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troubleinharlem's avatar

Would it be a valid argument to say that the holocaust was a product of evolution?

Asked by troubleinharlem (7951 points ) January 20th, 2011

I hope that this question doesn’t offend anyone – if it did, I’m sorry. Dx

Anyway, if you believe in evolution, it still stands – I don’t, but I was thinking about it today.

Natural selection means the survival of the fittest, and Hitler believed that he had to get rid of the Jews for the master race, right? So wouldn’t that just be natural selection, but all sped up?

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50 Answers

bunnygrl's avatar

There was nothing, NOTHING natural about what hitler did honey. Nothing.

troubleinharlem's avatar

@bunnygrl : Touche.

I guess that settles it! xD

WasCy's avatar

Murder and genocide as natural selection? You’re misunderstanding one concept or the other.

Mikewlf337's avatar

How the hell is that natural selection? Where did you come up with such a thing?

absalom's avatar

The extermination of the Jewish people had nothing to do with how ‘fit’ they were to ‘survive’.

So no.

troubleinharlem's avatar

@Mikewlf337 : No need to curse at me.
@WasCy : Well, I suppose that Hitler thought that it was.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@troubleinharlem Look a little deeper into the history around this. He went after a lot of different groups for a lot of different reasons. (And I hope you can duck and cover)

iamthemob's avatar

NOOOOOO!!!!!!!! ;-)

Social Darwinism at its worst results in eugenics. This is eugenics, an insidious form of artificial selection which I don’t believe should be considered as part of any concept of “evolution.”

I’ve heard argue, though, that artificial selection is evolution as evolution, at its base, is genetic change over time. Under that definition, there’s an argument that indeed this would be evolution. I don’t agree.

Selection, natural selection in particular, are mechanisms that result in evolution. Evolution itself is undirected. Attempting to direct it in this sense will alter evolutionary courses – but it is not evolution itself.

troubleinharlem's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe : I wish that they would stop answering, now, because I get it.

@iamthemob : Okay, okay, I see what my professor was saying now. He said something about eugenics, but I wasn’t clear, and I suppose that I mixed up the artificial selection with the natural selection. Can you explain why you don’t agree with it?

@bunnygirl : Actually, yours wasn’t sharp. Yours was just fine. :D

bunnygrl's avatar

@troubleinharlem oh no!! I’m sorry honey, I didn’t mean that to sound so sharp. I know you didn’t mean to offend (you even said so) but your question hit a nerve, felt a bit like I was slapped really hard actually. Apologies honey, it was a good question (any question that starts a discussion is always a great question I think, I love debates) just very emotive, which is why so many responses, so fast. Even all these years later, people feel, and feel very deeply. It was a very dark time in history, that should never be forgotten <hugs> xx

absalom's avatar

@troubleinharlem

I suppose that Hitler thought that it was.

I’m no Jack Gladney, but I suspect Hitler did not believe in the rhetoric he employed to justify his genocide. That whole ‘master race’ business was the means, not the end.

(Barring eugenics.)

iamthemob's avatar

@troubleinharlem – an easy, easy mix up. ;-)

We answer not for you, but for the world.

God…I’m self-important. ;-)

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Mikewlf337's avatar

@troubleinharlem If that was natural selection then the Jewish Race would have been extinct. There are still Jews around the world so It was not natural selection. I think it was silly to think to actually think that it was natural selection.

troubleinharlem's avatar

@Mikewlf337 : If you didn’t notice, I figured that out by looking at @iamthemob‘s answer. Even if you thought that it was silly, there were better ways for you to communicate that across to me. Understand?

963chris's avatar

I think this notion would boil down to one’s definition of nature thus natural selection (as well as evolution). In the post-modern era of thought, there are many arguments that science + technology are now inextricably part of the ‘natural’ pathwath or phenomena; thereby, natural selection as well. I think the myth of nature has long disappeared along with ideas of ‘the noble savage’ + all things related.

WasCy's avatar

@Mikewlf337

Natural selection doesn’t dictate extinction of any race or species. All it means is that mutations occur in a species that cause speciation because of the new species’ ability to thrive in a new or modified environment. The fact that humans evolved from earlier primates that also evolved into other primates doesn’t mean that any of those species “had to” become extinct.

