “Is Darwinism necessary to explain the Nazi Holocaust?” That question would have been more compatible with the message of Expelled, as expressed by the voice of Dr. Berlinski. But, alas, the Discovery Institute must have realized that this was an indefensible position.

Since Dr. Weikart agreed to show that Darwinism was more important than Christian anti-Judaism in explaining Nazi ideology, he could not rest content with just showing that Darwinism had influence. He had to erase 1900 years of Christian anti-Judaism in order to put the main blame on Darwinism. But he did try. So, here is the first of a two-part critique of his position organized as follows:

Part I, provided here, addresses the general problems with Dr. Weikart’s method.

Part II, to be posted in about a week, will address the seven specific reasons Weikart provides for concluding that Darwinism was more important than Christian anti-Judaism in explaining Nazi ideology.

Dr. Weikart’s reasons, and other comments on our debate, are provided at Evolution News and Views.

FLAW 1: ARBITRARY DEFINITIONS

A. DARWINISM

Dr. Weikart begins with a very restrictive definition of “Darwinism,” which he had to amend repeatedly to make his point. This is how he defined Darwinism on p. 9 of FDTH.
When I use the term Darwinism in this study, I mean the theory of evolution through natural selection as advanced by Darwin in The Origin of Species.
I never understood why he restricted his definition to just The Origin of Species (1859), especially as that book says really nothing about human evolution or racial struggle.

Consequently, Dr. Weikart has to keep redefining “Darwinism” to include other works of Darwin. This flaw is all the more important because he has criticized other recognized historians for not adhering to their definitions. Thus, in a review of a book (Materialismus: Enstehung und Wirkung in den Wissenschaften des 19. Jahrhunderts, 1998) by Annette Wittkau-Horgby, Dr. Weikart remarks, “Wittkau-Horgby thus does not adhere to the definition of materialism she starts with...” (German Studies Review 24 [2001]:610).

To avoid constantly moving the definitional goal post for Darwinism, Weikart could have defined Darwinism more broadly, and said “...as advanced by Darwin in his works.” Since misinterpretations of Darwin still count as “Darwinism,” then he actually should say: “...as advanced by Darwin in his books and in various interpretations of his work, whether those interpretations are right or wrong.”

His willingness to count misrepresentations of Darwin as Darwinism, however, is not consistently applied when it comes to other writings that the Nazis misrepresented. Thus, when one shows that the Bible was used by the Nazis, then Weikart might say that this does not count as biblical influence since it is a misrepresentation or a permutation of the Bible. For example, in his review of Richard Steigmann-Gall’s The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity (German Studies Review 21:1 [2004] 175), he remarks:
Many German pantheists used religious—even Christian--terminology, but they often redefined it.
So, when Nazi writers use pantheistic terminology, then they are pantheists, but when they use Christian terminology, then they are not really Christians,but pantheists.

In Weikart’s logic, redefining Christian terms absolves writers from being called Christian, but redefining Darwin will still brand you a Darwinist. Surely, this inconsistency is tendentious and serves to deflect responsibility from Christian thought and theology.

But the problems with definitions do not end there. Dr. Weikart’s entire programme is based on a dichotomy between belief in evolution and belief in a creator. In this dichotomy, evolution = godless and morally relative materialism that devalues life, while belief in a creator = a belief in ethical absolutes and a higher value on human life.

To make this dichotomy work, he uses overgeneralized definitions of “the Judeo-Christian” tradition, and “Darwinism” as opposites. This certainly does not work if he defines Darwinism as he initially does (i.e., only as advanced in The Origin of Species). Weikart’s approach also overlooks the diversity of “Judeo-Christianity,” which can manifest opposing positions on almost everything from the “sanctity of life” to eugenics.

B. CREATIONISM

I have called Hitler a creationist because of a number of statements he made in Mein Kampf (Ralph Manheim, translator; [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971], p. 562), where he explicitly acknowledges a creator. For example,
For God’s will gave men their form, their essence and their abilities. Anyone who destroys His work is declaring war on the Lord’s creation, the divine will.
So, my definition of “creationism” formed another of Dr. Weikart’s main complaints about that debate. As he phrases it:
Does Avalos really not understand the distinction between theistic evolutionism and creationism? Does he really not understand that Collins and other theistic evolutionists are not considered creationists by most people’s definition of the term? Does Avalos think he can just make up his own definitions during a debate?
Curiously, Expelled does not highlight theistic evolutionists, and so it gives the misleading impression that there are only two camps: Intelligent Design advocates and Atheist Darwinists.

