Holocaust ≠ natural selection

Aaron Kinney makes a good point about claims that the Holocaust was Darwin-inspired:

I would argue that even if Hitler really did use Darwin’s theory as inspiration for the mass-murder of Jews, he got it wrong. Throwing millions of Jews into death camps is, in my opinion, artificial selection! It is stacking the decks, not proving the superior adaptability of a breed of human.

Exactly so. There are a lot of mistaken ideas about how an individual demonstrates a natural superiority to other individuals, and foremost among them is this belief that it always involves being “red in tooth and claw” and exterminating the competition (secondmost: that it is always those who have the most babies who win). Simple-minded aggression and heedless procreation actually seem to be very poor strategies for human beings, who are more the slow and deliberate type of replicator, dependent on conspecific cooperation. The kind of social Darwinism/eugenics that Hitler favored was not evolution or Darwinism—it owes more to farming folk knowledge than to the complexity of evolutionary theory.

Not that that will matter to the people peddling the Darwin-Hitler link. I think they’d have a better case if they were arguing for a pigeon fancier-Hitler link.


  1. says

    [decloaking from vacation via the wifi accessed during a brief sojourn at a Panera’s in Toledo]

    Another point: Hitler frequently likened the Jews to bacteria or the tuberculosis bacilli “infecting” the German volk with a “disease” and “weakening” them. He viewed killing them as “eliminating the infection.” Using such logic you could just as well blame the Holocaust on Pasteur as on Darwin. At other times he likened the Jews to a “cancer.” Does that mean we could blame the Holocaust on, for instance, William Halstead, who advocated radical surgery to remove breast cancer?

    [recloaking back to the Internet-less farmland of Ohio]

  2. says

    But Darwin was one those evil pigeon fanciers! In fact until you get to chapter four of the _Origin_ you find almost nothing *but* pigeons — I’ve met people who gave up reading the _Origin_ out of boredom before getting to the good stuff.

  3. Ginger Yellow says

    It’s not a coincidence that many of the people who make the Darwin-Hitler connection think American society is on the verge of anarchy as a result of higer birthrates among non-whites.

  4. DragonScholar says

    The funny thing of this whole recent Darwin-Hitler stupidity is that it does not address the hard question – is Evolution validated by science? It’s a smokescreen conjured up by the creationist/ID crowd to try to distract from the fact that they’re loosing. By associating Darwin with Hitler they discourage even trying to understand Darwin.

    It’s not like they can win in the scientific arena, so they simply resort to more lying. And they call atheists and scientists immoral . . .

    Orac, my sympathies. You’re in the state I escaped from.

  5. Joaquin says

    You never rest?. I am impressed for your never ending activity!. Good job!

  6. says

    Simple psychological scapegoating. Spencer couldn’t deal with his feelings about the poor so he shrugged off his responsibility for empathy by saying that “nature” made them poor. Hitler used epidemiology and germ biology to explain his scapegoating of Germany’s hyper-inflation and general bad times on the Jews.

    Some old BS – times are bad, burn the witches – I can’t get into school, must be the Mexicans – I can’t get a date, must be the Blacks, economies failing in Germany b/c of losing a war, must be the merchants ripping us off – same old psychological projection that we’ve been dealing with since the Old Testament and beyond.

    Besides, selection refers to the environment meaning nature right? Not the social environment with your fellow humans. ‘Hey it’s hotter now and I can withstand the heat while others pass out and die’ kinda logic, right?

    Hitler was outright jealous of the Jews ability to survive – he blamed them for Germany’s depression by citing usury and the like and their economic success with being merchants and all – and the public was jealous too b/c the Jews (recent studies in the news) were smarter b/c they were merchants while they were laborers.

    I used to be an atheist but after psychotherapy it went away – it was just another projection of something I couldn’t emotionally deal with. Sad but true. Not a theist but not against theism either – No man in the sky and no anger at once believing their was, just my innate spirituality intact since birth.

  7. Owlmirror says

    The kind of social Darwinism/eugenics that Hitler favored was not evolution or Darwinism–it owes more to farming folk knowledge than to the complexity of evolutionary theory.

