Hitler and Darwin

ONE OF THE LATEST and most despicable ploys of the Intelligent Design creationists (who have neither science nor sanity in their toolbox) is promoting the lie that Darwin’s theory of evolution led to Hitler’s insane policies. Here is just a tiny sample from the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids): The Historical Connection from Darwin to Hitler, and Hitler’s Debt to Darwin.

Let’s consider a few questions about this bizarre Discoveroid contention:

1. Did Hitler know anything about Darwin’s theory? Answer — there’s no evidence that he did. Hitler was a high-school dropout, and may not have studied it at all. His interests were art and architecture. And killing people.

2. Did Hitler actually apply Darwin’s theory? Answer — even if he tried, his actions don’t make any biological sense. Limiting the diversity of the gene pool is detrimental (and perhaps suicidal in the long run). Biologists who know and work with Darwin’s theory don’t practice or teach Hitler’s policies. [Addendum: Darwin expressly disapproved of eugenics, saying it was contrary to evolution. See: Racism, Eugenics, and Darwin.]

3. How much knowledge of evolution does it take to round up Jews, Gypsies, retardates, etc., and slaughter them? Answer — none. Deliberately ridding society of those deemed unfit isn’t in Darwin’s writings, but it’s an idea that’s been around for millennia, and such historical practices were available to Hitler as examples. Infanticide to eliminate inferiors, for example, was practiced by the state in Sparta. There are extreme examples of mass extermination in the Bible — Noah’s flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, for example.

We don’t know if Hitler used those accounts when framing his policies, but at least they existed and were commonly known — unlike Darwin’s biological work which contained nothing comparable. For more scriptural examples of genocide which may have influenced Hitler, see:

Deuteronomy 7:1-2: “… the seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them.”

Joshua 6:21: “And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.”

4. Was Darwin the source of Hitler’s “master race” obsession? Answer — nothing like that is in Darwin’s writings. Darwin observed (and who has not?) that some nations are more culturally advanced than others. He never concluded that this was due to racial superiority. Indeed, in the final chapter of Descent of Man, Darwin wrote:

But there can hardly be a doubt that we are descended from barbarians. The astonishment which I felt on first seeing a party of Fuegians on a wild and broken shore will never be forgotten by me, for the reflection at once rushed into my mind — such were our ancestors.

5. What about Hitler’s attempt to deliberately breed a master race? Answer — Darwin never discussed anything like that. Hitler’s program of matching SS studs with compliant wenches is not a new idea — horse breeders have been using such “science” since before the Trojan war. Cattle breeders have known how to improve their herds ever since humans have kept domesticated animals. Plato (the darling of mystics everywhere) recommended state-supervised selective breeding of children: The Republic by Plato, Book 5.

5. So who did influence Hitler? Answer — Mein Kampf mentions Bismarck, Henry Ford, Frederick the Great, Lenin, Martin Luther, Karl Marx, Napoleon, Richard Wagner, and many others — but not one word about Darwin. The Darwin-Hitler “connection” is non-existent.

We should point out the obvious truth that Darwin — being outspoken against slavery and stating clearly in Descent of Man that all humans were a single species — was probably the least racist of his contemporaries. Winston Churchill and his British countrymen were unquestionably educated in Darwin’s science, yet they opposed Hitler’s policies.

One more thing should be mentioned. In Mein Kampf, Hitler clearly indicates that he’s a creationist. Check it for yourself: Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, Volume Two, Chapter X:

For it 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.

We have no idea if Hitler actually believed that, but whatever he believed, there’s certainly no “Darwinism” there.

For a far more likely influence on Hitler, one which was widely circulated in German society, check out On the Jews and Their Lies, by Martin Luther.

[You may also want to see our essay on a similar matter: Marx, Stalin, and Darwin.]

Addendum: Panda’s Thumb has an interesting article on this: Darwin → Hitler? Naw.

