Science & Faith
12/11/12 at 06:42 PM 3 Comments

Hitler's Shallow Use of Christianity and Deep Dependence on Darwinism

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A reader of my last blog on the Darwin-Hitler connection replied:

Don't forget this little morsel from Hitler: "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." -Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

So creationism, not Darwinism, led to the Nazi death camps? Richard Weikart's book Hitler's Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress (2009) is the most extensive piece of scholarship on this question. How do we explain Hitler's use of Christianity in his publications and speeches? We must place such talk within the broad context of his overall worldview as expressed in both private and in public. Weikart does exactly that.

Although Hitler often disdained religion in private comments to colleagues, he used God talk publicly for what appears to have been calculated political purposes. If he truly thought himself a “theist,” then he was a theistic evolutionist with a liberal Christian view of theology (as were many Nazis), explains Weikart. In a public speech delivered in 1943 Hitler responded to a religious critic by declaring himself “profoundly religious on the inside.” Hitler explained what kind of religion he had in mind: divine Providence weighs humanity by means of natural selection. In a 1945 proclamation he elaborated on this thought: “Providence does not show mercy toward the weak. Instead it only recognizes the right to live for the healthy and strong.” Richard Weikart, Hitler's Ethic (2009), p. 39-40 (all other Weikart references below are to this book). Curious about where theistic evolution is taking many people today? Read about the book God and Evolution and other related resources at www.faithandevolution.org.

Hitler's dependence upon Darwinism ran deep. In a secret speech to 10,000 new military officers on May 30, 1942, Hitler said

“…struggle and thus war is the father of all things. Whoever casts even a glance at nature as it is, will find this principle confirmed as valid for all organisms…. The entire universe appears to be ruled only by this one idea, that eternal selection takes place, in which the stronger in the end preserved its life and the right to life, and the weaker falls.… Thus we see in this struggle an element of the formation of every living thing and even of life itself.”

 Weikart, p. 38.

Consider also this: “Today no one who is familiar with natural science can any longer take the doctrine of the church seriously.” 

Hitler's Tabletalk, in Hitlers Tischgespräche im Führerhauptquartier, ed. Henry Picker (Frankfurt: Ullstein, 1989), p. 76, as cited in Weikart, p. 48. So Hitler appears to have rejected the core of Christian teaching, but retained certain Christian expressions for political purposes. This approach is still common among politicians today.

Although Hitler used God talk on ocassion, a Darwinian ethical outlook dominated his worldview, Weikart argues.

“Hitler's immorality was not the product of ignoring or rejecting ethics, but came from embracing a coherent—albeit pernicious—ethic. Hitler was inspired by evolutionary ethics to pursue the utopian project of improving the human race. … Evolutionary ethics underlay or influenced almost every major feature of Nazi policy: eugenics … euthanasia, racism, population expansion, offensive warfare and racial extermination,” Weikart, p. 2.

“In Hitler's ethic, the end—evolutionary advancement—justified the means. … As he explained to leaders of the armaments industry in mid-1944, … 'In carrying out the struggle for the life of a Volk there can only be one dogma, namely to apply every means that leads to success. … The right thing is whatever is advantageous … in the sense of preserving the Volk.'” 

Weikart, p. 6.

Although Dawinism was not the only influence on Hitler, it was the central component of his life and work.

“Many other influences shaped Hitler's worldview, including Prussian militarism, German nationalism, Christian anti-Semitism…. His thinking was also shaped by many nonrational and noncognitive factors, such as fear, anger, wounded pride, and resentment. However many of these currents of thought (and feeling)—some predating Darwinism by
centuries—were often 
retooled by social Darwinism 
in the late nineteenth and
 early twentieth centuries.” 

Weikart, p. 11.

Darwinism dominated Nazi educational policy. In 1933 the Nazi education minister decreed biology (not theology or philosophy) to be the foundation of all subjects (see Weikart, p. 201, where he cites Gilmer Blackburn, Education in the Third Reich: A Study of Race and History in Nazi Textbooks). Similarly, many Darwinian ethicists today say that biologists need to take ethics out of the hands of philosophers and theologians. Accordingly, today we observe the academic popularity of evolutionary psychology along with its ethical teachings. Where will this lead us? What ethical trajectory in public policy today might be justified in the name of science?

PS: As a historian of science who has done some work with German topics, I can appreciate the depth of scholarship in Weikarts books and articles. As Weikart explained in the newsletter of the History of Science Society (of which we are both members), much of his work on Darwin-to-Hitler has been unveiled in the usual scholarly way--through a series of peer-reviewed journal articles that support many of the key claims in his book. The History of Science Society does not take any official view on this topic. Its members hold a variety of viewpoints.

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