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The Slifkin Affair

Darwin, Moral Darwinism and Genocide:

The acceptance of Darwin’s implausible theory by western civilization has come with the hidden but nasty baggage of moral Darwinism. The blame for the steady deterioration in the dignity and holiness of life as manifested in societal trends such as the call for euthanasia, abortion on demand, the redefinition of marriage and current proposals to legalize infanticide of healthy three month old babies at the whim of the parents, is correlated with the rise of evolution that has been promoted in the media and academia. E.O. Wilson (Harvard) and Michael Ruse (Florida State University) write as follows:


The time has come to take seriously the fact that we humans are modified monkeys, not the favored Creation of a Benevolent G-d on the Sixth Day. In particular, we must recognize our biological past in trying to understand our interactions with others. We must think again especially about our so-called “ethical principles.” The question is not whether biology – specifically, our evolution – is connected with ethics, but how[1].


As evolutionists, we see that no [ethical] justification of the traditional kind is possible. Morality, or more strictly our belief in morality, is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends. Hence the basis of ethics does not lie in G-d’s will.... In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate. It is without external grounding. Like Macbeth's dagger, it serves a powerful purpose without existing in substance[2].

Michael Ruse provides an enthusiastic approbation to Rabbi Nathan Slifkin's new book, The Challenge of Creation (Yashar Press, 2006). We explore below some of the the ethical consequences of moral Darwinism ala Ruse.

Scholars have pointed out that the three greatest genocides ever were committed in the 20th century by Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse Tsung.


I'm now convinced that Stalin [responsible for the murder of 61 million people] exceeded Hitler [20 million] in monstrous evil, and Mao [73 million] beat out Stalin.[3]


Hitler, Stalin and Mao were deeply influenced by Darwin’s theories of survival of the fittest.


Hitler: In this compelling and painstakingly researched work of intellectual history, Richard Weikart explains the revolutionary impact Darwinism had on ethics and morality. He demonstrates that many leading Darwinian biologists and social thinkers in Germany believed that Darwinism overturned traditional Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment ethics, especially those pertaining to the sacredness of human life. Many of these thinkers supported moral relativism, yet simultaneously exalted evolutionary “fitness” (especially in terms of intelligence and health) as the highest arbiter of morality. Weikart concludes that Darwinism played a key role not only in the rise of eugenics, but also in euthanasia, infanticide, abortion, and racial extermination, all ultimately embraced by the Nazis. He convincingly makes the disturbing argument that Hitler built his view of ethics on Darwinian principles rather than ni­hilistic ones. From Darwin to Hitler is a provoca­tive yet balanced work that should encourage a rethinking of the historical impact that Darwin­ism had on the course of events in the twentieth century.[4]


Stalin: At a very early age, while still a pupil in the ecclesiastical school, Comrade Stalin developed a critical mind and revolutionary sentiments. He began to read Darwin and became an atheist. G. Glurdjidze, a boyhood friend of Stalin's, relates: “I began to speak of God, Joseph heard me out, and after a moment's silence, said: “You know, they are fooling us, there is no God.” … I was astonished at these words, I had never heard anything like it before. “How can you say such things, Soso?” I exclaimed. “I'll lend you a book to read; it will show you that the world and all living things are quite different from what you imagine, and all this talk about God is sheer nonsense,” Joseph said. “What book is that?” I enquired. “Darwin. You must read it,” Joseph impressed on me.[5]


Mao: Although Charles Darwin never visited China, his ideas landed there with force. Darwinism was the first great Western theory to make an impact on the Chinese and, from 1895 until at least 1921, when Marxism gained a formal foothold, it was the dominant Western "ism" influencing Chinese politics and thought. The authority of Darwin, sometimes misinterpreted, influenced reformers and revolutionaries and paved the way for Chinese Marxism and the thought of Mao Tse-tung. This study evaluates Darwin's theory of evolution as a stimulus to Chinese political changes and philosophic challenge to traditional Chinese beliefs. James Pusey bases his analysis on a survey of journals issued from 1896 to 1910 and, after a break for revolutionary action, from 1915 to 1926, with emphasis on the era between the Sino-Japanese War and the Republician Revolution. The story of Darwinism in China involves, among others, the most famous figures of modern Chinese intellectual history.[6]


