Posts Tagged ‘adolf hitler’

Hitchens and Grayling debate ‘Among The Dead Cities’

29/12/2013

FORA TV link

I recently placed this debate in “The Good” section of my three-part post of all of Hitchens’ formal television and radio debates, but now after a recent third viewing, I am wondering whether it should have gone in “The Great” section.  The late Christopher Hitchens, journalist, author, public intellectual and polemist, debates British philosopher and author A C Grayling on the latter’s book on the morality of deliberately aiming bombs at civilians during wartime within the context of World War II, Among The Dead Cities: Is The Targeting Of Civilians In War Ever Justified? [London: Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 2007] at the Goethe Institute, Washington on 20 April 2006.

Grayling’s argument

Tellingly, the title of Grayling’s book is derived from an Allied report at the war’s end regarding a suitable venue to hold the trials of Nazi war criminals.  While acknowledging that the Second World War was a “just war” against a truly evil enemy and the greatest mistake the Allies could possibly have made would have been to lose it, Grayling brushes aside the atrocities of the Axis that have attracted the most attention since the War’s conclusion and focuses on whether the Allies’ area bombing campaign against German and Japanese cities constituted a war crime under the guidelines set out at the post-war Nuremburg Trials.

Grayling even dismisses the argument that the Allies were justified in taking such action as a means of retaliation as it was the Germans who bombed the Allies’ civilians first.  Although he does not use the school yard retort in so many words, it is a rather apt summary of his position: two wrongs don’t make a right.  Just because the Nazis carried out a campaign of sterilisation, eugenics and genocide against peoples who were unfortunate enough not to be in their favour, the Allies would scarcely have been vindicated in taking such action against the Germans at the end of the war.

Grayling concludes that the Allies’ deliberate targeting of civilians on the enemy side by area bombing of Germany and Japan and the dropping of the atomic bombs by America on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not only a crime against humanity in moral terms, but that it did not even have the desired strategic effect of hindering the enemy war effort by destroying their workforce, supplies, munitions and lines of communication and shattering the moral of their civilian population so as to make their governments sue for peace or surrender  unconditionally.

Hitchens’ response

While Hitchens’ speech is not the kind of soaring and swirling grandstanding that we were used to from his debates on religion; repeated viewings reveal it to be among his very best.  His exposition of the Jewish-born/Protestant-convert Victor Klemperer’s diary of the Third Reich, I Shall Bear Witness, among other obscure tracts, reminds me of revealing the real joys of being a public intellectual, when commenting on the death of Susan Sontag, showing how committed, well-read and intelligent he was with his in-depth knowledge of texts that 99.9% of the population have never even heard of, much less have the time, energy or motivation to read:

Between the word “public” and the word “intellectual” there falls, or ought to fall, a shadow.  The life of the cultivated mind should be private, reticent, discreet: Most of its celebrations will occur with no audience, because there can be no applause for that moment when the solitary reader gets up and paces round the room, having just noticed the hidden image in the sonnet, or the profane joke in the devotional text, or the secret message in the prison diaries.  Individual pleasure of this kind is only rivalled when the same reader turns into a writer, and after a long wrestle until daybreak hits on his or her own version of the mot juste, or the unmasking of pretension, or the apt, latent literary connection, or the satire upon tyranny.

Although Hitchens broadly agrees with Grayling that the actions of the Allies were awful, as were some of their motives – they bombed the German cities firstly, because they could and secondly, to impress Josef Stalin whose Red Army was fast advancing on the Third Reich from the East and who could well have been the Allies’ enemy in a third world war once the second was out of the way – he stops short of calling the bombing campaign an atrocity or a war crime.  The Second World War was a truly exceptional example and Germany’s defeat had to be final, total, utter and annihilating.  There could be no repeat of what happened after 1918 with speculation about what might have happened if Germany had hung on a little longer and the Jews had not conspired against them.

Drawing on Klemperer’s diaries, Hitchens paints an astonishing image of the morning after the night of the bombing of Dresden (which, thanks to unusually favourable climate conditions “worked too well”), when Klemperer and his wife who were about to be shipped off to the death camps that very day, emerged from their shelters, saw that not one brick was piled on top of another, and so tore off the yellow stars from their clothing.

Hitler’s Willing Executioners?

Hitchens begins his speech by applauding Germany’s courage for facing up to its record during World War II and refers to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s controversial Hitler’s Willing Executioners, which argued that the Germans were genetically predisposed to carry out the Holocaust, as a “defamation” to the character of the German people.   He reviewed the book in conjunction with reporting on what sounded like an intellectual public raping of Goldhagen by a pair of older and wiser historians of the period shortly after the book’s publication:

Having immersed myself in this volume for a weekend, I am eager to ask one big question that cries to heaven for an answer.  It is this: Who on earth does Goldhagen think he is arguing with?  He comes to tell us there was a good deal of state- and church-sponsored anti-Semitism in German culture.  He adds that the Nazis made great use of Jew hatred in their propaganda.  He goes on to say that many Germans took part in beatings, killings, and roundups not because they were coerced but because they liked the idea.  He announces that not many Germans resisted the persecution of their Jewish countrymen.

Excuse me, but I knew this and so did you.  Moreover, the sarcastic phrase about “obeying orders” is not even a well-known explanation, only a well-known excuse.  All the way through Goldhagen’s presentation, which is one tautology piled on another, I wait to make my point.  And then the two big scholars present come to the podium with their comments, and I realize I have been wasting my time.

Sophomoric, meretricious, unoriginal, unhistorical, a product of media hype by Knopf (the book’s publisher), contradictory, repetitive, callow…  I’m just giving you the gist of what they said about Hitler’s Willing Executioners. It must have been quite an ordeal for Goldhagen, who looks about 12, to sit through this kind of thing from revered seniors.

Ouch.

