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Just Another Hitler Comparison, Misapplied

08/21/2006 05:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's like a neocon talking point, but this is a fundy talking point. Every time evolution is mentioned on HuffPo (usually by me), someone will roll out the tired old proposition that Hitler and Stalin were bad people and this is why we shouldn't believe in evolution. It is presented in slightly different ways - sometimes it is used against the inarguable proposition that most wars since religion began have been caused, one way or another, by religion. Other times it is suggested that their wild evolutionary beliefs had driven H & S to kill people, a propensity, it seems, they would not have had if only, if only, they had believed in creationism.

It is easy to demolish this nonsense, and perhaps I should get a rubber stamp made up that I could use each time this talking point emerges yet again. Sure, Stalin was an atheist (I guess), and he did his best to suppress religion in the Soviet Union. But he did so because he could see the damage that religion had done to the Russian people in the past. Atheism didn't drive his politics, but a desire to see equality in society. Like all dictatorships though his rule rapidly became corrupt and did enormous damage to the people he supposedly loved. He certainly didn't believe in evolution, because in a famous episode he supported the work of Lysenko, a scientist who believed not in Darwin's theories but in Lamarck's. Lamarck believed that acquired characteristics could be passed on to descendants. Quite wrong of course, as Darwin had shown a century earlier, but Stalin insisted because he believed that he could impose his will on nature as well as the Russian people, and grow crops in the Arctic. Failed again. No matter how strongly you believe something, if it is wrong it is wrong.

And Hitler? Well certainly no atheist (http://www.nobeliefs.com/Hitler1.htm). Fascism was a linking of militarism, nationalism, corporatism and religion. The Germans believed that god was on their side - German soldiers carried the slogan 'Gott mit uns'. Conquest was doing the will of god, not the result of some failure of ethics as a result of atheism. And evolution? Is this what was secretly driving Hitler? Nope, and I doubt whether he was aware of Darwin except in passing. The Germans were the master race, chosen people, and all others - Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, Slavs (including Russians), artists, and the English - were inferior to them. They believed this not because of evolution but because the nationalist drum had been beating so hard, Hitler dredged up powerful mythologies from Germany's distant and recent past, created scapegoats, and fear, and convinced people that they had a destiny, they were exceptional. It is a common political process in many countries over thousands of years, and it works every time. The Japanese had similar beliefs (which is why prisoners of war from countries like England and Australia were treated so badly - the men from these races were seen as inferior to the Japanese), and if anything less connection with 'Darwin'. It is a process that continues to work today, in many countries.

But what if any of these propositions was true? What if wild-eyed fanatics had marched off to war carrying banners with the bearded face not of religious leaders but of Darwin (you only have to describe the image to see the absurdity of it)? The proposal from the fundies then is that because they think Darwin's legions have so ravaged the Earth, we should stop teaching our children truth in schools and instead teach them a fairy story about creation and the Garden of Eden, a mythology from one primitive tribe in one small part of the planet. Not knowing the truth of their evolutionary past these young people will usher in a new golden age where all happy smiling religious people sit down together and make love (metaphorically) not war.

But no matter whether you choose to believe it or not, facts are facts, and the evolutionary history of the planet is a fact. Pretending it isn't gets nobody anywhere (except for televangelists, not interested in passing through the eye of a needle; and right wing shock jocks, interested in hate and publicity; and second rate biologists, unable to make it in the real world of science and settling for fame in the fake world of creationism).

Hard to avoid cynicism with this kind of rubbish though. The Right have learnt a new technique. Any time facts look like contradicting their faith-based world view they attack some minor aspect in order to disrupt the larger message of the event. In the Lebanon war, the fuss about minor alterations to billowing smoke in a photo, or what may or may not be the same woman in other photos, or pretending to doubt civilian casualties, all serve to change the discourse, divert attention from what is really going on. The irrational linking of Darwin with Hitler and Stalin (rather like the linking of Hussein with bin Laden) is part of the same technique. Let us get people arguing about a lie and they will fail to argue about the larger picture - the takeover by stealth of creationism in schools. So, this is a one-off dismissal of this nonsense. remember it when you see Ann Coulter using the technique next week on television. I'm back to just talking about the reality of the evolution of our world and us.

Truth doesn't start wars, or result in genocide. Lies do.