Sunday, August 20, 2006

From the Archives: Hitler Was A Christian and Himmler Didn't Like Evolution

Through PZ and Raw Story I see that the wonderfully Ninth-Commandment-Committed James Kennedy is sponsoring an upcoming television special featuring none other than I-Walk-In-Christ's-Shoes Ann Coulter which will "connect the dots" between Darwin and Hitler. Those of us who can actually read know this will be pure Christian propoganda with limited fact, a dearth of appropriate context, a bevy of misquotes and absent volumes of data that don't fit the "Darwin Led to Hitler" conspiracy theory. In honor of this upcoming event, I would like to resurrect an old post of mine that touched on just this subject:

More on Farah's Lunacy
(From the March 2006 Archives)

Several days ago, Ed Brayton over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, posted comments on an article by Joseph Farah at WorldNetDaily entitled “Hitler’s Evolutionists”. Farah, citing an article in Archaeology entitled “Hitler’s Willing Archaeologists” rehashes the worn out creationist “evolution-leads-to-Hitler” argument that attempts to link evolutionary theory with the rise of the Nazi regime. This is, of course, a subset of the broader philosophy espoused by creationists and some Christian apologists, that “everything bad is the result of evolution; everything good stems from Christianity”, whether it’s Nazism, Communism, Columbine, abortion or a whole additional host of social ills. Brayton makes short work of Farah’s latest twist on this creationist myth by pointing out that even a superficial perusal of history reveals a much different story; one that Farah would rather his readership not know about. Hitler’s own writing and speeches show clearly that if he justified his ideology with any philosophical position, it was Christianity. Hitler claimed to be a Christian, cited biblical passages to justify his ideology, and was clearly familiar with centuries of church history documenting anti-Jewish attitudes on the part of many prominent Christian figures. Despite this, Brayton correctly clarifies that Christianity is no more to blame for the development of Hitler’s ideology than is evolutionary science:

Now, the Christian would obviously argue that what Hitler did was distort the true aims of Christianity, and I would agree with them. It is folly to blame Hitler's ideology of hatred on Christianity; his pathology was far deeper than a mere religious belief. But by the same token, neither was he motivated by a zeal for science. He was a manipulator who used every possible means to convince his followers to go along with him and changed his rhetoric depending on the nature of the audience he was speaking to. This should be obvious to any thinking person, which of course leaves Farah out right from the start.

Farah is the poster-boy for the creationist tactic of creating data where none exist while simultaneously ignoring volumes of legitimate information that counters his position. Brayton illuminated Farah’s idiocy with the light of reason, logic and a more comprehensive look at a available information. I would have left the whole issue there except that, as an archaeologist, I was curious about the connection Farah was attempting make between archaeology, Hitler and evolutionary theory. So I bought a copy of Archaeology and looked at the original article. It took only a few paragraphs to realize something I’ve always suspected of Joseph Farah: he needs to learn how to read.

The article is largely about Assien Bohmers, a Dutch national with a scientific background in soils analysis, stratigraphy and archaeology, who joined Heinrich Himmler’s elite research institute, the Ahnenerbe. The Ahnenerbe’s official mission was to “…unearth new evidence of the accomplishments and deeds of Germanic ancestors”. However, in reality it was clearly designed to bring “scientific methods” to bear on the question of a Germanic “Aryan” ancestry preferred by Hitler. Not only were the researchers tasked to identify common physical features between Germanic people and human fossils that were already being excavated in Germany and France, they were also to demonstrate the cultural superiority of these ancestors of the master race by showing significant developments in material culture. In other words, they were to cherry-pick data to demonstrate a preconceived notion to the larger public: everything culturally good originated from the Aryans; everything culturally bad originated with inferior races.

