Thursday, August 28, 2008

Social Darwinism

"We civilized men . . . build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment . . . . Thus the weak members of civilised 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. . . . [Nevertheless, our instinct of sympathy moves us to provide such care.] 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.” Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man.

Rarely in the consideration of Darwinism today do we reckon with the societal implications of the theory. Endeavoring to restrict the theory to mere science, we overlook the larger philosophical questions that are raised by it. If, for instance, we have all evolved from some lesser developed creature into a more sophisticated one, why not apply this within the human race? Could it not be that some portions of humanity have evolved more than others and that, for the good of the race, those weaker members should be eliminated? Darwin himself didn’t shrink from such questions, as the above quotation makes clear. He felt it imperative to address these issues because he was advocating, not just a scientific theory, but an entire worldview--a way to view politics, social relationships, and science. He was convinced that evolutionary theory was the key which would unlock the full potential of the human race.

The vision for societal transformation which emerged from Darwin’s theory was coined Social Darwinism. In light of its abuses in this century, it has been abandoned by those who otherwise praise Darwin’s work. Social Darwinism is the skeleton in the evolutionary closet--and evolutionists are careful to bar the door with a nervous smile whenever Christians try to get a peek inside. But their smiles don’t fool us here at St. Anne’s. Let us shove the evolutionists aside and take an honest look at Social Darwinism in the life of one of its most zealous advocates--Sir Francis Galton, cousin of the famous Charles Darwin. I am Stuart Bryan and this is Ancient Biography.

Sir Francis Galton was a highly regarded pioneer of evolutionary research in the late 1800s. Knighted in 1909 for his achievements, he openly acknowledged the way in which his theories depended upon Darwin’s book The Origin of Species and was praised by Darwin himself for his work. Not surprisingly Galton’s “science” turned out to be more personal prejudice than scientific inquiry.

The blue ribbon for Galton’s most absurd theories goes to his“Beauty map” of England. Convinced that heredity had drastically affected the physical appearances of ladies in different counties, Galton studied the women in the streets and inns of all England. As he traveled, he rated the women he saw according to their level of beauty, “attractive, indifferent, or repellent.” Galton remarked that he “found London to rank highest for beauty; Aberdeen lowest.” Such pontificating seems absurd today. Yet this is an example of the “scientific” observations common in Social Darwinism. Unfortunately the men in Aberdeen didn’t find Galton ogling at the lasses and give him a reward for his impudence.

Predictably Galton’s prejudices pressed themselves into more serious realms than Miss Universe pageants. The most serious of these was Galton’s application of evolution to what he called the “science” of Eugenics.

What is Eugenics you ask? Well, eugenics is a sophisticated name for the selective breeding of the human race. The “science” of Eugenics purported to study human breeding to determine which elements of the race should be permitted to reproduce just like a breeder of poodles selects the best stock to continue the poodle family tree. In his Autobiography Galton wrote:

"I cannot doubt that our democracy will ultimately refuse consent to that liberty of propagating children which is now allowed to the undesirable classes, . . . . A democracy cannot endure unless it be composed of able citizens; therefore it must in self-defence withstand the free introduction of degenerate stock.”
This degenerate stock included such “weaker” races as the negroes and the aborigines and such “weaker” elements of society as the poor, the lame, criminals, and the mentally ill.