Seelix's avatar

Hitler was a sick, sick guy who unfortunately had a whole lot of power that he used to screw the world over with his crazy ideas. There’s no way the Holocaust can be seen as natural selection – one insane German dude with a hate on for Jews doesn’t have the right to choose who should live and who should die.

~~ What about slavery? Could we then say that only the strong survived that? ~~

Mikewlf337's avatar

@WasCy The Nazis targeted all Jews. If the holocaust was natural selection then natural selection would have targeted all Jews. That would have rendered Jews extinct.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@troubleinharlem I didn’t cuss you out. I said how the hell is that natural selection. I never heard anyone associate the holocaust with natural selection. So no I don’t understand.

Smashley's avatar

Not really, but kinda yes, but no.

Natural selection is about the characteristics of those most able to survive and procreate. In that sense, had the Jewish and Romani bloodlines been totally destroyed and the people been wiped out, you could call it natural selection, because it would mean that they weren’t resilient enough to survive the more twisted aspects of the social dynamics of the human race. It is “artificial selection” in one sense, since they were particularly targeted for political reasons, not because of some actual genetic inability to reproduce, (which is the only meaning of “fittest” in “survival of the fittest”) But it is also “natural selection” because there isn’t a thing in the world, man-made or not, that can’t be called “natural.” Some people are evil (as we call it), and others are easily led. This seems as natural as anything. Just like a plant could go extinct because beetles find it really tasty, a people can go extinct because other people just don’t like them, and they weren’t “fit” enough to survive the consequences.

This isn’t an indictment of the theory of evolution by natural selection, it’s just another part of it. Some organisms survive, and some don’t. There is no “progression” in evolution, no direction, only change. Good and evil doesn’t factor into it. The holocaust can certainly said to be evil, but that is an ethical assessment, which isn’t a part of natural selection. The genetic make up of the species is different than it would have been had the holocaust not occurred. As a species, we are different than we would have been. Not better or worse, necessarily, just different. To express ethics as another part of evolution, we did evolve to the point of understanding the dangers of allowing power-hungry madmen to inflame the masses and do great evil.

Whenever people tie the holocaust into the theory of evolution, and conclude that belief in evolution must be equally evil, they are being entirely blind. Perhaps Hitler did have a notion that he was improving the species, but his factors for this selection were entirely incorrect. “Race” is barely real anyway, and it is certain that if you wanted to genetically improve the species by means of murder, you would do individual assessments, rather than kill people for the vagaries of ethnic background. Not that that’s justifiable, it’s just more inline with the rhetoric of a “master race.”

Please please please don’t think I’m justifying murder, or dismissing natural selection. If anything, the most important development of the human race that came from the holocaust was our mutual recognition of the potential for evil to be perpetrated on massive scales, and each person’s responsibility to every other person in the world to ensure that such a horror never happens again.

Ramble ramble. Hope I expressed myself properly (which is rare). To conclude: every factor that changes how well people survive and reproduce is a part of evolution. In the case of the holocaust, the pressure of Nazi-ism created a mass die-off, but as a species, it was defeated, and certain ethical, legal, political, and military constructs have arisen to strengthen the species against factors similar to Nazi-ism. In a sense, we “evolved” past such bullshit. We remain vigilant against dictatorships and maintain compassion for all members of the human species.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Since part of our evolutionary adaptation is a trade-off between competition and cooperation, no. It is, however, the end product of the warped pseudo-science known as “Social Darwinism”.

CaptainHarley's avatar

People who misinterpreted evolution and natural selection for their own purposes caused the Holocaust, not the theories themselves. If men can find a way of distorting great ideas to their own purposes, they will.

iamthemob's avatar

A theory, much like a gun, rarely does any harm itself.

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6rant6's avatar

@troubleinharlem Certainly, some redistribution of the gene pool happened with the holocaust.

I think you went wrong when you used the phrase, “survival of the fittest,” though. That was either poor judgment or wantonly inflammatory.