With Darwinism and the philosophy of its Marxist ally in the air, it was no accident that scientists and philosophers embraced the bloody politics of totalitarianism. The Nobel Prize Werner Heisenberg was in charge of the Nazi atom bomb project, the German existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger became an avid supported of the Nazis and the influential French Hegelian philosopher and Russian émigré, Alexandre Kojève, paid tribute to Stalin and Mao.[7]


Western civilization has also been much influenced. The famous Princeton bioethecist Peter Singer and others now argue that because Darwinism effectively discredits the biblical conception of the sanctity of human life, therefore abortion, euthanasia and even infanticide are open to “moral” justification. Singer's justification comes, in part, from Michael Tooley, who is professor of philosophy at Colorado State University. Tooley’s 1983 work, Abortion and Infanticide, is a 400-page “dispassionate, philosophically sophisticated, tightly reasoned brief for killing babies”. Tooley argues that it is only at about three months of age that a limited capacity for thought-episodes first emerges, at which point a baby becomes a “quasi-person”. Healthy new-born babies are neither persons nor even quasipersons, and their destruction is in no way intrinsically wrong. Consider the followings statements that devalue the sacredness of human life:


Racism and genocide: “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.... The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.” Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1871, chapter 6.


Disapproval of vaccination because it preserved weak people: “With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. (Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (2nd edition) John Murray, London, Vol. I, pp. 205-6.)

Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1850 but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.[8]


Bestiality: “Evolution teaches that ‘we are animals’ so that ‘sex across the species barrier ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings’.” [‘sex across the species barrier’ is a euphemism for bestiality].[9]


Rape is “a natural, biological phenomenon that is a product of the human evolutionary heritage,” akin to “the leopard’s spots and the giraffe’s elongated neck”.[10]


Believers are wicked: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)”.[11]


Goal of Science – Nobel Laureate in Physics, Steven Weinberg, stated: “Nothing has been more important in the history of science than the work of Darwin and Wallace”. He pointed out that “not only the planets but even life could be understood in this naturalistic way.” He added: “I personally feel that the teaching of modern science is corrosive of religious belief, and I'm all for that! One of the things that in fact has driven me in my life, is the feeling that this is one of the great social functions of science – to free people from superstition”. … “The Ten Commandments portray a deity who is self-centered, selfish, jealous, obsessed with his own importance; this is not a nice kind of person. The traditional teachings of religion are, from the point of view of the morality most people share today, pretty immoral”.[12]


Your children: In a book called Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), which Dawkins warmly endorsed, Dennett portrayed Darwinism as “a universal solvent, capable of cutting right to the heart of everything in sight” – and particularly effective in dissolving religious beliefs. The most ardent creationist could not have said it with more conviction, but Dennett’s agreement with them ended there. He despised creationists, arguing that “there are no forces on this planet more dangerous to us all than the fanaticisms of fundamentalism.” Displaying a degree of intolerance more characteristic of a fanatic Fundamentalist than an academic philosopher, he called for “caging” those who would deliberately misinform children about the natural world, just as one would cage a threatening wild animal. “The message is clear,” he wrote: “those who will not accommodate, who will not temper, who insist on keeping only the purest and wildest strain of their heritage alive, we will be obliged, reluctantly, to cage or disarm, and we will do our best to disable the memes [traditions] they fight for.” With the bravado of a man unmindful that only 11 percent of the public shared his enthusiasm for naturalistic evolution, he warned parents that if they insisted on teaching their children “falsehoods – that the Earth is flat, that ‘Man’ is not a product of evolution by natural selection – then you must expect, at the very least, that those of us who have freedom of speech will feel free to describe your teachings as the spreading of falsehoods, and will attempt to demonstrate this to your children at our earliest opportunity.” Those who resisted conversion to Dennett's scientific fundamentalism would be subject to “quarantine”.[13]

Here are some further quotations from Peter Singer from his books Rethinking Life and Death and Writings on an Ethical Life.