Galton shied away, somewhat inconsistently, from the use of force in the accomplishment of this goal.; however, the early part of the 20th century witnessed the consistent application of his philosophy in Nazi Germany, a self-professed Darwinist state. Applying the views of Galton in a logically consistent manner, the Nazi’s argued that they were doing the human race a favor by eliminating the weaker stock--Jews especially--from the gene pool. Dr. John Hunt remarks that
"within a year of coming to power, the Nazis had started some 250 eugenic courts whose function was to decide who was worthy to procreate. These eugenic courts took applications from social workers and physicians urging sterilizations, taking decision-making from tens of thousands of individuals. The purpose of Nazi use of eugenics courts and forced or pressured sterilizations was to keep the "unfit" from reproducing.”
With this quote in mind, meditate upon Galton’s remarks on Eugenics in his Autobiography:
"I take Eugenics very seriously, feeling that its principles ought to become one of the dominant motives in a civilised nation, much as if they were one of its religious tenets. . . Individuals appear to me as partial detachments from the infinite ocean of Being, and this world as a stage on which Evolution takes place, principally hitherto by means of Natural Selection, which achieves the good of the whole with scant regard to that of the individual. Man is gifted with pity and other kindly feelings; he has also the power of preventing many kinds of suffering. I conceive it to fall well within his province to replace Natural Selection by other processes that are more merciful and not less effective. This is precisely the aim of Eugenics. Its first object is to check the birth-rate of the Unfit, instead of allowing them to come into being. . . . The second object is the improvement of the race by furthering the productivity of the Fit by early marriages and healthful rearing of their children. Natural Selection rests upon excessive production and wholesale destruction; Eugenics on bringing no more individuals into the world than can be properly cared for, and those only of the best stock.”

Note then Galton’s assertion: Eugenics is the merciful replacement of Natural Selection. Truly the Nazi’s did mankind a favor and we should be grateful for their endeavors. They purified the race; made the world safer for the rest of us. That is, if we are part of the strong stock. But who gets to define the strong? Ah, that is the nagging question.

9 comments:

KDIsom said...

Why didn't you complete Darwin's DoM quote, where he talks about the noblest part of our nature:

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.

Oh, you're a fundie. And this was a fundie-quote, where intellectual honesty is abandoned. Now I understand.

Stuart said...

A fundie? Oooh that really hurts me. Though I think you'll find that it is more than "fundies" who object to Social Darwinism. I'm not sure about the accusation of intellectual honesty but I could ask you about intellectual consistency. How does the extension of the quote help Darwin's case? Why should one think more highly of him? Consider what he's saying. "We are going to practice eugenics, we are going to sterilize the weak and helpless among humanity - but we feel really bad while doing it. So don't get the impression," he wants to assure us, "that we do this for our own jollies. We do this out of a strong conviction that this is what is right and, just like a surgeon, we have to subdue our natural instinct of pity for the moment so that we can help the human race in the end." The end result is still the same: we end up getting rid of the "weaker" members of the race. Such a notion is fundamentally (no pun intended) incompatible with a Christian ethic, and it is on this basis that I criticize him. It seems to me that he is saying no more nor less than Galton.

Robin Phillips said...

Are you aware that there is a Galton Institute still with us today? Their website is http://www.galtoninstitute.org.uk/
According to the last paragraph of this article (http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/sep/08090204.html) the institute advocates eugenics through artificial reproduction techniques such as in vitro fertilisation, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and direct manipulation of human beings, and their genome, at the embryonic stage. If Richard Dawkins gets his way, their agenda could soon become mainstream. See http://robinphillips.blogspot.com/2006/11/dawkins-and-eugenics.html Watch out because the skeletons may soon be coming out of the closet!

Stuart said...

In response to some further interaction with kdisom - whose comments I won't bother posting - I'm persuaded that the original opening Darwin quote on this piece was misleading. It may shock kdisom that a Christian fundie could be persuaded - but then again more shocking things have happened in the history of the world. After all, giraffes really do walk. So I've changed the opening of the article without changing the substance - since Galton did in fact advocate Eugenics and since, as Robin's comment indicates, some are beginning to do so again. May God preserve us from the societal implications of Darwinism.

KDIsom said...

Stewart, you did the right thing. I respect you for it.

I was about to leave, when along comes Robin....sigh

With regard to Richard Dawkins, please provide a reference to his advocacy of eugenics.

Robin Phillips said...

Dawkin's article appeared in The Sunday Herald. See

http://www.sundayherald.com/life/people/display.var.1031440.0.eugenics_may_not_be_bad.php

KDIsom said...

Robin,

Is this the best that you could find?

Here is the entire quote from an afterword essay to a book about Dangerous Ideas found here: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dangerous07/dangerous07_dawkins_index.html.

