Hitler the Atheist

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 13, 2011 in Funny,Video

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

David Marshall March 13, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Sleaziness . . . with style!

In my anti-New Atheism book (Truth Behind the New Atheism), I never suggest that Hitler was an atheist. To have done so would have, if not necessarily false, been overly speculative and unwarranted. But this production, while clever, is even more deeply dishonest, and loose with logic, than that would have been. It is also immoral, because it impugns people with crimes that they did not in fact commit, or approve of.

Perhaps I should write a refutation of this clever but sleazy little slide show. What needs to be said, for now, is that it displays a fundamental dishonesty, which is perhaps more difficult to deal with than the facts themselves. One can correct mistakes; it is harder to cure the love of sleaziness.

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Martin March 13, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Ah, the old hot potato game.

I think Hitler was whatever the hell he needed to be in order to manipulate events to his advantage.

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Alex Petrov March 13, 2011 at 7:31 pm

To have done so would have, if not necessarily false, been overly speculative and unwarranted.But this production, while clever, is even more deeply dishonest, and loose with logic, than that would have been.It is also immoral, because it impugns people with crimes that they did not in fact commit, or approve of.  

I am curious by what you mean: 1) are you implying Hitler was an atheist, 2) what people does this video impugn with crimes they did not in fact commit?

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Luke Muehlhauser March 13, 2011 at 7:50 pm

That old Hitler. Such a hot potato. The hottest one of all.

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Kevin March 13, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I would say that DM’s accusations are more characteristic of his own response rather than the video. I also share Alex’s confusion as to what DM finds objectionable. It seems like a long list of unspecific assertions with no apparent backing. Some citations for your claims would be much appreciated.

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Chris W March 13, 2011 at 8:31 pm

I am also curious about David Marshall’s comments.

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Anton A. Hill March 13, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Luke,

Such sweet, sweet candy. My only challenge at the moment is deciding the headline that I’ll use to repost it on Atheist Asshole.

Thanks!

Anton.

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David Marshall March 13, 2011 at 9:56 pm

I said it would be “speculative and unwarranted” to assume Hitler was an atheist. But there’s plenty of evidence that he didn’t like the “Jewish religion,” Christianity, and much of the sleaziness of this show lies in its ignoring THOSE facts, along with all the evidence of hostility between Hitler and the Catholic Church.

What we know Hitler to have been, is (a) a chronic liar; (b) a politician (but I repeat myself); (c) an anti-Semite; (d) a syncretist who seems to have borrowed from various proto-New Age, Christian AND atheist sources; and (e) a nationalist who, when he encountered Marxist thuggery, loved the sin and hated the sinners, applying their methods to his madness.

Hitler does not fit neatly and easily into either team’s talking points, in the present atheist vs. Christian dialogue. Pretences by either side to the contrary usually consist of cheap propaganda (see my Response to Avalos and Carrier, Was Christianity Responsible for Nazism? here: http://christthetao.homestead.com/debates.html), though serious efforts to argue either position in a more measured way might be viable.

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Garren March 13, 2011 at 10:02 pm

How would we ever discuss morality without Hitler as a paradigmatic example of all that’s bad?

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) March 14, 2011 at 12:32 am

Because people hardly ever take any religious belief seriously and are rarely satisfied by the religious institutions of the day, we now conclude that it is impossible to point any particular idea or motivating factor (such as Christianity or Atheism) to most people.

Undoubtedly, Hitler was a religious man. Sure, he drew from all sorts of sources (who doesn’t?) and held contradictory beliefs (again…who doesn’t?) but I think what’s being missed here is that Hitler was influenced by a variety of things and if anything, our inability to make him fit neatly into either camp speaks more to the way people in general just adopt beliefs at their whims than anything else.

Not that it really matters, IMO.

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Kevin March 14, 2011 at 1:05 am

It is also immoral, because it impugns people with crimes that they did not in fact commit, or approve of.

I’m still confused; who are you referring to and what crimes did the video falsely accuse them of?

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Steven Carr March 14, 2011 at 1:45 am

Hitler didn’t like the Catholic church of the 1930′s?

How does that make him a non-Christian?

Hitler believed in God, as did the person in charge of Auschwitz.

