- Nazi racial ideology was creationist. Hitler considered that the different human races had been created separately. The Aryan race was the “master” race, created as “God’s highest handiwork”, the other races (Jewish, Black, Slav, etc) were literally “sub-human”. The races had been created by God in their current form (humans had not evolved from other animals).
- Nazi ideology pointed to both artificial and natural selection as a mechanism preserving the health of a species by weeding out the weaker and less able. This struggle for existence countered a natural tendency for things to decay. To the Nazis this mechanism preserved species in their original (God created) form. They did not consider that natural selection operating over long periods of time caused species to evolve; they regarded the species as fixed.
- Hitler considered that allowing interbreeding between the separately created races would destroy the Aryan race, and thus be a sin against God. He considered it a high imperative to preserve the Aryan race in its primordial excellence. In Mein Kampf he advocated that Jews should be celibate to prevent such interbreeding. Later he developed a “final solution” to this “problem”.
- Nazi ideologues strongly opposed most Darwinian concepts; they rejected macro-evolution, they rejected the common origin of the different human races, they rejected human evolution from animals. They rejected such doctrines which they saw as depriving man of his soul. They banned Darwin’s works and called his theories an “English sickness”.
- Hitler saw the Christian churches as having been corrupted by Jews, starting with Paul. He regarded Jesus as an Aryan, and wanted to restore what he saw as the original message of Jesus. The Nazis formed their own church, the “German Christians”, and their own theological institutes, promoting the idea of Jesus as an Aryan. Hitler despised atheism and had “stamped it out” on taking power with the disbanding of the German Freethinker’s League.
- The German people during the Third Reich were overwhelmingly Christian, with among the highest church-attendance rates in Europe. In a 1939 Census 94% declared themselves Christian. Nearly all of those involved in the Holocaust regarded themselves as Christian; the Auschwitz SS self-labelled as Catholic (42.6%), Protestant (36.5%) or Gottgläubig (20.1%; the word means God-believer or devout, and was the term favoured by the “German Christians”); not one was recorded as “without faith” (atheist). Indeed Himmler declared that: “I have never tolerated an atheist in the ranks of the SS. Every member has a deep faith in God”.
- Since the war many in the largely-Christian victorious West have conducted a misinformation campaign trying to exonerate religion of any blame for the Nazis, and instead place the blame on atheists and Darwinian ideology. The truth is the opposite. Yet, the misinformation campaign has been sufficiently sucessful that many people still believe it. Creationists, particularly, as still trying to promote this disinformation.
2: Nazi Racial Theory (de Gobineau)
3: Houston Stewart Chamberlain
4: Hans Günther
5: Hitler and Mein Kampf
6: Creationist denial
7: Religion in the Third Reich
8: Christian Denial
Among those who dislike Darwin’s explanation of human beings as the product of evolution a common accusation is that Darwinian thinking has led to horrors such as the Nazi holocaust. For example the American religious commentator Ann Coulter writes: “From Marx to Hitler, the men responsible for the greatest mass murders of the twentieth century were avid Darwinists” (which is wrong on all the others, not just Hitler). So widespread is the claim that even many who accept that Darwinian evolution has been established as true, well beyond any reasonable doubt, also believe that Darwinian ideas were misused to justify Nazi atrocities. For example the British political commentator Andrew Marr writes that Darwinism was “used to justify … the Nazi holocaust”.
Are these claims correct? Remarkably, for a claim so widely accepted, no they aren’t. Indeed, the Nazi ideology underpinning the extermination of the Jews was opposed to and incompatible with Darwinism, instead being a religious and creationist doctrine.
Even such a staunch Darwinian as Richard Dawkins fails to appreciate how anti-Darwin the Nazis were, hugely underplaying the differences. These differences are best illustrated by the schematics in Figure 1. On the left is the Darwinian evolutionary tree showing the origin of man out of monkey-like ancestors. In the middle is a schematic of the “family tree” of today’s dogs. The domestic dog, as with other domesticated and farmed species, is partially the product of Darwinian natural selection and partially the product of human artificial selection to produce desired outcomes. Dawkins is correct to make a distinction between artificial selection — something we’ve known about since the invention of farming — and natural selection, Darwin’s idea explaining the evolution of species over geological timescales.
“Hitler didn’t apply NATURAL selection to humans. [...] Hitler tried to apply ARTIFICIAL selection to humans, and there is nothing specifically Darwinian about artificial selection. It has been familiar to farmers, gardeners, horse trainers, dog breeders, pigeon fanciers and many others for centuries, even millennia”.
The suggestion here is that Hitler wanted to use farming techniques to artificially select desired traits and so produce a “master race”. This would indeed be an ideology that had some similarities to Darwinism. However, while Professor Dawkins can be excused for never having looked into Nazi ideology, abhorrent and unscientific as it is, this misunderstands Nazi racial doctrine and what they were trying to achieve. In fact, Nazi racial ideology was radically different, being based on a creationist vision that was totally incompatible with and opposed to Darwinian evolution.
The panel on the right of Fig. 1 illustrates Nazi racial doctrine. They believed that the different human races were distinct and separate, created as God wanted them, and they regarded these permanent racial characteristics as all important to human culture and destiny. Further, they believed that allowing racial inter-mixing had led to the downfall of civilizations, and was a sin against God’s creation. Thus they considered it of overwhelming importance to preserve their own Nordic/Aryan race, which they regarded as superior and created in “God’s own image”, by preventing inter-breeding with “inferior” races which they regarded as literally “sub-human”, being separate creations.
So, yes, the Nazis wanted to use selective breeding, but not to create a “master race”, but to preserve an Aryan master race, preserving the primordial Aryan characteristics which they believed were the “highest image of God”.
This ideology shares one thing with Darwinism, namely the possibility of using selective breeding to achieve a desired end, a possibility mankind had known about since the invention of farming, about 12,000 yrs ago. But in all other respects it is profoundly anti-Darwinian. Whereas in Darwinian evolution all mankind evolved out of a common monkey-like ancestor, with all human races sharing a common origin in the recent past, in Nazi ideology the different human races were distinct and separate creations.
In other words, the Nazis, like many creationists today, accepted what creationists call “micro-evolution”, the operation of natural selection within a species; but, like other creationists, they totally rejected “macro-evolution”, the evolution of one species into another.
While the mutability of species, with new species evolving out of distant ancestors, is the central theme of Darwinism, the Nazis found that idea anathema, and placed a heavy emphasis on racial purity and the distinctiveness and separateness of different species. Further, the Nazis found abhorrent the materialist notion that man might be just like other animals, and, from their religious and moralistic perspective, they insisted that man had a spiritual soul.
That is why leading Nazi ideologues wrote books explicitly rejecting Darwinism, and why they banned Darwinian works from public libraries. The truth is that nothing in Nazi ideology derives from Darwin — the slight overlap is only in areas known about long pre-Darwin. Nor are there any quotes of leading Nazis looking to Darwin or pointing to Darwin as justification — if there were the creationists would likely have found them by now. In short, the association of Nazi doctrine with Darwinism is an outright fabrication by those who wish to discredit Darwinism and the scientific account of the origin of man.
2: Nazi Racial Theory (de Gobineau) (back to top)
The Nazi’s racial theory is straightforwardly traced back to the writings of Arthur de Gobineau (1816–1882), a French aristocrat, novelist and diplomat. His work on the “Inequality of the Human Races” was published in 1853–1855 (before Darwin’s Origin of Species), and was translated into English in 1856, and into German in 1897, by Ludwig Schemann, a leading proponent of Nazi theory.
De Gobineau’s central argument is that humans races are distinct and unequal, and he argues against the “unitarian” idea that all men are descended from a common origin. In Chapter 11, headed “Racial differences are permanent”, he writes:
“I conclude, from this refutation of the only arguments brought forward by the Unitarians, that the permanence of racial types is beyond dispute; it is so strong and indestructible that the most complete change of environment has no power to overthrow it, so long as no crossing takes place.”
