Expelled as Holocaust denial

I’ve been reluctant to write about Expelled from the perspective of their abuse of the memory of the Holocaust. Ever since I learned that they were going to recycle the ludicrous Darwin-caused-Hitler argument I’ve been sending out emails to asking other experts their take on whether or not it constitutes a serious affront. Now reading Orac’s coverage of Art Caplan’s review of Expelled I think it’s something that needs to be discussed.

Let’s start with very clear statements of fact that are at issue here.

1) The Holocaust was a direct result of racism and anti-Semitic hatred that existed througout Europe for centuries. This was the motivation, this is clear and obvious to non-Holocaust denier.

2) The statement that the Holocaust sprung from the scientific theory of natural selection is absurd, Orac again does the best job of tearing this one apart. Hitler never once mentioned Darwin, rather Koch and Pasteur seemed his scientists of choice in his rhetoric against the Jewish people.

Previously the ADL has attacked those who have made this comparison. Why they have been quiet this time is inexplicable. I’ve sent them multiple missives asking for a similar reply to Expelled but no reply has been forthcoming. This is unfortunate. But I think their previous argument abotu D. James Kennedy’s use of the Holocaust to attack Darwin stands:

:”This is an outrageous and shoddy attempt by D. James Kennedy to trivialize the horrors of the Holocaust. Hitler did not need Darwin to devise his heinous plan to exterminate the Jewish people. Trivializing the Holocaust comes from either ignorance at best or, at worst, a mendacious attempt to score political points in the culture war on the backs of six million Jewish victims and others who died at the hands of the Nazis.

So I’m left with the following observations. Stein and the makers of this film have ignored the factual inaccuracy of their claims about Hitler and the Holocaust to present a false-history of how these events happened. They have attempted to score political points against science by shifting the blame for the Holocaust from the racism of the Nazis to an English scientist.

Does this constitute Holocaust denial? It certainly is denialism – it is the promotion of false history to attack science. It also includes the denial of a specific and important facet of the history of the Holocaust – that European racism is what facilitated the Nazi campaign of extermination against the Jews. While it doesn’t minimize the number of victims, or deny the actual events like more classic Holocaust denial, what does one call it when one lies about the reason for the Holocaust? Without the specific anti-Semitic intent I’m not entirely sure this qualifies.

I don’t know. We should ask experts like Deborah Lipstadt what they think. I do know one thing for sure. It is despicable.

Comments

  1. #1 PalMD
    April 23, 2008

    This is a truly horrible development…confounding the causes of the holocaust puts us in a satayanan position, especially as the survivors continue to die off and younger people have no personal or family memory. If history classes become infected with this crap…

  2. #2 ZacharySmith
    April 23, 2008

    I haven’t seen Expelled, nor do I plan on it.

    But I’ll wager that Ben Stein & Co. don’t mention that Richard Wagner was a much bigger influence on Hitler than Darwin, as far as “inspiring” Hilter with a quasi-religious vision of a glorius, pristine past that needed to be re-captured.

    As a youth in Vienna, Hitler read vile anti-Semitic propaganda publications like “Ostara”, not “Origin of Species” or “Descent of Man.”

  3. #3 Orac
    April 23, 2008

    I, too, was originally reluctant, but now I look at it this way: Ben Stein, Mark Mathis, David Klinghoffer, and the other ID propagandists opened this door to this. In defense of the memory of all those murdered, I hold my nose and walk through that door.

  4. #4 Colugo
    April 23, 2008

    Cross-post from Respectful Insolence (some typo and other corrections.):

    No, Expelled’s “Darwin caused the Holocaust” thesis is not Holocaust denial. Only Holocaust denial is Holocaust denial.

    There are many ideas about why Nazis perpetrated a genocide of the Jews. These range from obvious to plausible to dismissable to risible. Many of these are mutually compatible, part of a larger explanation.

    I have given a lot of thought to why the Holocaust happened. That does not make me an expert to whom anyone should defer. But I have taken this seriously, and read a number of historical treatments and (translated) primary sources.

    I am troubled by how the Holocaust has become a political weapon for contemporary debates. Intelligent Design. Global warming (Goodman’s suggestion that global warming denial is morally equivalent to Holocaust denial). Liberal fascism. American fascism (Hedges et al.). These politicized treatments often have a simplistic, sometimes monocausal theory of what the Nazis were about and why the Holocaust happened.

