From Darwin to Hitler

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From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany
From Darwin to Hitler.jpg
Cover of the first edition
AuthorRichard Weikart
CountryUnited States
SubjectsEvolutionary ethics, Nazism
PublisherPalgrave MacMillan
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
305.8/00943 22
LC ClassHQ755.5.G3 W435 2004
Preceded bySocialist Darwinism 
Followed byHitler's Ethic 

From Darwin to Hitler: evolutionary ethics, eugenics, and racism in Germany is a 2004 book by Richard Weikart, a historian at California State University, Stanislaus,[1] and a senior fellow for the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute.[2] The work is controversial.[3] Graeme Gooday, John M. Lynch, Kenneth G. Wilson, and Constance K. Barsky wrote that "numerous reviews have accused Weikart of selectively viewing his rich primary material, ignoring political, social, psychological, and economic factors" that helped shape Nazi eugenics and racism.[4]

Background and summary[edit]

The Discovery Institute, the hub of the intelligent design movement, "provided crucial funding" for the book's research.[5] The Institute operates, which promotes the book and intelligent design.[6] Prominent historian and critic of the intelligent design movement, Barbara Forest, states that the book is tied to the DI's 'wedge strategy' of attacking Darwinian science as morally corrupting.[7] This strategy aims to "defeat [the] materialist world view" represented by the theory of evolution in favor of "a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."[8]

Weikart has appeared in creationist films promoting the book. In 2006, Weikart appeared in Coral Ridge Ministries' creationist film Darwin's Deadly Legacy in which Weikart claims "Darwinian ideology is the core" of Nazism and D. James Kennedy concludes: "To put it simply, no Darwin, no Hitler."[9][10] In 2008, Weikart, a supporter of intelligent design,[11] also appeared in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a pro-intelligent design movie, which among other claims, strongly implies that Charles Darwin's ideas led to Adolf Hitler's atrocities.[12] Bret Carroll, Weikart's colleague in the Stanislaus history department, wrote: "That 'intelligent design' is not a scientific theory" and the Expelled movie "misuses Weikart's research by mistakenly implying that Darwin led inevitably to Hitler. In fact, scientific theories, even those like Darwin's that address organic life, are morally neutral."[13][14]

In the conclusion of From Darwin to Hitler, Weikart writes:

Darwinism by itself did not produce the Holocaust, but without Darwinism, especially in its social Darwinist and eugenics permutations, neither Hitler nor his Nazi followers would have had the necessary scientific underpinnings to convince themselves and their collaborators that one of the world's greatest atrocities was really morally praiseworthy. Darwinism - or at least some naturalistic interpretation of Darwinism - succeeded in turning morality on its head.[15]

Academic reception[edit]

Negative evaluations by academic reviewers are critical of the book citing Weikart's selective use of primary sources and ignoring a range of developments that shaped Nazi ideology.[4] In 2004, Sander Gliboff, professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, criticized the work writing that "It is dismaying to see such opinions being passed off as results of scholarly research."[16] In 2005, Andrew Zimmerman, a professor of German history, reviewed it in the American Historical Review, writing "Weikart presents an image of Darwinism at once both too narrow and too broad."[17] Zimmerman wrote:

The German Darwinians who are the focus of the book appear only as advocates of eugenics, racism, and imperialism, although presumably these policies were informed by a broader intellectual project. At the same time, German anthropologists, who opposed Darwinism before the turn of the century (as a doctrine possessing no more empirical foundation than revealed religion does), are lumped with Darwinists, since these anthropologists also supported imperialism and racist hierarchies.[17]

Weikart replied to Zimmerman's criticism with a letter to the editor[18] to which Zimmerman offered a rebuttal saying Weikart's work "is anachronistic, projecting present‐day theocratic agendas onto the history of science in Imperial Germany."[19]

Nils Roll-Hansen, historian and philosopher of 19th and 20th century biology at University of Oslo, also reviewed the work in 2005 and was critical of it in a review published by Isis calling it "selective" and containing "insufficient attention to historical change—leaving out political, social, and economic factors as well as the role of new knowledge in genetics-make his overall argument unconvincing."[20] Jonathan Judaken, professor of History at University of Memphis, wrote that while it is a "significant study," he "fails to follow the rich nuances of the discourse/practices and institutions that have preoccupied the contemporary generation of intellectual historians, who have paid attention to the continuities and ruptures within systems of thought. So his presentation of racism, for example, reiterates a rationale that does not stand up to the critical scrutiny of intellectual history."[21] Larry Arnhart, a professor of Political Science at Northern Illinois University wrote "Weikart doesn't actually show any direct connection between Darwin and Hitler. In fact, Weikart has responded to my criticisms by admitting that the title of his book is misleading, since he cannot show any direct link between Darwin's ideas and Hitler's Nazism."[22][23][24]