Weikart apparently cannot stomach the fact that Hitler was a creationist because this would completely undermine his thesis that belief in a creator is superior to belief in atheistic evolution in terms of its ethical consequences and the valuation of human life.

From the very start, the “Intelligent Design” movement has tried to redefine creationism, and mostly for legal reasons. The connection between Creationism and Intelligent Design is explicitly denied by, among others, John G. West (“Intelligent Design and Creationism Just Aren’t the Same”) on the Discovery Institute website.

But, creationism is just how ID was defined by Judge John E. Jones in his now famous Dover decision (2005), which signaled a major defeat for Intelligent Design. Thus, it is no surprise that Weikart attempts to deny that Hitler was a creationist as well.

For Weikart and many other ID proponents, “creationism” means the belief in creation as advanced in the Bible. And this is where his Ph.D. in German history is not as helpful because this issue requires expertise in religious studies and theology, which are part of my training.

In addition, I have experience in the lexicography of religious and biblical terms, and you can find my entries in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, among other reference works. I know that words have histories, and can change in meaning. “Creationism” may commonly refer only to biblical creationism, but it need not be the only acceptable or even the best usage.

Scholars and scientists argue for new definitions all of the time. That is why you find dozens of books with titles such as Redefining Christianity: Understanding the Purpose Driven Life Movement (2006) by Bob DeWaay or Redefining Southern Culture: Mind and Identity in the Modern South (1999) by James C. Cobb. In arguing for any particular definition as superior, the main criteria are applicability and consistency.

In any case, Dr. Weikart seems blissfully unaware that “creationism” has a long history in theological literature. One of the earliest usages of “creationism” was to mark a distinction between those who believed that persons had their soul individually created and those who believed in traducianism, which holds that souls were transferred from parent to child. This fact is already provided by The Oxford English Dictionary.

If one looks at the Lutheran Cyclopedia (Erwin Lueker, ed., [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1975] p. 210), it bears only one definition under the term “creationism” and this is “the theory that every human soul is created by a special divine act. This view is rejected by traducianism.” So, as late as 1975, some religious scholars still did not use that term for the opposite of evolutionary theory.

If one consults The Oxford English Dictionary, one learns that the most general definition for “creationism” is “[a] system or theory of creation.” Theistic evolution would fit that, since its theory holds that the creator used evolution as an instrument.

When Darwin’s theory first became widely debated, evolutionism was contrasted with “special creationism” or “direct creationism” just as often, or even more often, than with “creationism” alone. One can see this contrast in the work of Asa Gray (1810-1888) the influential Harvard botanist and author of Science and Religion: Two Lectures Delivered at the Theological School of Yale (New York: Charles Scribener’s Sons, 1880).

Gray understood the contrast was between mediate creationism (e.g., Darwinism) and immediate or direct creationism (p. 68). Direct or special creationism holds that each “kind” or “species” was created directly by God, at least in the very first generation. Mediate creationism holds that God could use instruments like evolution to accomplish his purposes.

Gray thought that Darwinism could adopt theistic or atheistic forms. It did make God unnecessary for most of the world’s history because, once God established the laws, he just let the universe run and let it create things on its own (i.e., deism). According to Gray (Two Lectures, p. 78), “Darwin postulates one creative act and a probability of more and so is in principle at one with Wallace and with Dana who insist on more.”

For Gray, there is not a great difference between theistic evolution and Darwinism, and he remarks “So the difference between pure Darwinism and the more theistically expressed evolution is not so great as it seemed” (pp. 80-81). And then, Gray argues for the proper contrast (p. 89):
It must be reasonably clear to all who have taken pains to understand the matter that the true issue as regards design is not between Darwinism and direct Creationism, but between design and fortuity, between any intention or intellectual cause and no intention nor predictable first cause.
So, for Gray, Darwinism best contrasts here with “direct creationism,” not creationism per se, because Darwinism could be seen as a form of “mediate creationism.”

