Darwin, Churchill, and Hitler

We’ve written several times about the bizarre claim of the Discovery Institute that Hitler’s insanity was inspired by the work of Charles Darwin. The first time was Hitler and Darwin, and most recently Discoveroids’ Hitler Obsession Continues.

We were quite pleased a few years ago when we discovered that the only World War II leader who actually read Darwin was Winston Churchill — see Hitler, Darwin, and … Winston Churchill? Nevertheless, the Discoveroids continue to promote their Hitler-Darwin fantasy.

But we didn’t realize the extent of Churchill’s understanding of Darwin and other science. A new article in Nature provides an amazing amount of new information. It’s titled Winston Churchill’s essay on alien life found. You’re going to read it for yourself (no subscription is required), so only a few excerpts are necessary — with bold font added by us for emphasis:

Winston Churchill is best known as a wartime leader, one of the most influential politicians of the twentieth century, a clear-eyed historian and an eloquent orator. He was also passionate about science and technology. Aged 22, while stationed with the British Army in India in 1896, he read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and a primer on physics.

We knew about that, but we didn’t know how much more there was. The article says:

In the 1920s and 1930s, he wrote popular-science essays on topics such as evolution and cells in newspapers and magazines. In a 1931 article in The Strand Magazine entitled ‘Fifty Years Hence’, he described fusion power: “If the hydrogen atoms in a pound of water could be prevailed upon to combine together and form helium, they would suffice to drive a thousand-horsepower engine for a whole year.”

Skipping over a lot of neat stuff, the writer tells us:

Despite all this, it was a great surprise last year, while I was on a visit to the US National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, when the director Timothy Riley thrust a typewritten essay by Churchill into my hands. In the 11-page article, ‘Are We Alone in the Universe?’, he muses presciently about the search for extraterrestrial life.

Aliens? That’s another subject creationists consider to be ridiculous. Nature continues:

Churchill’s reasoning mirrors many modern arguments in astrobiology. In essence, he builds on the framework of the ‘Copernican Principle’ — the idea that, given the vastness of the Universe, it is hard to believe that humans on Earth represent something unique.


Churchill then defines what is known today as the habitable zone — that narrow ‘Goldilocks’ region around a star that is neither too cold nor too hot, so that liquid water may exist on the surface of a rocky planet.


Churchill’s essay next assesses the probability that other stars host planets. He reasons that “the sun is merely one star in our galaxy, which contains several thousand millions of others”. … Churchill writes: “I am not sufficiently conceited to think that my sun is the only one with a family of planets.” Thus, he concludes, a large fraction of extrasolar planets “will be the right size to keep on their surface water and possibly an atmosphere of some sort” and some will be “at the proper distance from their parent sun to maintain a suitable temperature”.


The essay finishes eagerly: “with hundreds of thousands of nebulae [galaxies], each containing thousands of millions of suns, the odds are enormous that there must be immense numbers which possess planets whose circumstances would not render life impossible.”

Churchill wrote that in 1939, and revised it slightly in the 1950s. He was far more science-minded than we ever imagined. Today’s creationists wouldn’t like him at all.

Anyway, the Discoveroids will continue to promote their wild fiction that Hitler — a high school dropout — was inspired by Darwin. They’re as right about that as they are about everything else — i.e., they’re totally wrong.

Addendum:: See also this article in the Scientific American blog: Winston Churchill’s Thoughts on Evolution.

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8 responses to “Darwin, Churchill, and Hitler

  1. He gets claimed as a Christian because he was Anglican and he thought positively of the notion of there being a power greater than humanity, but he was at best agnostic and decidedly opposed to organized religion.

  2. Churchill gets a caning on the internet these days. He is called a racist, a plutocrat, a bigot, a hereditary lordling, a drunk. He was possibly a racist to the extent that everyone was in turn-of-the-century Europe, but it’s difficult to find an instance of it in his conduct or recorded words. He did want to use the army to quell the riots in the Welsh coalfields, but he strongly advocated negotiating with the unions once order was restored, with a view to redress of grievances. He was certainly upper-class, but was never rich and never a plutocrat.