Interestingly, Grayling too commented on the “questionable character of scholarship” that was Hitler’s Willing Executioners in Among The Dead Cities [p. 166].  He mentions he reviewed the book for the Financial Times when it was first published, although I have been unable to find it online.  However, I have found that of Richard John Neuhaus, which Grayling cites in the endnotes:

After Hitler and because of Hitler, six million fewer Jews remained. In the fifty years since, many Christians and some Jews have come to understand much more deeply the sources of what Rosenzweig terms the enmity and the bond between us.  The Jewish question remains because, thank God, Jews remain. In America, too, there are anti-Semites who propose solutions, if not a “final solution,” to the Jewish question.  They are and, please God, will continue to be a fringe phenomenon.  Much more important, we in America, Jews and Christians, have the singular responsibility and opportunity to work out a way of remaining together in mutual respect and unquestioned security.  For that common task we receive no help whatever from the incoherent, hateful, and dishonest tract that is Hitler’s Willing Executioners.

Terrorism by another means?

What really makes Hitchens’ blood boil – to the extent that it “disfigures” the book – is Grayling’s comparison of the Allied bombing and the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda; having spent the preceding four and a half years quarrelling with former friends on the Left that Osama Bin Laden lead a group of people who had a legitimate grievance against the United States for their misadventures abroad.  This is the “offending passage” from Among The Dead Cities in full (Hitchens quoted the first paragraph at the end of his opening speech):

A surprise attack on a civilian population aimed at causing maximum hurt, shock, disruption, and terror: there comes to seem very little difference in principle between the RAF’s Operation Gomorrah, or the USAAF’s atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York by terrorists on 11 September 2001.  And this latter, prescinding from differences in scale and drama of the target, is no different in turn from terrorist bombings carried out in Madrid by Basque separatists or in London by the IRA.  All these terrorist attacks are atrocities, consisting of deliberate mass murder of civilians to hurt and coerce the society in which they belong to.  To say that the principle underlying ‘9/11’, Hamburg and Hiroshima is the same is to say that the same moral judgement applies to all three.

No doubt these will be unduly provocative comparisons.  It can be pointed out that the Allied bombings were carried out in time of declared war, in which offensive comparisons are in effect a form of defensive operation, given that the enemy will seek to do the same if given an opportunity; whereas Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were perfidious attacks on unprepared targets, the first military, the second civilian.

This point is a good one, for there is indeed a difference here, though some will attempt to make it a debating point whether those who carry out terrorist attacks believe that they are at war and that their offence is in the same way a form of pre-emptive defence.  Very well: grant the difference; yet focus on the net effect.  In all these cases the centre-piece is an attack on a civilian population aimed at causing maximum hurt, shock, disruption and terror.  This is what these events have in common, whether in the midst of declared war or not, and so far as this core point is concerned, adjustments of fine moral calibration are at best irrelevant.  All such attacks are moral atrocities [pp. 278 – 279].

Grayling gave a lengthy account of his elaborative reply to Hitchens in the postscript to my paperback edition:

The 9/11 point is a different matter.  Those who have most belligerently opposed the comparison, such as Christopher Hitchens, are right to point out that whereas World War II area bombing occurred in the middle of a declared war between states whose military forces were engaged in combat to the death, the 9/11 attacks were acts of terrorism carried out not by one state against another but an egregiously nasty private organisation with no interest in anything other than the unrestrained furtherance of its agenda.  I grant this, and indeed all other differences, and acknowledge that there is no moral equivalence between Allied military endeavours against the Nazi and Japanese regimes, and the 9/11 attacks, both taken on their own inclusive terms.  Instead I argued that in one crucial respect – one respect only – there is a dismaying similarity between area bombing and terrorist bombings: namely, that they both seek to coerce a people by blowing up as many of them as possible and thereby terrorising and demoralising the rest.  In this single respect, all acts of mass murder are indeed morally equivalent: and their equivalence lies in their being great wrongs.  That was my point; and I adhere to it, because it is surely a profoundly educative one, since it allows one to make a simple but profound emotional connection between one’s horror at the 9/11 attacks in which 3000 people died in a single atrocity, to one’s horror at the deaths of ten and perhaps sometimes twenty times as many in each of the bombings of such places as Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  This way of grasping the purport of what area bombing meant, really meant, is vital to making a difference to how we behave and what we accept today in the conduct of conflicts.  There is nothing abstract or theoretical about the mass murder in which bombing consists: it is real and terrible, and anything that drives the point home has its place in the debate, for in the end the effect on victims, and the atrocity of the act, are indeed one and the same in all cases – in this one crucial, central respect [pp. 292 – 293].

I find it very difficult to take a side in this argument between Hitchens and Grayling; I can well understand both men’s point of view.  Ultimately, I am more sympathetic to Hitchens’ stance by the breadth of a cigarette paper and I am glad that Grayling ruled out the drawing of moral equivalences.  Yes, it was a truly awful thing that the Allies did to the Axis countries in World War II and I would be loathed to defend it for one moment.  However, we were fighting a truly awful enemy who would have visited the same devastation on us a thousand-fold given the opportunity and – as Hitchens pointed out in the debate – the only thing more awful than an Axis defeat would have been an Axis victory.

“Perfect weapons”

I am reminded of Sam Harris’ discussion of the philosophy of “perfect weapons” and the morality of collateral damage in The End Of Faith.  I have posted an edited version of the relevant passage in my previous post (before this post spirals even more out of control!), but in summary, Harris answers those on the Left like Noam Chomsky who compared the America to its enemies in moral terms with the philosophical device of a “perfect weapon”.  If there existed a “perfect weapon” that killed/impaired/destroyed only its intended military targets and did not cause any “collateral damage” by killing or injuring innocent civilians and destroying their homes, would America make use of such a weapon in waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq in the 21st Century?  Most certainly, it would.  Would America’s enemies in the Middle East use such a weapon?  Most certainly, they would not.  This is as clear and concise a distinction between moral intentions and sheer “body count” as I have ever found.

