Monday, February 9, 2009

Evolution and the Holocaust

One argument against evolution that comes up exasperating often is that evolution taken to its logical conclusion resulted in the Holocaust. This is rather like a gay person deciding to reject electromagnetic theory because they dislike the cultural impact of laws like “opposite charges attract.” It's only funny until millions of people believe it and vote accordingly.

This is such an inflammatory argument that it is rarely is given a passionless rebuttal. Shouting back at it is an enormous rhetorical mistake. All you have to blow on it a bit and the whole thing collapses marvelously.

To justify the Holocaust with evolution requires four different conclusions. First, it is logically possible that some races are better or more fit than other races. Second, Aryans are in fact superior and Jews are in fact inferior. Third, eugenics could effectively be used to advance evolution. Fourth, doing so is morally right. The Theory of Evolution fails to be at fault in all four steps.

Are Some Races Inferior?

The first issue is whether or not evolution creates a basis for racism by providing a basis for the possibility of one race being better than another. And it certainly does. It is logically possible that one race is more fit than another due to evolution.

However, different races are all part of the same species. So we're talking about microevolution. Creationists accept microevolution, so it makes absolutely no difference which view of origins you accept. Poodles and wolves are part of the same species and differ only due to microevolution – one certainty need not believe in their equality. Similarly, it might be the case that one race has better genes than another regardless of your theory of origins.

Which Races Are Inferior?

Evolutionary theory does not tell us which race is superior, or even if a superior race exists at all. If someone wants to argue that evolution led to the Holocaust, the least they could do is explain how evolution leads to a negative view of Jews or any of the other races that were targeted.

The hatred of the Jews had nothing to do with Darwin. It goes back to at least the Middle Ages and is due in large part to religious differences and anti-Jewish propaganda spread by the church. This component of the case for the Holocaust comes not from a distortion of evolution, but a distortion of Christianity.

Is Eugenics Effective?

How do you get rid of Jews? You kill them, or otherwise prevent them from reproducing. Any view of science sufficiently advanced to realize that Jewish children typically come from Jewish parents will reach this conclusion. Of course, I'm not talking about ethics, I'm only asking if a worldwide Holocaust would have accomplished Hitler's goal. The answer is yes. This hardly shows us the evils of believing that children usually look like their parents.

A harder question is if killing the weak and disabled would have a noticeable effect upon improving the human race's gene pool. Would it take three generations to see a difference? One thousand? Would it never help at all? But notice that the question here is about the effectiveness of a particular means of reducing the frequency of particular alleles so that a less fit homo sapiens population can become a more fit homo sapiens population. Or in other words, eugenics deals with microevolution, which is kind of funny, because creationists accept microevolution. Thus, it is not defenders of macroevolution who are inadvertently making the case for eugenics – we explicitly argue that evolution doesn't imply eugenics. The people whose rhetoric makes the case for eugenics are creationists.

Is Eugenics Morally Acceptable?

The alleged reason that evolution defends the morality of eugenics is that in evolution, life progresses through struggle and death. While there are some awkward moral issues if you believe that a loving God set it up to work this way, evolution itself does not say anything about the morality of the process. Evolution is a description of how the process works.

To argue that the efficacy of survival of the fittest somehow implies that a Darwinian society should be our goal is the “is-ought” fallacy. This is rather like telling the child of a rape victim that because their existence is good, they must believe rape to be morally acceptable. Or rather, it is like the child concluding that he wasn't conceived by means of rape because the moral implications of this would just be too terrible to be true. Evolution is merely a theory about the manner in which it happened – this isn't a moral claim, and only the barest amount of common sense is needed to see this.


I don't reject Christianity because Hitler also used religious language to defend hatred of the Jews. I don't even fault religion for Hitler's use of religious language – this would only be relevant if the Bible actually taught people to hate the Jews. The question is if Hitler's evolutionary case for the Holocaust was valid.

It is difficult to overstate just how bad the case for evolution leading to the Holocaust is, or just how badly it reflects on creationists' integrity. Ignorance is no excuse for falsely accusing others of harboring mass murderers. All you have to know to see through the argument is that different races are part of the same species, and thus the origin and extent of racial differences are questions for microevolution. I can more easily forgive the good-faith mistake of accepting many of creationists' other arguments, as they at least require some level of scientific knowledge to be refuted. But this takes next to nothing to be refuted and still it is a mainstream creationist argument. Just how gullible do creationists have to be for their leaders to be able to get away with this kind of thing for decades on end without an enormous backlash from within? Well, there actually is a backlash from within. We, the former creationists, are vilified for “trusting the reasoning of man.” When a group has catchphrases that antagonize people for the sin of thinking, there is no limit to what they will believe.