The idea that “creationists” should apply only to those that promote a biblical view of creation certainly fails historically and theologically. Historically, there are plenty of theologians who have thought that evolution was perfectly compatible with, and deducible from, scripture. Thus, the famous Baptist theologian, Augustus Hopkins Strong, states in his Systematic Theology (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1907] p. 466):
Evolution does not make the idea of a Creator superfluous, because evolution is only the method of God. It is perfectly consistent with a Scriptural doctrine of Creation...
And then there were also continual creationists such as Martin Luther (Lectures on Genesis 1-5 in Luther’s Works, Volume 1, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan [St. Louis, Mo: Concordia Publishing House, 1958], p. 54), who believed that ponds were creating new fish all the time because “the water is commanded to bring forth fish” (Genesis 1:20). We could add Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists to the types of Creationism we have seen over the last hundred years or so.

Given the diversity of “creationist” thought, I do argue that we should classify all those who believe in a creator as “creationists.” Then, we can divide “creationism” into the different types of creationists that exist, and these would include Intelligent Design creationists, theistic evolutionists, and Young Earth Creationists.

Indeed, there is no logical reason why theistic evolution cannot also be defined as “evolutionist creationism.” This is especially the case because modern biblical scholarship has largely overturned the idea that “creation” in Genesis 1:1-3 means “creation out of nothing” (creatio ex nihilo). The biblical god(s) (Elohim) can use instruments and materials already present to form the world. Thus, using evolution is no less “creative” than Yahweh/Elohim using clay or water to form other entities.

Perhaps some writers avoid a term such as “evolutionary creationism” for political reasons, and not because of any sort of semantic logical problem. Seeing all who believe in a creator as creationists also makes sense from an atheistic viewpoint. If there be such a thing as the New Atheism, it would hold even theistic evolution as partially a faith-based claim.

Although I usually do not bestow much authority upon Wikipedia, its article on “creationism” also includes “theistic evolution” under “major creationist views.” (last
accessed on May 22, 2008).

More importantly, an anthology of Christian views on this issue (J. P. Moreland and John M. Reynolds, eds., Three Views on Creation and Evolution: Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth (Progressive Creationism), and Theistic Evolution [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999) contains a plea by Howard J. Van Till that his view (Theistic evolution) be known as “the fully gifted creation perspective” (p. 161). Thus, Van Till also sees theistic evolution as a creation position, or at least he did before he moved further away from his Calvinist roots. He actually complains that the editors of the book changed his preferred definition (p. 161, author’s note).

Dr. Weikart’s objection to my use of “creationism” is puzzling, given the wide latitude he gives himself in defining “Darwinism.” As mentioned, first he told us that “Darwinism” is that position advanced in only one book, The Origin of Species, but yet he also uses other works by Darwin.

Worse yet, soon it becomes clear that even what he calls “permutations” of Darwin’s theory count as “Darwinism.” So, even if Darwin never espoused eugenics or exterminating groups of Jews, eugenics and extermination of human beings is part of Darwinism for Weikart.

On the other hand, my definition of “creationism” is applicable and consistent (the definition applies to everyone who believes in a creator).

C. HöHERENTWICKUNG AND DARWINSM

Dr. Weikart tells us that terminology is also important in deciphering whether an idea comes from Darwin or not. According to one blog post on The ID Report , he states:
Just this morning I was reading an SS booklet entitled _Rassenpolitik_ (Racial Policy), which is overtly Darwinian. It overtly discusses the struggle for existence, natural selection, and it even discusses mutations as the source of variation. It also uses the term Hoeherentwicklung (higher evolution) constantly.
He suggests that “Höherentwicklung” is a sure sign of Darwinism. In fact, he seemingly wants to translate all occurrences of “Entwicklung” in Mein Kampf as “evolution” in opposition to Ralph Manheim, whose standard English edition often has “development” instead.