    The Holocaust had a great deal to do with centuries-old Christian antisemitism. But it was not entirely about Christian antisemitism, as some SciBlogs commenters have implied on various threads. Is asserting that the Holocaust was simply about Christian antisemitism and nothing more yet another form of Holocaust denial? Of course not. The fact is that all sides have been oversimplifying the complex historical reality.

    It is true that the Holocaust was not caused by Darwinism. It is also wrong to say that the Holocaust had absolutely NOTHING to do with Darwinism. I hate to give aid and comfort to creationists, but the truth is the truth.

    One thing that made the Holocaust different from previous mass murders of European Jews was that antisemitism had been biologicized. The Jews were not simply deniers of Christ but an enemy race that was a threat to Aryan stock. But even this is not entirely to crude applications of Darwinism to social affairs (Social Darwinism). For one thing, most American eugenicists were not antisemites, or at least not close to the degree that Nazis were.

    There is a lot of discussion about how Hitler referred to germ theory, but little on how this relates to social organicism, which had been developed by Spencer and Haeckel as elaborations of evolutionary theory.

    Michael Shermer acknowledges the role of Ernst Haeckel in the formation of Nazi biopolitics. By the way, it is overly simplistic to state that the Nazis banned Haeckel and leave the matter at that. In fact, while the Monist League was banned, an Ernst Haeckel Society was formed under SS auspices. While works of Darwin were banned, some believing Nazi scientists made contributions to the then-new Modern Synthesis. But like everything about Nazism, the story of Nazi biopolitics has been immensely simplified in the service of one agenda or another.

    And it should be emphasized that Hitler was not the sole figure behind the Holocaust; many medical doctors and biologists were architects of the Final Solution. Their views, not just Hitler’s, matter. And not an insignificant number of them were trained in the tradition of Darwin, Galton, and Haeckel, and they believed that their eugenics soundly rested on evolutionary science.

    I also note that part of Hitler’s discussion about breeding between species and races in Mein Kampf is this:

    “If Nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such a case all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.”

    Surely there is disagreement over the implications of that statement.

    We know for a fact that Hitler read and was inspired by Madison Grant’s Passing of the Great Race (he called it his “Bible”) and Baur, Fischer, and Lenz’s Human Heredity. These books are steeped in Galtonian eugenic reasoning. (If you want to say that Galton had nothing to do with Darwin, that’s yet another argument. Grant cites Descent of Man several times.) I have studied an American edition of BFL.

    The creationists have dumbed down and grievously distorted historical truth in order to serve their ideological agenda. But we ought not fight error with error. Nor should the charge of Holocaust denial be used against what is not Holocaust denial, however egregious or offensive it is.

    Something has happened to the discourse on the pro-science, pro-evolution side. It used to be “Eugenicists and Social Darwinists perverted evolutionary biology, and the Nazis were eugenicists and Social Darwinists as well as being in the tradition of Christian antisemitism.” Now the dominant narrative seems to be “The Nazis had nothing to do with Darwinism. Period.”

  5. #5 Arthur Caplan
    April 23, 2008

    I stand by my claim that attributing the Holocaust to Darwinism is a gross and disgusting form of Holocaust denial. If you say that 6 million Jews died, not from racism and bigotry, but because of a plan to implement Darwinism, then you blur the ethical offense of the Holocaust and, in Stein’s case, deliberately so.

    Holocaust denial is not just about did an event happen or not. It is crucial to know why the Holocaust happened. And we do know what the core driving motivation of the Nazi party was–racism. To imply, suggest or pronounce other primary causes is to deny what happened just as surely as to say no one was killed in the concentration camps. History encompasses both events and their causes.
    Denial is to ignore both.

    Expelled is a vicious and pernicious form of Holocaust denial

  6. #6 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 23, 2008

    Now the dominant narrative seems to be “The Nazis had nothing to do with Darwinism. Period.”

    I know it’s semantics, but technically the Nazis didn’y have anything to do with Darwinism. The other way around, can maybe be argued but I don’t agree. It’s a distinction that needs to be made, as trivial as it is, because it is exactly this type of language mis-queue that the anti-evolutionists latch onto.

    They bastardized ToE for their own social desires. Desires that were well set before Darwin ever came into their line of sight. When the Nazis corrupted the actual theories put forth by Darwin into a social construct that is not actual “Darwinism” (I hate that word because it gets used like this) they strayed past what Darwin was saying.

