The river of ideas

 I posted a piece about my old edition of The Cambridge Natural History a week or two ago, including a reference to the section on man. Yesterday I was browsing through a very nice collection of quotes on evolution on (quite a labour involved there), and noticed some familiar words and concepts. See what you think of this series.

First, Ernst Haeckel (Darwin’s German acolyte, he of the forged embryo illustrations):

The difference between the reason of a Goethe, a Kant, a Lamarck, or a Darwin, and that of the lowest savage, a Veddah, an Akka, a native Australian, or a Patagonian, is much greater than the graduated difference between the reason of the latter and the most “rational” mammals, the anthropoid apes, or even the papiomorpha, the dog, or the elephant.    The Riddle of the Universe  (Weltratsel) (1900)  p.125

F E Beddard (writing just two years later):

The contents of the [Pithecanthropus] cranium must have been 1000 cm [sic] that is to say 400 cm [sic] more than the cranial capacity of Any Anthropoid Ape, and quite as great or even a trifle greater than the cranial capacity of some female Australians and Veddahs… This creature is truly, as Prof Haeckel put it, “the long searched for ‘missing link’…”  Cambridge Zoology, Mammals (1900) p.584. Note the associated figure is entitled “Skull of Emmanuel Kant.”

Adolph Hitler:

The differences between the individual races, both in part externally and, of course, also in their inner natures, can be quite enormous and in fact are so. The gulf between the lowest creature which can still be styled man and our highest races is greater than that between the lowest type of man and the highest ape.    Nuremberg Speech  September 1933

Beddard’s conception is clearly derived from Haeckel, which is not surprising as he was one of the most influential scientists of his day and closely allied to Darwin. Indeed even Ernst Mayr cites Haeckel as a major influence, though more for his anti-religious content than his zoology:

In high school I read Haeckel’s Weltratsel naively and avidly, not as a guide to evolutionary studies but to have ammunition in arguments about the Bible and religion!    The Evolutionary Synthesis  (1981)  p.413

As for Hitler, I think any literary critic would find it hard to deny that this part of the Nuremberg speech was lifted almost word for word from Haeckel. And this, too, would hardly be surprising given his overarching status as a scientist. Haeckel also wrote:

The Caucasian, or Mediterranean man (Homo Mediterraneus), has from time immemorial been placed as the head of all races of men, as the most highly developed and perfect.    The History of Creation v.2  (1892)  p.429

Hmm – 1892, just a year or two before Hitler would have started school, of which he later said:

 The present teaching in schools permits the following absurdity: at 10 a.m. the pupils attend a lesson in the catechism, at which the creation of the world is presented to them in accordance with the teachings of the Bible; and at 11 a.m. they attend a lesson in natural science, at which they are taught the theory of evolution. Yet the two doctrines are in complete contradiction. As a child, I suffered from this contradiction, and ran my head against a wall. Often I complained to one or another of my teachers against what I had been taught an hour before – and I remember I drove them to despair.    Hitler’s Secret Conversations  October 24, 1941

It should be greatly reassuring to people like Richard Dawkins to know, in his struggle against superstition and delusion, that history already teaches us that science can indeed penetrate a culture and reform it completely from within. Why, educated politicians will even end up formulating their policy, and even getting it across to the masses, directly from the words of the great scientists.What could be more desirable than that?

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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