Question from James:
Hey thanks for reading this. If evolution is survival of the fittest then why was Hitler considered evil? If he could overcome the Jews then Germans must be better then Jews. In fact racism shouldn’t be a bad thing if you truly believe your race is better. Also why does it matter is animals go extinct? I get cows and animals we use, but who cares about obscure fish and bugs?
Answer by SmartLX:
Your initial question about Hitler is like asking, “If the atomic number of boron is 5, why did two different actors play Darrin on Bewitched?” The first part is true and so is the second, but the two are unrelated.
Evolution is an explanation of what has happened, over the entire history of life on earth, to change it from a single population of similar single-celled organisms to the vast complexity and diversity we see today. “Survival of the fittest” is still an apt simplification, because at all times those organisms which are more fit for survival and procreation are the ones that pass on the most genes. Some kill members of their own species to get along, some don’t have to. Even Darwin thought it was pretty brutal, writing that “nature is red in tooth and claw,” but human morality is difficult or impossible to apply to non-human animals. They’re just doing what their instincts tell them.
Evil on the other hand is a label we apply to actions and people who go against our morals and ethics. Hitler’s genocide violates the morality of such a huge majority of us that society as a whole can label him evil without fear of being challenged. That the act was intended to benefit Hitler’s chosen race does not make it good or ambiguous just because this sounds vaguely evolutionary, because there is no morality to evolution. Evolution is just what happened, take it or leave it, and our morals as applied to Hitler come from other sources.
The Holocaust comparison fails on other levels. Here are two.
– Despite the claims of Nazi propaganda which tried to dehumanise the Jews, the Holocaust boils down to a single species attacking itself en masse, which isn’t good for any population. So does any act of ethnic cleansing, which is why racism is unsupportable by evolutionary theory. If anything the Holocaust could be seen as an act of “social Darwinism“, which borrows the terminology of evolution but has little in common with it.
– The six million Jews were murdered in an act of artificial selection, not natural selection. Evolution has no will and no goals, but Hitler decided those Jews should die. This deliberate culling has far more in common with techniques that have been used in animal breeding for centuries, long before Darwin.
Moving on, we actually don’t care very much about fish and bugs, do we? The former we catch live, kill painfully and eat with relish, and the latter we crush on our forearms without a second thought. Fish and insects are alien to us, so it’s hard to empathise with them – especially the insects, as we can’t really look them in the eyes. Once you get to mammals like cows and pigs, we’re still happy to eat them but we start to care whether they are treated humanely on the farm and in the abbatoir. We perceive cats, dogs, apes and monkeys as so like us in behaviour and attitude that most of us wouldn’t even consider killing one, let alone eating it. This empathy is where we get the urge to protect animals and treat them well, rather than some platitude about them all being “God’s creatures”, but there is a sliding scale of how strongly it applies.
That wasn’t really your point though. If you want an evolutionary rationale of why we should prevent obscure species from going extinct, animals that wipe out other animals or plants completely usually do themselves a terrible disservice in terms of survival. They deprive themselves of a food source, or a crucial nutrient is lost which leaves them susceptible to disease, or they allow a new poisonous species to flourish, or they put themselves at war with some other animal that was dependent on the late species. All of the above might apply to us, but additionally human science and medicine might have all sorts of uses for species of any type. Finally, although we can’t muster much empathy for alien-like species while they suck our blood or whatever, the fact that they’re just trying to survive too does engender a broad sense of solidarity with all living things.
Question from James: