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The steady flow of publications considering the way scientists interacted with the administration of the Nazi regime in Germany reveals some interesting cross-currents. It is well known that scientists who were out of step with the regime, particularly Jewish scientists, either emigrated (like Einstein) or ended up collaborating. Very few found it possible to operate independently of their political masters. Medical scientists have been previously considered in this blog (2008 - here), anatomists (2010 - here) and physicists have been the subject of a book-length study (2012 - here). For those tracing the ideological roots of the Nazi movement, one essential ingredient appears to be Social Darwinism: the application of Darwinian mechanisms to human society to understand change and to inform policy. However, there are some historians who demur, and say that Hitler was not a Darwinian. Chief among these is Robert Richards, whose new book is about to be published: "Was Hitler a Darwinian?" by University of Chicago Press. This divergence of thinking is actually significant in itself and worthy of our attention, especially as we approach the 70th anniversary of the ending of WWII. It is important to know what motivated the Nazis and it is important to reflect on the way the Nazis used science and politicized education - for they were world leaders in both.
Hitler's evolutionary ethic underlay or influenced almost every major feature of Nazi policy (source here)
The paper that addresses these issues directly is by Richard Weikart. He identifies six points of discussion and develops a multi-faceted argument that we cannot understand Nazi policy without recognizing the backdrop of Social Darwinism.
"While examining these lines of evidence, I will highlight the ways that Nazi racial thought was shaped by Darwinism (defined as biological evolution through the process of natural selection). [snip] These six points - derived from the view that humans and human races evolved and are still evolving through the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection - profoundly impacted Nazi policy. They formed the backdrop for eugenics, killing the disabled, the quest for "living space," and racial extermination." (p.538)
We cannot follow all issues covered in the paper, but will select some key topics that inform the conclusions. It is important to recognise that the Nazis saw themselves as mainstream thinkers - in their own eyes they were not a lunatic fringe! This needs to be understood when their thinking about the superiority of their own race is considered.
"[E]ven today some scholars are still loathe to entertain the idea that key elements of Nazi ideology could have been in harmony with the thinking of leading German scientists. Indeed the Nazi embrace of Darwinism in their racial ideology demonstrates the influence of science on Nazi ideology. Nazi racial ideology was largely consistent with the scholarship on race taught at German universities. This makes even clearer why so many German anthropologists and biologists supported Nazi racism - they were already committed to it before the Nazis came to power." (p.539)
It is also important not to think that this is a single issue discussion, and other factors are not relevant. The Nazi worldview has numerous elements, and we must not make the mistake of setting up a polarised straw-man analysis.
"I need to stress from the outset, however, that Nazi racial ideology was not derived exclusively from Darwinism or evolutionary biology. Gobineau - who wrote before Darwin published Origin of Species - contributed the idea that the Aryan race was superior to all other races. He also claimed that racial mixing produced deleterious effects, leading many racial thinkers, including the Nazis, to oppose miscegenation. Hatred of the Jews had a long history predating Darwin and has nothing to do with Darwinism. Also, Mendelian genetics played a role in debates over racial ideology - especially about policy relating to miscegenation - within the Nazi regime. However, in the decades preceding Hitler?s rise to power, many German racial theorists had synthesized Gobineau, Mendel, and antisemitism with social Darwinism. Nazi racial theory generally embraced this synthesis." (p.540)
In Hitler's writings, he makes it clear that racial mixing is not a good idea, because it violates evolutionary principles. His arguments invoke the concepts of selection, fitness, the struggle for survival which are all drawn from Darwinism.
"In the struggle for daily bread all those who are weak and sickly or less determined succumb, while the struggle of the males for the female grants the right or opportunity to propagate only to the healthiest. And struggle is always a means for improving a species' health and power of resistance and, therefore, a cause of its higher evolution." (p.541)
The Nazi regime sought to influence young people via educational programmes and youth movements. The curriculum made connections between what was taught and its social and political implications. Darwinism was explicit, and the textbooks followed suit.
"In 1938 the Ministry of Education published an official curriculum handbook for the schools. This handbook mandated teaching evolution, including the evolution of human races, which evolved through "selection and elimination." It stipulated, "The student must accept as something self-evident this most essential and most important natural law of elimination [of unfit] together with evolution and reproduction." In the fifth class, teachers were instructed to teach about the "emergence of the primitive human races (in connection with the evolution of animals)." In the eighth class, students were to be taught evolution even more extensively, including lessons on "Lamarckism and Darwinism and their worldview and political implications," as well as the "origin and evolution of humanity and its races," which included segments on "prehistoric humanity and its races" and "contemporary human races in view of evolutionary history." (p.542)
Weikart continues by looking at the Nazi leaders in academia and in political life, and in the racial propaganda literature they produced. One of the training pamphlets he quotes gives a clear overview of the message people were expected to absorb and which was reinforced by all the leading German scientists of the day..
"The opening pages explained that the central concepts underlying racial ideology are hard heredity and racial inequality. Then it claimed that racial inequality has come about because evolution proceeds by struggle. Different races simply do not evolve at the same pace, so they are at different levels. The authors then asserted that the three main human races - European, Mongolian, and Negro - were subspecies that branched off from a common ancestor about 100,000 years ago. They argued that races evolved through selection and elimination, and the Nordic race became superior because it had to struggle in especially harsh conditions. Throughout this pamphlet the terms "higher evolution," "struggle for existence," and selection are core concepts that occur repeatedly." (p.550)
The conclusions appear to be compelling. Those who are seeking to draw a line between Darwinism and the Nazi worldview have a hopeless task. This is how Weikart summarises his findings:
"Nazi racial ideology - and the many policies based on it - were profoundly shaped by a Darwinian understanding of humanity. Certainly many non-Darwinian elements were synthesized with Darwinism: Aryan supremacy, antimiscegenation, antisemitism, and many more. Nonetheless, Nazi racial ideology integrated all these factors into a worldview that stressed the transmutation of species, the evolutionary formation of the human races, the need for advancing human evolution, the inevitability of the human struggle for existence, and the need to gain Lebensraum to succeed in the evolutionary struggle." (p.552)
This is not an issue without relevance for societies today. Germany in the 1930s was no cultural backwater. They were confident they were building a worldview on rigorous science, affirmed by scholars across the world as well as in their own country. However, this worldview shaped the values held by the people: on ethics, on the worth of human life, and on their aspirations. There are people today who are seeking to build a worldview on evolutionary concepts. They are seeking to influence the educational processes in their own countries, and are creating a culture where dissent is treated as a betrayal of science. Their counsel is wide open to disasters similar to those faced by the Third Reich. We all need to review our personal worldview and to have answers for questions like: What is truth? What is ethical? Who is my brother? What is the worth of human life? What is worth struggling for?
The Role of Darwinism in Nazi Racial Thought
German Studies Review, 36(3), (October 2013): 537-556 (pdf here)
Abstract: Historians disagree about whether Nazis embraced Darwinian evolution. By examining Hitler's ideology, the official biology curriculum, the writings of Nazi anthropologists, and Nazi periodicals, we find that Nazi racial theorists did indeed embrace human and racial evolution. They not only taught that humans had evolved from primates, but they believed the Aryan or Nordic race had evolved to a higher level than other races because of the harsh climatic conditions that influenced natural selection. They also claimed that Darwinism underpinned specific elements of Nazi racial ideology, including racial inequality, the necessity of the racial struggle for existence, and collectivism.
Images of Neanderthal Man have changed over the years, but there has been a reluctance to portray them as our near-cousins. Neanderthals have been treated as a separate species within the Homo family, and usually described as slow and clumsy, with a limited capacity for creative thinking. The evolutionary context is typically presented in terms of Modern Man's superiority, so that when Homo sapiens migrated from Africa into Europe, it was the Neanderthal population that died out. However, does the evolutionary approach provide the appropriate framework for understanding these events? Recent discoveries suggest that Neanderthals do not fit the descriptions found in the textbooks and the media, and that the evolutionary agenda is actually a negative influence. The presuppositions and perspectives of the evolutionists are proving to be systematically wrong. This blog draws attention to three research papers that document "surprising" findings - i.e. the conclusions run counter to evolutionary expectations.
