Exploring the links between Nazism and the theory of evolution at Michigan State University

The Science Insider is reporting that an anti-evolution group will be hosting what they’re calling an “Origin Summit” on the campus of Michigan State University this weekend, in part in response to ongoing research being conducted at the University that further substantiates the theory of evolution. According to the website of the Oklahoma-based Christian group behind the event, the symposium will include eight workshops, one of which will focus on how evolutionary theory informed the worldview of Adolf Hitler. That session, in case you’re interested, will be run by Dr. Gerald Bergman, who, depending on which source you choose to believe, is either a distinguished academic or a raving lunatic who has only published in the likes of the Creation Research Society Quarterly since being denied tenure at Bowling Green State University in ’79 and fired the year after… Given that Bergman has said publicly that Darwin’s main goal was not to increase human understanding relative to the origin of life, but to “murder” God, my sense is that the latter is probably a more accurate reflection, but I’ll let you be the judge.

hitler-and-the-nazi-darwinian-worldviewI’d had plans to tell you about my recent near death experience in Georgia tonight, but instead I find myself frantically flipping back and forth between Bergman’s Facebook page, where he discusses his upcoming book, “Hitler and the Nazi Darwinian Worldview,” and the court case he brought against Bowling Green for wrongful termination. And now I’m wondering if there’s any way I might be able to get to MSU this weekend to see for myself just how far Bergman is willing to go to demonize our old friend Darwin.

Here, by way of background, is a clip from the Science Insider.

…News of the event caught MSU’s scientific community largely by surprise. Creation Summit secured a room at the university’s business school through a student religious group, but the student group did not learn about the details of the program—or the sometimes provocative talk titles—until later, says MSU zoologist Fred Dyer. The talk titles led Dyer to suspect that the student group was not involved in planning the conference, he says, prompting him to look into its origins.

Creation Summit sought to hold the event at MSU because “four of our Board members live there in Michigan,” wrote Mike Smith, the group’s executive director, in an e-mail to Science Insider. “We hope to have conferences on campuses throughout the country, but ya gotta start somewhere.”

Creation Summit is “not overtly evangelistic,” Smith wrote. But “we hope to pave the way for evangelism (for the other campus ministries) by presenting the scientific evidence for intelligent design. Once students realize they’re created beings, and not the product of natural selection, they’re much more open to the Gospel, to the message of God’s love & forgiveness.”

MSU has a prominent community of evolutionary biologists. In addition to Lenski, it is the home campus of biologist Robert Pennock, who provided high-profile testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, a 2005 federal court case that produced a ruling against the teaching of intelligent design in public schools. MSU is also the lead partner in the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, a multiuniversity effort funded by the National Science Foundation that pursues a wide range of evolution-related research and education efforts.

Some leaders of MSU’s evolutionary biology community are urging their colleagues to simply ignore the event, predicting that any engagement and debate will be fruitless. “In my opinion, this event will be just another forgettable blip in the long history of antiscience, antievolution screeds,” Lenski says…

For what it’s worth, I don’t deny that Hitler was likely influenced by Darwin. That, of course, isn’t the same as saying that Darwin is somehow complicit in the killing of millions Hitler saw as inferior, as Bergman is suggesting. For those interested in delving deeper on the subject, I’d suggest Dan McMillan’s recent piece at Salon.com, pulled from his book How Could This Happen: Explaining the Holocaust. As McMillan says, “The evolution theorist couldn’t have known that people like Hitler would exploit his ideas in such horrifying ways.” But that, I suspect, was probably already obvious to all of us capable of rational thought.