It is true that “Entwicklung” is used to describe evolution in German, even though the German word “Evolution” is also found. However, it would be misleading to say that “Höherentwicklung” is necessarily Darwinian. In fact, this very phrase has been used to describe the work of an earlier Germanocentric philosopher named Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), who wrote a work called Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (“Ideas for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind,” 1787-1791). This work is described as follows:
“...in denen er seine Vorstellung von einem Prozeß der stufenweisen Höherentwicklung der Menschheit darlegt...”
My translation:
...in which he [Herder] outlines his introduction to the stepwise process of the higher development of mankind.
Source.

Herder has been directly linked to Nazi policies. Thus, the prominent philosopher of history, R. G. Collingwood (The Idea of History [New York: Oxford, 1946], p. 92 ) said: “Once Herder’s theory of race is accepted, there is no escaping the Nazi marriage laws.”

Indeed, Weikart continually misses the fact that progress and the development of higher or better human beings is a very Christian notion. Observe how Thomas Boston (1676-1732), the Scottish Presbyterian theologian, describes the doctrine of regeneration (“The Nature of Regeneration,” in R.A. Torrey, et al., eds. The Fundamentals [Reprint: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998] Volume 3, p. 132; see also 2 Corinthians 5:17):
But in regeneration, nature itself is changed, and we become partakers of the Divine nature...Everything that generates, generates its like; the child bears the image of the parent; and they that are born of God bear God’s image. Man aspiring to be as God, made himself like the devil. In his natural state he resembles the devil, as a child doth his father. “Ye are of your father the devil” (John 8:44).
Boston wanted what Hitler wanted, but the methods differed. Boston believed in solely supernatural means, while Hitler thought God was commanding him to use technological means. But the goal of forming a better man, and seeing some men as corrupt children of the devil (the very phrase used by Jesus to describe the Jews and posted on Nazi road signs) have similarities that should not be overlooked. Eventually, Christians did use violence when they thought Jews were not converting and becoming the new creatures Christians wanted them to be.

FLAW 2: JUDGING SIMILARITIES

Although Weikart acknowledged that Luther’s anti-Judaism was contemptible, he denies that Luther’s seven-point plan is similar to that of Nazi policy. In order to understand this point, let’s quickly summarize Luther’s seven-point plan, which is found in Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies (translated by Martin H. Bertram in Luther’s Works: The Christian in Society IV, edited by Franklin Sherman [55 volumes; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971], pp. 268-272):
First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, blaspheming of his son and of his Christians....

Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed...

Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.

Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb...

Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews.

Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasures of silver and gold be taken from them for safekeeping...

Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen. 3 [:19]).
Every single point in Luther’s plan was implemented by Nazi policy. For example, during Kristallnacht, the horrific anti-Jewish rampage of 1938, Jewish synagogues, businesses and homes were burned or ransacked, just as Luther’s first and second points direct. Moreover, whether by coincidence or not, Kristallnacht spanned Luther’s birthday on November 10. Hitler said he was doing the work of the Lord, and Luther said he was motivated by Christ.

Jewish literature was burned by the Nazis just as is stated in Luther’s third point. Rabbis were certainly forbidden to teach, as directed by Luther’s fourth point. The arrests and shipment of Jews to concentration camps certainly would be consistent with Luther’s fifth point.

Jewish property, including works of art, was confiscated by the Nazis, thus paralleling Luther’s sixth point. Luther’s seventh point had a correspondence in Nazi labor camps, with their infamous “Arbeit macht frei” (“work liberates”) slogan. So, if every single one of Luther’s directives was carried out by the Nazi plan how are these two plans not similar?

In fact, Weikart disagrees even with a Lutheran Luther scholar. Consider what the editorial note by Franklin Sherman (or perhaps it should be attributed to the translator, Martin H. Bertram—my apologies for misspelling his name in previous citations of his work), states:
It is impossible to publish Luther's treatise today, however, without noting how similar his proposals were to the actions of the Nationalist Socialist regime in Germany in the 1930's and 1940's.
And when one looks at how Hitler viewed Luther and Darwin, there is a great distinction. In Mein Kampf (Manheim edition, p. 213), Hitler said:
Beside Frederick the Great stands Martin Luther as well as Richard Wagner.
In contrast, and even by Dr. Weikart’s admission, Hitler never mentioned Darwin by name in his works. This means that, for Hitler, Luther was important enough to mention as a hero, while Darwin was not even important enough to mention at all. This alone is evidence that, for Hitler, Luther was more important than Darwin.