2nd Addendum: Karl Giberson, a physicist who teaches courses on science and religion at Eastern Nazarene College, points out in this essay:

[I]f there is this strong connection between Darwin and Hitler, it is interesting that Hitler’s biographers all seem to have missed it. Experts on the deranged architect of the holocaust have spent countless hours tracing the origins of Hitler’s virulent anti-Semitism and none of them have discovered this link to Darwin.

Update: See Hitler, Darwin, and … Winston Churchill?

Update: See Hey, Klinghoffer: How About Hitler & Gobineau?

Update: For an exhaustive treatment of the subject, see Was Hitler a Darwinian? by University of Chicago historian Robert J. Richards.

Update: See Hitler & Darwin, Part II.

Update: Hitler & Darwin, Part III.

See also: WorldNetDaily, Darwin, and Hitler.

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46 responses to “Hitler and Darwin

  1. carolinaguitarman

    Something I see quite often that is also used as *evidence* that the Nazis were heavily reliant on Darwin was fact that Hitler and other Nazis spoke so often of a *struggle for existence*. But this idea was not new to Darwin, and by the time he published The Origin of Species, the notion that nature was *red in tooth and claw* (a quote that comes from Tennyson from 1850, btw) was an accepted if unpleasant fact of life.

    Creationists take on one of the most uncontroversial facts of biology and try to imply that anybody who accepts it is one step away from being a Nazi.

    Ja, that’s the ticket.

  2. longshadow

    >5. What about Hitler’s attempt to deliberately breed a master race?<

    Managed breeding of all forms, whether in humans or animals, is an example of “Intelligent Design,” the very opposite of natural selection. It therefore follows that Hitler has more in common with those who promote “Intelligent Design” than he did with Darwin.

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  4. For an interesting read, check out:

    http://www.literature.org/authors/darwin-charles/the-origin-of-species-6th-edition/

    Mein Kamph is also online, tho I can’t immediately find the link.

    “To be or not to be. That is the question.”

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  8. Eric Strickland

    You may have dealt with this elsewhere, but the problem as I see it is that the folks at DI are making the claim that Social Darwinism and the biological theory of evolution are the same thing. They lie, or at the least, they deliberately mislead, but what else is new?

    The 19th century sociologist, Herbert Spencer and others like him, who were desperate to give their new field of study the same aura of scientific legitimacy as physics, chemistry and biology, were inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution, and then misapplied it to the social sciences. The result was a severe corruption of Darwin’s ideas.

    German scientists such as Haeckel, and militarists such as Friederich von Bernhardi, took that ball and ran with it. Their chief corruption was the notion that ‘since it is the fittest that survive in nature, it is our duty to make sure that the less fit are not allowed to survive.’ Hitler may not have ever studied or even heard of Darwin, but the corrupted Social Darwinist theories which demanded that the ‘less fit not be allowed to survive’ was part of the zeitgeist of his milieu. Hence eugenics, and the extermination of homosexuals, gypsies, and retarded persons, along with the Jews.

    Darwin had a theory of natural selection. There is nothing natural about the Nazi policies, which were not based on science, but the corrupted misapplication of ideas borrowed from science.

  9. Eric Strickland

    BTW, I read a very illuminating essay by JS Gould about 15 years ago. (Can’t find it in any of the books shown at Amazon.com now) Gould summarized an obscure book written by a mid-ranking American diplomat who was privy to many of the dinner table discussions of the German military elite just before or during WWI. The topics of Aryan superiority and the need to eliminate the perceived dregs of society in order to improve their genetic stock were a nightly affair. Hitler didn’t just make all that stuff up himself. He was a product of his times, and was able to take advantage of the prejudices, fears and hatreds which were widespread in his society.

  10. Eric Strickland says: “… inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution, and then misapplied it to the social sciences …”

    Anyone can misapply some idea of which he’s only vaguely aware. It’s like someone who lies, breaks promises, drives recklessly, etc. and when asked to explain it, says “Hey man, ya’ never know what’s gonna happen — it’s quantum mechanics!”

