Hitler Again?

Posted on April 12, 2013

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For 10 years, I engineered and helped produce a Christian radio program for children. I followed the industry and went to a national conference in Texas to hang out with others in the Christian radio scene. I found some common interest with other engineers and younger Christians, but found many of the older broadcasters to be pretty out of touch. The first guy we met was trying to put together an old-timey, Gospel-singin’ TV program to compete with Saturday Night Live.

“It would be just like sitting around the piano with these guys, and everyone can sing along at home instead of watching that trash on Saturday Night Live.”

While he was enthusiastically explaining this, I couldn’t help but think to myself that the demographic he was envisioning probably wasn’t even home on a Saturday night watching TV but was instead out getting drunk and hooking up. A Southern Gospel sing-a-long is unlikely to catch them if pop culture comedy, celebrities and hot bands couldn’t.

At the National Religious Broadcasters Convention, I walked from exhibit to exhibit in the convention hall and sat in meetings and strategy sessions. Evolution came up more often than I would have expected, and was always presented as an atheist conspiracy designed to deceive people and undermine the faith of school kids.

One of Darwin’s most persistent critics was Dr. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries. I remember listening to his program once when he said that any Christians who had shockingly accepted evolution were “lazy”, and hadn’t thought it through. He then went on to make some very uniformed critiques that made his comment even more offensive to me since I had spent a great deal of time studying the subject from many perspectives. His out-of-context quotes and old, debunked arguments were hardly up to the task of overturning a century and a half of scientific work accepted by nearly every biologist around the world. At the convention, his ministry was generating a buzz about a new documentary that would link Darwin to Hitler and sweep evolution into “the dustbin of history”. The documentary, Darwin’s Deadly Legacy, was pushed over the Christian airways for quite a while and was often featured on Christian television stations.

Darwin to Hitler?

Darwin to Hitler?

The Darwin/Hitler connection is so often repeated by critics of evolution, I have to ask myself if those influenced by this idea have considered some of the facts which seem to speak against their conclusion:

  1. Systematically choosing and killing specific people is not natural selection. It doesn’t take a biologist to explain that if you wipe out a race of people, you eliminate the possibility of future generations. Genocide and racism took place in large scale throughout history and long before Darwin. Genocide has been carried out after Darwin by non-evolutionists in places like Rwanda and Sudan.
  2. Hitler probably wasn’t even an evolutionist. His specific views are still debated, but he explicitly denied evolution and affirmed special creationism and limits in genetic variation in several books, speeches, and letters. The Nazi party banned “Darwinist” books and anything criticizing Christianity. The reasons for Hitler’s atrocities have long been examined by historians. Darwin wasn’t needed, and hasn’t been proven to have had an influence on him. [more info]
  3. There’s no evidence that Hitler had read “On the Origin of Species” or understood evolution. American president Teddy Roosevelt was an ardent evolutionist, and Winston Churchill had read Darwin’s book, so you could make a much better case that these men were Darwinists. Biology teachers today are hardly known as dangerous murders, so I don’t know how Ann Coulter and Coral Ridge have convinced so many people that accepting the reality of natural selection leads to mass murder.
  4. “Social Darwinism” has nothing to do with Darwin himself. That idea developed after Darwin had died. Applying a biological model to sociology, politics, economics, or other fields has nothing to do with Darwin and has no bearing on the validity of biological evolution.
  5. Ideologies like Marxism can be judged as good or bad by the outcomes they produce, but evolution and all other scientific theories can not be validated or invalidated by looking at their consequences and social impact. Atomic theory is a valid explanation for the data no matter if it’s used to generate power or kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. An appeal to consequences is an illogical way to deal with these types of questions.