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Gavin Kirby March 14, 2011 at 5:32 am

The suggestion that Hitler was an atheist is clearly incompatible with his repeated use of explicitly theistic justifications for his ideology (Mein Kampf and his speeches are replete with such theistic statements). Being an orthodox Christian and being a theist aren’t the same thing, so even if he disagreed with parts of Christianity (which he did, look up “Positive Christianity”) this says nothing either way on the question of his theism. Other prominent Nazis like Himmler held crazy neopagan belief systems (Himmler in particular seemed to believe that by visiting ancient Norse burial grounds he could commune with the ghosts of Viking warriors) which were clearly not Christian, but clearly not remotely atheistic either.

The “Nazis/Hitler = atheists” hypothesis is also flatly incompatible with the fact that (as this video, despite its alleged liberties with the facts, correctly points out) the Nazis banned all freethought organisations in Germany in the very year that they came to power, including the Deutscher Freidenker-Verband, one of the largest of its kind in the world at the time. They also later executed the chairman of the organisation. None of this suggests that they were in any meaningful sense receptive to secular political thought or materialist philosophy, despite the casual slanders of ignorant rightwing American pundits.

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David Marshall March 14, 2011 at 7:21 am

Some of these arguments are less “casual” than you seem to think. For instance, reference is made in this show to the effect Social Darwinism had on Nazi “ethics.” The rejoinder is that the Nazis made use of the Law of Gravitation to bomb England — should we blame gravity for their misdeeds? This is clever as a joke, but specious as an argument. The best-known sustained historical argument for the influence of Social Darwinism on Nazism, Richard Weikart’s From Darwin to Hitler, does not argue that Hitler used evolution, so much as that “many of Hitler’s ideas derived ultimately from respectable scientists and scholars who were grappling with the implications of Darwinism for ethics and society,” including the idea of racial extermination. This is an entirely different kind of causal relationship, which of course does not discredit the truth of evolution, but cannot be defused with jokes about gravity.

Hitler persecuted lots of people. He hated the communists (much as he learned from them) almost as much as he hated the Jews. Since they were identified with atheism, maybe it suited his purposes to keep a tight rein on atheists; I don’t know. But he and his movement were deeply influenced, both directly and indirectly, by a number of atheist thinkers. If one wants to discredit Christianity by association, the associations won’t do atheism any good, either.

I agree D’Souza overreaches on atheism and Hitler, and said so in my Amazon review years ago. This is just the most clever of many similiar overreaches on the atheist side.

What did Hitler really believe about God? On that, I’m agnostic. I agree with Martin: he said what he had to. Maybe he thought he was God.

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Gavin Kirby March 14, 2011 at 7:58 am

Social Darwinism wasn’t a logical extension of evolutionary biology to social and political questions (real biology has rather little to say on these subjects) but an ideologically-driven attempt to misuse scientific ideas to rationalise the prejudices of the day. Social Darwinists like Spencer and Galton might have been “respectable” by the standards of their day, but they aren’t highly regarded now, and they didn’t have an enduring influence on the development of modern biology because of their blatant failures to keep their own political, social and cultural biases out of their work. The “idea of racial extermination” is not part of evolutionary theory, but an artefact of human bigotry.

Ideas of ethnic cleansing and racial purity go back far beyond Darwin (advocates of southern slavery also tried to give scientific pretentions to their racism, obviously without invoking evolution, in addition to referring to the Biblical story of Shem, Ham etc.). The great irony here is that it is precisely (proper, scientific) evolutionary biology which shows that these theories of “race” are based on social convention and prejudice, not on empirical reality. What on earth does anti-Semitism have to do with Darwin or biology?

I’m also suspicious of the whole trajectory of this argument. It seems supiciously like an attempt to impugn biology (and science in general) by association with Hitler.

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Justfinethanks March 14, 2011 at 9:39 am

David Marshall:

The best-known sustained historical argument for the influence of Social Darwinism on Nazism, Richard Weikart’s From Darwin to Hitler, does not argue that Hitler used evolution, so much as that “many of Hitler’s ideas derived ultimately from respectable scientists and scholars who were grappling with the implications of Darwinism for ethics and society,” including the idea of racial extermination.

I see. So the argument isn’t that “Hitler got his ideas from Darwinism” as much as it is “Hitler got his ideas from other people who committed some sort of confused naturalistic fallacy in their interpretation of what Darwinism meant for ethics and society.”