By “crossing” de Gobineau means inter-racial breeding. He argues that inter-racial mixing causes “degeneracy”, with the blood of the “superior” races being polluted by that of “inferior” races.
Much of the book is concerned with the “fall of civilizations”, asking why the great civilizations of the past fell. He argues that it resulted from the “degeneration” caused by inter-racial mixing:
“And when I have shown by examples that great peoples, at the moment of their death, have only a very small and insignificant share in the blood of the founders, into whose inheritance they come, I shall thereby have explained clearly enough how it is possible for civilizations to fall …”.
In Chapter 1 de Gobineau, a Catholic Christian, wrote:
“The fall of civilizations is the most striking, and, at the same time, the most obscure, of all the phenomena of history. … The wisdom of the ancients yields little that throws light on our subject, except one fundamental axiom, the recognition of the finger of God in the conduct of this world; to this firm and ultimate principle we must adhere, accepting it in the full sense in which it is understood by the Catholic Church. It is certain that no civilisation falls to the ground unless God wills it …”.
This laid the seeds of an idea that would be echoed in Mein Kampf, that the “fall” of civilizations was God-ordained as a punishment for racial inter-mixing, that God wanted his separately created races to be kept separate, and that allowing racial inter-mixing was counter to God’s will.
de Gobineau admits that one counter-argument which “I confess, gives me more concern” is that “It is said that Genesis does not admit of a multiple origin for our species.” He argues that:
“We must, of course, acknowledge that Adam is the ancestor of the *white* race. The scriptures are evidently meant to be so understood, for the generations deriving from him are certainly white”,
“… there is nothing to show that, in the view of the first compilers of the Adamite genealogies, those outside the white race were counted as part of the species at all. Not a word is said about the yellow races, and it is only an arbitrary interpretation of the text that makes us regard the patriarch Ham as black”.
Thus de Gobineau is arguing that the Mankind created by God in the Garden of Eden was the White race, and that the other races, who could be regarded as “sub-human”, had had separate creations. This idea has cropped up periodically in Christian thought, for example in the Dutch Reformed Church as a justification of apartheid, and explains puzzles such as why the “Mark of Cain” was needed to protect Cain if there were no other peoples.
3: Houston Stewart Chamberlain (back to top)
Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927) was one of the intellectual founders of Nazism. His “The Foundations Of The Nineteenth Century” sold a quarter of a million copies by 1938. On Chamberlain’s 70th birthday, the Nazi party newspaper dedicated five columns to him, describing “The Foundations” as the “gospel of the Nazi movement”. This book’s ideas of Aryan supremacy and a struggle against Jewish influence became the intellectual justification of Nazism, being carried in all public libraries and included in school curricula. Rosenberg described himself as “electrified” by reading this book, which he regarded as the inspiration for his own “Myth Of The Twentieth Century”.
Hitler visited Chamberlain several times between 1923 and 1926, and attended his funeral in 1927. In 1923 Chamberlain wrote to Hitler saying:
“Most respected and dear Hitler … That Germany, in the hour of her greatest need, brings forth a Hitler – that is proof of her vitality … I can now go untroubled to sleep… May God protect you!”.
Chamberlain was a Christian, devoting chapters of his “Foundations” to his version of Christianity. He believed that much of Church doctrine was a distortion of Christ’s teaching, writing that
“the whole superstructure of the Christian Churches has hitherto been outside of the personality of Christ”
“… we need … a regeneration that shall be specifically religious: we need to tear away the foreign rags and tatters that still hang upon our Christianity as the trappings of slavish hypocrisy: we need the creative power to construct out of the words and the spectacle of the crucified Son of Man a perfect religion fitting the truth of our nature …”.
In the introduction to “Foundations” Chamberlain writes of Darwinism as “A manifestly unsound system”. He explicitly advocates a dualistic and spiritual vision of man, rejecting “monism” (the idea that humans are simply physical material) and saying that Darwinism and “so-called `scientific’ monism, materialism” were “shallow and therefore injurious systems [...] which have nevertheless in the nineteenth century produced so much confusion of thought”. He then says that as a result of such “errors” … “theists become in the twinkling of an eye atheists, a strikingly common thing in the case of Jews …”.
This association of atheism with Jews was later echoed by Hitler in Mein Kampf.
Chamberlain continued that “… for us (Teutons) God is always in the background”. He contrasts this with “a Jewish scholar” in whom he “had occasion” to “observe the genesis and obstinacy of the apparently opposite `atheistical’ conception”, and remarked that
“It is absolutely impossible ever to bring home to such a man what we Teutons understand by Godhead, religion, morality. Here lies the hard insoluble kernel of the `Jewish problem’. And this is the reason why an impartial man, without a trace of contempt for the in many respects worthy and excellent Jews, can and must regard the presence of a large number of them in our midst as a danger not to be under-estimated.”
Although Chamberlain did some work in botany, he described himself in his book “The Aryan Worldview” (1905) as someone “who has no scientific knowledge”. Nevertheless, as with many Christians, he had deep antipathy to Darwinism, which he saw as materialist and soul-less. In his major work “Immanuel Kant” (1905) he attacked Darwinism at length.
In the section “Plato” he defended ideas of a Platonic “essence”, such that different races were of different “essence”, and totally rejected Darwin’s ideas of races and species as malleable, and evolving into different species. Here are some quotes:
“A characteristic symptom of our modern intellectual disease is the increasing tendency to relegate things to ever remoter and remoter origins. Thus, for instance, man was said to be descended from the ape; the anatomical impossibility of this is established to-day by a thousand reasons …”
“the nonsensical dogmas of the theorisers on natural selection and descent may once and for all be rejected.”
“That is how anti-science and phantasticism have invaded our times. And how did this happen? It was the inevitable consequence of wishing to understand nature from the process of growth instead of from its Being, …” [The "Being" here being the constant Platonic essence, in contrast to changeable Darwinian "growth".]
“Constancy, not only of single species without any change from the oldest palaeozoic strata until to-day … but, as I have just shown, constancy of precisely the same structural conditions down to every detail … that is the great fundamental fact, the fact of all facts, which pure conception gives us in regard to life. Life is form, constant form.”
And he gets quite disparaging about Darwin: “These few remarks only serve to show what a want of reflection disfigures the fundamental thoughts of Darwin and his followers.”
And lauds a Darwin critic: “This testimony of a professional man rich in knowledge and prudent in judgement, deserves attention at a time when the Darwinian craze works such mischief [...]“
Further, Chamberlain is totally dismissive of the Darwinian idea that man could ascend from “a bestial past” and that “… natural selection, in its blind choice, is forsooth to transfigure us into an exalted being”.
This passage is worth quoting more fully, since the usual accusation is that the Nazis took from Darwin an idea of using selective breeding to create a “master race”. Chamberlain, the foremost intellectual founder of Nazism, totally and explicitly rejects this, instead wanting to preserve the past:
“Darwin specially recommends his theory for our acceptance in that it also promises to mankind that all corporal and mental endowments will tend to progress in the direction towards perfection. I, on the contrary, should have thought that we might have contented ourselves with the gifts of a Plato, a Descartes, a Leonardo, a Goethe, a Kant … how far better this than that we, fooled by delusions out of a bestial past that is no past … should with outstretched greedy hands, without cease or rest, clutch at a phantastic future in which natural selection, in its blind choice, is forsooth to transfigure us into an exalted being, the like of which is beyond the imagination of the great and holy and sublime men of the present generation!”
Thus, to Chamberlain, Nazi theory was not about using selective breeding to perfect a master race, Nazi ideology was that the Aryans were already a master race, and had always been, since an original creation by God. And that the Aryan master race was now threatened by interbreeding with “lesser” races of human, which it was their duty to prevent. This theme was later to make up a large swathe of Mein Kampf.
