The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 53): Darwinism, Genocide, and the Fear of Evangelicalism

In the last few posts, I have been going into detail about Charles Darwin, and his books, The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. And whereas I have tried to emphasize that the theory of evolution is a valid scientific theory that is not a threat to the Bible or Christianity, I have also touched upon the very dangerous and dark philosophical assumptions that can be seen in The Descent of Man. The threat to the Bible, to Christianity, and indeed humankind itself, is not the theory of evolution, but rather philosophical materialism that attempts to hijack evolution to justify its atheism, and then is pushed to its logical conclusions.

Let’s be clear: if there is no God, and if human beings are nothing more than slightly more evolved animals, and if all that matters is the health and propagation of the human species, then you simply are not too far away from justifying things like the sterilization or even killing of human beings who are weak, genetically flawed, or retarded. Not to sound alarmist, but we need to realize those were the kinds of conclusions that many people came to in the early part of the 20th century, and that regimes like the Nazis and Communists sought to implement on a worldwide scale.

My simple point is that even though it is imperative that we take a meat cleaver to the notion that the theory of evolution and atheism are joined at the hip, we need to admit that for the better part of 150 years, not only has the general opinion throughout society been that those two things were joined at the hip, but the worst atrocities in history have occurred precisely because people believed they were joined at the hip.

I submit that the real reason why so many in the Evangelical world are opposed to evolutionary theory isn’t so much they disagree with its scientific claims (most don’t really understand them); and it’s not even really that they think it is a threat to biblical authority (even though this is the common mantra among YECists like Ken Ham). The real reason is because they fear that evolution leads to things like moral anarchy and eventually mass genocide. And let’s be honest, why do so many Evangelicals think that? That’s easy: because that is exactly what has happened in the past. Evolution has been used as the justification for everything from your garden-variety perversion and promiscuity to forced sterilization, racism, Zyklon-B, the concentration camps and the gulag.

Those who read my blog will be shocked to read what I’m about to write: in a way, Ken Ham has a valid point. But I’ll come back to that point in a bit. First, I want to go back to the Scopes Monkey Trial…stay with me, it’s related.

A Civic Biology

Clarence Darrow, a famous Chicago lawyer, and William Jennings Bryan, defender of Fundamentalism, at the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Most people know, at least vaguely, about the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. It was where the issue of evolution was debated in a show trial in Dayton, Tennessee. The two major combatants were William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow. I touch upon the specifics of the trial in my book, The Heresy of Ham, but in this post, I want to draw attention to the textbook that created the ruckus in the first place: A Civic Biology, by George William Hunter.

To the point, if I was alive at the time, I’d have a big problem with this textbook as well. In it, in an American high school biology book, it wasn’t just the scientific theory of biological evolution that was covered and endorsed. There within its pages, right alongside the presentation of Darwin’s scientific theory, was a thorough discussion and endorsement of the philosophical worldview of Social Darwinism and Eugenics.

  • It advocated that the same breeding methods used on animals should be applied to human beings, for the betterment of the health of the human race.
  • It claimed that the human race should demand of anyone who gets married “the freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring.”
  • It claimed that certain diseases were “not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity.” It described eugenics as “the science of being well born.”

A Civic Biology even went so far as to characterize people who cannot contribute to society as “parasites.” It actually contemplated killing those “parasites” off as a means to cleanse the gene pool. But it quickly lamented, “Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.” 

That’s right—in an American science textbook in the 1920s, students read how successful eugenics had been in Europe in preventing “degenerate races” from being allowed to propagate. In the same year A Civic Biology was praising European efforts to rid the world of the degenerate races, Adolf Hitler was publishing Mein Kampf, in which he too endorsed those same efforts. Let’s be clear: Hitler was not an anomaly—he was a product of the times. What he did was what the Eugenicists of Europe and America were calling for—and they made it a point to use evolution as their justification.

Make no mistake, A Civic Biology was not simply a science textbook. It was a propaganda manual that advocated the very things that later Nazis and Communists enacted. It had a clear agenda: treat human beings in the same way you treat your dog. Now, we rightly condemn the Nazis for their “final solution” and their horrific treatment of not only Jews, but also of the weak, infirm, and mentally retarded. But we need to come to terms with the fact that Hitler merely put into practice the very things American biology textbooks were advocating in the 1920s.