A reconstruction of how lissoirs, made of deer ribs, could have been used to prepare hides to make them more supple, lustrous and impermeable. The natural flexibility of ribs helps keep a constant pressure against the hide without tearing it. The bottom half of the figure illustrates how the downward pressure ultimately results in a break that produces small fragments like three of the reported bones. (Image copyright Abri Peyrony & Pech-de-l'Aze, larger image can be sourced here)
Specialised bone tools are documented for African humans prior to their migrations into Europe, but these are limited to pointed bone tools. Then, after entering Europe, the human population started using smooth shaped tools made from deer ribs. The new research reports that these smooth shaped tools were used by Neanderthals prior to the migrations of Homo sapiens.
"[The tools ] are similar to a tool type well known from later modern human sites and still in use today by high-end leather workers. This tool, called a lissoir or smoother, is shaped from deer ribs and has a polished tip that, when pushed against a hide, creates softer, burnished and more water resistant leather. The bone tool is still used today by leather workers some 50 thousand years after the Neandertals and the first anatomically modern humans in Europe." (Source here)
No one has doubted that Neanderthals used animal skins for coverings, belts, footwear and for dwelling utilities. The new research implies that the skins were worked with tools and that artefacts were produced using more significant mental and manual skills. Also, the question arises: who learned from who?
"The bones reported here demonstrate that Middle Paleolithic Neandertals were shaping animal ribs to a desired, utilitarian form and, thus, were intentionally producing standardized (or formal) bone tools using techniques specific to working bone. These bones are the earliest evidence of this behavior associated with Neandertals, and they move the debate over whether Neandertals independently invented aspects of modern human culture to before the time of population replacement." (source here)
Of course, technologies can be invented independently, and that may be relevant in this case. But anthropologists do tend to favour cultural traits being passed from the originators to later practitioners. Neanderthals, having a less rich materials culture, have been presumed to be 'less fit' by Darwinists.
"The idea that technologies or traditions passed from Neanderthals to humans has been raised before, says Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum in London. "For example, it is not clear which population first started the tradition of burial of the dead." Joao Zilhao at the University of Barcelona in Spain, meanwhile, has argued that the fashion among early humans for wearing pendants of animal bone and teeth originally came from Neanderthals. He says he has no problem, in principle, with humans learning new tool technologies from our extinct cousins. But in general, most researchers - including Stringer and McPherron - think that the bulk of any cultural exchange passed the other way, from humans to Neanderthals." (Source here)
The second research paper has the title: "Neanderthal medics? Evidence for food, cooking, and medicinal plants entrapped in dental calculus". We have been brought up to think of Neanderthals as hunter/gatherers, but with an emphasis on hunting. Did Neanderthals do anything more than pick edible berries? The answer appears to be yes. The new research has found dramatic evidence of Neanderthals cooking and eating plant foods for nutrition and also imbibing plants for medicinal use.
"[We have identified] material entrapped in dental calculus from five Neanderthal individuals from the north Spanish site of El Sidron. Our results provide the first molecular evidence for inhalation of wood-fire smoke and bitumen or oil shale and ingestion of a range of cooked plant foods. We also offer the first evidence for the use of medicinal plants by a Neanderthal individual. The varied use of plants that we have identified suggests that the Neanderthal occupants of El Sidron had a sophisticated knowledge of their natural surroundings which included the ability to select and use certain plants." (Source here)
An alternative explanation for this dental calculus data has been proposed by Buck and Stringer (2013). They write: "Here we offer an alternative hypothesis for the occurrence of non-food plants in Neanderthal calculus based on the modern human ethnographic literature: the consumption of herbivore stomach contents." Apparently, several human groups regard eating the stomach contents of animals as a desirable practice. Of course, eating chyme (partly digested plant food) is a likely occurrence for carnivores, but there are some questions about how medicinal plants were present in sufficient quantities to leave a signature in dental calculus.