This is a complete rejection of the Darwinian idea of humans having a common origin and having evolved from apes. Indeed Chamberlain is quite disparaging about Darwinism, calling it an “English sickness”:
“If we might not say that this craze [Darwinism] is only the last belated straggler of romanticism and Hegelism in alliance with flat English utilitarianism, and that a hundred years will not have passed before it will be judged as men to-day judge alchemy, … if we did not see around us … an energetic shaking off of this “English sickness”, as the Zoologist Friedrich Dreyer called it in a happy phrase, we might abandon all hope of a future for Science and culture.”
“The liberal epoch brought enormous desolation in the church domain. This was precipitated by its many pseudoscientific beliefs such as evolution. [...] The tragic thing about the spiritual history of the last hundred years is that the churches have made the liberal materialistic outlook their own. [...] Thus the Darwinian era was able to create enormous confusion.”
4: Hans Günther (back to top)
The above sections have shown how Nazi racial ideology originated prior to Darwin, in the form of de Gobineau, and from ideologues such as Chamberlain who explicitly opposed and rejected Darwinism. Let’s now turn to Nazi ideologues during the Third Reich era, of whom Hans Günther is a prominent example.
Hans Günther (1891–1968), known as the “Race Pope” (Rassenpapst) was the leading Third Reich exponent of Nazi racial ideology. His “Short Ethnology of the German People” was published in 1929, selling 270,000 copies. He was appointed to a chair in “racial theory” at Jena in 1931, and joined the Nazi party in 1932, being lauded and decorated by Hitler.
Günther’s major work was “The Racial Elements of European History” (English translation, 1927). Günther drew heavily on de Gobineau and Chamberlain, writing (Chapter 12):
“The French Count Arthur Gobineau (1816-82), was the first to point out in his work, Essai sur l’inegalite des races humaines (1853-5), the importance of the Nordic race for the life of the peoples. Count Gobineau, too, was the first to see that, through the mixture of the Nordic with other races, the way was being prepared for what to-day (with Spengler) is called the ‘Fall of the West’. … it is thanks to Schemann … [and] his translation of the Essay on the Inequality of Human Races, which appeared 1898-1901, that Gobineau’s name and the foundations he traced for the Nordic ideal have not fallen into forgetfulness. The very great importance of Gobineau’s work in the history of the culture of our day is shown by Schemann in his book, Gobineaus Rassenwerk (1910).”
“About the same time, too, in 1899, appeared the work which for the first time brought the racial ideal, and particularly the Nordic ideal, into the consciousness of a very wide circle through the enthusiasm, and also the opposition, which it aroused: this work was The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, by H. S. Chamberlain … “
“Since the works of Gobineau and Chamberlain appeared, many investigators, in the realms of natural and social science, have devoted themselves eagerly to bringing light into racial questions, so that to-day not only the core of the theory both of Gobineau and of Chamberlain stands secure, but also much new territory has been won for an ideal of the Nordic race. A new standpoint in history, the ‘racial historical standpoint,’ is shaping itself. Following the terms used by Gobineau and Chamberlain, we come here and there upon more or less clear conceptions of the need for keeping the ‘Germanic’ blood pure, or (following Lapouge) of keeping the ‘Aryan’ blood pure.”
Thus we have the leading Third Reich race ideologue explicitly attributing his ideas to pre-Darwin and anti-Darwin writers. It is true, though, that Günther then goes on to mention selection and Darwin, saying: “the influence of the conception of selection only really begins to show itself after the foundations of modern biology were laid by Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. The conception of selection was bound to have an effect on the view taken of the destiny of the peoples. Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton (1822–1911), the ‘father of eugenics’, was the first to see this.”
However, it is clear that from Darwin he is taking only a mechanism, namely selection, whereas it is from Gobineau and Chamberlain that he is taking motivation. He continues: “Through researches such as these [Darwin, Galton, Mendel] Gobineau’s teachings received a deeper meaning, and found fresh support from all these sources, from the sciences of heredity, eugenics, and race: the Nordic movement was born.” And Gobineau’s central thesis was the anti-Darwinian idea of separately created and permanent racial types, and the idea that allowing racial mixing would destroy the Aryan/Nordic “superior” race.
5: Hitler and Mein Kampf (back to top)
After a lengthy lead-up reviewing the origins of Nazi doctrine, let’s now turn to Mein Kampf (1925–1926). This was the book that sold 10 million copies, it was this book above all that was read by the German populace, being the single most influential statement of Nazi doctrine. If a people were willing to support or silently acquiesce to the removal and elimination of the Jews from German society, it was above all the justification presented in Mein Kampf — building on a thousand years of Christian antipathy towards Jews — that mattered.
Mein Kampf does not mention Darwin even once. Where atheism is mentioned (twice) it is pejorative, associating atheism with Jews and Marxism (namely: “They even enter into political intrigues with the atheistic Jewish parties against the interests of their own Christian nation” and “… atheistic Marxist newspapers …”). Instead, Mein Kampf presents a religious, creationist and moralistic argument for removing Jews from German society. That is the major theme of the book, running through it repeatedly.
In line with the above Nazi thinkers, Hitler believed that mankind did not have a common origin, but consisted of several distinct and separately created races. The Aryan race was the superior race, with other races such as Jews and Slavs being literally “sub-human”. Hitler believed that the Aryans had enjoyed a golden past, and that Germany’s current troubles were the result of allowing racial inter-mixing, which was destroying the master race, leading to a degeneration of society. Thus it was morally necessary to prevent racial inter-mixing, if necessary by a “final solution” to the “Jewish problem”.
Hitler spends much time criticising the churches for opposing each other rather than the Jews:
“Catholics and Protestants are fighting with one another to their hearts’ content, while the enemy [Jews] of Aryan humanity and all Christendom is laughing up his sleeve. Look at the ravages from which our people are suffering daily as a result of being contaminated with Jewish blood.”
“… Think further of how the process of racial decomposition is debasing and in some cases even destroying the fundamental Aryan qualities of our German people.”
“This pestilential adulteration of the blood, of which hundreds of thousands of our people take no account, is being systematically practised by the Jew to-day.”
“Systematically [Jews] corrupt our innocent fair-haired girls and thus destroy something which can no longer be replaced in this world.”
Note the “can no longer be replaced”. Hitler’s conception was of an original creation of the Aryan race by God, and that any change from there is degeneration. This is creationist and the opposite of idea of creating a “master race” by selective breeding.
“The two Christian denominations look on with indifference at the profanation and destruction of a noble and unique creature who was given to the world as a gift of God’s grace.”
So to Hitler the Aryan was “a noble and unique creature” who was given to the world “as a gift of God’s grace”, an ideal that was being corrupted.
“Everybody who has the right kind of feeling for his country is solemnly bound, each within his own denomination, to see to it that he is not constantly talking about the Will of God merely from the lips but that in actual fact he fulfils the Will of God and does not allow God’s handiwork to be debased.”
So to Hitler the Aryan race was God’s handiwork and the “Will of God” was that it be preserved.
“For it was by the Will of God that men were made of a certain bodily shape, were given their natures and their faculties. Whoever destroys His work wages war against God’s Creation and God’s Will.”
So the Aryans are “God’s Creation” and whoever allows racial inter-mixing “destroys His work” and “wages war” on “God’s Will”.
“Over against all this, the VOLKISCH concept of the world recognises that the primordial racial elements are of the greatest significance for mankind.”
The “primordial racial elements” refers to the distinct races as separately created by God. This is the complete opposite of any Darwinian evolutionary account.
“In principle, the State is looked upon only as a means to an end and this end is the conservation of the racial characteristics of mankind.”
“Conservation” of what already exists, of a created Aryan race, not the Darwinian idea of an evolving man.
“But, on the other hand, [the Volkish principle] denies that an ethical ideal has the right to prevail if it endangers the existence of a race that is the standard-bearer of a higher ethical ideal.”
Excusing what might be seen as unethical (oppressing Jews) by appeal to “a higher ethical ideal” of preserving God’s creation as God intended.
“For in a world which would be composed of mongrels and negroids all ideals of human beauty and nobility and all hopes of an idealised future for our humanity would be lost forever.”
“On this planet of ours human culture and civilisation are indissolubly bound up with the presence of the Aryan. If he should be exterminated or subjugated, then the dark shroud of a new barbarian era would enfold the earth.”
