Expelled does NOT try to "blame Darwin for the Holocaust"
With the attacks on Expelled from distraught Darwinists coming faster and sharper, I thought I'd ask Discovery senior fellow --and columnist for the Jewish Forward-- David Klinghoffer to provide us with some commentary to help put various aspects of the film into context. Here then is his first installment.
This week I'll be blogging about a contentious issue raised by Expelled, its linking of Darwinian theory with Hitlerian ideology. Critics have misconstrued the point Ben Stein makes in the film. Expelled does not -- repeat: DOES NOT -- try "to blame Darwin for the Holocaust," as the subhead on an attack piece at the Scientific American website puts it.
Instead it shows the indebtedness of Nazism to ideas expressed in Darwin's writing.
Darwin's theory of evolution is enmeshed in a worldview, Darwinism, that emerges clearly in The Origin of Species and, more so, in The Descent of Man. Hitler gave to Darwinism his own evil twist. Yet Hitler without Darwin's influence, however indirect, would not have been the same Hitler we know from history. Without Darwin's legacy to draw on, Hitler would have been compelled to frame his appeal to the German people in greatly altered terms.
That's different, it should be obvious, from blaming gentle Charles Darwin for genocide.
Yet the author of the SciAm review, editor-in-chief John Rennie, feels that the movie should have given a fuller picture of Nazism's philosophical genealogy:
"The most deplorable dishonesty of Expelled, however, is that it says evolution was one influence on the Holocaust without acknowledging any of the other major ones for context. Rankings of races and ethnic groups into a hierarchy long preceded Darwin and the theory of evolution, and were usually tied to the Christian philosophical notion of a 'great chain of being.'"
This reminds me of cloddish literary feminists who used to complain that Huck Finn is a sexist novel because Mark Twain includes no major female characters. The obvious reply to the critique is that Huck Finn isn't about women. It's a story about two men on a raft!
Expelled isn't about Christianity's legacy as it pertains to Jews. It's about Darwinist suppression of dissent in American academic life. But when it does widen its focus to take in the broader legacy of Darwin's ideas, it very reasonably touches on the way Hitler took Darwinism to a conclusion that should not be surprising.
To insist that the movie deliver a complete accounting of all the threads of thought that, woven together, resulted in Nazi mass murder is an expectation that would have made it cumbersome verging on impossible for Expelled to raise the subject it does.
Hitler's debt to Darwin has long been known to mainstream scholars, from Hannah Arendt down to the latest Hitler biographers, as I'll discuss tomorrow. Keeping that debt from wider public awareness is perhaps what John Rennie would prefer.