So, why does Weikart insist that there is a difference between the plans of Luther and the Nazis, when even Luther scholars see the similarities? First, Weikart probably knows that his ambiguous and constantly redefined “Darwinism” cannot even compare with the specific directives found in Luther’s plan. Nothing in The Origin of Species directs anyone to mistreat Jews in any manner.

But Dr. Weikart does attempt to paint some differences. One of them is that Luther’s plan was religious, while Hitler’s was not. But this is not true at all. Hitler said that he thought he was doing the will of God (Mein Kampf, p. 65; Manheim edition).
Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator; by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.
As mentioned, this parallels Luther’s statement, immediately after the first point of his plan, which said that the directive was to be carried out in honor of Christ.

Weikart also says that Luther wanted to convert Jews and Hitler did not. Yet, this is not really a crucial difference nor an accurate one. Not insisting on conversions certainly would not make Hitler’s plan less religious; it would just mean that his religious reasons were different. Some Luther scholars, in fact, theorize that it is precisely because Luther had given up the idea that the Jews could be converted that he proposed his plan (see Sherman, ed., Luther’s Works, The Christian in Society IV, p. 125). Throughout Christian history, it was precisely when Jews were seen as too stubborn to ever see the truth that violence was used against them.

Weikart also believes that Hitler’s plan was different because Jews had been racialized by the late nineteenth century. That is to say, it was no longer the religion of the Jews that was important in anti-Judaism, but their race.

This, too, is false. By the sixteenth century, there were statutes oncerning “blood purity” (limpieza de sangre” in Spain that had an exact verbal correspondence to Hitler’s “Reinhaltung des Blutes” [“cleansing/ purity of blood”]). Indeed, the materialization of Jewish blood had begun long ago, as it was already a biblical notion. For example, Ezra 9:2 (RSV) prohibits mixing of “holy seed” with other nations because of moral contamination.

Yet another difference, claims Weikart, is that Jews were seen as flawed in moral character by Hitler, and that is something that reflects Darwinian influence rather than Christian anti-Judaism. As he phrases it, “[t]he evolution of moral traits – Hitler believed that Jews had evolved bad moral traits, while Aryans had evolved good moral traits.”

Yet, the fact that genealogy and moral character could be linked is already found in the Bible. It is no surprise, for example, that “lying” is a continuous moral flaw ascribed to Jews from the New Testament onward. Here are some examples which show how often the German word Lüge (lies) reappears:

A. John 8:44 (RSV): “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Luther’s German translation has Lüge for “lies” in John 8:44.

This passage was posted on Nazi road signs, something that shows how the Bible, rather than Darwin’s books, were used to influence public opinion.

B. Luther’s tract, “On the Jews and their Lies”/German:

Von den Jüden und ihren Lügen.

C. Hitler: “Mein Kampf gegen Lüge...”

Yes, most people do not realize that the original title of Mein Kampf was longer and included “lies” as in “My Struggle against Lies...” One only has to read a few pages to see that Hitler thought Jews had perpetrated one of the biggest lies of all.

Given that lying is ascribed to Jews from the New Testament to Mein Kampf, one need not invoke Darwinism to explain why Jews were thought to have this particular moral flaw. Darwin’s Origin of Species certainly says nothing about this stereotype of Jews.

Here is a chart to help Dr. Weikart understand my point (Click to enlarge):












FLAW 3: USING DISPUTED HISTORICAL SOURCES AND TERMS

In his comments about our debate on Evolution News and Views, Dr. Weikart says:
I will leave it to listeners to decide who won the debate, but I left the debate doubting that Avalos knows much about German history, which was the major field of my Ph.D.
I do acknowledge Dr. Weikart’s credentials in modern German history. My objection has been to his dismissal of pre-modern history of Christian anti-Judaism. I have conducted research in Berlin and Wittenberg, and I am no stranger to the use of German sources and archives.

More importantly, I object to him not telling readers about the problems in the sources he uses to document Hitler’s thoughts. One example of the latter is his use of Hitler’s Table Talk, which supposedly bears a record of Hitler’s private conversations.