“To undermine the existence of human culture by exterminating its founders and custodians [i.e. Aryans] would be an execrable crime in the eyes of those who believe that the folk-idea lies at the basis of human existence.”
“Whoever would dare to raise a profane hand against that highest image of God among His creatures [i.e. Aryans] would sin against the bountiful Creator of this marvel and would collaborate in the expulsion from Paradise.”
So it is the Aryan race that is the “highest image of God among His creatures”, and allowing racial inter-mixing is sinful and leads to a separation from God and his will. The “expulsion from Paradise” is both explicitly Christian and creationist and a harking back to the lost ideal, including racial purity.
“If the Aryan, who is the creator and custodian of civilisation, should disappear, all culture that is on an adequate level with the spiritual needs of the superior nations to-day would also disappear.”
“We may go still further and say that the fact that States have been created by human beings does not in the least exclude the possibility that the human race may become extinct, because the superior intellectual faculties and powers of adaptation would be lost when the racial bearer of these faculties and powers disappeared.”
So Hitler fears that inter-racial marriage will destroy mankind.
“Thus for the first time a high inner purpose is accredited to the State. In face of the ridiculous phrase that the State should do no more than act as the guardian of public order and tranquillity, so that everybody can peacefully dupe everybody else, it is given a very high mission indeed to preserve and encourage the highest type of humanity which a beneficent Creator has bestowed on this earth.”
Again, the creationist idea that the “highest type of humanity” was as originally bestowed by “a beneficent Creator”. Hitler then advocates celibacy of “lesser” non-Aryan people. He thinks they could be induced to accept this.
“Why should it not be possible to induce people to make this sacrifice if … they were simply told that they ought to put an end to this truly original sin of racial corruption which is steadily being passed on from one generation to another. And, further, they ought to be brought to realise that it is their bounden duty to give to the Almighty Creator beings such as He himself made to His own image.”
Note the revealing “truly original sin” — that is, the destruction of the past ideal of the Aryan race in the Garden of Eden. And the concept that it is Aryans who were made in God’s image.
Later, in a speech in 1937 (June 27, p153 of “Essential Hitler”) Hitler argued the same, saying:
” … it is my conviction that the human beings God created also wish to lead their lives modeled after the will of the Almighty. God did not create the peoples so that they might deliver themselves up to foolishness and be pulped soft and ruined by it, but that they might preserve themselves as He created them! Because we support their preservation in their original, God-given form, we believe our actions correspond to the will of the Almighty.”
The passage in Mein Kampf that is superficially closest to Darwinian thought comes in Chapter XI “Race and People”, though on examination it is incompatible with Darwinism. Again, the basis of the whole argument is the idea (totally opposed to Darwinism) that the races were separate and distinct creations that should remain separate. Hitler refers to an:
“iron law of Nature–which compels the various species to keep within the definite limits of their own life-forms when propagating and multiplying their kind.”
“Such mating [inter-breeding] contradicts the will of Nature towards the selective improvements of life in general. … The stronger must dominate and not mate with the weaker …”
“This urge for the maintenance of the unmixed breed … prevails throughout the whole of the natural world … The fox remains always a fox, the goose remains a goose, and the tiger will retain the character of a tiger.”
“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.”
“History furnishes us with innumerable instances that prove this law. [...] whenever Aryans have mingled their blood with that of an inferior race the result has been the downfall of the people who were the standard-bearers of a higher culture.”
“The act which brings about such a development is a sin against the will of the Eternal Creator. And as a sin this act will be avenged.”
“All the great civilizations of the past became decadent because the originally creative race died out, as a result of contamination of the blood.”
The above passages share with Darwinism one idea, that of struggle and competition between species and within species, though of course this idea was not original to Darwin, with nature “red in tooth and claw” being a commonplace long before Darwin. In all other regards the passage is incompatible with Darwinism, and instead appeals to ideas that “Nature” has a purpose and desired direction to create a “higher stage of being”, and that this is the “will of the Eternal Creator”. Further, it says that hybridisation is always harmful, is against the “law of Nature” and “a sin”, whereas in Darwinian biology hybridization produces “hybrid vigour” and can often produce novelties and more successful offspring. Further, nothing in Darwinism says that one race is “superior” to another, indeed Darwin wrote a note to himself: “Never say `higher’ or `lower’”.
Thus, from Mein Kampf, it is clear that Hitler does believe in the operation of natural selection, though operating within species boundaries. This is also seen in many of today’s creationists, who accept natural selection within species boundaries, which they call “microevolution”, while rejecting the evolution of new species, which they call “macroevolution”. For example the creationist Jonathan Wells writes that: “nobody doubts that variation and selection can produce minor changes within existing species (“microevolution”)”.
Accepting natural or artificial selection is not in itself a motivation (a farmer doesn’t breed animals just because he’s a Darwinist, he breeds animals because he wants food; knowing about selection is a means to an end, not an end in itself). And Hitler’s motivation and preoccuption, expounded at length in Mein Kampf is the preservation of the primoridal purity and strength of his Aryan race, seeing it as God’s will that “God’s handiwork” remain as God created it.
Thus Hitler sees the main role of natural selection, not in creating new species, but in preserving the strength of the existing species; for example in Mein Kampf he writes:
“Whatever survives these hardships of existence has been tested and tried a thousandfold, hardened and renders fit to continue the process of procreation; so that the same thorough selection will begin all over again. By thus dealing brutally with the individual and recalling him the very moment he shows that he is not fitted for the trials of life, Nature preserves the strength of the race and the species and raises it to the highest degree of efficiency.”
and he says that without such selection
“the seeds are sown for a human progeny which will become more and more miserable from one generation to another, as long as Nature’s will is scorned.”
In summary, Nazi racial doctrine, as expounded in Mein Kampf, is that (1) human races were distinct and separate creations with the Aryan race being “God’s highest handiwork” in its primordial form; (2) that the operation of natural selection within the species is necessary to keep the species healthy and prevent it degenerating (this `microevolution’ is the one resemblence to Darwinism, and it is also shared by today’s creationists; indeed today’s creationists also place an emphasis on primordial perfection and the tendency to degenerate from that perfection); (3) that another possible cause of dengeration of the Aryan race would be inter-breeding with a “lesser” race, such as Jews, which would quickly “render futile” all of Nature’s “efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years” of microevolution; and (4) that allowing that would be “a sin against the will of the Eternal Creator”.
Thus Nazi doctrine is fundamentally incompatible with Darwinism. Whereas Darwinism says that all humans have a common origin, that species and races are malleable, evolving over time, and that one could (as with all animals, and if one so wished) artificially control breeding to enhance and select desired characteristics, Nazi doctrine says that human races are distinct and primordial, created separately by the Will of God, who desires that they remain separate, that the moral imperative is to preserve the races in their current state by preventing any racial intermixing, which would be both harmful and sinful.
Above all, while any similarity with Darwinism is only in one mechanism, namely competition and selection (both of which were known long before Darwin), the Nazi motivation for keeping the races separate is profoundly anti-Darwinian and instead religious and creationist.
Further, this motivation of keeping races separate long pre-dates Darwin. For example, before Darwin’s Origin of Species, and dating back as far as 1691, 30 American states had anti-miscegenation laws making inter-racial marriage illegal. The rationale for such laws (in an overwhelmingly Christian country) was the same religious “God created the races separate” justification held by the Nazis.
Virtually nothing in Hitler’s ideas traces back to Darwin, indeed he had probably never read Darwin and never mentions him in any writings. As Hector Avalos notes a far bigger influence was his religious heritage and the Old Testament, in which notions of racial purity abound. One passage in Mein Kampf:
…it is one of those concerning which it is said with such terrible justice that the sins of the fathers are avenged down to the tenth generation … Blood sin and desecration of the race are the original sin in this world …
is a direct echo of Deuteronomy 23:2-3:
No bastard shall enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD. No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none belonging to them shall enter the assembly of the LORD for ever.
