Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Richard Weikart: Workin’ in a Quote Mine

With apologies to Lee Dorsey:

Workin' in a quote mine
Goin' down down down
Workin' in a quote mine
Whop! about to slip down

This is the third of three exchanges between Red State Rabble and Dr. Richard Weikart, a History professor at California State University,Stanislaus. He is the author of From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany.

You can read Red State Rabble’s original post, "Little Kansas Nazis" here . You can read Dr. Weikart’s initial response and Red State Rabble’s reply, Darwin and Hitler: An Exchange With Richard Weikart here. Our second exchange, Darwin or Social Darwinism?: The Roots Of Nazi Ideology, A Debate With Richard Weikart, can be found here.

Here is Dr. Weikart's latest contribution to the exchange of views:

Thanks for your comments. Concerning social Darwinism, who is it who wrote:

"At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races."

"The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been elimnated by the higher civilised races throughout the world."

I'll give you a hint: It wasn't Spencer. For the citations, you can see ch. 10 of my book.

Mike Hawkins book, Social Darwinism in European and American Thought presents abundant evidence to demolish the misconception that Specer is responsible for social Darwinism and Darwin was free from social Darwinism. Desmond's and Moore's biography of Darwin also proves conclusively that Darwin was a social Darwinist. Before dismissing this as "appeals to authority," let me remind you that I have read extensively in the primary sources and present this evidence extensively in my book, but I cannot rehearse all that evidence to you in the course of an e-mail, so I'm referring you to books that incisively present the evidence for my position.

In any case, I agree with you that Darwinism does not entail racism, and nowhere have I said it does. I agree that Darwinism does not entail Nazism, and I specifically warn against that view in my book.

Concerning Hitler's views, it's interesting that religious skeptics, such as I take you to be (forgive me if I have jumped to a wrong conclusion). are so skeptical about anything religious, but are willing to believe an avowed liar (Hitler) in his public speeches (in private he criticized Christianity and Christian morality). You might be interested to know that I am currently working on a book on Hitler's religion, in which I intend to clarify these issues. I don't have time to present all the evidence in this e-mail (I have losts of grading to do, I will be out of town quite a bit in the next two weeks, etc., so please understand if this is my last e-mail). Just to whet your appetite, in my book I will demonstrate that Hitler was a pantheist. Even Richard Steigmann-Gall, by the way, in his overzealous attempt to show that Hitler and many other Nazis were Christians, shows that their religious views were most compatible with *liberal* Christianity, not conservative values. He admits that they were adamantly opposed to Catholicism and more traditional forms of Christianity.

I'm happy to hear that you don't swallow appeals to authority. Now you know why I don't swallow everything Darwinists say (and I might add, they regularly use appeals to authority when confronted with inconvenient evidence). Also, in the course of accusing me of a logical error, you make a gigantic logical error yourself, when you state:

"My point is not the size of your list, but the fact that you employ a logical fallacy – an appeal to authority – to make your case. In order to argue from authority, there must be an adequate degree of agreement among other experts. If, as is the case here, there is a significant amount of dispute among experts, the argument must be deemed fallacious."

Really? So, if there is a "significant amount of dispute among experts" that Darwinism is true, then Darwinism "must be deemed fallacious"? This is obviously silly, as I'm sure you can see if you apply it to other fields, such as things views you support. What you must have meant to say is that the argument "could be" or "might be" wrong, and should be examined carefully.

I probably won't write again, as I need to get on to other things (though I'll certainly read any response you want to send me).

Red State Rabble replies:

What a shame that the press of work requires that you end this exchange of views before you have addressed the central element of my criticism of your work, namely that you focus narrowly on what you see as the scientific or evolutionary roots of Nazi ideology to the exclusion of the role of Christianity.

In your latest contribution to our little exchange, you write: “Concerning social Darwinism, who is it who wrote:” and then you supply two quotes from Charles Darwin.

For our last exchange I had written a few paragraphs about your tendency to take quotes out of context, but in the end did not use them because I felt the post was already too long. I will address that issue now, but before I do, I’d like to relate a little story from my days as a graduate student.

