Facing death-1: Why think about it?

I have been thinking about death quite a lot recently. Circumstances have forced this topic to the forefront of my mind. Don’t get me wrong. There are no signs that any time soon I will be shuffling off this mortal coil, checking out, kicking the bucket, snuffing out the candle, or any of the other euphemisms we use to avoid the word death. As far as I can tell, my body is ticking along nicely.
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Thought experiments on the historicity of Jesus-1: The contamination principle

Readers may recall an earlier post on the question of whether the Jesus of the Bible is based, however loosely, on an actual historical figure living in that region of the world at that time (as claimed by the historicists) or whether he is an entirely fictional character based on myths and legends (as asserted by those labeled as mythicists). It should be noted that this particular debate does not involve religious people and has nothing to do with whether Jesus did miracles, rose from the dead, and all the other things that signaled that he was divine, which both sides are willing to dismiss as fictional. [Read more…]

Is philosophy science?

In general, questions such as “Is (subject X) a science?” are not very useful. After all, what does it matter what label you assign to something? In certain situations though, the label matters quite a lot. In the US, because of the Establishment Clause, the answer to the question of whether a theory is scientific or religious can determine if it can be taught in public schools. This is why religious people constantly seek to either label their religious beliefs (creationism and intelligent design) as science or seek to have those theories that threaten religion (like evolution) be classified as something other than science. [Read more…]

Reason Rally report

I attended a portion of the Reason Rally yesterday in Washington DC. It drizzled or rained gently most of the time, which cast a bit of a damper on the proceedings but people were in good spirits. The crowd that attended should dispel the notion that the nonbelievers movement consist of old, white guys. It was gratifyingly diverse in all categories (gender, age, and ethnicity) with the large majority being young people. I felt like an old fogey and that was great, just as it should be. [Read more…]

Existence and universal claims

An interesting discussion has broken out in the comments section of the post The weak historical evidence for Jesus that is related to the question of where the burden of proof lies when promoting or refuting a claim.

Those who started reading my blogs only after I moved to Freethought Blogs have been (so far at least) mercifully spared the many multi-part series on some topics that those [Read more…]

Why agnostics may find the religious more congenial than atheists

A regular reader of my former blog, who describes himself as a fence-sitting agnostic, commented in response to one of my posts at my previous site:

One objection I do have against this blog is the sense of superiority it conveys and the derision with which it refers to the religious. Atheism somehow seems to bring out the not so nice qualities of its adherents. A great pity. In my experience, being an agnostic among Atheists is more daunting than being one among the religious.

Actually it should not be at all surprising that he finds that that the company of the religious to be more congenial than that of atheists. This is because for some time, the more sophisticated religious people have been feeling the heat that the new atheists have been putting on them. Our relentless demands for evidence to substantiate their belief in a god have put them in a quandary because there is no evidence, other than the evidence from ignorance that there are some major things (the origin of life and the universe for example) that science has not yet fully explained. It has resulted in them resorting to the position that god is not an empirical entity and so evidence is not relevant to the question of his/her/its existence. If you look at the arguments of theologians, much of it now consists of finding reasons for why there is no evidence of god although, oddly enough, they seem to have no difficulty ascribing a whole range of properties to something for which they have no evidence. [Read more…]

Misconceptions about Nazi ideology

One popular trope is that the Nazi racist ideology was atheistic and Darwinian, and the conclusion is drawn that atheism and evolution are thus responsible for all its evils. This was a central theme in the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. But while that argument has always been specious at best, this article by Coel Hellier methodically lays out the case that even the premise is wrong, and that “Nazi racial ideolology was religious, creationist and opposed to Darwinism.”

The main idea of the article is that Hitler was not advocating the creation of a master race by some form of eugenic procedures that originated with Darwin’s idea. Hitler was instead advancing the explicitly creationist case that Aryans were god’s original creation in the Garden of Eden and that this pure creation was being polluted by interbreeding with inferior races and that this needed to be reversed.

It is a long article that goes into great detail in demolishing this argument by tracing the intellectual roots of Nazism. I will quote just a few excerpts to give you a general sense of Hellier’s argument.

Among those who dislike Darwin’s explanation of human beings as the product of evolution a common accusation is that Darwinian thinking has led to horrors such as the Nazi holocaust. For example the American religious commentator Ann Coulter writes: “From Marx to Hitler, the men responsible for the greatest mass murders of the twentieth century were avid Darwinists” (which is wrong on all the others, not just Hitler). So widespread is the claim that even many who accept that Darwinian evolution has been established as true, well beyond any reasonable doubt, also believe that Darwinian ideas were misused to justify Nazi atrocities.

Are these claims correct? Remarkably, for a claim so widely accepted, no they aren’t. Indeed, the Nazi ideology underpinning the extermination of the Jews was opposed to and incompatible with Darwinism, instead being a religious and creationist doctrine.

They believed that the different human races were distinct and separate, created as God wanted them, and they regarded these permanent racial characteristics as all important to human culture and destiny. Further, they believed that allowing racial inter-mixing had led to the downfall of civilizations, and was a sin against God’s creation. Thus they considered it of overwhelming importance to preserve their own Nordic/Aryan race, which they regarded as superior and created in “God’s own image”, by preventing inter-breeding with “inferior” races which they regarded as literally “sub-human”, being separate creations.