    Saying Darwinism (grrrrr) is partially responsible for the holocaust is like saying that someone who takes the theory of gravity and misapplies it to airplane flight causing the death of people makes Newton responsible.

    There is no fault that can be laid at the feet of Darwinism. Only at the feet of those who misapply and misunderstand it.
    They are the ones who have made the mistake. They are responsible. They are not using Darwin’s theory only a badly formed interpretation of it.

  7. #7 Colugo
    April 23, 2008

    “the Nazis corrupted the actual theories put forth by Darwin into a social construct that is not actual “Darwinism””

    Agreed.

    “There is no fault that can be laid at the feet of Darwinism.”

    Agreed.

    My point is that I am annoyed at distorted narratives about Nazism and the Holocaust. The creationists are far worse offenders, of course. As I have said in other posts, there is often an overcorrection on the pro-science side that involves oversimplifying Nazi biopolitics and the history of eugenics and Social Darwinism (it’s an unfortunate term, but thanks to Hofstadter we’re stuck with it).

  8. #8 SagansCandle
    April 23, 2008

    Previously the ADL has attacked those who have made this comparison. Why they have been quiet this time is inexplicable. I’ve sent them multiple missives asking for a similar reply to Expelled but no reply has been forthcoming.

    The ADL is heavily politicized,these days. It’s possible that they wouldn’t want to offend a group that so very frequently comprised of the staunchest supporters of current Israeli policy (i.e. right-wing Christian fundamentalists). This would not be the first time.

  9. #9 MarkH
    April 23, 2008

    I don’t know Colugo. I don’t think you can blame the science for the psuedoscientific use by eugenicists and Nazis. These were not scientific movements that followed the science to some logical conclusion. They were ideologues who would use anything they could latch onto to justify their pre-existing racism.

    A racist who says “Darwin told me to do it” is still just a racist. Natural selection might just be their latest excuse, but is not a justification or a contributor to their behavior. Jewish suffered pogroms across the world long before Darwin, and will adopt anything they can find to justify their ideology. I don’t think you can say even a modicum of fault can be placed on evolutionary biology for the misunderstanding of it by racists. Evolutionary biology didn’t make them that way, they abuse the science to justify their behavior.

    That being said, I’m not entirely sure Arthur Caplan is right either (I appreciate the visit though). The problem is that classically Holocaust denial stems from the ideological positions of anti-Semitism or promotion of Nazism. Neither of these is occurring here, rather they are evolution denialists using a pathetic appeal to consequences to attack the science, rather than anti-Semites or Nazis trying to diminish the Holocaust to support that ideology. Last week for instance Mike Adams called food irradiation a Holocaust against the American people and the worst crime in history. Is this Holocaust denial? Or is it just Holocaust abuse? I think there is a lesser category that may be more applicable.

    It is still highly despicable, but the absence of apparent anti-Semitism makes me hesitant to apply the label.

  10. #10 Martin Dale Hubbell
    April 23, 2008

    Colugo,

    Amplifying what MarkH said, the error you are making here is the same error made by the eugenicists themselves and by the creationists: namely accepting that eugenics can be linked with Darwinism (i.e., the theory of natural selection) in the first place. Eugenics is not a subset of Darwinism; they are both intellectual kin of artificial selection. To the extent that they are similar, it is through the fact that selection is involved. However, if the agent of selection is not nature, but man, then by definition you do not have Darwinism, because the mechanism in Darwinism must be nature and not man.

  11. #11 jnovitz
    April 23, 2008

    Holocaust denial is denying that there was a plan for mass murder of Jews and that mass murder was carried out.

    Whether or not Darwinism was reponsible for such an event is a completely different matter.

    As far as it goes Hitler was probably a committed Social Darwinist, so it is not a totally worthless claim. You could probably argue that an intellectual climate that Darwinism promoted certainly contributed to Euthanesia (if we assume the Nuremberg trial claims are correct and not simply victors writing history). And in modern Holocaust scholarship there is a very clear link between the ending of the T4 program (euthanesia) and the start of systematic gassing of Jews as a means of carrying out the Holocaust.

    It is impossible to remove Eugenics entirely from how Darwinism was perceived at the time. For example, at the Scopes trial, Scopes was a committed Eugenics support whereas Bryan decried evolution for, among other things, opening the door to eugenics and value on human life.

    I doubt that you could totally remove Darwinism from the development of Nazi concepts of Jews in the same way you probably can’t totally remove Nietzche from Nazi concepts of morality. That doesnt mean there arent clear distinctions between them as well.