Hitler’s rejection of Darwinism is also explicit in “Hitler’s Table Talk” — though one should bear in mind that the conversations recorded in this work were edited by others and so are less reliable as being Hitler’s true sentiments. As with many creationists, Hitler is willing to allow a certain degree of evolutionary change (which creationists call “microevolution”) but rejects the idea that one species can turn into a different species, insisting that Man had always been as he is today “from the very beginning”.
“From where do we get the right to believe, that from the very beginning Man was not what he is today? Looking at Nature tells us, that in the realm of plants and animals changes and developments happen. But nowhere inside a kind shows such a development as the breadth of the jump, as Man must supposedly have made, if he has developed from an ape-like state to what he is today.”
In this work Hitler is also reported as saying:
“The most marvellous proof of the superiority of Man, which puts man ahead of the animals, is the fact that he understands that there must be a Creator.”
“An uneducated man, on the other hand, runs the risk of going over to atheism (which is a return to the state of the animal)”.
Thus to the Nazis Darwinism was something they largely rejected and opposed. As with many Christians they opposed Darwinism because it saw man as an evolved ape, whereas they saw man as God’s special creation, and they opposed Darwinism because it was materialist, stripping mankind of the spiritual dimension, and because it did not give man a moralistic destiny.
That is why, in a list of books they banned from Third Reich libraries, the Nazis listed:
“Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Haeckel).”
“Monism” is the idea that mankind is solely material, with no spiritual soul. Haeckel, as well as having been the foremost Darwinist in Germany, had founded the Monist League in 1905 (it was disbanded in 1933 when the Nazis gained power). The word “primitive” here is a pejorative epithet to denigrate Darwinism.
The same list of banned books also prohibits:
“All writings that ridicule, belittle or besmirch the Christian religion and its institution, faith in God, or other things that are holy to the healthy sentiments of the Volk.”
Gunther Hecht, who represented the National Socialist’s Department of Race-Politics (Rassenpolitischen Amt der NSDAP), issued a monitum:
“The common position of materialistic monism is philosophically rejected completely by the volkisch-biological view of National Socialism. . . . The party and its representatives must not only reject a part of the Haeckelian conception — other parts of it have occasionally been advanced — but, more generally, every internal party dispute that involves the particulars of research and the teachings of Haeckel must cease.”
The Nuremberg Laws, depriving Jews of German citizenship and prohibiting marriage between Jews and other Germans, were proposed to the Reichstag by Hermann Goering, as President of the Reichstag. The justification he gave in a 1935 speech was explicitly theistic, and as in Mein Kampf, was aimed at keeping the races “pure” in accordance with God’s will:
God has created the races. He did not want equality and therefore we energetically reject any attempt to falsify the concept of race purity by making it equivalent with racial equality. We have experienced what it means when a people has to live in accordance with the laws of an equality that are alien to its kind and contrary to nature. For this equality does not exist. We have never acknowledged such an idea and therefore must reject it also, as a matter of principle, in our laws, and we must acknowledge that purity of race which Nature and Province have destined.
At the end of Mein Kampf Hitler writes, about German troubles in World War One:
“At the beginning of the War, or even during the War, if twelve or fifteen thousand of these Jews who were corrupting the nation had been forced to submit to poison-gas, just as hundreds of thousands of our best German workers from every social stratum and from every trade and calling had to face it in the field, then the millions of sacrifices made at the front would not have been in vain. On the contrary: If twelve thousand of these malefactors had been eliminated in proper time probably the lives of a million decent men, who would be of value to Germany in the future, might have been saved.”
This is reminiscent of Martin Luther’s utterly appalling work “On the Jews and Their Lies”, in which he wrote:
“We are at fault in not slaying them [Jews] … If we wish to wash our hands of the Jews’ blasphemy and not share in their guilt, we have to part company with them. They must be driven from our country … we must drive them out like mad dogs”.
6: Creationist denial (back to top)
Since WW2, many commentators, especially those who are religious, have tried to blame Darwinian doctrine for the Holocaust, and numerous Christian and creationist web sites state this as though it were an established fact.
Typical is the Christian and creationist Richard Weikart, whose 2004 book “From Darwin to Hitler, Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany” is designed to discredit Darwinism by associating it with the Holocaust. It is notable, though, that even he presents little evidence of a direct link, and argues purely by assertion and misrepresentation.
For example in his article: “Darwin and the Nazis” he is reduced to arguing that the Holocaust occurred because Darwinism had “devalued” humans. And Nazi ideology had indeed devalued the Jews as “sub-human”, but this was because Nazis regarded the non-Aryans as a separate creation, literally not fully human, in contrast to God’s prized Garden-of-Eden Aryans. Darwinism says exactly the opposite, that all humans derive, relatively recently in evolutionary terms, from the same ancestral stock. Thus it was a religious ideology, not evolution, that caused the Nazis to devalue non-Aryans.
At no point in Weikart’s essay does he quote Hitler or any leading Nazi either lauding Darwinism or basing their motivation on Darwinism. If, as is claimed, the Nazis were inspired by Darwin, would there not be evidence of it in their writings? In writing this piece I have scoured creationist web-sites for any quote by Hitler or other leading Nazis lauding Darwin; if there were such, wouldn’t the creationists have found them by now? Every actual quote says the opposite, that the Nazis opposed Darwinism, indeed banned his works, and disliked Darwinism precisely for the reasons that other Christians do, that it points to man as a product of material, natural world, whereas the Nazi’s preferred to regard man as a divine special creation endowed with a spiritual soul.
Indeed, what records we have show that, far from being inspired by Darwin’s work (which there is no record of Hitler ever having read), Hitler was instead inspired by religious ideology and the Bible. A revealing notebook shows that Hitler’s ideas on race were inspired by his reading of the Old Testament.
Thus, Weikart is reduced to asserting that the “path” from Darwin to Hitler must have been vague and indirect. But, at root, all he really has is an antipathy towards Darwinism, and a desire to denigrate it, no matter how much he has to twist and misrepresent history to do so.
Another typical example, attempting to link Darwinism to the Nazis, is by the creationist Jerry Bergman. It is notable, though, that this piece consists almost entirely of assertions backed up, not by actual quotes from the Nazis, but merely by quotes from others about the Nazis. In contrast, in this article I have tried to present sufficient quotes from the Nazis themselves, in their own words, that their ideas and motivations are made clear. Read in that context Bergman’s article can be seen as nothing but misrepresentation.
[A note here about the German word "entwicklung", which creationists will always translate as referring to Darwinian evolution. While it can be used to refer to biological evolution its meaning is more general, and can refer to any form of development or cultural/historical change; thus one needs to check the context. When German speakers want to refer to Darwinian evolution specifically they use the same English word "evolution", which has now transferred into German.]
Some Christians accept that the direct link between Darwinism and the Nazis is not substantiated, and so attempt to make indirect or “philosophical” connections between them. For example a blogger calling himself “Thinking Christian” (Tom Gibson) writes:
There is an ethical consequence to Darwinism. … naturalistic Darwinism, if taken to be the sole explanation for all of life, erases all ethical requirements. … I’ve never seen a good refutation or even rebuttal for this.
The implication is that the lack of ethical requirements entailed in a naturalistic worldview would have allowed the Holocaust. But, so what, even if this were true, what does it have to do with the Nazis? The Nazis totally rejected naturalistic Darwinism for exactly the same reason that this Christian dislikes it!
The Nazi’s justification for the Holocaust was instead a moralistic one founded in reverence for God’s creation! As Hitler said in Mein Kampf
“Whoever would dare to raise a profane hand against that highest image of God among His creatures [allowing "contamination" of Aryan blood by accepting inter-breeding] would sin against the bountiful Creator of this marvel and would collaborate in the expulsion from Paradise.”
“Thinking Christian” continues:
“ … in Darwinism: humans are the same kind of thing as animals. … Hitler treated humans like animals; Darwinism says that’s what we are.”