    To farming, perhaps a certain amount, but far more to Sparta – a culture that Hitler very much admired:

    Shortly after birth, the mother of the child bathed it in wine to see whether the child was strong. If the child survived it was brought before the elders of the tribe, by the child’s father, who decided whether it was to be reared or not. If found defective or weakly, the baby was left on the wild slopes of Mt Taygetos. In this way attempts were made to secure the maintenance of high physical standards in Sparta. From the earliest days of the Spartan, the claim on his life by the state was absolute and strictly enforced.

  8. Pygmy Loris says

    Matt said

    b/c the Jews (recent studies in the news) were smarter b/c they were merchants

    Those studies have substantial methodological flaws that bring the conclusions into serious question. I had a student bring one of the Askenazim “studies” to me last semester, wondering if it was true. The article had so many methodological problems and correlation=causation mistakes, the conclusions contained therein were essentially worthless. The essential tone of the article I read was that because of the peculiar jobs Jews were forced into, they became smarter to survive, so it’s no big deal that Christians persecuted the Jews; the persecution made them smarter.

    Those articles are a “no harm, no foul” approach to the inconvient reality of religious persecution in Europe prior to WWII.

  9. Lizzie B says

    Steven Pinker does a great job exploring this misconception in The Blank Slate and, importantly, emphasizing that “an idea is not false or evil because the Nazis misused it.” I think this is the key here; Hitler’s use of “bastardized versions of Darwinism and genetics” made studies of evolution and natural selection taboo after the Holocaust. Furthermore, the mere connection with Nazism, however vague, impacted other fields as well. A couple interesting examples mentioned in The Blank Slate:

    -American public health officials were slow to acknowledge that smoking causes cancer because it was the Nazis who had originally established the link
    -biomedical resesarch in Germany has been crippled because of vague lingering associations to Nazism

    Finally, Hitler was not an atheist; he thought he was carrying out a divinely ordained plan, so for creationists this pretty much nullifies linking Nazism to people one disagrees with. And besides, likening theories of evolution to Nazism exploits the suffering of his victims, and does absolutely nothing for the prevention of future genocides.

  10. says

    If Darwinism can be associated with any political school of thought, isn’t it, um, pretty obviously social Darwinism more than any other? Oh, but that’s just another name for unregulated capitalism, and everyone who believes in Darwinism is eeevil, so…

  11. says

    Pygmy Loris:

    Okay – but Hitler was still jealous of their success. You know, it’s not really that unreasonable to think that Jews are smarter – at least intellectually. I mean who’s smarter, a merchant or a farmer? Hitler was a jealous dumbass who was emotionally a petulant child.

    As far as “religious” persecution goes – people say they’re half Jewish but they never say they’re half Catholic – psst…that’s b/c one’s a religion that has all sorts of ethnics groups in it and the other is a ethnic group that curiously has only one religious orientation.

    My original point is still valid – Hitler was scapegoating the outsiders (gays, invalids and kommies were also put in camps) for the present problems. It could easily happen today with the Arabs being scapegoated in America. People aren’t any different.

  12. Pygmy Loris says

    Lizzie B,

    Physical anthropologists all over the world have been pursuing research in natural selection and evolution with specific regard to those processes in Homo sapiens with zeal for more than a century. The Holocaust and the association of Social Darwinism with Hitler’s genocidal urges did not end this kind of research as you suggest.

    I have not read The Blank Slate, but I wonder what the book is about. The two examples from it you provide are not directly linked to natural selection or evolution, but to medicine.

    Does the book make reference to research within anthropology after WWII? We’re always looking at natural selection in humans.

  13. says

    Throwing millions of Jews into death camps is, in my opinion, artificial selection!

    Oh yes, that’s a good posit, because remember what Ann Coulter had to say:

    “Evolution is not selective breeding” in other words, artificial selection. To her, evolution could only be defined as speciation: “Darwin’s theory says we get new species, not a taller version of the same species” and certainly the creation of a new species is hardly what Hitler accomplished.