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  14. Steve Morrison

    @Eric Strickland:
    I believe the Gould essay you recall is “William Jennings Bryan’s Last Campaign”, which is collected in “Bully for Brontosaurus”. The book Gould quoted was “Headquarters Nights” by Vernon Kellogg.

  15. Eric Strickland

    Steve, Thanks for the citation!

    I tried to find the essay online, and was able to access half of it. Google Books will give you a couple of pages here and there, but not the whole thing.

    I looked up Kellog in Wiki, and this is what they have to say about the matter:

    “He became shocked by the grotesque Darwinian motivation for the German war machine – the creed of natural selection based on violent and fatal competitive struggle is the Gospel of the German intellectuals.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vernon_Kellogg

    Unfortunately, a casual reader of this could easily draw the connection between Darwin and Nazism.

    The terms “Darwinian” and “natural selection” are not sufficiently differentiated in how the German High Command used these terms, and how they are properly used in biology.

  16. Eric Strickland

    I decided to see if I could find Kellogg’s own account of “the grotesque Darwininan motivation”.

    Back in the 1980’s Gould crowed about how great the Harvard library was in being able to supply him a copy of the book on demand. Twenty some years later, the book is available in its entirety, online.

    Headquarters Nights
    By Vernon Kellogg

    http://www.archive.org/stream/headquartersnig01kellgoog#page/n106/mode/1up

  17. Eric Strickland

    some excerpts:

    22 For their point of view does not permit of a live-and –let-live kind of carrying on. It is a point of view that justifies itself by a whole-hearted acceptance of the worst of Neo-Darwinism, the Allmacht of natural selection applied rigorously to human life and society and Kultur.

    28 Professor von Flussen is Neo-Darwinian, as are most German biologist and natural philosophers. The creed of the Allmacht of natural selection based on violent and fatal competitive struggle is the gospel of the German intellectuals; all else is illusion and anathema.
    . . . For instance, . . .
    29 . . . as with the different ant species, struggle –bitter, ruthless struggle– is the rule among
    the different human groups.
    This struggle not only must go on, for that is the natural law, but it should go on, so that this natural law may work out in its cruel, inevitable way the salvation of the human species. By its salvation is meant its desirable natural evolution. That human group which is in the most advanced evolutionary stage as regards internal organization and form of socieal relationship is best, and should, for the sake of the species, be preserved at the expense of the less advanced, the less effective. It should win in the struggle for existence, and this struggle should occur precisely that the various types may be tested, and the best not only preserved, but put in position to impose its kind of social organization-its
    30 Kultur- on the others, or, alternatively, to destroy and replace them.
    This is the disheartening kind of argument that I faced at Headquarters; argument logically constructed on premises chosen by the other fellow. Add to these assumed premises of the Allmacht, of struggle and selection based on it, and the contemplation of mankind as a congeries of different, mutually irreconcilable kinds, like the different ant species, the additional assumption that the Germans are the chosen race, and German social and political organization the chosen type of human community life, and you have a wall of logic and conviction that you can break your head against, but can never shatter-by headwork.

  18. Eric Strickland

    31 . . . Professor von Flussen says that this war is necessary as a test of the German position and claim. If Germany is beaten, it will prove that she has moved along the wrong evolutionary line, and should be beaten. If she wins, it will prove that she is on the right way, and that the rest of the world, at least that part which we and the Allies represent, is on the wrong way and should, for the sake of the right evolution of the human race, be stopped and put on the right way-or else be destroyed as unfit.
    Professor von Flussen is sure that Germany’s way is the right way, and that the
    32 biologic evolutionary factors are so all-controlling in determining human destiny, that this being biologically right is certain to insure German victory. If the wrong and unnatural alternative of an Allied victory should obtain, then he would prefer to die in the catastrophe and not have to live in a world perversely resistant to natural law. He means it all. He will act on this belief. He does act on it, indeed. He opposes all mercy, all compromise with human soft-heartedness. Apart from his horrible academic casuistry and his conviction that the individual is nothing, the State all, he is a reasoning and a warm-hearted man. So are some other Germans. But for him and them the test of right in this struggle is success in it. So let every means to victory be used.