Again, this has no relevance to the Nazis. The Nazi conception of the “lesser” races as being inferior resulted from them regarding such races as distinct and separate creations whom God valued less. That idea is about as far from naturalistic Darwinism as is possible!
Nevertheless, the Christian blaming of Darwin has been sufficiently widespread that even some who are sympathetic to Darwinism are taken in. An example is the political commentator Andrew Marr, who produced a three-part television series on Darwin’s legacy. Marr writes:
“But what has Charles Darwin ever done for … politics? It’s one of the great paradoxes of modern times that this liberal, kindly, cautious scientist has been used to justify … the Nazi holocaust …”.
Has it? What are the quotes that back this up? Marr also says: “Hitler’s generals quoted Darwin as they planned the ‘final solution’.” This is presumably a reference to the Wannsee Conference of 1942. One statement in the minutes from Wannsee is often taken as a “smoking gun” that proves Darwinism’s underpinning of the holocaust. That statement is Heydrich’s comment that:
“Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes. The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as a the seed of a new Jewish revival …”.
This does indeed refer to Darwinian natural selection, saying that those Jews who survive hard labour will be the hardiest. But note that, here, Darwinian natural selection is acting against the interests of the Nazis (who wanted to exterminate all the Jews). And, most of all, that passage does not in any way provide any motivation for exterminating Jews, nor in any way point to Darwin to justify the extermination of the Jews. Yes, the Nazis seem to have accepted some degree of natural selection, the micro-evolution that today’s creationists also accept, but the motivation for the holocaust came from their religious, creationist ideology of separate creations of the human races that is totally contrary to and incompatible with Darwinism.
Another favourite quote of creationists is the remark by Rudolf Hess that “National Socialism is nothing but applied biology”. But which conception of biology? The scientific Darwinian conception?, or the religious, anti-scientific separate-creation-of-races conception of biology that was prevalent in Nazi writings? Without further context (and I haven’t been able to find any surrounding context for that snippet) the quote shows nothing. Is that quote and the Wannsee quote really the best that the creationists can come up with then trying to blame Darwin?
7: Religion in the Third Reich (back to top)
The topic of religion in the Third Reich is much too large to provide anything but a brief summary here. A good book-length account is Steigmann-Gall’s “The Holy Reich”, which demonstrates that the majority of the leading Nazis considered themselves to be Christian, with a minority also having leanings to Nordic/German pagan folk-religion. See also this accessible compilation of religious quotes, photos and artifacts by leading Nazis (a compilation from which the photos displayed here are taken).
Religion was central to the Nazi world view, with the Nazi party including in their 25-point program the declaration that: “The Party as such advocates the standpoint of a positive Christianity without binding itself confessionally to any one denomination.”
Nazi theology, however, departed from mainstream Christianity in regarding the Christian churches as misguided and having been corrupted from the original aims of Jesus by Jewish influence, particularly that of Paul. The Nazis claimed that Jesus was not a Jew, but instead an Aryan (again, to the Nazis these were separately created races). For example, Rosenberg, in his influential Nazi book “The Myth of the Twentieth Century” wrote:
“There is no proof for the often made claim that Jesus was a Jew. Indeed, there is much to show the contrary. Jesus possibly was Aryan, or partially so, showing the Nordic type strongly.”
He also refers to:
“Christian, or, more correctly, Pauline, churches …”
“The Gospel of Mark probably contains … the real core of the message of the child of god [...] Our Pauline churches are therefore, in essentials, not Christian. They are the product of the Jewish Syrian leanings of the apostles. These ideas were introduced by the Jerusalem author of the Matthew Gospel. Later, Paul completed the subversion of Christianity independently of Mark.”
Similarly Hitler said:
“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them.” (Adolf Hitler, speech, April 12 1922).
The Nazis thus founded the German Christian movement, mixing Christian theology with Nazi racial ideology, and espousing a “Positive Christianity” which contrasted with what they saw as the “negative Christianity” of the existing Jewish-influenced churches. With Nazi support, the Deutsche Christen won two thirds of the vote in the 1932 church elections, claimed a membership of 600,000 pastors, bishops, professors of theology, religion teachers, and laity, and were aiming to supplant the Catholic and Protestant churches.
“For their interests [the Church's] cannot fail to coincide with ours [the National Socialists] alike in our fight against the symptoms of degeneracy in the world of to-day, in our fight against a Bolshevist culture, against atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for a consciousness of a community in our national life”. (Hitler, speech, Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, Vol. 1 of 2, Oxford University Press, 1942)
The Nazis founded a theological institute, the “Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life” to promote Nazi Christianity, and to give theological backing to the claim that Jesus was an Aryan (see “The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany” by Susannah Heschel, the introduction is available online).
This institute produced their own Bible, a Nazified version of the New Testament, Die Botschaft Gottes (‘The Message of God’). Jewish references were erased, except where they painted Jews as opposed to Jesus, and Jewish names were removed, with Jerusalem being called “the eternal city of God”. Published in 1940, 200,000 copies were distributed to churches. They also produced “Germans with God: a German Catechism” in which the first commandment was: “Honor God and believe in him wholeheartedly”, to which they added the Nazi commandments: “Keep the blood pure and your honour holy” and “Honour your Fuehrer”.
The advance of the Deutsche Christen led to the opposing “Confessional Church” who in 1934 issued the Barmen Declaration, objecting to Nazi doctrine and to the interference of the State in Church affairs. Notable members of the Confessing Church included Martin Niemoeller (who was imprisoned by the Nazis but survived) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who was executed for involvement in an attempt to assassinate Hitler).
One of the early acts of the Nazis one gaining power was to disband and outlaw atheist groups. By 1930 the German Freethinkers League had 500,000 members. It was closed down in 1933, with Hitler saying in a speech that year:
“We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” (Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin on Oct.24, 1933)
Chairman of the German Freethinkers League was Max Sievers, who was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and executed.
Also in 1933, soon after gaining power, the Nazis negotiated the Reichskonkordat with the Vatican, with the future Pope Pius XII signing. The Concordat with an organisation of the standing of the Catholic Church was influential in establishing the legitimacy of the new Nazi government; it is still in force in Germany today.
Article 21 gave the Catholic Church what it most wants, control over children’s education, saying:
“Catholic religious education in elementary, vocational, secondary schools and institutions of higher learning is a regular school subject, and is to be taught in accordance with the principles of the Catholic Church. … The opportunity will be given to the Church authorities to check, with the agreement of the school authorities, whether the pupils receive religious education in accordance with the teachings and specifications of the Church.”
In a speech that year Hitler said:
“Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith …” [April 26, 1933, from a speech made during negotiations leading to the Nazi-Vatican Concordant.]
In a similar speech (Reichstag on March 23, 1933), Hitler emphasises the religious and ethical values he has in common with the churches and warns against any compromise with atheists:
“By its decision to carry out the political and moral cleansing of our public life, the Government is creating and securing the conditions for a really deep and inner religious life. The advantages for the individual which may be derived from compromises with atheistic organizations do not compare in any way with the consequences which are visible in the destruction of our common religious and ethical values. The national Government sees in both Christian denominations the most important factor for the maintenance of our society.”
Later he lauded the Christian faith as the “unshakable foundation of the moral and ethical life of our people” and condemned “materialistic ideology”:
“The struggle against the materialistic ideology and for the erection of a true people’s community serves as much the interests of the German nation as of our Christian faith. … The national Government, seeing in Christianity the unshakable foundation of the moral and ethical life of our people, attaches utmost importance to the cultivation and maintenance of the friendliest relations with the Holy See.”
In Mein Kampf Hitler warned that loss of religious faith is harmful to morals:
“While both denominations maintain missions in Asia and Africa in order to win new followers for their doctrine … in Europe they lose millions and millions of inward adherents who either are alien to all religious life or simply go their own ways. The consequences, particularly from a moral point of view, are not favourable.”
“In this human world of ours would be inconceivable without the practical existence of a religious belief. … faith is absolutely the only basis of a moral outlook on life. …
And in a speech he emphasized that:
“We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit … We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press – in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past years.” [The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1 (London, Oxford University Press, 1942), pg. 871-872]
The theism of Hitler and the Nazis was a dominant theme running through their speeches, for example (the following from the “Essential Hitler” compilation, pages 161, 162 and 499):
“Hence this song [The German anthem] also constitutes a pledge to the Almighty, to His will and to His work: for man has not created this Volk, but God, that God who stands above us all. He formed this Volk, and it has become what it should according to God’s will, and according to our will, it shall remain, nevermore to fade!” (Speech, July 31, 1937)
“I believe that it was also God’s will that from here a boy was to be sent into the Reich, allowed to mature, and elevated to become the nation’s Fuhrer, thus enabling him to reintegrate his homeland into the Reich. There is a divine will, and all we are is its instruments.” (Speech, April 9, 1938)
“Besides that, I believe one thing: there is a Lord God! And this Lord God creates the peoples.” (Speech, February 24, 1940)
The ambivalent attitude of the Nazis to the Christian Churches can be seen in Heinrich Himmler’s attitude as head of the SS (all quotes in this section are taken from Peter Longerich’s biography “Heinrich Himmer: A Life”, OUP, 2012). He saw mainstream Christianity as weak and incompatible with Nazi racial ideology, describing it as a “perverse ideology that is alien to life” (p218), but he wanted to maintain a distance between the churches and the Nazis, saying “politicization of religious life does not accord with our ideology”, and he prevented SS members from taking part in religious ceremonies when in uniform. Similarly he told a theology student that he could not remain a member of the SS, wanting to keep the SS “out of the conflicts among the religious denominations” (p219).
Himmler told Hitler that he “valued highly peaceful relations between the state and church”, and expelled an SS member for “a speech that was riddled with tactless remarks about Church matters”. Himmler held to the Nazi doctrine of Jesus as an Aryan, and banned “any attacks on the person of Christ”, since “such attacks or the abuse of Christ as a Jew [are] unworthy of us” and “definitely historically untrue” (p219).
Notably, Himmler wrote in 1937:
“Every SS man is free to be a member of a church or not. It is a personal matter, which he has to answer for to God and his conscience”. However, SS men should not be atheists, for: “that is the only world or religious view that is not tolerated within the SS” (p220).
Similarly in 1944 Himmler stated:
“I have nothing to do with [church] denominations, I leave that to the individual. But I have never tolerated an atheist in the ranks of the SS. Every member has a deep faith in God, in what my ancestors called in their language Waralda, the ancient one, the one who is mightier than we are” (p220).
As common with the Nazis, Himmler’s religious attitudes had departed from mainstream Christianity, but he was even more opposed to atheism.
The Nazis (and perhaps Hitler himself) seemed to regard Hitler as a new Jesus, sent by God to rescue the German people. For example:
God gave the savior to the German people. We have faith, deep and unshakeable faith, that he [Hitler] was sent to us by God to save Germany. (Herman Goering)
We believe that the Fuhrer is fulfilling a divine mission to German destiny! This belief is beyond challenge.(Rudolf Hess)
We have a feeling that Germany has been transformed into a great house of God … where the Fuhrer as our mediator stood before the throne of the Almighty. (Joseph Goebbels)
He who serves our Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, serves Germany and he who serves Germany, serves God. (Baldur von Schirach, Head of the Hitler Youth)
We believe that Almighty God has sent us Adolf Hitler so that he may rid Germany of the hypocrites and Pharisees. (Robert Ley, Head of the German Labour Front)
8: Christian Denial (back to top)
When he visited Britain in 2010 Pope Ratzinger gave a speech including the now-notorious description of the Nazi regime as “atheist extremism” that “wished to eradicate God from society”. This labelling of the Nazis as “atheist” is common among the religious, despite being — as shown above — the opposite of the truth. It is understandable that Christians want to disassociate themselves from the Nazi Holocaust — the vilest crime in Christendom, perpetrated by an overwhelmingly Christian nation. It is also fair to regard the Nazi ideology as having departed so far from mainstream Christianity, in mixing Christianity with Nazi racial ideology, that it was not mainstream “Christian”, even though nearly all Nazis regarded themselves as Christian. However, “atheists” they were not.
Ironically, the blaming of “atheism” for the Third Reich is itself a Nazi-style tactic: the Nazis blamed the ills of society on Jews, building on centuries of antipathy towards a group that refused to acknowledge the Christian god. Blaming the ills of society and history on “atheists”, as by Ratzinger and other Christians, has the same motive: antipathy towards a group that refuses to acknowledge their god. One can excuse Ratzinger for having joined the Hitler Youth at the impressionable age of 14, at a time when it was expected of all German boys; but he should not be excused for displaying Nazi-style prejudice at an age when he should know better.
Unfortunately, the claim that the Nazis were atheists has been repeated so often that many now believe it. When asked to respond to Pope Ratzinger’s remarks Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, said:
“The notion that it was the atheism of Nazis that led to their extremist and hateful views … is a terrible libel against those who do not believe in god.”
What “atheism of the Nazis”? In no sense were the Nazis atheist! No leading Nazi espoused atheism, their ideology was thoroughly theistic.
Martin Bormann was the Nazi furthest from Christianity, and he made clear that he wished to replace traditional Christianity with his own Nazified version of religion, but he was still a religious theist, and he was repudiated by many of the other leading Nazis who were mainstream Christians. Indeed Bormann was rebuked by Hitler for his views. (See Steigmann-Gall’s “The Holy Reich” for this and a scholarly discussion of the religious views of the Nazis.)
Christian claims of being “persecuted” by the Nazis originated soon after the war among Allies who were, of course, predominantly Christian themselves, and who had an interest in disassociating the Nazis from Christianity as much as possible. Such claims often point to the report “The Persecution of the Christian Churches” prepared by the American Office of Strategic Services in preparation for the Nuremberg trials. However, much of this report is of such low value as evidence that it wasn’t used by the prosecution. A 1945 OSS memo presenting the report (see this pdf) notes that:
“The document is still seriously lacking in evidence of probative value, and is consequently ill-suited to serve as a basis for any international discussion … It will be noted in particular that much of the material on the persecution of the Catholic Church has been obtained from a secondary work entitled “The Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich”, Burns Oates, London 1940. This volume contains much valuable material, but is poorly documented. Its author is not identified. It would be most profitable if a member of the staff in London could discover the author or authors through Burns Oates, the publisher, and secure the more solid documentary evidence which must be in his or their possession”.
This evidence has never surfaced, the author has never been identified, and thus the work “Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich” must be regarded as a work of propaganda, trying to paint the Nazis as black as possible at the height of the war. The Allies, being largely Christian, had every incentive to portray the Nazis as anti-Christian, and yet still regarded this work as too unreliable to use in the Nuremberg trials. Nevertheless, it is on this 1940 book and the OSS report based on it that claims of Nazi “persecution” of Christians are often based.
It is true that the traditional Protestant and Catholic churches were threatened by the rise of the Nazi-inspired Deutsche Christen movement, and, had the Nazis won the war, it is likely that other denominations would have been subsumed into the Deutsche Christen. But that was a rivalry between different religious factions (a fairly common occurrence) rather than, as often falsely claimed, an atheistic opposition to religion.
A relatively small number of Christians who were politically active against the Nazis, such as Martin Niemoeller and Deitrich Bonhoeffer, were imprisoned or executed; however there was no general move against Christians or the Churches — how could there be when, as shown by a 1939 census, Protestant Christians were 54% of the nation and Catholic Christians another 40%, with only 1.5% considering themselves unbelievers?
Catholics often point to von Galen, Bishop of Munster during 1933–1946, calling him the “Lion of Munster” for his speaking out repeatedly in opposition to Nazi policies. However he remained as Bishop throughout the Nazi era and died in his bed after the war, which is hardly “persecution”, and instead shows a degree of Nazi respect for the Catholic Church.
Martin Niemoeller famous poem, “First they came …” lists three groups, “communists”, “trade unionists”, “Jews” and then “me”. This is sometimes altered to include “Catholics”, which is both unfaithful to the original and historically inaccurate.