[BTW: your reference is to a forged letter to the editor not written by Dawkins – another quote mine product. Sheesh.]

Are there any dangerous ideas that are conspicuously under-represented in this book? ... First, I noticed only fleeting references to eugenics, and they were disparaging. In the 1920s and 30s, scientists from the political left as well as right would not have found the idea of designer babies particularly dangerous — though of course they would not have used that phrase. Today, I suspect that the idea is too dangerous for comfortable discussion, even under the license granted by a book like this , and my conjecture is that Adolf Hitler is responsible for the change.

Nobody wants to be caught agreeing with that monster, even in a single particular. The spectre of Hitler has led some scientists to stray from 'ought' to 'is' and deny that breeding for human qualities is even possible. But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed and dogs for herding skill, why on earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as 'These are not one-dimentional [sic] abilities' apply equally to cows, horses and dogs, and never stopped anybody in practice.

I wonder whether, sixty years after Hitler's death, we might at least venture to ask what is the moral difference between breeding for musical ability, and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or, why is it acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers, but not breed them? I can think of some answers, and they are good ones which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn't the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?


In a book about Dangerous Ideas, he points out that Eugenics is such a creature, and asks why – Hitler.

He obviously excludes the monstrous Nazi euthanasia and compulsory sterilization programs, but asks if we are even ready to consider the remainder? May be we are. Maybe we aren’t. Maybe we will never be.

Dawkins wonders if the question is ready to be asked.

A deadly form of breast cancer runs in my maternal line. I would gladly utilize a sperm filtering process that would eliminate the gene for the benefit of my progeny and their future mates. If you could sort your gametes by intelligence, and only fertilize the ones that would yield the highest intelligence, would you? Aren’t these eugenic processes?

Now, nowhere in the quote does Dawkins advocate Eugenics, so your assertion is wrong. Period.

Robin, when you suggested that Dawkins desire was to implement Eugenics you were wrong. Regardless if your feelings regarding his positions on theism and organized religion, unfairly demonizing him is a disreputable act. Shame on you.

Robin Phillips said...

Kdisom,

The link you provided for the "entire quote from an afterword essay to a book about Dangerous Ideas" does not work.

You mentioned that the Dawkins' quote was "a forged letter to the editor not written by Dawkins". Do you have any evidence that it was a forgery? I would like to know so I don't accidently make a fundie of myself by quoting it in any of my writings.

If the whole thing is a forgery anyway, I am puzzled that you go on to defend Dawkins from the charge of advocating eugenics. For example, you say, "Dawkins wonders if the question is ready to be asked." But if the quote is a forgery, then Dawkins isn't wondering anything because Dawkins didn't write it!

Puzzled.

Robin (www.robinphillips.blogspot.com)

KDIsom said...

Kdisom,

The link you provided for the "entire quote from an afterword essay to a book about Dangerous Ideas" does not work.

It works for me. Study the URL and try again.

You mentioned that the Dawkins' quote was "a forged letter to the editor not written by Dawkins". Do you have any evidence that it was a forgery? I would like to know so I don't accidently make a fundie of myself by quoting it in any of my writings.

I have only Dr. Dawkin’s assertion that he did not write the letter. Go to Ricard Dawkin’s web site: http://richarddawkins.net/article,353,How-Predictable-Richard-Dawkins-Supports-Eugenics,Wesley-J-Smith and comment 9542.

If the whole thing is a forgery anyway, I am puzzled that you go on to defend Dawkins from the charge of advocating eugenics. For example, you say, "Dawkins wonders if the question is ready to be asked." But if the quote is a forgery, then Dawkins isn't wondering anything because Dawkins didn't write it!

This is un-effing-belivable.

Your link omitted the nature of the quote and its context – an afterword to a book about -- get ready – here it comes – ‘Dangerous Ideas’.

I then provided the entire quote from a link to the actual afterword.

Using my quote, my link, hell – I’ll even accept your link out of frustration, support your assertion that Dawkins advocates Eugenics or withdraw your comments.