Evolution and Modern Eugenics (Follow-up)

My coauthor, DB has written a follow-up on his blog to an excellent post he wrote here previously.  He notes a recent example where a politician has been promoting modern eugenics.  This stood out to me in what he wrote:

The theories of evolution and eugenics have had a dehumanizing affect on the world, which has been evidenced by the last one hundred and fifty years of history. The seeds of these despotic theories are being used to indoctrinate our children in public and even private schools, just as my generation was indoctrinated in the fifties and sixties!

Evolution + “Modern” Eugenics = Dehumanization!

9 Responses

  1. How is this any less ridiculous than saying that abortions cause cancer because the rate of uterine cancer has gone up since Roe vs. Wade?

  2. How is this any less ridiculous than saying that abortions cause cancer because the rate of uterine cancer has gone up since Roe vs. Wade?

    You sound like a politician in denial, Carl. You know, the politician who dodges the issue at hand by bringing up some unrelated and politically correct issue, which has nothing to do with the original topic. Is it “ridiculous” that evolution and eugenics influenced Hitler’s already warped mind? Is it “ridiculous” that this politician feels free to suggest that these poor individuals should stop breeding? Is it “ridiculous” that people view each other as expendable, because, through Godless, materialistic science, they have been indoctrinated to believe that human life is no more important than a monkey? I think it’s “ridiculous” to be lacking in awareness of what I have described, but, then again, I’m not running away from what threatens my intellect.

  3. It is ridiculous to rely on vague correlations to justify an a priori conviction instead of carefully considering a variety of competing explanations and selecting the explanation that best fits all available evidence.

    Are you relying only on Weickert and those like him who confirm what you already believe? Or are you considering all the different explanations taken seriously among scholars of German history and the Nazi period in particular?

  4. I know that what led to the Holocaust involved many factors. I know that Hitler’s hatred of the Jews began as a child in Austria and long before his knowledge of these theories, but there is enough evidence to come to the conclusion that I and others have reached. I also understand that these kinds of dehumanizing theories are much, much older than Hitler, Darwin and his half cousin, but in ancient Greece or 17th century France, the theories weren’t widely known or taught, as they have been over the past century. The fact is that there is ample evidence, in the form of written documentation, from Nazi scientists, physicians and doctors to show that eugenics played a major role in the dehumanizing acts they took part in.

    Speculations and arguments from those wishing to protect these theories are of little consequence to me. IF someone had stood up and shouted out in Europe, during the late 1930s and early 1940s, then perhaps millions of lives would have been saved.

    Now, what is your opinion on the legislator and his legislation that sparked this post?

  5. Carl,

    Below are some quotes (thanks to mynym and the authors) that I believe speak to the issue of my post.

    Since ancient times, man has understood the principles of breeding and the lasting quality of inherited traits. The Old Testament describes Jacob’s clever breeding of his and Labans flocks, as spotted and streaked goats were mated to create spotted and streaked offspring. Centuries later, Jesus sermonized, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
    Good stock and preferred traits were routinely propagated in the fields and the flocks. Bad stock and unwanted traits were culled. Breeding, whether in grapes or sheep, was considered a skill subject to luck and God’s grace.
    But during the five years between 1863 and 1868, three great men of biology would all promulgate a theory of evolution dependent upon identifiable hereditary “units” within the cells. These units could actually be seen under a microscope. Biology entered a new age when its visionaries proclaimed that good and bad traits were not bestowed by God as an inscrutable divinity, but transmitted from generation to generation according to the laws of science.
    (War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race
    by Edwin Black :12-13)

    The thing that really is trying to tyrannise through government is Science. The thing that really does use the secular arm is Science. And the creed that really is levying tithes and capturing schools, the creed that really is enforced by fine and imprisonment, the creed that really is proclaimed not in sermons but in statutes, and spread not by pilgrims but by policemen–that creed is the great but disputed system of thought which began with Evolution and has ended in Eugenics.
    (Eugenics and Other Evils: An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized Society
    by G.K. Chesterton
    (With Additional Articles by his Eugenic and Birth Control Opponents, edited by Michael W. Perry)

