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From Darwin to Hitler: Does Darwinism Devalue Human Life?
Lecture by Richard Weikart

Formats: DVD

Item# V056
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In his book, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (2004), Richard Weikart explains the revolutionary impact Darwinism had on ethics and morality. He demonstrates that many leading Darwinian biologists and social thinkers in Germany believed that Darwinism overturned traditional Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment ethics, especially the view that human life is sacred. Many of these thinkers supported moral relativism, yet simultaneously exalted evolutionary "fitness" (especially intelligence and health) to the highest arbiter of morality. Darwinism played a key role in the rise not only of eugenics (a movement wanting to control human reproduction to improve the human species), but also euthanasia, infanticide, abortion, and racial extermination. This was especially important in Germany, since Hitler built his view of ethics on Darwinian principles. In the final chapter Weikart argues that Hitler was not amoral, but upheld a consistent ethic that rested on Darwinian foundations.

This lecture received 2nd Place in the Templeton/ASA Lecture Series on Science and Religion for Best Video Lecture.

In the lecture Professor Weikart focuses on the significant impact Darwinism has had on morals and ethics, especially the undermining of the sanctity of life. He outlines six implications of Darwinism for devaluing human life:

  • Human inequality
  • Moral relativism undermining human rights
  • Animal ancestry of humans
  • Denial of body-soul dualism
  • Human struggle for existence
  • Death as progress

Richard Weikart is an associate professor of modern European history at California State University, Stanislaus. He has lived in Germany over five years, including one year on a Fulbright Fellowship. He has published two previous books, including Socialist Darwinism: Evolution in German Socialist Thought from Marx to Bernstein (1999), as well as articles in German Studies Review, Journal of the History of Ideas, Isis, European Legacy, and History of European Ideas.

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