Darwinism and Eugenics?


That’s pretty much stock-in-trade of the Creationist handbook. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed takes similar liberties with (a different passage of) Descent of Man.

Science tells us what we can do. Morality tells us what we should do. They are separate things, and even Darwin recognized this.

As I have stated elsewhere, we might as well be saying that Koch’s discovery of germs means we should actively infect people with deadly bacteria as part of Social Kochism. We have never held the idea that we should amplify the bad things that nature does to the human species, so why shouldn’t we apply this same philosophy to evolution? Just because nature may select against certain traits does not mean we should.

On the flip side, modern genetics does offer families some powerful tools to inform their own personal decisions. Genetic screening can find rare deleterious alleles that could strongly impact the health of their future children. Parents can also also have genetic screening done through amniocentesis which is a bit more controversial. The lesson here is that these are personal decisions and should not be made by governments or society at large.

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There are some interesting arguments in this article by Haldane about the ineffectiveness of eugenics though. This goes to @nlents point that science does have a role in moral conversations, even if I don’t think it’s determinative.


I have read a little about evolutionisms role in the eugenics movements of the past. Evolutionism was the great champion of this movement. i understand most evolutionists not only insisted proper breeding could make a better mankind but insisted it be done. Thats the whole point of evolutionism. Selection creating a more suited product and getting rid of unhealthy parts.
I doubt Darwin advocated this but probably would agree with it.
He strongly insisted that proper breeding could raise women up to the intellectual level of men since he insisted women were biologically intellectually inferior to men. He had a whole plan on how to do it.
Evolutionism is absolutely the author and father and willing executer of the philosophy and the evil deeds that were down in the name of eugenics.

No. He did not agree with it:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health . We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we 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. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox . 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. 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, if so urged by 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 a certain and great present evil. Hence we must bear without complaining 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 the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected, by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage. – The Descent of Man

Who were these “most evolutionists”, or should I say Evolutionary Biologists (as “evolutionism” and “evolutionist” are merely vague creationist pejoratives, that can cover just about any scientific field the creationist using it disagrees with)? I suspect many of those involved in Eugenics were more interested in using the mantle of Evolution to give legitimacy to that field, than in furthering the understanding of Evolutionary Biology.


Evolutionism isn’t a person, so I’m not sure what you are trying to say here.

What evidence or surveys are you basing this on?


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This is a good quote for Darwin. first its dumb what he says. Second he strongly hints/demands its dumb to not be selective on human breeding to preserve the humans. Third then he says sympathy, also weirdly evolved , stops any eugenics movement. yet i see in it someone who could be persuaded. aS i said as i had read this long ago.
I know the history. most evolutionists in those days right away got excited about controling human breeding. Even Darwins relative, Galtan etc, and everywhere they brought it up and stressed it. YUIP> they were foundation, timber, plaster, and floors for the egeneics movement which has a evil history.
Seek out a good history book on it.

Evolutionist and evolutionism is not a pejorative word(s). they are just terms of description without any negativity. why would you think so?

Still waiting for you to support this with one iota of evidence. Do you have a survey you can reference?

When people add an -ism to the end of a scientific theory they are most often trying to portray science as an ideology. Why not just say the theory of evolution? Do you say that gravitationists accept gravitationism?

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To me, the comments seem to miss out the main point which is concerned with the value of a human being (irrespective of difference in traits like intelligence, height, skin colour etc).
Is a person of higher intelligence more valuable or “desirable” than one of lower intelligence?
As far as I understand, eugenics delves into the heart of this issue and singles out traits that make a human being more “perfect”.
Evolution also identifies traits that make human beings human, such as walking upright, shape of the skull, intelligence etc. This can cause one to look at humanity as a spectrum moving from “primitive” ape like creatures to more sophisticated modern humans and perhaps a better “greater” human being in the future.
Eugenics seems to be the effort to move towards even more perfect human beings through selective breeding.
I don’t see how the idea can exist without an evolutionary framework.
Pls note, I am not talking about whether the tools used by eugenicists like forced sterilisation are effective, but rather whether whether the concept itself is possible without an evolutionary view of the value of different “human” traits.