Four major versions of Table Talk exist (Carrier, “Troubling Finds,” p. 563; see below), here named after the main editors or translators: Henry Picker (German, 1951, 1963, 1976), François Genoud (French translation only, 1952), H. R. Trevor-Roper (English, 1953, 1973, 2000), and Werner Jochmann (German, 1980). These are usually organized internally by the date in which Hitler held a conversation.

The problems with Table Talk have been studied by Richard Carrier (“Hitler’s Table Talk: Troubling Finds”) in German Studies Review (26/3 [2003]: 561-576), a respected periodical for which Dr. Weikart has written numerous times. First, let me mention three problems with this source that trouble me:
1) There are no extant manuscripts from Hitler’s own hand of this source. What we have are reputed copies which often have been filtered through Martin Bormann, Hitler’s adjutant and a known anti-Catholic ideologue. The fact that versions agree sufficiently to propose a common source does not really prove that this common source was Hitler himself, and more evidence is needed to decide if this is the case or not.
2) The versions are sometimes discrepant. Some passages are missing from the edition of Trevor-Roper relative to the edition of Picker. So it is difficult to tell what comes from Hitler and what comes from the editors.
3) Trevor-Roper authenticated the Hitler Diaries, despite the fact that they later proved to be forgeries. Genoud is also a questionable character who may have been involved in forgery.
But even if we suppose that any versions of Table Talk offer accurate representations of Hitler’s thoughts, one can find passages in the work to refute many of Dr. Weikart’s claims. For example, in his list of Darwinist influences on Nazi ideology, Weikart includes this one ("Darwin and the Nazis", American Spectator, April 16, 2008:
Darwin argued that humans were not qualitatively different from animals. The leading Darwinist in Germany, Ernst Haeckel, attacked the “anthropocentric” view that humans are unique and special.
Yet, in Picker’s German edition (p. 114) of Table Talk, we find this statement (February 27, 1942):
Das, was der Mensch vor dem Tier voraushat, der vielleicht wunderbarste Beweis für die Überlegenheit des Menschen ist, dass er begriffen hat, dass es eine Schöpferkraft geben muss!
My translation:
The advantage mankind has over the beast, perhaps the most wonderful evidence of the superiority of mankind, is that he has understood that there must exist a creative power.
This sentence is omitted by the Trevor-Roper English edition.

Yet, Hitler’s view on the privileged position of human understanding actually sounds a lot like what is said by Intelligent Design proponents such as Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, author of The Privileged Planet (2004). Dr. Gonzalez believes that the human ability to observe and understand the universe, as the product of a designer, is one of humanity’s greatest gifts.

SUMMARY

Dr. Weikart’s entire method is fundamentally flawed. Its main flaw is holding to arbitrary and inconsistent definitions of Darwinism. If permutations or misinterpretations of Darwin’s books count as “Darwinism,” then permutations and misinterpretations of the Bible or Christianity should count as biblical and Christian influence in Nazi ideology. If we are consistent in this manner, then there is no question that Christian anti-Judaism and the Bible influenced Nazi ideologues and everyday Germans to carry out the Holocaust much more than Darwin’s books or ideas.

Dr. Weikart may be an expert in modern German history, but he is quite ill-read in theological and Christian literature and history. He does not seem to even realize the diversity of the use of “creationism” among theistic evolutionists, past or present. His claims about “Höherentwicklung” show very little research into the German lexicography of that word. The general concept of creating a higher being certainly predates Darwinism.

Much of what he believes to be inspired by Darwin actually turns out to be held by self-described Christians, even if it is also Darwinist. Indeed, Dr. Weikart seemingly cannot even envision that Pseudoscientific versions of Darwinism and racialized versions of Christianity were not opposed to each other, but walked hand in hand, in Nazi Germany.

More importantly, an unfamiliarity with the longer and broader history of Christianity, biblical exegesis, and theology often leads Dr. Weikart to think that concepts such as eugenics and the struggle between the races are new or non-Christian, when they are old and/or part of biblical and Christian traditions. This will be the subject of my critique in Part II.

10 comments:

eheffa said...

