Darwin = Hitler!A modern myth spread by those who want to discredit evolution itself is that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection provided the scientific basis for the Nazi eugenics programme.
This is false on many grounds,
- By definition Darwin's theory of natural selection couldn't be implemented by humans because that would be human selection, not nature's selection in the sense that Darwin meant it. While humans are a part of nature the type of nature that Darwin was talking about was clearly not intentional human intervention and direction.
- The knowledge that human children were a result of mixing their parents traits such as height, skin colour, and so on has been common knowledge since the birth of humanity and controlling this process was advocated as far back as Plato. Yes, Plato advocated Eugenics.
- The Darwinian theory's primary metaphor of a Tree of Life with branching species was unused by human breeding conducted by the Nazis, they just wanted to kill and breed within the human species which was an old idea. As I understand it the eugenics program wasn't trying to cross the species boundary, though the same couldn't be said of Stalin. That the Nazis labeled other humans as lesser species is a separate issue and more about semantics than the evolutionary tree described by Darwin.
- A less mechanised form of racist human breeding was practiced before Darwin in most cultures that preferred relationships within races. These cultures tried to control who could have a long-term relationship, and with whom, which would affect offspring (Eg, interracial marriage was illegal for a long time). Some backwards people still believe this, but thanks to Darwin we now know that race doesn't exist in any significant way, especially not in the way that Nazi's talked about.
The idea of Darwin's theory providing the scientific underpining for the Nazi breeding program is nonsense on scientific grounds when you consider that (1) it was done by humans not nature, (2) eugenics was an old idea advocated by Plato, (3) it wasn't based on the Tree of Life or non-human breeding, (4) it was a mechanised version of cultural racism that was common at the time.
Darwin's theories have as much to do with nazi eugenics as Copernican theories have to do with ballistic missiles.
Update November 18th 2009: a final word from Hitler himself who -- not content with burning books on Darwin -- spoke against Evolution,
"Even a superficial glance is sufficient to show that all the innumerable forms in which the life-urge of Nature manifests itself are subject to a fundamental law–one may call it an iron law of Nature–which compels the various species to keep within the definite limits of their own life-forms when propagating and multiplying their kind."