Darwin saw “adaptation” as a process in which creatures evolved to fit into ecological niches. Human beings have transcended that in our ability to rationally decide on how to reshape our niches. This would be one – human beings,not “nature”, decided that the environment should be unwelcoming to Jews, Catholics, Intellectuals, the mentally impaired, people with dark skin…

Other examples would be the one child policy in China, the decision by various religious leaders to encourage procreation for creation’s sake, and the founding of Botany Bay Colony. Each of these changed at least local genetic pools by imposing rules that supplanted nature’s own.

963chris's avatar

So what exactly is nature?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

No, it wouldn’t be a valid argument. I think you are misunderstanding what evolution is – which is too bad, because if you don’t believe in something, you should know what it is, first.

lillycoyote's avatar

What you talking about, that notion is not new and there’s nothing natural about it. What your talking about is an ideology, a social theory and practice known as “eugenics” and it is an evil that has been dead and buried for the most part, for a good long time. “Eugenics is the self-direction of human evolution” was “motto” and was on the logo of the International Eugenics Conference held between 1912 and 1932. Read the Wikipedia article on Eugenics and you will see that what you are talking about is very old territory. It is a way of thinking that that led to incredible amounts misery and suffering including the Holocaust. It is an evil, brutal and, thankfully, wholly discredited and abandoned way of thinking. So no, it’s not a valid argument and the debate about it, among decent, civilized people as opposed to fringe racists and anti-semites, been over for about 60 years.

963chris's avatar

isnt the science + industry of genetic engineering headed in a eugenic-direction though? or mebbe there’s some other euphemism that buries its attachment to morality + capital?

crisw's avatar

As others have pointed out, there are two sides to this question- the social side (Social Darwinism and all of the evils it contains) and the scientific one.

From a purely scientific standard (and looking at hideous actions in such a way is difficult), if Hitler’s actions changed the prevalence of gene alleles in any of the populations he decimated, then evolution did occur. This was hardly evolution by “natural selection,” as that is based on competitive fitness in an environment. Nor is it really artificial selection, as that works towards a goal and Hitler’s mass killings were essentially random as to whom in the targeted population got killed.

What Hitler’s slaughter likely did was create a “genetic bottleneck” which almost certainly resulted in the loss of some genetic material in the population. This is evolution, even though it was likely harmful to genetic integrity.

cockswain's avatar

This is actually an interesting concept. Glaciers, flooding, volcanic activity, and meteors have played a role in natural selection. So…would a bomb blast be an example of natural selection? It would have similar effects as the natural disasters.

iamthemob's avatar

@cockswain

I feel like there’s a semantic issue here – it would “play a role in” but it wouldn’t “be an example of” natural selection. It would simply change the environmental pressures, etc., that “drive” selection processes.

cockswain's avatar

So, the issue would be a bomb, holocaust, manufactured virus, etc…are ‘unnatural’ selective pressures? So it is ‘unnatural selection’?

Thinking out loud, not trying to put words in your mouth.

iamthemob's avatar

The problem for me is that we’re talking about events that take out portions of the population all at once – natural selection is about characteristics that are inherited because they benefit or don’t limit an organisms ability to survive.

So a bomb isn’t really something that you can develop a characteristic to “survive.” A manufactured virus might be something that would end up leaving only those with an immunity – but there’s a difference between “selection” and “catastrophes.”

963chris's avatar

@cockswain: thats exactly what i was trying to clear up earlier. its all based upon definitions of the folowing (which evidently havent been agreed upon at all):

nature
(un)natural selection
evolution
eugenics

maybe someone can draw a diagram or define these as the premise from which to debate?

cockswain's avatar

There are definitely examples of other species killing other species, which we do term “natural selection.” For example, if H. sapiens killed off H. ergaster, we term that natural selection.

So, if a species kills portions of itself, is that not natural selection?

crisw's avatar

@963chris

OK- three of them-

Natural selection- The action of environmental factors upon genetic variation in organisms. This leads to beneficial alleles becoming more prevalent in the population. Artificial selection has the same results in that it increases allele frequencies, but this is due to selection for reasons not having to do with adaptation.

Evolution- Change in allele frequency in a population over time.

Eugenics- The controversial attempt to “better” human populations by restricting the breeding of “unfit” individuals.