    36 . . . the conversation leaped suddenly from church history to Zeppelining. It was just after one of those earlier London raids, when the great city was practically defenseless, and the German newspapers had been full for several days of accounts of the enormous damage and losses of life achieved by the raid. As a matter of fact there were some horrors-not extensive but intensive horrors: women and babies in
    37 Several houses, and an omnibusful of passengers in a by-street, sickeningly mangled and murdered.
    . . . Zeppelining had been declared wise and good by the General Staff and the Berlin official publicity bureau

  19. Eric Strickland

    53 . . . there were many, many [French villages in the north of France] in which there was no fighting, but just destroying. . . .they are just nameless scores of illustrations and results of the German conception of the struggle for existence as a contributory factor in the evolution of human kind.

    61 He could tell a German to say this for that, or do that for this, and it was said and done; why not a Samoan? He could not understand it. Apparently no German can understand it.
    So it has been in all the other one-time German colonies. And so it has been in Belgium.

    64 And he himself did not really understand that he did not understand the Belgians whom he was helping to govern! He thought they were just insolent liars and rebels! Yes, because they did not do, if they could help it at all, whatever and everything the Germans ordered them to do, they were ‘rebels.’
    Had not the German army beaten their army and occupied their land? Well, then, were they not rebels and traitors if they did not do things that the Germans told them to do, and did things that they were told not to do? Could they not learn to behave properly after having to have thousands of their civilian citizens and their women and children shot in groups at the beginning, and hundreds
    65 shot scatteringly along through the wearying months, and other hundreds sent to prison in Germany?

    In the last part of the book, Kellogg attempts to document the deportation of more than 100,000 Belgian men to German where many /most were worked, starved or beaten to death.

  20. Eric Strickland

    It’s clear from reading Kellogg’s observations of the German war machine in WWI, that the seeds of Nazism, their belief in their own racial superiority, and harbingers of the genocide to come had more than germinated and sprouted decades before Hitler came to power.

    The fervor of their belief in the rightness of their cause, as exemplified by Professor von Flussen (a pseudonym) makes it appear to me that that WWII, the sequel, was almost inevitable. Although Germany was defeated in WWI, it was not comprehensive enough. No allied army had marched into the fatherland and conquered it in the First WW. Germany sued for peace because it had exhausted all of its available resources for fighting the war, and the populace was starting to revolt.

    Because their defeat in the First WW was not thorough enough, the Germans were able to rationalize that they had been betrayed by the Jews, and that was why they lost. So, they longed to have another go at it to prove their superiority once and for all. But the second time around, they would make sure their scapegoats would be eliminated in the process. It took a total defeat in the Second WW to pacify the Germans. All of their great cities were smoldering ruins, and the Allied armies occupied their territory for many years.

  21. Hitler described his views on the different species in Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Ch. 10. Does this sound like an evolutionist or a creationist to you?

    The consequence of this racial purity, universally valid in Nature, is not only the sharp outward delimitation of the various races, but their uniform character in themselves. The fox is always a fox, the goose a goose, the tiger a tiger, etc., and the difference can lie at most in the varying measure of force, strength, intelligence, dexterity, endurance, etc., of the individual specimens. But you will never find a fox who in his inner attitude might, for example, show humanitarian tendencies toward geese, as similarly there is no cat with a friendly inclination toward mice.

    In the same chapter Hitler describes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as “authentic” and “with positively terrifying certainty they reveal the nature and activity of the Jewish people and expose their inner contexts as well as their ultimate final aims.” The Protocols of the Elders of Zion describe Darwinism as a Jewish plot. That should be enough to tell you what Hitler thought of Darwinism.

