About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ben Stein's thesis is hardly original

One thing that no one else seems to have noticed in the current back-and-forth about Expelled is that Ben Stein and the rest of the film's fundamentalist shills are not the first enemies of reason to argue for a connection between Darwin (or modern biological science in general) and Hitler. Anti-science intellectuals have been trying to establish such connections for some time. One of the worst offenders is the anti-science British journalist Bryan Appleyard.

As I discuss over here, Appleyard argues that Hitler was influenced by Eugene Fischer's The Principles of Human Heredity and Race Hygiene and by the work of Ernst Haeckel. Appleyard advances the thesis that Nazism was not a misuse of science but somehow exemplary of it.

It's one thing to suggest that something Hitler got from Fischer or Haeckel influenced his bizarre worldview (along with many other things, including the traditional anti-Semitism that pervaded Christendom for hundreds of years). In taking the line that he does, Appleyard ignores the various kinds of race hatred and xenophobia that have existed through most or all of known history, and which were certainly not a product of the scientific revolution in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, or of the revolution in biology, geology, and other sciences in the nineteenth and twentieth. Nonetheless, Appleyard's fevered thinking - with all the Luddite diatribes it has generated throughout the man's lengthy career in highbrow irrationalism - is coloured by his perception of science in general as somehow tainted by the monstrosity of the Holocaust.

I'm afraid that Bryan Appleyard is not the only one. You can be pretty sure that many intellectuals on the humanities side of things have similar beliefs. Call it trahison des clercs, as I do, but it's there.

Ben Stein and the whole sick crew of Expelled have grabbed on to a thesis that is not original to them, and which will resonate in (parts of) the academy. This thesis has been lying around like an ugly length of wood, just waiting for the fundies to pick it up and use it as a club against science.

A lot more needs to be done to debunk such distortions and misconceptions, which is one reason why I'm particularly pleased to see recent efforts by Richard Dawkins and others to explain the facts.


Brian said...

If you understand evolution, you understand it's not purpose driven. There's no decision made to exterminate those that aren't fitest. It's just a competition for resources.

Eugenics, etc, is purpose driven and those who are deemed 'less-fit' are done so because ideological reasons.

To me, this makes Eugenics the human counterpart of animal-husbandry or the ethical descendant of Sparta and opposite of evolution by natural selection.

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Anonymous said...

Appleyard sadly represents another skewed view of science, selecting the bits he believes back his theories and putting what he'd rather not confront into the too hard basket. Those of Stein's ilk just keep on churning out the same old stuff, which is akin to being slapped about the head with a wet newspaper, over and over again.

Dawkins's letter was superb.

Anonymous said...

It was Peter Weikart's book, "From Darwin to Hitler," that Kevin 11, the screenwriter, and Ben Stein read. They both admit it and try to promote it.

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