The Crooked Road
Our society did not just suddenly stumble onto the Terri Schiavo case. The sordid specter of a government resolutely condemning an innocent citizen to death by starvation and dehydration is the end result of a very long and tortured process. Judge George Greer did not concoct such a brazen and perverse wickedness all on his own.
The ever insightful Ben House has reviewed a chilling book that attempts to trace at least part of that long and crooked road. It makes for difficult but necessary reading:
I like to read, and I especially enjoy reading history. Yet sometimes reading is a grim burden. There are those books, subjects, and studies, which fulfill an intellectual curiosity, but depress the spirit. All centuries and eras have their dark clouds, but the Twentieth Century was especially known for human horrors and evils. From concentration camps to gulags, from Nazis to Communists, from aerial bombing to genocide, the means and extent of the human capacity for evil seemed boundless in the last century. Technology and human accomplishments seemed to herald a golden age in 1900. The golden age was soon mired up in the trenches of World War I, the tramping feet of soldiers in the dark valley of World War II, and the iron and bamboo curtains of Communism lasting throughout much of the century.
The Christian teacher and writer must confront these evils. Like Dante’s journey through the Inferno, he must descend from depth to depth examining the evidences and artifacts of human depravity practiced by wicked regimes. We are compelled to better understand what turned a Catholic choirboy and an Orthodox seminary student into Hitler and Stalin. And they did not act alone, so we have to figure what dynamics created Goebbels and Himmler, Beria and Molotov. What sycophantic forces create legions of immoral monsters to surround such men as Hitler and Stalin? We also have to read the accounts of those who suffered. The victims, immortalized in the writings of Solzhenitsyn and the diaries of Anne Frank, must be remembered. Human suffering, not a comfortable subject, must be remembered by those who live in comfort. Yes, even the good guys, like the United States and Great Britain, have their dark secrets. Aspects of the Boer War waged by Great Britain and racial atrocities in America cannot be ignored just because they dint our pristine armor.
Grim books must be read. One such recent reading of mine was From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany by Richard Weikart (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). This book, sober and academic, focused on root causes of the Holocaust. It examined ideas, academic communities, intellectual ponderings, arcane journal studies, and obscure (to us now) scientific, political, and ethical trends among the educated elite. This survey of German thought in the late 1800s and early 1900s would be useful only to academic specialists (meaning, Ph.D. candidates in search of a minor point) were it not for the sequel to the story. The story itself is the initial impact of Darwinian thought on issues of ethics and morality. Darwin’s works caused an awakening, an enlightenment, for many found a liberation in Darwinism from the restraints of the older Christian-natural law consensus. The sequel was the rise of the Third Reich and Hitler in the 1930s. The issue is this: Was their a connection between the student in the early 1900s reading Darwin and asking, “How should we then live?” and his son attending a rally at Nuremberg thirty years later?
Linking your enemies to Hitler is an overused and much abused tactic. I have seen pictures of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, presented by their enemies, showing them caught in the midst of a wave looking like they were giving Nazi salutes. Any position, any viewpoint, any program can be discredited by linking it to Nazism. Opponents to Darwin in our day, whether committed Creationists or some form of Intelligent Design supporters, have frequently been dismissed out of court for lacking scientific credentials and intellectual seriousness. Meaning, if you doubt Darwinism, you are by definition stupid. (Dr. Richard Weikart, by the way, is an associate professor of history at California State University, but that is irrelevant if Darwin is questioned.) What is the value in this debate of using the Hitler card?
First, we need to note where we are in the long-term battle between proponents of evolution and believers in some form of creation. The battle of Yorktown took place two years before the Treaty of Paris was signed. Likewise opponents of evolution have won some decisive victories, even though the war continues. Surely, there have been hard fought skirmishes along the way. Chesterton and Spencer debated in England over a century ago. William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow duked it out in Dayton, Tennessee in the 1920s. Science faculties fought state legislatures, clergymen railed against scientists, parents protested against textbooks, and so on it went. We so often assume the Darwinists have won the day. Public school textbooks tow the party line, regardless of what stickers are affixed to the book or what verbal tricks are used to tone down the language. College professors hold to Darwinism with the tenacity of a medieval monk reciting his prayers. Endless scientific documentaries, especially those featuring animals, regale us with evolutionary dogma. Even most Christian colleges blush when a freshman gullibly mentions 6-day creation in mixed (that is, secular and Christian) company. We know the catechism question: “What do all credible, educated scientists believe” Answer: “Evolution is our god and Darwin is his prophet.”