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  23. grasshopper

    “Did Hitler know anything about Darwin’s theory? ”

    There is a reference to evolution and Hitler in the book ‘Hitler: a study in tyranny’ by Alan
    Bullock, first published by Odhams in 1952.
    My copy is published by Pelican Books, reprinted 1969.

    Here is a paragraph from page 776, describing how towards the end of the
    war, Hitler’s physical and mental health was declining.

    “His secretary, who had to endure many such outbursts, records that
    after his return to Berlin in January his conversations became entirely
    self-centred and was marked by the monotonous repetion of the same
    stories told over and over again. His intellectual appetite for the
    discussion of such large subjects as the evolution of man, the course
    of world history, religion, and the future of science had gone; even his
    memory began to fail him. His talk was confined to anectodes about his
    dog or his diet, interspersed with complaints about the stupidity and
    wickedness of the world.”

    This paragraph was itself quoted from Zoller,A. ‘Hitler Privat’
    Dusseldorf, 1949

    The reference to Hitler’s interest in the evolution of man makes me
    wonder if he was as much a Creationist as some would like to believe.

  24. grasshopper says: “The reference to Hitler’s interest in the evolution of man makes me
    wonder if he was as much a Creationist as some would like to believe.”

    Don’t be coy. Tell us what you think.

  25. grasshopper

    As you said yourself “One more thing should be mentioned. In Mein Kampf, Hitler clearly indicates that he’s a creationist.”

    ‘Creationist’ is a handy label for some as much as ‘Darwinist’ is for others. If you can stick your preferred label onto Hitler you can point at the label and treat it as a synonym for evil and say ‘I told you so. He’s a creationist/darwinist. That explains why he was so evil.’

    Inasmuch that there are arguments that creationists should not use when ‘debunking’ evolution I believe that labelling Hitler a creationist serves no purpose in advancing the arguments against creationism.

  26. grasshopper says: “… I believe that labelling Hitler a creationist serves no purpose in advancing the arguments against creationism.”

    Creationism stands or falls on its own merits, as does evolution. Hitler has nothing to do with any of it. But you’ve missed the point of the essay. Creationists are the ones who play the “Hitler card” by claiming a Darwin-Hitler connection. It’s entirely appropriate to refute such a claim by pointing out: (1) there no evidence for such a claim, and (2) there’s actually evidence against it.

  27. Lots of scientific ideas were corrupted by the National Socialists. The idea that Hitler would exclude asspects of evolutionary science is a bit silly. Nor was Hitler a “high-school drop-out”. He went to a fairly exclusive boarding-school. The educated middle-classes have always tried to infer that Hitler was the product of the lower orders rather than admit that a lot of educated people have stupid social beliefs.
    However, the label Neo-Darwinism is a disgusting attempt by the religiously inclined to undermine the scientific fact of evolution by linking it to dubious political ideas. Darwin was a scientist. His discoveries were more important than he was. No one talks about gravity as Newtonism or attacks it as Neo-Newtonism, even though Newton was a very strange man indeed.
    Evolutionary science is bigger than Darwin. Blaming it for Hitler is just iinane.

  28. I corrected the inaccurate entry on Vernon Kellogg in WP at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vernon_Lyman_Kellogg. Let’s see how long this stays corrected until some Creationist reverts it back to the perverted original.

  29. I just read the Foreword by Theodore Roosevelt of Headquarters Nights by Vernon Kellogg. Roosevelt describes Kellogg’s exposition of the German General Staff’s adoption of a perversely mistaken understanding of science and nature as follows: “It is a convincing, and an evidently truthful, exposition of the shocking, the unspeakably dreadful moral and intellectual perversion of character which makes Germany at present a menace to the whole civilized world.” Just substitute “the Discovery Institute” for “Germany” and the description will still be truthful today.

  30. Steven, I just looked, and I’d guess that the Kellogg article has been “restored” to what it was before your edit.

  31. No, my changes are still there. If you click on the “history” tab you will find a list of the most recent changes. I simply changed Darwinian to Social Darwinist and natural selection to survival of the fittest.