That’s an extremely weak sort of genetic lineage. If we can say “Hitler got his ideas from Darwin” because he got his ideas from other people’s philosophically fallacious and outright incorrect interpretation of Darwinism (incorrect because eugenics requires you to believe that “fitness” is intelligence, strength, power, or dominance when really it’s just fecundity), then I suppose we can also draw a connection straight from Jesus Christ to the Westboro Baptist Church. (Why does nobody write the book “From Jesus to Phelps”?) Or we can draw a connection from the invention of agriculture to the obesity epidemic (“From Wheat to Heart Attacks”). Or we can draw a connection from Astronomy to Scientology (“From Kepler to Hubbard.”) Or we can draw any old silly connection we can want to make if we are inclined to score some cheap points.

Even assuming its all true, I imagine Hitler would find the accusation that he get his ideas from Darwin upsetting, as though he recognized the reality of natural selection:

“Nature selects the best from an abundance of single elements and stamps them as fit to live and carry on the conservation of the species.” (Mein Kampf, Volume 1, chapter III.)

He also rejected cladogenesis:

“The fox remains always a fox, the goose remains a goose, and the tiger will retain the character of a tiger. The only difference that can exist within the species must be in the various degrees of structural strength and active power, in the intelligence, efficiency, endurance, etc., with which the individual specimens are endowed.” (Mein Kampf, Volume 1, chapter XI.)

You simply cannot believe in the above passage and believe in Darwin’s theory at the same time.

And of course, it’s also important to remember that the Nazis explicitly rejected evolution and naturalism. In 1935 guidelines for libraries, the Die Bücherei forbid:

“Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism.”

http://www.library.arizona.edu/exhibits/burnedbooks/documents.htm#blacklist

(It’s the sixth item on that list)

But, ultimately, I think I am included to agree that above all, Hitler believed in himself, and perhaps it is difficult to separate the things he said to further himself and his mad cause, and the things he said because he sincerely believed them.

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David Marshall March 14, 2011 at 9:59 am

Gavin: You can be as “suspicious” as you like, but don’t take issue with your own suspicions, but with my arguments.

It seems strange to me that you say with such certainty that “real biology has little to say on social and political questions” — that claim not only has been but is, obviously, disputed by many biologists and many atheists, who say that society and politics are superstructures on evolutionary biology. It seems to me that you are fencing off certain disciplines, most likely in obedience to the modern liberal reaction against the horrors of the mid 20th Century, and the totalitarian ideologies that produced them. In a sense that is healthy, in another sense, seems to simplify things too much, and ignores real connections.

It is easy to reconcile racism with empirical biology, which is why it seemed obvious to so many scientists of the era.

The New Testament disavows racism directly, however. “In Christ, there is neither Greek nor Jew.” It is obviously possible to be a Christian racist, or an atheist racist. Many such creatures have been found. But Christian racism must be to some extent a contradiction in terms, and implies hypocricy or inconsistency. Evolution, by contrast, is all about our “selfish genes,” and how they compete by violence with other genomes for dominance. Even Dawkins admits this can be dangerous. To pretend there is no generic relationship here, either historically or logically, would be to hide one’s head in the sand.

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David Marshall March 14, 2011 at 10:27 am

Just Fine: Weikart doesn’t argue that Hitler had a perfect understanding of evolutionary theory, of course. (Does anyone?)

The chapter you cite does indeed portray human races as more distinct than they really are. The influence of Social Darwinism on the chapter is, however, strong. Species are distinct, but should attain “further and higher development.” Success in the struggle for higher existence can only come through “the knowledge and ruthless application of Nature’s stern and rigid laws.”

This is not Darwin’s fault. He was I think a pretty good man, and certainly a good scientist. But ideas do carry their own internal logic, and certainly the picture of advance by struggle and bloodshed, “survival of the fittest” was a heady drought for a Europe that was more technologically powerful than any civilization in previous history.

Why doesn’t anyone write “From Jesus to Phelps?” Lots of people have, actually, under different titles: The God Delusion, Letter to a Christian Nation, God is not Great, American Fascists. But Weikart’s book is a whole lot better than those because he knows what he’s talking about: he’s a credentialed historian, with blurbs on the back cover of his book by a Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, another historian from Yale, and other historians from Hamilton College, and at least one other historian who knows the period and topic well. It’s also more nuanced and, frankly, reasonable.

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Lorkas March 14, 2011 at 10:36 am

It may interest many of you to know that “social Darwinism” was around for a long time before Darwin. Plato proposed that the state be in charge of reproduction and eugenics was standard practice in Sparta (for infant boys, at least). Who knew Darwin’s ideas were so evil that they could travel back in time and corrupt ancient Greece?

