Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort did the intellectual discourse surrounding religion a few -- but not many -- favours when they took Brian Sapient and Kelly O'Connor from the Rational Response Squad and spanked them on national TV.
The debate, in which both sides exchanged some silly arguments over the question of whether or not God exists -- an insipid topic for a formal debate -- revealed Sapient and O'Connor for the vapid, pretentious and self-righteous thinkers that they are, and spoke droves about those who have chosen to fall into lock-step behind them in their so-called "Rational Response Squad".
Now Cameron and Comfort are replicating the feat -- this time by embarking upon an endeavour that reveals themselves for the vapid, pretentious and self-righteous thinkers they truly are.
There has been a great deal of discussion about Cameron and Comfort's plan to distribute 175,000 copies of The Origin of Species on college and university campuses.
This, however, isn't any ordinary edition of Darwin's benchmark work. Rather, this edition features a special foreword written by Comfort outlining what they describe as Darwin's "undeniable" links with Adolph Hitler, Nazism and the Holocaust.
In a way, they are right. But only half right.
Comfort's writing is expected to suggest -- if not outright state -- that Darwin's theories were directly responsible for the Holocaust and the eugenics program carried out under Hitler's Third Reich.
Certainly, many people get offended when it's suggested that there are links between Darwinism and Nazism. This is an insipid outrage. As unpleasant as it is to recognize it, there very much are links between Darwin's theories, the body of facts that supports it, and Nazism.
Where Comfort goes awry is in distorting the scope and context of those links.
In carrying out his eugenics program in particular -- an endeavour formulated feverishly in Hitler's mind -- Hitler relied heavily on Darwin's writings. Hitler was known to have been fond of this particular passage from The Descent of Man:
"With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized 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 civilized 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."In Expelled, Ben Stein (who is Jewish) uses this same passage in his attempted indictment of Darwin.
The problem is that this particular reading is incomplete. The following paragraph is extremely enlightening as to what Darwin's thoughts on the matter really were:
"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, even at the urging of 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 an overwhelming present evil. Hence we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected, by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage."History shows us that Hitler didn't share this particular opinion.
Hitler's partial reading of Darwin's work -- taking only what was useful to him for his purposes, and discarding outright anything that is very telling. In fact, it shows us that the links between Darwinism and Nazism are actually born of the misuse of Darwin's theories.
Hitler's partial reading of Darwin's work is also reminiscent of the "Christian" who accepts only portions of the Bible that justify hatred of non-Christians and homosexuals, and discards entirely the benevolence and compassion of Christ's message.
It's on this note, however, that perhaps those who support Darwin and his theories ought to consider responding (somewhat) in kind. Perhaps distributing an annotated edition of the Holy Bible outlining how, just as an incomplete and misguided reading of Darwin's theories can be used to support historical atrocities such as the Holocaust, incomplete and misguided readings of the Bible have been used to justify the oppression of women, religious minorities, and homosexuals.
Anyone bold enough to formulate such a response would be doing the intellectual discourse surrounding religion and evolution a big, big favour.