Monday, December 18, 2006


Placing Blame

The Discovery Institute's Johnathan Witt writes that Darwin's theory of evolution has resulted in violence. The crimes of the Nazis, writes Witt, "follow from Darwinian principles."

It may seem strange to some readers that those who learn nature's secrets and describe how they operate might somehow be responsible for the crimes of others, especially when these crimes are committed decades after the discoverer has gone to his grave.

But, according to Witt and Richard Weikart, the author of From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, one thing led directly to the other.

This notion fails to take into account the fact that natural selection, the mechanism that drives evolution was also discovered by Alfred Wallace. If Darwin hadn't moved quickly to claim credit, Weikart, Witt, and others might today be decrying the evils of "Wallacism."

If neither Darwin or Wallace had gone on to write about their joint discovery it seems unlikely in the extreme that some later discoverer of the workings of evolution would likewise have remained silent. Would that later discoverer have also been made to take responsibility for the religious intolerance and extreme nationalism that led to the Third Reich?

If, as Witt and Weikart suggest, we're to go to go back into history to place blame for the crimes of the Nazis, why stop with Darwin. Aren't his ideas, after all, built on the foundation of Charles Lyell's unraveling of the great age of the earth? Could it be that the theory of Uniformitarianism is what really drove the Nazis to commit their crimes?

And why stop with Lyell for that matter, either? It was Darwin's trip around the world on the HMS Beagle that started him thinking about evolution.

Shouldn't Christopher Columbus shoulder some of the blame, too? After all, if Columbus hadn't discovered the new world, Darwin would never have gone there. He wouldn't have learned that species are descended from a common ancestor through the mechanism of natural selection, and the Nazis would never have come to power in Germany.

It's so simple, anybody could understand it.


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