Apr 14 2008

The Expelled Hitler Fallacy

The scientific community has been working overtime exposing the lies, errors, and fallacies in the Intelligent Design (ID) propaganda film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, staring Ben Stein. It’s no wonder – it’s hard not to be offended by this film. It is a work of deception from beginning to end. As Eugenie Scott reveals on the March 26th episode of the Skeptics’ Guide podcast, the scientists in the film were deceived as to the nature, title, and production company of the film at the time of their interviews. Simply put – they were shamelessly sandbagged. The content of the film is crafted deception. And the rollout of the film has been tainted with blunders covered up by more lies.

But what raises the entire affair to the level of visceral disgust is the manner in which this film attempts to blame “Darwinism” (their favorite term for those who accept evolution as a well-established scientific theory) for Hitler’s holocaust. This bit of propagandistic nonsense (if an ideologue loses the scientific battle of logic and evidence they have no choice but to fight a propaganda war of lies and deception) has been thoroughly refuted by others, even before this film was made. But I want to focus on one logical contradiction that, to my knowledge, has been glossed over (my apologies to anyone who has pointed this out and escaped my notice). Evolution deniers refute evidence for evolution from breeding and cultivation because the human-imposed selection is not natural selection. At the same time they link evolution to Hitler’s program of genocide – even though the holocaust also did not involve natural selection, but rather imposed artificial selection through murder and sterilization.


Many critics have pointed out the latter – that the Nazi eugenics program was more of a breeding program and actually had nothing to do with natural selection. At best it was a twisted and misguided abuse of evolutionary theory. In fact the concept of ethnic cleansing predates Darwin, it does not derive from it. The Nazis simply grafted on a superficial and pseudoscientific justification for their social and political ideology and deeply rooted antisemitism. In short – blaming Darwin for Hitler is demonstrably absurd.

As an aside I also have to point out that the entire argument is a logical fallacy – an argument from final consequences – and is therefore not valid. The ethical or moral consequences of a scientific theory do not bear on whether or not the theory is true. Even if the Nazis correctly interpreted evolutionary theory (and they didn’t) it would not affect whether or not evolution were scientifically valid. Further, there is no reason that we should apply what happens in nature to human society. The very concept of Social Darwinism is a naturalistic fallacy – that what is natural is therefore good and to be emulated. The Darwin to Hitler argument is flawed at many levels. So what is the point? To scare the faithful with the canard that accepting evolution leads to immorality and evil.

In a recent episode of Science Talk, the podcast of Scientific American, Editor in Chief John Rennie and podcast host Steve Mirsky discuss the film Expelled after their viewing. John Rennie points out very clearly that eugenics is a breeding program – and in fact it is a rejection of natural selection. (Here also is John’s excellent written review of the movie.) According to natural selection those who are unfit will die out on their own, and those whose genes are destined to dominate future generations will do so without any help. Hitler was trying to put his thumb on the evolutionary scale – to preempt natural selection by doing the selecting himself.

Now let’s take a look at a recent article by Casey Luskin from the Discovery Institute in which he writes:

“Breeders selected” and “the selective considerations of breeders” sure sound a lot like intelligently-guided artificial selection, not natural selection. But these scientists don’t let little distinctions like that get in the way of finding support for Darwinism. In fact, they claim their research demonstrates the grand Darwinian narrative: “this research once again demonstrates how selection – whether natural or, in this case, artificially influenced by man – is the fundamental driving force behind the evolution of life on the planet.” So intelligent design is now cited as proof that natural selection is the fundamental driving force behind the evolution of life.

Luskin is arguing here that breeding is actually intelligently-guided artificial selection, which he then likens to “intelligent design.” By this argument, then, “intelligent design” caused the holocaust – since that too was “intelligently-guided artificial selection.” Like that?

Now, to be clear, I am NOT saying that ID is linked to the holocaust. That would be as absurd as saying that evolutionary theory is linked to the holocaust. What I am pointing out, rather, is that the ID baboons are propagandists who do not use consistent logic or arguments. This is because, like all ideologues, they are working backwards from the conclusions they desire, twisting logic into whatever shapes necessary to achieve their ideological goals. They are not even consistent in their unsound arguments.

The above paragraph by Luskin is a deceptive trick common to ID/creationists. Often scientists explain or demonstrate a principle by drawing an analogy. Often the comparisons are analogous in some respects but not others. The parts that are not analogous do not necessarily invalidate the parts that are. In this example, artificial selection (breeding) is often used as an analogy to evolution (not evolution – an analogy) with respect to the fact that both involve selection operating on variation. But they are not analogous with respect to the origins of that selection – breeding involves artificial selection and evolution involves natural selection – as the sentence Luskin quotes above clearly states. Also, no one is arguing that the experience of artificial selection is sufficient to establish evolution or natural selection as a mechanism (so Luskin’s argument is also a straw man) – it simply demonstrates one aspect of it. Other lines of evidence are needed to establish evolution and natural selection, and those lines of evidence exist – changes in gene frequency in response to natural selective pressures, for example.

As the saying goes – it’s easier to tell the truth, that way you don’t have to remember the lies. The same goes for logic – arguments that are based upon valid logic and reliable premises should all be consistent with each other. Unsound arguments based upon logical fallacies may conflict, and in fact are very likely to conflict. ID proponents are caught in a major contradiction – they accept breeding as evolution when they want to tie evolution to eugenics, but they reject breeding as evolution (to the point of calling it “intelligent design”) when presented as evidence for the power of selection.

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