It’s Not the Scientific Theory…It’s the Presuppositional Worldview
Such thinking should chill any rational person to the bone. Benjamin Wiker claims that eugenics “was and is a direct implication drawn from Darwin’s account of evolution, one that Darwin himself drew quite vividly in his Descent of Man(91). I need to amend that comment on one point though: the eugenic movement is a direct implication of evolution only if one starts with the presuppositional worldview of atheism, and the ontological assumption that human beings are nothing more than highly-evolved animals.

AUTHOR’S NOTE #1: Now, I should make clear that I am obviously not saying that a tenet of atheism is the desire to commit mass genocide, and so therefore, saying the “presuppositional worldview of atheism” might not be quite right. I asked one person who commented on this how he would phrase the above statement, and he put it this way:

“The eugenic movement is a direct implication of evolution only if one starts by naively applying evolution to morality, with a moral system that evolutionary fitness is a moral good, while evolutionary weakness is a moral evil. In this naive evolutionary morality, if humans are nothing more than highly-evolved animals, then breeding better humans is a moral good, and culling unfit humans is also a moral good.”

I think that is very well said, and deserves to be mentioned. I would only add that such a mindset is one that denies the inherent worth and dignity of the individual, and values only the health and welfare of that State as whole. Back to the original post…

We must be clear: Darwin’s theory of evolution alone does not, and cannot, get one to eugenics, the Nazi concentration camps, or the Soviet gulags. All evolution does is describe what, in fact, happens in the biological world. But what the Nazis, Communists, and Eugenicists of the early 20th century did was they combined Darwin’s theory with a presuppositional atheism and rabid racism, and then they claimed evolutionary theory justified the atrocities they committed.

Eugenics, the gas chambers, and the gulags are the logical conclusion of those who deny the dignity and inherent worth of human beings, for they say the worth of someone is dependent on that person’s health and ability to contribute to society. The individual is inconsequential; society, or the State, or the Communist utopia, or the Third Reich—that is what matters. The Eugenicist takes the Enlightenment notion that society will “force one to be free,” to the next level, and simply adds, “…if not, society can sterilize you, lock you away, or kill you—it’s all about what’s good for society.”

And in the 1920s, that presuppositional worldview was prevalent throughout Europe, the Soviet Union, and America as well. Therefore, given that dark history, it should not surprise anybody that so many Evangelical Christians are scared to death of evolution—it really was used as the justification for the worst genocides in human history.

The challenge, therefore, is to try and get people to realize that the scientific theory of evolution and the presuppositional worldview of philosophical atheism are two different things. We need to point out that it wasn’t evolution that was the problem; the problem was the way that the Nazis, Communists, and Eugenicists wrongly used evolution to justify their actions.

Now, I don’t know how successful anyone can be at getting people, especially the YECist segment of Evangelicalism, to make this distinction. Consider the two pictures here. The Eugenics movement promoted itself as a veritable “Tree of Life,” and eugenicists intricately linked their movement with evolution. Should it be all that surprising that the Creation Science movement then pictured itself as chopping down that very tree that claimed evolution as its trunk? I think these two pictures say it all: if you want to know why there is such a hatred and fear of the scientific theory of evolution, these two pictures clearly illustrate all you need to know.

That’s why arguing science with a YECist, by the way, never will get you too far. The real concern isn’t science. And, as I’ve come to realize, you don’t get much further trying to get them to see that Genesis 1-11 isn’t giving scientific information, because you’ll just be accused of trying to twist Scripture and lead people astray. The real reason there is so much hatred and fear of evolution among many Evangelicals is because they are convinced that it lies at the root of all of society’s ills. And where did they get that idea from? From the very people who used evolution to justify the worst atrocities in history.

Was Darwin a Racist? Does Evolution Promote Genocide?
There is one final thing I want to note, specifically about Darwin. For all practical purposes, it does seem that Darwin was probably quite racist. For that matter though, most everyone throughout human history has been racist, and if you know anything about the British Empire at its height, you know that it had a pretty racist attitude towards all the people it subjugated. If you grew up in 19th century England, chances are you’d probably hold some racist views as well.

