January 27, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Are Evolutionists Remorseful Over Nazi Experimentation?

The pro-evolution BBC is squeamish over German anatomy illustrations from cadavers of executed prisoners.  Why?

According to the BBC News, German scientists in the 1940s received cadavers from prisoners and nonchalantly used them for science:

“The University of Vienna had a special streetcar hearse that delivered the cadavers from the execution chamber of the regional court to the anatomy institute,” explained Prof Seidelman.

Eduard Pernkopf, who was chairman of anatomy there between 1933 and 1945, left a printed legacy in the form of a now infamous anatomy tome. It is now understood that many of the incredibly detailed illustrations in Pernkopf’s atlas depicted the bodies of victims of Nazi terror.

The anatomists welcomed this ‘experimental material‘ for their research, apparently indifferent to where it came from.  To them, the cadavers were just ‘inanimate objects‘ for science.

If materialism is true, that’s really all the cadavers were.  Yet the BBC (normally staunchly pro-Darwinian) spoke up for the victims, calling attention to their humanness by promoting efforts of Sabine Hildenbrandt and others to preserve their memories:

Dr Hildebrandt agrees that the issue still casts a shadow on anatomy today, and while a great deal has been published about the crimes of the perpetrators, “German post-war anatomy was built in part on the bodies of [the] victims”.

She added: “It’s time to return the names to the numbers – to give faces and biographies to the so far anonymous victims of anatomy in the Third Reich in order to remember and honour their humanity and the iniquities they had to endure.

Honor; iniquities; that’s the talk of righteous indignation.  Early studies had concluded that German scientists colluded in Nazi atrocities (see 2/17/08), making today’s scientists in Germany reluctant to repeat errors of the past (7/30/2001, 7/18/2010).

Many of the victims were Polish or Russian slave laborers, or opponents of the Third Reich convicted of treason.  The article described how repulsive it was to inform a woman of the date of her execution, then examine the body later to study the effects of stress on her reproductive parts.  Hermann Stieve, for instance, would do this and then cut up the pelvis looking for changes.  “Stieve was particularly interested in the effects of stress and psychological trauma on the doomed woman’s menstrual pattern.”  The article called it “macabre” that anyone would do such a thing, adding, “Stieve published reports based on those studies without hesitation or apology.

But Stieve and Pernkopf didn’t kill the prisoners.  They would probably argue that the prisoners were going to die anyway, so why not use the ‘material’ to advance science? The practice was widespread over Germany:

Of the 31 anatomical departments at universities in Germany and its occupied territories between 1933 and 1945, Dr Hildebrandt found that “all of them – without exception – received bodies of the executed from execution chambers”.

Dr. Hildenbrandt said that “her research made it ‘painfully clear’ how little anatomists at the time were interested in the fate of the people whose bodies they were dissecting,” implying that they should been interested or concerned.  Here it is 67 years after the end of the atrocities, and “The issue only came to public attention in the past two decades.

You can’t keep humanity in a materialistic box.  Some part always sticks out.  Why would the BBC care about these victims from decades ago, putting their portraits in their Science news section, seeking to revive their personal stories?  We’ve just seen them arousing sympathy for the formerly anonymous, trying to restore a semblance of dignity to the victims of one of the most heinous regimes of history – a regime founded squarely on Darwinist materialism (ask why else would the German scientists call the cadavers “inanimate objects” or “experimental material”).

In a sense, a cadaver is material. Theists believe there’s much more to a person than the body: there’s a soul, or spirit, or both (depending on one’s theology); the body is a temporary dwelling.  If a person wills their body to science voluntarily, or their organs for transplants, that’s a personal choice. Some reason that their body will decay to dust in a cemetery plot anyway; why not do something good for humanity by letting science benefit?  Don’t theists benefit by seeing in more detail how “clearly and wonderfully made” the human body is?  Has not science advanced wonderfully due to dissections of cadavers in medical schools?

Additionally, anatomy (and art) has a long history of dissections on prisoners.  Vesalius, Michelangelo, Leonardo and others in the Renaissance period dissected bodies of convicted criminals or of unknown persons found dead of natural causes.  The Church generally did not object; however, because it’s obvious that fresh bodies are needed for anatomy lessons, fears of “anatomy murder” and body-snatching, though illegal, rose in some quarters to meet the demand.  What’s different about the Nazi regime?

One thing is the sheer scale of the atrocity.  Another is the coldness of the perpetrators, welcoming the supply of “experimental material” with no tinge of conscience about where it came from.  In previous cases, perpetrators of “anatomy murder” knew what they were doing was wrong, and they were often punished by law.  None of this happened in Nazi Germany.  There was no informed consent.  The “prisoners” were killed simply for their race, “defects” or presumptive resistance to the Reich – not for verifiable crimes like murder.

German scientists had plenty of rationalizations to use; they could say they had nothing to do with the killings; they could say they were turning an ugly thing into a good thing (advancing science); they could say resistance would have been fatal for them, too.  Why do those rationalizations seem so repulsive?  Why does the cold indifference of these scientists strike us as macabre?  Would it have made a difference if the cadavers they used came from real criminals, like murderers, instead of from innocent women targeted because of their race?  Would the Nazi anatomists defend themselves by pointing to Renaissance practices, claiming they were just continuing a long tradition?  What about the plasticized bodies on display at some museums?

Demand motivates supply.  When the sanctity of human life is diminished, people can more easily be looked at as chattel, property, just inanimate material.  Demand for fetal parts motivates black markets for abortion.  Demand for embryonic stem cells motivates political pressure to consider it “just clusters of cells” that weren’t going to ever lead to a birth anyway.  It can all sound so righteous; scientists just want to advance knowledge. They just want to lead to cures.  There have been cases of ethics violations for paying women to “voluntarily” donate eggs for research; were they coerced?  Were they lured on false pretenses?

It’s incomprehensible why Darwinists should care about what the Nazis did.  To them, humans are evolved animals, no different in kind than apes, dogs or pigs that can be dissected without qualms.  Groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) come at this same belief from the opposite extreme; “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” one of its leaders said, treating the slaughter of chickens for food the same as the Holocaust.  Some evolutionists, like David Attenborough, look at humanity as a plague on the planet (see Evolution News & Views).  None of these groups have any justification for valuing humanity at all, let alone caring about the tragic story of Liane Berkowitz, featured in the BBC story.  A chilling episode in the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed shows Ben Stein touring of the Hadamar mental hospital, where the tour guide described the conscience-free coldness of the Nazi executioners, attributing their motivation to Darwinism.

In Nazi Germany we see a particularly egregious case of innocent victims supplying an all-too-eager university anatomy program without informed consent, moral law or legal grounds.  Many people these days would agree that an organ donor at an accident scene did a good thing to give his or her consent in advance.  Many would accept voluntary donations of bodies to science after natural death, provided the person gave informed consent and understood the choice.   The law can permit cases of scientific use of cadavers of accident victims of those with no family or will, or of criminals executed for capital crimes, as long as due process is followed (usually a long, tedious ordeal, laboriously considering every alibi).

But greed lies at the door.  Beware the government that relaxes capital punishment laws because universities need more cadavers.  Beware the scientists who rationalize fetal research on the grounds they were going to be aborted anyway.  Beware the scientists who rationalize embryonic stem cell research because the cells could never lead to a live birth anyway.  Beware!  Only a commitment to the sanctity of human life – the conviction that every individual has value because of the image of God – can prevent another Holocaust.  That conviction comes from Scripture.  It’s also evident in the conscience of Sabine Hildenbrandt and the BBC News.  It’s evident in everyone horrified at the BBC story.  Consistent Darwinian materialism has no such scruples, and its ideological roots remain strong.  The horrors of Darwinian thinking were not exhausted in the 20th century.  Beware!

Suggested reading: Darwin Day in America by John West explores the roots of materialism that devalues human life.  Join the discussion!  Send your comments about organ donation, cadaver donation, use of criminals for cadavers, fetal research, or any other issues mentioned in this article and commentary.


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  • Jon Saboe says:

    It’s funny to watch those who don’t believe that we are made in the image of God contort themselves to find a foundation upon which to build human rights and dignity.

  • Donald Holliday says:

    I hear all the time that Hitler wasn’t an evolutionist, but many of his defenders at the time acknowledge him as such.

    “The German Fuehrer, as I have consistently maintained, is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution. He has failed, not because the theory of evolution is false, but because he has made three fatal blunders in its application.”
    -Sir Arthur Keith, Essays on Human Evolution, (London: Watts & Co., 1946), 210 (cf. Evolution and Ethics, (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947), 229.)

  • karplum says:

    in the section”demand motivates supply”, today we have abortion on demand, which deminishes human life and the killing just continues with out any remorse no matter what the age. killing is a by-product of abortion?

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