Thank you Dr. Avalos,

I found your debate & subsequent posting to be of great interest. (BTW, Why did Dr. Weikart insist on calling you Mr. Avalos...?)

I am no history scholar but have had some interest and read a fair bit of the history of the Third Reich.

I can't help thinking that although you are correct in pointing out how anti-semitism in Germany had very deep roots extending back long before Luther. Luther articulated his hatred for the Jewish people very clearly & without equivocation. As you so eloquently pointed out, Hitler's subsequent pogroms & systematic genocidal death camps would surely have pleased Luther in that they are remarkably close to what Luther advocated. Without this pre-existing anti-semitic mindset, how would anyone conclude that Darwinism would support the idea of genocide against the Jewish people?

Nevertheless, I do think that the ideas of "natural selection", the "Survival of the Fittest", the theory of eugenics and many other ideas which can be rightly or wrongly derived or inspired from Darwin's writings, were enthusiastically promoted by the Nazis, because they had the apparent endorsement of progressive scientific thought. As to whether these ideas of eugenics etc were correct derivatives or understandings of "Darwinism" is perhaps a little irrelevant as the Nazis of the day did seem to believe that these were valid scientific ideas that endorsed & strengthened their pre-existing prejudices against the "degenerate" people groups they wished to exterminate. The ideas of evolutionary natural selection only bolstered their case by giving it a veneer of scientific respectability.

It seems to me that these ID guys have a point then in arguing that "Darwinism" in the loose sense of the term, was used by the Nazis to justify their atrocities. You are correct however, in pointing out that the real fervor or passion of their hatred was fuelled by their long-standing religious / cultural traditions of anti-semitism. Hitler led his people in a direction they were already willing or predisposed to go - not because of scientific understandings but because of long-standing religious & cultural prejudice coupled with desperate economic & social pressures.

I understand how the ID movement wants to promote fear & suspicion of evolutionary principles & will use any propaganda device they can to swing opinion in that direction. In my view, to argue that "Darwinism" was the prime motivation for the Nazi's genocides is ridiculous but to argue that Darwinism was not part of their rationalization & justification is also not tenable. Darwinism, in its distorted eugenics sense, was used as a justification for the Nazi atrocities, but to accept the theory evolution does not make one a Nazi.

Thanks for all your hard work in challenging these IDiotic ID-ologues.

-evan

eheffa said...

Just a slight edit...

This should read:

Without this pre-existing anti-semitic mindset, how could anyone conclude that Darwinism inspired the idea of genocide against the Jewish people?

Shygetz said...

Nevertheless, I do think that the ideas of "natural selection", the "Survival of the Fittest", the theory of eugenics and many other ideas which can be rightly or wrongly derived or inspired from Darwin's writings, were enthusiastically promoted by the Nazis, because they had the apparent endorsement of progressive scientific thought.

Dear everyone who ever thinks about evolution and Hitler:

The large step that Darwin brought about in biology that lead to the modern evolutionary synthesis is NOT that you can change animals' characteristics through breeding; it's that these characteristics can be changed without deliberate interference, and that such changes can account for global species diversity.

What Hitler and other eugenecists did was NOT natural selection; it was artificial selection. Darwin was not the first person to describe artificial selection; humans have known about that since at least the foundation of agriculture over 10,000 years ago. IF Hitler and others believed that Jews (and other "undesirables") were inherently inferior races AND decided to follow Darwinism, he would have left them alone and let them die off naturally, as Darwin demonstrated inferior species and sub-species are wont to do! Hitler and the eugenecists were extending standard breeding practices that animal farmers have been using for millenia to humans; slaughter (or sterilize) the animals with undesirable characteristics and breed the animals with desirable characteristics.

If you blame Darwin's ideas for the Holocaust, then you must credit Darwin for discovering animal husbandry. Both assertions are equally silly. I urge you that, the next time you type "natural selection", you don't gloss over the "natural" portion.

eheffa said...

shygetz,

You make a good point. What the Nazis were doing was not "Natural Selection" but more akin to animal husbandry.

The ID proponents' attempt to denigrate the science of evolutionary theory on the grounds that the Nazis liked to use Darwinian evolution as an excuse or motive for their atrocities is pure rubbish & a logical absurdity.