On how mothers should be permitted to kill their offspring until the age of 28 days: "My colleague Helga Kuhse and I suggest that a period of twenty-eight days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to life as others."

On why abortion is less morally significant than killing a rat: "Rats are indisputably more aware of their surroundings, and more able to respond in purposeful and complex ways to things they like or dislike, than a fetus at ten or even thirty-two weeks gestation."

On why pigs, chickens and fish have more rights to life than unborn humans: "The calf, the pig, and the much-derided chicken come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage of pregnancy, while if we make the comparison with a fetus of less than three months, a fish would show more signs of consciousness."

On why infants aren't normal human beings with rights to life and liberty: "Characteristics like rationality, autonomy and self-consciousness...make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics. Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal human beings."

Singer argues in favor of infanticide, euthanasia and (amazingly, at the same time) animal rights! One of Singer's interesting proposals concerns (see above) is what may be called "fourth trimester" abortions, i.e. the right to kill one's offspring even after birth! The Biblical tradition introduced the concept of the value and dignity of human life to western civilization. Howeever, according to Singer, we have to get rid of this outdated concept. We should recognize ourselves as Darwinian primates who enjoy no special status compared to the other animals. In the animal kingdom, after all, parents sometimes kill and even devour their offpsring. Singer argues that the West can learn from the other cultures like the Kalahari bushmen where children are routinely killed when they are unwanted, even when they are several years old.


[1] Ruse, Michael. 1995. “Evolutionary Ethics: A Defense.” Biology, Ethics, and the Origins of Life. ed. Holmes Rolston, III. p89-112. Boston: Jones & Bartlett Publishers, see pages 93 and 101.

[2] Michael Ruse and E. O. Wilson, “The Evolution of Ethics,” in Religion and the Natural Sciences: The Range of Engagement, ed. J. E. Hutchingson, Orlando, Fl.:Harcourt and Brace, 1991.

[3] R.J. Rummel, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Hawaii in his blog (November 20, 2005). His website (http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/) provides the documentation for his claims.

[4]  See dustjacket blurb to Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler : Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2004. Richard Weikart is at California State University historian.

[5] E. Yaroslavsky, Landmarks in the Life of Stalin (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing house, 1940), pp. 8-9.

[6] James Reeve Pusey, China and Charles Darwin, Harvard University East Asian Monographs, 1983. http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/PUSCHI.html (September 10, 2006).

[7] Karl Marx and Darwin admired each other and corresponded with each other; Marx sent Darwin a personally inscribed copy of the 2nd edition of Das Kapital and wanted to dedicate it to him, but Darwin wrote a letter politely declining.

[8] Stephen J. Gould Ontogeny and Phylogeny 1977. p 127, 128. Harvard Press.

[9] Peter Singer (Princeton University), “Heavy Petting,” review of Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, by Midas Dekkers, at http://www.nerve.com/Opinions/Singer/heavyPetting/main.asp.

[10] Randy Thornhill (Biology, University of Colorado) and Craig Palmer (Anthropology, University of Missouri-Comlmbia), “Why Men Rape,” The Sciences (Jan/Feb 2000): 20-28.

[11] Richard Dawkins (Oxford), “Put Your Money on Evolution” The New York Times (April 9, 1989)  section VII  p.35.

[12] Steven Weinberg, “Free People from Superstition,” Free though Today, April 2000. The demise of religion is for Weinberg the most important contribution of science. See:

http://www.ffrf.org/fttoday/2000/april2000/weinberg.html (accessed May 28, 2006).

[13] Ron Numbers, Darwinism Comes to America, Harvard University Press, 1998, p. 13.