I don’t know about “most” evolutionary scientists but some did, especially those who promoted Eugenics.
I am linking to a speech delivered in london by Julian Huxley (he has a knighthood and is called “Sir”, but I am purposely refusing to give him that respect)

I am quoting some of his assertions below:

In biologically recent times, one primate line
broke through from the mammalian to the
human type of organization. With this, the
evolutionary process passed a critical point,
and entered on a new state or phase, the psycho-
social phase, differing radically from the bio-
logical in its mechanism, its tempo, and its
results. As a result, man has become the latest
dominant type in the evolutionary process, has
multiplied enormously, has achieved miracles of
cultural evolution, has reduced or extinguished
many other species, and has radically affected the
ecology and indeed the whole evolutionary
process of our planet. Yet he is a highly imper-
fect creature. He carries a heavy burden of
genetic defects and imperfections. As a psycho-
social organism, he has not undergone much
improvement. Indeed, man is still very much an
unfinished type, who clearly has actualized only
a small fraction of his human potentialities.

The obverse of man’s actual and potential
further defectiveness is the vast extent of his pos-
sible future improvement. To effect this, he must
first of all check the processes making for genetic
deterioration. This means reducing man-made
radiation to a minimum, discouraging genetically
defective or inferior types from breeding,
reducing human over-multiplication in general
and the high differential fertility of various
regions, nations and classes in particular. Then
he can proceed to the much more important
task of positive improvement. In the not too
distant future the fuller realization of possi-
bilities will inevitably come to provide the main
motive for man’s overall efforts; and a Science
of Evolutionary Possibilities, which to-day is
merely adumbrated, will provide a firm basis for
these efforts.

And his strategy for what he calls “positive eugenics”:

Positive eugenics has a far larger scope and
importance than negative. It is not concerned
merely to prevent genetic deterioration, but aims
to raise human capacity and performance to a
new level.
For this, however, it cannot rely on measures
designed to produce merely a slight differential
increase of genetically superior stocks, genera-
tion by generation. This is the way natural
selection obtains its results, and it worked all
right during the biological phase, when immense
spans of time were available. But with the
accelerated tempo of modern psychosocial evolu-
tion, much quicker results are essential. Luckily
modem science is providing the necessary tech-
niques, in the shape of artificial insemination
and the deep-freezing of human gametes. The
effects of superior germ-plasm can be multiplied
ten or a hundredfold through the use of what I
call E.I.D.-eugenic insemination by deliber-
ately preferred donors-and many thousand-
fold if the superior sperm is deep-frozen.
This multiplicative method, harnessing man’s
deep desires for a better future, was first put
forward by H. J. Muller and elaborated by
Herbert Brewer, who invented the terms eutele-
genesis and agapogeny for different aspects of it.
Some such method, or what we may term
Euselection-deliberate encouragement of
superior genetic endowment-will produce
immediate results. Couples who adopt this
method of vicarious parenthood will be rewarded
by children outstanding in qualities admired
and preferred by the couple themselves.

@T_aquaticus: why do you feel a need to defend these guys? Mr Huxley might have been a great evolutionary scientist, but he is not at all wise.

In fact, if I was into eugenics, I would highlight the need to weed out selfish antisocial people like him!

The claim being made is that evolution logically leads to eugenics, and to bolster this claim we see people claiming that most evolutionists supported eugenics. This is not true, on either count.

Where did I ever defend scientists who support Eugenics? I don’t defend them, I don’t support them, and I certainly don’t accept Eugenics as something anyone should support.

That doesn’t mean evolution is false. Someone doesn’t have to be 100% correct 100% of the time to be right about some things.

For many renowned evolutionary biologists, who also happen to be eugenecists… Evolution and eugenics are logically connected.
Evolution is the framework on which they build the edifice of eugenics

So what’s wrong in connecting eugenics with Darwinism when it’s fact that it’s a field created by evolutionary biologists who were strong defenders of Darwinism. All or even most evolutionary biologists don’t promote eugenics. But everyone who promoted Eugenics is strong proponent of evolutionary science

Glad to hear that.
To be frank, when I read Huxley’s speech, I was left doubting his mental health.

Didn’t make the argument that evolution was false. I just said that competent evolutionary biologists such as Huxley base eugenics as an idea supported by evolutionary science .You may disagree. But that doesn’t change the fact that they publicly claimed this and even advised governments to take actions such a sterilisation of undesirable people.

And they are wrong.

Can you show how they are logically connected?

What’s wrong is that there is no logical connection between them. You might as well say that the Germ Theory of Disease tells us to purposefully infect people with microorganisms. Hume calls this the Is/Ought problem. We don’t determine what we ought to do from what is.

They are wrong.

Look at Huxley’s speech. He makes a clear logical argument.
The entire idea of “superior human beings” is based in evolutionary principles as per Huxley.

This is a false example. What I am saying would be more in line with the below statement:
“The concept of biological warfare is heavily dependent on germ theory and based on our understanding gleaned from this theory”.

