The following article originally appeared in the Creation Research Society Quarterly. Vol. 39, June 2002 and is reprinted with permission. Due to the length of the original, it has been condensed (with approval of the author).
Darwinism as a Factor in the Twentieth-Century Totalitarianism Holocausts
The movement today known as Darwinism was one of the factors leading to the loss of an estimated over 400 million lives, as well as enormous suffering inflicted on more then a billion people. It is well-documented that Darwinism was a major influence in the rise of Naziism and Communism and it was one of the factors involved in numerous wars and conflicts. The death toll from several holocausts and wars is enumerated. The role of Darwinism and other factors leading to these holocausts and wars is evaluated and contrasted with the Bible’s teaching on war and racism.
It is well documented that acceptance of Darwinism and loss of basic Christian influence were factors involved in the rise of Nazism, Fascism, and Communism (see Azar, 1990; Bergman, 1999; 200 la; 2001 b). In the words of Azar (1990, p. 218) the “vicious ideologies of the first half of the twentieth century-Communism, Fascism, Nazism – paid homage to evolution.” Holden notes that Darwinism had
been used to provide intellectual support to a multitude of cruel and vicious policies. Causes which have been justified by Social Darwinism include, slavery, imperialism, racism, genocide, the Holocaust, Fascism, Communism, war, and not helping the poor, to name but a few. Where previously there was no clear intellectual justification for most of these causes, Darwin provided one, and … his justification had the backing of many reputable scientists of his day. … among historians with no axe to grind this is not controversial, although it is rarely expressed this directly, that Darwin must be listed as one of those responsible, along with numerous Nazis, for the Holocaust. Similarly Darwin must take an impossible to define share of the blame for many other horrors of history, some of it quite recent history (2000, pp. 2,3).
Although Darwin’s goal in developing his concept of evolution was very clear, he never openly or directly challenged the Scriptures or Christianity because he felt that an indirect approach was far more effective (Perl off, 1999 p. 152). He wrote in 1873 to his son that openly opposing Christianity was far less effective than a “back door” approach:
Last night Dicey and Litchfield were talking about J. Stuart Mill’s never expressing his religious convictions, as he was urged to do so by his father. Both agreed strongly that if he had done so, he would never have influenced the present age in the manner in which he has done. His books would not have been text books at Oxford, to take a weaker instance. Lyell is most firmly convinced that he has shaken the faith in the Deluge far more efficiently by never having said a word against the Bible, than if he had acted otherwise… I have lately read Morley’s Life of Voltaire and he insists strongly that direct attacks on Christianity (even when written with the wonderful force and vigor of Voltaire) produce little permanent effect: real good seems only to follow the slow and silent side attacks (quoted in Himmelfarb, 1962, p. 387).
A common objection to the conclusion that Darwinism had some important influence on the Nazi and Communists holocausts is that Darwin himself was evidently a good husband, an excellent father, opposed slavery, and never openly opposed Christianity. In response to this Holden concluded the fact is “Darwin was the first Social Darwinist” and the argument that you “can’t blame him for the Holocaust” because “as a person he was not such a bad guy” is erroneous.
unless you are going to claim Darwin was a deeply stupid man, (an opinion I certainly don’t hold), he must have known the use of his theory would be put to. Darwin’s personal qualities also seem irrelevant… Hitler was nice to his dog and mistress … absolving Darwin for the crimes of other Social Darwinists. is like Dr. Frankenstein saying, ‘That monster I created, the killing spree it has gone on, well, it is nothing to do with me’ (2000, p. 4).
Less well known is the influence of Darwinism as one of the causal factors of World War I. In the 1870s and 1880s, the philosophy of Darwinism spread throughout the Western world “where it exerted a considerable influence, before reaching its apogee in the radical racialist theories of National Socialism (the Nazis)” (Wehler, 1985, p. 179). One of many turn-of-the-century examples of the voluminous literature devoted to popularizing Social Darwinism is the 1913 literary opus written by General Bernhardi, Vom Heutigen Kriege, which expounded the thesis that war was a biological necessity because it helped rid the world of the less fit.
The Cost of World War I
Germany’s losses in World War I were estimated at 1,824,000 dead and 4,247,600 wounded; Russia’s losses were 1,664,800 dead and 3,784,600 wounded. The total dead from all fighting for World War I was over 23,000,000 (Roberts and Kloss, 1979, p. 153), and both military action and war-caused disease and famine deaths were estimated to be over 40,000,000 persons (Hersch, 1931 ).