As an indication of Nazi oppression of Catholics it is pointed out, correctly, that 2579 Catholic priests were interned in Dachau concentration camp, of whom a thousand died. While true, the vast majority were captured Poles and Slavs, interned as part of a policy of removing the “middle management” from captured nations to subdue them; only 400 were German. This is still a relatively high number, about 1% of the total number of priests in Germany at the time. It showed that the Nazis readily interned any priests who politically opposed the Nazis, but the majority who kept silent were left alone, and it is not true that they were interned simply for being Catholic priests.
The book “Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp” (Gutman and Berenbaum, 1998) presents a table of the self-declared religious persuasion of Auschwitz SS Staff 1940–1945. The largest grouping was Catholic, at 42.6%. The next largest group was “Evangelical” (meaning Protestant) at 36.5%. Another 20.1% declared themselves as “Gottgläubig” (literally God-believer or “devout”).
The surrounding text, written by the Polish historian Aleksander Lasik, claims that “Gottgläubig … designated atheism”, a bizarre claim since any German dictionary reveals that “gläubig” means “believing, devout”. In fact “gottgläubig” was the term favoured by the German Christians, distinguishing them from the Protestant and Catholic churches. The German records allowed the alternative “without faith” (atheist), and it is notable that not one of the Auschwitz SS guards recorded by Lasik declared themselves so.
Nevertheless, such is the desire to denigrate atheists and associate atheism with the Holocaust that there have been repeated claims, as made by Lasik, that those calling themselves “gottgläubig” were really atheists. Indeed, some even claim that the term God-believer was chosen because they couldn’t own up to being outright atheists — although how atheism could be a dominant ideology in a culture where atheists were afraid to own up to being an atheist is not explained.
Another example of Christian attempts to distance the Third Reich from Christianity concerns Hitler’s “Table Talk”, which derives from conversations at dinner parties where Hitler’s words were recorded by stenographers. The English edition of this work was edited by Hugh Trevor-Roper, and contains “quotes” such as “I shall never come to terms with the Christian lie” and “Our epoch will certainly see the end of the disease of Christianity”. However, the historian Richard Carrier has discovered that these quotes are simply not in the original German, and appear to be fabrications by the translators (most likely by the Frenchman François Genoud) in order to make Hitler appear hostile to Christianity.
Carrier gives the example of a quote in the Trevor-Roper version: “But Christianity is an invention of sick brains: one could imagine nothing more senseless, nor any more indecent way of turning the idea of the Godhead into a mockery”, which in the original German actually says: “Christianity teaches ‘transubstantiation,’ which is the maddest thing ever concocted by a human mind in its delusions, a mockery of all that is godly”. Thus Hitler was actually attacking a particular theological doctrine, not Christianity itself. As documented above, the Nazis did indeed have severe criticisms of the Christian churches, which they regarded as having been corrupted by Jews from Jesus’s original intent. Thus in Table Talk Hitler says:
“Christ was an Aryan. But Paul used his teachings to mobilize the underworld and organize a proto-bolshevism. With its breakdown, the beautiful clarity of the ancient world was lost.”
9: Conclusion (back to top)
The Nazi doctrine of race was fundamentally opposed to and incompatible with Darwinism. Instead Nazi racial theory and their justification for extermination of the “sub-human” races was religious and creationist.
Nazi ideology did share with Darwinism the idea that nature was a “struggle” between the stronger and the weaker. But this was a commonplace long before Darwin, and the “red in tooth and claw” struggle in nature, both within species and between species, has been obvious to mankind for eons, as to anyone who has seen a predator chase its prey, or seen deer rutting, or cats fighting.
The main ideas of Darwinism are that natural selection, operating over lengthy time periods, can cause species to transform into other species, and that all modern mammals descend from a common ancestor. Both of these notions the Nazis explicitly rejected, finding them abhorrent, materialistic notions that would strip man of his soul and of his special status. The Nazis preferred, as do many other religious people, to see man as God’s special creation. It was seeing, in particular, the Aryan race as “God’s handiwork” that led the Nazis to consider it sinful to allow the destruction of the Aryan race by allowing racial inter-marriage, and hence the necessity for removing the possibility by finding a “final solution” to the “Jewish problem”.
Thus nothing in Nazi ideology derives from Darwinism. The few aspects in common were pre-Darwinian; the ideas that originated with Darwin were anathema to and rejected by the Nazis. The widespread blaming of Darwinism as an inspiration for Nazi crimes has no support in historical evidence and instead derives purely from a desire on the part of the religious to smear Darwinism.
The labelling of the Nazis as “atheistic” is similarly motivated and is also the exact opposite of what the evidence says. The Nazi ideology was theistic and religious and an offshoot of Christianity, merging Christianity with Nazi racial theory. It is true that the Nazified Christianity was opposed to more mainstream Christian views, and thus that the Nazis wanted radical reform of the Christian religion, but in no sense was it “atheistic”.
When presented with evidence such as documented above, showing the religious nature of Nazi ideology and their strong opposition to atheism, many Christians resort to arguing that these public statements were merely a facade to appeal to the public, and were deliberately hiding an underlying “atheism”. However, at no point do they present actual evidence for this claim, and Hitler was too much of a megalomaniac and placed too high an importance on his ideas to have hidden them away. Further, resorting to a claim that the Nazis hid their “atheism” is self defeating — it is an admission that the populace they were appealing to (the people who actually carried out the Holocaust) were overwhelmingly Christian, as indeed recorded as more than 95% Christian in a 1939 census.
Fifty thousand Germans were involved in the Holocaust, and another fifty thousand were close enough to it to have known what was happening, and these people were overwhelmingly Christian. You can’t tell a secret to 100,000 people, and thus their willingness to kill Jews was based on the public Nazi ideology, the religious, creationist and Christian ideology presented in Mein Kampf.
It is the unpalatability of that truth that leads Christians today to the Holocaust revisionism of trying to pass the blame, instead trying to blame what they least like, namely atheism and Darwinism — ideas which, with true irony, the Nazis disliked just as much as they do.
Bibliography (back to top)
Avalos, Hector (2007), “Creationists for Genocide”, this article by a Professor of Religious Studies replies to Weikart and shows that creationists have supported eugenics and genocide long pre-Darwin. Online here
Baynes, Norman. H., editor, (1942), “The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922 – August 1939″, Oxford University Press.
Chamberlain, Houston Stewart (1899), “The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century”, online here.
Chamberlain, Houston Stewart (1905), “Immanuel Kant”, online here.
Dormus, Max & Romane, Patrick (2007), “The Essential Hitler: Speeches and Commentary”, Publ: Bolchazy-Carducci, 862pp. online pdf here.
Gobineau, Arthur (Count Joseph Arthur de Gobineau) (1853–1855), “The Inequality of Human Races”, translated by Adrian Collins
Günther, Hans (1927), “The Racial Elements of European History”, online here.
Hill, Gary (2012), “Fundamental flaws underlie the myth that Darwin influenced Hitler”. Blog post compiling useful information.
Hitler, Adolf (1925), “Mein Kampf”. (All quotes from http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200601.txt)
Lackey, Michael (2012), “The Modernist God State: A Literary Study of the Nazis’ Christian Reich”, Bloomsbury Academic (Amazon.com)
Longerich, Peter (2012), “Heinrich Himmler: A Life”, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0199592322 Amazon link.
Price, R. G. (2006), “The Mis-portrayal of Darwin as a Racist”. This article argues that Darwin was much less racist than common strands of religious thought at the time. Online here
Richards, Robert J. (2011), “Was Hitler a Darwinian?” This article by a University of Chicago historian covers much relevant material. Online pdf here.
Rosenberg, Alfred (1930), Myth Of The Twentieth Century, online here.
Weikart, Richard (2004), From Darwin to Hitler, Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany, Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1403972019. wiki page.
Acknowledgements: The photos displayed here were taken, with permission, from the collection at the website nobeliefs.com.