In reading through the article after having read Farah’s take on it, there were a number of issues that struck me. Brayton points out that in his own article, Farah cops to the fact that Ahnenerbe’s researches were manipulating data to demonstrate a particular viewpoint but doesn’t catch the relevance to doing proper science. Brayton demonstrates that is precisely the opposite of what science does. But the original article goes further in depth on this point, and is completely ignored by Farah. Despite the overt coercion from Himmler on what the Ahnenerbe researchers were to produce, many were clearly questioning the results, precisely because they were aware of the totality of the data. Bohmers reported enthusiastically to Himmler that his data suggested the ancestors of the Germanic race did not migrate in from the east as previously supposed, but “…must have developed in greater Germany”:

Bohmers was well aware, however, that the European scientific community would be considerably less enthralled by these ideas. Indeed, his foreign colleagues would need serious convincing, for Bohmers knew that many European scholars scoffed at the science of the Third Reich.

As I read through this, the depth to which Farah himself manipulated the article’s data to demonstrate his own warped sense of history became increasingly apparent. But the most egregious example was to come. Farah either didn’t read the whole article or (more likely) specifically ignored the following gem:

Himmler also found time to take Bohmers aside at a gathering to convey his personal views on the subject of human evolution. It must have been an instructive conversation. As Bohmers later reported, Himmler dismissed outright the notion that the human race was closely related to primates. He was also outraged by an idea proposed by another German researcher that the Cro-Magon arose from the Neanderthal. To Himmler, both these hypotheses were “scientficially totally false”. They were also “quite insulting to humans.”

Himmler, head of the SS and Gestapo, the person whose activities and ideology Joseph Farah would most like to lay at the feet of evolutionary theory, did not believe in evolution! In fact, it is quite clear that Himmler’s ideas on the subject of evolution were exactly the same as…Joseph Farah’s!

There was a final parallel I couldn’t help but notice. In an opening paragraph to the article I found the following description of Himmler’s need to establish the Ahnenerbe, which was partly to correct the fact that scholars had not uncovered evidence of the designers of the “master race”:

The answer to this problem, in Himmler’s mind, lay in more German scholarship – scholarship of the right political stripe. So he created the Ahnenerbe, which he conceived of as a research organization brimming with brilliant mavericks and brainy young upstarts who would publicly unveil a new portrait of the ancient world, one in which Aryans would be seen coining civilization and bringing light to the inferior races…

The concept of conscripting “brainy young upstarts” to “publicly unveil” a new way of looking at things sounded vaguely familiar. And I didn’t have to go far to find where I had originally read it:

Scientific revolutions are usually staged by an initially small and relatively young group of scientists who are not blinded by the prevailing prejudices and who are able to do creative work at the pressure points, that is, on those critical issues upon which whole systems of thought hinge….The primary purpose of Phase II is to prepare the popular reception of our ideas. The best and truest research can languish unread and unused unless it is properly publicized….We intend these to encourage and equip believers with new scientific evidence's [sic!] that support the faith, as well as to "popularize" our ideas in the broader culture…

These are from the Discovery Institute’s Wedge document. Will ironies never cease?


CFeagans said...

As I started to read this post, I realized I had that issue of Archaeology and waited to finish the post until I had re-read the "Hitler's willing archaeologists" article.

The very same passage that you noted jumped out at me too.

"Himmler dismissed outright the notion that the human race was closely related to primates. He was also outraged by an idea proposed by another German researcher that the Cro-Magnon arose from the Neandertal. To Himmler, both these hypotheses were "scientifically totally false." They were also "quite insulting to humans."

Being insulted by a common ancestry to primates is a very familiar fallacy.

I also found the double-standard of the Worldnut Daily author's contention that since "macro" evolution wasn't observable it was "just a theory." By this logic, we must also be dismissive of every single word of Biblical source, since these are not observable events.

At least the fossil record provides a bit of tangible, testable evidence. The Genesis myths present us only with the literature of an Iron age author that might be recording a Bronze Age story.

Christopher O'Brien said...

Yeah, given how often creationists dredge up the Darwin-leads-to-Hitler propaganda, I was completely surprised by the total rejection of evolution by the Nazis...I knew the connection was fabricated but I didn't expect the flat rejection of Darwin by Himmler.

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