Evolution and the Holocaust

A remarkably similar title to Darwin's classic

These sometimes get linked because they both have their deniers. I am ignoring those silly people who actually blame the holocaust on Darwin.  Here I want to compare them as phenomena supported by immense amounts of converging evidence.

In “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution”, Richard Dawkins compared the denial of evolution to the denial of the history of the Roman civilisation. There is good evidence for both and yet some people seem to think it is OK to deny evolutionary science while accepting the existence of the Roman civilisation.

Same with the Holocaust. As Dawkins pointed out the evidence for evolution is as good as, if not better, than that for the holocaust. But there are still people who accept the Holocaust as a fact while denying evolution. ( actually I did come across someone the other day who disagreed with Dawkins because while he found the evidence for evolution convincing nhe denied the evidence for the Holocaust. Almost a mirror image).

No observers!

Recently I raised this with two local evolution deniers. If they were consistent surely the arguments they used against evolution could also be used to deny the Holocaust. While they squirmed both justified their position by appealing to first person observers.

” I do believe in the holocaust . . . . to imply that the nature of the evidence for each [evolution and the Holocaust] is just the same is merely stupid. People in my generation know/knew people who actually saw the holocaust.  . . . . . The holocaust was directly witnessed, so your comparison of the two is just bizarre.”


“I have yet to see anyone who was a first hand witness to evolution, the reason is that evolution takes billions of years. The reality is that the two cases [evolution and the Holocaust] are not on par epistemically and the insistence they are is exaggerated.”

Yes, I know, the theologically inclined tend to be evasive on this issue. They are afraid to admit they accept evolutionary science because a significant proportion of their brethren actually reject it. Hence the waffle. On the other hand they don’t want to be seen treating the Holocaust the same way so they attempt to deny the similarity. But consider therclaim that people “observed the Holocaust” but no one has “seen evolution.”

The fact is, no one “saw the Holocaust” as such. They saw events. Any specific “observation of the holocaust by an individualrelates to limited specific events. A specific concentration camp. A specific atrocity. We can build up a theory of the complete Holocaust, its history, its overall actions, reasons for launching it, its effects etc., by the normal scientific procedure. This involves research into documents, interviews, etc., as well as testimony of individual witnesses to specific events. It will lead us to considering the Holocaust to be a fact. However, our account is inevitably not the exact or complete truth. It gets closer to the truth as we accumulate more evidence, etc.We have a “theory of the Holocaust,” overwhelmingly supported by facts. No one actually “saw the Holocaust” but we can be sure it happened.

Same with evolution. Creationist attempts to divide evolution into micro and macro- evolution is like saying: “Yes we can find evidence that a particular atrocity was perpetrate in Byelorussia or Poland. That a particular camp existed, or that certain individuals observed certain things. But that this doesn’t prove there was a Holocaust! That the German government and leaders had a policy to eradicate Jews, Homosexuals, Russians and Communists”.

Overwhelming evidence for both

When we look at all the evidence, uncover the documents, conduct interviews, etc., we establish the Holocaust as a fact. Yet there will always be a few deniers who admit to existence of a particular concentration camp, specific murders, etc., but still deny the Holocaust.

Similarly no one has ever “seen evolution.” But researchers have observed specific evolutionary events. We have seen the evolution of new enzymes by bacteria (eg. nylase). There is the work where changes in populations of bacteria over about 20 years has been followed. We have seen changes in populations isolated over decades. We have the evidence of Dawin’s Finches in the Galapagos Islands (see How and Why Species Multiply: The Radiation of Darwin’s Finches). And so on. These are examples of evolution, facts which fit into the overall unifying theory of evolution. Just as the atrocities observed by individuals are facts fitting into the overall concept of the Holocaust.

Just as with the documentary evidence for the Holocaust we have the genetic record of species. This provide an amazing amount of information on the evolutionary history of life. And of course there are the fossils.

So – no one has “observed evolution” or “observed the Holocaust.” Any individual has only seen bits and pieces. But we can be sure that the Holocaust did occur just as we are sure that evolution did occur and is occurring.


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20 responses to “Evolution and the Holocaust

  1. I think the religious orders hoisted their own petard on evolution with their reaction to swine flu. For example, Catholic masses changed the way they served the Eucharist. It seems the clerics believed in mutating vectors enough to curtail their communal condiments.


  2. Just as an aside for the next time someone relates Darwin as a motivation for Hitler and the Final Solution, drop them this tidbit:

    From Churchill’s autobiography in 1930 titled My Early Life

    “From November to May I read for four or five hours every day history and philosophy. Plato’s Republic it appeared he was for all practical purposes the same as Socrates; the Politics of Aristotle, edited by Dr. Welldon himself; Schopenhauer on Pessimism; Malthus on Population; Darwin’s Origin of Species: all interspersed with other books of lesser standing.”

    So we know for sure that Churchill read Darwin: does that mean that Hitler’s nemesis (and the actions he undertook) was inspired by Darwin? It MUST be so if the same reasoning is to stand consistent! What a conundrum for those who promote Hitler as ‘Darwinism’ in action.