While the provocateur in me appreciates Bergman’s attempt to popularize the phrase “Nazi Darwinian Worldview” in hopes of furthering his political objectives, it just doesn’t stand up to even the slightest scrutiny. I mean, I get where he’s coming from. I get that he’d like to suggest that mass-extermination, school shootings and the like are what you’re sure to get if you question the infallible word of God as conveyed through the Bible, but there isn’t really any evidence of that. Sure, Hitler may have deluded himself that what he was doing wasn’t evil based upon his understanding of Darwin’s theories, but that doesn’t mean that Darwin is responsible for the extermination of millions any more than the Beatles are responsible for the crimes of the Manson Family or J.D. Salinger for the murder of John Lennon. Millions and millions of people accept the fact that life evolved on this planet, and they’ve done so without calling for the extermination of religious minorities. Not just that, but many of them actually profess to be deeply religious. Take, for example, Pope Francis, who just made his feelings on evolution known this past weekend when he said, When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so.” This isn’t about good versus evil. This is about truth versus fear. And Gerald Bergman is on the wrong side of history.

One last thing… As our friend Doug Skinner just reminded me, “Hitler never mentioned Darwin. He did, however, call Henry Ford his ‘inspiration’.”

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34 Comments

  1. Posted October 29, 2014 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Hitler never mentioned Darwin. He did, however, call Henry Ford his “inspiration.”

  2. Tommy
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    God as magician being scrutinized by the grand poobah. Hoping to get students to realize they’re created beings, and not the product of natural selection so they’re more open to the Gospel.

    EOS IS IN THE BULLPEN!!!

  3. Posted October 29, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Great point, Mr. Skinner. The post will be edited accordingly.

  4. Frosted Flakes
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    The catholic church has a very long history of accepting evolution as true and teaching evolution in their schools. I do not understand your comment, Tommy.

  5. Posted October 29, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    If one of you at MSU could make up a sign saying the following, and take it to the event on Sunday, I would be greatly appreciative.

    Hitler never mentioned Darwin. He did, however, call Henry Ford his “inspiration.”

  6. Posted October 29, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    As for the Catholic church, I believe this was the most overt reference to evolution ever made by a Pope. But, you’re right, FF, generally speaking they have not been at the forefront of the anti-evolution crusade.

  7. Frosted Flakes
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    The catholic church is “not at the forefront of the anti-evolution crusade”…Of course the catholic church is not anti-evolution–catholic schools teach evolution!

  8. Eel
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Whatever you do, don’t show this to Bergman.

    http://imgur.com/kTjyPoL

  9. Posted October 29, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Anti-semitism is a Christian invention. Let’s not forget that one of Hitler’s most vocal supporters in the US was Detroit’s own Father Coughlin. I don’t know what he thought about Darwin, but he, and his many followers, saw Hitler as a Christian hero.

  10. Frosted Flakes
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    As I understand it, Coughlin’s support of antisemitism/ Hitler was controversial within the church–because he was outside the norm. (How many catholics did the Nazi’s kill?) Whereas the Pope’s recent comments are, for the vast majority of Catholics, not considered a break with Catholic teaching of evolution science at all. I could be wrong but that is my sense…

    Anyway, my comments are off topic I think. Thanks for bringing Bergman Mark. I look forward to hearing the comments that this post generates.

  11. Posted October 29, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Here’s a postscript: Hitler was ambivalent about Christianity, but knew how useful it was in whipping up hatred. Here’s a bit from one of his speeches; I guess we could call it the Nazi Christian Worldview:

    “My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross. As a Christian, I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.”

  12. Posted October 29, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Coughlin was indeed controversial, but also very popular. Many in the Catholic hierarchy wanted him removed, but his immediate supporter (Bishop Michael Gallagher) supported him, so he stayed. He didn’t speak for the Vatican, but he did have millions of followers — whose Nazi sympathies were rooted in Jesus, not in Darwin.

  13. Frosted Flakes
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    The New Testament is thoroughly preoccupied with undoing Jewish custom, festival, dietary restrictions, etc. In my opinion, you could call the New Testament anti-Jewish-custom in a very weak sense. However, within the context of Jewish holocaust, I don’t agree with the statement: “anti-semitism is an invention of Christianity” ,but I do accept your point that there existed Christian sympathy for Nazis because Hitler advertised himself, in an emotionally persuasive way, as belonging to the group of people that labeled themselves as “christian”.