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MarkD March 14, 2011 at 10:56 am

@David

“…compete by violence…” is a misunderstanding. The primary mechanism is dominance by the insufficiency of the alternatives not by violence. In sexual selection among certain mammals, there are displays of vigor among males but it is often ritualized.

That being said, it is certainly true that experience with artificial selection, existing racism, and even semantic interference with the notion of “fittest” led both some scientists and social thinkers to abstract evolution into Social Darwinism and even genocide. However, selfish genetics wasn’t a part of that because the modern synthesis wasn’t yet developed.

On the notion that “The New Testament disavows racism directly,” Robert Wright’s argument that this was an essential add-on in Paul to support expansion of the faith is relevant. Only Jews need apply otherwise. The implications for Christianity under Nazism are otherwise just ironic.

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Justfinethanks March 14, 2011 at 1:40 pm

David:

Weikart doesn’t argue that Hitler had a perfect understanding of evolutionary theory, of course. (Does anyone?)

Like all complex scientific theories under constant investigation, probably not. But there is a distinction between an “imperfect and incomplete understanding” and a “false understanding.” To claim that Darwinian evolution supports eugenics you need to have the latter. And it seems outright silly to claim a casual link between two ideas when the second is based up a false understanding of the first. The causal link is broken the moment the misunderstanding occurs.

I mean, if I were to believe that quantum entanglement means that we ought to murder cats in boxes, would it really be fair or accurate to say that there is a link “From Schrödinger to Cat Killing”? I would rather argue that the true casual link to cat killing was my own poor education or interpretive abilities.

Why doesn’t anyone write “From Jesus to Phelps?” Lots of people have, actually, under different titles: The God Delusion, Letter to a Christian Nation, God is not Great, American Fascists.

I’m not sure if you mean that literally or not, but those last three books don’t mention Phelps or the Westboro Baptist church at all. At least, not by my recollection, a scan of the index sections, or a search with Google books. I can happily be proven wrong, however.

The God Delusion does mention him, but as an example of the destructive influence of dogmatic religion generally, not to draw a casual link between Jesus himself and the bizarre theology of Phelps. And I think that sort of link is hard to dispute. People like him can only live in a world in where people uncritically and dogmatically believe God writes books.

In contrast (as Lorkas points out) since eugenic thinking predates Darwin, it can obviously exist in a world without Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Even the Jewish Anti Defamation League (hardly atheist sympathizers) agrees on this point:

“Hitler did not need Darwin to devise his heinous plan to exterminate the Jewish people and Darwin and evolutionary theory cannot explain Hitler’s genocidal madness.

Using the Holocaust in order to tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry.”

http://www.adl.org/PresRele/HolNa_52/5277_52.htm

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David Marshall March 14, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Mark: Wright is dead wrong on that, and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. (Though I like him on other subjects.) See my review of his last book on the First Things website. It’s simply nonsense, contradicted by reams of NT (and OT) data — it fits his model of how things ought to work (also Dawkins tries this line), but doesn’t fit the data.

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Chris W March 14, 2011 at 4:25 pm

That passage from Galatians isn’t about disavowing racism; it’s about how all Christians are equally one in Christ, whether they were previously under the Law (Jews) or not (Greeks). The only thing that come close to disavowing racism in the NT is the parable of the Good Samaritan.

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David Marshall March 14, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Just Fine: On Phelps, I was addressing your general point, rather than the specific example used to make it. All four books, and many besides, blame the alleged ills of America, Western Civilization, or the world on Christianity (of which Jesus was the founder, though some may deny that), to a large extent.

I think it is obvious the intellectual connection between the concept of “loving your neighbor” and, say, staking out funerals to abuse the departed, is more strained than between “survival of the fittest (species)” and “death to Jews.” This does not, as I have been at pains to emphasize, in any way inpugn honest biologists who study evolution honestly. Nor does Weikart do that.

The Anti-Defamation League is not an historian: Weikart is. Sympathy quotes from them are irrelevant to the historical facts.

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David Marshall March 14, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Chris: Greeks and Jews are two different races, so yes, it is. And there’s actually quite a bit in the NT along similiar lines: that’s also the point of Peter’s history-changing vision in Acts 10, for example.