As Harris himself said in his 2007 debate against left-leaning journalist, commentator and author, Chris Hedges, when pressed by moderator Robert Scheer as to whether there was a “fundamental moral difference” between Islamist suicide bombing and the Allies’ tactics during World War II, that we could not fight war like we did in World War II.  We have learned the terrible lessons of such actions before “going casually onto the battlefield”.

Most certainly the Allied commanders in World War II (not to mention Nixon and Kissinger in the Vietnam War) would not have made use of “perfect weapons” to wage war against the enemy.  Neither would America’s and Israel Islamic foes in the 21st Century.  However, Bush and Obama most certainly would.

And that is a good thing.

Sam Harris on ‘Perfect Weapons’ and the morality of ‘Collateral Damage’

29/12/2013

EndOfFaithCoverMy next post will be an analysis of Christopher Hitchens and A C Grayling’s 2006 debate on Among The Dead Cities: Is The Targeting Of Civilians In War Ever Justified?.  The closing paragraphs of that post cite Sam Harris’ discussion of the philosophy of “perfect weapons” and collateral damage in The End Of Faith.   So that my post on the Hitchens/Grayling debate does not spiral out of control any more than it already has, I have posted an edited version of the passage below.  (H/T: Otto Spijkers and Nick Li on Invisible College Blog for typing out and publishing most of it, so I didn’t have to!)

The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror And The Future Of Reason [London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2006] pp. 142 – 147:

Perfect Weapons and the Ethics of “Collateral Damage”

What we euphemistically describe as “collateral damage” in times of war is the direct result of limitations in the power and precision of our technology.  To see that this is so, we need only imagine how any of our recent conflicts would have looked if we had possessed perfect weapons – weapons that allowed us either to temporarily impair or to kill a particular person, or group, at any distance, without harming others or their property.  What would we do with such technology?  Pacifists would refuse to use it, despite the variety of monsters currently loose in the world: the killers and torturers of children, the genocidal sadists, the men who, for want of the right genes, the right upbringing, or the right ideas, cannot possibly be expected to live peacefully with the rest of us.  I will say a few things about pacifism in a later chapter – for it seems to me to be a deeply immoral position that comes to us swaddled in the dogma of highest moralism – but most of us are not pacifists.  Most of us would elect to use weapons of this sort.  A moment’s thought reveals that a person’s use of such a weapon would offer a perfect window onto the soul of his ethics.

Consider the all too facile comparisons that have recently been made between George Bush and Saddam Hussein (or Osama bin Laden, or Hitler, etc.) – in the pages of writers like [Arundhati] Roy and [Noam] Chomsky, in the Arab press, and in classrooms throughout the free world.  How would George Bush have prosecuted the recent war in Iraq with perfect weapons?  Would he have targeted the thousands of Iraqi civilians who were maimed or killed by our bombs?  Would he have put out the eyes of little girls or torn the arms from their mothers?  Whether or not you admire the man’s politics – or the man – there is no reason to think that he would have sanctioned the injury or death of even a single innocent person.  What would Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden do with perfect weapons?  What would Hitler have done?  They would have used them rather differently.

It is time for us to admit that not all cultures are at the same stage of moral development. . .

Consider the horrors that Americans perpetrated as recently as 1968 [during the Vietnam War], at My Lai: . . .

(…)

This is about as bad as human beings are capable of behaving.  But what distinguishes us from many of our enemies is that this indiscriminate violence appalls us.  The massacre at My Lai is remembered as a signature moment of shame for the American military.  Even at the time, US soldiers were dumbstruck with horror by the behaviour of their comrades.  One helicopter pilot who arrived on the scene ordered his subordinates to use their machine guns against their own troops if they did not stop killing villagers.  As a culture we have clearly outgrown our tolerance for the deliberate torture and murder of innocents.  We would do well to realize that much of the world has not.

(…)

Any systematic approach to ethics, or to understanding the necessary underpinnings of a civil society, will find many Muslims are standing eye deep in the red barbarity of the fourteenth century.  There are undoubtedly historical and cultural reasons for this, and enough blame to go around, but we should not ignore the fact that we must now confront whole societies whose moral and political development – in their treatment of women and children, in their prosecution of war, in their approach to criminal justice, and in their very intuitions about what constitutes cruelty – lags behind our own.  This may seem like an unscientific and potentially racist thing to say, but it is neither.  It is not in the least racist, since it is not at likely that there are biological reasons for the disparities here, and it is unscientific only because science has not yet addressed the moral sphere in a systematic way.  Come back in a hundred years, and if we haven’t returned to living in caves and killing each other with clubs, we will have some scientifically astute things to say about ethics.  Any honest witness to current events will realize that there is no moral equivalence between the kind of force civilized democracies project in the world, warts and all, and the internecine violence that is perpetrated by Muslim militants, or indeed by Muslim governments.  Chomsky seems to think that the disparity either does not exist or runs the other way.

Consider the recent conflict in Iraq: If the situation had been reversed, what are the chances that the Iraqi Republican Guard, attempting to execute a regime change on the Potomac, would have taken the same degree of care to minimize civilian casualties?  What are the chances that Iraqi forces would have been deterred by our use of human shields?  (What are the chances we would have used human shields?)  What are the chances that a routed American government would have called for its citizens to volunteer to be suicide bombers?  What are the chances that Iraqi soldiers would have wept upon killing a carload of American civilians at a checkpoint unnecessarily?  You should have, in the ledger of your imagination, a mounting column of zeros.

Nothing in Chomsky’s account acknowledges the difference between intending to kill a child, because of the effect you hope to produce on its parents (we call this “terrorism”), and inadvertently killing a child in an attempt to capture or kill an avowed child murderer (we call this “collateral damage”).  In both cases a child has died, and in both cases it is a tragedy.  But the ethical status of the perpetrators, be they individuals or states, could hardly be more distinct.  Chomsky might object that to knowingly place the life of a child in jeopardy is unacceptable in any case, but clearly this is not a principle we can follow.  The makers of roller coasters know, for instance, that despite rigorous safety precautions, sometime, somewhere, a child will be killed by one of their contraptions.  Makers of automobiles know this as well.  So do makers of hockey sticks, baseball bats, plastic bags, swimming pools, chain-link fences, or nearly anything else that could conceivably contribute to the death of a child.  There is a reason we do not refer to the inevitable deaths of children on our ski slopes as “skiing atrocities.”  But you would not know this from reading Chomsky.  For him, intentions do not seem to matter.  Body count is all.

We are now living in a world that can no longer tolerate well-armed, malevolent regimes.  Without perfect weapons, collateral damage – the maiming and killing of innocent people – is unavoidable.  Similar suffering will be imposed on still more innocent people because of our lack of perfect automobiles, airplanes, antibiotics, surgical procedures, and window glass.  If we want to draw conclusions about ethics – as well as make predictions about what a given person or society will do in the future – we cannot ignore human intentions.  Where ethics are concerned, intentions are everything.

Gregory S Paul: ‘The Great Scandal: Christianity’s Role in the Rise of the Nazis, Parts I – III’

20/09/2013

NaziPriestsBeltBuckleFor several years, since my last spate of blogging in 2009 – 2010, I have been preparing a collection of essays on Christianity’s role in the rise of Fascism and National Socialism in order to exonerate atheism and secularism, whose names are repeatedly sullied by the faithful in order to deflect attention away from their own gross failings of morality and resistance to radical evil.

American physicist Victor Stenger’s excellent addition to the New Atheism cannon, God, The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist, briefly mentions Christianity’s complicity with Nazism in its chapter discussing human morality.  Stenger cites palaeontologist, researcher and author Gregory Scott Paul’s three articles that were published in Free Inquiry magazine about 10 years ago: “The Great Scandal: Christianity’s Role in the Rise of the Nazis.”  I have learnt a great deal from Paul’s articles and they have been instrumental in my research for my own essays on the topic.

The articles are available to view on Free Inquiry magazine’s website, although the format is not terribly reader-friendly.

Part I

Part II

Part III

I have transferred the text, including the photographs and captions, into Word Documents, which I have uploaded to this blog in PDF:

Part I – PDF

Part II – PDF

Part III – PDF

Enjoy and learn.

Premier Christian Radio Debate 13/08/11: MSP –v- Peter Harris – “Hitler’s & Stalin’s regimes”

14/08/2011

 

manicstreetpreacher goes for Round 2.

The second of my two recently recorded debates for Justin Brierley at Premier Christian Radio for his sceptics debate show, Unbelievable?, was whether atheism or Christianity was responsible for the so-called secular atrocities of the mid-20th century.

My opponent was Peter Harris, a teacher and a doctorate student of theology and apologetics who has a page on BeThinking.

Web access

Listen on demand from the Unbelievable? homepage

Download MP3 podcast

Hitler the Atheist

14/11/2010

You have probably have already seen it on other blogs, but I want to give my applause to Aussie YouTube auteur NonStampCollector’s latest Paint Brush masterpiece debunking the idea that the 20th Century’s most notorious mass-murderer was in any way motivated by his alleged lack of belief in the Christian God, as opposed to Zeus, Thor or Dionysius.

Watch out for the fabulous rundown of the various offences for which the Catholic Church has and has not excommunicated its members.

The video’s link contains the footnotes.

Richard Dawkins on David Berlinski

09/04/2010

DawkinsBerlinski

manicstreetpreacher presents the damning verdict on a pseudo-intellectual by a genuine one.

Further to my recent series of posts on the Intelligent Design creationist propaganda piece Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Mike Godfrey over at God3’s Blog quotes one of the film’s participants, David Berlinski.  In his response to the New Atheism, The Devil’s Delusion, Berlinski, a supposedly secular Jew, writes on the crimes of so-called atheist totalitarianisms in the 20th century:

Dawkins is prepared to acknowledge the facts while denying their significance.  Neither the Nazis nor the Communists, he affirms, acted because of their atheism. They were simply keen to kill a great many people. Atheism had nothing to do with it.  They might well have been Christian Scientists.

In the early days of the German advance into Eastern Europe, before the possibility of Soviet retribution even entered their untroubled imagination, Nazi extermination squads would sweep into villages, and after forcing the villagers to dig their own graves, murder their victims with machine guns.  On one such occasion somewhere in Eastern Europe, an SS officer watched languidly, his machine gun cradled, as an elderly and bearded Hasidic Jew laboriously dug what he knew to be his grave.

Standing up straight, he addressed his executioner.  “God is watching what you are doing,” he said.

And then he was shot dead.

What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing.

And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either.

That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society.

I can only assume that Berlinski had forgotten about the events of September 11, 2001 when he was writing this passage.  This was an outrage carried out by people who were thinking only too much of what heaven would think of them.  Hopefully, the more recent events on the Moscow tube will jog his memory.

Appealing to authority and credential inflation are common tactics of creationists and Intelligent Design proponents.  Expelled’s host, Ben Stein, went to great lengths to hold out Berlinski as an example of a smart guy who believed in Intelligent Design in order to give it some credibility.  However, all Berlinski succeeded in doing was to be a particularly obnoxious and unlikeable character, saying that Richard Dawkins is “a crummy philosopher” and “a little bit of a reptile”.

In an article reminiscing on an infamous book review for The New York Times in 1989 where he wrote, “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),” Dawkins had this to say about Berlinski:

Are there, then, any examples of anti-evolution poseurs who are not ignorant, stupid or insane, and who might be genuine candidates for the wicked category?  I once shared a platform with someone called David Berlinski, who is certainly not ignorant, stupid or insane.  He denies that he is a creationist, but claims strong scientific arguments against evolution (which disappointingly turn out to be the same old creationist arguments).  Together with the great John Maynard Smith and others, he and I were guest speakers at a debate organized by a prominent Oxford rabbi.  Maynard Smith spoke after Berlinski and, not surprisingly, he soon had the audience roaring with laughter as he lampooned Berlinski’s bad arguments.  But what amused me was Berlinski’s tactic for dealing with this mocking laughter.  He sprang to his feet, held up a reproachful open palm towards the audience, and said (approximately of course, I can’t remember the exact words): “No no!  Don’t laugh.  Let Maynard Smith have his say!  It’s only fair!”  Happily, the Oxford audience saw through this tactic of pretending to think the audience were laughing at Maynard Smith rather than with him.  And the rabbi, himself a devout creationist, afterwards told me he had been shocked at Berlinski’s duplicity.  By itself, this is too trivial an example to deserve the name wicked.  But it did make me wonder about Berlinski’s motives.  As I said, he is certainly not ignorant, stupid or insane.

After witnessing his performance in Expelled, Dawkins’ assessment of Berlinski is borne out all too well.

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled’: From Darwin to Hitler?

21/03/2010

Part Four of my analysis of Premier Christian Media’s screening and debate of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed examines the film’s claim that Darwin’s theory directly inspired Hitler and 20th century eugenics.

The final quarter of the film makes the outrageous allegation that Darwin’s work directly inspired Hitler and eugenics.   The host, Ben Stein, visits Darwin’s former home of Down House in Kent and his memorial at the London Natural History Museum.  He visits the Dachau concentration camp and Hadamar Clinic where he interviews the tour guide Uta George and Richard Weikart, Discovery Institute research fellow and author of From Darwin to Hitler.

I haven’t read Weikart’s book, but I listened to this lecture and was distinctly underwhelmed by the tenuous links made between the ancient idea of eugenics and Darwin’s theory.  Darwinism describes a scientific process for which there is ample evidence.  Whether we like its moral implication is irrelevant and Weikart is guilty of the naturalistic fallacy; confusing “what is” with “what ought to be”.  Weikart’s arguments rely heavily on some disgraceful quote-mining of Darwin’s work, more of which below.

Weikart also ignores a wealth of other social, economic and indeed religious factors that resulted in the rise of Nazism.  For excellent refutations of his thesis, I came across his radio debate against atheist Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, Hector Avalos, as well as Avalos’ extensive blog posts on Debunking Christianity here and here.

Towards the end of Expelled, Stein reads out the following passage which is often quoted by creationists from The Descent of Man, first published in 1871:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated.  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, 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.  Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

However, the passage in full shows that Darwin was deeply compassionate to the handicapped and was not in favour of any euthanasia programme:

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.

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused.  Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature.  The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with a certain and great present evil.

There are several other passages from Darwin that creationists mine in their attempts to show that he was immoral, but reveal quite the opposite when read in their true context.  In the post-screening debate (at 43 minutes on the podcast) I asked the panel a question that drew their attention to this distortion, adding that while Darwin was about as racist as anyone else in Victorian England, he was a passionate abolitionist of the slave trade.  Surprisingly, my comments drew nods of agreement from Steve Fuller.  I also added that I have read Hitler’s Mein Kampf for myself.  It contains not one reference of Darwin, evolution or natural selection, but talks rather a lot about his faith in Heaven and the Almighty as well as his theological hero, Martin Luther.

Alastair Noble made noises about how Darwin influenced Stalin.  This claim is straight off the Answers in Genesis website and was repeated by David Robertson in our second debate on Premier’s Unbelievable? last year.  The truth is that Stalin rejected Darwinism in favour of Lamarckism which lead to Lysenko’s insane programme to grow giant vegetables and deliver multiple harvests in one year, leading to the starvation of millions:

Mendeleyev’s “periodic system of elements” clearly shows how very important in the history of nature is the emergence of qualitative changes out of quantitative changes. The same thing is shown in biology by the theory of neo-Lamarckism, to which neo-Darwinism is yielding place.

- Stalin 1906, 304

Steve Fuller replied that Mein Kampf discussed “selection”.  However, Hitler was referring to artificial selection which humans have known about for centuries.  Dog breeding and pigeon fancying have more responsibility for Hitler than On the Origin of the Species.

There is widespread confusion over Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and “Social Darwinism”, which was coined by the Protestant anthropologist Herbert Spencer, who also came up with the term “survival of the fittest”.  Although still tarring Darwin’s good name, Hitler’s ethic is better described as “Social Darwinist”.

Irritatingly, many respectable scientists and historians have linked Darwin to Nazi Germany.  Sir Arthur Keith is often quoted by creationists as writing in Evolution & Ethics (1946) that Hitler was an evolutionist and was trying to create Darwin’s utopia based on the principles of eugenics, though Keith never showed which parts of Origins inspired Hitler.  Laurence Rees’ otherwise excellent study of the Final Solution, Auschwitz, was tarnished somewhat with the assertion that the Nazis’ ideology was “expressly Darwinian”, again without citing any primary sources in support.

The full original title of On the Origin of Species is infamously “Or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life”.  Again, creationists have argued that this is clear evidence that Darwin was in favour of a brutal struggle for survival where the strong would crush the weak.  However, as Richard Dawkins explained following the film’s release in an “Open Letter to a victim of Ben Stein’s lying propaganda”:

Darwin was using the word “race” in a very different sense from ours.  It is totally 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).

The Anti-Defamation League, an American Jewish pressure group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, issued the following statement against Expelled which is the first and last word against anyone claiming that Darwinism is in any way a link to eugenics or Social Darwinism:

The film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed misappropriates the Holocaust and its imagery as a part of its political effort to discredit the scientific community which rejects so-called intelligent design theory.

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.