    He was said to be a heavy drinker, but he lived into his nineties, which argues that his actual intake was rather more modest. Nevertheless, he did drink, and enjoyed the reputation. His famous exchange with Bessie Braddock: “Winston, you’re drunk!” “And you, Bessie, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning” is said to have occurred under various circumstances, but the usual one is that it was in the lobby of the Commons late in the evening of an all-day session in which he had spent a lot of time on his feet, and he couldn’t have been drunk.

    He was capable of extraordinary liberalism for his day. In 1953, aged over eighty and in his last Prime Minstership, he was awakened one frosty morning with the news that one of the Government whips had been caught the previous night in the shrubbery of St James’s Park “in an indecent posture” with a young Guards officer. Churchill eyed the icicles and hoarfrost on his bedroom window, grunted, “Cold last night, was it?” and received the information that it had been the coldest February night in thirty years. “Huh,” said Churchill, wincing as his feet met the floor, “Makes you proud to be British.”

    More to the point, beyond basic mensuration and arithmetic, Churchill was entirely self-educated on science subjects. With little variation, that statement is true of all subjects. He had been considered slow at school because he couldn’t see the point of learning Latin, and had been relegated to the “Army” class at Harrow, where he did learn about the structure of an English sentence. The rest he taught himself. You might not like what he ended up writing or saying – but even his harshest critics are forced to admit that he did it very well. Me, I’d make him the greatest exponent of the spoken word in English since Shakespeare.

    It doesn’t surprise me to hear that he had read Darwin. I already knew that Hitler had not. In fact, an extension of that fact might indeed be one of the most important differences between the two. Hitler also had a very poor formal education – he had left school at fifteen after repeating a year, and his German spelling and grammar was always faulty. Reading Mein Kampf is a laborious (and disgusting) exercise. But Churchill repaired his inadequacies by reading Shakespeare and Macauley among many other great writers. Hitler’s response was to devour bales of the scabrous racist pamphlets and prurient garbage circulating in the Vienna of his youth, the products of polemicists and pornographers now thankfully forgotten. He could have read Goethe, or Schiller, or Schopenhauer. He could have read Gregor Mendel, who was his compatriot. He could even have read Darwin, who was available in translation. But he certainly did not.

    Creationists always lie. Of course the DI wants to link Darwin with Hitler, which is a lie. Of course they deny that they’re creationists See statement one.

  3. I think attention should be drawn to Belac’s question and link. (This blog moves on rather rapidly.) The link does not say anything about Hitler’s personal beliefs, but does present evidence that many Nazis were aware of and accepted evolutionary theory, and that Darwin’s theory was taught in German schools under the Nazis.

    The rejoinder I would make is that Nazism was so incoherent that Darwinian evolution was both compatible and incompatible with it, depending on personal inclination. Apparently the Party never laid down dogma on it, but both burned and taught “On the Origin of Species”. Only one observation would occur to me: that whatever the Party (meaning, Hitler himself, at least by default) said, it was death to dispute it.

  4. We should concede Weikart’s point. It really has no bearing on the truth of evolution by natural selection and would give him nothing to write about.

  5. Michael Fugate

    But I am sure that many Nazis accepted Christianity – correlation is not causation – end of story.

  6. What sort of evolution could have an influence on social-political thought in the early 20th century?
    First of all, it would have to be about what happens within “man-kind”. Micro-evolution. Whatever happened in the Cambrian Explosion or other macro-evolution would be irrelevant.
    And then, the worry would be that without intelligent, purposeful action, things would deteriorate. (Remember that this era was called the “eclipse of darwinism” because the productivity of natural selection was not appreciated.)
    In other words, it would be the kind of evolution that is taught by the creationists.
    If there were such an influence, that kind of evolution would be the influence. Myself, I don’t think that there was much of an influence. I think that at most there were people who were looking for “scientific” excuses for what they wanted to do.