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Chris W March 14, 2011 at 4:37 pm

David: The passage is about how Christian who previously followed the Torah and those who did not are now on equal footing, as far as their salvation in Christ goes. That’s it.

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Justfinethanks March 14, 2011 at 5:55 pm

I think it is obvious the intellectual connection between the concept of “loving your neighbor” and, say, staking out funerals to abuse the departed, is more strained than between “survival of the fittest (species)” and “death to Jews.”

Like I said before, it’s only not strained if you misunderstand what “fitness” means in Darwinian evolution. It’s reproductive success, not strength or smarts or whatever. And “reproductive success” can create contradictory traits. Under natural selection, if aggressiveness helps your species breed more, then future generations will be more aggressive (and thus we have crocodiles and hippos.) If timidity and skittishness helps your species breed more, then future generations will be more timid (and thus we have mice and rabbits).

If Darwinian evolution actually provides the theoretical backbone for eugenics, then eugenicists must agree that it is sometimes sensible to eliminate the brave, the strong, and the intelligent, as there are instances were these sorts of traits can harm reproductive success.

The Anti-Defamation League is not an historian: Weikart is. Sympathy quotes from them are irrelevant to the historical facts.

The Anti-Defamation League is one of the leading educators about the historical facts surrounding the holocaust. As such, they employ historians, produce educational historical literature, give awards to historians who produce excellent work on Jewish history (including works on the holocaust), and for a time even published one of the leading journals on holocaust studies.

When I cited them, I did not do so to elicit sympathy, but because they are an authority on subject, and any statement they issue regarding the holocaust, Hitler, or the Nazis should be treated with the utmost credibility.

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David Marshall March 14, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Just Fine: In general, “reproductive success” might be the best definition of “fitness” – especially if you’re talking about, say, protazoa. But adaptive races in particular contexts privilege specific traits. Fitness when it comes to cheetahs and gazelles inevitably has to touch on speed, dexterity, and jumping ability. Fitness when it comes to finches has to deal with optimal beak strength for a particular quary or environment.

It was widely and rightly recognized that what set human beings apart from other species is our intelligence. Therefore, in the struggle for survival, it was naturally supposed that the more intelligent are more fit, and the less intelligent, less fit. Hitler also honed in on the quality of cooperation. He believed, or claimed to believe, that Jews did not deserve to survive, because they were a selfish people, unlike Germans, willing to sacrifice themselves. This is, of course, utter nonsense, but the racial assumptions behind it, the assumption that genetic pools are in competition with one another, that the competition can be cruel, that losing tribes die, that genes correlate to behavior, were all reinforced by Darwinian thought, though of course the facts of racism and competition did not need to be invented by anyone.

As for the Anti-Defamation League, I’ll concede that they may, in a vague way, be seen in some contexts as authoritative, while in others as primarily political. But a general response to a specific and detailed historical argument, like that, is no substitute for specific and detailed interaction with that which it purports to rebut. The evidence Weikart cites does not disappear because of a contrary statement by any institution.

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drj March 14, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I think it is obvious the intellectual connection between the concept of “loving your neighbor” and, say, staking out funerals to abuse the departed, is more strained than between “survival of the fittest (species)” and “death to Jews.” This does not, as I have been at pains to emphasize, in any way inpugn honest biologists who study evolution honestly. Nor does Weikart do that.

Yea, the intellectual connection between the passage, “And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”, and the staking out of military funerals isnt so obvious.

However, if they showed up to said funerals, not with posters with mean slogans, but with stones meant for the head of the disobedient sinners, then the connection would be more obvious.

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MarkD March 14, 2011 at 7:40 pm

@David:

Is that review you mention, this one?

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/10/origin-of-the-specious

All intellectual history appears impossible!

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David Marshall March 14, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Mark: No, that’s David Hart. Same first name, same book, same magazine, different last names. Here’s my review:

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2009/08/did-god-really-evolve

DRJ: “Love your neighbor” is a central point of the NT, not “kill homosexuals.” Read closely, and you might even find Jesus saving the life of a sexual transgressor.

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MarkD March 14, 2011 at 8:53 pm

@David

Thanks! Definitely less bombastic than the Hart review.

I’m not sure that your claims concerning a progressive evolution of the concept of god are diluted by the counter-evidence that you offer. It would be consistent with Wright’s model (as I recall it) for there to be early or later and geographically isolated examples of differing evolutionary rates.