Steve Fuller also argued that people who support the teaching of evolution also support abortion and euthanasia on the grounds that it will lead to a better version of humanity.  Again, I found this claim deeply offensive.  I have recently written that I am pro-choice on the grounds that the alternative is worse.  Abortion should be the last option.  Prevention is better than cure.  The answer is increased access to contraception and education as to its proper use.  I am not in favour of abortion because it is a quick and convenient method of wiping out Down’s Syndrome.

I can think of no better way to end these posts than with this compilation by YouTube auteur, Thunderf00t, that features Stein on a Christian TV network shortly after Expelled’s release making the appalling claim that “science leads to killing people”, juxtaposed with his own delusional fantasies about America needing to start World War Three in order to protect itself against Iran and North Korea.

P Z Myers couldn’t have phrased it any better:

What a vile little man.  I sincerely hope that his career is dead now … and that the rest of his life will be spent eking out speaking fees at Christian fundamentalist conventions, before audiences who will cheer him while dreaming of the day the Jews are exterminated or converted, bringing on Armageddon.

Right on, brother.

Now, a “call to arms” (in the strictly metaphorical, non-jihadist sense of the term) to all atheists, rationalists, humanists, secularists and everyone else who cares about truth in science and a proper education of school children which is free from religious dogma and presupposition: Let’s go to work.

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled’: Arguing from ignorance

21/03/2010

Part Three of my analysis of Premier Christian Media’s screening and debate of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed examines whether Intelligent Design has any genuine merit.

The film never sets out a definition of Intelligent Design.  The host, Ben Stein, makes noises about how teaching it to school children might be like teaching them the alternative theory of history that the Holocaust never happened, which is not what he wants.  But he fails to explain why ID is any more viable than Flat Earthery.

The closest the film comes to genuine science is some CGI sequences (which were were the subject of an unsuccessful copyright action by XVIVO having been lifted from the Harvard University DVD, The Inner Life of the Cell!)  showing the mindboggling complexity of the cellular “machinery” at work.  OK, what does that prove?  That molecular biology is enormously complex.  Cells wouldn’t always have been like that; they had to evolve from scratch the same as the larger organisms they comprise.

Atheist evolutionary biologist and blogwit par excellence P Z Myers explained during his lecture at the American Atheist International Conference 2009 (which I posted in my castigation of William Dembski’s Unbelievable? debate against Lewis Wolpert), that IDers and creationists falsely claim that Victorian scientists knew nothing about the inner workings of the cell: the sheer mind boggling complexity of the cell is a relatively recent discovery.  IDers are adamant that it will just take a few more years for the rest of the scientific community to catch up with their way of thinking and evolutionary theory as we know it will be no more.  As Myers pithily explained, “Dembski said that the bottom would fall out of Darwinism within five years…  seven years ago!”

In the post-screening debate, former schools inspector and lay Christian preacher, Alastair Noble, speaking in favour of ID was a thoroughly unpleasant character, shouting down the evolutionist members of the panel and making cheap, erm, “jokes”, which played well with the clap-happy God squadders in the audience.  I can understand why evolutionists refuse to share a platform with creationists after witnessing Noble’s attempts to put off the other members of the panel.

It really does worry me that people like Noble overtaken by their religious prejudices may ensure that junk-science will be taught to school children in the near future.  Steve Fuller, who at least had the courage to admit that the school board in the 2005 Kitzmiller -v- Dover District PA “Intelligent Design trial” which he testified as an expert witness for the Intelligent Design side, were using ID to get creationism into the science classroom by the backdoor.  They were really creationists who didn’t believe in ID; they just saw it as a convenient tool.  I’m certain that Noble sees it that way as well.

Noble kept insisting (loudly) that only Intelligent Design could account for abiogenesis since the only known source of new information was an external designer.  Intelligent Design, like the fine-tuning of the universe argument is simply Paley’s watchmaker analogy wrapped up in scientific jargon, usually ending with a whole lotta zeros after a decimal point.  It explains nothing since it only leads to another stage back in the infinite regress and only begs the question of who designed the designer.  It is a classic case of arguing by over-extended analogy.  The very language of Intelligent Design screams “argument from personal incredulity”.  Phrases like “irreducible complexity” are an inadvertent code for, “it’s too complex, we can’t understand it, therefore God did it”.

David Hume refuted the design argument 250 years ago on the grounds that we are taking our knowledge of how things for which we have direct personal experience are created, such as houses and watches, and applying this experience for things that we have no such equivalent personal experience, such as eyes and universes.

Intelligent Design is also fatally flawed in that it declares by fiat that a powerful but invisible designer is the only escape from staggering complexity and improbability.  What ID proponents singularly fail to answer is what is the complexity and probability of such a designer itself, let alone being responsible for the natural phenomena we see around us.  Surely this designer would have to be even more complex if it has the power to create all the things with which it is credited.   Therefore its existence would have to be even more improbable than the objects and organisms it is supposed to have created.

While Sue Blackmore was giving her opening statement, a heckler in the audience asked why no “skeletons” had been found to verify evolution.  I felt like bashing my head on the desk in front of me.  Clearly, there are certain memes in creationist circles that simply will not go away no matter how often they are refuted.  Such as:

  1. If humans are descent from apes, why are there still gorillas and monkeys alive today?
  2. Why have no transitional fossils been found?
  3. Why don’t we see apes giving birth to humans?
  4. Evolution is just a theory.
  5. Darwin inspired Hitler!

The fourth and final post of my analysis examines whether the last point has any credibility.

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled': Conspiracy? Cover-up? Expulsion?

21/03/2010

Part Two of my analysis of Premier Christian Media’s screening and debate of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed examines whether “Big Science” is suppressing the theory of Intelligent Design.

The film presents six ID proponents who claim that they lost their jobs and/ or university tenure for entertaining thoughts that involved an intelligent creator due to the evil atheistic evolutionary science elite.  However, this is a mere smoke and mirrors ploy by the ID crowd.  Scratching below the propaganda shows that the supposedly expelled scientists either did not loss their positions at all, or lost them for legitimate reasons.