So, yes, the Nazis wanted to use selective breeding, but not to create a “master race”, but to preserve an Aryan master race, preserving the primordial Aryan characteristics which they believed were the “highest image of God”.

This ideology shares one thing with Darwinism, namely the possibility of using selective breeding to achieve a desired end, a possibility mankind had known about since the invention of farming, about 12,000 yrs ago. But in all other respects it is profoundly anti-Darwinian. Whereas in Darwinian evolution all mankind evolved out of a common monkey-like ancestor, with all human races sharing a common origin in the recent past, in Nazi ideology the different human races were distinct and separate creations.

While the mutability of species, with new species evolving out of distant ancestors, is the central theme of Darwinism, the Nazis found that idea anathema, and placed a heavy emphasis on racial purity and the distinctiveness and separateness of different species. Further, the Nazis found abhorrent the materialist notion that man might be just like other animals, and, from their religious and moralistic perspective, they insisted that man had a spiritual soul.

That is why leading Nazi ideologues wrote books explicitly rejecting Darwinism, and why they banned Darwinian works from public libraries. The truth is that nothing in Nazi ideology derives from Darwin — the slight overlap is only in areas known about long pre-Darwin. Nor are there any quotes of leading Nazis looking to Darwin or pointing to Darwin as justification — if there were the creationists would likely have found them by now. In short, the association of Nazi doctrine with Darwinism is an outright fabrication by those who wish to discredit Darwinism and the scientific account of the origin of man.

Mein Kampf does not mention Darwin even once. Where atheism is mentioned (twice) it is pejorative, associating atheism with Jews and Marxism (e.g. “They even enter into political intrigues with the atheistic Jewish parties against the interests of their own Christian nation” and “… atheistic Marxist newspapers …”). Instead, Mein Kampf presents a religious, creationist and moralistic argument for removing Jews from German society. That is the major theme of the book, running through it repeatedly.

In line with the above Nazi thinkers, Hitler believed that mankind did not have a common origin, but consisted of several distinct and separately created races. The Aryan race was the superior race, with other races such as Jews and Slavs being literally “sub-human”. Hitler believed that the Aryans had enjoyed a golden past, and that Germany’s current troubles were the result of allowing racial inter-mixing, which was destroying the master race, leading to a degeneration of society. Thus it was morally necessary to prevent racial inter-mixing, if necessary by a “final solution” to the “Jewish problem”.

In summary, while Nazi racial doctrine and Mein Kampf share one feature with Darwinism, namely competition and selection, the Nazi doctrine is not derived from Darwinism and is fundamentally incompatible with it. Whereas Darwinism says that all humans have a common origin, that species and races are malleable, evolving over time, and that one could (as with all animals, and if one so wished) artificially control breeding to enhance and select desired characteristics, Nazi doctrine says that human races are distinct and primordial, created separately by the Will of God, who desires that they remain separate, that the moral imperative is to preserve the races in their current state by preventing any racial intermixing, which would be both harmful and sinful.

Above all, while any similarity with Darwinism is only in one mechanism, namely competition and selection, the Nazi motivation for keeping the races separate is profoundly anti-Darwinian and instead religious and creationist.

Indeed, what records we have show that, far from being inspired by Darwin’s work (which there is no record of Hitler ever having read), Hitler was instead inspired by religious ideology and the Bible. A revealing notebook shows that Hitler’s ideas on race were inspired by his reading of the Old Testament.

Thus nothing in Nazi ideology derives from Darwinism. The few aspects in common were pre-Darwinian; the ideas that originated with Darwin were anathema to and rejected by the Nazis. The widespread blaming of Darwinism as an inspiration for Nazi crimes has no support in historical evidence and instead derives purely from a desire on the part of the religious to smear Darwinism.

Hellier also examines the claim that the Nazi’s were atheistic and finds that too to be also false.

The labelling of the Nazis as “atheistic” is similarly motivated and is also the exact opposite of what the evidence says. The Nazi ideology was theistic and religious and an offshoot of Christianity, merging Christianity with Nazi racial theory. It is true that the Nazified Christianity was opposed to more mainstream Christian views, and thus that the Nazis wanted radical reform of the Christian religion, but in no sense was it “atheistic”.

While the Nazi’s were critical of the current established churches, they considered themselves to be followers of a purer form of Christianity.

Nazi theology, however, departed from mainstream Christianity in regarding the Christian churches as misguided and having been corrupted from the original aims of Jesus by Jewish influence, particularly that of Paul. The Nazis claimed that Jesus was not a Jew, but instead an Aryan (again, to the Nazis these were separately created races).

The Nazis thus founded the German Christian movement, mixing Christian theology with Nazi racial ideology, and espousing a “Positive Christianity” which contrasted with what they saw as the “negative Christianity” of the existing Jewish-influenced churches. With Nazi support, the Deutsche Christen won two thirds of the vote in the 1932 church elections, claimed a membership of 600,000 pastors, bishops, professors of theology, religion teachers, and laity, and were aiming to supplant the Catholic and Protestant churches.

This article is a useful reference to those who bring up the tired ‘Hitler was a Darwinian and hence evolution is bad and thus wrong’ argument.