  14. Kit
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Wait, I’m confused. I thought the hell portal being opened on Sunday was in Ypsilanti.

  15. Alexandra Sarkozy
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    While modern genetics has long disassociated itself from the eugenics of the early 20th century, the scientific roots of both movements remain the same, and ethicists today continue to critique genetic advances with an eye to potential eugenic abuses of the technology. Though this anti-evolution group appears to be quite off base in its concerns and conclusions, it doesn’t mean that eugenics hasn’t remained a problem throughout the 20th century. For some background:

    https://helix.northwestern.edu/article/modern-eugenics-building-better-person

  16. idea man
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Darwin didn’t invalidate Christianity any more that Galileo did. Maybe if Bergman’s faith was stronger, he wouldn’t be so afraid.

  17. Posted October 29, 2014 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    You’re right, FF, my mistake. I was thinking that the medieval church really invented antisemitism, with the blood libel and all that crap, but a quick googling tells me that it goes back to Greece and Rome. People have always been intolerant. Would Bergman blame Darwin for all those medieval massacres and persecutions?

  18. Frosted Flakes
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    I suspect Bergman would not argue such a thing because it would not fit his agenda.

  19. Posted October 29, 2014 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    You all can talk shit about the link between Hitler and Christianity all day–I am here to remind us all what an ugly motherfucker Hitler was. Seriously. Even if he wasn’t totally evil, his face would still make me want to squish the aqueous humor out of my eyeballs.

  20. EOS
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Mark,

    If you had more scientific training you would be more precise with your terms and not equate evolution with the theory of evolution. I believe in evolution, as most rational people do. We can observe genetic changes. For example, we know that the influenza virus mutates at a rapid rate and each season a different strain predominates. We have observed that a mutation in a single nucleotide in the human genome coded for a different amino acid in the hemoglobin gene that conferred an advantage for the individual to fight off malaria. We know that when 2 individuals with this advantagous mutation have children, 1/4 of them will inherit 2 copies of the mutation and suffer from sickle cell anemia. Creationists are not anti-science. There is no conflict between the scientific method and a Biblical worldview.
    But the theory of evolution includes the belief that the first living organism formed itself from non-living matter and that the vast multitude of living organisms today are descended from that first accidental life form. This was Darwin’s hypothesis. It has been called a theory from the very day that Darwin and Wallace first hypothesized it. To date, no scientist has shown that an organism can form itself from non-living matter under any conditions, even if you start with a mixture of all the biological building blocks. To date, no scientist has determined a mechanism sufficient to account for the changes necessary to evolve from one kind of organism to a completely different kind. All the scientific evidence to date shows slight variations on the upper branches of the “tree of life”. And there are an enormous number of difficulties trying to place species within nested hierarchies that fit all the data. The more genomes we sequence, the more evidence we find to dispute a single tree. We need to continue to investigate genetics through scientific methods to uncover the truth, and not be misled by predetermined philosophical assumptions. Huxley, often referred to as Darwin’s Bulldog, was quite articulate and gleeful during Darwin’s time as to how evolution negated the necessity of both God and His moral values. If you attend the conference with an open mind, I’m sure you will hear plenty of well reasoned arguments to consider.

  21. tommy
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    …But the theory of evolution includes the belief that the first living organism formed itself from non-living matter and that the vast multitude of living organisms today are descended from that first accidental life form…

    And your theory includes the belief that the first living organism formed itself when the magic sky wizard waved his wand and made it so and the all living organisms today are descended from that first deliberate hocus pocus.

    And the beat goes on

  22. EOS
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    No. But that an intelligent being designed and created an enormous variety of life forms all of which are capable of adaptation to changing environmental conditions.