    You heard it from Ann herself, creationists–the Final Solution is not “Darwinism”!

  14. Pygmy Loris says


    Hitler was most certainly scapegoating the Jews.

    If you look at ethnicity and religion, Judaism and Catholocism are very different kinds of religion. The primary reason that Jews have one religion is because that religion says that they are the hereditary chosen people of god. Judaism is not an evangelizing(sp?) religion.

    Catholicism is an evangelizing religion. The state of being Catholic is not conferred by birth but rather by conversion and “choice.” This is why Catholocism includes many different ethnic groups while Judaism does not. However, there are quite a few different kinds of Jews with very different cultures that do qualify as distinct ethnicities to some anthropologists.

    OTO some people see Catholic as an ethnic group. Many people who profess to be Catholic don’t believe in god or go to mass, but they consider themselves Catholic because of their culture.

    These kinds of problems are why many sociocultural anthropologists spend huge amounts of paper trying to define ethnicity conclusively.

  15. bernarda says

    As I have mentioned before, Foxman and the ADL are no reference. They have one and only one interest, Israel.

    Again, from the ADL site,

    “Through programs, publications and contact with officials, ADL interprets Israel to U.S. policy-makers, the media and the American public. ADL seeks to explain the political and security issues confronting Israel, educates about the complexities of the peace process, urges support of Israel and explains why a strong Israel is important and valuable to the United States and the Western world. The League also combats efforts to delegitimize Israel by the Arab world, the international community and the media. ADL’s Jerusalem Office hosts fact-finding missions to Israel for American government leaders and other opinion-molders.”


    Foxman seems to think that “holocaust” is a registered trademark of the ADL. Anything he says should be taken with less than a grain of salt.

  16. Goldstein says

    So Hitler used “artificial selection”?

    So what, thats what Darwin used as one of his examples of how evolution works.

    He of course conflates this with artifical selection, but don’t let that bother you.

  17. says


    The funny thing of this whole recent Darwin-Hitler stupidity is that it does not address the hard question – is Evolution validated by science?

    In fact, this is the only relevant question, scientifically speaking. Whether or not Hitler based his “projects” on evolutionary theory (and I think we can all agree that the connection is tenuous at best) is not a scientific question, but a historical question. The one has nothing to do with the other. The fact that I could kill my neighbor with an arsenic cocktail doesn’t mean that its atomic number isn’t 33 or that it doesn’t sublimate at 887 K. The premise in this kind of argument simply isn’t relevant to its supposed conclusion.

    But what does this argument really mean? This: by attacking evolution not on its scientific merits but rather with shallow guilt by association arguments (or just by willfully lying about it), the IDists are in fact acknowledging that the answer to the question is “yes.” It’s a tacit admission that they can’t attack evolution on its scientific merits.

  18. says

    And furthermore, if evolution is invalidated by Hitler’s supposed use of it, then Christianity is invalidated by the Spanish Inquisition. Same argument, different terms.

    So there.

  19. DragonScholar says

    Dan, if we ever meet, I owe you a dinner for your observations. I’m going to remember the arsenic one for future use.

    I’m concerned the Darwin-Hitler thing is the next part of the meme wars of ID. It’s a way of negating scientific discussion, which is really the only way ID can win anyway.

  20. Owlmirror says

    Or to put it in other terms:

    Artificial selection is exactly the same as breeding, which has been known for tens of thousands of years.

    Darwin observed that breeding allowed traits in animals to be retained in future generations, and sometimes intensified on inheritance. He furthermore suggested that inherited traits could be intensified naturally as well, via selection. He was being a descriptivist about the origin of species.

    The Nazis looked at the same body of knowledge about breeding that Darwin did, and came to the conclusion that breeding could be applied equally well to human beings. This was not a new observation, since the Spartans had done it as well, thousands of years ago. And like the Spartans, the Nazis used this knowledge of breeding as prescriptivists, with the additional cruelty of killing anyone who wasn’t of their Volk thrown in.