  3. “I think the religious orders hoisted their own petard on evolution”

    Please… please… ! Most theologians are quite happy with evolution. Ken spends too much time debating with fundies and had got a jaded view of the Christian church as a whole as a consequence!.. but good Biblical allusion their 😉


  4. Maxanon – I disagree. My attitude to religion is determined by far more than interaction with a few fundies like Glenn and Matt.

    I am particularly conscious of theological attitudes towards science. While it is true that most theologians “accept” evolutionary science two facts remain:

    1: A huge proportion of Christians (something like 40% in NZ) reject evolutionary science. It doesn’t surprise me that they are out of step with theologians becuase that is true on many issues – eg god concepts – the lay Christian still as an anthropomorphic picture rejected by most theologians.

    2: I find even the more pro-science theologians actually don’t accept evolution completely or philosophically. They still try to retain a place for their gods and for “purpose” which truly are just not there in a basic evolutionary science account. They do not accept the philosophical lessons of evolution.

    Consequently we hear people giving their gods an initiating role or a guiding role. We hear theologians arguing quite strongly for “design” – especially the “fine tuning” argument while rejecting (in words) “intelligent design.”

    We also find theologians falling into the trap of slandering real science by calling it “scientism’ when things don’t go their way. And finally they to a man (yes they are mostly men) promote this naive concept of methodological naturalism vs philosophical naturalism and limitations of materialism or naturalism. All, of course, motivated by their need to retain, or mark out, a place for their own wares.


  5. I have to agree with Ken here max.

    There is a massive disconnect between “most theologians” and “most christians”.

    Most theologians doesn’t seem to recognise this, so you get absurdites like M&M’s theological critique of the atheist billboards or that sort of Dawkins tourrettes that seems to develop in some.


  6. Oh, and flu viruses are indeed a pretty good marker on how deep some people’s objections to evolution goes.

    The latest round IDism holds that functions that require multille mutations to evolve are so close to impossible as to make no difference. Until just those mutations might have been enough to make H5N1 infect humans, a Republican congress and GW Bush (who had said ‘both sides’ should be taught in school etc) introduced public health measures to stop the spread of the disease and funded research into what to do it did mutate.


  7. All, of course, motivated by their need to retain, or mark out, a place for their own wares.

    It’s a good gig.
    The priest collects the cold, hard cash and the flock collect the mumbo-jumbo.

    Aspirin works just as well as prayer and aspirin.


  8. And the 3rd Kiwi’s post of the thread…
    So…. PZ says that Darwin’s finches prove evolution! Well, call me ignorant if you like… but what did they evolve into please? (I expect the answer to include new functionality and/or increased complexity in this new species.)


  9. Ross – what is this PZ?

    Perhaps you should reread my post. You sound just like the Holocaust denier who complains:

    “Yes that massacre in Byelorussia occurred. We have the witnesses. But there is no evidence for the Holocaust! The massacre wasn’t the Holocaust!”

    What we saw with the finches is a change in beak function to accomadate the different food source. An example of natural selection in practice and observed.


  10. Oops, sorry, thought we were on Pharyngula for a moment!


  11. Ken, one quick question: You’ve referred to me as an “evolution denier.” Not just someone who lacks belief, but a denier.

    Care to cite some proof? It’s just that I notice you said this after, at my own blog, I specifically pointed out to you that I wasn’t denying anything. You’re not lying, are you?



  12. It’s not a matter if belief, Glenn. Given the overwhelming converging evidence for current evolutionary science, at least as good ad for the Holocaust, do you accept the findings of the science? If not, why do you accept that the Holocaust happened?


  13. Well, call me ignorant if you like… but what did they evolve into please?

    I dare not touch it.
    It’s perfect just the way it is.
    No, really!
    Ross, do you think you could do another one like this for your thinking on climate change too?
    It’s sig-worthy.


  14. @Ross The finches in question evolved from a common ancestor species into the various sub-species we see today. This ancestor species was likely blown to the island group during a storm, or hitched a ride on a floating log, or some such. This small population spread across the islands, and over time the species diversified through the process of natural selection to develop, among other things, differing beak shapes to take advantage of the differing food sources on the islands.


  15. I think Ross is after evidence of a crocofinch.


  16. Agreed, that is quite likely. And in retrospect I would reword my explanation. The last bit smacks a bit of intentional design, rather than random beneficial mutations being favoured.


  17. OK, so just to be clear, you called me an evolution denier, and then wehen I asked for proof of this denial you offered. None. Thanks. i just wanted to make sure I had everything clear before I called you a liar. It’s a nasty habit you have there, Ken.

    OK, that’s all I wanted to check. Bye.


  18. Get back in your tree, Glenn. No one is identified in this article. No specific person is accused of anything or labeled.

    As for your own beliefs – that surely is up to you, not me. And you can easily clarify your position, if you choose.

    Just make a simple statement. Do you accept modern evolutionary science? Yes or no?

    Whichever way it’s no skin off my nose.


  19. Just make a simple statement. Do you accept modern evolutionary science? Yes or no?

    (…Time passes…)


  20. Hello (: I know I’m a little late in reading, but I’m doing a bit of research on the Holocaust & was wondering if you had any other good books to reccomend? I’ve been to my local library & the selection there was less than disappointing.


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