Yet, we as Christians do not notice that the enemy has pulled behind its academic Maginot Line and made concessions on the implications of Darwinism to ethics and public policy. The biology professor might not allow for any objections to Darwinism inside the confines of his classroom. But don’t take the biology book to sociology class or to political science class or to ethics class. Like a body part in a Picasso painting, Darwinism is not to be attached to the rest of the body of human thought in a rational traditional way. This refusal to apply Darwinism to all of life was not always the case. First it was necessary that the university be replaced by the multiversity.
Darwinism was dangerous in the day of the university. When Ernst Haeckel or Herbert Spencer read Darwin, their minds—still a product of a fading Christian consensus—adhered to a unity of truth. Therefore, men sought for a university education, a universal search for truth, a unifying principle of reality. For this reason, many people were born again upon accepting Darwin. Darwin offered not just biology, but philosophy, a worldview. At last an alternative to Christianity was offered. Darwin’s book was a best seller to a world longing for liberation. Darwin’s early disciples grasped the implications of his gospel quite quickly.
Sparks were flying in the academic circles, especially in Germany. Germany was brimming with brilliant minds and a nationalistic will-to-power. The higher critics were leading the world in theological studies, leading even the most conservative branches of Christian churches to send its best to Germany to study theology. Some of these same higher critical were furiously undermining the foundations of Christianity. “God is on life-support and the Bible contains errors” was proclaimed in the theology department, while across the walkway in the science department, similarities were noted between the embryos of frogs and the students’ baby brothers.
There was a German propensity for producing the best, for accentuating the finest. This resulted in amazing technology and craftsmanship, and when this tendency wedded science and social policy, the proto-Third Reich was born in the minds of men. But for the time, it was only words and paper competing against the older ethic, once carved on stone. A new science, in a new country, with a new worldview created the genesis of a new ethics and a new version of what constitutes a healthy society. We are all bothered by the sufferings and miseries of the incurably ill, the elderly, the infirm, and the hopelessly insane. They are inconvenient. They tie us down. They do not produce anything for the common welfare. The new ethic suggested that it was more moral to dispose of such people than to be inconvenienced. The older Genesis account proclaimed man made in God’s image; the new Genesis divided man into categories of fit and unfit.
Slower, sicker, weaker animals die in the pack. Either they are killed as prey or they are unable to kill prey. This benefits the herd or the pack, and so surely benefits the tribe. Of course, all this was academic debate: The meanderings of scholars were loosed upon the pages of a journal or in the company of his fellows at conferences. Still iron sharpens iron. One scholar influenced another. Each book sparked another flurry of articles. Each lecture raised questions of further implications and applications. Just the merry life of professors—debating and arguing—and passing on to their students the findings of their research.
World War I upset many of these scholars. Although in one sense, the killing of thousands by the incessant machine gunning and poison gas might seem just another phase of the fit eliminating the unfit, still the war was troublesome. As Weikart says, “… what they found objectionable about modern wars was that the wrong people were being killed—the strong and the healthy rather than the weak and sickly." Merely disposing of useless individuals and inferior races was helpful, but white Europeans slaughtering one another was unacceptable. Then out of the ashes, the destruction, and despair of Germany’s defeat, Hitler arose. Hitler was not a scholar, although he was not stupid either. Like many of us, he picked up the major parts of his worldview second and third-hand. Whether he ever read Darwin or Darwin’s pupils is irrelevant. Ideas have consequences and intellectuals change nations and arcane philosophies translate into political agendas. Many followers of Darwin opposed Hitler and some died under his regime. Still as Weikart points out, “No matter how crooked the road from Darwin to Hitler, clearly Darwinism and eugenics smoothed the path for Nazi ideology, especially for the Nazi stress on expansion, war, racial struggle, and racial extermination.”
This crooked road wound through the university. Thankfully, for a season, that institution no longer exists. Fragmentation of reality has replaced universal truth, and multiversities have replaced universities. Just suggest to your biology professor that our race (any race) is superior. Propose to your political science professor that we purify the land. “Don’t you dare apply Darwinism to politics,” they will angrily reply. Did you forget that politics and religion don’t mix?
Yes, we still have our expendables. Aborted children are dispensed with by denying them the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The sick and mentally incapable are at risk in our nation. The ethics of the university campus still reach the grammar school classrooms all too quickly. Yet, the Darwinists, who are many in number, are tightlipped when it comes to ethics. It is absurd to link the truth of “Survival of the Fittest” with horrors of the Third Reich. Their silence about the implications of Darwinism says too much.Richard Weikart’s book is filled with many brilliant insights, quotes, and references. Scholars out there, like Weikart, are doing in academic circles what bloggers are doing to the media. This is not pleasant reading. This is not the delightful read to have at the bedside. Not a lot of people will read this book. But for those of us who teach, who preach, and who pound away at our computers, this is a book we need to know.