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A.N. Wilson on the Darwin-Hitler Connection

posted by David Klinghoffer
A.N. Wilson goes into more fascinating detail about his return to religious faith from atheism in an essay in the New Statesman. Now isn’t this interesting: the literary critic, biographer and historian credits his gradual re-conversion in no small part to a counter-reaction to the “superstitious” materialism of Darwinian evolution and, yes, the dreaded Darwin-Hitler connection.
The latter in particular drives the Darwin Lobby bonkers — not least the always charming propagandist P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula, who alludes today to the “fallacious claim that Hitler’s crimes were built on a foundation of godless Darwinism.” It’s supposed to be only slow-witted “creationists” who swallow that claim.
I guess that makes Wilson a creationist. Excerpt:

One thing that finally put the tin hat on any aspirations to be an unbeliever was writing a book about the Wagner family and Nazi Germany, and realising how utterly incoherent were Hitler’s neo-Darwinian ravings, and how potent was the opposition, much of it from Christians; paid for, not with clear intellectual victory, but in blood.

Also this:

Watching a whole cluster of friends, and my own mother, die over quite a short space of time convinced me that purely materialist “explanations” for our mysterious human existence simply won’t do — on an intellectual level. The phenomenon of language alone should give us pause. A materialist Darwinian was having dinner with me a few years ago and we laughingly alluded to how, as years go by, one forgets names. Eager, as committed Darwinians often are, to testify on any occasion, my friend asserted: “It is because when we were simply anthropoid apes, there was no need to distinguish between one another by giving names.”

This credal confession struck me as just as superstitious as believing in the historicity of Noah’s Ark. More so, really.

Do materialists really think that language just “evolved”, like finches’ beaks, or have they simply never thought about the matter rationally? Where’s the evidence? How could it come about that human beings all agreed that particular grunts carried particular connotations? How could it have come about that groups of anthropoid apes developed the amazing morphological complexity of a single sentence, let alone the whole grammatical mystery which has engaged Chomsky and others in our lifetime and linguists for time out of mind? No, the existence of language is one of the many phenomena — of which love and music are the two strongest — which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat.

And so what if Hitler’s worldview was shaped by Darwinism?

The very first question that the great medieval rabbinic commentator Rashi asked about the first verse in Genesis is why the Hebrew Bible, which contain so much law, is told as a story, a narrative instead of a legal case book. I think one answer is that stories frame values and worldviews more powerfully than laws do. And ultimately, presenting a picture of how the world works, and therefore how we should work in the world, is what Biblical tradition is all about.
The Darwinian idea of unguided evolution driven by accident and chance is primarily a story about how the world works. Ideas have consequences, and all the more so when they are encapsulated in a narrative.


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Steve

posted April 28, 2009 at 12:40 am


David wrote: “The Darwinian idea of unguided evolution driven by accident and chance is primarily a story about how the world works. Ideas have consequences, and all the more so when they are encapsulated in a narrative.”
David, I believe that evolution is true, and I’m a very ethical person. Everybody in my family believes that evolution is true, and they are all ethical people. The rate of belief that evolution is true is much higher in Scandinavian countries and Iceland than in the U.S. And all those countries are strong democracies with lower poverty rates and violent crime rates than the U.S. So, there is good reason to believe that, at least for the overwhelming majority of people, believing that evolution is true doesn’t make it harder to be ethical.
However, for the sake of argument, let’s say that an increase in the number of people who believe that evolution is true would cause more harm than good. That is completely irrelevant to whether I know that evolution is true. Analogously, let’s say that people’s believing that heliocentrism is true has caused more harm than good. I’m still quite sure that the earth revolves around the sun.
One more time: let’s say that an increase in the number of people who believe that evolution is true would cause more harm than good. That is completely irrelevant to whether I know that evolution is true.
One more time: let’s say that an increase in the number of people who believe that evolution is true would cause more harm than good. That is completely irrelevant to whether I know that evolution is true.
And again: let’s say that an increase in the number of people who believe that evolution is true would cause more harm than good. That is completely irrelevant to whether I know that evolution is true.
One more time: Let’s say that an increase in the number of people who believe that evolution is true would cause more harm than good. That is completely irrelevant to whether I know that evolution is true.