The third research finding is evidence of a tumor in a rib from a Neanderthal skeleton said to be more than 120,000 years old. The tumour is described as a fibrous dysplastic neoplasm. Fibrous dysplasia is a rare type of benign tumor found in the ribs and other bones of modern humans.
"Human paleontologist Fred Smith of Illinois State University [. . .] says that, while he is not surprised by the existence of a Neanderthal tumor of this sort, the finding "underscores in some ways the fact that these Neanderthals basically [had] the same kind of biology that we have and they [were] subject to the same kind of growth and developmental processes, even abnormal." "It is important to know that the very same kind of change associated with this tumor is something that we share with Neanderthals," agrees Monge. "That has a very, very deep history within the human lineage and very much ties us - in terms of disease pathological processes - to Neanderthals."" (Source here)
These three research findings are just part of an on-going journey of discovery that Neanderthals are our human cousins, and they do not belong in a story of the origins of humanity. Rather, they are a chapter in the history of humanity. Interestingly, one of the co-authors of the fibrous dysplasia paper is David Frayer, who has championed the true humanity of Neanderthals for much of his career.
"If David Frayer has his way, the word "Neanderthal" will one day no longer be an insult. For some 25 years, Frayer has fought against the old view that Neanderthals, the human ancestors who populated Europe and some of the Middle East between 35,000 and 200,000 years ago, were a lesser race that lost the evolutionary war. The Kansas University professor of anthropology has argued that Neanderthals were more closely related to today's humans than people realized." (Source here)
In May of this year, Frayer wrote a challenging article for the New York Times, from which the following excerpt is taken:
"But in the last 10 years there has been a major reassessment of the Neanderthals, and it turns out they share a lot of the behavior and capabilities of people in Europe today. This revolution in the way academics think about Neanderthals arises from discoveries in archaeology, re-evaluations of their anatomy and revelations about their genetic makeup.
The most amazing is the extraction of nuclear DNA sequences from Neanderthal remains, which show that Europeans derive up to 4 percent of their genes uniquely from Neanderthals. Some 80 gene sequences come directly from Neanderthals and include regulators of smell, vision, cell division, sperm integrity and smooth muscle contraction.
One gene we share with Neanderthals is FOXP2, part of the gene complex associated with language production. We know variants of this gene in modern people cause language dysfunction and it was long assumed Neanderthals had a non-modern form. This was partly based on the general assumption that Neanderthals were not like us - and some argued that Neanderthals lacked the ability to produce the essential vowels of language - "a," "e" and "u." New anatomical work refutes this, and the evidence from FOXP2 shows that Neanderthals had the exact genetic sequence found in fully vocal moderns." (Source here)
The "long assumed" perspectives and the "general assumption" about Neanderthals derive from evolutionary theory and the desire for a story of human evolution. Neanderthals have long been part of the story that gets presented to children, students, the public and the intelligentsia. But evolutionary theories about Neanderthals have been tested and found wanting. They are not helpful for structuring thought about human history. What is needed now is an atmosphere of academic freedom to propose alternative hypotheses to explain the data associated with the Homoremains. For too long, Darwinism has had an unhealthy influence in anthropology. For the sake of science in general, this hegemony must be broken.