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drj March 15, 2011 at 6:51 am

If I read closely, I find Jesus saving the life of a repentant sexual transgressor. I bet even Fred Phelps would find room in his crusade for any repentant homosexual who wished to join him. In fact, one will see that Fred Phelps is responding to what he believes to be ongoing, institutionalized, open unrepentant sin.

And the Bible’s message is much less clear there. Some people have decided that to love thy unrepentant neighbor is to tell them God hates them. Some people decided it is to torture them until they confess, followed by a swift execution, thereby saving them from hell. Others decided it was to simply pray.

In any case, it just seems really trivial to draw intellectual connections between the NT (or OT) and all sorts of atrocity. Really, unless you pile on mountains of mutually agreed upon theology, there really is no predicting what kind of principles will emerge from a reading of the Bible by fresh eyes.

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Gavin Kirby March 15, 2011 at 6:58 am

@David

The story of Jesus and the adulteress is one of the more dubious in the NT, and doesn’t appear in any of the earliest Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke. The viciously bigoted Bronze Age attitudes towards gay people (and others) are sadly not quite so dubious. Plus, the Bible is such an incoherent mishmash of texts from different periods and authors that it’s quite possible to assign almost any meaning you want to it. I see no basis beyond the preferences of the speaker to decide on what the “central points” of the text are.

In any case, Hitler’s program could at most constitute a kind of artificial selection, of the sort that had been known about to some extent for many centuries (e.g. by the pidgeon fanciers from whom Darwin learned). It had nothing to do with the quintessentially Darwinian idea that nature itself can drive the selection process (if nature drives selection, how does this motivate human action in any sense?) Environmental fitness has little to do with human concepts of “superiority”, and the idea that human ethnic groups differ significantly in their biology has been shown (by real biology, not racist pseudoscience) to be wrong. Thanks to modern genetics we know that differences within ethnic groups are significantly larger than differences between them. Ludicrous assertions like “Jews are selfish” have absolutely no relevance to biology and are not (to put it mildly) scientifically credible.

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Gavin Kirby March 15, 2011 at 6:59 am

*Gospel of John… sorry, quick typing and lack of proofreading.

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David Marshall March 15, 2011 at 7:36 am

DRJ: I’m afraid you didn’t read closely enough. There is nothing in John 8 about the girl having repented before Jesus saved her.

There’s a biblical reason why only one supposed church, with about 2 1/2 members, in a country of 310 million people, mostly Christians, is engaging in these antics, while most churches and Christians despise them. Check any concordance for uses of the word “love” in the NT, and do a word study, and hopefully you’ll get beyond this relativism and see the forest for the trees.

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David Marshall March 15, 2011 at 7:39 am

Mark: Yes, I suppose “bombastic” is a fair word for some of Hart’s writings — though I have to admit I enjoy them. He’s not stupid.

True, I didn’t give much evidence in that review. I’ve written more about it in Jesus and the Religions of Man and True Son of Heaven, and am also going into more detail on China in my dissertation. The short of it is, they’re not that isolated.

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David Marshall March 15, 2011 at 7:48 am

Gavin: I totally disagree. Love is clearly and inextricably at the center of NT ethics. There is no getting around that, except by a willful act of wanton self-deception, or by just not reading the NT.

The passage in question is, I think, quite authentic, though it probably didn’t belong to John originally. It’s quite different from the late additions to, say, Mark 16, and fits Jesus’ personna as developed in all the Gospels.

I agree, of course, that Hitler’s racist beliefs were mostly unjustified. But it is probably anachronistic wishful thinking to make such a radical disconnect. It could seemed, in the early 20th Century, that Europeans had in every sense demonstrated their superiority over the rest of the human race, with only the Japanese catching up by (Hitler points out, an argument not unique to himself) imitating and adopting European methods. The facts, as seen at the time, seemed to neatly fit the evolutionary paradigm, and seemed to justify the racial struggle Hitler (following many others) called Germany to. We must not impose 21st Century liberal sensibilities (shaped as much by Christianity as by the raw facts of evolution, I think) on people of the past.

