Yesterday I raised the issue of parallels between Holocaust denial and Creationism, which is something I’d like to expand on now. I’m certainly not the first person to notice the striking similarities between these two movements, but I’d like to think that I’m in a good position to talk about those similarities, as I spent some time in the past debating with holocaust deniers and spend some time now debating with Creationists.
Holocaust denial shares many similarities with Creationism in methodology, ideology and consequences, which I’ll go through point-by-point. These will be based on my somewhat outdated knowledge of holocaust denial, but I’m assuming that things haven’t changed much in the few years since I last looked into it.
Ideological bias. Both Creationism and Holocaust denial spring from strongly held ideological biases. Creationism is the product of fundamentalist religious views (primarily Christian and Islamic ones), while Holocaust denial is the product of anti-semitism, White Supremacist views and White Nationalist views, and is almost ubiquitious among those who subscribe to these worldviews. (The differences between ‘White Supremacism’ and ‘White Nationalism’ aren’t important here.)
White Nationalism (WN) in particular hinges on the idea that ‘the White Race’ (always capitalised) is under threat from multiculturalism, which has been pushed upon predominantly white nations by ‘the Jews’. Who exactly these Jews are is generally not elaborated upon, but the entire Jewsish race is frequently implicated. The story behind this supposed attempt to eradicate the white race is complex and internally inconsistent; Jews are said to have a knowingly parasitic relationship with white people even as they attempt to destroy them – this despite the fact that they are also said to be cunning and intelligent. However, the Holocaust is said to be one of the primary means by which ‘the Jews’ have gained influence over ‘white’ nations.
It is immediately obvious from this why the Holocaust being a hoax is so important to WN. Having set up the Jews as every white person’s sworn enemy, White Nationalists cannot then admit that it was a predominantly white nation, acting under a predominantly racist ideology, which was responsible for the murder of millions of Jews.
Creationism is much the same. The myth of the worldwide conspiracy by atheistic scientists to undermine the Word of God is the lynchpin of the Creationist worldview. Without this vital component, much of Creationism stops making sense; it would be ludicrous to suggest that the vast majority of proffessional scientists could be wrong about evolution while the likes of Kent Hovind and Ken Ham have stumbled upon ‘the truth’. Evolution must be a conspiracy, for this reason and in order to supply Creationists with an enemy to fight against.
The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, because the Nazis did not have the infrastructure to transport, gas and burn the bodies of six million Jews.
The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, because Zyklon-B cannot kill humans efficiently; it was used merely as a de-lousing agent.
The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, beause some eye-witness reports of the Holocaust are contradictory.
The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, because Auschwitz had a swimming pool and even a brothel at one point! Clearly, it was a much more comfortable place than the Jews claim.
The Holocaust couldn’t have happened, because there is no historical evidence whatsoever to suggest that it did.
These kinds of claims are the bread and butter of the Holocaust denial movement, and they strongly echo similar claims made by Creationists about evolution. In all cases, the conspiracy theorist (for that is what these people are) either takes an accepted piece of historical or scientific evidence and interprets it in a bizarre fashion or else outright lies. All of the above arguments are an example of this: six million Jews were killed in World War II in its entirety, not just in concentration camps and certainly not just by gassing; Zyklon-B was first used as a delousing agent before being turned to its more infamous application, and is fully capable of killing humans (confusion over this rests upon the different methods by which it kills humans and insects); nobody expects all eye-witness reports to be 100% accurate, and this claim ignores the many reports that don’t contradict each other; Auschwitz-Birkenaudid indeed have a makeshift swimmign pool and even a brothel at one point, but it was always somewhat segmented – these relatively ‘luxurious’ aspects were never seen by those who were executed there.
Perhaps the most informative claim made by Holocaust deniers is that the changing of the estimated number of Jews killed in the ‘Final Solution’ has changed quite a bit since the end of WWII, thus ‘proving’ that historians are desperately attempting to prop up the Holocaust as a real event. This is very similar to what Creationists do when they complain about the theory of evolution changing over time as new evidence comes to light. Here the conspiracy theorist mistakes (out of ignorance or by design) the ordinary business of history or science as ‘smoking gun’ evidence of a hoax. It is usually implied that these evasive measures have been taken in repsonse to deniers rather than new evidence coming to light.
Holocaust denial also has its own semi-professional organisation (the Institute for Historical Review) which pretends to be interested only in historical and scientific truth but in reality is strongly wedded to WN ideology.
I should point out that there is one area in which Holocaust deniers have a strong case: their opinions are illegal in several countries, something that I and a lot of other people disagree with.
Consequences. Holocaust denial is thankfully a fairly rare phenomenon, and has so far not transcended the bounds of WN groups (in the Western world, at least; it’s far more common elsewhere). However, much like Creationism, it acts insidiously in that it implants the idea of a massive hoax perpetrated by ‘the establishment’ in the public consciousness and sows the seeds of anti-intellectual distrust in the historical community.
Creationism has been the success that Holocaust denial can only dream of. It is not limited only to those who would refer to themselves as Creationists, but has become disturbingly common among ‘ordinary’ Christians and conservatives in the USA and (to a lesser extent) Europe. In some Islamic countries it appears to be even more widespread.
Unlike Holocaust deniers, Creationists have actually succeeded in getting their conspiracy theories taught in public schools, and are doing their utmost to have it re-introduced. The fallout from such a Creationist victory would be devestating for education and science worldwide, and Creationists have already managed to bring about an anti-scientific culture in some areas (I doubt I need to point out why this isn’t a good thing).
Holocaust denial and Creationism are both the products of extreme worldviews and are exactly in alike in how completely they fail to make their respective cases. Despite this, they still exist and, in the case of Creationism, are thriving. This is a situation that should be deeply disturbing to anyone interested in actual scientific advancement and in particular to those whose children’s education might one day be undermined by conspiracy theorist nonsense.