Also in 2005, science historian Paul Lawrence Farber wrote in the Journal of the History of Biology that "Like other attempts to tar Darwin with all of the problems of modernity, Weikart's suffers from conceptual flaws that detract from his book, which contains some interesting material on the German eugenics movement, popular Darwinism in Germany, and German evolutionary ethics."[25] He concluded "Weikart's book, unfortunately, is likely to spawn more urban myths about Darwin that will have to be addressed."[25]

In 2006, Robert J. Richards, historian of Darwin and eugenics at University of Chicago, wrote "It can only be a tendentious and dogmatically driven assessment that would condemn Darwin for the crimes of the Nazis."[26] Richards more pointedly concluded "Hitler was not a Darwinian" and "calls this all a desperate tactic to undermine evolution."[27] Richards explained, "There's not the slightest shred of evidence that Hitler read Darwin," and "Some of the biggest influences on Hitler's anti-Semitism were opposed to evolution, such as British writer Houston Stewart Chamberlain, whose racial theory became incorporated into Nazi doctrine."[27]

Similarly, historian Marius Turda's review asks why Weikart's book did not focus on "some authors who actually are credited with influencing Hitler, such as Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, the Viennese Aryan racist who formulated the doctrine of Ariosophy, or Guido von List, another Viennese occult racist, or Josef Reimer, author of A Pan-German Germany (1905) (whom Weikart discusses cursorily)."[28]

Also in a review that same year Helmut Walser Smith of Vanderbilt University writes that the book's "larger argument remains too narrowly conceived," as elements of Nazism, including "nationalism and anti-Sermitism make cameo appearances, for example, but their power is hardly gauged."[29] He concludes saying it is "a thesis on a tight rope," which is "convincing as long as one does not look down."[29]

In 2006, Ann Taylor Allen, a professor of German history at the University of Louisville, reviewed Weikart's book for The Journal of Modern History.[30] She explained that Weikart's talk about "Darwinism" is not based on any careful reading of Darwin himself but on vague ideas by a variety of people who presented themselves as "Darwinian."[30] Moreover, fundamental elements of Nazism like anti-Semitism cannot be attributed to Darwinism since they predate evolutionary theory. Allen concluded:

This picture of the Holocaust as the outcome of a 'culture war' between religion and science leads to serious distortions on both sides. The 'Judeo-Christian' worldview is unproblematically associated here with many beliefs — such as opposition to birth control, legalized abortion, and assisted suicide — that many believing Christians and Jews would reject. And 'Darwinism' is equated with a hodgepodge of ideas about race, politics, and social issues. If all these ideas were to fall into well-deserved obsolescence, this would in no way detract from the validity of Darwin's contributions to modern biological science. Neither religion nor science is well served by this oversimplified view of their complex history.[30]

In 2007, Hector Avalos, a professor of Religious Studies and founder of Iowa State University's Atheist and Agnostic Society,[31] wrote an essay for the anti-Creationism site Talk.reason with the purpose of "exposing the historical flaws found in the work of Weikart" and argued "that the defense of genocide, infanticide and "eugenics" by creationists actually has a very venerable and lengthy tradition that precedes Darwin."[32] In a May 2008 debate with Weikart, Avalos criticized Weikart's quoting of Darwin.[33] Weikart states in his book:

Darwin clearly believed that the struggle for existence among humans would result in racial extermination. In Descent of Man he asserted, "At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races."[34]


Avalos said that the quote is often "misrepresented" in creationist literature, and that Darwin was reporting and criticizing the extermination of people at a time of colonial expansion, rather than promoting it.[33] Darwin's passage, in full context, reads:

The great break in the organic chain between man and his nearest allies, which cannot be bridged over by any extinct or living species, has often been advanced as a grave objection to the belief that man is descended from some lower form; but this objection will not appear of much weight to those who, from general reasons, believe in the general principle of evolution. Breaks often occur in all parts of the series, some being wide, sharp and defined, others less so in various degrees; as between the orang and its nearest allies—between the Tarsius and the other Lemuridae between the elephant, and in a more striking manner between the Ornithorhynchus or Echidna, and all other mammals. But these breaks depend merely on the number of related forms which have become extinct. At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.[40]

In 2009, historian Peter J. Bowler of Queen's University wrote in Notes and Records of the Royal Society that Weikart's book reflects a "simple blame game in which (for example) Darwin and Haeckel are accused of paving the way for Nazism," and criticized him and others for associating Darwin "with distasteful social policies" using a "remarkably simple-minded approach".[11]

Weikart has posted responses to four reviews on his webpage.[41]

Besides criticisms from historians, Weikart was criticized by Jeff Schloss, professor at Westmont College and former Discovery Institute fellow, in the Christian American Scientific Affiliation's publication regarding the Expelled film. Schloss wrote that the "ideas that are attributed to Darwin (such as natural selection makes might right in social policy) were actually not advocated but repudiated by Darwin and his immediate colleagues."[42] Weikart wrote a response.[43]

The reception has not been universally negative. Ian Dowbiggin, a Catholic opponent of euthanasia who teaches at the University of Prince Edward Island, found some value in it and has used this work as a source.[44]

See also[edit]


  • Weikart, Richard (2004). From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-7201-9.
  • Richards, Robert J. (2013). Was Hitler a Darwinian?: Disputed Questions in the History of Evolutionary Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 192–242. ISBN 978-0-226-05893-1.


