Should we always follow the science? Really?
Today's mantra is "follow the science," but do scientists always get it right? Not if one reads the story of Ota Benga. Despite the popular label of "monkey boy," Benga was a 23-year-old member of the Mbuti pygmy tribe who was put on display at the Bronx Zoo ("New York Zoological Park" for you purists) in September 1906. He had first been put on display in 1904 at the Saint Louis World's Fair.
At both the World's Fair and at the zoo, scientists were indulging their interest in Darwinian theories. It took the righteous indignation of clergy both black and white to put an end to this travesty. Despite what popular culture today tries to foist on us, it was the moral compass supplied by Christianity that came to Ota Benga's rescue, not the scientists or the academics of the time. Benga ultimately committed suicide in 1916 after WWI's outbreak prevented him from returning to Africa.
Image: Ota Benga at the St. Louis World's Fair, 1904. Public domain.
Three decades later, Darwinian precepts reared their ugly head once again in Nazi Germany — this time in full flower. And once again, it was Christian clergy who supplied the moral compass to oppose science.
Make no mistake: this essay is not a diatribe against science — it is science that brought us such wonders as the polio vaccine. But let's not exaggerate science's benefits — witness Darwinian explorations and even Thomas Edison. What?! Thomas Edison? Well, even his peers in the scientific community would not recognize him as a scientist — he was instead a brilliant tinkerer.
How many people are aware of Hitler's T4 program, the effort he started in 1939 to exterminate German children with disabilities? What were its roots? Darwinian science. Who opposed it? The Catholic archbishop of Münster. While some may have read that due to public opposition, Hitler halted the program, it actually still continued in secret. A conservative estimate puts the number of German children killed at 10,000. Some historians claim that this program took 250,000 lives.
The scientist in charge of the program was Karl Brandt, a physician and SS officer. At war's end, he was accused of involvement in human experimentation, among other war crimes. He was convicted and hanged on June 2, 1948.
Image: Karl Brandt as a defendant at Nuremberg. Public domain.
Speaking of Christian opposition to Hitler — who was no Christian himself — it is valuable to recall that Dietrich Bonhöffer, a Protestant pastor, was linked to an assassination attempt against Hitler and paid the price in 1945 with his execution. (Here is an interesting video about Bonhöffer and his Theory of Stupidity, something you may recognize when you look at today's political scene.) Other Protestant pastors, led by Martin Niemöller, formed the Confessional Church to oppose Hitler's Reich Church.
Do you believe that Darwinian excesses are a thing of the past? Hardly. Just look at the influence today of perhaps the most influential Darwinian of history — Margaret Sanger, eugenicist. I will leave it to readers to learn on their own more about her baleful influence on modern society.
So the next time someone tells you to "follow the science," consider that perhaps the better course is to follow one's moral compass. And be wary of a society that marginalizes Christianity, for society does so at its peril. This faith has come to the rescue before and will surely come to rescue in the future. The question is, will we listen to the Bonhöffers and Niemöllers of the future? Indeed, are we listening to them today?
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