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Thelemite

posted April 28, 2009 at 9:50 am


The reason many theists who believe in the whole talking-snake-in-the-garden/global-flood/pillar-of-salt/burning-bush/rising-from-the-dead package can’t understand (let alone, accept) evolution is, ironically, a lack of imagination. Wilson can’t envision how language may have developed over time? That’s just sad.
As for the Hitler-Darwin connection, there are a few points worth mentioning. For one, many who have analyzed Hitler’s view on the subject believe he adhered to Lemarckian, not Darwinian, evolution. Also, it is absurd to think that Hitler couldn’t have decided to employ a eugenics program if it weren’t for evolutionary theory; farmers had been killing off the weak members of their livestock & breeding the best specimens together for thousands of years before the Nazis, so it wouldn’t have been a stretch to think the same concept could work on humans.



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Glen Davidson

posted April 28, 2009 at 12:08 pm


A materialist Darwinian was having dinner with me a few years ago and we laughingly alluded to how, as years go by, one forgets names. Eager, as committed Darwinians often are, to testify on any occasion, my friend asserted: “It is because when we were simply anthropoid apes, there was no need to distinguish between one another by giving names.”
This credal confession struck me as just as superstitious as believing in the historicity of Noah’s Ark. More so, really.

Yeah, well, a lot of evolutionary nonsense is spouted. So what? Have you, and Wilson, never run into people mouthing a lot of ignorant claptrap regarding the other sciences? Indeed, evolutionary psychology comes in for a whole lot of criticism from science quarters.
Actually, I rather suspect that both of you have heard plenty of junk science statements regarding other science disciplines, but neither of you has any meaningful knowledge of science. Due to your confirmation biases, however, you complain any time some scientifically ignorant person spouts some evolutionary nonsense, and then you side with those whose “experts” never rise above the abysmal level.
Had Wilson heard that junk from Ernst Mayr, Jerry Coyne, Eric Davidson, the Leakys, or Lewontin, I might be concerned. That someone was trying to impress someone else at a dinner party is about as impressive as Wilson’s idiotic conclusions.
David is pulling another fallacy, unsurprisingly. This time, it’s the appeal to authority (argumentum ad verecundiam). Did I just say that I care about certain authorities, though? Why, yes, I did. That, however, has less to do even with any real likelihood that I’d agree with them if they were blithering such claptrap, than the fact that they have influence. I would not be persuaded. As I stated above, I’d be concerned.
Even were I inclined to believe experts for anything but their obvious expertise, I would at the least know who the experts are. Wilson is no expert on biology, nor on the purported Darwin-Hitler connection.
And anyway, I was arguing just yesterday on PZ’s forum that Social Darwinism had some influence on the nazis, channeling the actual motivating factors (much as did religion). Of course, I do not think that Social Darwinism has much to do with the science of evolution, save that it took a few concepts from the latter to shore up their previous biases. You know, much as David and A. N. Wilson do for theirs.
Wilson is particularly laughable where he wrote, “Hitler’s neo-Darwinian ravings.” Oh my, was Hitler a devotee of August Weissman and Alfred Wallace? One finds such a notion to be doubtful. Wilson didn’t know what he was talking about, and wrote “Hitler’s neo-Darwinian ravings” in his own attempt to impress without knowledge–quite like the person he criticized in the other place.
Neither does David know what he is talking about, or he wouldn’t rely on such pathetic and easily discredited sources. There’s a lot of handwaving in this piece, but even if Wilson has some accomplishments to his name (and he does), there is no evidence whatsoever that Wilson knows much of anything about Social Darwinism’s influence on the nazis, let alone anything about the science of evolution.
The last bit of kludgy junk I’d like to point out in this piece is that Wilson is merely resorting to the “God of the gaps” fallacy, which does not commend anybody who claims to be an intellectual. In other words, I understand that Wilson is no expert in science or in the history of the rise of the Nazis, but he should have enough intelligence not to fall for the easy lie that if no explanation exists, then “God musta done it.”
That he fails even at elementary logic just puts the whipping on the top of his idiotic attacks on a science of which he is ignorant.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/6mb592



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David Klinghoffer

posted April 28, 2009 at 1:14 pm


“God of the gaps”? Try “Darwin of the gaps.” See here: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/when_junk_dna_isnt_junk_farewe.html