  21. says

    By associating Darwin with Hitler they discourage even trying to understand Darwin. – Dragonscholar

    I am paranoid enough to wonder if the real goal is the other way around: by the association, they figure that when people really do realize that Darwin was right, so to speak, they’ll begin to think some right wing lunacy is also correct.

    Well, maybe not anything as loony as Hitler, but certainly Social Darwinism. Owlmirror is, IMHO, right on target in bringing up the difference between descriptivism and prescriptivism: the whole reason why ID is attractive to some is that they conflate the two … the religious types want science to prescribe their religion and seek to re-cast science accordingly. But, call me paranoid, the real beneficiaries of such a recasting (and — puts tinfoil hat on — the real push for such recasting comes from those who thus benefit) are the supporters of social Darwinism. If they can sufficiently addle kids to not understand the difference between description and prescription (as well as convince them, by “teaching the debate”, “life has evolved but sure looks intelligently designed”) — those kids will think evolution works miracles and “Darwinian approaches” should be, e.g., how society is managed.

    Perhaps I’m too paranoid, but you sometimes really wonder what the real goal with pushing opposition to teaching evolution properly is …

  22. Mike says

    You need to keep it short: Auschwitz and eugenics were the ‘intelligent design’ of humanity.

  23. says

    Look, I highly doubt Hitler knew that much about Darwin at all, and as for his henchmen, many of them rejected evolutionary theory outright.

    Hitler was influenced by his History teacher, Leopold Potsch, as well as Otto von Bismarck, Lanz von Liebenfels, a race ideologist and anti-Semite, Karl Lueger, the founder of the Christian Social Party and mayor of Vienna, Anton Drexler, Georg Ritter von Schönerer of Away from Rome fame, and Henry Ford, among others. Not exactly men of science.

  24. gramsci411 says

    Its not just the crazy Christians…

    2 fall semesters ago, I was walking through the student center of the University where I adjunct. THis happens to be the campus that has been certified as the most ethnically diverse campus in the country for the last 10 years in a row. There is an incredible balance of religions, racial phenotypes, ethnicties etc. Though kind of low on a Jewish population for a school in Northern New Jersey. I am the all purpose adjunct in the sociology and anthropology department, so I teach Cultural and Physical anthropology and Sociology. Cultural is my field, so perhaps Im a bit more sensative to people’s religious beliefs than a regular physical anthropologist.

    It was muslim awareness week. So i stopped by to check out their presentation. They had several pre-made posters that there was no way they had made themselves. (glossy, hard wood, detailed paintings…not your standard undergraduate stuff) that promoted mostly good things about Islam.

    And there was one very odd poster with a painting of Darwin and Hitler, which did use the word Holocaust, but not the words Jew, Jewish, or Judaism. I read the poster and became disgusted by the conflation of Darwin and Hitler and I began to scold the students for their misinformation.

    Now mostly, these were just guys in the student center who wanted to fight the stereotypes that get laid on muslims and to maybe meet cute girls who wear scarfs around their heads. But as I began to ask them questions and scold them, they all gathered together as a group and one guy came to me and said “As muslims, we dont believe in Evolution”

    “thats your right. Im not questioning your beliefs. Im here telling you that your are lying about Darwin and evolution and its relationship to Hitler. Dont you see how you are conflating the two ideas and reinforcing some very nastry things???” or something to that affect.

    They didnt care…I mean in that way that undergraduate guys dont really care about much besides girls…and I walked away.

  25. says

    Cyrus said:

    If Darwinism can be associated with any political school of thought, isn’t it, um, pretty obviously social Darwinism more than any other? Oh, but that’s just another name for unregulated capitalism, and everyone who believes in Darwinism is eeevil, so…

    Darwin had read not only Malthus, but also Adam Smith. Darwinism is nothing else as much as it is free market economics. “Social Darwinism” was a passing fad used to justify the rich behaving badly to the poor. Of course, creationists like the idea — stab your enemy in the back, and that means you’re superior all along; meanness is good.

  26. Rhampton says

    What a minute — I thought Intelligent Design had nothing to do with God?

