Open Letter to a victim of Ben Stein's lying propaganda
By RICHARD DAWKINS
Added: Sat, 19 Apr 2008 23:00:00 UTC
On 18th April, the day Ben Stein's infamous film was released, Michael Shermer received the following letter from a Jew (referencing a past article that Shermer had written debunking the Holocaust deniers) whose identity I shall conceal as "David J".
Now I truly understand who you atheists and darwinists really are! You people believe that it was okay for my great-grandparents to die in the Holocaust! How disgusting. Your past article about the Holocaust was just window dressing. We Jews will fight to keep people like you out of the United States!
Shermer wrote to Mr J to ask if he had by any chance just seen Expelled, and he received this reply:
Yes I have. You know, I respect you as a human being and you have done great work exposing psychics and frauds, but this is a very touchy issue that affects me and family emotionally. Our family business was affected because of Auschwitz because now, our family has nothing. It is gone. Things began to make sense once I saw the movie and I am just appalled. I have learned a lot from Ben Stein, a Jewish brother, who has opened my eyes up a bit.
It seemed to me that Ben Stein and his lying crew were more to blame than Mr J himself for his revolting letter. I therefore decided to write him a personal letter and try to explain a few things to him. It then occurred to me (indeed, Michael Shermer suggested as much) that there are probably many others like him, whose minds have been twisted in this evil way by the man Stein, and that it would be a good idea to publish the letter. I decided to wait 24 hours to see if he would reply, although I didn't expect him to. I am now publishing my letter to him, exactly as I sent it to him except that I have removed his name.
Dear Mr J
Michael Shermer forwarded me a letter from you which suggests that you have unfortunately been taken in by Ben Stein's mendacious and/or ignorant suggestion that Darwin is somehow to blame for Hitler. I hope you will not mind if I write to you and try to undo this grievous error.
1. I deeply sympathize with you for the loss of your relatives in the Holocaust. Nevertheless, I don't think that could really be said to justify the tone of your letter to Michael Shermer, who is a kind and decent man, as even you seemed to concede in your second letter to him, and the very antithesis of a Nazi sympathizer.
Now I truly understand who you atheists and darwinists really are! You people believe that it was okay for my great-grandparents to die in the Holocaust! How disgusting. Your past article about the Holocaust was just window dressing. We Jews will fight to keep people like you out of the United States!Just look at those words of yours. Probably you regret them by now. I certainly hope so, but I'll continue to write my letter to you, on the assumption that you still feel at least a part of what you wrote.
2. Hitler's horrible opinions were not all that unusual for his time, not just in Germany but throughout Europe, including my own country of Britain, by the way. What singled Hitler out was the fact that he somehow managed to come to power in one of Europe's leading nations, which was also one of the world's most technologically advanced nations. Hitler had a lot of support in Germany. His horrible bidding was done by millions of ordinary German footsoldiers, and the great majority of them were Christians. Many were Lutheran, and many (like Hitler himself) were Roman Catholic. Very few were atheists, and whatever else Hitler was he most certainly was not an atheist. It is sometimes said that Hitler only pretended to be Catholic, in order to win the Church's support for his regime. In this he was very largely successful. So, whether or not Hitler was himself a true Catholic (as he often claimed) the Church bears a heavy responsibility for what happened. And Hitler himself used religion to justify his anti-Semitism. For example, here is a typical quotation, from the end of Chapter 2 of Mein Kampf.
Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.Hitler's obscene anti-Semitism was able to hold sway in Germany because there was a deeply embedded history of anti-Semitism in Germany, and indeed in Europe generally.
3. Going further back in history, where do we think the toxic anti-Semitism of Hitler, and of the many Germans whose support gave him power, came from? You can't seriously think it came from Darwin. Anti-Semitism has been rife in Europe for many many centuries, positively encouraged by most Christian churches, including especially the two that dominate Germany. The Roman Catholic Church has notoriously persecuted Jews as "Christ-killers". While, as for the Lutherans, Martin Luther himself wrote a book called On the Jews and their Lies from which Hitler quoted. And Luther publicly said that "All Jews should be driven from Germany." By the way, do you hear an echo of those words in your own letter to Michael Shermer, "We Jews will fight to keep people like you out of the United States." Don't you feel just a twinge of shame at those truly horrible words of yours? Don't you feel that, as a Jew, you should feel especially regretful that you used those words?
