On Tuesday, April 20, 1999, two students went on a killing rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado. They killed twelve fellow students and one teacher, and injured more than twenty others. Then they turned their guns on themselves.
Why did they do it?
In part, the two teenagers killed because they saw themselves as agents of a Darwinian ethos. One of the killers fantasized in his journal about crashing a plane into a New York City building (almost three years before 9/11), and described how he and his co-conspirator planned to “kick natural selection up a few notches” at Columbine. On the day of the mass killings, this young killer wore a black T-shirt with the words Natural Selection lettered in red across the chest.4
If students see themselves as evolved animals in a concrete jungle, they will behave like predators. This is fact, not conjecture. It happened at Columbine. And it has happened on a vastly larger scale. It’s an indisputable fact that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has been used as a rationale for slaughtering tens of millions of people.
(Please note: I didn’t say Darwinism caused mass slaughter. I said it was used as a rationale for mass slaughter. Big difference.)
Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. By the 1870s, Darwin’s concept of evolution by natural selection had become so widely popularized that it had spawned a notion called “social Darwinism.” Social Darwinism is the belief that natural selection entitles the strongest in our society to exploit (and even exterminate) the weak. Darwinian capitalists justified the exploitation of workers as “survival of the fittest.” Darwinian progressives and “scientific racists” such as Charles Davenport, Havelock Ellis, Margaret Sanger, and George Bernard Shaw used the same doctrine to justify eugenics programs.
And then there were the totalitarian Darwinists — the Marxists and Nazis.
Among Darwin’s most prominent admirers were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the co-fathers of communist economic theory. In fact, Karl Marx wanted to dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin, but Darwin declined the honor. German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) observed that people often forget “the great and positive interest Marx took in Darwin’s theories; Engels could not think of a greater compliment to Marx’s scholarly achievements than to call him the ‘Darwin of history.’” Arendt added that Marx and Engels saw the survival of the fittest as an analogy to “Marx’s law of the survival of the most progressive class.” And Engels, in his funeral speech after the death of Marx, said, “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic life, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history.”5
Marxism is a profoundly Darwinian political system, and the Marxist government of the old Soviet Union is neck-and-neck with Maoist China for the title of most murderous regime in human history. Lenin’s forced collectivism and political purges killed more than 4 million people by 1922. The Holodomor, Stalin’s deliberate “plague of hunger” in the Ukraine in the early 1930s killed from 8 to 12 million Ukrainians. By the time of Stalin’s death in 1953, the USSR had deliberately murdered at least 40 million of its own people.
And Marxist-Maoist China killed an estimated 20 to 40 million Chinese during the “Great Leap Forward” under Mao Zedong. Now add to this the 2 million or more Cambodians who died under the Marxist warlord Pol Pot and the million-plus Ethiopians who were deliberately starved to death under Ethiopia’s Marxist regime. Why are Marxist regimes so bent on killing their own people? Answer: Marxism is pure distilled social Darwinism. When the weak are exterminated and the strong survive, that’s Darwinian natural selection at work in human society.
And what about the Nazis? It’s no accident that the title of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”), echoes the Darwinian struggle for survival. By the time Mein Kampf was published in 1925, the broad doctrines of social Darwinism — struggle, the dominance of the will, total amorality, and survival of the fittest — had largely shaped the Zeitgeist of Europe and America.
The social Darwinist phrase “survival of the fittest” does not appear in any of Darwin’s own writings; it was coined by a sociologist, Herbert Spencer. But the idea that only the strong should survive became a maxim of the decades from the 1870s through the end of World War II. Social Darwinism formed the basis of Hitler’s thinking about struggle, power, the use of force, and racial purity. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote about Entwicklung (meaning “evolution” or “development”), and referred to racially impure human beings as “monsters that are a mixture of man and ape.”6
Robert J. Richards, professor of science and medical history at the University of Chicago, has written a scholarly paper that rejects the claim that Hitler was influenced by Darwin. In the paper, titled “Was Hitler a Darwinian?,” Professor Richards expresses concern that certain “scholars and many religiously conservative thinkers” want to charge Darwin with “moral responsibility for the crimes of Hitler” in order to undermine the theory of evolution.7
As Professor Richards rightly points out, we can trace Hitler’s racist and genocidal views to many influences, including the anti-Semitic views of composer Richard Wagner, and the racial theories of Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau (1816-1882) and Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927). Yet the evidence also shows that Hitler was well acquainted with Darwinism, both as a biological theory and in its corrupted and popularized form, social Darwinism. In Mein Kampf in 1925, Hitler wrote:
If Nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such a case all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.8
The Darwinian influence on that statement is irrefutable. And in his Nuremberg speech in September 1933, Hitler said:
The differences between the individual races … can be quite enormous and in fact are so. The gulf between the lowest creature which can still be styled man and our highest races is greater than that between the lowest type of man and the highest ape.9
Professor Richards writes that, in the 1940s, Hitler made statements rejecting “the origin of human beings from ape-like ancestors.”10 Maybe Hitler did change his views on Darwinian biology from the 1920s to the 1940s. But we do know that Hitler spoke of being influenced by Darwinian biology during his early education — and the Darwinian influence, he said, alienated him from the Christian religion. In a private conversation on October 24, 1941, taken down verbatim by a stenographer, Hitler said:
The present system of teaching in schools permits the following absurdity: at 10 a.m. the pupils attend a lesson in the catechism, at which the creation of the world is presented to them in accordance with the teachings of the Bible; and at 11 a.m. they attend a lesson in natural science, at which they are taught the theory of evolution. Yet the two doctrines are in complete contradiction. As a child, I suffered from this contradiction, and ran my head against a wall. Often I complained to one or another of my teachers against what I had been taught an hour before — and I remember I drove them to despair.
The Christian religion tries to get out of it by explaining that one must attach a symbolic value to the images of Holy Writ. Any man who made the same claim four hundred years ago would have ended his career at the stake, with an accompaniment of Hosannas.11
I’m not accusing Professor Richards of deliberate revisionism, but it’s clear that his claim that Hitler rejected Darwinism is simply untrue.
Continued in Part 2.
This is an excerpt from God and Soul: The Truth and the Proof by Jim Denney, copyright 2012, available as an ebook at Amazon.com. For permission to quote from this excerpt, contact the author in care of this blogsite.
4. CNN, ” Columbine Killer Envisioned Crashing Plane in NYC,” CNN.com, December 6, 2001, http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/12/05/columbine.diary/; Peter Langman, Ph.D., “Columbine, Bullying, and the Mind of Eric Harris,” PsychologyToday.com, May 20, 2009, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/keeping-kids-safe/200905/columbine-bullying-and-the-mind-eric-harris.
5. Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism: Part Three of The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt, 1976), 161.
6. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, translated by James Murphy, http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200601.txt.
7. Robert J. Richards, “Was Hitler a Darwinian?,” undated document, http://home.uchicago.edu/~rjr6/articles/Was%20Hitler%20a%20Darwinian.pdf.
8. Hitler, ibid.
9. Alvin Z. Rubinstein and Garold Wesley Thumm, The Challenge of Politics: Ideas and Issues (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970), 57.
10. Richards, ibid.
11. Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s Secret Conversations, 1941-1944 (New York: Octagon Books, 1972), 69.