    ‘Darwin Would Put God Out of Business’
    By David Klinghoffer

    The key point is whether, across hundreds of millions of years, the development of life was guided or not. On one side of this chasm between worldviews are Darwinists, whose belief system asserts that life, through a material mechanism, in effect designed itself. On the other side are theories like intelligent design (ID) which argue that no such purely material mechanism could write the software in the cell, called DNA.

    ID supporters find positive evidence of a designer’s hand at work in life’s history. The Discovery Institute, where I’m a senior fellow, has compiled a list of more than 600 Darwin-doubting doctoral scientists representing institutions like Stanford, Yale, and MIT. The bibliography of Darwin-doubting works in peer-reviewed and peer-edited scientific publications continues to grow.

    To put it starkly, Darwinism would put God out of business. God’s authority to command our behavior is based on His having created us. By this, I don’t mean that He formed the first person from clay less than six thousand years ago, but that His guidance was necessary to produce the chief glory of the world, life. If the process that produced existence and then life was not guided, then God is not our creator.

  27. SMC says

    I find it odd that every attempt to create a “superior” human being, historically, seems to be some sort of inbreeding program…People of “royal blood” may only interbreed with others of “royal blood”, “Aryans(tm)” may only interbreed with “Aryans(tm)” and so forth.

    Word of advice to any Supreme Overlords of the Earth – haven’t you ever heard of “hybrid vigor”? This is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing. I figure if there is any chance of there being any such thing as a “master race”, 5-10 generations of mandatory miscegenation ought to bring it out…

  28. says

    Of course, Hitler made use of plenty of physics, chemistry & engineering to create his rockets, bombers, submarines, gas chambers, etc. So therefore all science must be evil, not just biology!

  29. T_U_T says

    Holocaust ≠ natural selection

    Sorry, but I have to quibble. What do you think will happen to a population of critters that systematically kills any members that are different from some procrustean ideal ? Genetic diversity crashes to near zero, and the first next outbreak of some nasty disease wipes them out for good. That will be natural selection, then.

  30. MJAH says

    “Of course, Hitler made use of plenty of physics, chemistry & engineering to create his rockets, bombers, submarines, gas chambers, etc. So therefore all science must be evil, not just biology!”

    And milk – Hitler drank milk! And wore button-down-shirts. Evil shirts, Evil milk. Evil.

  31. says

    Everything is natural selection if you think about it, T_U_T. Sexual selection and “artificial” selection involve varying degrees of conscious intentionality, but everything is natural, including us.

    “An unnatural act is that which is impossible to attempt” (I’m mangling the quote). So, nobody, including the usual ID suspects, can not employ “Darwinism.” People don’t have a choice as to whether or not to “use evolution,” and it doesn’t go away when people choose not to believe in it.

    That doesn’t automatically make what we do, or what Hitler did, or what anybody does morally right, but that’s another issue.

  32. Ken Mareld says

    First of all I’m happy to be descended from Vikings. Unless you’re East Asian or Southern American (indigneous) or Southern African chances are my Y chromosome invaded your X chromosomes. In other words my ancestors probably raped your ancestors. So what? There has been a negative arts/cultural affect on the Nazi destruction of Jewish people in Germany and Europe. The only cultural expressions I can think of in Post War Germany are Nina, Kraftwerk and Gunter Grass. But that’s me. I’m sure there is more. This though doesn’t match the achievements of Goethe, Beethoven and Schiller. The Baltic region (including Scandinavia) being the last to christianize and the first to reject that christianity (lowest church attendance, highest acceptance of evolution) might provide that expression of culture that is seemingly missing in Germany. Then again, take what I say with much salt. I live in the land of Kurt Cobain and Dale Chiluly,

  33. says

    Ian B Gibson: Actually, the “romantic” end of the Nazi party (e.g. Heidegger) was anti-science. Heidegger eventually even believed that the Nazi party had failed not because it was a bunch of brutal thugs who wrecked Europe and nearly the planet, but because it had failed to confront science and technology appropriately.