963chris's avatar

@crisw: BRAVO. good good indeed. now we are getting down to business. perhaps we should have added in social darwinism as well. now its a matter of the holocaust being a product of X or being X itself be it evolution, genetics, natural selection, unnatural selection or social dawinism…

SavoirFaire's avatar

As has been noted, and as @troubleinharlem has already accepted, what the Nazis did was eugenics rather than natural selection. But it is worth noting that eugenics is actually at odds with natural selection.

Eugenicists begin with a particular result in mind and manipulate conditions in an attempt to achieve it. Natural selection begins with a particular set of conditions and mindlessly generates a result. Eugenicists have a fixed ideal, whereas natural selection has no ideal at all. Because of this, the fact of gene mutation always threatens to ruin the plans of eugenicists. No eugenicist can guarantee the perpetual absence of any particular allele, even if all those who are revealed to have it are subject to extermination.

Furthermore, eugenics and natural selection are at odds regarding diversity. Diversity is antithetical to eugenics insofar as eugenicists organize themselves around a specific ideal, but diversity is central to natural selection insofar as adaptability is based on variations among the members of a species. Eugenicists see natural selection as creating a race of mongrels, but natural selection makes eugenics projects such as that of the Nazis lead to a race more vulnerable to total annihilation.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@crisw It is worth noting that there are two dimensions to eugenics. First, there is the positive/negative axis. Positive eugenicists encourage breeding among those they deem fit, whereas negative eugenicists discourage breeding among those they deem unfit.

Second, there is the voluntary/involuntary axis. Voluntary eugenicists want people to decide for themselves whether or not they are fit enough to breed, whereas involuntary eugenicists want the decision to be made by some sort of overseer.

Thus there are at least four ways to be a eugenicist: voluntary positive, voluntary negative, involuntary positive, and involuntary negative. These are not all mutually exclusive, however, as the Nazis demonstrated. They were involuntary negative eugenicists about the groups they wanted to eliminate (to put it rather mildly), but voluntary positive eugenicists about the groups they favored.

963chris's avatar

@SavoirFaire: Good analysis indeed & very interesting points (this is all bringing up some interesting writing scenarios)! It could be argued though that eugenicists are aiming at reshaping the natural order + thwart the path of evolution (trying to statistically keep mutations + outliers from occuring within certain tolerances or p-values). Once there has been a redefinition of the gene pool, then natural selection could take course again yes?

6rant6's avatar

@963chris Just for the record, Darwin defined “Nature” as “the aggregate of physical forces.”

Obviously he was writing at a time when we hadn’t accepted the inevitable influence man would play in the shaping of weather and water quality. It seems to me that people use “natural” to mean a return to a condition of purity that existed before man interfered. It’s a bit tautological and not very useful; even if we disappeared tomorrow, the planet would show our influence for a long time.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@963chris Exactly: the Nazis were trying to thwart evolution (though their rhetoric confused the issue). I suppose they’d have been okay with some variation within the gene pool, but I’m not sure they would have wanted to allow natural selection to take its course once all the “undesirables” had been eliminated. They wouldn’t really have had a choice, of course, since human actions are included in the set of circumstances upon which natural selection operates; but it could lead to a resurgence of the very alleles they were attempting to eliminate.

mattbrowne's avatar

The problem is that the Nazis were not the fittest. Compare the number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners with Nazi Nobel Prize winners for example. Nazism didn’t survive in the long run as a mainstream movement because it goes against evolution. Altruism is a major feature and survival tool of human beings.

iamthemob's avatar

@mattbrowne

“Survival of the fittest” isn’t really about the fittest. It’s more of a misconstrued synonym for natural selection – “those most fit for the environment are most likely to survive” rather than “development in reaction to environment results in the fittest species.”

Sadly, “survival of the fittest” is probably one of the catchphrases that allowed Darwinism to transition to Social Darwinism.

incendiary_dan's avatar

I don’t think Nobel Prize winning is much of a measure when war mongers continually get the prize for peace. Just saying.

mattbrowne's avatar

@iamthemob – I was referring to the words used by @troubleinharlem. It is possible to define fitness in an evolutionary context as the ability to adapt to change. But you are correct, when people hear the word fitness they usually have something else in mind.

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