The Cost of World War II
The total direct and indirect cost of World War II was four times greater in extent than World War I-around four trillion 1945 dollars (Foster, 1945, p. 6). It took the lives of over 40 million civilians and men in uniform, which was about the size of the under 18 population living in the entire United States at the time (Grattan, 1949). These losses must be viewed in terms of Hitler’s inhumanity. For example, as to his designs on his former ally, Russia, Payne notes:
Unlike Timulane, Hitler never offered excuses for his massacres. He gave orders that Leningrad should be leveled to the ground and the entire population massacred, and he reserved a special fate for Moscow. Not one person was to be left alive and not one stone was to be left standing on another, and the rubble of the city was to be concealed under a vast lake. The Sonderkommandos were under orders to kill men, women, and children, and those who showed signs of squeamishness at the prospect of killing women and children were to be severely punished… Jews, Poles, and Russians were subhuman and did not deserve to live (1973, p. 67).
The Death-Toll of Communist Revolutions
Modern “communistic” revolutions, according to a 1983 Foreign Affairs Research Institute report, resulted in about 140 million deaths. The report included all premature deaths from execution, man-made famine, imprisonment, deportation, slave labor, and civil and international warfare. The coalition counted 46.2 million Asian, 45 million Soviet, and 3.6 million European victims of Communism from 1917 to 1967, reaching the fairly comprehensive sum of 139,917,700 deaths.
The Chinese communist death toll far exceeds that caused by the Axis war, both before and during the Second World War. Walker (1971, p. 15) estimated as many as 63 million persons died as a result of Chinese Communism from 1927 to date.
Schwartz (1972; 1985) claims that Mao Tse-tung’s “Great Cultural Revolution” holocaust alone was responsible for some 29 million deaths and the disruption of the lives of 600 million people. Others concluded that the number was closer to 35 million. Sonam Topgyal (1984, p. 7) estimated that the Chinese murdered 1,278,387 persons during their 3 3-year rule of Tibet alone. Specifically, 174,138 Tibetans died in prison and labor camps, 156,758 were executed, 432,607 died fighting, 413,151 died of starvation, 92,731 of torture, and 9,002 of suicide. Of the more than 7,000 active monasteries present in the Himalayas before the 1950 Chinese takeover, only six remain.
Other Communist-Produced Holocausts
Dolot (1985) claims the Ukrainian communist holocaust cost 7 million lives. Dr. Schwartz’s research foundation claimed that over 2 million persons were killed by the Pol Pot Cambodian government. Facts on File (February 20, 1981) quoted a February 5th United Nations human rights panel report which concluded that the five-year-long Pol Pot regime genocide was “without precedent in our century, except for the horror of Naziism.” Once the communists took control of the country in April 1975, millions were killed, including entire villages and communes, pregnant women or women who had just given birth, old people, entire families, newborn babies, and even mental patients (February 2, 1979, Facts On File).
Hawk (1982, p. 21) places the number massacred from 1975 to 1978 at as high as 3 million. According to Sihanouk (1979, p. 77), Radio Hanoi reported that Pol Pot liquidated 3 million Cambodian men and women. Sihanouk, Cambodia’s first head of state after the revolution (he resigned on April 2, 1976), feels this estimate is exaggerated, but agrees that the number was high and that “the remaining five million Khmers were barely holding on after three years of forced labor, hardships of every variety and suffering were unparalleled in all of human history.” These “slaves,” the author reminds us, were doctors, students, or civil servants. Many of these who fled traveled through mine fields in a desperate attempt to reach the border, but barely one-tenth made it. The rest died, were captured, or were murdered. The elimination of so many competent personnel rendered the nation’s industrial and military complex virtually useless.
Since 1980 One in Every Four Nations Was at War
A Washington think-tank study found that forty-five nations-a fourth of the world’s countries-were involved in a war during in the last decade.
An example of the still continuing effects of communism is:
Forty years ago, Cambodia was the most developed and cleanest nation in Asia. Phnom Penh was a showcase city with public services, promenades, and city gardens. Then, in 1970, the country was plunged into [war]… between Marxists and government forces… When the Marxist Khmer Rouge forcibly took control of the nation in 1973, the nation rapidly deteriorated to a Third World wasteland. …Vast tracts of farmland stand idle. Nearly 4 million uncharted land mines, still hidden in rice paddies, keep agriculture and development at bay. Almost daily, farmers are killed or maimed by the anti-personnel devices that were planted during fighting more than 20 years ago. … Despite these devastating political and economic problems, it is the HIV/AIDS infection rate that may destroy the people. By the end this year, health officials expect 40,000 full-blown cases of AIDS in Cambodia. … Health officials say 250,000 Cambodians are already infected with HIV. The number grows by 10O people per day. When Cambodia’s 7,346 “commercial sex workers” (the politically correct term for “prostitute”) were surveyed, 43 percent tested positive for HIV. “Commercial sex workers” and their customers account for the spread of nearly all cases of HIV/AIDS in Cambodia (Dabel, 2000 p. 29).