Nevertheless, one can make a case for the assertion that the Nazis attempted to validate or justify their genocide using the language & pseudo-science of eugenics & "evolution". Hitler was no scientist or even a scientific philosopher but he was quite quick to use anything that would provide a veneer of scientific respectability for his ancient prejudices. Hitler & his minions may not have properly understood the evolutionary theory of the 1930's, but they did use the language and ideas to further their campaigns.

I still think that it may be a mistake to deny that the Nazis attempted to use (and misuse) the concepts and pseudo-scientific language of natural selection & its derivative theories of eugenics etc. They were quite anxious to make their pogroms justifiable on scientific and rational grounds.

The attempts by the ID folks to trash evolutionary theory by this association should be challenged on the grounds that this is a fallacious illogical argument & of no substance. Dr. Avalos is quite right in pointing out that the motivation for the Nazi horrors were not provided by scientific ideas but by age-old dogmas promoted by the church & Luther himself.

-evan

NAL said...

Nazi eugenics was modeled on Spartan society more than based on any theory of Darwin. Unless one blames Spartan eugenics on Darwin.

Carbon Based said...

Shygetz I was just thinking the same thing. Animal husbandry has MORE to do with artificial selection than does Darwin.

The rank and file german citizen did not need sophisicated scientific justification for hating the jews enough to exterminate them, they had been doing that for centuries. But the german intelectuals did need a reason to get behind hitler. eugenics fit the bill.

Shygetz said...

I'll say it again; eugenics has NOTHING to do with Darwinism. It existed before Darwinism and has better examples in the OT God-commanded genocides and traditional anti-miscegenation stance than in evolution. Darwinism neither condones nor disputes eugenics; it is silent on matters of artificial selection, and wholly silent on the moral rightness of natural selection.

Sir Francis Galton is the man responsible for formalizing the idea among intellectual circles in the late 19th-early 20th centuries in Hereditary Genius. He said that, since we don't allow nature to weed out humans according to fitness, we must weed them out artificially according to our purposes to avoid a "regression towards the mean". Galton specifically made the argument that:

"Consequently, as it is easy, notwithstanding those limitations, to obtain by careful selection a permanent breed of dogs or horses gifted with peculiar powers of running, or of doing anything else, so it would be quite practicable to produce a highly-gifted race of men by judicious marriages during several consecutive generations."

However, again, this had nothing to do with Darwinism. Eugenics is NOT evolution, and it cannot be justified by evolution. It is human husbandry. Point at Galton, not Darwin (although, of course, the idea did not begin with Galton; people have been selectively breeding since people have been breeding--I have to say that I was fairly selective with my breeding). It was his abominable idea to begin with, although I am sure he never meant for the Holocaust to occur--he advocated selective marriage between the most gifted people to breed a sub-race of super-geniuses.

zilch said...

But shygetz- as I'm sure you know, Francis Galton was Darwin's first cousin, which makes Darwin genetically one-eighth the same as Galton, and thus at least one-eighth as bad as him.

eheffa said...

Thank you shygetz,

I think your comments are quite astute and helpful in pointing out that the ideologies of "Eugenics" & "Social Darwinism" are not derivatives of the science of evolutionary theory. Your comments have helped me clarify some of my own misunderstandings around these terms. It's unfortunate that Darwin is attached to a term which really has nothing to do with the theory he proposed.

This article seems to be useful in detailing more of the history you refer to:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Darwinism

It might suit the political goals of the ID propagandists to claim that Eugenics, Social Darwinism and ultimately Nazism are the inevitable consequence of an acceptance of modern science-based Evolutionary "Theory" (in the strong sense of the word) but it is clear that this a gross and ignorant distortion. Nazism was an opportunistic amalgam of ancient prejudices & 19th century pseudo-science looking for excuses to commit genocide & had nothing to do with "Natural Selection" or scientific evolutionary theory.

Dr. Avalos is to be commended for taking on these IDeologues & their distorted anti-science propaganda.

-evan

Edward T. Babinski said...

Dear Dr. Avalos,

Bravo!

A number of people including myself have attempted to share similar information with Dr. Weikart, but I think you put it best in your reply, Part 1.