Another statement would be, all people who use germ theory to create biological weapons are skilled biologists themselves.

Can you cite anything more than opinion. Perhaps you could address Huxley’s actual arguments.

After all, governments took the arguments made by scientists such as Huxley and followed their “expert” advise to create policies which involved targeted sterilisation of the less privileged.

Something more substantial that “he is wrong” would be needed. Especially considering the fact that there are many scientists who are very eager to genetically modify babies to “improve” them.

That is false. The “superior human being” is based on Huxley’s subjective opinion. Nowhere in the theory of evolution does it set out a list of features for a superior human being. Nowhere in the theory of evolution does it say that we should stop some people from breeding. You can’t get an Ought from an Is. What the human race should look like and how should we attain this goal is a MORAL decision, not a scientific one.

No, it isn’t. It uses the same logic you are using. The theory of evolution states that the less fit tend to have fewer offspring. You are saying that we should actively prevent people from breeding if we deem them less fit. This is no different than saying we observe microorganisms infecting people, therefore we should actively help microorganisms infect people.

How would you use the Germ Theory of Disease to determine if we should use biological weapons?

Huxley’s arguments are based on nothing more than opinion. His opinion is that we should take an active part in natural selection and determine for other people whether they have children or not. Nowhere in the theory of evolution does it state that we should do this. It is only Huxely’s opinion that we should do this.

I agree… but many evolutionary biologists don’t…
Not even many biologists…
For example, biologists routinely classify conditions such as downs syndrome. Nowadays, people are figuring out how to catch cases within the womb itself and killing the babies before they are born.

Isn’t evolution required to make sense of everything in biology?
There is science and there is applied science. Germ theory is science… biological weapons, medicines etc are applications of the science.
I see the same relationship between evolution and Eugenics.
I don’t see why you are bothered by this direct connection?

I don’t… however, biological weapons are a logical application of the germ theory.

Is this a recent discovery? How did the guy and his friends get away with advising the government to sterilise people forcefully if it was so obvious to evolutionary biologists, that eugenics is not a scientific idea?
Is climate change also the same? The science does not suggest we should actively try to reduce global warming? I think the science makes a strong case to take action.
It looks to me like Huxley is arguing that evolutionary biology creates a world view where taking action is a moral imperative. Just like global warming puts the moral imperative on us to do all we can to reduce the problem.

Let me quote him:
The pioneers of E.I.D., whether its publicists
or its practitioners, will undoubtedly suffer all
kinds of abusive prejudice-they will be accused
of mortal sin, of theological impropriety, of
immoral and unnatural practices. But they can
take heart from what has happened in the field of
birth-control, and can be confident that the
rational control of reproduction aimed at the
prevention of human suffering and frustration
and the promotion of human well-being and
fulfilment will in the not too distant future come
to be recognized as a moral imperative.

This is the argument you need to address. Why eugenics is not a “moral imperative” in your world view.

You have missed the entire point.

You’re simultaneously arguing in this thread that atheist biologists should consider eugenics a moral imperative, and in another thread that atheist biologists would not necessarily agree on morality.

One of these positions must wrong.

Perhaps you should abandon both threads until you decide which of your arguments needs to be kept, and which withdrawn. Alternatively, you could reply to your posts in each thread with your arguments from the other, and leave the rest of us alone.

How did you come up with these numbers?

Those are personal decisions made by parents, not laws or governmental orders. Those aren’t the same thing.

Yes. You will also note that morality is not part of biology.

Then you apparently haven’t heard of basic science research into infectious diseases. Also, nothing in Germ Theory states that we should build biological weapons or create medicines. Nothing in Germ Theory states that we should cure illnesses, or cause them. All Germ Theory states is what is causing infections.

There is no direct connection. The Theory of Evolution does not tell us what we should do. Those decisions are made outside of the theory.

No, they aren’t. Nowhere in Germ Theory does it state that we should build biological weapons.

They got away with it because of malformed beliefs like those you profess.

The science can only tells us what effect humans are having on the climate. There is nothing in science telling us what we should do. It can only tell us what the outcome of our actions will be. We decide what outcomes we want independent of science.

That is his ill formed opinion, and not one that is derived from science.

It is not up to governments or societies at large to decide if individuals can have children. Individual freedoms are a moral imperative.

If Eugenics means making the human race “better” then that implies you have the foresight to see into the future and know the attributes (at the genomic level) that will be a help or a hindrance. It also means that you believe you have the means to control the population and it’s offspring to meet those objectives. A rational person, even if monstrously callous, would realize this can’t be done. Eugenics as practiced by the Nazis was just hatred based extermination.