Expelled alleges that Richard Sternberg lost his position at the Smithsonian Institute and the National Institute of Health at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NIH) after publishing a paper by Dr Stephen C Meyer of the Discovery Institute which mentioned Intelligent Design as a possible explanation of the origins of life on Earth in the peer-reviewed journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.  Stein says that Sternberg was “terrorised” and his life was “nearly ruined” following the incident that probed deeply into his religious views.

Nevertheless, this article from Skeptic magazine, as well as Sternberg’s page on Expelled Exposed, shows that Sternberg had in fact deliberately by-passed the publication process of the PBSW and went behind the backs of his colleagues by sneaking in Meyer’s shoddy paper which had previously been reviewed by scientists and had its claims firmly rejected.

Sternberg was in fact an unpaid associate – not an employee – at the Smithosian Institution (as opposed to “Institute”; Expelled doesn’t even get the names correct of those it libels!).  After the Meyer incident, Sternberg remained an employee of NIH and his unpaid position at the Smithsonian was extended in 2006, although he has not shown up there in years.  At no time was any aspect of his pay or working conditions at NIH affected.  He was never even disciplined for legitimate violations of PBSW or Smithsonian policy.  It is difficult to see how his life “was nearly ruined” when nothing serious happened to him.

This is a typical creationist tactic: to give the false impression that evolutionary scientists are dogmatically opposed to new ideas.  The film sets up a false impression of two opposing viewpoints, when in fact there are many, many differing interpretations of the evidence.  Just witness the heated disagreements between Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould over whether evolution happened gradually or in fits and starts.

During debate following the first screening Susan Blackmore, psychologist, atheist and expert on Meme Theory reminisced about when she was convinced that paranormal forces were real following her own “out of body” experience.  She pursued the possibility obsessively in the face of her detractors, but had to accept that her experience was neurologically induced after many painful years of facing the evidence, or indeed the lack of evidence.

Keith Fox, a theistic evolutionary biologist from Southampton University also hauled the film up on its bogus portrayal of science as atheistic and that many devout Christians have no trouble reconciling their faith with Darwin.

Contrary to the impression of theists, scientists do not religiously adhere to Darwinian evolution.  If you demanded fifty grand from the editor of Nature to pay for a peer-reviewed paper that falsified evolution or amended it significantly, he would probably give it to you in used twenties.  Physicist Victor Stenger summed it up best during his debate against Christian apologist William Lane Craig in 2003:

Most scientists share my view.  Are we being too sceptical?  Are we being dogmatically unwilling to entertain the possibility of a personal creator God?  I don’t think so.

There are many examples in the history of science that demonstrate its willingness accept ideas that challenge conventional wisdom.  But the data must require it.  In the early twentieth century the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics revolutionised some our most basic concepts about the nature of reality.

I think most scientists would be thrilled if evidence were founded for previously undetected materials and forces.  Think of all the funding opportunities that would open up.  I would come out of retirement.

But even if that were to happen, I doubt that the world that was then being uncovered would bear any resemblance to the fantasies from the childhood of humanity that constitute traditional religious belief.

Amen.

For further edification regarding the true stories behind the other five “expelled”, see the following pages on Expelled Exposed:

Guillermo Gonzalez: The Discovery Institute co-author of The Privileged Planet didn’t have such a stellar career after all and his output in recent years fell short of the tough requirements for tenure at American Universities.

Caroline Crocker: Never mind “mentioning” Intelligent Design in one of her classes, Crocker received multiple complaints from students at George Mason University for teaching demonstrably false creationist material.  But she was never even fired for clear breaches of academic and contractual obligations and there is no evidence that she was “blacklisted” from other institutions.

Robert Marks: Robert Marks’ “Evolutionary Informatics Laboratory” website – touting intelligent design – was originally hosted on a Baylor University server. Concerned that the material on the website misleadingly suggested a connection between the intelligent design material and Baylor, administrators temporarily shut the website down while discussing the issue with Marks and his lawyer. Baylor was willing to continue hosting the website subject to a number of conditions (including the inclusion of a disclaimer and the removal of the misleading term “laboratory”), but Marks and Baylor were unable to come to terms. The site is currently hosted by a third-party provider.

Pamela Winnick: No evidence was presented in Expelled that Winnick was blacklisted as a journalist, and there’s evidence to the contrary.  She may have been criticised for her shoddy journalism or for advocating bad science – Jeffrey Shallit describes her book as “not a fair, reliable, or objective look at the battles between science and religion,” for example – but it is insupportable and absurd to characterise such criticism as blacklisting.

Michael Egnor: The Alliance for Science, a citizen’s group in Virginia, sponsored an essay contest for high school students on the topic “Why I would want my doctor to have studied evolution”, to highlight the important role of evolution in the medical sciences.  Egnor posted an essay on an intelligent design blog in response, claiming that evolution was irrelevant to medicine.  This was more a statement of Egnor’s ignorance about evolution than a reflection on evolution’s place in medicine.

The next post will ask whether Intelligent Design has any genuine merit as a scientific theory.

Premier Christian Media’s screening of ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’ – A Review

21/03/2010

manicstreetpreacher is dismayed to announce the arrival in the UK of the Intelligent Design racket.

As previewed, a few weeks ago, I attended the first screening and debate by Premier Christian Media of the Intelligent Design propaganda piece Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed at Imperial College London on 27 February 2010.  Accompanying me were a friend who happens to be a secondary school science teacher and Evil Burnee, Paul S Jenkins, who has also posted a write-up of the event.

The Saturday, 20 March 2010 edition of Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? airs the first post-screening debates and broadcasts extracts.  Speaking for ID was Dr Alastair Noble, former schools inspector and lay Christian preacher Steve Fuller, Professor of sociology at the University of Warwick.  Speaking against ID were Keith Fox, Professor of Biology at Southampton University and Chair of Christians in Science and Susan Blackmore, Visiting Professor of Psychology & Memetics, University of Plymouth.