Neandertals Made the First Specialized Bone Tools in Europe
Marie Soressi, Shannon P. McPherron, Michel Lenoir, Tamara Dogandzic, Paul Goldberg, Zenobia Jacobs, Yolaine Maigrot, Naomi Martisius, Christopher E. Miller, William Rendu, Michael P. Richards, Matthew M. Skinner, Teresa E. Steele, Sahra Talamo, Jean-Pierre Texier
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 27, 2013, vol. 110 no. 35, 14186-14190 | doi: 10.1073/pnas.1302730110
Abstract: Modern humans replaced Neandertals ~40,000 y ago. Close to the time of replacement, Neandertals show behaviors similar to those of the modern humans arriving into Europe, including the use of specialized bone tools, body ornaments, and small blades. It is highly debated whether these modern behaviors developed before or as a result of contact with modern humans. Here we report the identification of a type of specialized bone tool,lissoir, previously only associated with modern humans. The microwear preserved on one of these lissoiris consistent with the use of lissoirin modern times to obtain supple, lustrous, and more impermeable hides. These tools are from a Neandertal context proceeding the replacement period and are the oldest specialized bone tools in Europe. As such, they are either a demonstration of independent invention by Neandertals or an indication that modern humans started influencing European Neandertals much earlier than previously believed. Because these finds clearly predate the oldest known age for the use of similar objects in Europe by anatomically modern humans, they could also be evidence for cultural diffusion from Neandertals to modern humans.
Neanderthal medics? Evidence for food, cooking, and medicinal plants entrapped in dental calculus
Karen Hardy, Stephen Buckley, Matthew J. Collins, Almudena Estalrrich, Don Brothwell, Les Copeland, Antonio Garcia-Tabernero, Samuel Garcia-Vargas, Marco de la Rasilla, Carles Lalueza-Fox, Rosa Huguet, Markus Bastir, David Santamaria, Marco Madella, Julie Wilson, Angel Fernandez Cortes and Antonio Rosas.
Naturwissenschaften, August 2012, Volume 99, Issue 8, pp 617-626 (pdf here)
Abstract: Neanderthals disappeared sometime between 30,000 and 24,000 years ago. Until recently, Neanderthals were understood to have been predominantly meat-eaters; however, a growing body of evidence suggests their diet also included plants. We present the results of a study, in which sequential thermal desorption-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (TD-GC-MS) and pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (Py-GC-MS) were combined with morphological analysis of plant microfossils, to identify material entrapped in dental calculus from five Neanderthal individuals from the north Spanish site of El Sidron. Our results provide the first molecular evidence for inhalation of wood-fire smoke and bitumen or oil shale and ingestion of a range of cooked plant foods. We also offer the first evidence for the use of medicinal plants by a Neanderthal individual. The varied use of plants that we have identified suggests that the Neanderthal occupants of El Sidron had a sophisticated knowledge of their natural surroundings which included the ability to select and use certain plants.
Fibrous Dysplasia in a 120,000+ Year Old Neandertal from Krapina, Croatia
Janet Monge, Morrie Kricun, Jakov Radovcic, Davorka Radovcic, Alan Mann, David W. Frayer.
PLoS ONE, June 2013, 8(6): e64539 | doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064539
Abstract: We describe the first definitive case of a fibrous dysplastic neoplasm in a Neandertal rib (120.71) from the site of Krapina in present-day Croatia. The tumor predates other evidence for these kinds of tumor by well over 100,000 years. Tumors of any sort are a rare occurrence in recent archaeological periods or in living primates, but especially in the human fossil record. Several studies have surveyed bone diseases in past human populations and living primates and fibrous dysplasias occur in a low incidence. Within the class of bone tumors of the rib, fibrous dysplasia is present in living humans at a higher frequency than other bone tumors. The bony features leading to our diagnosis are described in detail. In living humans effects of the neoplasm present a broad spectrum of symptoms, from asymptomatic to debilitating. Given the incomplete nature of this rib and the lack of associated skeletal elements, we resist commenting on the health effects the tumor had on the individual. Yet, the occurrence of this neoplasm shows that at least one Neandertal suffered a common bone tumor found in modern humans.
Who're You Calling a Neanderthal?
By David Frayer
New York Times: May 2, 2013
First paragraph: Most Westerners think of Neanderthals as stumbling, bumbling, mumbling fools who aimlessly wandered the landscape eking out a miserable, forlorn existence. Yet Neanderthals lived longer in Europe than modern humans have, by several hundred thousand years, and survived good and bad times.