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Glen Davidson

posted April 28, 2009 at 1:34 pm


Try to tell us how “junk DNA” either is or is not entailed by evolutionary theory.
Or, how ID, which deliberately refuses to predict that life will exhibit the results of any application of design principles (because they know that it does not), has any entailed predictions regarding “junk DNA.”
See, you can’t really base your attacks on your lack of knowledge of evolution, nor can you assume that ID tells us anything useful when the IDists refuse to use known evidence of design in order to “detect design.”
That IDists simply turn around the charges against them, only without any substance, is an old chapter in the sorry story of ID.
It’s not like I don’t glance at evolutionnews.org, even reading some of the blogposts. The fact that they don’t allow discussion there is an immediate problem, while the one thing I’ll say for Klinghoffer is that he does allow discussion, except when he’s posting at the DI site (and sometimes he moves that over to here where it can be discussed).
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/6mb592



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Glen Davidson

posted April 28, 2009 at 2:27 pm


Perhaps I should elaborate somewhat on what evolutionary theory might state regarding DNA and whether or not it might be “junk.”
Clearly one does not simply study evolutionary theory and suppose that there must be “junk DNA” in the genome. There is little to no junk DNA in bacteria and in archaea, according to measures of “junk DNA” used a decade or so ago. Furthermore, in the history of “junk DNA,” initially there was resistance against the idea, probably because DNA had so long been thought to be the most basic part of an organism to be selected.
Can evolutionary theory explain junk DNA, though? Generally, it is thought so. Transposons, the so-called “jumping genes,” seem often to act as little more than “selfish DNA,” merely replicating at the organism’s expense. Bolstering that notion is the fact that organisms do have defenses against transposons. Nevertheless, transposons make up significant amounts of the DNA in many (most?) eukaryotes. And one should not pretend that transposons are only parasites, as they likely provide some of the basic material for evolution to act upon.
This does sound like junk DNA (at least initially) coming from transposons, however:

Since first entering the genome, the hAT has been able to reproduce dramatically – in the tenrec, 99,000 copies were found, making up a significant chunk of its DNA. Feschotte speculates that this must have had a dramatic effect on its evolutionary development.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14992-space-invader-dna-infiltrated-mammalian-genomes.html?DCMP=ILC-hmts&nsref=news8_head_dn14992

Large amounts of our genome are also made up of tandem repeats, and of retroviruses as well. It is possible that tandem repeats played a role in the changes that dogs have undergone, due to our selection, at least according to one paper. Retroviruses do appear to play some part in evolutionary change. Nevertheless, it is difficult to consider most of the tandem repeats and retroviral segments as anything but junk DNA. Now this is not to say that they do not play any role, say, in spacing the genes, or even conceivably in a regulatory role. The point of evolution would not be that DNA would remain useless, of course, even though it could, so if initially useless DNA became useful, that would comport with evolution quite well.
Probably it would be fair to say that eukaryotic evolution needed at least some “junk DNA.” Bacterial and Archaeal evolution can do without it, at least now (many basic pathways are thought not to have evolved much for at least a billion years), likely because most of the niches are covered by some DNA or other, or can be covered with a few changes. Eukaryotes had to change a good deal to become what they are, and gene plus genome duplications appear to have played a significant role in eukaryote evolution, especially early on. Other “junk DNA” likely also played roles, of course. So did sexual reproduction.
Still, one probably cannot say that evolutionary theory predicts much “junk DNA,” even during the course of eukaryote evolution. Gene duplications were almost certainly needed to produce what exists today, but the genes are a small part of DNA, and likely remain the most crucial parts, on average. Regulatory functions by so-called “junk DNA” would probably play a greater role later on, much as appears to be the case in marsupial evolution. What is more, duplicated genes which did not pick up regulatory or genetic functions were generally mutated into meaninglessness.
The best I can say for evolutionary theory predicting “junk DNA” is that eukaryotic evolution probably did need some actually useless (or nearly so) DNA in order to evolve as much as they have. Yet many thought that truly useless DNA would actually disappear rather quickly, since it takes resources without contributing to survival at a time (even evolutionary functions are only fortuitous, not something for which the organism could save “junk DNA”). The reason that large amounts of “junk DNA” could remain is that DNA is also “selfish,” and also that mistakes happen in order to create “junk.” This is what happened to our “vitamin C” gene, so that it became “junk,” whether or not it has subsequently picked up any function.
The only “prediction” regarding “junk DNA” that I’ve ever encountered from IDists is that there “will be relatively little junk DNA,” which they never based upon any sort of design principles. They seemed to be simply trying to anticipate the disappearance of most “junk DNA” and to claim this “prediction” for “design.” They could conceivably be right, even, since so much of our DNA is transcribed into RNA. But they have never based it in any principles of ID, because they have avoided any of the expected principles coming from ID.
In any case, it has been demonstrated that many organisms can live apparently quite well without large portions of their DNA. This does not prove that the portions taken out have no role at all, but if they do, it’s not the sort of functionality one typically expects from design. More like, it’s the functionality that evolution produces when otherwise useless junk is lying around.
Getting back to “design predictions,” Paley predicted that life would be like what an architect or an artificer would produce. Darwin showed that this was not at all the case. Hence, today’s IDists avoid entailed predictions like that one, and try to inveigle “ID predictions” into known, or at least anticipated, phenomena. That is not the way to do science.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/6mb592



