Dilley

Victoria Cavazos

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Richard Weikart, a professor of Modern European History at California State University and author of the controversial book, “From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany,” delivered a lecture on the correlation between secular philosophies and the “easy acceptance of abortion, infanticide, assisted suicide, euthanasia and, in some cases, mass murder.”

Weikart is also a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle non-profit public-policy think-tank known for its advocacy of the Intelligent Design theory, which “holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection,” according to the group’s website.

Weikart’s lecture, “The Death of Humanity and the Case for Life,” is based on his latest book of the same title, which posits that the demise of the concept that humans are intrinsically valuable has resulted in “the killing of actual human lives.”

His theories and findings are controversial, and his work has earned him both staunch critics and devout supporters among his contemporaries.

“Some scholars heartily agree with his views; others are deeply opposed. For example, the eminent Cambridge historian Richard Evans deemed Professor Weikart’s most prominent book, ‘From Darwin to Hitler,’ “outstanding,” Dilley wrote in an interview conducted via email with Hilltop Views. “By contrast, other scholars, like Peter Singer (Princeton University), have taken Professor Weikart to task in open debate.”

“Given the ferment surrounding his argument, it’s unsurprising that Professor Weikart has been invited to lecture at institutions like University of Chicago and University of Vienna (Austria). If [his] scholarship is thoughtful and stimulating enough for those institutions, then perhaps it’s good enough for St Edward’s.”

After reaching out for comment, the university’s history department declined to speak on the veracity of Weikart’s ideas.

During his lecture, Weikart explained the differences between rational and irrational approaches to philosophy in the 19th century.

He drew on the philosophy of Bertrand Russell to illustrate the difference between subjective and objective morality, the latter which Weikart sees as problematic because in his view, it does not provide a firm foundation for viewing human life as valuable. He argued that because Russell rejected the idea of creation, his conviction that humans should not be killed unjustly is inconsistent with his fundamental beliefs in the value of human life.

“Russell seemed to understand, as I do also, that there is something fundamentally wrong with us as human beings blowing each other up to smithereens,” Weikart said. “I think there was a sense in which he knows that so he’s willing to stand by those convictions, but on the other hand again, I don’t see that really squares with his notion of there not being any kind of objective morality. So because Russell denied that there was any creation he ends up with this kind of moral philosophy.”

He talked about how several prominent 19th century philosophers, like Nietzsche and Singer have denied that humans have the right to life and how this has contributed to the murder of millions of people.

“You see very starkly how denial of human equality and human rights can lead to human atrocities,” Weikart said.

Weikart also cited a book titled “What is a human?” by John Evans, a sociologist at UC San Diego. In his book, Evans claims that he has the empirical evidence to back the idea that definitions of what it is to be human promoted by biologists and philosophers are associated with less support for human rights.

“What [Evans] found was that people who upheld a theological point of view of humans did support human rights to a much greater extent than those who upheld the biological or philosophical views,” Weikart said. “Ultimately I felt vindicated after reading his book because basically he’s saying exactly what I was saying: that secular ideas do undermine the value of human life and the notion of human rights.”

Weikart is the second professor Dilley has invited to speak on campus from the Discovery Institute. Last semester, his event “Is Darwin’s theory flourishing or floundering? A debate,” which included a speaker from the Discovery Institute was heavily criticized by the School of Natural Sciences for not including scientists.

Despite the criticism, however, Dilley has stood by his decisions to invite speakers with contentious ideas.

“Years ago, I read a piece by Professor Weikart on evolutionary ethics. I found it stimulating — not that I agreed with everything (then or now). Yet it prompted me to keep an eye on his scholarship,” Dilley wrote. “His arguments are weighty and provocative.”

Dilley defended his decision to invite Weikart by explaining that “the attempt to discredit a speaker based on his affiliations is a logical fallacy” and, he continued, “The proper way to know if a speaker’s argument is solid is to actually examine it. But this requires that one do the hard work of carefully evaluating the speaker’s evidence, inferences, and conclusions. It’s much easier to resort to guilt-by-association tactics. Easier, but not logical. Fortunately, at St. Edward’s, we’re committed to free speech, open inquiry, and fair-minded thinking.”