Although Coral Ridge’s “Darwin’s Deadly Legacy” contained many errors and unbelievable misrepresentations, I want to focus on one thing that I found particularly troubling as a Christian. The documentary includes a clip from an interview with Dr. Francis Collins. I’ve mentioned Collins before; he was the director of the Human Genome Project and current head of the National Institutes of Health. He’s a brilliant geneticist and an evangelical Christian. He also accepts evolution and argues against Intelligent Design and Young-Earth Creationism (the view of D. James Kennedy and Coral Ridge). Coral Ridge Ministries had to have known this when they interviewed Collins about his book, The Language of God, since the book clearly explains his theistic evolutionary point of view in detail. The producers cut a line out of context that made it sound as if Collins did not believe in evolution at all. They used this clip, and his name, in a documentary that he would have never taken part in. When it came to his attention, he was “appalled“. To their credit, Coral Ridge took his name off of their press releases and promotional materials – but left the deceptive clip and the caption with his name and credentials in the full version of the documentary (it is cut out of the shortened online version, thankfully.) In recent articles and advertisements I’ve found online promoting the video, Collins is still listed among the contributors as if he is supports the documentary. Coral Ridge maintains that they were authorized by Collins to use the interview footage however they wanted, but I think most people would agree with me that this contractual allowance does not excuse the dishonesty and irresponsibility of such a stunt.

The only other biologist featured in “Darwin’s Deadly Legacy” is Michael J. Behe. He also distanced himself from the project saying that he did not know anything about it and had no say in their use his name and film clip. Behe is often cited by supporters of Intelligent Design, and he was their star witness at the Dover trail. He is a Discovery Institute senior fellow and the author of “Darwin’s Black Box,” a book critical of naturalistic evolution, but he still accepts universal common descent (people evolved from a common ancestor with chimps and so on). This is clear to anyone familiar with Behe’s work and ideas.

People watching the video who had read a book by either of these men would have caught the deception right away, but Coral Ridge likely led many unfamiliar viewers to believe that these two established scientists do not believe in evolution and blame the holocaust on Charles Darwin. It’s sad to see how a Christian ministry exploited two knowledgable Christians and inserted them into a poorly-reasoned documentary that both consider to be misleading and incorrect. The thesis is so far off, the scholarship so poor, and the tactics are so indefensible – it’s no wonder they couldn’t find real scientists that actually agree with them. I just wish they hadn’t taken the low road to get the names of Behe and Collins in their project. Those viewing the documentary should know that the scientists in the film are theistic evolutionists who do not accept Young-Earth Creationism or the Darwin-Hitler connection. They should also understand that the historian who tries to make the case for Darwin’s influence on Hitler and the Holocaust has not succeeded in convincing other historians that his interpretations are correct. In an academic setting, he wouldn’t get away with some of the things he presents as facts. By taking this message straight to the public and being a paid fellow of The Discovery Institute, he bypasses his critics and sustains a career not on the merit of his scholarship, but upon a niche group’s eagerness to hear a new version of history that validates their views.

This is not how historic study or science should be conducted, but this is unfortunately common in Christian media. The Christian market seems to be looking for easy affirmation of their views, so pseudo-scientists and pseudo-historians become stars by showing up on Christian TV or radio and telling eager listeners what they want to hear. If you tune in to Christian programing like TBN or the 700 Club, you’re likely to hear unestablished and controversial speakers claiming that the Founding Fathers were evangelicals and that Hitler was simply applying Darwinism and that most historians, geologists, astronomers, and biologists are all wrong and have conspired to trick your children in public schools. I understand why a Christian audience would be likely to trust Christian speakers found on national Christian TV programs and programs, but I’m sorry to say that many of these individuals are completely undeserving of such trust.

As much as it bothers me to see this happen over and over, I’m encouraged to know that there are knowledgable Christians out there who can explain history, geology, and science while also addressing any intersecting theological issues. You’ll find such people teaching at Christian colleges and writing books with publishers like Intervarsity Press and maybe even contributing articles to Christianity Today. People like historian Mark Noll, scientist Francis Collins, sociologist Christian Smith, and theologian Allister McGrath have a lot of good information and insight to offer. If you’re watching Pat Robertson or listening to Christian radio, you may never hear from these sources. You’re much more likely to find a former teen star trying to rewrite history or an unaccredited tax cheat arguing against a strawman Darwin.

In my personal interaction with those involved in Christian Radio, it seems like the Old Guard is so committed to an “Us Versus Them” culture war with an anti-intellectual bent. Perhaps the pendulum will soon swing back to a position that places more value on intellectual fidelity. Turning more attention to accomplished authors and fact-checking the Christian media seems like a good start.

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