Demonizing Darwinists

Antievolutionists have long associated evolution with negative historical figures and movements such as Hitler, Stalin, slavery, eugenics—and just about every ism one can imagine. Such demonization of evolution is not new, but in the first decade of the twenty-first century, such accusations seem to be increasing (Coral Ridge Ministries 2007; Ham and Ware 2007; Weikart 2004). In addition to the efforts of the Discovery Institute and the various YEC organizations, the Islamist creationist Harun Yahya has been particularly vociferous in several books published in the late 1990s and early 2000s about the alleged linkage between evolution and social evils like Nazism and communism (Yahya n.d.)

A common theme in such treatments is the familiar confusion of methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism. Because Darwin (as all scientists) restricted himself to natural causes in explaining evolution, he is accused of promoting the philosophy of naturalism and therefore atheism. The belief is that without God, humankind will suffer moral degeneration and be capable of the kinds of inhuman brutality associated with Hitler and Stalin. The same view can be found in the new Answers in Genesis museum, which presents evolution as inspiring Hitler, Stalin, and Lenin.

There are serious flaws with all parts of the argument, of course: there is no necessary link between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism, evidenced by the many scientists who are people of faith. Second, there is no necessary link between religion and morality: there are moral and ethical systems that are not Christian, or even theistic, thus nonbelievers certainly can be ethical and moral (and believers can sometimes fail to live up to religiously based ethical standards). Further, the link among atheism and Hitler, Stalin, and other leaders rightly condemned for their brutality is weak: the origins of such leaders and the cultural, historical, economic, and political forces that bring them to and maintain their power are always complex. In general, historians have treated claims that evolution was a predominant or even serious component to events like the Holocaust as conceptually naive, mistaken in their history, and as better examples of polemics than of scholarship (e.g., Gliboff 2004). As Farber said in a review of Weikart's From Darwin to Hitler, "But it is a very long way from barnacles to the death camps" (2005: 390).1

It is of more than passing sociological interest that the choice of the demon with which to link evolution (i.e., Darwinism) varies through time and reflects cultural sensibilities. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis roundly excoriates evolution as the source of racism, whereas creationists in the 1950s and 1960s, before the civil rights movement, were not nearly as concerned with linking racism and evolution. Hitler and the Nazis, however, are always good candidates for demonizing ideas, ideologies, or individuals.

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