  1. ^ "Richard Weikart,". California State University, Stanislaus. 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  2. ^ Weikart, Richard (October 10, 2004). "Senior Fellow Richard Weikart responds to Sander Gliboff". Center for Science and Culture. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  3. ^ For example, Peter Bowler described it as "Richard Weikart's controversial book From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany" in Bowler, Peter (September 2008). "What Darwin Disturbed: The Biology That Might Have Been". 99 (3). Isis. JSTOR 10.1086/591714.
  4. ^ a b Graeme Gooday, John M. Lynch, Kenneth G. Wilson, and Constance K. Barsky Gooday, G.; Lynch, J. M.; Wilson, K. G.; Barsky, C. K. (2008). "Does Science Education Need the History of Science" (PDF). Isis. 99 (2): 322–330. doi:10.1086/588690. PMID 18702401. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  5. ^ "Many thanks also to the Center for Science and Culture (especially Jay Richards and Steve Meyer), which provided crucial funding and much encouragement..." From Darwin to Hitler, Richard Weikart, page x
  6. ^ "New book by Discovery Institute Fellow shows influence of Darwinian principles on Hitler's Nazi regime". Discovery Institute. 2004. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  7. ^ Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross. Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. 2004, page 206
  8. ^ "Wedge Document" (PDF). 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  9. ^ "ADL Blasts Christian Supremacist TV Special & Book Blaming Darwin For Hitler". Anti-Defamation League. 2006. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  10. ^ "Foster links Darwin, Hitler". Tampa Bay Times. Jan 12, 2008. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  11. ^ a b Bowler, Peter (20 December 2009). "Do we need a non-Darwinian industry?". Notes and Records of the Royal Society. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  12. ^ "Post details: Darwin and the Nazis - Richard Weikart". Access Research Network. April 21, 2008. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  13. ^ Carroll, Bret (May 20, 2008). "Intelligent design is not science". The Modesto Bee. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  14. ^ Carroll, Bret (2008). "Dr. Bret E. Carroll". California State University, Stanislaus. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  15. ^ Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler, Page 233
  16. ^ Gliboff, Sander (September 2004). "Review: Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler". H-German. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  17. ^ a b Zimmerman, Andrew (April 2005). "Richard Weikart. From Darwin to Hitler". American Historical Review. 110 (2): 566–567. doi:10.1086/531468.
  18. ^ Weikart, Richard (2005). "Letter to the editor". American Historical Review. 110 (4): 1322–1323. doi:10.1086/ahr.110.4.1322a. JSTOR 10.1086/ahr.110.4.1322a.: 1323
  19. ^ Zimmerman, Andrew (2005). "Reply to Richard Weikart". American Historical Review. 110. JSTOR 10.1086/ahr.110.4.1323.: 1323
  20. ^ Roll-Hansen, Nils (December 2005). "Richard Weikart: From Darwin to Hitler". Isis. 96 (4): 669–671. doi:10.1086/501405.
  21. ^ Judaken, Jonathan (June 2005). "Review: Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler". H-Ideas. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  22. ^ Arnhart, Larry (February 25, 2006). "A Review of Richard Weikart's From Darwin to Hitler". Darwinian Conservatism. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  23. ^ Arnhart wrote: "Weikart repeatedly admits that there is no direct connection between Darwin and Hitler..." Arnhart, Larry (December 2006). "Darwinian Liberal Education". Academic Questions. 19 (4): 6–18. doi:10.1007/s12129-006-1032-6. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  24. ^ In contrast, Arnhart wrote: "If one is looking for a good German source for anti-Semitism, one obvious one would be Martin Luther's virulent writing attacking the Jews, which was often invokved by the Nazis. But Weikart never mentions Luther because this would weaken his argument that Christianity promoted the equal dignity of all human beings against the degrading materialism of Darwinism." in Larry Arnhart, Darwinian Conservatism: A Disputed Question (Charlottesville: Imprint Academic, 2005), p. 114. ISBN 0-907845-99-1
  25. ^ a b Lawrence Farber, Paul (2005). "A review of Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany". Journal of the History of Biology. 38: 319. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  26. ^ Richards, Robert (July 2006). "Narrative Structure of Moral Judgments in History: Evolution and Nazi Biology" (PDF). University of Chicago. Retrieved 2013-02-17.. Published as "The Moral Grammar of Narratives in History of Biology: The Case of Haeckel and Nazi Biology" in The Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology ed. David L. Hull (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) pp. 429-452. ISBN 9780521616713
  27. ^ a b Flam, Faye (October 27, 2011). "Severing the link between Darwin and Nazism". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on 2011-12-29. Retrieved 2013-02-14.
  28. ^ Turda, Marius (September 2005). "Nazi Ideology between Darwin and Hitler". Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions. 6 (2): 319. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  29. ^ a b Walser Smith, Helmut (March 2006). "Book Review From Darwin to Hitler". Central European History. 39 (1). doi:10.1017/s0008938906260060. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  30. ^ a b c Taylor Allen, Ann (March 2006). "Book Review of From Darwin to Hitler". The Journal of Modern History. 78: 255–257. doi:10.1086/502761.
  31. ^ Iowa State Daily
  32. ^ Avalos, Hector (2007). "Creationists for Genocide". Talk.reason. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  33. ^ a b "The Expelled Controversy:Overcoming or Raising Walls of Division?". WHO (AM)/ Jan Mickelson in the Morning. 2008. Retrieved 2013-02-17. Listen at 29 minute mark
  34. ^ Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler, Page 186
  35. ^ Also cited by Richard Weikart in Hitler's Ethic: The Nazi Pursuit of Evolutionary Progress. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), p. 58.
  36. ^ Also cited by Richard Weikart in Weikart, Richard (February 28, 2008). "Re-examining the Darwin-Hitler Link". Discovery Institute. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  37. ^ Also cited by Richard Weikart in Weikart, Richard (May 2, 2008). "Was It Immoral for "Expelled" to Connect Darwinism and Nazi Racism?". Discovery Institute. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  38. ^ Also cited by Richard Weikart in Weikart, Richard (April 16, 2008). "Darwin and the Nazis". The American Spectator. Archived from the original on September 19, 2008. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  39. ^ Also cited by Richard Weikart in Weikart, Richard (April 22, 2008). "The Impact of Darwinism". The Stanford Review. Archived from the original on September 17, 2009. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  40. ^ Charles Darwin (1871) The Descent of Man, 1st edition, pages 200 -201. (From Cambridge University website)
  41. ^ Weikart, Richard (2006). "General Response to Critics". CSUS. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  42. ^ Schloss, Jeff (2008). "The Expelled Controversy:Overcoming or Raising Walls of Division?" (PDF). American Scientific Affiliation. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  43. ^ Weikart, Richard (August 7, 2008). ""Expelled" and the Darwinism-Nazi Connection: A Response to Jeff Schloss" (PDF). American Scientific Affiliation. Retrieved 2013-02-17.
  44. ^ Ian Dowbiggin (1 January 2007). A Concise History of Euthanasia: Life, Death, God, and Medicine. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-7425-3111-6.

External links[edit]