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Your Name

posted April 28, 2009 at 7:38 pm


A literary essayist? That’s what makes the Darwin-Hitler connection in your mind? The views of someone who is neither a historian of the period, nor a scholar of Nazism, nor a scientist, nor a historian of science?
Wilson clearly knows nothing about what counts as neo-Darwinism, nor anything much about what Hitler actually said.
Thelemite: It’s “Lamarckian”, from the name Jean Baptiste de Lamarck (in older English texts, “La Marck”. And Hitler’s views resembled that about as much as they did Darwin’s, not at all.



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David Klinghoffer

posted April 28, 2009 at 7:42 pm


Actually, it was reading Mein Kampf that sealed the case for me.



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Robert Byers

posted April 30, 2009 at 2:10 am


I am a biblical creationist but I also don’t see Hitlers ideas coming sincerely from evolution.
He may of indeed believed in German racial superiority but it still was just old fashioned saying your people are best and attacking others who threaten that.
The only thing that can be blamed on evolution is that Hitlers ideas were not foolish in the higher classes because they fit with ideas from evolution of inferior evolving to superior and so intermediates.
The establishment of the day, not regular people, is who would and could not say these presumptions behind Hitler’s ideas were baseless. This indeed came from evolution. However even if evolution had never been invented it would not of stopped the holocaust or more importently the warring against Americans, Canadians, and all innocent peoples. First ones own people. I am Canadian.
Darwin did insist women were biologically inferior to men because of evolution but he insisted there was no racial biology to intelligence. Not his fault.



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Todd Greene

posted May 5, 2009 at 1:32 pm


So well-known philosopher/historian of science A. N. Wilson mentions “how utterly incoherent were Hitler’s neo-Darwinian ravings”, and this somehow means, what? That the science of biological evolution teaches genocide? That biological evolution is scientifically incorrect?
Oh, wait, Wilson isn’t a philosopher of science. He isn’t a historian of science. Notice also the words “incoherent” and “ravings”, which Wilson uses and then himself misses the import.
There is no doubt that Hitler, like so many other demagogues, opportunistically wove popular ideas and beliefs of the time into the fabric of his rhetoric in promoting the horrendous agenda of the Nazi regime. Hitler ravings using Christian rhetoric were also incoherent. And so this means what exactly?
But just stop and think – at least for more than one second – about this notion: The Jewish people were slaughtered by the Nazis and other anti-Semites because Darwin’s scientific ideas about biological motivated them to do it.
The whole idea is utterly absurd, and has nothing whatsoever to do with *science*. If Wilson seriously thinks it does (which I doubt), this would merely prove that the man is daft in this area, for whatever reason. The history of the matter of the Holocaust has to do with horrible cultural antipathies toward immigrants, immoral personal envy that some have against those who are more successful than they are, and a not unconsiderable dollop of Christian rhetoric thrown in regarding the whole “the Jews killed Christ” thing.
In regard to Wilson’s comments about materialistic explanation, that you have quoted here, I see a whole lot of expression of personal feelings – but not even one shred of rational argument. (And when I clicked your link and read his whole essay, I observed more of exactly the same. Personal feelings. No rational argument.) Indeed, that seems to be his point: Logic and fact do not provide personal comfort, we need something more. That is absolutely correct. Who could disagree with that? Certainly not “materialists”. (And therein lies a whole ‘nother topic.)
But Wilson goes beyond this with unjustified insinuations about Darwin and Hitler and pointless rhetorical questions used to make unsubstantiated assertions about the alleged incompetence of professional scientists.
“Do materialists really think that language just “evolved”, like finches’ beaks, or have they simply never thought about the matter rationally?”
Or have they simply never thought about the matter rationally?
Huh? Seriously? This is the empty rhetoric of a man banking on sheer scientific illiteracy.
I had never heard of A. N. Wilson before reading your post and checking out his essay. Now, my observation of the shallowness of his thinking on some basic and obvious points rather destroys for me any credibility that his essay might have merited.



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