And thus, when we read this following quote from Darwin in his book, while it should obviously shock us at how racist it is, it also shouldn’t surprise us, given the prevalent attitudes of 19th century England. When speculating about the future evolution of species, particularly human beings and other ape-like creatures, Darwin said:

“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes…will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

This quote makes it quite clear that Darwin viewed negroes in Africa and the aborigines in Australia as just lower evolutionary forms of life—no doubt “higher” than your average ape, but also certainly “lower” than European Caucasians. And he thought it was only a matter of time that white Europeans simply “won out” in the great evolutionary battle. I wonder where those eugenicists and Nazis got their ideas? That is why The Descent of Man is so horrific and dangerous. It laid the foundation for the 20th century carnage and genocide that done in Russia, Europe, and even flirted with here in America. It is what happens when people try to take the descriptive task of science and turn it into a prescription for how to “better breed the human animal.”

AiG might not use the “tree metaphor” as seen in the earlier pictures, but the sentiment is exactly the same.

We need to realize that one of the reasons why Evangelical Christians have traditionally been so hostile to the theory of evolution is not the theory itself, but rather of the kinds of atrocities I’ve talked about in this post. They think “evolution = gas chambers and euthanasia.” They think that because the people who advocated for those atrocities used evolution as justification for them. I know many get frustrated with Evangelicals for making that leap from “evolution” to “genocide,” and claim that Evangelicals are just using scare tactics, and trying to slander evolution as being inherently racist (Ken Ham and the YECists at Answers in Genesis do this all the time).

Before we just dismiss such claims, though, we have to realize that they’re not just making this connection up. They are pointing to the very statements of those who made that very connection in order to justify those very atrocities. That is why it is so important to divorce the scientific theory from the philosophical worldview that tries to attach itself to evolution, like a parasite.

Deep down, despite the rhetoric that “human beings are no different than animals,” despite that biologically-speaking that is true, human beings know that there is something ontologically unique and special about human beings that make them distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom. If we weren’t, then we wouldn’t consider the atrocities of the 20th century to be atrocities and we wouldn’t consider forced sterilization to be a problem—but they are atrocities, and those are problems.

We may indeed share our biology with the rest of the natural world, and evolutionary theory certainly does explain that relationship between human beings and the natural world, but human beings are not just animals. Our very humanness and our sense of morality, testifies to the fact that we are made in God’s image.

Author’s Note #2: Another comment a few people had about this post is that they felt I was saying that evolutionary theory was the sole reason for atrocities done under Communism, Nazism, and the Eugenics movement, and that I did not take into account a host of other cultural and societal factors. So I wanted to be clear: of course there were other factors involved. But what I was seeking to point out that once evolutionary theory was introduced, those “other factors” seemed to attach themselves to it in order to justify their own agendas.

Or to put it another way: the Enlightenment had hailed science and reason over religion; it had promoted Deism, the idea that if there was a God, He wasn’t really involved with the world anyway; it had even held up “the general will of the people” as “the deity;” and it had promoted the idea that our morality is derived from nature itself.

Put all that together, along comes evolutionary theory–what impact will it have on those Enlightenment ideals and assumptions? Let me suggest the following: evolution explains how nature works without the need of God; it is survival of the fittest; and so, since we need to seek what is best for the fitness and survival of society, and since we should take our moral cues from nature itself….what should we do with all these unfit people who are obviously threatening the fitness of society?

Enter Eugenics, Communism, Nazism, Scopes’ A Civil Biology…and there you have it. Now obviously, using evolution as philosophical justification for committing those atrocities is wrong–but that is what happened. And that is the point of the post–that is why I think there still is a segment of Evangelical Christianity that is so hostile to evolution: they associate it with those things.

1 Comment

  1. Playing devils advocate, I’m not sure that simple philosophical naturalism was what lead to making the jump from evolution to eugenics, but rather the whole racistic, imperialistic cultural milieu at the time. Indeed, as we’ve learned more about genetics and evolution, even those who might wish to promote some modern form of eugenics would have to affirm that the eugenicists of the early 20th Century got it all wrong. All individuals have at least some latent genetic diseases hiding somewhere in their genome, and the way to promote the survivability of any species is to increase their diversity, rather than limit it to some pre-conceived ideal form (such as an “Aryan” race). In short, even if one could somehow make the case that evolution and atheism are joined at the hip, it still would not necessarily follow that moral atrocities must be committed for the greater good of the species.

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