I was taking a class that was team taught by two classics professors. I deeply respected both of them and they liked the work I was doing. Then one day a paper I had written came back with a “B” on it. I will admit to being perhaps a little too proud of my work, and compulsive about grades at that time of my life, as well.

After class I asked to meet with the professor who graded my paper. She invited me to her office, sat down at her desk, and began to peel an apple with a very sharp paring knife she kept in the drawer.

“You don’t like your grade,” she said without looking up from her apple.

“No,” I said.

“I’ll let you rewrite it,” she said, looking up at me now from her apple, “but remember, you are a graduate student at this university.” She pointed with her knife at a sentence in my paper that she’d underlined in red. “I don’t ever want you to think you can get away something like that” Then she explained how I had mishandled a passing reference to Greek mystery cults.

Although my face burned with shame as we discussed the issue, I have always been deeply grateful to her for demanding the highest level of intellectual integrity and scholarship from me. She also tried to break me of using the coma splice, but I must confess, despite her most diligent efforts, she was notably less successful there.

I have made my share of mistakes. We all do. That being said, even as an undergraduate, I would never have dared (or wanted to) employ the sort of quote mining that is routine in your published work. It is a shame that the professors who guided your education did not require you to fully engage the people and ideas that are the subject of your research.

Now to your “proof” that Darwin is a social Darwinist. Here is the first of your quotes in its full context (I bolded your citation, amounting to less than a full sentence from the whole, and which you use without ellipsis):

“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 xterminate, 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.” (Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. 2nd edn., London, John Murray, 1882, p. 156)

When the whole context is supplied it is quite clear that Darwin is not rooting for the civilized races to exterminate the savage. Rather, he is discussing apparent gaps in the fossil record, and what the state of things in 1882 might look like to observers in the future.

Our understanding of race and our sensitivities to words like “savage” and “civilized” has – there’s no other way to say it – evolved since Darwin’s time. Language has a way of doing that. When we try to understand people who, like Darwin, lived in another era we have to look at them in the historical context in which they lived. We have to account for the ways that the use of language has changed in the intervening years.

Your other citation, from a letter Darwin wrote to W. Graham and reprinted in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin. (F. Darwin, ed., New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1905) as well as the quote you open your Darwin to Hitler book with, can both be disposed of in the same way.

A useful resource on this subject can be found on the TalkOrigins web site “The Quote Mine Project: Or, Lies, Damned Lies and Quote Mines

You write that skeptics like myself are a little too willing to believe the worst about religion. Our prejudices, you feel, have allowed us to be fooled by Hitler’s public appeals to Christianity. Your own belief is that Hitler was a pantheist.

Here is what I wrote:

Whether Hitler believed or not, the great mass of his followers were believers, and they were attracted to his movement not by some vague attachment to social Darwinism, but by the many overt appeals to Christianity embodied in his speeches and writing.

Moreover, and this is what you have not – through the course of three letters – responded to, or accounted for:

The reality is that traditional moral values, or religious belief, did not act as a barrier for people who wanted to become Hitler's willing executioners. In fact, the religious movements of the day may have provided one of the most fertile recruiting grounds for the Nazis.

Your position – that Darwinism devalues life and, unlike religious belief, does not provide a sufficient moral underpinning to prevent tragedies like the rise of the Nazis in Germany – can’t be successfully defended until you explain this paradox.

You accuse me of making a gigantic logical error, but in fact there is no significant dispute among experts about the explanatory power of evolution and its central role in modern biology. Simply put, evolution is a fact. The Discovery Institute has made no headway, despite the expenditure of enormous sums of money, to win over scientists to the "theory" of intelligent design, or to assemble a group of scientists -- not theologians -- to oppose teaching of evolution in public schools. I refer you to the National Center for Science Education's "Project Steve" as a real-life example of the overwhelming support among experts for the theory of evolution.

You also remind me that you’ve read extensively in the primary sources. I would say extensively, but not deeply. As a university professor, you have had the rare privilege of reading, thinking and writing for a living. I think it’s a shame you’ve wasted the opportunity to come to a deeper more rounded understanding of all the factors involved in the rise of Nazi ideology, and allowed yourself to become a mere propagandist instead.

Demonizing Darwin, evolution, and science is not a noble calling.

Pat Hayes


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