The Primate Diaries

My response to David Klinghoffer’s piece in the Huffington Post has just been published:

Creationists are fond of laying the blame for Nazi eugenics on Charles Darwin. They insist that his materialist argument that humans evolved from animals and his conception of natural selection inspired the Nazis to implement a widespread policy of artificial selection within the Fatherland. However, these claims are as baseless as was the so-called “science” that the Nazis employed.

The latest example of this ignorance disguised as revelation was recently published on The Huffington Post by a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, David Klinghoffer. The Discovery Institute is a self-avowed propaganda vehicle whose stated goal is to “teach the controversy” of intelligent design creationism. This approach was determined to be “a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory” in US federal court despite the Discovery Institute’s strong advocacy. Even the Templeton Foundation, the largest proponent seeking a connection between religion and science, has disavowed intelligent design as little more than “a political movement.”

Read the rest of the post “Intelligent Design Creationists Abuse Science and Victims of the Holocaust.”

Comments

  1. #1 steve
    July 6, 2010

    Nicely done. I appreciate that you went right to HuffPo, and I am glad they published it.

    I regret that the damage had already been done, but maybe this will help.

    Thank you for a well written and timely post.

  2. #2 Hitch
    July 6, 2010

    I like the piece and learned a lot. I just wish that you had explained more how they do this to deflect history away from christian anti-semitism and try to find an alternative explanation, that as a double whammy also puts Darwin in a bad light, which is a clear win for a creationist.

  3. #3 John McKay
    July 6, 2010

    Reading yours and Klinghoffer’s pieces, I was struck by an ugly side effect of the Discovery Institute’s reducto ad Hitlerium propaganda. It whitewashes Hitler. In attempting to smear Darwin, and indirectly discredit evolutionary theory, they move responsibility for the Holocaust away from Hitler. That, as history, the Darwin-Hitler gambit is dishonest crap is something that has been pointed out again and again. Maybe we need to point out that it is also morally despicable.

  4. #4 EMJ
    July 6, 2010

    @John: I think you’re absolutely right. I mentioned that in the final paragraph, but it’s something that should be emphasized.

  5. #5 Hitch
    July 6, 2010

    Gasman posted a comment, basically content free, linking his free-reeling apologetics and racist charges against Richards.

    Some people are so deranged they absolutely want that link, even though it is irrelevant. Even if Haeckel was who Gasman tries to paint him to be, that would still not condemn Darwin. Of course Gasman does not concede that one bit.

    In his writings he tries to have it both ways. At the one hand claim Haeckel and Darwin are different but then defend people like Ben Stein who popularize the link from Darwin (not Haeckel) to Hitler.

    Rather sad what can be a tenured professor these days.

  6. #6 John Kwok
    July 6, 2010

    BTW, you might find rather revealing with regards to his character, this rather self-indulgent, narcissistic rant from Klinghoffer explaining why he would send his children to our undergraduate Ivy League alma mater:

    http://www.brownalumnimagazine.com/content/view/1893/40/

    (The article was entitled “How Brown Turned Me into a Right Wing Religious Conservative”.)

    The following month, that “essay” of David was the subject of some interesting rebuttals published in the magazine’s Mail Room.

    (Look under Reactionary or Sage here:

    http://www.brownalumnimagazine.com/content/category/6/98/40/ )

  7. #7 phantomreader42
    July 7, 2010

    What more could we possibly need to know about Kilnghoffer’s “character” besides the fact that he’s a shill for the Dishonesty Institute and a Nazi? The frauds who promote the Darwin->Hitler lie always seem to end up being fascist crooks themselves. So I for one will just assume they’re Nazis until proven otherwise.

