Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Darwin and Eugenics

A common tactic for ceationist is to link Darwin to racism, slavery and hitler. It is a bizarre idea because well, what are we supposed to think? Darwin was a racist, therefore his ideas must necessarily be wrong? How does that work? Or are they saying we should pretend Darwinism is wrong? You know, like they do. It just makes no sense. Virtually all biologists today accep the theory of evolution because of the overwhelming evidence and the opinions of he originator of the theory are irrelevant.

But what makes this tactic so odious is that the links to Christianity are far stronger. This is part three in a series of four posts.

Eugenics and Racial Purity

Eugenics is animal husbandry applied to mankind. No more and no less than that. We know animal husbandry works, so it seems a safe bet that eugenics too will work, and it must be accepted that its objective, the improvement of the human race, is a noble one. Unfortunately that noble goal cannot be achieved in what we today consider a moral way - it would require forcing certain people to mate, others not to mate - and in extremes, sterilising or even killing those considered less desirable.

Related to eugenics is the idea of racial purity. Racial purity is eugenics with the assumption that one race (your own, of course) is superior, other races are inferior. From this it follows that only members of your race should marry, and certainly no inter-racial marrying.

History of Eugenics

Certain creationists like to pretend that eugenics started with Darwin. While the term may be relatively modern, the idea is older than Jesus. Here is Plato on the subject, advocating selective breeding for women and men.

“It follows from our former admissions,” I said, “that the best men must cohabit with the best women in as many cases as possible and the worst with the worst in the fewest, and that the offspring of the one must be reared and that of the other not, if the flock is to be as perfect as possible. And the way in which all this is brought to pass must be unknown to any but the rulers, if, again, the herd of guardians is to be as free as possible from dissension.”
 - Plato, Republic

Various civilisations practiced infanticide, including Rome, Athenes and Sparta. I wonder if these civilations had a view to prove their gene pool, or only wanted to be rid of offspring that only be a burden, however, Hitler was particularly taken with the Spartan model, which he considered to be eugenics:

At one time the Spartans were capable of such a wise measure, but not our present, mendaciously sentimental, bourgeois patriotic nonsense. The rule of six thousand Spartans over three hundred and fifty thousand Helots was only thinkable in consequence of the high racial value of the Spartans. But this was the result of a systematic race preservation; thus Sparta must be regarded as the first Völkisch State. The exposure of sick, weak, deformed children, in short their destruction, was more decent and in truth a thousand times more humane than the wretched insanity of our day which preserves the most pathological subject, and indeed at any price, and yet takes the life of a hundred thousand healthy children in consequence of birth control or through abortions, in order subsequently to breed a race of degenerates burdened with illnesses.
- Adolf Hitler (from

Modern eugenics was founded by Francis Galton (who invented the word), who it must be noted, was a half-cousin of Darwin and inspired by Darwin's book. But that does not mean that Darwin advocated eugenics or that Darwin's theory was wrong.

Recent Eugenics and Racial Purity

True engenics is about promoting procreation in the best, and preventing it in the least suitable. Historicially, most so-called eugenics has been more akin to ethnic cleansing. "My race is superior, so we can breed, your race is inferior, so should be sterilised." Hitler did not care how intelligent or fit the Jews were, he used eugenics as an excuse to try to wipe out the race. This is racial purity - and remember, Darwin was a big proponant of the idea that humans are all one single race, as discussed here.

Before World War 2, this form of eugenics was very popular across the US (and not just there), as this Wiki page explains.

Hitler and his henchmen victimized an entire continent and exterminated millions in his quest for a co-called "Master Race." But the concept of a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed master Nordic race didn't originate with Hitler. The idea was created in the United States, and cultivated in California, decades before Hitler came to power. California eugenicists played an important, although little known, role in the American eugenics movement's campaign for ethnic cleansing.

Eugenics was the racist pseudoscience determined to wipe away all human beings deemed "unfit," preserving only those who conformed to a Nordic stereotype. Elements of the philosophy were enshrined as national policy by forced sterilization and segregation laws, as well as marriage restrictions, enacted in twenty-seven states.
- Edwin Black, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race (excerpt here)

See also:

Eugenics and Darwin

Creationists attempt to link this to Darwin using Darwin's theory of natural selection. The thing about eugenics is that it very much is NOT natural selection.

Furthermore, creationists confuse Darwin observing natural selection with Darwin advocating natural selection. That is, Darwin saw that  selection happens in the natural world, and appreciated that this fact could explain a lot, but he never argued that this was something anyone should actually do.

Now, if Darwin had written a book extolling the merits of animal husbandry then the creationists might have a point. Such a book - arguing that selective breeding is a good thing that benefits the breed - would be a step to eugenics.

Here is what Darwin actually said:

Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. ... We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage, though this is more to be hoped for than expected.
- Charles Darwin,  The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, 1882

Note that he acknowledges that eugenics would work (though the term had yet to be coined at that time), but, as he points out, this is clear from animal husbandry, and requires no insight into evolution to realise. Then he states clearly that the practice would be "evil".

Unfortunately, "social Darwinism" muddies the waters, so let us be clear. Social Darwinism was not proposed by Darwin, and neither did he support it. Social Darwinism is not and has never been a part of the theory of evolution. So whatever social Darwinism says about eugenics has no impact on either Darwin himself or the theory of evolution.

Racial Purity in the Bible

There is (as far as I am aware) nothing in the Bible about eugenics itself, but racial purity is a common motif in the Old Testament. There are certainly examples of Israelites marrying gentiles in the Bible, but as far as God's commands go, it seems he wants to keep the blood of his holy people pure.

Genesis 24:3 I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living,

Deuteronomy 7:3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.

Exodus 34:15 "Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. 16 And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.

Joshua 23:12 "But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, 13 then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.

1 Kings 11:2 They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods." Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.

Ezra 9:2 They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness."

Ezra 9:12 Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.'

Nehemiah 10:30 "We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.

Hosea 5:7 "They have dealt treacherously against YAHWEH: for they have begotten STRANGE children:"

As an aside, I find it curious that this God is so worried that his chosen people will abandon him for the imaginery false gods of the other tribes. It is almost as though worshipping this all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving god is about as effective or attractive as worshipping a god that does not exist...

The instructions of Leviticus 19:19 seem likely to be there to reinforce the ideal of purity and separation.

Leviticus 19:19 “‘Keep my decrees.
“‘Do not mate different kinds of animals.
“‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
“‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.

Understandably, most Christians today shy away from this, and reinterprete the verses in a more politically correct way (eg here) but not all (see here). I am sure the world is a better because of this!


Darwin advocated the idea that we are all one race, and stated that enforcing selective breeding would be with "an overwhelming present evil". The Bible, on the other hand, makes numerous demands on racial purity for God's chosen people.

No comments:

Post a Comment