Evolution and Intelligent Design: June 2008 Archives

I was looking at Ron Bailey's critique of Expelled, and I noticed a pretty strange argument against something mathematician David Berlinski says in the film. Here is the relevant paragraph:

And Nazism? In the film, the mathematician David Berlinski says, "Darwinism is not a sufficient condition for a phenomenon like Nazism, but I think it was a necessary one." Berlinski is suggesting that scientific materialism undermines the notion that human beings occupy a special place in the universe. If humans aren't special, goes this line of thinking, then morals don't apply.

I haven't seen the film, so I can't comment on how it uses Nazism in this way. I would actually insist that Darwinism is neither necessary nor sufficient for a phenomenon like Nazism (although I suspect Darwinism is actually necessary for a phenomenon exactly like Nazism, because it was Hitler's misuse of Nietzsche and Darwin that served as the actual basis of some of his most important claims about Aryan superiority).

But I'm struggling to understand Bailey's evaluation of this. Berlinski is saying that Darwinism doesn't automatically like to something like Nazism, but you couldn't have Nazism without Darwinism. Bailey's summary of that claim is that Berlinski thinks scientific materialism guarantees the view that there are no legitimate moral claims. This seems not to summarize Berlinski's view but the view that Berlinski denies. Berlinksi says you don't automatically get abuse like what the Nazis did just because you accept Darwinism. Therefore, he doesn't think you have to deny morality to be a Darwinist, the very claim Bailey attributes to him. He denies that it's a sufficient condition but insists that it's necessary. Why does Bailey then attribute to him the view that it's a sufficient condition? That's what he had just quoted Berlinski as denying.

Then he goes on to provide a much more helpful critique of the view Berlinski does admit to holding:

But people through the millennia have found all sorts of justifications for murdering each other, including plunder, nationalism, and, yes, religion. Meanwhile, insights from evolutionary psychology are helping us understand how our in-group/out-group dynamics contribute to our disturbing capacity for racism, xenophobia, genocide, and warfare. The field also offers new ideas about how human morality developed, including our capacities for cooperation, love, and tolerance.

There are lots of ways people do awful things. Nazism based it on misreadings of Darwin and Nietzsche, but people use other things too. So Darwinism isn't necessary for the kinds of things the Nazis did. As I said, that ignores what I think Berlinski meant, which is that Nazism actually did base its views on Darwinian-sounding claims, and thus Darwinism was the actual basis of Nazism. But the more important point is that Bailey here does seem to understand what a necessary condition is. He finds some things similar to Nazism that don't have a Darwinian basis. So Darwinian views aren't necessary for something vaguely like Nazism in their effects.

So if he understands what a necessary condition is in order to provide that critique, what did he think he was doing when he summarized Berlinski's view as if he'd said Darwinism is a sufficient condition for something like Nazism, right after quoting Berlinksi as saying the opposite?

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