    I wonder how long before the vowels come out of this one?

    depp=true
    notiz=[I've told you before, we don't tolerate holocaust deniers here, get lost]

  12. #12 James F
    April 23, 2008

    Let’s not forget the claim that Expelled is making: Darwin was necessary but not sufficient for the Holocaust. This is not even close to whether or not Darwin’s ideas influenced the Nazis in any way, or were misappropriated in any way. As such, the claim is easy to dismiss as an outright lie.

    And to Prof. Caplan, thank you for the article. My tendency would be to call it Holocaust revisionism, but I understand your justification for using the term.

  13. #13 Teresa
    April 23, 2008

    I dodged the issue and called it “Holocaust Revisionism”.

    Revisionism is to History what Denialism is to science.

    As a person with a History degree, it came more naturally.
    :-)

  14. #14 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 23, 2008

    As far as it goes Hitler was probably a committed Social Darwinist, so it is not a totally worthless claim. You could probably argue that an intellectual climate that Darwinism promoted certainly contributed to Euthanesia (if we assume the Nuremberg trial claims are correct and not simply victors writing history). And in modern Holocaust scholarship there is a very clear link between the ending of the T4 program (euthanesia) and the start of systematic gassing of Jews as a means of carrying out the Holocaust.

    Your entire point fails on one fact. Social Darwinism is a misnomer. It is not Darwinism. It is a misunderstood application of natural selection to a social target.

  15. #15 jnovitz
    April 24, 2008

    “Social Darwinism is a misnomer. It is not Darwinism. It is a misunderstood application of natural selection to a social target. ”

    It is not your understanding of what Darwinism is, but you don’t have a monopoly on the interpretation of the term and Darwin himself wasnt unhappy about the extension. And given Social Darwinisn arose out of the Darwinist paradigm, as it was understood in the early 20th century, this statement: “Darwin was necessary but not sufficient for the Holocaust.” still holds good.

    “I dodged the issue and called it “Holocaust Revisionism”.”
    Given Holocaust Revisionism is a euphemism used by Holocaust Deniers (which I am one) for denying the Holocaust, I think your distinction confuses more than it clarifies.

    It is neither Holocaust revisionism or denial as it does not dispute in any form the orthodox narrative of the Holocaust. It is simply an over-extension of a fairly uncontroversial observation
    One explored more fully in this work
    http://www.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=80951126890820
    depp=true
    notiz=[I've told you before, we don't tolerate holocaust deniers here, get lost]

  16. #16 Morgan Spurkey
    April 24, 2008

    “It is not your understanding of what Darwinism is, but you don’t have a monopoly on the interpretation of the term and Darwin himself wasnt unhappy about the extension. And given Social Darwinisn arose out of the Darwinist paradigm, as it was understood in the early 20th century…”

    What muddle-headed thinking…

    “Given Holocaust Revisionism is a euphemism used by Holocaust Deniers (which I am one)…”

    Oh, that explains it.

  17. #17 minimalist
    April 24, 2008

    So jnovitz feels that the Nazis were driven by Social Darwinism/eugenics to exterminate the Jews, but never actually planned it or followed through on the plan?

    Muddle-headed thinking indeed.

  18. #18 Howard
    April 25, 2008

    Ben Stein’s Denialism
    During his appearance on Craig Ferguson’s show last night, B.S. claimed he was simply trying to point out that the earth will continue to rotate and revolve around the sun even if you don’t believe in Darwinism. Tactically, it was pure Denialism in emphasizing a nonexistent issue, but ironic in the context of European religious conflict with science. I suppose the next claim will invoke Galileo and Isaac Newton as people who didn’t believe in evolution either.

  19. #19 karak
    October 2, 2008

    Most people don’t realize that most of Darwin’s observations are not radical. Farmers know that if they bred long-neck horses to tall horses, they’d get long necked tall horses.

    People have always known they could breed certain skills and talents in animals and humans. That’s why royals married royals, to “keep the blood strong”, “she’s of good breeding”, “blood will tell” and so on.

    Many, many, many people before the Nazis, for whatever reason, bred themselves as a superior or master race, refusing to intermarry those deemed “inferior”. And they sometimes murdered those deemed inferior. The Nazis just happened to exist at a time with unprecedented killing technology. The only thing unusual about them is how many they managed to kill, not what excuses they used for doing it.

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