    I began reading Kellogg’s account and couldn’t stop, so I read the entire book. Only the first few pages deal with the German’s evolutionary beliefs; the rest of the book contains anecdotes and a description of his time in Belgium.

    Kellogg contrasts social species that adopt an “altruistic or communistic” mode of existence, such as the social insects (ants, hymenoptera) and humans that practice “mutual aid,” with organisms that rely more on intraspecific competition. He says the Germans agree with the “Neo-Darwinists” who insist that this mode is the more common in life and the most important. Kellogg says most German biologists and natural philosophers are “Neo-Darwinian.” The “creed of . . . a natural selection based on violent and fatal competitive struggle is the gospel of the German intellectuals; all else is illusion and anathema.” The German officers believe that all a race needs is “order and obedience” and it will win the struggle for survival and dominance. Lesser races will be smashed.

    The Germans recognize the “mutual aid principle” (what we today term reciprocal altruism) as limited in application even within social species. For example, they would recognize it as operational within human subgroups or nationalities that share ethnographic similarities, such as their own group of just Germans, but not as something applicable between different ethnic groups within the human species! Between those, “struggle–bitter, ruthless struggle–is the rule among the different human groups.” Furthermore, “That human group which is in the most advanced evolutionary stage as regards internal organization and form of social relationship is best, and should, for the sake of the species, be preserved at the expense of the less advanced, the less effective. It should win in the struggle for existence. . . .” The Germans, of course, assumed that they were that chosen group.

    It is clear that the WWI Germans have adopted a very strict view of cultural evolution as “survival of the fittest” that both they and Kellogg associate with the term “Neo-Darwinism.” This is classic Social Darwinism and in reality has nothing to do with evolutionary biology as we understand it today, including what we would term “Neo-Darwinism.” I think we would term the biological version of what the Germans believe as “ultra-competition.” Not “ultra-selection,” since even this is inaccurate becasue altruism and cooperation are also governed by selection. But in any case we are discussing cultural or human societal competition, so the proper term is Social Darwinism or, even more exact, Social Larmarckism, since Spencer’s Social Darwinism is based totally on the inheritance of acquired characteristics and survival of the fittest, not on differential reproduction and natural selection! So there are some terminology problems of which the reader of Kellogg’s short book needs to be aware.

  32. Steven Schafersman says: “I simply changed Darwinian to Social Darwinist and natural selection to survival of the fittest.”

    Okay, I didn’t realize what it had been, so the subtlety of your change escaped me. Good show.

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  35. I would like to translate ‘Hitler and Darwin’ into Russian and post it on http://evolution.powernet.ru. Please grant me your permission.

  36. Okay, Vasiliy. But at the start or end of your translation, please include a link to where it’s posted here, and include my copyright notice.

  37. 1. Reinhard Heydrich cited “Natural Selection” in the orders for the Holocaust, Wannsee, January 20, 1942.

    [Big deletion.]

    I could go on but you won’t believe anything you don’t want to. You need Darwin as an antidote to what you fear …

    [Big deletion.]

  38. I translated this post. The translation may be found at: http://evolution.powernet.ru/polemics/hitleranddarwin.htm

  39. It looks good, Vasiliy. You linked to my post and gave the copyright notice. Very well done.

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  44. Here’s a quick Q&A you could use.

    Q: Is there any credible evidence that Hitler (or Stalin or Pol Pot or Mao or Mickey Mouse) was influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution or The Origin Of Species?
    A: No.

    Q: Even if there was evidence of such influence, would that in any way undermine the theory of evolution or the scientific consensus that evolution best explains the observed facts?
    A: No.

    Q: If Hitler had dedicated Mein Kampf to Charles Darwin and had Darwin’s name shouted by every SS guard as they killed someone in a concentration camp, would that make evolution any less scientifically sound?
    A: No.