It is clear that the Darwinian and anti-Christian revolutions were two important causal factors of these wars and holocausts that have cost tens of millions of lives, much of our wealth, and have brought abject poverty to the lives of much of the world’s masses. Over sixty percent of the world’s population now lives in poverty, and about half of these in serious poverty, with 400 million on the edge of starvation. The additional money required to bring the world’s population up to an adequate level of food, health, and housing was estimated a few years ago at around 20 billion dollars a year. This huge sum was about what the world spent at the time either for war or the preparation for war every other week, most of which until recently involved communist inspired conflicts. And it now costs over 25 billion dollars annually just to take care of America’s war-injured, much of this at Veterans Administration hospitals under government expense.
Putting this in Perspective
It is important to note that other factors aside from Darwinism were important in the development of twentieth-century totalitarianism inspired holocausts and wars. This review focuses only on the influence of Darwinism. Other papers would be required to evaluate the other factors. It is important to stress that many historical factors leading to holocausts and wars predated the growth and development of Darwinism. Some of these factors also played a role in the emergence of Social Darwinism. For example, the work of Kant, Hegel, Comte, and especially those thinkers that were part of the so-called enlightenment with its emphasis on extreme rationalism and the inevitability of “progress,” all had an important impact on Western thought prior to Darwin. Darwin was in many ways following in the footsteps of these thinkers. Later, Marx, Nietzsche and others were important leaders whose ideas contributed to Darwinism and served as factors leading to conflict. The so called rationalism movement was also critical, and had such a profound impact upon Western Europe and Christianity in the late 1600s that Samuel Johnson commented that the average Sunday sermon in England was an indictment of the twelve apostles for lying.
Darwinism by itself does not inevitably lead to fascism, communism, capitalism, or cold-blooded tyranny. Darwinism was widely accepted in England and the United States – none of which developed totalitarian systems like those in Europe. We must also look to other factors to help understand the development of totalitarianism. For example, Communism was a product not only of Darwinism but also of, the so called enlightenment thinkers, a particular social system, and history itself.
Darwinism was an important step in the process that led to totalitarianism, however, while nationalism and the drive for power and empires were also important. The fierce nationalism and imperialism that so infected Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries also helped to lay the foundation for, and the acceptance of, a particular form of Darwinism.
Under Lenin and Stalin, the U.S.S.R. became a bloody “evil empire” partly because Russian Communism became materialistic, atheistic, and absolute. Stalin did not starve to death 6 million Ukrainian Kulaks solely because he was a Darwinist. His immediate reason was that the Kulaks resisted his collectivization program. Likewise the confiscation of their grain supplies helped to feed Moscow. Darwinism, though, clearly helped to justify his yearnings for national glory and collectivization, especially by helping to negate the teachings of Christianity.
Another important factor causing holocaust deaths was anti-Semitism which was deeply entrenched in European culture long before Darwin. Pogroms and terrible bigotry were common place; and Hitler found many of his fellow normal “Christian” Germans receptive to his anti-Semitic harangues and legislation partly because Christianity had lost much of its life and influence. Darwin reinforced existing prejudices against Jews, but was clearly not the only factor.
It is a truism but worth remembering that had Hitler, Stalin, Marx, and the others not rejected Biblical Christianity in favor of a secular “enlightenment” worldview, they would not have accepted the inhumanity inherent in the Nazi/communistic systems, and the hundreds of millions of lives lost in the holocausts reviewed above may never have occurred. But Biblical Christianity has “the last word” on all these atrocities because it holds out the prospect of the resurrection of the dead as seen in Isaiah 26: 19: “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy; Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”
I want to thank Bert Thompson, Ph.D., Clifford L. Lillo, M.A., George Howe, Ph.D., John Woodmorappe, M.A., and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.
CRSQ: Creation Research Society Quarterly
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—-. 2001a. The Darwinian foundation of communism. Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Jounal 15(1):89-95.
—-. 2001b. Influential Darwinists supported the Nazi holocaust. CRSQ 38(1):31-39.
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Foster, Freling. 1945. Keep up with the world. Colliers, September 29, p. 6.
Grattan, C. Hartley. 1949. What the war cost. Harpers, April, pp; 76-79.
Hawk, David. 1982. The killing of Cambodia. The New Republic, November 15, pp. 17-21.
Hersch, L. 1931. Demographic effects of modem war: in What would be the character of a new war? London Interparliamentary Union.
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Holden, Ted. 2000. Is the theory of evolution a source of racism and evil? Unpublished manuscript.
*Jerry Bergman, Ph.D., Biology Department, Northwest
State College. Archbold, OH 43502-9517
Received 8 January 2001; Revised 26 September 2001
All scriptural quotations are from the New International Version. Tyndale, Wheaton, 11.