4. Now, to the matter of Darwin. The first thing to say is that natural selection is a scientific theory about the way evolution works in fact. It is either true or it is not, and whether or not we like it politically or morally is irrelevant. Scientific theories are not prescriptions for how we should behave. I have many times written (for example in the first chapter of A Devil's Chaplain) that I am a passionate Darwinian when it comes to the science of how life has actually evolved, but a passionate ANTI-Darwinian when it comes to the politics of how humans ought to behave. I have several times said that a society based on Darwinian principles would be a very unpleasant society in which to live. I have several times said, starting at the beginning of my very first book, The Selfish Gene, that we should learn to understand natural selection, so that we can oppose any tendency to apply it to human politics. Darwin himself said the same thing, in various different ways. So did his great friend and champion Thomas Henry Huxley.
5. Darwinism gives NO support to racism of any kind. Quite the contrary. It is emphatically NOT about natural selection between races. It is about natural selection between individuals. It is true that the subtitle of The Origin of Species is "Or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life" but Darwin was using the word "race" in a very different sense from ours. It is totaly clear, if you read past the title to the book itself, that a "favoured race" meant something like 'that set of individuals who possess a certain favoured genetic mutation" (although Darwin would not have used that language because he did not have our modern concept of a genetic mutation).
6. There is no mention of Darwin in Mein Kampf. Not one single, solitary mention, not one mention in any of the 27 chapters of this long and tedious book. Don't you think that, if Hitler was truly influenced by Darwin, he would have given him at least one teeny weeny mention in his book? Was he, perhaps, INDIRECTLY influenced by some of Darwin's ideas, without knowing it? Only if you completely misunderstand Darwin's ideas, as some have definitely done: the so-called Social Darwinists such as Herbert Spencer and John D Rockefeller. Hitler could fairly be described as a Social Darwinist, but all modern evolutionists, almost literally without exception, have been vocal in their condemnation of Social Darwinism. This of course includes Michael Shermer and me and PZ Myers and all the other evolutionary scientists whom Ben Stein and his team tricked into taking part in his film by lying to us about their true intentions.
7. Hitler did attempt eugenic breeding of humans, and this is sometimes misrepresented as an attempt to apply Darwinian principles to humans. But this interpretation gets it historically backwards, as PZ Myers has pointed out. Darwin's great achievement was to look at the familiar practice of domestic livestock breeding by artificial selection, and realise that the same principle might apply in NATURE, thereby explaining the evolution of the whole of life: "natural selection", the "survival of the fittest". Hitler didn't apply NATURAL selection to humans. He was probably even more ignorant of natural selection than Ben Stein evidiently is. Hitler tried to apply ARTIFICIAL selection to humans, and there is nothing specifically Darwinian about artificial selection. It has been familiar to farmers, gardeners, horse trainers, dog breeders, pigeon fanciers and many others for centuries, even millennia. Everybody knew about artificial selection, and Hitler was no exception. What was unique about Darwin was his idea of NATURAL selection; and Hitler's eugenic policies had nothing to do with natural selection.
8. Mr J, you have been cruelly duped by Ben Stein and his unscrupulous colleagues. It is a wicked, evil thing they have done to you, and potentially to many others. I do not know whether they knowingly and wantonly perpetrated the falsehood that fooled you. Perhaps they genuinely and sincerely believed it, although other actions by them, which you can read about all over the Internet, persuade me that they are fully capable of deliberate and calculated deception. You are perhaps not to be blamed for swallowing the film's falsehoods, because you probably assumed that nobody would have the gall to make a whole film like that without checking their facts first. Perhaps even you will need a little more convincing that they were wrong, in which case I urge you to read it up and study the matter in detail -- something that Ben Stein and his crew manifestly and lamentably failed to do.
With my good wishes, and sympathy for the losses your family suffered in the Holocaust.
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