  8. #8 Long Line
    July 11, 2010

    Just a comment on your excellent reply to Klinghoffer’s cheap shots at Huffington Post. Although I agree with you overall, I believe you are a little off the mark in affirming that “Ernst Haeckel . . . was a primary source for Nazi eugenic policies.”
    Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) has been a Christian whipping boy for well over 100 years. He irked just about every religious conservative at the time for his opposition to Church doctrine and aggressive pushing his own materialistic philosophy called Monism. He also defended the idea that Germany was in the right during WWI, making him unpopular in England and the US after the war. More recently, he has become a scapegoat for a Left that wishes to deny liberal involvement with eugenics in the early 1900s.
    Haeckel did defend outrageous opinions for his times. He suggested that an incapacitated or dying person had the right to have his or her life terminated if the request was approved by a medical commission on the basis of lack of prognosis for improvement. He also suggested, based on his interpretation of medical evidence available at the time suggesting that a newborn was unconscious (Haeckel placed value on the moral issue of consciousness), argued, but did not propose as policy, that terminating the life of a defective newborn should not be considered murder. American Indians and Spartans, he said, employed the practice, reducing family suffering, societal costs, and bad genes. Considering that many birth defects can now be detected long before birth, and that elective abortion is now the legal norm, Haeckel´s views, rather than retrograde, seem prophetically modern. Plato’s Republic (Book 5) argued for a eugenics policy of doing away with defective children, but Haeckel did not cite Plato.
    Haeckel did suggest that some human races were ‘superior’ to others, but he used a non-standard definition with ‘superior’ meaning ‘culturally complex.’ His view was not Eurocentric. His ‘highest races’ (allowing that ‘race’ had a different definition then than now) were the Chinese and Japanese and the general European stock, because of the rich literary, musical, artistic, architectural and scientific traditions of each. On the European side were northern Europeans, Romans, Greeks, Babylonians and other groups extending eastward to India. In Haeckel’s book diagrams, Semites were placed at the top only a text-line below Germans, probably, if I read Haeckel correctly, because Goethe was German (or perhaps he was playing to the home audience buying his books). Haeckel’s writings lack any suggestion that less complex societies should not be treated with respect (His enemies, reading between the lines, say otherwise). He like Darwin believed in ‘Lamarckian mutations’ that could be induced through education and increase an individual’s or a people’s capacity for culture. Although the premises of this model are far from correct, the model itself is not at all malevolent. We know that Haeckel defended homosexuality as natural, defended Jews (although derided groups, including Jewish groups, that did not culturally assimilate), citing valuable contributions to German culture. He wrote fairly and compassionately of the people he met during collecting trips to Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
    In Berlin in 1904 the feminist and free-spirit Isadora Duncan dedicated a special performance to Haeckel based on “Darwin and Haeckel” in honor of his 70th birthday. In the same year Haeckel with like-thinking colleagues formed a free-thinkers society called the Monist League to discuss the application of scientific principles to society. In 1907 conservative German Christians formed the Kepler league specifically to deconstruct Haeckel – his philosophy, his science, and his legacy – and they succeeded famously as is testified by the toxic smell that arises anytime Haeckel’s name is mentioned.
    Although Haeckel died in 1919, his Monist League lasted until 1933, when it was abolished by the Nazis. Hitler about the time boasted to his constituency of his rapid elimination of atheist organizations. A few years later, the Nazi party decisively blocked a move by some members to reinstate Haeckel as a German patriot. Public libraries at least in part of Germany banned books on Monism, essentially outlawing Haeckel’s popular writings on evolution, human origins, and social policy. The Third Reich fought feminism, touted family values and the need for women to say at home, denied abortions to healthy German women, eliminated women from the work force (at least until industry required them due to the war) and reduced women’s enrollment in universities.
    The Nazis also proposed doing away with genetic defects by restricting reproduction of carriers of serious disorders. In Mein Kampf Hitler spoke clearly, where it could be read by any citizen interested in the policies of a future Nazi Germany, on why the elimination of genetic defects should be a national goal. Hitler also outlined his vision of a national eugenics program based on an appeal to patriotism. Neither Darwin, nor evolution, nor German progress was mentioned. It should be noted that the German population in 1930 was approximately 30% Catholic and 60% Protestant (Lutheran), and the electorate had 8 years to mull over the moral content of Hitler’s eugenics project before he became Chancellor. Mein Kampf was Hitler’s autobiography, philosophy, and social program, basically his soul (if he had one), and it is improbable, under the circumstances, that he faked it or that the public was tricked.
    Hitler displayed in Mein Kampf a reasonable understanding of Mendelian genetics, for example, that a person could carry a recessive mutation without expressing it. However, contrary to the myth, he did not propose breeding an Aryan super-race using some kind of Luther Burbankian breeding program for making tastier beets. What Hitler did propose was that mutations had over the centuries caused the original Aryan Volk to deteriorate from its original Godly perfection, and now it was the duty of the Aryan nation to purify and reconstitute the German peoples to their original created perfection. Needless to say, no ideas like these are found anywhere in the writings of Darwin, Wallace, Huxley or Haeckel, or Galton for that matter. Nazi eugenics was a toxic mixture of Mendel and Moses and had little to do with idealized progress, and much less with biological evolution. It was unadulterated purifying selection dressed in a Biblical robe.
    In short, if Haeckel had problems, and he did, being a proto-Nazi was not among them.
    The information given here can be mostly found in Robert Richards (2008) excellent Haeckel biography The Tragic Sense of Life (University of Chicago Press), the Murphy translation of Mein Kampf, and English translations of Haeckel’s The History of Creation, The Evolution of Man, The Riddle of the Universe, and The Wonders of Life.

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