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Gavin Kirby March 15, 2011 at 8:39 am

@David:

“Love is clearly and inextricably at the center of NT ethics.” Well the mishmash of 27 texts we call the New Testament was never intended to be an ethical treatise (or a single text at all, until people in the Patristic period turned it into one) so the messages one gets from it are horribly inconsistent. We read about love, to be sure, but we also read about tribalism and exclusiveness (“If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha”), sexism (“I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man”) and dogmatism (failure to believe in extraordinary events is repeatedly portrayed as a cognitive defect, q.v. Doubting Thomas). The NT idea of “love” is also a chimerical and eccentric thing that doesn’t seem to fit how most people use the word, and frankly I’m far from convinced that it’s not the sort of love the world could do without.

“most churches and Christians despise them” – most churches and Christians also despise gay people, or at least they did until very recently. My feeling is that mainstream Christians are simply embarrassed that the Westboro types are airing their religion’s dirty laundry in public, and giving voice to a kind of bigotry that is latent within the Christian tradition but increasingly challenged within our culture. If you don’t believe me, look at cultures where the stigma against expressing bigoted sentiments against gay people simply doesn’t exist, e.g. Uganda.

“Jesus’ personna [sic] as developed in all the Gospels” – was this the same guy who threw a hissy fit at a fig tree because it didn’t have ripe fruit out of season? So much for magnanimity.

“Hitler’s racist beliefs were mostly unjustified.” Mostly!? For your sake I’ll assume that was ironic understatement.

“imitating and adopting European methods.” Just like the Europeans had adopted Chinese, Indian and Arab technologies and knowledge centuries before? This clearly has everything to do with culture and nothing to do with genetics, which is what makes the references to biology so obviously irrelevant.

I haven’t “imposed liberal sensibilities” on the people of the early 20th century, I’ve just been trying to illustrate how vast the divide between real biology and pseudoscience in the service of political ideology really is. I also fail to see how our “liberal sensibilities” could be “shaped” by a religious tradition that has not received modern ideas of liberty and equality particularly readily (the most vitriolic opponents of equality in the modern world are who, the churches or the secularists?).

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drj March 15, 2011 at 9:10 am

My feeling is that mainstream Christians are simply embarrassed that the Westboro types are airing their religion’s dirty laundry in public, and giving voice to a kind of bigotry that is latent within the Christian tradition but increasingly challenged within our culture. If you don’t believe me, look at cultures where the stigma against expressing bigoted sentiments against gay people simply doesn’t exist, e.g. Uganda.

I’m fairly convinced that the WBC’s cardinal sin is not in their message – with which many Christians seem to sympathize even if they disagree on some theological particulars or even if the directness or brashness of their tone makes them uncomfortable – but in their targets. Instead of attacking actual homosexuals, they attack unrelated targets like military funerals. If it weren’t for that, WBC would mostly just be another group which causes mild embarrassment while having a totally understandable message – sort of like when the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells blame hurricanes on homosexuality, etc.

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David Marshall March 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Gavin: I get the feeling, from your response, that you belong to the “Bertrand Russell School of Cherry-Picking.” You’re so not considering the NT fairly, but just cruising through to pick out stuff you think can undermine the essential fact I referred to above: that NT ethics are pervasive, and quite clearly, focused on love.

Anyone can play that game with any book, and it’s a bore. It’s very much like Dawkins’ method of judging Christianity in America by the worst flakes he can find, or, for that matter, by the Westboro Baptist Church. There is no way to defeat such an argument: with strong enough “confirmation bias,” you’ll always find evidence to support your position.

So I don’t think I’ll try. Maybe some day you’ll have a change of heart, and the genuine character of the Gospel will become obvious.

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drj March 15, 2011 at 1:41 pm

DRJ: I’m afraid you didn’t read closely enough.There is nothing in John 8 about the girl having repented before Jesus saved her.

This is true, you are correct – however, she does repent, so this passage really has little instruction in regards to unrepentant sin, whether its of a sexual nature or not. And if it does provide any, it is very vague.

There’s a biblical reason why only one supposed church, with about 2 1/2 members, in a country of 310 million people, mostly Christians, is engaging in these antics, while most churches and Christians despise them.Check any concordance for uses of the word “love” in the NT, and do a word study, and hopefully you’ll get beyond this relativism and see the forest for the trees.  

I don’t have much to add to what Gavin said here. I was going to bring up Uganda myself – where we see Christians involved in attempts to bring about a death penalty for homosexual behavior.

