About ten days ago I posted an entry arguing that neither secularism or science are value neutral and gave the example of the science book at the center of the Scopes Monkey Trial which- portraying itself as science- advocated for eugenics. A commentator (by my estimation) missed the point of my post and focused on the implication that evolutionary theory logically necessitates the acceptance of eugenics. I said at the time, and I say now, that I do not personally believe that this is the case.
Nonetheless, it is an undeniable fact that at the turn of the last century evolutionists were advocating eugenics with enthusiasm with great public support.
You’ve heard the current skeptical talking point that Christianity certainly can’t be true because if you had been born in Pakistan you’d have been a Muslim. Certainly the same thinking applies here, where we might say that evolutionists today who deny the logical connection between evolution and eugenics, if they had been born in 1890, would have been Eugenicists. Right?
What I find remarkable is that in point of fact, all of the arguments for eugenics from the past are alive and well today. The only thing that has happened is that it has been re-packaged. After all, in light of the horrific abuses witnessed during World War 2, it is bad PR to have your own ideology associated with the ideology that led up to it.
In fact, it is safe to say that there is currently an ideological war going on over the true sources and influences that led to the concentration camps, gulags, killing fields, etc. No one wants to be the one left holding the “my ideology led to the holocaust” card. Hence, the need to demonstrate that Hitler was not a Christian. So too the need to distance eugenics from evolutionary theory.
I am constantly reading the writings of those people who worked in the generations after Darwin’s Origins up through the conclusion of the second world war. Any kind of exploration of the ideological, etc, conditions that led up to the millions of corpses, especially when linked to modern manifestations of those same ideologies, is often shrugged aside as an example of Godwin’s Law. I continue to read these writings because I am convinced that seventy years is not so long ago that such events can be chalked up to ‘ancient history’ with no possibility of ever happening again.
Moreover, since I am constantly reading these writings, I am constantly noticing similarities with what is currently under discussion now, especially among Liberal Left…
So, if it is the case that eugenics is not a logical consequence to evolutionary theory, by all means, we should wonder how it came to be so strongly associated in the first place. It isn’t enough to righteously deny a connection. For decades the most learned people on the planet believed there was.
To help promote such an investigation, I submit for your reading the positions of a certain Jacob Appel, a modern evolutionary bio-ethicist in support of eugenics, and a book called Applied Eugenics by Paul Popenoe,writing in 1918. Skip to around chapters 7 and 8 and see if you can spot the similarities between Popenoe’s arguments and Appel’s. (Earlier in, Popenoe credits the Germans for their innovation…)
For example, there is this juicy bit: “The science of eugenics is the natural result of the spread and acceptance of organic evolution, following the publication of Darwin’s work on The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, in 1859.” Page 148.
So, where did the world’s smartest men go wrong in the early part of the 20th century? And why do their arguments sound so similar to what we hear coming out of today’s politicians urging us on to ‘make sacrifices’ ‘for the good of society’?
Or maybe they weren’t wrong at all, and the only difference between the evolutionists of this generation and the evolutionists of the last is that the last generation had the courage of their convictions.
Mr. Appel declares at the end of his article, “These skeptics equate all forms of eugenics, even benign and socially-beneficial programs, with Nazi sterilization laws and unscientific theories of racial superiority.”
What makes them unscientific? If Mr. Appel had been born in 1930 Germany he would have believed them scientific indeed. What changed?