My question to the panel about Expelled’s claim that Darwin’s ideas influenced Hitler’s ideology is at 43 minutes on the podcast.

The second post-screening debate can be downloaded from the Unbelievable? features page. The speakers were Dr Alastair Noble and Dr Vij Sodera, Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons advocating Intelligent Design and Prof Keith Fox, Biology, Southampton University and Dr Thomas Dixon, History of Science, Queen Mary London University who advocate Darwinian evolution.

My treatment of the film and debate will be divided in four separate posts:

  1. Expelled overview – The remainder of this post will give some general thoughts about the film and post-screening debate.
  2. Conspiracy?  Cover-up?  Expulsion? – Are atheistic evolutionary scientists aka “Big Science” deliberately suppressing a fledgling theory that has genuine merit?
  3. Arguing from ignorance – This post answers whether ID is a credible scientific theory in the resoundingly negative.
  4. From Darwin to Hitler? – My fourth and final post counters Expelled’s claim that there is a link between Origins and Dachau.

Film review

Judging by the laughter and applause from the audience, the screening was attended mainly by religious believers.  In my personal experience, religious people will laugh and applaud anything and there was a depressing level of laughter and applause for this piece of creationist trash.

At 90 odd minutes, it’s not overly long.  But at least half the running time is taken up by constant cuts to other images as if to help the audience understand the points being made: Western gunfights, people being beaten up and, most insultingly, images of concentration camps and the Berlin Wall, which Richard Dawkins dubbed a “Lord Privy Seal” (LPS).  These grew extremely tedious before the halfway mark.

In the post-screening debate, American-born Warwick University sociologist, Steve Fuller, tried to justify the LPS as being no different to a Michael Moore film.  Faint praise indeed.  But since, Fuller then went on to take a cheap shot at David Attenborough as having such a clear evolution bias he was ruining TV science programming, I don’t hold the man’s opinion in a very high regard.

There was also the utterly ham-fisted presentation of atheist scientists and commentators.  Dan Dennett, P Z Myers, Christopher Hitchens (who has one line) and Peter Atkins came off reasonably well.  However, Michael Shermer and Michael Ruse’s interviews were butchered in a manner that would embarrass YouTube’s cassetteboy.

For example, Ruse attempts to explain that one of the theories of the origins of life is the theory proposed by the Scottish chemist, Graham Cairns-Smith, that organic life was preceded by a strange and intriguing world of replicating patterns on the surfaces of crystals in inorganic clays.  This cuts to a voiceover of the film’s host, Ben Stein, incredulously asking whether we have abandoned science fact and have strayed into science fiction, and there is an irritating LPS of a wild-eyed fortune teller exclaiming, “Crystals!”  As with all creationist debates, the object of the exercise is not to prove anything scientific whatsoever, but to discredit the evolutionary scientist in front of the cameras.

Similarly, when a representative from one of the academic institutions is interviewed trying to explain why one of the “expelled” lost their position, Stein colours the mood against him in narration by saying, “We couldn’t get him away from his script”.

Richard Dawkins’ interview is the worst.  He is made up to look like a mad scientist with his normally neat hair looking like Doc Brown from Back to the Future.  While Stein is stepping out of his black cab en route to the interview, Dawkins is shown being powdered by the film’s production team (Dawkins’ web and recording guru, Josh Timonen wrote afterwards that Dawkins never wears make up for public appearances) and is then made to wait as Stein turns up late.  He is shot in dim light.  In his appearances before the main interview he is accompanied by ominous music.  Sadly, there is worse to come.

After Dawkins reads out the (in)famous passage at the start of Chapter 2 of The God Delusion (“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction…”), Stein asks him if that’s what he really thinks of God.  Dawkins gives a suspiciously curtailed, “Yep”.  I wonder what they left on the cutting room floor.

Dawkins then attempts to explain the circumstances he would consider an intelligent designer being responsible for the creation of life on Earth.  In an attempt to give ID its best hypothetical shot, Dawkins answers that it could have been an extra-terrestrial intelligence, but of course we would then have to ask where that intelligence came from and so on; the infinite regress would continue until an evolution-type natural process explained how the first alien intelligent designer arose.

Naturally, the interview is cut so as to make Dawkins look as stupid as possible; as if he is seriously suggesting that an alien spaceship landed on Earth and planted the first seed of life.  Stein says in narration that Dawkins is bending over backwards to avoid bringing God into the equation: he would rather it be little green men than the Almighty.

Dawkins gave the true story behind the interview at his address to the American Atheists Conference 2009, the relevant extract of which is below.  For the video, the scene from the film itself is replaced by dialogue cards so as not to risk a copyright action from the producers.

For about two-thirds of the film, Expelled maintains a straight face that ID is a scientific proposition and a credible alternative to evolution.  However, for the last 10 minutes, the curtain is well and truly raised to reveal the film’s true agenda to the sound of The Killers’ gospel-tinged “All These Things That I’ve Done”: to bring God into science classrooms so we can all praise him for his wondrous creation.  Permit me just this one LPS:

Following the debate, Expelled’s UK DVD distributer, Mark Haville (who incidentally has posted a 5 star review of the Expelled DVD on Amazon UK without stating his interest!), of NPN Videos read out a prepared statement which hinted at a campaign in the coming weeks and months to lobby and legislate in order to bring Intelligent Design to the fore.  May [Spinoza’s] God have mercy on us all.

In the meantime, I can only recommend sites like Expelled Exposed, which was set up by Eugenie Scott of the American National Center for Science Education to refute the film’s claims and protect the reputations of the people and institutions misrepresented in the film.  There are also plenty of “alternative versions” knocking around the torrent pages with voiceover narrations and subtitles correcting the lies.

The next post examines whether there is any truth behind Expelled’s claim that “Big Science” is unjustly suppressing ID.


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