But in any case, your initial charge was that there was a stronger intellectual connection between “survival of the fittest” and “death to the Jews”, than there is between “love thy neighbor” and “god hates fags”. In any case, history shows that Christian’s attitude towards homosexuals has typically been more “hate the sin and the sinner” and less “hate the sin and not the sinner”. And quite frankly, in my own personal experience debating with Christians on the issue of homosexuality – it’s only a matter next to nothing for the slurs and gay bashing to start flying at a mile a minute from those who hilariously claim to admonish the actions, not the person. So I don’t think the connection is as remote as you think. As I mentioned above, I think the animosity towards Phelps and the WBC is derived more from their attacks on the military, rather than their beliefs about homosexuality – which most Christians seem to share.

And as Gavin demonstrates there are contemporaries in other countries who are far more extreme than Phelps, and are not content with merely telling homosexuals that God hates them, but feel the need to punish them through law.

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Carneades Thales Strato March 15, 2011 at 1:54 pm

David, so you are with us pro-humanity rather than with Judeophhobes and such, right?
You never answered my comments @ Amazon Religion Discussions under Skeptic Griggsy that eviscerate theism. I don’t post there now. I’ll do so when I again have an account.
But Lord Russell and we gnu atheists find that there is more wrong with those two anthologies than is right with them, and people can find the good stuff elsewhere!
Not only do they not tell about the heavens, they don’t even established that Heaven exists!
I have a network of blogs you can find by Googling Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth should you ever want to engage in serious conversation!

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MarkD March 15, 2011 at 2:09 pm

The No True Scotsman fallacy applies to both perspectives: no true Xtian would take away anything but love from NT while no true biologist would translate evolutionary theory through Social Darwinism and into nasty social policies.

The latter is particularly odd in just how incorrect it is, however. There is little competition between species for resources that results in interspecific conflict. The only bloody tooth and claw is in predation. Races were misapprehended as subspecies in some ways and the natural variation was considered to produce advantages and disadvantages, but why that should justify violence or harm against others makes little sense except in the context of an ad hoc justification of power relationships that were essentially tribal or supertribal (ethnic identity). The zeitgeist from the Romantic period likely enhanced the power aspect by promoting untamed nature through common imagery from colonial lands. All grist for the sad mill of fascism.

It does seem clear that Nazism used Christianity as part of its justificatory symbolism too, as the many quotes from Mein Kampf through to library restrictions and belt buckles clearly show, and that the Catholic Church has a particularly difficult history concerning this period.

I do like the cartoon, though! It makes for a fun dialog.

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Carneades Thales Strato March 15, 2011 at 3:24 pm

This is an essential parody for the truth! It not only belies that Hitler myth but also deftly faults Chridtinsanity. Augustine, that misanthrope, Aquinas that lover of pyres for us infidels,Luther that Judeophobe and Calvin, that other lover of pyres, would themselves have laid waste all Europe had they the power!
Love thy neighobr but you can enslave her!
God loves ou but He’ll send you to Hell and [ His people allege that ti's you yourself that would send you there.] if you don’t fawn continuously over Him!
Naturalist Griggsy
Rationalist Griggsy
Thales

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David Marshall March 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm

DRJ: It’s true that some Christians attack homosexuals in a disproportionate manner; there are other sins mentioned far more often in the Bible, including some many of us are more often guilty of. And it’s true that the NT portrays homosexual acts as sinful — along with a lot of other things. It is also true that love is the soul of Christian ethics, and that that is crystal clear from even the most casual reading of the NT. Life is complicated sometimes. One can only apologize for Christians who overlook this emphasis, as do I, sometimes.

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David Marshall March 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Strato: I don’t remember the conversation, and can’t make out what you mean. The only thing I can make out, is it seems you’re asking if I’m “with the Judeophobes.” Does that mean, am I anti-Semitic? Heck, no. I admire the Jewish people tremendously.

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Carneades Thales Strato March 18, 2011 at 8:36 am

David, I don’t remeber the conversation either.
My form of ignosticism includes that as we naturalists eviscerate every argument for God, He loses a referent and then all referents such that He cannot exist, and since He has contradictory, incoherent attributes, He cannot exist.
The argument from physical mind notes that experience only tells us of embodied minds, and thus it is incoherent to pass Him off as disembodied, thereby having no brain and thus no mind! Alvin Plantinga aside, this is a major naturalist argument against His very existence!
Yes, you are no Judeophobe, my preferred term for anti-Semitic. Thus, you join with the Pope in denouncing that blood libel against our admired folks.However, the Gospels make that libel!
And as far as agape, what about slavery and misogyny and Hell?

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