  23. Frosted Flakes
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    EOS,

    I am not any sort of authority on this stuff but I have never heard that Darwin’s hypothesis was that the origins of life are from non living matter. There is a lot I have never heard of so I guess it is no surprise. It is worth noting that the first paragraph of Wikipedia’s entry on “darwinism” claims that creationists falsely attach Darwin to the idea that life sprang forth from non living matter….The wikipedia article goes on to claim that Darwin’s work did not include such a hypothesis. I am just trying to figure out the finer points of this stuff so any arguments or citations you have are welcome.

  24. EOS
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    Charles Darwin proposed the theory of universal common descent through an evolutionary process in On the Origin of Species. This theory proposed that all life forms have descended from the first living organism through purely naturalistic mechanisms. Abiogenesis (life from non-life) was not addressed by Darwin. But evolutionary biologists assume that the last common ancestor of all organisms in existence today was a single-celled procaryote. (A bacteria-like organism) Science teaches that the universe had a beginning at a particular time and that life arose at a later time. There are 3 major scientific beliefs as to how the first organism appeared. 1) It evolved from chemicals 2) it arrived from outer space (which doesn’t answer how it came about there) or 3) it popped into our universe from an alternative universe (same problem as 2)

    Darwin’s theory didn’t address how the first cell originated, but is dependent on the existence of a living organism somehow and the naturalistic underpinnings of science requires that it not have had a supernatural origin.

  25. Frosted Flakes
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    “Science requires that it not have had supernatural origin”.

    The compatibility between science and religion can be recognized by some scientists and some theists alike.

  26. Posted October 30, 2014 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    Yawn.

  27. EOS
    Posted October 30, 2014 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    Methodological naturalism – naturalism that holds that science is to be done without reference to supernatural causes.

  28. EOS
    Posted October 30, 2014 at 5:02 am | Permalink

    Most scientists believe in God. But that belief is philosophical, not scientific.

  29. anonymous
    Posted October 30, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    EOS, as predicted, has finally come along to dump a steaming ladle full of mumbo jumbo word soup over this conversation.

  30. EOS
    Posted October 30, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    anon,

    Sorry I can’t make it simpler for you. This is 9th grade Biology material.

  31. Robert
    Posted October 30, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    EOS = End of Science

  32. EOS
    Posted October 30, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Excellent, Outstanding Scientist!

  33. Shamwow
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Gotta admit, that was pretty cute :D

  34. Phil Terrell
    Posted November 5, 2015 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Couple of important points no one mentioned;

    1. The Nazis banned Darwin’s books. Guidelines from Die Bücherei 2:6 (1935), p. 279 lists: “Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism”

    2. Judensau were common decorative statuettes on Christian churches for hundreds of years before the Nazis OR Darwin. Judensau means Jew pig. A judensau is a pig with Jews suckling underneath it and a Rabbi lifting it’s tail to be sprayed with excrement. Judensau adorn the church at Wittenberg where Martin Luther preached antisemetic sermons. Luther wrote a treatise called “On the Jews and their Lies” and argued for their expulsion. To this day you can see these ornaments on over two dozen churches in Germany. They date back to the dark ages. Nazis often compared Hitler to Martin Luther.

    3. Eugenics is not Darwinian. The idea of breeding for preferred traits predates Darwin. The Nazis simply applied what farmers were already doing, to humans.

    4. Hitler had a confused view of evolution. He seems content to embrace the notion that other races are less evolved. But he doesn’t seem to ever fully embrace the notion that the Aryan race evolved from a common primate ancestor alongside other ‘inferior’ races. This quote is attributed to Hitler in Hitler’s Table Talk: Where do we acquire the right to believe that man has not always been what he is now? The study of nature teaches us that, in the animal kingdom just as much as in the vegetable kingdom, variations have occurred. They’ve occurred within the species, but none of these variations has an importance comparable with that which separates man from the monkey — assuming that this transformation really took place. So it appears that rather than being committed to Darwinian evolution, he found it convenient to use the language to deride other races. In essence, other races evolved or devolved, but Aryans were created in the image of God and stayed that way. I think that’s a fair assessment of what Hitler believed.

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