Culture & Ethics Icon Culture & Ethics

How Darwin Leads People to Eventually Say, “Hitler Was O.K.”

Anika Smith

Ideas matter. That’s the lesson of history, and one brought into stark relief by Richard Weikart’s work as an historian. This week Dr. Weikart has an article that delves into what Darwinism really means for Darwinists and morality:

The Darwin celebrations this year have reinforced my concern that Darwinism is not merely a scientific theory. For many Darwinists, it is much more than that. For some it is the basis for a secular worldview that not only rejects theism, but also promotes moral relativism.

How clearly this is seen in Weikart’s example:

A young man was performing rap songs on evolutionary themes that he had been commissioned to write and perform for the Darwin celebrations in Britain. He told us between his songs that in some species, such as praying mantises and black widows, the females kill their mates after procreating. This is an evolutionary adaptation. The rapper then continued by saying that it is only chance–like the flip of a coin, he said–that our own species does not exhibit such a behavior. He then stated that if we did act this way, our moral systems and religions would revolve around females killing their mates. (Take-home lesson: Morality and religion are contingent products of mindless processes).
This view may sound bizarre, but it is actually very similar to a statement Darwin made in the Origin of Species, where he mentioned that some species commit infanticide. He then stated that if we as humans had been raised with their instincts, infanticide would then be moral. Darwin’s own moral relativism was even more apparent in Descent of Man, where he argued that sexual morality had evolved over human history. At one point in the human past, he argued, “promiscuous intercourse was once extremely common throughout the world.” Polygamy and monogamy were later evolutionary adaptations, he thought. Similar ideas are commonplace today in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, both influential movements in intellectual circles.
At a dinner at the close of the conference, I spoke with a philosophy graduate student who told me that because empathy and thus morality were traits produced by evolution, he was convinced that morality was relative. When I asked him if he then thought Hitler was not evil, he told me that even though he personally finds Hitler repugnant, that repugnance has no objective validity, so, he stated, “Hitler was OK.” He then told me that he doesn’t want his rational belief in relativistic morality to influence his own moral standards, but he still considered his moral standards evolved traits that are purely subjective. I told him that I thought the reason his “instincts” and rationality about morality were at odds was because morality really is objective, but he didn’t see it that way.

Read the rest here.

Anika Smith