    “And they were all doctors like me, who tried to think biologically, biology as the foundation of medical thought. . . . We didn’t want politics—we were critical of politics—but [concerned] with the way human beings really are—not just an idea or philosophy.”
    National Socialism as Applied Biology:
    The nation would now be run according to what Johann S. and his cohorts considered biological truth, “the way human beings really are.” That is why he had a genuine “eureka” experience—a sense of “That’s exactly it!”—when he heard Rudolf Hess declare National Socialism to be “nothing but applied biology” (see page 31). Dr. S. felt himself merged…
    (The Nazi Doctors: Medical
    Killing and the
    Psychology of Genocide
    By Robert Jay Lifton :129)

    Our whole cultural life for decades has been more or less under the influence of biological thinking, as it was begun particularly around the middle of the last century, by the teachings of Darwin, Mendel, and Galton and afterwards has been advanced by the studies of Ploetz, Schallmeyer,Correns, de Vries, Tschermak, Baur, Riidin, Fischer,Lenz, and others. Though it took decades before the courage was found, on the basis of the initial findings ofthe natural sciences, to carry on a systematic study of heredity, the progress of the teaching and its applicationto man could not be delayed any more. It was recognizedthat the natural laws discovered for plants and animals ought also to be valid for man, and this could fully and completely be confirmed during the last three decades both through family research (Familienforschung) and through the study of bastards and twins.
    (Max Weinreich, Hitler’s Proffessors:
    The Part of Scholarship in Germany’s Crimes
    against the Jewish People
    (New York: The Yiddish Scientific Institute, 1946) :33)

  6. By now I’ve lost track of what it is that we’re supposed to be discussing! If the thought here is that the Nazi dehumanization of various groups, including the Jews, was motivated in part by a biologized racism — well, you’ll get no complaint from me! That much seems obvious. But I’m not sure what else is being asserted beyond that.

    But I will say this much: it sometimes seems to me that the following argument is proposed by some people — that since the Nazis justified dehumanization through biology, that any biological account of human beings will be dehumanizing. And it seems clear to me that this cannot be true — at least not in that form.

  7. But I will say this much: it sometimes seems to me that the following argument is proposed by some people — that since the Nazis justified dehumanization through biology, that any biological account of human beings will be dehumanizing. And it seems clear to me that this cannot be true — at least not in that form.

    Yes, I agree with you, and perhaps, from here forward, I should make clear that I am not suggesting this in any way. I wasn’t sure, until now, however, that you agreed with the main portion of what I had written: eugenics was used by Hitler as an excuse for his atrocities, and we must be careful to recognize this and not, as this politician, treat people as cattle, or less than human!

  8. Maybe I should add this — the thought that any biological account of human beings will be dehumanizing seems to trade on the assumption that the self-conception we have of human beings as rational and moral agents is not a self-conception that is consistent with a picture of human beings as a peculiar sort of animal.

    I like to use the term “person,” with its rich theological and secular connotations, as a way of capturing the sense of rational and moral agency that’s at stake here. (So the Nazis did not treat Jews, homosexuals, etc. as persons.)

    Put that way, one way of seeing the question is, can we understand persons as animals? Or are no longer conceivable as persons if we are animals and nothing more?

    At stake here, among many, many other things, is what an animal is, and what makes non-person-animals (“the brutes”) different from person-animals (“us”). And confronting that issue involves confronting the various ways in which we use our fellow creatures not only as companions but also as labor, as a source of food, as resources for medical experimentation, and in general, as expendable whenever our “needs” — however spurious and shallow — conflict with theirs.

  9. To re-iterate my agreement with you, DB: yes, the Nazis used eugenics to justify their atrocities. And there’s nothing in eugenics, classical or contemporary, which I have any interest in defending. (I’m not Peter Singer!)

    As for the evolution connection — well, clearly some eugenicists were evolutionists (even Darwinists), and some were not. The ideologists behind Nazi eugenics were not, by and large, Darwinists, although some of their influences, such as Haeckel, were. And some Darwinists supported eugenics, and others did not.

    In any event, it seems clear enough to me, at any rate, that while eugenics is dehumanizing, neo-Darwinian evolution is not.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: